Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why did Marilyn Monroe make me cry?

Warning: just teeny bit political

I was flipping through some Facebook posts and landed on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” I watched the entire number because it is one of my all-time favorites; Marilyn at her very best and oh that pink. I was once again admiring the total achievement: the music, the performances, the setting and suddenly I burst into tears. Why? Why would such a delightful, fluffy and joyful musical number send me reaching for the Kleenex?
Jane was pretty wonderful, too

I’ve been asking myself “Why?” about a few things lately. I have a friend who rabidly – and I mean rabidly – supports a current politician who shall remain nameless (it really isn't about him). Since this friend has never been particularly political, I ask myself (quietly and only to myself) what is it about this man that my friend finds so compelling? And in a moment of quiet, clarity about both my friend and my reaction to Marilyn Monroe became a little clearer.

Regarding that friend, he is older and loves to insult people and generally feels superior by mocking others (he's a good guy but has some challenging qualities). And so that politician, for him, is like looking in the mirror. He feels they are the same because he sees a version of himself in the politician (minus the billions of dollars and the gold-plated toilets).
Who does Marilyn see?

let's get back to Marilyn. I don’t see myself in Marilyn, but in that scene her youth and beauty and talent are on full display. It is dazzling, and it represents everything I love about film. Youth and beauty are so fleeting, never properly appreciated until they are gone. My own mirror reveals the passage of time, but never film. The scene is joyous and clever and it makes me so happy. It is perfection and its beauty makes me cry.  

A girl does what a girl must do
Movies have always been the mirror that all of my hopes and dreams and fantasies for the future reflected back to me. I may not be Scarlett, but when she ripped down those drapes and brazened her way into Atlanta, I cheered her. It spoke to a spark of bravery in my heart. And when Shirley MacLaine runs to meet her heel of a lover in “The Apartment,” I saw in her someone I knew, someone who propels herself towards the wrong fork in the road, but hopes it is the right one. More than once. In countless film I see some small speck of the person I am, or was or want to be. As Chaplin moves mountains for the blind girl in "City Lights," I instantly recognize the soul of the romantic.
A true romantic

So, yes, I cried a bit for Marilyn, but mostly for me because I love the movies oh so much that I am overwhelmed and reduced to tears sometimes. When the lights are down and I am truly that person in the dark, I can cry and love and laugh with abandon with a full heart. It’s real and it’s personal.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ann Harding: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

This year I am attempting to get to know 4 stars whose work I do know well enough. First up: Ann Harding.

Like most people, whether or not I have a negative or positive opinion of a movie star is based 100% on my emotional reaction to that person on the screen. For example, I know Humphrey Bogart is a great star and a fine actor. But, for some reason, I don't like him. I've tried...I really have. And I do respect him, but I just don't like him.

And so it is with Ann Harding.  I've given Ann a whirl in 4 films: Holiday (1930), Prestige (1932), The Animal Kingdom (1932) and When Ladies Meet (1933). If any one word describes Ann Harding, I'd say it is "intelligent." She is unfailingly calm, smooth, and cerebral. She is patrician, elegant and beautiful and you just know this woman had a good education. Yet, when playing a passionate woman, the effect is rather like the shock of discovering that your teachers had a sex life.

Naturally, this is all subjective. In that early pre-code era, her acting is of a very high quality. However, next to Myrna Loy in When Ladies Meet, or Mary Astor in Holiday, she seems a bloodless choice. Even with all of that luxurious hair undone, she projects a Madonna-like quality. She acts touchable, but it feels as though she is just out of reach.

By all accounts, Ann Harding was well liked and well respected. A young movie-newbie Laurence Olivier, who starred with her in 1932's Westward Passage, was forever grateful for her kind assistance as he struggled with the new medium. It's exactly what I would expect from a lady like Ann Harding.

The verdict: a mild Thumbs Down for me.

My next star project: Marion Davies.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

National Classic Movie Day: 5 Favorite Movie Stars

In honor of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th), The Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting the Five Stars Blogathon. 

Okay, it's really hard to confine this to 5, but here goes (in no particular order): 

James Cagney

Notice how I managed to insert Ms. Sheridan here?

