Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kay Francis: Where Have You Been All Of My Life?

Until recently, I never had any real interest in Kay Francis. I was aware of her, had seen her in a few films, but never was impressed enough to pursue her. Well, all I can say about me is - what a dope!
Now, I am all over this woman. An authentic "dark beauty," Kay Francis is a totally unique personality. Quite tall, beautiful in a singular fashion, and a famed clotheshorse, Kay Francis had a low, soothingly sexy voice with one little flaw - she could not say her "r"s. It's actually very noticeable and somewhat surprising that she made it up into the upper echelons of stardom on both stage and screen with such a speech impediment. I suppose it is kind of cute, but it gave her the nickname of "the wavishing Kay Fwancis."

My chief brushes with Kay came from her role as the bitchy wife of "In Name Only." Hey, anyone who makes my Cary Grant unhappy already has a black mark against them. I also saw her some very early poor films and some of her later poorer films. Somehow, I missed the glory  years. And then came a Kay Francis triple that blew me away. She was not the bitchy, brittle type at all. There is a genuine warmth about her and an intelligence that makes her a very appealing woman.

One Way Passage
Before Myrna Loy, William Powell was teamed with Kay and they made six films together, first at Paramount and then at Warner Brothers. She and Powell had great chemistry together. He is warm and romantic (on his way to the electric chair), and she is bright an vivacious (on her way to the great beyond). A very romantic film with two tremendously appealing and attractive stars.

Trouble in Paradise
It's really Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall's show in this Lubitch treasure, but Kay adds real glamour and sophistication. She is as bright and glittering as a diamond as the careless-with-money and free-with-her-love heiress who happens to steal the heart of thief Marshall. A really great film.

Girls About Town
As a carefree gold digger with pal Lilyan Tashman (who steals the how), Kay is quite sexy in this naughty pre-code goodie directed by George Cukor. Added bonuses are a very handsome Joel McCrea, risque dialogue and girls in lingerie.

Career & Personal Life
What a woman! Kay was quite the gal off screen, racking up a total of 5 husbands and lovers by the score. She was a socialite, stage actress and film star and did it all with great style. Kay was a woman who lived for the moment!

Following some success on stage (she made her debut at 20 and already had a Paris divorce under her belt), she went to Hollywood in 1929. After initial success at Paramount, she moved to Warner Brothers where, for a short time, she shared the title "Queen of the Lot," with Ruth Chatterton. However, life changed for all actresses at Warner Brothers when a wind named Bette Davis blew in and subjugated all former queens to mere hand maidens. After leaving Warner Brothers at the end of the 1930, Kay's career went into decline, although she managed to make some interesting later films.

War Service
During World War II, she, along with fellow actors Carole Landis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair did tremendous volunteer work and entertained the troops in the field. Their adventures were described in the book Four Jills in a Jeep, which was later made into the a movie of the same name starring all 4 Jills. Kay also contributed greatly to the Red Cross and donated much of her time to the USO. Slinky and patriotic - what a gal.

After retirement, Kay left the bulk of her fortune to the The Seeing Eye, Inc., which trains guide dogs for the blind. Her personal papers and diaries were donated to Wesleyan University.

There are many great sites on the internet that give much more information about Kay than I am doing here. Two, in particular, that I like are:
The Kay Francis Fan Page  and Kay Francis - I Can't Wait to Be Forgotten.

Because I fully admit to being mesmerized by her alluring appearance, I offer a sampling of the dazzling Kay Francis, who goes into my book of dark ladies I love (alongside Pola Negri, Ann Dvorak, Louise Brooks and Miriam Cooper).

Okay, I'll stop now. And I will continue my exploration into all things Kay Francis. It's so much fun to discover a "new to me" favorite!

Kay Francis films on my list to see:
Behind the Makeup (1930)
Jewel Robbery (1932) - Yay - on TCM on December 1st!
Cynara (1932)
Mandalay (1934)
Wonder Bar (1934)
Living on Velvet (1935)

1925 portrait of Kay by Charles Baskerville
I just ordered her bio, and can't wait to read it. 2012 is going to be my year of Kay Francis!

Classic Six Degrees of Separation: Tag - You're It!

Getting From Here:

To Here 

in Six (or so) Not-So-Easy Steps
So, Vince at Carole & Co.  conquered the first round of Page's Classic Six Degrees of Separation by successfully linking Mabel Normand to Walter Matthau. His challenge is to link Carole Lombard with Goldie Hawn. Lucky for me, I'm up first. 

My first choice is Carole and  Cary Grant in "In Name Only." (always happy to post a photo of Cary here).

I pass this over to Jessica at "Comet Over Hollywood."  Good luck, Jessica.

By the way, here's a recap (courtesy of Vince):
it started with Mabel Normand and Walter Matthau, and you had six degrees to get from one to the other. 

Page passed the torch on to Dave of "Dave's Classic Films." Here's how the game went:

* Dave chose Normand with Adolphe Menjou in "Head Over Heels" (1927), sending it to...

