Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Scandal! Mabel and Edna's New Year's Celebration

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.
May's scandal: Mabel Normand and Edna Purviance party down!
Best buds Mabel & Edna party with playboy Courtland Dines on his yacht
Poor Mabel Normand! Trouble seemed to just follow the high spirited and beautiful comedic actress wherever she went. First, her engagement with erstwhile suitor Mack Sennet was busted up, literally, when Mabel caught Mack in a compromising position with actress Mae Busch, who conked Mabel over the head with a vase and put the poor dear in the hospital. She then engaged in an affair with Samuel Goldwyn that may or may not have produced a stillborn child. Next, she had the very bad luck to be the last person (except the killer) to see doomed director William Desmond Taylor alive (Click here for more about the 1922 Taylor murder). Although Mabel was never a real suspect, tales of drug abuse surfaced and her reputation was badly tarnished.

Mabel had managed to make a comeback in 1923 (working with Sennet again) with 2 popular films – “Suzanna” and “The Extra Girl” – but on New Year’s Day 1924 trouble again found Mabel.
Lovely Mabel Normand

Edna Purviance is chiefly known as Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady from 1915-1923. Not only was she his love interest on the screen, for some time she served as his love interest off the screen. Charlie being Charlie, Edna was eventually replaced by a younger model. But, Edna didn’t let any grass grow under her pretty feet.

The Beautiful Edna Purviance
Courland Dines was a Denver socialite and business man who was sweet on Edna and even sweeter on booze. After a second divorce in 1923, Dines went west to Los Angeles to seek a fortune in oil.  There he met Edna and her pal, Mabel, and a happy little threesome was formed. Courtland’s parents were not so pleased that he was dating an actress, but he and Edna and Mabel were just having a swell time together.
All hands (and other body parts) on deck.
New Year's Day found Edna and Mabel at Dines' apartment. Around 7 p.m. Mabel's chauffeur, Horace Greer, showed up at the apartment, later stating that he had been called to pick up Mabel and take her home. For reasons that were never clear, Greer thought that Mabel was being held in the apartment against her will. Pretending to be a deliveryman. Gaining entry to Dines' apartment, Greer found Mabel on the couch, Dines sitting at a table and Edna in the bedroom (allegedly powdering her nose). According to Greer, when Mabel reluctantly agreed to leave with her driver, Dines tried to prevent them from leaving by threatening to hit Greer with a liquor bottle. Greer's reaction to this was to shoot Dines three times. With Mabel's gun. Ouch.
Mabel's gun
Throwing her powder puff aside, Edna rushed to the living room to find Dines shot and without a bottle in his hand. Instead of calling an ambulance, the 2 ladies and Greer got Dines into bed and tried to provide some first aid. This, apparently, didn't go too well, and, Greer decided to leave the patient and drive to the nearest police station, where he turned himself in. This prompted both the police and the medics to descend upon Dines' abode, where the wounded one was found bleeding and smoking a cigarette. The press described both Mabel and Edna as elegantly dressed and "excited" (which was a code word for one gimlet too many).

It was never really clear why Greer shot Dines. It was speculated that he had a secret crush on his employer, but Mabel denied it. Courtland Dines pulled through just fine and declined to appear in court at Greer's trial (claiming he was too drunk that night to remember what happened). While Greer refused to testify in his own behalf (for fear of harming Mabel), both she and Edna were painted as examples of Hollywood's worst behavior. The scene at the apartment was described as a debauched and drunken affair with - gasp - Dines only in an undershirt. Greer was acquitted (but arrested 2 hours later for possession of liquor).

After the Fatty Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor scandals, the public saw this as yet another example of Hollywood's wanton ways. Mable's films suffered at the box office and Edna's film, Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris," also suffered because of the scandal.

Trouble always seemed to find Mabel, who succumbed to tuberculosis in 1930. Edna retired from film and, while she didn't marry Courtland Dines, she did have a later happy marriage to airline pilot and executive, Jack Squires. Courtland Dines went on to marry a total of four times before dying at age 55 in Denver.

For a loving tribute to these fun loving ladies, see 1987's "Good Morning, Babylon," and Italian film about brothers who come to Hollywood to work on D.W. Griffith's massive sets for "Intolerance." There they meet and fall for two beautiful and struggling actresses named Edna and Mabel.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hayley Mills: Let The British Invasion Begin!

This is my contribution to the Children in Film Blogathon hosted by Comet Over Hollywood. Click HERE to read about more talented tinseltown tykes!

