Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is a Puzzlement... Little Movie Things That Keep Me Up At Night.....

As Yul Brynner says in "The King and I": 
Is a Puzzlement!

Now, I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. Audrey Hepburn falling in love with Humphrey Bogart in "Sabrina?" I got with the program. Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" sacrificing all for the obsession with Dorothy Comingore (Dorothy Comingore?)? I got over it. Dick Van Dyke as a cockney chimney sweep in "Mary Poppins"? I learned to love him. I am an obedient little movie goer and I can check my common sense at the box office for the sake of a good movie.

But there are just somethings that I can't stop thinking about, no matter how hard I try!

Things like:

Why do twins separated at birth and raised by different parents in different parts of the US in "The Parent Trap" both have British accents?
Let's Get Together Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
This film holds a special place in my heart. I wanted to be Hayley, I wanted Maureen O'Hara for a mom and I wanted to go horseback riding into the desert night with Brian Keith (and not come back until really late). The fact that both Hayleys (one reared in Boston, the other out west) speak like Brits does not detract from my enjoyment of the movie, but I just wondered why no one in the film mentions it! Is a puzzlement.

Why does Kim Novak have her shoes on when Jimmy Stewart fishes her out of San Francisco Bay after a fake suicide attempt in "Vertigo"?
Kim's Brand: Shoes That Never Leave Your Feet!
I think I have seen this movie more times than any other. Isn't it perfect to be obsessed with a movie about obsession? But it never ceases to annoy me that Kim has her shoes on when Jimmy carries her out of the bay. How did they stay on? I even tried this myself (not in San Francisco Bay, but in a decent body of water) and my Manolos went out to sea.  Jimmy's character is a detective. He should investigate! Indeed, is a puzzlement.

Why does Barbara Stanwyck return Fred MacMurray's hat in "Double Indemnity" when he clearly took it with him when he left her house?
Is that a hat, or are you just glad to see me?
This is the sequence of things: Insurance salesman Walter (Fred MacMurray) comes to Phyllis' (Barbara Stanwyck's) home to renew her hubby's car insurance policy. Hubby is out, but Phyllis, in a towel & anklet, is in. They flirt, Phyllis gets a bright idea, Walter gets hot, tells Phyllis he has her number is then shown the door. He picks up his hat and puts it on his head as he walks out the door. Later, there is a knock at Walter's door. Phyllis has delivered a forgotten hat to Walter at this home. She doesn't seem to have a hat, yet Walter tells her to put it on the chair. What is going on here? Is a puzzlement.

Why does everyone refer to Joan Fontaine in  "Suspicion," "Rebecca" and "Jane Eyre" as mousy and unattractive? Are they kidding?
I wonder if anyone can see my copy of "In Style"
 inside of this dreary book.
Typical of Hollywood to make beauteous Joan a plain Jane. Of course, in Hollywood, even plain people are beautiful. Real plain people are not allowed.

But really, how many times does Joan have to be called plain? First, by virtually everyone in "Rebecca." Next, the characters in "Suspicion" were none too kind, with Cary Grant calling her "Monkey Face." Orson Welles in "Jane Eyre" thought her quite mousy, too (although Olivier, Grant and Welles found her charming enough to pursue). Look at her! She's gorgeous! Yes, is a puzzlement.

In "Torrid Zone," Ann Sheridan leaps from a banana train, gets thrown in jail, sweats up a storm in the tropics and never once gets her white dress dirty. How does she do that?
Ann laughs because nothing Jimmy can throw at Ann
 can get her dress dirty (or maybe she is just laughing at that mustache?)
Ann is a down on her luck nightclub singer who somehow winds up on a tropical banana plantation. It is hot, it is dusty and not too sanitary. How does she manage to keep the same white outfit clean, pressed and immaculate (not to mention the hair and make up)? Indeed - is a puzzlement.

Now, maybe I am missing some things (it's been known to happen) or maybe key scenes were cut from the films' final versions. Anyway, I've been trying to come up with some plausible answers and I think maybe I have!

