Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Myrna Loy: The People's Queen

Tenth in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

I admire Myrna Loy because she is strong, beautiful, delightful and the perfect everything, but I admire her most of all because she came up the hard way. No overnight stardom or fast track to the top for this gal. Myrna plugged along until, after years in film, she became a star. And not just any old star, but the Queen of Hollywood. By the time Myrna was crowned, she was a wise and down-to-earth ruler with no "star" pretensions. Myrna Loy was a monarch chosen by her subjects.

Myrna was born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena Montana in 1905. She was named after a train station whose name her father took a fancy to. After her father's death, Myrna and her mother moved west to Los Angeles, where she studied dance and participated in local theater productions.

Obviously, Myrna was a stunner in her student days. In 1921 she posed for the Harry Winebrenner statue called "Spiritual," which was displayed in the front of Venice High School. 
"Spiritual" - oh, Myrna!
The statue stood for many years, was featured in opening sequence of the 1978 movie, "Grease," and was vandalized before it was rebuilt using bronze (and can still be seen today).

Myrna left school at age 18 and began earning a living as a prologue dancer at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre. Rudolph Valentino noticed a portrait of her and thought she might be ideal for his film, "Cobra." She didn't get the part, but her entree to movies was assured when was hired as an extra in the 1925 film "Pretty Ladies" (which also featured another newcomer, Joan Crawford).

The Perfect Exotic
Prior to her part in "Pretty Ladies," Myrna had secured a role (thanks to Valentino's wife, Natacha Rambova) as a "vamp" in "What Price Beauty?" Although the film wasn't released for almost 3 years, publicity photos of an exotically made-up Myrna made the rounds, resulting in her securing a contract with Warner Brothers (and getting the new surname of Loy).

From 1925 to 1934, Myrna toiled in small and supporting parts as vamps, exotics and other various shady-lady types, often playing characters of Asian background. She successfully made the transition to talkies, but could not shake the vampy, non-American slot into which she had been pigeon-holed. Even when she did play an American, she was usually a bad girl, kept woman or worse. But, she worked steadily and made a lot of movies.
Myrna takes a dip in "The Barbarian"
1934 brought some notoriety to Myrna. Besides appearing practically naked in "The Barbarian," she also appeared (with Clark Gable and William Powell) in "Manhattan Melodrama." This was the film John Dillinger saw just before being gunned down in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago. After his death, it was revealed that Myrna was Dillinger's favorite actress.

The Perfect Wife and Mother
Asta with his parents, Nick and Nora Charles
1934 was also an important year for Myrna because that is the year she was cast as Nora Charles, the better half of the sleuthing duo of "The Thin Man." After 80 films, Myrna's comedic skills and great chemistry and rapport with co-star William Powell earned her bona fide stardom. She referred to "The Thin Man" as the "film that finally made me."

From that moment on, Myrna became one of the busiest and most popular stars in Hollywood. Her long apprenticeship had finally paid off. Her comedic and dramatic talents were showcased in "The Thin Man" series, and films like "Libeled Lady," "The Great Ziegfeld," "Too Hot To Handle," Test Pilot," and "The Rains Came." Elegant and ladylike, but with a wicked sense of humor, Myrna could do it all. Referred to as "the perfect wife," she and fellow MGM star, Clark Gable, were named the King and Queen of Hollywood in a popularity poll conducted in the late 1930s.
Myrna and Frederic March in "The Best Years of Our Lives"
In the 1940s Myrna transitioned to both the perfect wife and perfect mother, notably in such films as "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which she considered her finest achievement), "Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House", and "Cheaper by the Dozen." 

Ironically, the perfect wife was married and divorced 4 times and the perfect mother had no children of her own.

Her career slowed down in the 1950s, but she made occasional appearances in films and on the stage. Myrna's last film appearance was in 1980's "Just Tell Me What You Want."

The Perfect Co-Star
One of the most wonderful things about Myrna was how she always seemed to be the perfect leading lady for her leading man. Although William Powell never had a better screen partner, her pairings with Clark Gable and Cary Grant were stellar. She even made Clifton Webb look good as a husband! Her reactions to their antics were priceless and her dry, elegant, sometimes silent commentary on the male species brought out the best in her men.

That Profile, That Woman
Aside from all of the above, Myrna had a  delightful profile. That nose! It was, in the 1930s, the most requested profile by women to their plastic surgeons.

When you work very hard to achieve your dream, you know its worth. Myrna Loy never took her profession for granted, nor did she place an inflated importance upon it. In addition to being a star and a beauty, Myrna was also a stand up gal. 

During World War II, Myrna worked closely with the Red Cross and was so fiercely outspoken against Hitler that she appeared on his "enemies List." Now, that's a compliment! She also helped run a Naval Auxiliary canteen and worked tirelessly to raise funds for the war effort. After the war, she became the co-Chairman on the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, and in 1948 became a member of the U.S National Commission for The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Myrna Loy was never (!) nominated for an Academy Award, but was awarded a "special" Oscar for her life's work in 1991. Her acceptance, via film, was simple, graceful and royal, as befits a queen. It was her last public appearance before her death in 1993.