* Becky of "ClassicBecky's Brain Food" linked Menjou with Kirk Douglas in "Paths Of Glory" (1957); it then went to...

* Dawn of "Noir And Chick Flicks" paired Douglas with Gena Rowlands in "Lonely Are The Brave" (1962); next up was...

* Page again, who linked Rowlands to Rock Hudson in "The Spiral Road" (1962) -- from there it went to...

* Priscilla of "Reel Revival," who stayed with "Spiral Road" and linked Hudson to Burl Ives; she then handed it to me.

* Vince of "Carole & Co." successfully made the connection, and linked Ives and Matthau together in "Ensign Pulver" (1964).

* Vince started a new game challenging us to link Carole Lombard to Goldie Hawn.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" is a film rich in surprises. Buried beneath dazzling 3D effects, beautiful 1930-ish Paris locales, and charming children lies a heartfelt work about a topic near and dear to all classic film lovers  - our never-ending enchantment with movies and the very serious importance of film preservation. 

Based upon the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," by Brian Selznick, "Hugo" tells a fanciful story of an orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. After his father dies in a fire, Hugo is taken by his brutish uncle to live with him at the station where he maintains the clocks. After the uncle disappears, Hugo continues to maintain the clocks in the station. His days consist of working the clocks, stealing food to survive, dodging the Station Master (who lives to send children to the orphanage) and fixing a machine called an "automoton" - a broken mechanical man whose message Hugo hopes will bring him closer to his dead father. Through some botched attempts at thievery, he comes in contact with a crusty old Toy Seller at the station who makes life miserable for the adorable blue-eyed Hugo by taking possession of the precious notebook that belonged to the boy's father. Luckily for Hugo, he strikes up a totally charming adolescent relationship with the Toy Seller's goddaughter, Isabelle. Isabelle offers to help Hugo retrieve his father's notebook from the Toy Seller and Hugo introduces Isabelle to the movies, something her godfather has forbidden. Through a very clever turn of events , we learn that this old curmudgeon is the great, and very forgotten, early French film maker, Georges Méliès. With the help of a kindly book seller, the children come in contact with a film historian who is fascinated with Méliès, and thus begins a rediscovery of those early masterful films and an appreciation of the master's art.

The early wizard of special effects, Méliès created hundreds of fanciful films that were an expression of his earlier work as a magician. Through trial and error, he discovered that cinema magic (though such techniques as time-lapse photography and multiple exposures) was much more potent than stage magic. Truly flights of fancy, the most enduring of all of his films is the 1910 "Trip to the Moon," with this iconic image:
What film lover does not know this image? And yet, in the 1920s and 1930s, when film preservation was not on the radar, only those who actually saw it so long ago remembered. World War I and the rise of Hollywood put an end to Méliès' magical studio. But magic it was.

Films were hand-tinted to an even more magical effect.

If you love movies, your heart will swell because, thanks to the intrepid children, Méliès is restored to his rightful place in cinematic history. The film also gives us a mini-history of early silents up until the glory days of Fairbanks and Chaplin. One of the most charming scenes in the film is one where Hugo and Isabelle, enraptured, watch Harold Lloyd hanging from that clock in "Safety Last."

Ironically, Hugo ends up in a similar situation. 

There are so many fun film references for the movie-lover here, including a Hitchcock-like cameo by the director.

The actors are all wonderful. Asa Butterfiled as Hugo makes an adorable orphan and Chloe Grace Moretz, as Isabelle, is just magnificent - an intrepid Nancy Drew with an Ingrid Bergman look. Sacha Baron Cohen, as the Station Master, is not only amusing, but also touching, and Sir Ben Kingsley gives depth and pathos to an almost broken man who, like his automoton, needs to be fixed.

Sir Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies

The real Georges Melies
Scorsese, who deserves his own revered place in film history, has painstakingly recreated Méliès' films and film making process. Dreams, Magic and Adventure are words that are often used in this film. They are words that accurately describe those early days of film, but still hold true today. Just as the earliest audiences ducked in their seats when they saw the image of an oncoming train on the screen, so, too, do modern audiences when the magical effects of 3-D are well done. Leave it to Scorsese to make the use of 3-D not only magical, but evocative.

Thank you, Martin Scorsese. Wrapped in a beautiful family film is the message all lovers of cinema long to hear: the past is the present and future and all that came before is precious and important.

Monday, November 21, 2011

GIVING THANKS: Movie-wise, that is

Since it is Thanksgiving, and it is a time to reflect on all of the things we are thankful for, I figured I'd compartmentalize my thankfulness categories and stick to all things movie here. I'll leave other things (like the start of Daylight Savings Time now being pushed back a few weeks) to my diary. And, since 10 is such a nice number, I'll limit my movie-wise thanks to that nice round number. In no particular order, the 10 Movie-wise things I give thanks for are:

1. Film Preservation
It's true - nitrate won't wait. And I am thankful to those wonderful pioneers and film-lovers who stepped in and saved our treasures  - or have worked to restore them to their original glory - before it is to late. Imagine in not being able to see Chaplin, Keaton, Garbo, Pickford, Valentino and so many more. 
And here's hoping that somewhere out there even more "thought to be lost" treasures will be found and rehabilitated. 