5 reasons why:
He was the first movie star I fell in love with.
He has more charisma than any other star. Ever.
A tough guy who dances? Talk about having it all.
That bad-boy smile
New York to the core

5 favorite Cagney films:
Love Me or Leave Me
Angels With Dirty Faces
City For Conquest
The Strawberry Blonde

Cary Grant

Hello, Handsome
5 reasons why:
That face
That voice
The way he looks in a tux
More charm than any person on earth. Period.
With all of the above he never is afraid to be silly

5 favorite Grant films:
People Will Talk
North By Northwest
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Ann Dvorak

Ann being hard to resist
5 reasons why:
Her voice
Her eyes
The way she always seemed to be on last raw nerve
She makes me want to know more about her when I am watching her
She always seemed so sophisticated(even in her pre-code lingerie)

5 favorite Dvorak films:
Three on a Match
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain
Heat Lightning
A Life of her Own

Charlie Chaplin

Sneaking a little Edna Purviance in with Charlie

5 reasons why:
He is the greatest movie star
The humanity of the Little Tramp
He makes me laugh
He makes me cry
He is eternal

5 favorite Chaplin films:
City Lights
The Kid
Modern Times
The Great Dictator
The Mutual Shorts (yes – cheating here – picking all 12 of them)

Jack Lemmon

The joy of Daphne
5 reasons why:
I am always surprised by how much I like him! In fact, I’m surprised to see him on this list.
He is extraordinarily ordinary in the very best way
He makes me want to be always on his side
As soon as I see him on screen, I feel better
He’s always good, no matter the film, no matter the part

5 favorite Lemmon films:
The Apartment
Mr. Roberts
Some Like it Hot
The Fortune Cookie

Apologies to Ann Sheridan, Edna Purviance, Tony Randall and Buster Keaton who would have been there if they could.

For more star-studded celebrations of Classic Movie Day, visit the Classic Film and TV Cafe and see if any of your favorites made the cut.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Underseen and Underrated: Carrie (1952): Laurence Olivier's Last Chance at Love

William Wyler directs Laurence Olivier, in possibly his greatest film performance, in a tale of obsessive passion. No, it’s not “Wuthering Heights.” I’m talking about 1952’s “Carrie,” based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel, “Sister Carrie.” What – you haven’t seen it? Don’t feel badly, most people haven’t.

Olivier’s 1939 Heathcliff was a powerful depiction of obsession fueled by passion. His George Hurstwood in “Carrie,” also has a passionate obsession, but this time it is shaded by the melancholy of autumnal love. Hurstwood’s single-minded pursuit of Carrie at all costs (big costs) leads him to ruin and us to heartbreak.

Carrie was not meant for drudge work
Innocent Carrie Meeber (Jennifer Jones) leaves her poverty and small town behind for a chance at a better, more exciting life in the big city of Chicago. While on the train to the city, Carrie meets fast-talking traveling salesman, Charles Drouet (Eddie Albert). He sweet talks her in an effort to pick her up, but Carrie resists. Still, Drouet knows an easy mark when he sees one. He hands her his card and tells her to look him up when she gets settled. In Chicago Carrie bunks with her hard-working and poor sister and brother-in-law. They live in the slums and, clearly, this is not the glamorous big city life Carrie envisioned for herself (Jennifer Jones looks as though she is smelling something slightly disgusting). Because Carrie is expected to pay her own way, her sister gets her a job at a garment factory. It is soon apparent that Carrie is not made for such work. She injures herself on day one, is fired, and never looks back.

The fly traps the spider
Desperate not to let her family know she is unemployed, Carrie looks up Charlie, who is only too happy to see her. In only a Chicago minute, Carrie is living the life of middle class luxury as the kept woman of the traveling salesman. Charlie may not want to marry her, but he is good to her. On their first evening together they dine at Fitzgerald’s, an upscale restaurant managed by the elegant George Hurstwood (Olivier). Hurstwood is immediately taken by the fresh young Carrie. Charlie is too busy to notice.

Charlie can't see what's going on here
As Carrie pressures for marriage, Charlie continues to string her along. One night he invites his friend Hurstwood to dinner. Carrie is immediately attracted to her older, more polished, and richer guest who does not judge her morally questionable living conditions. She and Hurstwood chat about their mutual love of the theater and, before you know it, the unsuspecting Charlie suggests Hurstwood escort Carrie to a show while he is out of town. What a dummy.

While the cat's away.....

Before long, Carrie and Hurstwood are spending time together and falling in love. For Carrie, Hurstwood is a step up; for him she is a last chance. Finally Charlie catches on and tells her that she is a fool because Hurstwood is married. It seems Hurstwood did neglect to tell Carrie that important tidbit of information. She breaks it off, but is led back into contact with the sly old dog when he tells her that Charlie has been injured and he must take her to him. Naturally, it’s a lie, but Carrie has it bad for him and Hurstwood promises to leave his wife.