There is a new book about Myrna coming out entitled "Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood," by Emily W. Leider. The title refers to comment made by director John Ford while Myrna was still playing vamps and bad girls: "Wouldn't you know, the kid they pick to play tramps is the only good girl in Hollywood." 
Click HERE for more information about this book
Myrna Loy never made a "big deal" of herself. She let her talent do the talking.We are still listening and loving her.
The One and Only Myrna

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dear Miss Hepburn: A Mash Note to The Fabulous Audrey ♥

Dear Miss Hepburn:

May I call you Audrey? I hope so, because, unbeknownst to you, we have been friends for almost my entire life. You were my ideal as an adolescent, a young woman and beyond. You speak to the girl in my soul. You are my female Cary Grant, perfection in all you do. I'm not one to write fan letters, but I thought it was high time I sent one to you (since we've been friends so long and all that...).

How to tell you all you mean to me? I may be forced to steal some variations on some themes by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and a few other musical and poetic types. 

And so, charming Audrey,you are:

The Eiffel Tower
Stripes, Polka Dots and Plaids
A Compassionate Friend
A French Poodle
A Glass of the Finest Champagne
Civility, Grace and Good Manners
Big Sunglasses
The Little Black Dress
One Half of A Glamorous Couple
A Pixie Haircut
A Vespa
A Caring Heart
A Loving Mother
A Hearty Laugh
A Scholar
The Loveliest Flower in the Garden
A Sophisticated Fashionista
In other words, you  are everything I love! I am so thankful that your beautiful, joyous and younger than springtime spirit will last forever in film. 

May your light shine always.

Your devoted BFF,
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."  Audrey Hepburn

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's So Great About......? or The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars

Once upon a time, when I was a very obnoxious teenager with pseudo-intellectual  pretensions, I made my father throw his napkin at me at the dinner table. Dad had come home after a hard day's work as a mechanic and I had come home from a hard day with Shakespeare. As I was rhapsodizing over the macaroni and cheese about the beauty of Shakespeare's words (my Mom was a willing listener), my Father grumbled, "what's so great about Shakespeare? I don't think he was so much." Insufferable little brat that I was, I said something to the effect that "there's nothing wrong with Shakespeare. You just can't appreciate him." Hence the flying napkin.

While I might have not phrased my words in quite the right manner and tone, I still (after all these years) think I was right. Some things and people are just special and our failure to appreciate them does not diminish their greatness. While I got the Shakespeare thing right off the bat, there were a few other generally accepted greats that either (a) it took me some time to appreciate, (b) I am in the process of learning to appreciate, or (c) I give up! I just don't get it.

A: It took me some time, but I am on board

Joan Crawford: Having first encountered her in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane," it took me quite some time to work backwards through the eyebrows and lipstick until I finally made it to "Mildred Pierce." After that, a fabulous journey through the '40s and '30s and I am now on board the Joan Crawford Star Express. Forgive me, Joan, for not taking the time to find out what your fans always knew - you are magnificent! I'm sorry I ever asked "what's so great about her?"

Rudolph Valentino: It is difficult to assess the appeal of a silent film star unless you are fortunate to see them in a good print with good music. Sadly, my first encounters with Rudy were poor copies shown at the wrong speed with that awful overly dramatic organ music. And then, one night, the sheik stole into my tent via a beautifully restored version of "The Son of the Sheik" with a beautiful score and suddenly, I knew what all the fussing and fainting was about. By the way, he's still in the tent with me!

Vertigo: Being foolish and shallow, I initially couldn't get past Kim Novak's dark hair and eyebrows as Judy Barton. Boy, am I glad I gave this one a second chance. "Vertigo" is now one of my favorite movies. I find it endlessly compelling and - most delicious of all - am never quite satisfied. I still, after watching this movie more times than I can count, have questions. Of course, my biggest question is what took me so long to get on board?

Norma Shearer: I used to think her unattractive. Silly me. That's when I thought all beauty was just super-prettiness, not something more individual. Norma, like all great stars, was like nobody else. Her delivery, her look, even her stance was unique. She is definitely a product of her time and MGM, but I find her glamour, her magnificence and yes, her talent, undeniable. Plus, she has one of my favorite profiles. Long live Norma!

B. I'm on my way, but not there yet

Marlene Dietrich: I confess I was never a big fan of this fabulously individualistic star. There is truly no one like her. However, I tend to be emotionally drawn to people, and Marlene left me a little cold. But she and I have warmed up over the years and I can honestly say I truly appreciate her for all that she was over her long and illustrious career. She was beautiful, elegant and one of a kind. I'm in your camp, Marlene, just not in the front row (yet).