2. Turner Classic Movies
Ah, who does not LOVE TCM? For those of us who depended on late-night showings on local TV stations and bad VCR copies of obscure and no-so-obscure films, TCM has been a blessing. Sometimes, I find myself getting a little miffed at them because their programming sometimes dictates the conversation among film fans, but that is really my problem and not theirs. Their library is amazing, their programming rich and evolving and their outreach to the classic film community is important and exciting. And still no commercials. 
Best of all: Robert Osborne will be back on December 1st!

3. Blogging and Facebook connections
As one who did not easily embrace blogging or Facebook, I must say that both venues offer a tremendous way for classic film fans to connect. I mean, if you like baseball, there are probably tons of people with whom to share that passion. However, if you like Buster Keaton, most of us don't know too many people that care. 
So, how wonderful to connect on both the blog level with writers who not only enlighten but encourage, and on the Facebook level with folks who are longing to share their love of cinema. Truly, it is like finding an oasis after almost dying of thirst. Thank you to all of my blogging and Facebook friends who allow me to share this journey though the wonderful world of classic film.

4. Billy Wilder
Just going on the record to say that I am so grateful for the man behind (among others) "Sunset Boulevard," "The Major and the Minor," "The Apartment," "Double Indemnity," "The Lost Weekend," "Stalag 17," "Sabrina," "Love in the Afternoon," "The Fortune Cookie," "Witness for the Prosecution," "The Seven Year Itch" and "Some Like it Hot." 
That's the way the movie crumbles - Wilder-wise
Is there any more to say - gratitude-wise - other than "thank you, Billy"?

5. Alfred Hitchcock
Another big thank-you owed to Sir Alfred. Without him there would be no "Rear Window," no "Vertigo," no "Notorious." Not to mention no "Spellbound," no "Suspicion," no "North By Northwest," no "Rebecca," no "Rope," no "Shadow of a Doubt," no "Strangers on a Train," and no "The Birds," or "Psycho." 
No endless hours of beautiful entertainment and mystery, no fun looking for those fabulous cameos and no endless references to eating a leg of lamb as part of the perfect murder. Can you feel the love?

6. Kenneth Brownlow
Does this man look like a hero to you? Well, if a hero is considered to be one who bravely goes where none other has dared and who has made life better for doing so, then Kevin Brownlow certainly qualifies in my book. There is so much to say about this great man!

My first encounter with the great Mr. Brownlow was when, at about age 16, I found a book entitled "The Parade's Gone By" in a reduced bin at a local book store. I scooped it up and became hooked on all thinks silent (film-wise, that is!). However, it was Brownlow's collaboration with the late David Gill on the landmark 13-part series "Hollywood," was well as "Unknown Chaplin," "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow," and "Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius," that makes me follow his every move. His recent Academy Award was much deserved. All I can say is "thank you, Kevin Brownlow, thank you, from the bottom of my movie-loving heart." Oh, and when will "Hollywood" be available on DVD? Please, please, please resolve all of those nasty copyright issues or whatever holds this up. We need it!

7. Million Dollar Movie
Without WOR Channel 9 TV's "Million Dollar Movie," I would have missed such classics as "King Kong," "Godzilla," "Mighty Joe Young" and "Mothra." Before TCM, this was all we had, folks! But, if the caliber of film was not always the highest, it provided me with something that the classic film nut needs - repetition! "Million Dollar Movie" played the same film every night. So, if you loved it, you could watch it all week. And you know, if you love a movie, you can watch it countless times. Don't ask me how many times I sat on the living room floor and watched Abbott and Costello's "The Time of Their Lives."
Every night after dinner several times a year
An added bonus was the gorgeous theme song. The first time I saw "Gone With the Wind," my first comment upon hearing the overture was "that's the theme from Million Dollar Movie!" I've grown since then!

8. eBay

The marketplace to the world! Before eBay, I only dreamed of being able to get my hands on either memorabilia or just artifacts from my past that had special movie-meaning. A pre-eBay trip to California necessitated a stop at several shops to pay outrageous prices for some vintage photos and books.
eBay has allowed me to indulge my need for Hayley Mills paper dolls, various vintage movie magazines featuring my favorite stars, all things Edna Purviance, a few treasured Louise Brooks, Valentino and Pola Negri photos and a score of other photos and postcards from around the world featuring my Hollywood favorites. All at prices I am willing to pay.

9. The DVR

It is simply the best invention for movie lovers! DVR plus TCM = Contentment.

10. Cary Grant
I am always grateful to Cary Grant every day of the year - just because he's Cary Grant. You know I always find a way to worm Mr. G into my favorite things whenever possible! And what's not to be grateful for? That face, that voice, those films, that charm!
Cary and I wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings! How lucky are we that he likes the dark meat and I like the light?