The imperious Mrs. Hurstwood will not be denied

He does try to keep his promise to Carrie, but his shrew of a wife (Miriam Hopkins) will not agree to a divorce. Evidently, she is the one with the money and she chafes at being married to a mere restaurant manager. She hangs on, it seems, for appearance and spite. Hurstwood is determined not to lose his last chance at happiness, storms out of his grand house and back to Fitzgerald’s to lock up. In what is portrayed as an accident (but there are no accidents, right?) the timed safe where the daily proceeds are to be deposited locks before Hurstwood can store the restaurants $10,000. In that moment, he decides his fate, leaves an I.O.U. for the boss, and heads over to Carrie’s. He tells her he has left his wife and together they set out of New York to begin a new life.

Life starts out on a high note in New York City
Hurstwood leaves his comfortable life, as well as his wife and children, and sets of with the stolen $10,000 to begin a new life with Carrie. Although still married, he marries Carrie and the two have a happy start. 

But, we know crime doesn't pay, and within days there is a knock on Hurstwood's door from a detective looking for the stolen money. Hurstwood gives him the balance and soon finds out that word of his bad deed has spread to New York, making it impossible for him to find work in his chosen field. 

Before too long, Carrie and Hurstwood are living in poverty. Carrie tries to stand by her man, but Hurstwood is finally broken when an agent of his wife appears and demands that he sign over his rights to all property in exchange for a divorce. Carrie, pregnant, is shattered. Once she loses the baby, her passion for Hurstwood goes from cool to cold. His lies offer a good reason to bail on him, but her superior survival skills instinctively lead her and Hurstwood down different paths.

No longer living the good life

While Hurstwood leaves town and tries to see if he can make peace with his children when he reads about his son's upcoming wedding (he can't bring himself to try), Carrie makes her exit. From then on, the trajectory of their story speeds to its inevitable conclusion. Carrie, not surprisingly, finds her true place on the stage where success and fortune beckon. Hurstwood, devastated by her desertion, ends up living on the street.

After an evening's theatrical performance, old friend Drouet comes by to visit Carrie. He tells her that Hurstwood had stolen the money before he left and that he was forced to pay it back. Carrie now sees to what lengths her man went to be with her and she does feel some pangs of guilt. Maybe she can use that feeling in her next performance.

Carrie flaunts her success to old friend Charlie

Meanwhile, out on the street, Hurstwood is begging. Carrie finds him and tries to give him money, as if that could make thing better. He agrees to take only .25, the cost of a bed at the flophouse. We see him turn on the gas and assume that he will at least find some peace. SOB!!!!!
No longer the most dapper man in town

 So, that’s the story, but the real treat is the performances. I’m not a big fan of Jennifer Jones here, but her passiveness does neatly disguise an amoral personality who can easily justify her needs, no matter what the effect on those she leaves behind. She disappoints her parents (who do not want her to leave home), her sister (who grieves over her life of sin), Drouet (who got out-sharped, but still was a straight shooter with her) and, of course, Hurstwood, who she could not bear to live with once his life fell apart.

Eddie Albert as Charlie Drouet is pretty delightful. Always cheerful and full of good advice, he deserves a gal who appreciates a good time and a good heart.
Miriam Hopkins, as the miserable Mrs. Hurstwood, does not have much screen time, but Wyler makes sure we despise her. Must have been payback for all those Hopkins/Davis spats he got caught up in.

And, of course, there is Olivier. His passion for Carrie is painful because he is the one who loves more. He knows this is the last chance at romance and he grabs it (and the money). Sadly, his relentless pursuit of Carrie leads to his ruin. She cannot help him, and he cannot not help himself. His shabby descent and his loss of self-respect is painful to watch. Yet, there is the aura of romance about him as he shuffles off to his flop house to die. All for love.

No fool like an old fool

In Dreiser’s story, money is the brass ring and poverty is a slow death. In the survival of the fittest, Carrie, whose  understanding of the law of the jungle is in her DNA, is the winner and Hurstwood the loser. In “Carrie,” Olivier gives us an unforgettable lover, no longer young, but as foolish as any young man who, mistakenly, believes that love conquers all. It is a shattering performance that should be seen. While wife Vivien Leigh was in Hollywood filming "A Streetcar Named Desire," Olivier was in town, too, giving an equally moving and heart-breaking performance. 