Possible Solutions:

Parent Trap: Hayley's Boston Grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt) is British. She is also quite formidable and demanding. Is it possible that she commanded the twins to speak the King's English while in Maureen's womb?
Vertigo: Being that Kim's character was really a criminal, is it possible that she glued them to her hose so that, in the even she had to beat it, or worse- walk home if Jimmy didn't "save" her, she wouldn't lose her shoes? 
Double Indemnity: Phyllis D and Walter must have been talking in code. There was no hat, but Walter invites her in anyway. He might have been dumb, but he wasn't that dumb!
Joan Fontaine: All of these people who call her plain are really friends of Olivia De Havilland and are just plain jealous. A vast conspiracy, IMHO.
Torrid Zone: Annie was a smart shopper. Once she saw an outfit she liked, she bought multiple versions. As far as hair and makeup - well, she was just a natural beauty, no?

Since I love all of these movies - despite my petty nit-picking - I shall continue to overlook these little nagging questions and just sit back and enjoy the show. After all, if I were going to question EVERYTHING, well then, why doesn't Charles Foster Kane's mother, who allegedly loved him so much, ever see him after she gets the money? Did she run away with someone? And why do the bad guys in "North by Northwest"believe Cary Grant is Kaplan when all of the newspapers are calling him Thornhill? Don't they read the papers? And why are there no Arabs or Africans in "Casablanca"? And didn't I just say I was going to STOP asking these questions?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hope & Crosby: Bob + Bing = Bliss

There are some stars that earn the adjective "beloved." Either for their professional or personal contributions, or both, they are adopted by the audience and become a part of the "family." Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, separately, were two such stars.

Bob Hope
With a favorite co-star, Jane Russell
Bob Hope was everywhere. He was a radio star, a movie star and a television star. Audiences from the 1930s through the 1990s (the decade his last television special aired) knew him and loved him. He was the host of Academy Awards Shows before Carson and his dedication to the entertainment of American service men and women is legendary. Most people over 50 can't remember a time when he was not, in some way, a part of their lives.

Bob Hope had a very successful film career. He was the unashamed coward who just happened to be frightfully funny and sort of lovable (in a sneaky kind of way). He was best with a knowing partner who had his number, such as Jane Russell in "The Paleface" and "Son of Paleface." Bob always wanted the pretty girl, but it was ever an uphill battle for him. The last thing he needed was competition from another man, especially a romantic crooner who had his number ever better than the woman.

Bing Crosby
Box Office Champ
It is impossible to imagine any star today having the multi-media success that Bing Crosby enjoyed in his long career. A wildly successful recording artist and radio star, he was also a mega movie star. From 1934 - 1954 he was in the top 10 box office champions 15 times, coming in at number 1 for five of those years. Famous for his laid back style, he was more than just a lazy crooner. His personality was casual and comfortable, but there was an edge to him. He was not above doing something a little underhanded to get that leading lady at the end of the film.

On his own he was a successful film actor, with such classics as "Going My Way," "Holiday Inn," "The Country Girl," and so many more in his impressive repertoire. Like many singers, he was a very good actor. Light comedy was cake to him and he could also handle the heavier dramatic stuff with his customary ease. But it took the hook up with a wise-cracking golf buddy to create one of the most successful comedy teams in movie history.

Hope & Crosby
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were great friends in real life. When Paramount decided to cast them in a 1940 film called "The Road To Singapore," originally slated to star Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie, the magic of their personal friendship came to life on the screen and spawned a series of "Road" pictures staring the two pals.

The plots of all of the succeeding "Road" pictures were similar: Bing and Bob are con artists looking to cash in, with Bing being a slightly smarter bulb than Bob. Both are not above double crossing the other in order the get the money and the girl, trouble ensures, hilarity erupts and all is well at the end, with the boys narrowly escaping disaster. What makes these films so delicious is the seemingly add-libbed comments, the great drop-ins by other stars, lots of "inside" jokes, Hope's breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience, and the obvious affection the two stars have for one another. Both Hope and Crosby were very big stars at a time when those words meant something. They did not have to share the screen with anyone. Their fame and name above the title was more than enough to ensure a film's popularity. Yet there is Crosby, playing the straight man, and there is Hope, getting bested by his best friend almost every time (Hope did get the girl in "The Road to Rio" and "The Road to Utopia").

