Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Favorite Actors are Singers; My Favorite Singers are Actors!

Some of my favorite actors are singers and some of my favorite singers are actors and, more often than not, they are one in the same. I don't know what it is, but something about being a good singer makes for a good actor. Maybe it's because a singer is acting a story in a song and must do so on an intensely personal level. It just seems that many performers who are chiefly singers seem to have a naturalness before the camera that is comfortable and intimate. Whatever the reason, they display an ease that is irresistible. Here are a few of my favorites. These performers seem to be able to do it all!

Judy Garland

For me, she is the greatest Hollywood star There was nothing - nothing this woman couldn't do. Singing? No contest. Dancing? Do you hear Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly complaining? Beautiful? Yes. Acting? Matchless. Oh, Judy, let me count the ways!

1. Comedy: Judy was a superb comedienne and was well known to have a terrific sense of humor in real life. Her perfect execution of a Buster Keaton-choreographed routine in "The Good Old Summertime" is hilarious, as is her dancing with an over-amorous but under-sized partner in "Meet Me in St. Louis."
2. Dancing: Did you see her "Be a Clown" in "The Pirate"? "A Couple of Swells" in "Easter Parade"? Or how about "Get Happy" in "Summer Stock"?
3. Beauty: Those big brown eyes, that turned up nose, that adorable smile and laugh. And those legs! She should have thought more of herself, but being surrounded by Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor at MGM made her feel like an ugly duckling. Someone should have told her that inner beauty shows on the screen, too.
4. Acting: Catch Judy in "The Clock" and tell me this woman was not a brilliant actress. And, if that doesn't do it for for you, check out  "A Star is Born." Actors can study for years and never come close to this woman's ability to make you feel.

Academy Award Nominations: "A Star is Born," "Judgment at Nuremberg"
Academy Award Wins: Juvenile Academy Award for "The Wizard of Oz."

Doris Day
I believe that Doris day is the most under-rated of stars. While not as intense and emotional as Judy, there is virtually nothing Doris cannot do.

1. Comedy: Her strong suit (next to singing). She had great timing and always made her co-stars look good. In film after film she showed them all how it should be done: light as a feather and full of fun.
2. Dancing: Before Doris embarked on a singing career she harbored dreams of becoming a dancer. Her dreams were cut short by an injury, but Doris still had the moves. She did some fine dancing in "Love Me or Leave Me," but she also did some great bad dancing in that film - and that is not easy to do!
3. Beauty - no need to elaborate here. In addition to her lovely face, Doris had a knockout figure and was a great clotheshorse. Her style, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, was the envy of women everywhere.
4. Acting: Everything Doris does looks effortless. When given a role with some meat, she was perfection. "Love Me or Leave Me" is my favorite Doris Day performance, followed by "Calamity Jane" and "The Pajama Game." Alfred Hitchcock, who directed her in "The Man Who Knew too Much," was not an easy man to please and he had nothing but praise for Doris. That pretty much sums it up.
Academy Award Nominations: "Pillow Talk"

Bing Crosby
The granddaddy of them all - so much talent and ability wrapped in the smoothest, coolest most likable personality that ever appeared in movies. In case you need reminding, Bing was an unbelievably huge mega-star whose celebrity topped the charts in recordings,on radio, in film and TV. He was never once caught "acting," but could act anyone off the screen without breaking a sweat. Just dial "O" for O'Malley.
1. Comedy: Bing had a special talent for comedy. He knew his way around a funny line, especially when paired with buddy Bob Hope, and kept the box office humming in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
2. Dancing: This is one area where Bing gives a game effort, but falls short. Both he and Frank Sinatra (more about him in a bit), seem to only be able to dance below the waist. The upper torso did not cooperate. Oh well, I'll just close my eyes and listen.
3. Beauty: Is there any wonder those young gals swooned for this crooner in the 1930s? Did you see those big baby blues? Bing was mighty attractive and it was never hard to believe that he would end up with Dorothy Lamour (well, most of the time!).
4. Acting: Effortless, no matter how light or heavy. Comedy and musicals were a given, but he could tug at your heart in "Going My Way," and handle the heavy going in "Man on Fire," and "The Country Girl."

Academy Award Nominations: "Going My Way," "The Bells of St. Mary," and "The Country Girl."
Academy Award Win: "Going My Way"

Frank Sinatra
Well ring-a-ding-ding, the Chairman of the Board was a real movie star (besides being one of the greatest recording artists of all time). Frankie showed them all with cool, style and real acting talent. Really, is it fair that one man should be blessed with so much talent? Good thing he decided to share it with us! While movie stardom was just a fraction of what made him famous, he left quite a celluloid legacy of great performances. Miss you like mad, Frankie.

