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!

Monday, January 2, 2017

La La Land - All in...Almost

I'm all in with "La La Land." No hesitation.. almost. 

Dance and romance among the stars
You love classic film? You love a charming musical score? You love charismatic stars? You love enchantment? Go see it. "La La Land" is an all out/all in movie musical, which presented me with a surprising dilemma.

"Another Day of Sun" in a typical LA traffic jam
Director Damien Chazelle has created a musical with no ifs, ands or buts. It is an homage to great musicals (and a few non-musicals) of the past (how many can you spot?) and he clearly has a "thing" for Ingrid Bergman. "La La Land" tells the timeless Hollywood story of aspiring actress Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) and struggling jazz musician Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling). 

Mia's adorable apartment in Hollywood, shared by fellow struggling actresses
It establishes its intent with a knock-out opening musical sequence in a Los Angeles traffic jam and never changes gears. It never looks down its nose at the genre, it never tries to mask its roots with a hip, modern attitude. Mia and Sebastian struggle and follow their dreams and we root wholeheartedly for them. So why, why did I hang back for a portion of the film?
Mia and Sebastian never leave home without their two-toned tap shoes
Why are people breaking into song or a dance in the middle of a story more acceptable (to me) when filmed over a half a century ago? 

I'm all in for him!
Ryan Gosling is a revelation. His ease with the dance and the music was enchanting and he displays a real star quality that induces more than a sigh or two. 

Mia looking chic for a night out on the town
Emma Stone, while not quite as comfortable with the dance, is a winsome heroine. I finally had to admit that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies not in the stars, but in me.

Mia and Sebastian follow their dreams and their hearts
"La La Land" had to break through my own modern defenses. Why would I not immediately buy into the story of Mia and Sebastian while willingly accept Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden's romance? It wasn't them, it was me. Would I accept "Casablanca" so completely if the very same film was made today? But, "La La Land" did not let me off easy, and eventually I surrendered to the enchantment. The scene at the Griffith Observatory where the lovers dance among the stars sealed the deal. From then on, I was all in and if felt so good to be transported on the musical magic carpet ride.

Come on - kiss!
No spoilers here, but I'll just say that this love letter to Hollywood, to musicals, to star power and to romance is, for me, a winner. I think I will have to see it again because it's great to be enchanted at the movies and not in front of the TV.

La La Land in La la Land
I'm now adding Mia and Sebastian to the endless parade of movie-mad characters whose journeys to the promised land of Hollywood sometimes end in triumph and, often, heartbreak.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Black and White - A Poetic Love Letter

What is it about those films of the 1930’s that makes movie fans all over the world open their hearts and willingly step into a unique place and time all its own? No matter how much time passes or how the world changes, these films continue to speak to a universal longing that spans cultures and time.

I recently asked my friends at FlickChick’s Movie Playground on Facebook to describe the allure of those magical films from that magical era in 3 words or less. With their help, I offer up a little love letter to all of those films, large and small, great and not-so great. Here we go!

Black and White
Take me away
Glamour hides hurt
Tuxes and talent
Gangsters and gold-diggers
All so elegant
Lighthearted and charming
Stories told succinctly
Stars, style, sets
Beauty and danger
You know the way
To my Heart
To my Imagination 

Escape from reality
Sparkle and wit
Nick and Nora
Groucho, Chico, Harpo.
Bette and Joan
Cagney and Kay
Kate and Coop

Artisans at work
Factory made dreams
A moment in time
Forever and unchanging
Blissfully the same
You are there
Always for me
And me alone
Alone in the dark
Black and White
Beautiful to me.

Many thanks for the following for their inspiration and participation: Tina, Antoinette, Kevin, Dee, Patricia, J.  Steve, Maggie, Rosanne, Tracey, Melanie, Darlene, Mary N, Sandra, M.A., Alicia, Mike, Christine, Susan, Ann, Stacy, Russell, Julie, Lynn, Vince, Rosemarie, Greg, Margie, Mary M., Ellen and Tracy.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sunny (1930): Bareback Rider Plays Marriage Merry-Go-Round

This is my entry in the Circus Blogathon hosted by Critica Retro and  Serendipitous Anachronisms. Click HERE for more Big Top excitement!

Sunny (1930)
Sunny in her circus costume. Wasn't she a pretty little bareback rider?

"Sunny" started out with high hopes. It was based upon a successful Broadway show, had a score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein and starred its original Broadway star, the great Marilyn Miller. Once sound films swept the nation, musicals and stage stars flooded the theaters. 

Marilyn Miller
Marilyn Miller was one of the musical theater's greatest stars and she seemed a natural for film. She was lured to Hollywood by Warner Brothers (Jack specifically, with whom she had a cozy relationship) and paid a then astronomical figure of $100,000 to film her greatest sage hit, "Sally." It was a smash and Warners quickly planned to film another of Marilyn's stage hits, "Sunny."

