Monday, April 29, 2013


Are you one of those people who knows more about old Hollywood than anyone else in your circle of friends? Do you know who was who at every major studio? Do you know the seamy side of the silver screen? Do you think you have a book in you?

Steven M. Painter, a film scholar who holds a Masters Degree in Film Studies, took that knowledge of all of the grimy inner workings of our favorite west coast town and has written "Take Her For a Ride: A Hollywood Story." While the novel reads like a film noir of the 1940s, it actually takes place in the early 1930s when talkies were new and booze was still banned.

"Take Her For a Ride" tells the story of Paul Russell , a big shot producer at Universal Pictures, his struggling actress girlfriend, Lillian Nelson, and Paul's able secretary Vera (who happens to long for Paul while sharing living accommodations with Lil). Supporting characters include James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Louise Brooks, Douglas Fairbanks,Jr., Norma Shearer, Jack Warner, Irving Thalberg and a host of Laemmles.

It's a story that zips along nicely. Paul's trial and tribulations at Universal (especially with Laemmle, Jr.) are well done and give insight into how much work really goes into making a movie. Lillian's climb to success at Warner Brothers is also depicted in believable detail. Lillian works like a dog, most of the time doing non-camera work, before things start to break her way. All of the glamour is in front of the camera. Deceit, sweat, determination, failure and heartbreak take place behind the scenes. The story of the making of the film "Dracula" seems very real and well researched and the depiction of Lugosi as an overcooked ham is quite amusing.

However, Painter, in choosing to plunk his fictional characters down in historical events, encounters those pesky annoyances called facts, and herein lies the danger of self-publishing. These are small things, but the head of Columbia was Harry Cohn, not Harry Cohen, the actor who stars in "God's Gift To Women, " one of the films in which Lillian appears, is Frank Fay, not Frank Fey, and though he states that Louise Brooks, who also appears in that film, was known as the girl in the black helmet, that description came from Kenneth Tynan's famous 1979 New Yorker article about Brooks. Actors have roles, not rolls, and Jack Warner referred to a script as possible carp when I think he meant crap (but maybe not). A good proofreader could have helped Mr. Painter's cause. I take issue with Mr. Painter's rather cruel descriptions of Joan Crawford (being on Team Crawford myself), but I've become used to that.

But, no matter. All in all, "Take Her For a Ride" is a fun story of the ups and downs and ins and outs of Hollywood in the early 1930s where everyone is taken for a ride by someone. Paul and Lil work it out, but in typically Hollywood fashion (of course). It just might make a swell movie.

"Take Her For a Ride" is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


The countdown to the days before the film I have anticipated forever has begun!!

F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. It is compact, spare, gorgeous, heartbreaking and haunting. Its theme of America being a place anyone can reinvent themselves is one that makes the classic era of Hollywood so seductive to me. And, as Theda Bara, Joan Crawford, Clara Bow and countless others after them whose stories were created by a Hollywood publicist learned, Jay Gatsby found you cannot run away from your past.

There has been some snarking and trepidation about this latest movie version Gatsby. I have read that there have been 5 previous versions, but I can only find 4 (1926, 1949, 1974 and the 2000 TV version) and all have left fans of the novel wanting more. I am most familiar with the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version. While it is visually beautiful, it left me wondering when Gatsby and Daisy were going to show up. From all that I have read and seen, this new 3-D Baz Luhrmann production will not be a reverential from-the-page-to-the-screen recreation. As he did in Moulin Rouge (which I loved), Luhrmann will use contemporary music as a background. I'm a little nervous about this, but I am going to trust the director's vision here.

As if the trailers and delayed opening are not enough of a tease, Vogue gave us these beautiful photos of Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.

"She blossomed for him like a flower"

Before seeing these photos, I couldn't picture Carey as Daisy. Now, I can't wait to see her. She looks as bewitching as Fitzgerald's creation.

On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio seemed to me to be the perfect Gatsby from the moment I heard he was going to play the part. He is one of the main reasons I am so excited and hopeful about this film. This could be the role he was born to play. He has the romantic longing coupled with the danger that is Gatsby.

"The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God - a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that - and he must be about his Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to his conception he was faithful to the end."