1. Comedy: Frank was an old hand at the funny stuff and could stand toe-to- toe with any funnyman in the business. "Come Blow Your Horn," "High Society" and "On the Town" were extra delightful for his presence.
2. Dancing: See Bing Crosby! Watch Frank and Gene Kelly in "One the Town." Frank's feet are doing the same steps as Gene's, but that upper torso is strictly immobile! At least he did it with a smile.
3. Beauty: I think Frank got better looking as he got older, but try to tell that to the thousands of bobby-soxers who thought he was the living end!
4. Acting: When given the right part (and when he was in the right mood), he was superb. "Pal Joey," "Guys and Dolls," (shouldn't he have been Sky Masterson?), "The Joker is Wild," "The Man with the Golden Arm," "The Manchurian Candidate," and, of course, "From Here to Eternity" - all home runs.

Academy Award Nominations: "From Here to Eternity," "The Man with the Golden Arm"
Academy Award Win: "From Here to Eternity"

Shirley Jones
A favorite of mine who came to the screen at the tail end of the great musical era in films. There is never a false note in her singing or acting. She was the fresh faced ingenue of "Oklahoma" and "Carousel," but could do the hefty lifting in the acting department when given a chance.

1. Comedy: While Shirley was not known as a funny lady, her appearances in musicals required a bit of a hand for comedy. And just in case you need a reminder, her Marian the Librarian was quite an amusing little minx.
2. Dancing: Again, her Marian the Librarian does tear up the library in "The Music Man," and quite nicely, I might add.
3. Beauty: High marks in this department. Shirley was and is an incredible beauty.
4. Acting: while not usually called upon to do anything but sing and be wholesome, sweet and lovely, Shirley's performance as the unlucky Julie in "Carousel" was moving and, playing against type, she showed them all what she was capable of as a prostitute in "Elmer Gantry."

Academy Award Nominations: "Elmer Gantry"
Academy Award Win: "Elmer Gantry"

Barbra Streisand
Second only to Judy as a great screen musical talent. However, since musicals were becoming a thing of the past when Barbra took front and center, she really got to show off her acting (and directing) ability. She has a legion of fans who worship her and she deserves it. The woman is unique, a great actress and one of the finest singers ever.

1. Comedy: Well, she is "Funny Girl" and "Funny Lady." Barbra is a natural comedienne with a self-deprecating sense of humor that can't help but make you smile. Her Fanny Brice in both films is funny and dramatic, but she was just plain funny in "What's Up Doc?"
2.Dancing: Barbra did what she had to do in "Hello Dolly," but can you forget her "Roller Skate Rag" from "Funny Girl"? Takes talent to do that!
3. Beauty: Barbra is unique and not your conventional beauty, but I think she is beautiful. She shows all other unusual girls that beauty is in your individuality and personality, not in a perfect nose.
4. Acting: Even if Barbra did not sing like an angel, she would have made it as a great actress. Aside from her Fanny Brice roles, she did great acting jobs in "The Way We Were," and in  "The Prince of Tides," and "Yentl" (both of which she also directed).

Academy Award Nominations: "Funny Girl," "The Way We Were" and for the song, "Evergreen" from "A Star is Born"
Academy Award wins: "Funny Girl" and "Evergreen" from "A Star is Born"


Elvis Presley
Elvis was a genuine movie star with real on-screen charisma. Too bad he did't get to appear in good films, but he was always fun. We know he could sing, and move, but he was also a very funny fellow who could also handle the acting if given half a chance. In truth, his movies usually stunk, but Elvis always transcended the trash. "King Creole" was halfway good and "Viva Las Vegas" was great fun. If only he was given better chances.

Academy Award Nominations: None
Academy Award Win: None (oh well!)

Cher is another performer who can do it all. Sadly, her screen time has been limited, but when she gets a good role the woman is dynamite! She is beautiful, funny and, although she is a singer, rarely sings in her films. Everyone doubted her, but she has shown herself to be a natural. She is utterly and impossibly believable as the biker mom in "Mask," the spell-binding sculptress in "The Witches of Eastwick," and the Italian-American widow in "Moonstruck." The only thing wrong with Cher is that she does not make enough movies.

Academy Award Nominations: "Silkwood," "Moonstruck"
Academy Award Win: "Moonstruck"

Other great voices who could hold their own on screen: Dean Martin, Bette Midler, Jeanette McDonald, Gordon MacRae, Alice Faye and Deanna Durbin. Did I miss one of your favorites?

I guess if you have the music in you, you can do anything!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Yes, it's hot here in my neck of the woods. Words like steamy and sultry and sizzling are bandied about and, while it should make me think of air conditioning, it is making me think of sexy movies (I know, I'm hopeless!). Because they all come rushing into my head like bargain hunters at a one-hour sale at Walmart, I need to put them in some order. Otherwise, I may just pass out from the excitement!