Add Some Dorothy Lamour.....
Perfect Move Cocktail: Bob, Bing & a shot of Dot
Dorothy Lamour was a large part of the "Road" Pictures success. Not only was she beautiful and sexy, she was the perfect foil for those con men on the make. Her tolerance of their antics was endearing and her all-American exotica made their cut-throat competition for her charms understandable.

The "Road" pictures were more than just tomfoolery. They also offered some very beautiful music. Crosby's romantic renditions of "But Beautiful" and  "Moonlight Becomes You," and Dorothy's "Personality," gave the productions a first-class shimmer that made up for some of the plot silliness.

It was all done in great, good fun. Bob and Bing at that moment in time were pure stardust. They cast a glow that can never be repeated. How wonderful of them to share such good times with us. Morocco, Singapore, Rio, Zanzibar, Utopia, Bali... if you're on the road with these boys, it can only lead to joy.

Are you smiling yet? I am, but there is also a little tug at my heart. Having grown up with them ever present in the entertainment world (and on my TV), I miss them. I just assumed they'd always be there. And they are, in a way, thanks to film.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: American Beauty

Oh, La Liz, we will surely miss you and are sure that we will never , ever see another like you! You lived large, loved large, laughed large and suffered large. We loved you for it and will miss you endlessly. You were a diamond-studded diva with a heart of pure gold, precious in every way.

Besides being beautiful, she knew how to turn a phrase. Here is Elizabeth in her own words:

Big girls need big diamonds.
Marriage is a great institution.
When people say, 'She's got everything', I've got one answer - I haven't had tomorrow.
I adore wearing gems, but not because they are mine. You can't possess radiance, you can only admire it.

I am a very committed wife. And I should be committed too - for being married so many times.

I don't pretend to be an ordinary housewife.

I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them.

I fell off my pink cloud with a thud.

I have a woman's body and a child's emotions.

I haven't read any of the autobiographies about me.

I really don't remember much about Cleopatra. There were a lot of other things going on.

I suppose when they reach a certain age some men are afraid to grow up. It seems the older the men get, the younger their new wives get.

I sweat real sweat and I shake real shakes.

I think I'm finally growing up - and about time.

I'm a survivor - a living example of what people can go through and survive.

I've always admitted that I'm ruled by my passions.

I've been through it all, baby, I'm mother courage.

I've only slept with men I've been married to. How many women can make that claim?

If someone's dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I'm certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.

It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.

My mother says I didn't open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked.

People who know me well, call me Elizabeth. I dislike Liz.

Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.

Success is a great deodorant.

The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.

You find out who your real friends are when you're involved in a scandal.

Rest in Peace, my beauty. Now if I could only know whose arms you run to first: Mike Todd’s or Richard Burton’s? Sigh….. I’ll bet there is a battle in Heaven raging right now for your charms!

Elizabeth through the ages:

I was very fortunate to see Elizabeth Taylor on Broadway in 1981 in "The Little Foxes." I can tell you that, not only was she beautiful beyond belief, she sparkled on that stage brighter than that 69-carat diamond from Richard Burton! She was by far the the brightest gem in her collection. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lina Lamont's Lament

Dora Bailey reporting here from Hollywood!
Imagine that you have been a loyal employee for many years. Suddenly, new technology is introduced into your workplace and your employer no longer needs nor wants you. To make matters worse, he ridicules you in front of the entire world. This, my friends, was poor Lina Lamont's fate.

It's time Lina had her say!
We decided to interview Miss Lamont at her spacious Beverly Hills home. It has been five years since Lina has appeared in a film. However, she seems to be doing well, as her home is as well-maintained and as luxurious as ever. As we motor up the sweeping driveway to her front door, we are greeted by none other than Lina, herself (draped in jade silk pajamas with a white fox trim).
DB: Lina! You never looked lovelier!
LL: Thank you, Dora. I do try my best.

Lina escorts me into her lovely sitting room. Freshly brewed iced tea with a fragrant hint of mint and finger sandwiches are awaiting us.

