Saturday, October 14, 2017

True Confessions: Why I Cheated on Cary Grant with Gilbert Roland

This is my entry in the Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, hosted by the delightful Aurora at Once Upon A Screen. Click here for more fantástico entries.

Can you blame me????

It's Your Lucky Day, Aurora!

My devotion to Mr. Grant is pretty well known. In fact, the hostess of this wonderful blogathon has, from time to time, tried to insert herself into our happy romance (I'm watching you, Aurora). Well, my dear, this is your lucky day. Today I am stepping out on Mr. G and he's all yours for 24 hours. (Oh, and by the way, he's cool with this, so enjoy).

I try very hard not to let an artist's personal story influence my ability to appreciate their art. For example, I don't think I'd like to share a confined space with Woody Allen, but I sure do like his films. I might not want Joan Crawford inspecting the cleanliness of my home, but, wow, I pretty much plotz over the lady on screen. And, look, I know there are some things that are just over the line, but let's not go there today. Let's just stay with this train of thought and not go off the tracks.

It took me a little while to zero in on the charms of Gilbert Roland. I think I first became aware of him as an older, but very handsome, actor who appeared in supporting roles. He always seemed to be around and, for some reason, I was very happy to see him whenever and wherever he showed up, both in movies and on TV. And then there was this:

I was pretty gaga over Jane Russell a few years ago (still am), so I checked out "The French Line" and saw a younger version of that handsome Hispanic fellow, Gilbert Roland. He was a hottie! As Jane's french suitor (crooning "Wait Till You See Paris" in a creamy, dreamy baritone), he knocked my socks off, leading to that brain-throb well known to classic films fans as MUST KNOW MORE! (By the way, TCM, YouTube and Google are known antidotes: prior to these, only the Public Library and late night TV provided any relief).

So, I learned all about the handsome Mr. Roland. Born Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso in Mexico, he made his way(via Texas) to Hollywood at a time when the Valentino Latin-Lover type was in vogue. Luis became Gilbert Roland (allegedly the name is a combination of stars John Gilbert and Ruth Roland) and quickly worked his way up from extra to leading man. Apparently, his good looks were not lost on the ladies. One of his first big breaks came as Clara Bow's co-star in "The Plastic Age" (1925). He and Clara, both only 20 years old, became engaged, but their youth and Clara's bigoted creep of a father put the kibosh on the romance. He later had a flaming romance with Norma Talmadge (his co-star in "Camille") that set tongues wagging and enraged her husband, mogul Joseph Schenck (apparently Schenck threatened to castrate Roland, who then took to parading around in the buff at his club to demonstrate the empty threat).

Norma Talmadge fell for her Armand in "Camille"

Gilbert Roland survived the talkies and continued acting, mostly in large supporting roles, until 1982. A few of my favorites are  "The Bullfighter and the Lady" (1951), "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and the crazy "Call Her Savage" (1931) with former flame, Clara Bow. He made a few films in the 1930s with Constance Bennett, who he married in 1941. While still married to Connie and while serving in the military during WWII, he apparently had a very secret affair with Greta Garbo (can you blame her?) This only came to light after Roland's death when a pair of GG's silk panties were found in his possession. Such a sentimental man!

Glamorous couple Constance Bennett and Gilbert Roland
Yes, Gilbert Roland was handsome and sexy, but he seemed to be more than that. There is something kind and compassionate about him in every performance, something that makes you feel as though he would be a loyal, caring friend. So, imagine how wonderful to learn that he was exactly that in real life. After divorcing Constance Bennett, he married again and remained married to the same woman for 40 years until his death in 1994. He was known as "Amigo" and that seemed a perfect nickname for him.

Clara Bow and Gilbert Roland at the height of their romance
One of my favorite stories about Gilbert Roland is one about a letter written to Clara Bow many, many years after their affair. Clara, who had suffered with mental illness and much unhappiness, held on to this precious correspondence from a former lover but a forever friend:

Hello, Clarita Girl:

I am truly sad that you don't feel well. Sometimes when I go to church and I think of you, I say a prayer. It will be heard. God hears everything.

You tell me that you long for your boys. I share your feelings. My daughters are with their mother in Wiesbaden, Germany. And there is nothing I can do, except cry a little once in a while.

I hope someday they show "The Plastic Age." It would be wonderful to see that dancing scene, you and I. It would be pleasant seeing how I looked when I was your beau and you were my dream girl. It would be pleasant seeing that. And then it might be very beautiful, and suddenly it might be very sad.