Marilyn Miller in her stage consume as "Sunny."
More circus and less glamour than the film version
Sadly, by the time "Sunny" was ready for release, the onslaught of musicals (specifically bad musicals) resulted in a public backlash against the genre. Too much of a bad thing set "Sunny" back and the result was a musical without hardly any music. Since the music was the whole point of the show, movie-goers were left with a "Sunny" featuring a silly and paper-thin story (British circus performer loves an engaged man, stows away on a ship to America and marries another man to gain entry and then divorces said man and gets her guy) without the music to support it. To add insult to injury, the leading man (Lawrence Gray) is a pill. Imagine if it was Fred Astaire......

Sunny waits for her Prince Charming
Still, "Sunny" has much to offer, chiefly the lovely Miss Miller. No matter how much Warners may have wanted to cut the musical numbers, it was unthinkable to put their star in a movie without several dance numbers. And this is where she shines. I offer you exhibit #1 below. When she says' "let's have some fun, you can see she really means it. 

They also could not omit the show's hit number "Who?" Marilyn wasn't a great singer, but the poor quality of the sound doesn't do her any favors. Still, her star power gets her through. Here she is with the uninspiring Mr. Gray.

Personally, I found Marilyn's performance in "Sunny" even more appealing than her performance in "Sally." She comes across as quite an adorable and cheeky woman and looked lovely once she was adorned in her non-stowaway clothes. It's a shame that there was only one more film in store for Marilyn before she headed back to Broadway. I thought she had quite a nice comic touch when not trying to play the innocent.

Another joy is the inclusion of Joe Donahue as the hapless fellow who Sunny marries and then divorces. Joe was the brother of Jack Donahue, a favorite stage dancing partner of Marilyn Miller. While his film career was pretty non-existent, he and Marilyn pair comfortably in "When We Get Our Divorce." Since I can't find a stand alone clip of their dance, I am posting the entire film and ask you to go to 58:17 to see this delightful pairing.

Sadly, much of the music was cut cut from the film before release in the US. The existing version of "Sunny" is pretty tattered and badly in need of preservation. A full musical version of this film that included the entire original score was released outside of the US (where they apparently had not yet tired of musicals). Oh, if only this version would surface!
Sunny dreaming of fleeing the circus and winning her man
After one more (non-musical) film, Marilyn Miller returned to Broadway in the aptly named "As Thousands Cheer." Sadly, she would die in 1936 at age 37. Still, the legacy of the darling little circus girl, Sunny, still lives on. If you happen to be in New York City at the corner of Broadway and 46th Street, look up. She is there surveying her kingdom of Broadway.

Interested in knowing more about Marilyn Miller? Check out "The Other Marilyn," by Warren G. Harris.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hollywood on Hollywood Blogathon: Hollywood Steps Out

This is my entry in the CMBA Hollywood on Hollywood Blogathon. Click HERE to read more about films that focus on our favorite town in the world.

Hollywood Steps Out (1941)

Before I ever saw Ann Sheridan,  George Raft and even Greta Garbo in a movie, I knew who they were because of the Warner Brothers Merrie Meoldies cartoon "Hollywood Steps Out."

According to Wikipedia, this 1941 $50 meal would run
approximately $804 today
On a "typical" night at Ciro's, more stars than there were in heaven graced that famous watering hole. When I asked my mother "who's that?" she identified the star and their reputation as lampooned in the cartoon.

Ann Sheridan? She was known as "The Oomph Girl" because she had lots of sex appeal.

The "Oomph Girl" and Edward G. Robinson

Greta Garbo? She was a Swedish star known for her big feet. Cary Grant? He used to say "Judy, Judy, Judy."
Garbo uses her large shoes to light a match for Cary Grant.
In real life, Garbo only wore a size 8 shoes.
Speaking of Garbo, I love her reaction when Harpo gives her a hot foot:

Bing Crosby? He was a singer who liked to go to the racetrack. He is the guy who hosts "The Hollywood Palace."
Crosby and his favorite pastime
George Raft? He was a tough guy actor who became famous flipping a coin.
Tough guys Cagney, Bogart and Raft share a moment
Favorites like Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Buster Keaton appear.
Mickey and Judy at their "Andy Hardy" best
Buster Keaton, Arthur Treacher and Boris Karloff
looking as happy as possible.
Dorothy Lamour was famous for wearing a sarong and James Stewart played the shy types.

And a night at Ciro's would not be complete without these guys. I did not need my mother to identify them!
No party is complete without the Stooges
Naturally, a wolf (namely Clark Gable) is on the prowl, but his prey is not exactly who he thought "she" was!
Gable's back and Groucho's got him!
There are many more stars and even an appearance "gee"man, J. Edgar Hoover!

William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Gilbert Roland, Errol Flynn,
Wallace Beery and C. Aubrey Smith admire the ladies.

Head "G" Man J. Edgar Hoover
Henry Fonda

In a way, this little cartoon was my introduction to a whole host of Hollywood stars and the mystique of Tinsel Town. It was all done with affection and admiration. 

Please, sit back and enjoy this little gem. I just love it!

Voices were provided by this talented trio:

Kent Rogers (Cary Grant, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Ned Sparks, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Clark Gable, Kay Kyser, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Fonda and Groucho Marx)

Mel Blanc (Jerry Colona, Peter Lorre)

Sara Berner (Greta Garbo, Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour and Henry Fonda's mother)