DB: Lina, the last time I interviewed you was at the premier of "The Royal Rascal," your next-to-last motion picture before your sudden retirement.
At the time, you were engaged to Don Lockwood. Your's was one of Hollywood's most popular and glamorous romances. With all of that chemistry on screen and off, everyone just assumed you'd get married. It seemed like a match made in the stars.
LL: Well, Dora, I just assumed it, too. After all, we were engaged. But then that Selden woman wormed her way into my Donny's heart.

Lina's eyes well with tiny, pearl-shaped tears, but she courageously tells her story in her charming, little-girl voice.

LL: Oh Dora, it was a terrible time for me. Here I was, the biggest star at Monumental Studios. It was me, ME, who gave Donny his start. He was just a lowly stunt man when I saw something special in him. Over time I came to love him deeply, but I found out the hard way that he was just interested in me to advance his career. Once  he thought that this Selden creature could be of more use to him, he dumped me.
DB: You were indeed Monumental Studio's biggest star!
Lina retrieves a yellowing scrap of newspaper from a Louis XIV writing desk.
LL: I was "a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament." Says so, right here.
DB: Yes you were, sweetheart.  On that fateful evening of the premier of "The Dancing Cavalier," your first talking picture, Lockwood cruelly exposed that Kathy Selden had dubbed your voice. Lockwood then went on to marry her. Talk to me about that.
LL: Dora, Donny was a good man until he met that horrible Kathy Selden! He would never think of such cruelty until he took up with her. Why, did you know that she actually assaulted me at a party with a cake? A party, I might add, where she made her entrance jumping out of a cake.The woman is a menace!
DB: Oh Lina, that's terrible. Have you been following Don and Kathy's careers?
LL: I pay them no mind. I have no use for second rate talents. I only follow big stars.
DB: Speaking of big stars, do you ever see any of the old gang anymore?
LL: Not so much. I still talk to Zelda Zanders from time to time. She's doing well in talkies. I lost touch with Olga Mara and while I still see Norma Desmond being driven around town, I never speak to her any more. I hope she is doing well. I guess you could say I am no longer in the movie business.
DB: That's too bad, because "The Dancing Cavalier" was a very big hit and you were just beautiful in it.
LL: Thank you, Dora. You're very sweet to say that. But let me tell you, that wig weighed a ton! 
And I just didn't like all of the dangers that wiring for sound presented. In fact, on of the reasons I stopped working is due to an injury I suffered on the set while they were wiring me for sound. Some jerk pulled on the microphone cord they had sewn in my dress and I went you-know-what over tea kettle! Landed right on my derrière! I always suspected it was R.F. Simpson, but I could never be sure.
DB: Oh my! You really took some physical abuse! Can you tell our readers what is next for Lina Lamont?
LL: I can indeed! In fact, that's why I am allowing you to speak to me today. I have a bit of news.
DB: A scoop?
LL: Yes! I am getting married.

Lina waves her dainty hand, revealing a gorgeous diamond ring that has to be at least 20 carats
But her glow was not just from the glittering gem.
LL: Remember Cosmo Brown, the brains behind Don Lockwood? Cosmo and I never used to like each other. In fact, I thought he was a real pill. But Cosmo and I have been keeping company for some time now. Donny also turned his back on Cosmo after he married that Selden woman and they were the best of friends. Cosmo and I commiserated and gradually fell in love. 
DB: Oh you sly young lovers! You really kept that on the QT! Didn't I just read that Cosmo Brown had been fired from Monumental Studios for jumping through another wall? Apparently, he has destroyed one too many.
LL: Now, Dora, you know you can't believe everything you read! The truth is, Donny had Cosmo fired because of our relationship. Apparently, he is still jealous. Well, it's his loss. He can sit home and knit with Miss Mousy. Cosmo is leaving for Broadway to write the music for a new show and I'm gonna star in it! I'll show them I ain't just people! Goodbye, Hollywood, Hello Broadway!

We all wish Lina great success. She is a grand gal and I, for one, know she will be a big hit on Broadway. What do you have to say about that Don and Kathy?

