Tuesday, November 27, 2012

True Classics Limericks - Part Deux

These are yet more entries in the
True Classics Limerick Contest
Click HERE and check out all of the 
fun and  fabulous entries!

(I just can't help myself!)

The Apartment

A man with a key had appeal
To his boss - for his love nest - that heel!

But he loved the operator
Of the corporate elevator

So for her, he'd just shut up and deal.

Blazing Saddles

Western dinners are made over coal
And cowboys eat beans in a bowl.

Who knew that a fart
Would be viewed as high art?

But such laughter is good for the soul.

Thanks, True Classics, for the fun!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

True Classics Movie Limerick Contest: My Inner Poet Says: Sunset Boulevard

This is my entry in 
True Classics Limerick Contest
Click HERE and check out all of the 
fun and  fabulous entries!

Sunset Boulevard

A Joe who couldn't pay for his car

Crashed a Sunset crib quite bizarre.

The mistress was spunky,

But he mocked her monkey,

So she plugged him for dissing a star.

(Sorry Norma!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Taking the Long Way To...Gary Cooper

Yup, I've been a real chump about appreciating Gary Cooper. It took me long enough, but, finally, here I am - just loving the man.

It's really not my fault. My first introduction to Gary was his work during the 1950s, the time when Hollywood starred its aging leading men with young female stars and didn't think the world would think it was icky. First up was 1957's "Love in the Afternoon." Now, I just adored Audrey Hepburn as the romantic young heroine, but the creepy-crawly factor of an aging Cooper chasing her around his Paris apartment bordered on gross. He did not age in a debonair way like his old Paramount rival, Cary Grant, and was just too old for her!!
Sir, please send a younger model to my room!
He was wonderful in "High Noon," but, again, way too old for Grace Kelly. Plus, I'm not a big western fan and I only thought of him as a cowboy star. I next saw a younger version of him in "Saratoga Trunk," with Ingrid Bergman, but it was so bad that I just could not get the appeal. However, I knew I had to be missing something because of all the things I had read about him. In his early days in Hollywood he was famous for his physical beauty and his appeal to a bevy of sexy hot women. Really? That tired looking old guy half-heartedly pursing Audrey with all of the sophisticated charm of Donald Trump? Really? 

His first big Hollywood affair was with Clara Bow. Clara was a mega-star at the time and she knew a good thing when she saw it (she famously praised him for not only his physical endowments, but for the fact that he allowed her dogs to join them in the  bath). Gary shared the screen with her in "Children of Divorce," "It," and, more impressively, "Wings."

Clara and Gary in 1927's "Children of Divorce"

Gary's other conquests - pre and post marriage - included Lupe Velez, Countess Carla Dentice di Frasso, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich and Patricia Neal.  His love affair with Lupe Velez was apparently a volatile one (she was, after all, the Mexican Spitfire) and she and Dietrich went toe to toe over Gary during the filming of "Morocco." Another famously hot lady, Tallulah Bankhead, said that she went to Hollywood to film 1932's "Devil and the Deep" only to "fuck that divine Gary Cooper." It seems she achieved her goal. So, what made Gary so hot? I had to find out! And, so I did.

Desire: 1936
As the decent guy who falls for jewel thief Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper's appeal is on full display. He is American to the core, shy and forthright, but never simple. He the American hero who is just complicated enough to have a sophisticated appeal. All I can say is - sigh!

Ball of Fire - 1941
He's so shy
As the nerdy professor who is bewitched by street smart Barbara Stanwyck, Cooper is a hunky delight. While it's just a teensy bit hard to believe that he doesn't know how hot he is compared to his fellow bookworm professors, he just melts my heart. Plus, he sure is a good kisser for a guy whose nose was always in the books.

Meet John Doe - 1941
Isn't he kissable?

Could any other actor portray this uncommon common man with such humility, honesty and humanity? And dig that stray hair that falls across his forehead.

The Pride of the Yankees - 1942 
The luckiest man in the world

Anyone not moved by the story of Lou Gehrig can't have a heart. A perfect part for Cooper, for he is the 20th century American hero ideal. 