Tobey Maguire seems to be a perfect choice for Nick, and the rest of the cast looks mighty good, too.

So cheers to and fingers crossed for this new attempt to tell Jay Gatsby's story. It promises to be big and bold and beautiful. Oh please, please be vulgar, dangerous and romantic!!!!! Please, please be great!!!

Click HERE and take a tour of the incredibly lavish sets of The Great Gatsby.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Scandal! Charlie Chaplin Part 2

Welcome to 2013 - a year of scandals at A Person in the Dark. Yes, I love movies, but I confess I am a sucker for those juicy Hollywood scandals of old.

April's Scandal: Charlie Chaplin Part 2: Charlie, Joan Barry & Uncle Sam
Once America's most beloved star,
Chaplin is fingerprinted like a common criminal in 1944

After the Lita Grey scandal (click HERE for a recap of that escapade), Charlie Chaplin's private life seemed to remain moderately private. He still loved the ladies (and they loved him), but he confined himself to discrete lovers and nabbed a tasty dish named Paulette Goddard (to whom he may or may not have been married). His relationship with Goddard was both productive (they made "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator" together) and sane. But, by 1940 they had called it quits. Paulette, that smart cookie, got a Mexican divorce in 1942 and a nice settlement from Charlie, even though it is not clear they were even legally married. 
Charlie & Paulette: So cute together
On the loose, Charlie met a voluptuous redhead named Joan Barry (born Mary Louis Gribble), a would-be actress whose latest role had been as John Paul Getty's mistress. Earlier roles were waitress and shoplifter. Chaplin saw something in the young woman and was impressed enough to sign her to a contract, have her teeth fixed and pay for acting lessons. Oh, and to go to bed with her, too. Like Edna Purviance, Georgia Hale and Lita Grey before her, Chaplin planned to take an unknown and mold her into a star.
Joan Barry's most famous moment: on the stand
Chaplin's relationship with Barry, never public, chugged along intermittently,  with Barry accommodating Chaplin with 2 abortions. Unfortunately, Joan Barry turned out to be a nut job. After a few stalkings, break-ins and gun waving incidents, Charlie attempted to disentangle himself from his volatile redhead. Besides, he had just met Oona O'Neill and was falling madly in love.

But Joan Barry would not be denied. Although it appears the affair with Chaplin had ended almost a year earlier, Barry once again broke into Chaplin's house in May of 1943 and announced that she was pregnant and that Charlie was the father. Chaplin denied it and had her arrested. Joan promptly filed a paternity suit and notified the press.
Vicious x 2
During this period Charlie Chaplin had attracted 2 powerful enemies: J. Edgar Hoover and Hedda Hopper. Hoover thought him a subversive and Hopper was just plain mad that he refused to speak to her. Hoover and Hopper joined forces and, with the Barry paternity suit in full swing, crucified Charlie in the press and in the halls of justice. Chaplin's speeches supporting Russia during the second world war, along with his leftist leanings and lack of desire to become an American citizen after all the wealth and fame this nation had offered him, caused Hoover to see Chaplin as a dangerous red threat.
Charlie testifies

Chaplin defends himself
Based upon Barry's charges, Charlie Chaplin was hit with a slew of indictments, including one for the Mann Act (charmingly known as "The White Salve Act"). Fortunately, he was acquitted on all counts, as Barry was clearly a willing participant. But the star's already tattered reputation was decimated. The paternity suit then went into full swing, with Chaplin coming off as an aging lecher who seduced innocent young women and then callously tossed them aside. After Barry's baby (a girl named Carol Ann) was born, Chaplin took a paternity test, but at that time the results of blood tests were inadmissible in court. At the second trial (the first resulted in a hung jury)  Chaplin was deemed to be the father of Carol Ann and was ordered to pay for her support until age 21. Thus, Chaplin was forced to take responsibility for a child that was not his own. While most people saw this as the ultimate railroading job, Lita Grey, who had a few axes to grind, asserted that Chaplin paid off the 2 labs that did the tests to fake the results and that Carol Ann was, indeed, his child. Unlikely. But Charlie had badly misjudged his once adoring public, who turned their backs on him for good. It had all been just too much. The public hated it when the Little Tramp acted like a little tramp.