It seems you are in my thoughts.
It's good to feel that way.
It's good I have never forgotten you.
God bless you.


For more about their brief affair but lasting friendship, click here.

So, for my money, Gilbert Roland was more than just a Latin Lover. He was the real deal - handsome and virile and truly, truly a gentleman and good person.

Aurora, enjoy your day with Cary. I will be back......

Monday, October 2, 2017

Marion Davies: Thumbs Up Or Thumbs Down? (Part 1)

While getting to know more about the work of Marion Davies, it became clear to me that I had to divide her work into two segments: silent films and sound films. This post deals with Marion's work in silent films.

Let's cut to the chase: a HUGE thumbs up for Marion Davies' silent film body of work.👍

Marion's story is well known: New York stage actress catches the eye of William Randolph Hearst, becomes his life-long companion outside of his marriage, emerges as a big movie star in the silent era with his backing, as well as an important figure in the social scene in Hollywood (and San Simeon, Hearst's castle north of L.A.). Her reputation was enhanced by constant promotions in Hearst papers and forever tarnished by the common assumption that the character of Susan Alexander in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" was based upon her (Welles denied it).

Let's allow Marion's work to speak for itself. I viewed 4 of her silent films before writing this post, hoping to get to know this legendary actress a little better.

Show People
"Show People" is one of Marion's best known silent films. I had seen this film before, and had a good opinion of it, but on second viewing I confess I simply fell in love with her. While Hearst liked to see her in romantic, damsel-in-distress roles (that weirdly called for her to impersonate a boy at times), Marion's true talent was in her funny bone. As Peggy Pepper, she is so delightful it almost hurts. I wanted to just reach out and put my arms around her and give her a big hug. Oh, and the endless list of "A" list cameos is mind boggling. 

Marion and co-star William Haines encounter Charlie Chaplin
in "Show People." Marion  is not impressed.

The Patsy

"The Patsy" is the other Davies silent film that has remained well-known and popular. And for good reason!

Marion's comedic flair again gets showcased in this Cinderella story of a less-beautiful sister (major acting challenge here) who is the better person. While Marion's character of Patricia Harrington seeks improvement through a number of funny self-help programs in order to appeal to the man of her dreams (who, of course, is engaged to her older, supposedly more beautiful sister), Marion wins our hearts and her man. Major highlights are Marie Dressler as the bullying mother and Marion's dead-on impersonations of silent stars of the day.

The Red Mill

This film was a little more challenging. I can't say I was thrilled with the subject matter (thwarted love in old Holland), but Marion is, as always, adorable and amusing (Karl Dane and Louise Fazenda supply a great deal of the comedy). This film is also interesting because it was directed by Roscoe Arbuckle under the pseudonym of William Goodrich. It is ironic that Arbuckle found work in Hollywood in a Hearst picture after the Hearst newspapers effectively killed his career with yellow journalism. One has to believe that Marion's influence played a part in this. It was also interesting to me to see Owen Moore in a starring role. Known only to me as Mary Pickford's nasty first husband who stood in the way of her union with true love Douglas Fairbanks, I was quite impressed. He was charming and had a nice ease about him - not hard to see why Mary fell for him.

When Knighthood Was in Flower

I saved the best for last, because this film was a total revelation for me. I was lucky to be able to see a newly restored version on the big screen with live accompaniment by the great Ben Model. 
Captivating her audience
Filmed in 1922, "When Knighthood Was in Flower" was a mega production (reportedly costing up to $1,500,000) and represented Heart's full-throttle push to make Marion as beloved by the movie going public as she was by her adoring suitor. Verdict? It worked! Beyond the expensive sets and costumes, Marion's delightful personality and charm and talent shines through. She is everything in this film. Without her, it is just a lot, and I a mean a lot,  of stuff. If you ever want to surrender to the spell of Marion Davies, see this wonderful film. As Mary Tudor, she is downright adorable (I keep using that word, but there is no better one to describe her) while pursuing true love. 

Pre martini and Nora: boos and hisses from the
audience for this guy in his 2nd film
In 2017, the audience absolutely ate her up. Murmurs of appreciation of her beauty and talent continued throughout the film. So, in silents, big great big, unequivocal thumbs up for Marion Davies' silent film work. She clearly stands the test of time.

Next up: Marion Davies talks.

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.