So, in no particular order, here are my top 5 sexy male and female film performances. This list is totally subjective and based upon my feelings today (things change on a daily basis here sometimes).

*** WARNING ***


1. Clara Bow in "Call her Savage"
This poster pretty much says it all: "The throbbing adventures of a woman who unleashed her heart... so revelatory... so courageous in its searching depiction of the secret things in a woman's life that its burning words left a trail of readers breathless and amazed."

Clara is unbelievably sexy in this one, especially when she is horsewhipping Gilbert Roland's "Moonglow" (don't ask) and frolicking - clearly sans undergarments - on the floor with her Great Danes. Just outrageous pre-code stuff.
Clara, just 27, would only make one more film.

2. Rita Hayworth in "Gilda"
If you have never seen this, all I can say is fasten your safety belts. While my lists of top 5 may change ever so slightly depending on mood, this one will never fall out. 
This is one of the sexiest female performances ever committed to film. Rita is beautiful, daring and totally uninhibited. In other words, she is Gilda.

3. Louise Brooks in "Pandora's Box"
The legendary Louise Brooks is so unconsciously sexy as the conscienceless Lulu that it is impossible to take your eyes off of her.
Besides that face, that hair, that attitude, she also had a beautiful back and neck, with which Pabst was apparently fascinated!

4. Ingrid Bergman "Notorious"
I admit that I am a sucker for Hitchcock and Grant and think those 2 could make any woman feel and act sexy. However, for Ingrid, who was plenty sexy enough, this combo just upped the ante.
As the good-bad-girl who dabbles in espionage, she is all woman. Little girls need not apply for this role!

5. Eva Marie Saint "North by Northwest"
This one will never fall off of my list of tops, either. Eva is Hitchcock's sexiest leading lady in this film - bar none. 
Always cool, always a lady (no matter how many men she beds), but sexy down to her tippy-toes, she is a sweetheart underneath it all (not to mention a knock-out in those fabulous Edith Head costumes). She is fearlessly sexy in this film -  alarmingly, but charmingly, so.


1. Rudolph Valentino in "The Son of the Sheik"
Unself-consciously romantic, macho and hot, Valentino lays it all out there for the world to adore.
Who needs subtlety when you look like that, kiss like that and have biceps like that? 

2. William Holden in "Picnic"
Need I say more?
Okay, if you insist. Aside from the fact that Holden was at the peak of his beauty and that the shirt kept coming off at the drop of a hat, when he and Kim Novak started dancing to "Moonglow," which segued into the "Theme from Picnic" there were never 2 more beautiful people on a lantern-lit dance floor.

3. Gene Kelly in "The Pirate"
Gene Kelly is a beautiufl, sexy man. Period.
In this film he gets to showcase his Fairbanksian charm, devastating smile and dangerous edge. His joie de vivre was never more evident as "Mack the Black" and he was never sexier. And that's saying a lot.

4. Laurence Olivier in "Wuthering Heights"
Again - you need more?
Okay, besides being impossibly handsome, earthy and sexy, his heartbreak over Cathy's demise was unutterably romantic. Great actor and great looks - some people get it all!

5. Cary Grant in "An Affair to Remember"
Notice how Cary crept into a few of the women's performances? Well, I can't help it and I really have a hard time just picking one, so I'm going with "An Affair to Remember," even though it is far from my favorite Cary Grant film.
I'm selecting this film because here Cary plays the pursuer. He is usually more the object of desire than the initiator ('though he always finishes up just fine). Here he is is the playboy who really wants Deborah Kerr. And what Cary wants, Cary should get! I can't think of anything sexier than being pursued by Cary Grant.
And finally, I am adding this photo because it looks fine on any day, but on a 104 degree day? I'd love to cool off with Cary, but I have a feeling you'd be able to boil an egg in that water!

Well, I could go on and on and on and on and have left out so many, but I did limit it to 5. Sorry Clark, Greta, Marilyn, Paul, etc.

So, how about you? Who steams up your glasses and sets you heart racing over the long, hot summer?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Only the public can make a star. It's the studios who make a system out of it.                  Marilyn Monroe                                        
Some stars are made by the public and some are the creations of, as Norma Desmond called them, "the masterminds." The Hollywood moguls of old liked to think that they had the power to create a star. Like Professor Henry Higgins, they imagined they could take the most improbable subject and transform him or her into someone the public would embrace.
By George, I really did it!
Once they hit upon a winning formula, their instinct was to mass-produce like a factory. It usually didn't work. Copycat stars rarely step out of the shadows of the originals, but once in a while, one is individual enough to stake a claim of their very own.