Charlie and his Oona
At the time the paternity suit was filed, the 54-year old Chaplin married 18-year old Oona Chaplin. They immediately began to build their family that would eventually grow to 8 plus mom and dad. Eyebrows were raised and tongues wagged, and, ultimately, Charlie Chaplin felt forced to leave the USA, but did so with the woman who was the love of his life. And he did live happily ever after with Oona and his brood in Switzerland and eventually, and at long last, in 1972, all was forgiven when Chaplin was honored at the Academy Awards.

And what of Joan Barry? Not much is known of her life after the trial, but she did marry and some point and had a son, who thought highly of her. After an attempt to start a career as a singer, she was committed to a mental institution by her mother upon being found wandering the streets of Torrence, California barefoot, carrying a child's shoe and ring, and mumbling "this is magic." Carol Ann Barry was raised by a guardian and went on to live a very private life (presumably, she is still alive). Charlie's checks came on time every month until she turned age 21.
After being born in the spotlight, Carol Ann went on to live a very private life

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Roaring Twenties: The Biggest Shot of Them All

This is my contribution to the James Cagney Blogathon, hosted by The Movie Projector. Click HERE for more, more, more about Mr. Cagney, the man who could do it all.
Simply Irresistible
Before I dive into this film, let me first say that, in my book, James Cagney could do no wrong. I love almost every one of his films, and the ones I don't love have nothing to do with Jimmy's performance. He was my first movie-crush and you know those crushes never die. Never before or since was there one actor with so much talent, charm, intensity, menace, humor and total charisma. He was one of a kind.

The Roaring Twenties

While ostensibly a Warner Brothers gangster film, 1939's Roaring Twenties is really a buddy movie. True, the ties of buddy-dom are pushed to the limit, but the bonds of friendship formed in the trenches of World War I is the key to one man's rise and one man's fall.
Bonding in the Trenches
Eddie Barlett (James Cagney), George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) and  Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) are foxhole buddies who return home to find the world has changed. After the Armistice, Lloyd comes home to a shaky law practice and Hally, once a saloon keeper, joins the ranks of the bootleggers in the wake of the newly passed prohibition law. Eddie returns home and finds his previous job as a garage mechanic gone. At the suggestion of his friend Danny (Frank McHugh - what would a Cagney film be without him?), Eddie starts driving a cab. Eddie soon hooks up with speakeasy proprietress Panama Smith (a terrific Gladys George), and they go into the bootlegging business together. Eddie builds up a fleet of cabs for liquor runs and even hires old buddy Lloyd as his lawyer, just to keep him out of trouble. The buddy trio is reunited when Eddie gets involved in a nasty gang war with Nick Brown (the almost always nasty Paul Kelly) and he and Hally join forces.

When the one you love loves someone else...
Eddie is sweet on Jean, but Jean is sweet on Lloyd
Of course, a love story kind of gums up the works. Panama loves Eddie, but Eddie loves Jean (Priscilla Lane), who was his wartime pen pal. Meanwhile, Jean loves Lloyd. Eddie gets Jean a job singing at Panama's club, but once Jean and Lloyd set eyes on one another, it's curtains for Eddie.

Now, Eddie is such a nice bootlegger (he drinks milk) and Hally is such a nasty one, you know that their partnership won't last. Hally, the heartless so-and-so, shoots the night watchman at a liquor warehouse, even though he recognizes him as his old sergeant. This pushes the basically decent Lloyd to the limit and he quits the racket. But, we all know you can never just walk away.

While Eddie rises in the rackets, he still has to contend with Nick Brown. In an effort to arrange a truce, Eddie sends his pal Danny to make peace, but Brown sends Danny's dead body back to Eddie as his response. Eddie plans a reprisal, but Hally, jealous of Eddie's power, tips off Brown, who sets a trap. Eddie kills Brown, but now he knows he can no longer trust Hally.