Before the Beatles, before Carnaby Street, before Twiggy, my heart had already been invaded by the British. Hayley Mills was my favorite pre-teen, teen and young woman. I wanted to look like her, talk like her, wear my hair like she did and wear the same clothes. I really wanted to change my name to Hayley, but I couldn't figure out how to accomplish that. She was my idol.
My love affair with Hayley started with "The Parent Trap" in 1961. That snub nose! That adorable haircut! That accent!!! And there were two of them!! From then on I scooped up every Tiger Beat, 16, Teen Screen and American Girl magazine that featured an article on Hayley. Photos like the one above (from "Summer Magic") adorned by bedroom walls.
Hayley as Pollyanna - the ultimate Disney child star
As I absorbed all things Hayley, I learned that I had missed a few films, most notably 1960's Disney version of "Pollyanna," as well as "Tiger Bay" and "Whistle Down the Wind," two films where here acting was most admired. Hayley came by her talent naturally, since her dad was acclaimed actor John Mills and her mom was actress and writer Mary Hayley Bell. 
Hayley and her proud parents in 1964
At the time of "The Parent Trap," Hayley was 15, so her shelf life as a true child star was short. But this kid had staying power and Hayley blossomed into a teen favorite. And yes, I endlessly played "Let's Get Together" (yeah, yeah, yeah!) and "Johnny Jingo" over and over on my non-stereo record player.

Disney (mostly) kept her busy for the next four years and  consequently kept me and lots of other pre-teens oh-so-happy. "In Search of the Castaways," "Summer Magic," "The Moonspinners," "The Truth About Spring," and "That Darn Cat"  - oh bliss!!! It was a great time to be a movie-going pre-teen.

I loved the great adventure of "In Search of the Castaways," and even then, I was taken with the twinkle in Maurice Chevalier's eyes.

"Summer Magic" was a particular favorite of mine. Corny, yes, but I was so enamored of her, her clothes, her story. I lived every moment with her up there on the screen.

and yes, I had these (and still do, thank you).

After "Summer Magic," Hayley got a chance to really act in the non-Disney film version of "The Chalk Garden," along with Deborah Kerr and her dad. Of course, I sent to see it, but I confess it was a little over my head at the time. Didn't matter - Hayley was in it.

Disney's "Moon Spinners" was one of my all time favorite Hayley films. It had beautiful locations, an exciting story, Hayley's name was Nikki (I loved it), she had a real romance, and some old movie vamp named Pola Negri slinked across the screen with an ocelot and stole the show.

Nikki is about to be kissed!!
Pola shows the younger generation what a movie star looks like
"The Truth About Spring" was much anticipated, since Hayley had another love interest (James MacArthur) and she sported a new casual bob. It was a non-Disney film and she co-starred with her dad.

Hayley's last Disney film for a very long time was the delightful and memorable "That Darn Cat." By then she was a little too mature for such fluff, but who cared? She was Hayley and the cat was cute.

The last time I loved Hayley at the movies was in 1966's "The Trouble With Angels." After that, she attempted to move into more adult roles, but her star faded and she was no longer a big box office attraction. She married, divorced, had children and lovers. But here's another great thing about Hayley: she almost never stopped acting. She did TV, theater and movies. She tried everything and shrank from nothing. In 1986 she returned to Disney in a TV film of "The Parent Trap II." She stretched her talent to the limit and decided to live an actor's life. After all, it is in her blood.
A swinging sixties Brit bird
Today, Hayley continues to act in TV and on stage. She is a breast cancer survivor and is still going strong. When I look at Hayley today I confess I feel a bit old, but I am also encouraged because that youthful glow still shines through.

Hayley today
And just so you know, her current beau is 20 years her junior. No wonder she is smiling!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby - In Baz We Trust