This is Dora Bailey signing off from Hollywood!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Flappers: Free, Female & 21

Fourth in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

The 1920s, that youth-worshiping decade of freedom and abandon, spawned a female phenomena known as "The Flapper." Skirts were higher, hair was bobbed and women were voting, working and living on their own. It was this independence that made these young women the antithesis of earlier women film stars with a more demure attitude (though strong in their own way) such as Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish.

The Flappers, though outwardly carefree and fun-loving, set the stage for the strong film women of the 1930s and beyond. They made their own money, bought their own fashionable clothes, lived away from Mom & Dad (either on their own or with a room mate) and pursued men as eagerly as men pursued them. Although  the mores of the times dictated that there be no sex before marriage (though they frequently came close), the audience knew these girls were no innocents. To the young men so scarred from World War I, the Flappers were a tonic.

Louise Brooks: The Perfect Image of the Flapper

Louise Brooks had the look and the life. She is totally "today" in her attitude, her minimalist method of acting and her elegant sense of style. It is fashionable to prefer her to such bigger stars of the era such as Clara Bow or Collen Moore, who look a little dated to us today. As an actress, we rely heavily on her splendid performances in her two German films, "Pandora's Box" and "Diary of a Lost Girl" as proof of her star power. However, her American films many times showcase her as the fun-loving girl of the '20s, a lifestyle this ex-Follies dancer knew all too well.
Louise Brooks is a Flapper whose fame rests largely on the brilliant gallery of still photographs that beguile us to this day. Her beauty is evident, but there is a stubborn streak of independence and strength that cuts through the 2-dimensional glossies. No matter what, this woman is not going back to the days before the liberating 1920s!

Clara Bow:Jazz Baby Supreme
Clara Bow was the definitive Flapper. The original "Jazz Baby," she was fun-loving, independent, pretty and presumably reckless. Her most famous film, "It," showcased all of the elements of the Flapper. Her character worked and made her own money, she was saucy and knew how to have fun, and she was impudent enough to pursue the boss because she wanted him and knew she was irresistible to him.

Clara Bow's Flapper stressed the joys of youth, freedom and strength. There was never any doubt that Clara was strong. She was proudly a girl from Brooklyn, and if you messed with her - watch out. In many ways she pre-dated Joan Crawford's 1930s determined shop girl, usually playing a "regular" gal of modest means. More than anything, Clara's Flapper was fun. But always there was a far-away look in her eyes, the hint of sadness that was just right for the desperately fun-loving 20s.

Constance Talmadge: Silent Screwball
Constance Talmadge was sophisticated and funny. Like a glass of French champagne, she was bubbly and a little forbidden (in those days of Prohibition). And maybe a little out of reach.

Connie, sister to the dramatic Norma and sister-in-law to Buster Keaton via her sister Natalie's marriage, was the zany, fun-loving girl who didn't take sex very seriously. Though a great comedienne, her image was also chic. She was a genuine Hollywood Star. Though her range was wide (her first important role was that of the Mountain Girl in Griffith's "Intolerance"), she seemed most at home in a mansion with servants and a very nice wardrobe. Her image and temperament somewhat predated Carole Lombard in "My Man Godfrey" and Katharine Hepburn in "Bringing Up Baby."  Her confidence in her right to be delightful on her own terms and her devil-may-care insouciance in such films as "Her Night of Romance" and "Her Sister from Paris" offer a breath of fresh air that places her firmly in the company of these fabulous Flappers.

Colleen Moore: Ground Breaker

Colleen Moore was an actress who played the part of the Flapper. While Louise Brooks, Clara Bow and Constance Talmadge all lived, to some degree, the life of a Flapper in real life, Colleen merely portrayed this type of woman on screen. Off screen, she was a thoughtful woman who took her career very seriously.

Yet, here she is, bobbed hair, short skirts and all. Films such as "Flaming Youth" and "Synthetic Sin" made her one of the very first cinema Flappers, although the emphasis on sex was more innocent than most others. Another first-rate comedienne, she was the healthy, fun-loving collegiate just sampling the first taste of freedom. Sadly,many of her films are lost today.