So, okay, Gary, I am on board now. Your stardom lasted from the late 20s until your death in 1961. You were the real deal, a genuine Hollywood star. Irving Berlin got it just right in his song "Puttin' on the Ritz":

Dressed up like a million dollar trooper

Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper)

Super Duper Gary Cooper ♥

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Broadway Greats Via The Silver Screen

Broadway vs. Hollywood - it's always been a case of apple and oranges. Hollywood stars don't always shine as brightly on the stage and stage legends don't always make the grade on the screen and whichever you prefer,  it's always a matter of taste. However, there is one thing the movies have over the stage and that is permanence. After a great stage show, it all becomes just a memory. Once that performance is filmed it lasts, one hopes, forever. Especially in the early days of sound, many great stage stars tried their hand at movies and, while most didn't achieve great stardom in that medium, we are thankful that their talent is preserved.

Jeanne Eagles - The Letter

The great Jeanne Eagels. She is a stage legend and I was so thrilled to catch her only surviving sound film, 1929's "The Letter," on TCM recently. Yes, it is ancient and the sound technique positively antique, but the vibrancy and ferocity of Jeanne Eagels cannot be denied. Like a raw, jumpy nerve, she vibrates just on the edge of self-control. At the time this movie was filmed, Eagles was was in the throes of drug addiction and would be dead 6 months after the picture's release.

Watching Eagels, it is impossible not to compare her performance to that of Bette Davis in the 1940, slightly more sanitized, version of the same W. Somerset Maugham story. Davis, the film actress supreme, is smoother and much more subtle. But film acting had come a long way from 1929 to 1940 and something about Eagel's performance reminded me of something else - Bette Davis' 1934 breakout performance in "Of Human Bondage."

Here Davis acts in that raw nerve style similar to that of Eagels. Bette Davis was an admirer of Jeanne Eagels and it's fun to see the evolution of great dramatic film acting in such a short period of time. It's even more fun to have a permanent record of the great Ms. Eagels, for her's was an important talent.

Helen Morgan - Show Boat

Helen Morgan was a legendary torch singer who created the role of Julie in the original stage production of "Show Boat." She is an unusual performer for film, as her voice was rather reedy and she was not a traditional beauty. One thing Helen Morgan could do, though, was break your heart. Wildly popular in person, she had a lukewarm film career. She was a sensation in 1929's "Applause," but she was too unusual for film stardom. Luckily, she was asked to play the role of Julie in the 1936 film version of "Show Boat." Anyone who has heard her sing "Bill" can never forget it.

"Show Boat" would be Helen Morgan's last film. Her struggle with alcohol is written all of her face. Sadly, she passed away at age 41 in 1941 from the ravages of that disease. Happily, her great talent is preserved for all to admire.

Marilyn Miller - Sally
How do I love Marilyn Miller? Oh, in just so many ways. The original MM (for who the second MM was named), Marilyn Miller was a huge star and the darling of the Great White Way. A Ziegfeld protege and ex-wife of Jack Pickford, she was a diva deluxe who backed her demands with talent. Her dancing was legendary and she, like so many other stage stars, was courted by Hollywood at the birth of the all talking, all singing, all dancing musical craze.

Marilyn's greatest stage hit, "Sally," was brought to the screen by Warner Brothers in 1929. Filmed in early Technicolor, it only survived for many years in a tattered black and white version. Seeing Marilyn like this it is hard to fathom her appeal. She looks like a painted doll, as the Technicolor make-up looks flat and harsh in black and white. Added to unflattering looks, her singing voice is less than attractive. However, once she starts dancing, well, it all becomes clear. Filmed in full body shots like Fred Astaire a few years later, her love of dancing and entertaining cuts through all of the technical drawbacks of the era.

Some years ago an original Technicolor portion of "Sally" was discovered. Here, she is much lovelier (the make-up now giving her a flattering glow) and her elegance, joie de vivre and enthusiasm is on full display. Filmed on a set that was over 90 degrees, the energy of the dancers is impressive.

After 2 other films, Marilyn Miller headed back to Broadway. Musicals were dying at the box office and this diva was not interested in failure. Sadly, after one last stage triumph, Marilyn Miller would die in 1936 at the age of 38 from complications related to a sinus infection. Her signature song from "Sally," Look for the Silver Lining, is preserved forever and I am grateful.

Robert Preston - The Music Man

I am falling over myself with love for Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill, but while it seems that absolutely no one else but he could play that part in the 1962 screen adaptation on the stage show, Preston was not Hollywood's first choice. Apparently Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant were considered, but, thankfully, reason prevailed.