Here a just a few of the originals and their imitators:

The Original: Charlie Chaplin
Chaplin's enormous popularity spawned quite a few imitators, including:
The Copies: Billy West
West's greatest fame lied in his uncanny impersonations of Charlie.  Other than that, the rest of his career is merely a footnote.

Harold Lloyd
Yes, even the great Harold Lloyd started out as a copycat as "Lonesome Luke", a clear Chaplin rip-off. This always made Lloyd uncomfortable, and it wasn't until he hit upon his "glasses" character that his own genius was allowed to flourish (thank goodness!).

The Original: Rudolph Valentino
Valentino's popularity spawned a slew of exotic lovers, but none could touch the original.

The Copies: Ricardo Cortez

Ricardo (born Jacob Krantz) was totally manufactured star who managed to survive the Valentino craze and go on to have a respectable career in films before ditching them for a lucrative career on Wall Street.

Antonio Moreno
Best remembered as having "it" alongside Clara Bow, Moreno had a long, if unspectacular career. 
Ramon Novarro
A copy with real staying power and star quality, Novarro inherited the mantel of "Latin Lover" after the death of Valentino. He had a long career and a legion of fans.

The Original: Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was the most popular woman in the world during the peak of her stardom. While many tried to copy her, no one could come close.

The Copy: Mary Miles Minter
Mary Miles Minter gave Pickford a run for her money for a short while, but a lack of fire, real talent and her role in the William Desmond Taylor murder mystery put an end to her career.

The Original: Pola Negri
Pola was the original foreign exotic.

The Copy: Greta Garbo

Although Garbo was originally placed in Pola-like roles, she proved to be too much of an original. Before long, stars and studios were emulating Garbo, but by then she had established herself as beyond duplication.

The Original: Marlene Dietrich
They should have known better - you don't copy this!

The Copy: Anna Sten
Known as "Goldwyn's Folly," the beautiful Miss Sten was brought by Goldwyn to Hollywood as his studio version of the foreign exotic. Unfortunately for both, Miss Sten did not click with the public.

The Original: Ronald Colman

The perfect, cultured and romantic Englishman. This was such a popular "type" that many were needed to fill the role!

The Copy: Brian Aherne

Brian Aherne was a very respectable "second choice" Colman (he was awarded the starring role in "A Tale of Two Cities," but it was taken away from him when his friend Colman became available). 

The Original: Errol Flynn

Looks alone did not define his appeal. Although others tried, Flynn's looks, talent, charisma and charm were a hard package to duplicate.

The Copy: Patric Knowles
Signed because of his resemblance to Errol, Patric never made it into the leading man category. Really, a passing resemblance, at best.

The Original: Freddie Bartholomew
This precocious little British boy was a huge star for a time.

The Copy: Roddy McDowell
Another case where the copy had more staying power than the original. While Freddie was usually an upper-crust kind of  kid, Roddy was blue collar. And when Freddie grew up and went on to other things, Roddy stayed with us forever.

The Originals: Hope & Crosby
This stellar crooner and comic combination was a hit with the public. 

The Copies: Morgan & Carson
Warner Bothers tried to duplicate the success of the "Road" pictures with the "Two Guys" series featuring crooner Morgan and comic Carson ("Two Guys From Texas," "Two Guys From Milwaukee," - you get the picture), but the chemistry between Bob and Bing could not be manufactured.

The Original: Marilyn Monroe
The one, the only. To this day, she is copied endlessly, but never duplicated.

The Copies: Jayne Mansfield

Mamie Van Doren
Sheree North
All three ladies were blonde, beautiful and talented. Some were more successful than others, but none came close to MM.

The Original: Grace Kelly

Cool, blonde, beautiful, talented, but with a warmth that set her apart.
The Copies: Dina Merrill
Talented and beautiful, for sure, but so cool she was chilly.

Tippi Hedren
Cool and lovely, but no Grace (sorry, Hitch).

The Original: Sophia Loren
This Italian sex-goddess inspired many copies, but Sophia had more than sexy going for her.

The Copy: Gina Lollobrigida
Turns out, Gina had more to offer than the Italian sex-bomb roles she was offered and turned to photojournalism for a second and rewarding career.

The Original: Robert Redford
This male blonde beauty look was all the rage in the '60s, but try as they might, Redford had that certain something that could not be duplicated.

The Copy: Nick Nolte
Hard to believe now, isn't it?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then these originals should be blushing! As for those "masterminds" who think you can mass-produce a star - back to the drawing board. 

For more fun movie facts and fantasy, check out "Flesh and Fantasy" by Penny Stallings and Howard Mandelbaum (I confess to being a bit of a copycat myself!). It's a very fun book!