This is my entry in the Underseen and Unrerrated Classic Movie Blog Association Blogathon. Click here for more soon to be more memorable films.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Pharmacy of Film: Help Me Find the Right RX

Ever been in the dumps? Filled with fear and anxiety? Depressed? Unworthy? Overcome by heartache?

Who hasn't? Getting past the pain is rough, but if you love movies, you know they can be downright therapeutic. Film has gotten me through some of the roughest patches in my life. Trouble is, I can't always put my finger on the right film to soothe the pain at the right time. So, while I am in a serene frame of mind, I'd like to start building a Pharmacy of Film to match the right film to the right ailment.

Right now, here's what's in my medicine chest of movies:

Chaplin is my go-to guy here. Who is more downtrodden than the Little Tramp? Yet, though it all, he manages to pick himself up and look for a better tomorrow. He truly has been and remains and inspiration. While his hope for the future shines through in almost all of his films, the end of "The Circus" lifts my spirits from the depths.

Ailment: Fear
Who is more fearful than Charlotte Vale in "Now Voyager"? Her journey from fearful to fearless is always, always and inspiration.

A double dose needed here: "The Music Man" and "Gigi." Professor Harold Hill for the 100% joyous performance of Robert Preston and Gigi, Gaston and especially Honore as portrayed by Maurice Chevalier for the masterful depiction of the joy of love and life in all seasons.

Ailment: Unworthy/Not Good Enough
If I'm feeling like I just don't measure up, I need to spend some time with wife #2 of "Rebecca" and Paula Alquist Anton of "Gaslight." Watching them as they struggle to feel worthy, I always want to shout "you are more than good enough! In fact, you are too good!" I need to shout that at myself at those times.

And, just in case the above 2 films don't work, I might try a dose of false confidence from the supremely confident Lina Lamont. 

It might not last, but it might just get me through the day.

Ailment: Loneliness/Heartache
Can't cope with loneliness? Nobody is more of an inspiration than poor Tom Hanks in "Castaway." That's lonely! So, stop feeling sad because nobody called you today.

C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik not only show that loneliness can come to an end, but that heartache can be healed, as well. I love those 2 kids. Their happiness is well deserved. I'm rooting for them all the while my heart is healing just a bit.

As for heartache, whose heart aches more than Chaplin's in "City Light?" And yet, for all of his suffering, he finds a reason to smile.

Ailment: Unable to Move Forward
When I am paralyzed by life, Steve Martin's "The Jerk" reminds me to just keep moving. While someone out there might hate those cans of oil, you might just invent something that makes millions!

That's just a tiny start. Please share more "ailments" and more movie cures! Your contribution might just make someone feel just a little bit better. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Debbie Reynolds: Gene Kelly could never have known

Tales of how hard Gene Kelly was on 19 year old Debbie Reynolds during the filming of “Singin’ in the Rain” are legend. He was a tough task master who gave this young, non-dancer no sympathy. Did he look at her and see a youngster who had not proven herself? Just another ingénue imposed upon him by the studio? He worked her hard and offered little encouragement to her while her feet bled and her heart sank.

Debbie and her task master
No doubt the master was right. But how could he have known that the wholesome and hardworking kid (who rose to the challenge and won his respect) would become the last joyous representative of the studio star system and the keeper of the flame? Yes, Olivia de Havilland is with us, as is Doris Day, but they never wore their stardom joyously. Olivia fought the studio system with all her might and then retreated to France. Doris never seemed to enjoy it and, instead, found her passion in caring for the animals and in her Carmel-by-the-Sea home far away from Hollywood.