From the moment that I heard Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," I have been counting the hours until the moment when I could see this on the big screen. It was a long wait, with its planned December 2012 release delayed until now. But, I finally got to don my 3-D glasses and, once again, enter world of Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, Jordan and the rest of those jazz babies, flappers and shady prohibition-era gangster-types. All I can say is,  it was worth the wait.
Born to be Gatsby
Gatsby is the ultimate Hollywood story, even though it takes place on the gold coast of Long Island and there is just one little movie star in sight. The lure of the brass ring that promises a golden future, the American Dream, is the foundation of Gatsby's belief that he can invent himself and the foundation of the dream factory that is Hollywood. So, it's strange that this very Hollywood story has eluded Hollywood's best efforts. I haven't seen the earlier versions with Warner Baxter and Alan Ladd, but the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow didn't do it for it. It seemed too timid, too afraid to tamper in any way with its source material that it ended up being beautiful, empty and much too polite.
Just another night at the Gatsby mansion
Enter Baz Luhrmann, showman extraordinaire. This Gatsby is a feast for the eyes and, yes, for the ears. It is respectful of the novel (lifting chunks of dialogue right out of the book) and gives us Gatsby and Daisy and Tom in all of their glorious, empty excess. Much has been made of the Jay-Z, Lana Del Ray, Beyonce soundtrack, but it all fits. The marvelous party scene features a great Cab Calloway type and a heart-stopping version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue, " complete with fireworks. The 3-D is exhilarating  and just serves to emphasize the beauty in the already beautiful.
Carey Mulligan - I can now imagine no other Daisy
Carey Mulligan is a perfect Daisy. Here, her appeal is that of a 1920's Marilyn Monroe - soft, sexy, vulnerable. She is the golden girl of Gatsby's dreams. Tobey Maguire is very touching as Nick Carraway, Gatsby's friend to the end. Elizabeth Debicki is total 20s flapper as Jordan and Joel Edgerton is total brute as Tom. 
Nick and Jordan whoop it up at Gatsby's
However, none of them can compare to DiCaprio, who gives the performance we was born to give. From the moment he appears on the screen, his shimmering, elusive, towering "it" of movie stardom dominates every aspect of the film. He is mysterious like Gatsby, hopeful like Gatsby, wounded like Gatsby, dangerous like Gatsby and heartbreaking like Gatsby. He is bigger than any 3-D trick, any mansion, jewel or fancy car. He is a movie star and he is unforgettable.
Oh, to be loved as Gatsby loved Daisy
So, all of our fears were unfounded. But, I trusted Baz Luhrmann all along. He is big and bold and adventurous and creative and his work breathes life onto the screen. It may not always hit the mark, and this film is not perfect, but it is glorious, outrageous and beautiful. Fitzgerald wrote about those who stood outside the golden circle and were seduced by the vulgar wealth of the 20s. Gatsby entered the  circle and got burned. Luhrmann gives us the heat and the heartbreak.
Nervously waiting to be reunited with Daisy
Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you, Baz Luhrmann for giving us an almost-summer ADULT movie! There is nary a super hero, supernatural or massive explosive in sight. Only people and a great, human story.
Will we all be dressing like flappers this summer?
Will we be be having Gatsby-themes parties this summer?

Will girls be bobbing their hair this summer?

Monday, May 6, 2013

HOLIDAY (1930): There's Something About Mary (Astor, that is)

This is my entry in the Mary Astor Blogathon hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings . Click here for all who agree that there is just something about Mary!

Cary Grant is Johnny Case and Katharine Hepburn is Linda Seton in the film version of the Philip Barry play "Holiday," right? Right you are, but before Kate and Cary tore up the screen together there was an earlier 1930 version starring Ann Harding and, second billed, Mary Astor. Robert Ames had the Cary Grant role and the fact that he got 4th billing (behind Edward Everett Horton in the same part he played in the later film), tells you that there is a shift in focus here. While Grant's Johnny Case really did let a breath of fresh air into that stuffy Seton mansion, Ames is an interesting guy who happens to get in between 2 sisters. In the later version, is there really any choice between Kate and Doris Nolan? The fact that I can  never remember her name and always call her Doris-what's-her-name tells you where I stand. She is shallow and uninteresting and as soon as Hepburn's Linda bolts upon the scene, there is no doubt that she is the more desirable sister. But, in 1930, that sister is played by our Mary and she is chic, kittenish, lovable and very, very sexy. Quel dilemma! 
Devoted Sisters: Ann Harding as Linda and Mary Astor as Julia
Ann Harding as Linda gives a strong performance. Not as impulsive as Kate, she is a more thoughtful rebel, but she is as crisp and clean as the dialogue. Robert Ames as Johnny is no Cary Grant, but then who is? Where Cary and Kate had enormous chemistry, Ames seems to have more chemistry with Mary.   It's hard not to think of Cary when watching Ames, but if you take the time to read up on this actor, you'll see that he was quite the scoundrel who lived fast and died young (click here for a Wikipedia bio). Monroe Owsley (another actor who died young) as brother Ned was preferable (to me) over Lew Ayres in the later version. His depression and despair seemed more tragic.

Julia & Johnny
So, it is our Mary and her lusty chemical reaction with her co-star that sets this version on "Holiday" on its ears. She is too gorgeous, too wonderful, too everything to suddenly turn all materialistic on a big fat Seton dime. I really wanted her to run off to Paris with Johnny at the end and leave Linda and Ned and the Potters (Susan Potter played by pre-poisonous Hedda Hopper) to play in the nursery. They would have had a real adult romance. Or, better yet, I'd like to see Kate battle Cary for his heart. That would be some choice!
After a successful career in silents as a Madonna like damsel, Mary initially flunked her sound test. Rather than take a pay cut, she left Fox studios, did some stage work and, lo and behold, emerged as the purring, sophisticated, laser-point-perfect actress we celebrate today. She is never less than memorable.

Can't we have this version????
A note on the DVD version: it was just plain awful. I am not sure if there is a better copy out there, but the one I was able to find was almost unwatchable. This very well done early talkie deserves to be polished, cleaned up and made available, as it is an interesting companion to the more famous 1938 version.