Now, you'd think Eddie would stay focused on saving his skin, but when Jean tells him that she and Lloyd are going to marry, he falls apart. There's nothing better than a love-sick tough guy with a tender heart. Loosing everything in the 1929 crash, he is forced to sell his fleet of cabs to Hally, who leaves him just one (to drive).
Eddie has hit the skids
And so, the mighty have fallen. Eddie is now driving his cab, drinking booze instead of milk and eating his heart out. One day Jean enters his cab and although he initially gives her the cold shoulder, he eventually wishes her and Lloyd, now with the District Attorney's office, and their young son, well. When Eddie learns that Hally has threatened to kill Lloyd unless he drops his case against him, Eddie appeals to Hally to call it off. When Hally refuses  Eddie shoots him. As he flees, he is mortally wounded by one of Hally's men. This sets up one of the greatest death scenes ever filmed. Eddie, wounded, staggers and collapses on the snowy steps of a church. As he lays dying, the ever-faithful Panama runs to him and cradles him, Pieta-like, in her arms. When a cop asks her who he is, her answer is only "he used to be a big shot."
Cagney's unforgettable death scene
As usual, Cagney doesn't get a leading lady worthy of him, although Gladys George, as the lovelorn floozy Panama, is unforgettable. This would be Bogart's last appearance with Cagney and he is his usual despicable self before bigger and better roles beckoned.

Based on a story by Mark Hellinger and directed by Raoul Walsh, this film was an homage to not only the 1920s, but to the great Warner Brothers gangster films of the 30s. Almost a decade after the 20s had ended, Hollywood finally could come to grips with those years and the effect the first World War had on a lost generation. Never again would Cagney's gangster be so sympathetic, so pure, so fundamentally decent. The Roaring Twenties was a fitting tribute to all of those dirty rats that started with The Public Enemy's Tom Powers and ended with Eddie Bartlett's poetic death on the steps of a church.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Amazon Knows Me (or so they think)

I wandered over to Amazon to see if I could purchase the 1930 version of "Holiday" starring Mary Astor (for the upcoming Mary Astor Blogathon). Bad luck - they don't have it.
Amazon thinks I should be watching a lot of Carole Lombard
But, while I was there, I clicked on to "My Amazon" at my favorite and addictive internet shopping site, just to see what they think I should be watching (and buying). I'll spare you the books, cosmetics and electronic devices they also recommend and stick to the movies.

Seems they know me pretty well, but not as well as they think. Here are a few DVDs they suggest for my pleasure:

1. The Carole Lombard - The Glamour Collection (Hands Across the Table/ Love Before Breakfast/ Man of the World/ The Princess Comes Across/ True Confession/ We're Not Dressing) (1931)

Amazon thinks I need this because I purchased a few William Powell films. Seems Carole and Bill are still linked.  

Price: $10.83 on Amazon Prime. To buy or not to buy?

2. The Organizer (1963) starring Marcello Mastroianni

Now, I have never heard of this film, but it was recommended because I purchased Chaplin's "Modern Times." 
Price: $13.99 on Amazon Prime. To buy or not to buy?

3. Speaking of William Powell, Amazon really wants me to have his films. Here's a tasty collection they recommend:

Price: $32.38 on Amazon Prime. To buy or not to buy?

4. Powell makes an appearance again, but this time the recommendation is a 4-pack Harlow.

Price:$11.99 on Amazon Prime.  To buy or not to buy?

5. Oh Amazon - you are so smart! You remembered I loved Garbo's silents. Here's a tasty temptation:

Price: $19.93 on Amazon Prime. To buy or not to buy?

I admit it was all quite tempting, but here's what I decided:

1. Carole Lombard Glamour Collection: BUY! While these are not my favorite Lombard films, the price is awesome and the collection might make for a nice giveaway someday.

2. The Organizer: BUY! A new-to-me film starring the glorious Marcello. I am sold.

3. The Philo Vance Murder Collection: Pass. While it looks yummy, it is a little too expensive.

4. The TCM Harlow 4-Pack: Oh, I am such a sucker: BUY!!

5. The Torrent: I am so ashamed. Not only is this a BUY, but I added this Garbo silent collection (Flesh and the Devil, The Mysterious Lady & The Temptress)  to my cart:

Only $7.49 with Amazon Prime!

Amazon Prime - I couldn't live without you! (Well you and my DVR and my Kindle and my hair dryer and the sleep timer on my TV remote).