Debbie at her spunkiest (and loveliest) in "The Mating Game"
Only Debbie, sprightly, spunky Debbie Reynolds, never quite the greatest talent at the studio, embraced her role as Hollywood movie star. And we loved her for it. She may not have been the best actress, comedienne, singer or dancer, but her exuberance was unparalleled.  As only a star can, she lit up the movie screen and later the television screen and the stage simply by being Debbie. We have come to learn that it wasn’t always easy for her and that her later appearances were not a true reflection of her condition, but she made the effort for us. The illusion was for us. That’s what a move star does and that’s straight out of the Mary Pickford-Joan Crawford playbook. 
Debbie and Molly Brown - both unsinkable
Not only did Debbie continue to give us a Hollywood movie star well into the era where such people ceased to exist, she also became the keeper of its history. Through her massive purchase and warehousing of the costume and set treasures of Hollywood and her failed effort to find a museum for these articles she knew had an important history, she acknowledged the importance of Hollywood, its glamour and legends. For a peek at only a part of Debbie's massive collection at auction, click hereMarilyn Monroe’s billowing subway dress from "The Seven Year Itch" sold for $5.52 million and the Audrey Hepburn Ascot gown from "My Fair Lady" went for $4.44 million. (The collection would ultimately fetch more than $30 million).
$4.4 million!
Thanks, Debbie. You were wonderful and I think we are not really aware of how much we will really miss you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Giveaway Alert! - Win a copy of "Mary Astor's Purple Diary"

Keep reading to learn how to win a copy of "Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel.

When a celebrity sex scandal of the 1930s runs into a 1960’s left leaning liberal political cartoonist, the result is a comical and affectionate re-telling of the scandal along with some down to earth biographical details and some even more charming and delicious illustrations. DO NOT read this book on your e-reader.
the beautiful Mary Astor

Edward Sorel, our author, and Mary Astor, the subject of this story, met, according to the author “cute.” You know, kind of like they did in the movies. Only Mr. Sorel met Mary while he was ripping up some linoleum in his New York City kitchen in 1965. Underneath the tired floor of his rent-controlled apartment was a treasure trove of newspaper articles about the great Hollywood sex scandal of 1936 – the tale of Mary Astor’s purple diary. Well, you know how these things go. Once a movie buff gets fixated on something and someone we have to research it down to the studs. And that’s what Edward Sorel did. Along the way he developed a huge crush on the lady, strange as it seemed to him. He - an avowed atheist and she a devout Catholic who spent too much time with the bottle  - did not seem to be a match made in heaven (or wherever). But, as the author explains: "Isn't every couple an odd couple? Why would Chopin, who had TB, fall in love with a woman who smoked cigars? Why would Donald Trump, who prides himself on good taste, fall in love with Donald Trump? Obsessions by their very nature defy reason." See how much fun this book is?

Poor Mary Astor – she had such a miserable upbringing (see here for the story of her horrid parents). Her father – who Sorel calls “a Teutonic fathead” - pushed his beautiful daughter into the movies and basically made her support the loathsome duo that were her parents until she escaped into marriage #1 (but not before having a flaming affair with the much older John Barrymore). Sadly, that marriage (to director Kenneth Hawks, brother of Howard) ended tragically when Hawks died in a plane accident while filming the aerial scenes of “Such Men are Dangerous” (1930). She then tied the knot with Dr. Franklyn Thorpe the following year and subsequently gave birth to a daughter, Marylyn. Thorpe, it turns out, was a pill and a bore and Mary, it turns out, had a more than healthy sexual appetite. What’s a girl to do but seek fulfillment elsewhere? One of the elsewheres she sought out was the bed of the great Broadway playwright, George S. Kaufman. Mary and George apparently enjoyed one another quite a bit, but George was married and ultimately committed to his wife and Mary, who also had literary talents, kept a diary.
Mary's diary hits the press

Mary and Thorpe decided to divorce, but when the couple quarreled over custody of Marylyn, Thorpe pulled out the secret weapon of Mary’s tell-all diary. Many faked entries were leaked to the press, but the real entries had all of Hollywood shaking in their boots? Apparently, Mary was a busy gal who named names and also commented on the sexual prowess of her partners. Thorpe held this over Mary’s head in order to force her to back down from the custody fight. Mary, bless her heart, fought back and won her battle, though not without a great personal cost.
Mary and George share a romantic time in Manhattan.
Little did George know Mary was also a writer.
Not only does Sorel tell a zippy story, but he also sprinkles Mary’s story with some choice and amusing biographical anecdotes of his own. He’s a very interesting fellow!
Mary maintains her dignity in court and proves she is a superb actress

And, of course, there are the wonderful illustrations. These alone are worth the price of the book.
Sometimes those press conferences go awry....

I love a good book about a Hollywood scandal that treats its stars with compassion, humor and respect. For anyone that loves an great tale well told and illustrated, this book will not disappoint.

Mary gets Marylyn

And now for the giveaway

By January 31st, just follow these directions:

1. Email me at
2. Write "Giveaway" in the subject line of the email
3. Remember to give me your name in the body of the email.

The winner will be notified on February 1st.

Good Luck!