Preston took an unusual path to stardom via this film. A well known film actor, Preston never quite made the "A" list during his years in Hollywood (1938 through the 1950s). He was handsome, appealing, a good actor, but a tad intense. There was something larger than life about him and, from 1952 through the 1970s, Robert Preston found his true home on the stage, solidifying his superstar status from 1957-1961 as "The Music Man."

And so, here is is - the only actor we can ever imagine in this role.

Preston's movie stardom was sealed with this film and he went on to have the pick of film and stage roles for the rest of his life. And boy, did he make every film he appeared in better for his presence.

Stage vs. Film: always a debate, always a matter of taste. But, thankfully, the fixed, forever nature of film preserves those legendary artists who, without it, we could only dream about.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mary Astor: The Prisoner of Moorcrest

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess whose mean father and evil mother worked her to the bone, lived off her earnings and kept her a prisoner in a castle called Moorcrest in a place called Hollywood. Sounds a little "Jane Eyre" and "Cinderella" with a dash of "Rapunzel." But, this is no fairly tale and the princess was Mary Astor.

Beautiful Mary Astor (born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke) was the daughter of teachers who didn't really want to teach. When lovely Lucile showed a talent for acting and became a semifinalist in a Motion Picture Magazine beauty contest, papa packed up the family and moved first to New York, where Lucile entered motion pictures, and later to Hollywood, where Paramount Pictures renamed her Mary Astor. Papa Langhanke managed all of Mary's affairs from 1920 (at which time Mary was 14 years old) to 1930.

Mary's career continued on a upward path, though she was chiefly singled out for her Madonna like beauty. Sadly, the black and white film of the day could not do justice to the lovely auburn hair that earned her the nickname "Rusty." Mary entered into a true and passionate love affair with the much older John Barrymore at age 18, but Papa put the kibosh on that and hauled her back to the mansion they had bought with the money she had earned. It was this mansion that became her prison.

Moorcrest as it looks today
Completed in 1921, Moorcrest is often referred to as the "Charlie Chaplin House," as Chaplin did live there for a short while. However, after he departed, Mary's parents, who were learning to enjoy the good life on Mary's sweat, purchased this moorish-mission style mansion. It is a home with an interesting pedigree.

The original land that became Krotona - a Utopian society
Theosophy, a belief system that mixes a little occult with a little faith and a dash of science, was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1921, members of the Theosophical Society created their own little Utopia called Krotona in Hollywood, below where the Hollywood sign stands today. Moorcrest was designed by one of Krotona's founding members, Marie Russak Hotchner (former opera singer, society figure and architect). Krotona thrived for a while, but the materialistic lifestyle of the sin-loving movie colony soon convinced the Theosophists that it might be better to pack up and move to Ojai, where they still practice today. However, the Society's temple - the Temple of the Rosy Cross - is now part of the Krotona Apartments, located on Alta Vista Street.

The Langhankes were not Theosophists, but were friendly with both Mrs. and Mr. Hotchner. In fact, Mrs. Hotchner pleaded on Mary's behalf for her parents to give her a $5 a week allowance when she was earning $2500 a week from Paramount. What a friend.

And so, Mary toiled all day at the studio and was kept a virtual prisoner by her abusive parents at night. Finally, at age 19, she climbed out of her bedroom window and escaped, landing in a hotel in Hollywood. Hotchner again interceded and persuaded Mary to come home with a promise of a $500 bank account and control of her finances. She might have gotten the $500, but papa did not lose control until Mary was 26 years old. She finally escaped by marrying at age 22 and moving out with her husband.

Poor Mary Astor. She was a beautiful movie star to the world, but her life was a hell made by her greedy parents. When Mary did finally gain control of her finances at age 26, her parents promptly sued her for support. The case was finally settled, with Mary agreeing to pay mom and dad a monthly support check of $100. Mom, upon her death, left Mary her diaries. They were filled with unspeakable hatred of and cruelty towards the daughter who supported her.

Ironically, Mary should have learned that keeping a diary could be dangerous as she found herself, in 1936, embroiled in a nasty court fight with her second husband over custody of their daughter. Although never entered into evidence, her purple prose diary detailing affairs, especially one with playwright George S. Kaufman, created a huge scandal. While Mary Astor went on to create many memorable screen characters with her sensitive and incisive style, no screen drama could match that of her early life.

Want to know more about Moorcrest? Click on the link below to see how beautifully it has been restored.