The Flappers and the Great Depression
The crash of 1929 heralded the end of the Roaring 20s and its representative woman, the Flapper. Each of the above-referenced woman's career either ended or stalled in the 30s and none of them would ever achieve the career luster they enjoyed in the 20s. The revolutionary aspect of their character, their insistence on freedom in the bedroom, the workplace and society suddenly became obsolete. Interestingly, all except Colleen Moore struggled with great personal unhappiness in their maturity.

And then there is Joan Crawford...

Joan Crawford was also a representative Flapper. Unlike her contemporaries, however, she did not meet the same end. Her image evolved from that of the carefree woman to the free woman with cares; in other words, a mature woman. Crawford offered a bridge between the fledgling Flapper and a full-fledged woman of true strength and freedom.

These Bright Young Things, as much girls as women, paved the way for the strong women in film that followed for ever after. Their look, their style and their attitude gave women a new way to look, not just at the world, but at themselves, their place in it and the possibilities that lie ahead.

To them, we raise a glass of forbidden bubbly!

And a shout out to other film flappers Olive Thomas, Leatrice Joy and Billie Dove!
Olive Thomas
Leatrice Joy
Billie Dove

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Norma Desmond: Big Star Meets Small Screen. Chapter 3 of the Norma Desmond Chonicles

Norma got off on a temporary insanity plea, did a short stint in a spa-like psych center and is now free in Hollywood. She's back and better than ever!

At last, Norma was ready to get out of that Sunset mansion and back into the limelight! She had secured an ad endorsement with Abdullah Cigarettes and the public reaction was positive. People commented on how young and lovely Norma still looked and were curious about her next move. But Norma had to admit to herself that she was no longer young enough to play "Salome" (the treatments had worked!). Still, she hoped Paramount would call.

Max had a plan.

 While Norma was away at the asylum, Max was able to make ends meet by getting a job as a television director. He explained his long absence from behind the camera by telling everyone he had been running a catering service ("New Year's Eve and Bridge Parties a Specialty"). Max first got his feet wet with some commercials and then a sitcom featuring a chimp (life can sometimes be cruel). Maybe he could get Madame a job in TV, too?
However, Max knew that the microphone was not yet Norma's friend. She needed to speak to the public as herself before she could play another character again. So, Max got Norma booked on various interview and game shows.

Norma tells her story to her still-devoted public
Norma guests on "What's My Line"
Norma, pro that she was, proved to be a hit wherever she went. Max felt that she was ready to take that next step. A local TV station came up with an idea for a sitcom - Max and Madame.

The Premise of "Max and Madame"
Madame is a retired  Broadway Diva who comes to Hollywood to star in a television show. She hires a butler named Max, who used to be a great silent film director. As Madame attends various social events and hobnobs with Hollywood society, Max attends to her needs, all the while slipping out of the house to direct a TV show about a butler who moonlights as a director.

The Nosy Neighbors
All sitcoms need nosy neighbors. Norma and Max asked some of her old friends to give her a hand.
Max asked Garbo, but she wasn't interested
Norma asked a glittering gallery of chums if they would like to assist, and some said they would be happy to lend Norma a hand.
Jolson, Pickford, Cantor and Colman all said "yes."
Chaplin was out of the country.Schenk & Goldwyn demurred and Doug was dead

The Wacky Adventures of Max and Madame
Madame sunbathes in leopard
Madame will be involved in many wacky escapades, always ending in Max making things right. Each episode will end in Madame yelling "MAX!"to get her out of trouble and Max, no matter where he is or what he is doing will come to her aid.
There was no doubt Norma could handle comedy
Norma was understandably a little nervous taking on such a commitment, and insisted that Max direct as well as act. Knowing that Max was behind the camera and in front of it with her put her at ease. Working with Max again like this, seeing him in control again, gave Norma a thrill she had not felt for some time. She looked at him in a new light that was an old light.

As for Max, he was hoping to get back into the bedroom of the husbands...

Max Von Myerling: Back behind the camera, in front of it
and in Norma's heart
Coming soon:
Max Makes His Move!