Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jean Harlow: Goddess of Bling and Cosmetics

Imagine you are in Macy's Jewelry Department. There are three counters to choose from: one that offers cheap but irresistibly shiny and huge imitation rings and bracelets, another that offers real glittering gems and gold, all just a little too bold for the average consumer, and lastly, a counter filled with tiny, understated 10k gold pieces, just perfect for the shy and demure. For those who are attracted to bright shiny objects, counters 1 and 2 beckon.

Similarly, there were three Jean Harlows. The first was the cheap platinum blonde draped in clingy satin and covered in jewels. This was the Jean of "The Public Enemy" and "Iron Man." She was tawdry and outrageously trashy, but like the cheap hardware, she dazzled. Her electroplated hair was her crowning glory, her face a canvas of cosmetic bravery, her clothes barely masking a rock candy swizzle stick form. Maybe her acting was not so great, but she was mesmerizing.

Unlike the "natural" beauties that came before (and after) her, Jean Harlow was a gal who freely embraced product. There was no effort to make believe this was real. This just didn't happen. This took effort. She bleached, painted and plucked and made it clear that she was most pleased with the results. She adorned her natural self with platinum hair, makeup, jewels and satin lounging pajamas. Her message was clear: Forget about what God gave you. You can make yourself over. And you can have fun.

The second Jean was a refinement of the first. She was still a tart, but the MGM cleanup crew was clearly at work. She was no longer cheap. She was now glamorous. This Jean made her first appearance as the " Red-Headed Woman," and, combined with "Red Dust"," she was the trollop deluxe made acceptable because she was fun. She reached her apex in "Dinner at Eight" and "Bombshell" and the images of her in those films are unforgettable. White hair, white feathers, white satin, white shag rugs, deco jewels, black (presumably red) lips, bonbons and the ever present mirror. A goddess for the age of electricity.

The third Jean is an example of messing with success. There are reams written about this, but the toning down of the hair and makeup and sexuality was a mistake. Jean Harlow would never be Mary Astor. And why bother?

For me, Jean Harlow defines the phrase "you go girl." She slapped on her makeup and checked the mirror before bravely sailing out to conquer the world, armed only with cosmetics, big jewels and nerve. My hero!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Star Struck

I love movies, and do appreciate the director, the writer, the editor and all the other creative forces that combine to create them. But, there is no denying the Stars. I can't help it. I am Star-struck. They are the champagne of the cinema, bubbly and intoxicating. The rare vintages are unforgettable and addictive.

My tastes are eclectic, and while I love most of the big ones, there a few that creep in that are not so common. So, in no particular order, I'd like to explore:
The Ladies:
Jean Harlow
Marilyn Miller
Nancy Carroll
Mary Pickford
Clara Bow
Doris Day

The Gentlemen:
Douglas Fairbanks
James Cagney
Edward G. Robinson
Fred Astaire
William  Holden
John Wayne

This does not mean that I will not just have to include Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, and Gloria Swanson. I have to learn to appreciate Al Jolson, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford. And will that perfect bitch Louise Brooks make an appearance? Oh - and Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan, too. Can't forget them. So much has been written about Chaplin and Keaton, but I just might take a crack at them in a brave moment (as well as a few others).

What can I say? They go to my head.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beautiful Edna, the Last Unsmashed Idol

By now you may have guessed that Norma Desmond is my classic movie guru - wisdom wrapped in warped glamorous illusion and delusion. "They took the idols of the world and smashed them!" Somehow, they all became real. And even those who managed to maintain their god and goddess-like state while alive were revealed as all too real after death. But not Edna Purviance.

Beautiful Edna Purviance was Charlie Chaplin's leading lady. It was all about Charlie, always, and so Edna served as the pretty girl, the lovely background. She was sweet and placid, not really an actress. But you know how sometimes it's the quiet person in the background that you can't help noticing? There was just something about her.

Edna's star did not shine without Chaplin and so she faded from view and, eventually, from memory. It seems no one, least of all Edna, was interested in pursuing her life in public.

Like a beautiful painting once viewed and then hidden away, Edna remains a mystery. There were no biographies, only little stories about her written in the margins of some other famous people's lives.Tempting tidbits. Watching her with Chaplin you could ask "who was Edna?", but there are no answers. No voices. Only a face and graceful form. Is she a blank slate? A silly empty girl? Or is she the fascinating darling with skin as soft as rose petals and laughter as sweet as tinkling bells? In the magic that is conjured in the dark she stakes a claim on my imagination and will not leave. She is my creation. My Edna can be like no one else's Edna. Through neglect, a forgotten idol is spared.

Will my last idol be smashed? Linda Wada, the conquistador who cracked the code of Edna, is writing Edna's biography. And I do want to know everything. I can't help myself. But my own private Edna will be gone.

To learn all about Edna, visit and be prepared to be charmed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alone in the Dark

In a dream, in a place and time that never changes...... in a piece of film......
that is where I long to be. Forever surrounded by mood music, all of the beauty,all of the passion, all of the drama, the comedy, the startling moments, all unchanged. Always unchanged. The world grinds along, but for all of us wonderful people out there in the dark, the seat in the theater is sacred. The dark rises up from the floor, it embraces us and we are, collectively, alone together. We are carried away and experience intimacy with the shadows whose lives are lit by our imagination.

I'd like to share my thoughts about classic films and how much they mean to me with others who love the dark.