Humphrey Bogart: I get it. He's great. Again, I can name countless films of his that I love, but, emotionally, it was taken a very long time to make this connection. But I am much farther along than I used to be. I acknowledge that he is a great actor and great star. And yes, he is making inroads to my heart. I can't deny him in "Casablanca" and "The African Queen," but it's "The Maltese Falcon" that really gets to me. Bogey was made to play those men in the shadows who nurse a tender heart behind a tough exterior. It took me some time to see the tender heart.

The Wizard of Oz: I have had a love/hate relationship with this movie all of my life. I totally appreciate it, but on some level something has always felt a bit "off" to me. I adore the beginning back and white portion in Kansas, but once they get to Oz, I always get a bit nervous. I would never "dis" this film, but I am still not over the flying monkeys, munchkins, the Halloween lion suit and Glinda in her big hat and prom dress. Judy, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley are just swell. I don't know that I will ever be totally under its spell, but acknowledge this film's greatness and its special place in the hearts of movie lovers of all ages.

C: Still Trying,but not having much success

Marlon Brando: Unfortunately, I still don't get it. I am resigned to being in the minority on this point, but I find him most unpleasant. He may very well be a great actor, but I always get the impression that he is doing me a favor by showing up. Help me get in step with the rest of the world on this one!

Burt Lancaster: Another actor who is loved by millions, but who sets my emotional radar on "suspicious" mode. I appreciate him and can name a score of his films that I admire and enjoy, but I always have a bit of a negative reaction when I see him on screen. I find him overpowering in an uncomfortable way. Maybe it's because he excels at playing characters who make you feel uneasy (I really do love "Sweet Smell of Success") But - I know it's me, not him, so I will keep trying! I think I'll have better success here than with Brando.

And: The Sin of Sins

The Godfather! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, sob, sob, sob, I'm sorry, but I just can't get it. I know it's great. Everyone tells me so. I bow to its enduring place in the pantheon of great films. So, why do I run every time it's on? This probably calls for an intervention of some kind.

So, now you know my dirty little secrets (well, some of them). I'll bet that someone out there just hates "Citizen Kane" (I love) or "Casablanca" (I like)! Care to 'fess up and keep me company?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Passing on the Sweetness: A Sweet Award - with no calories!

Thank you to Dawn at Noir and Chick Flicks for sending a delivery of "The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award" to A Person in the Dark. Here is the link to Dawn's lovely and lively blog - Noir and Chick Flicks. Dawn always has such beautiful posts about classic films and stars and I learn something new there all of the time! Plus - she has a brand new boop-boop-be-doop look that I love!

Here are the rules:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award to 12 of your blogging buddies.
4. Notify the recipients.

7 Random Facts About Me

1. I love plaids, polka dots and stripes.
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is my favorite President.
3. I was born and continue to live in the place I love most in the world - aren't I lucky?
4. I love glitter. There can never be too much glitter!
5. Louis Prima is my favorite entertainer.
6. I believe a glass of red wine just must be good for you!
7. I was once married to Cary Grant and his last words were my name (okay, that is just a wish, not a fact). 

Here are 12 Fabulous Blogs (so hard to choose!). Please give them a try. I know you will like - make that love - them:

1. Via Margutta 51: oh what a special blog this is. Clara is an enthusiastic and clever movie lover. I love all of her posts and her cleverly named blog (see if you can figure out what it refers to).
2. The Lady Eve's REEL LIFE: I love this blog so much. The Lady Eve is a magnificent writer. Really - she needs to get paid for this stuff!
3. Viv and Larry: All things Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier - and I do mean all things. A beautifully crafted blog about 2 beautiful and talented people and the world they inhabited.
4. Life as a Movie: Utterly charming, and filled with delightful insights and luscious photos.
5. The Silver Screen Affair: This one has the glamour thing down to a science. I even feel more glamorous just by clicking on the link!
6. Classic Movies: Sharing a love of films with great articles, quotes and links.
7. Forever Classics: Meredith loves movies and it shows! A very attractive blog to spend some time lost in a world of black and white (and color, too!).
8. Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films.
9. Flappers, Flickers and Silent Stanzas: Reviews, poetry, photos and stories all about pre-code and silent films. A very special blog that I know you will love.
10. Edna's Place: This is the blog site for the spectacular and important website "A Journey to Paradise" all about Charlie Chaplin's wonderful, elusive and beautiful leading lady, Edna Purviance. I can't say enough about the work that site creator Linda Wada has poured into this site. Go now!
11. Backlots: A new favorite, this one is chock full of goodies (you know, the kind we like - stars, stars & more stars).
12. Comet Over Hollywood: A real beauty with the added attraction of being extremely well written and brimming with love for classic films.

Thanks again, Dawn!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Spirits are Willing and Rarely Weak...... The Spirit World in the Movies

I have the spirit world on the brain right now, having had my first reading by a medium (you know, they hear dead people). It was quite an amazing experience. Before the reading, I was 50/50 believer/skeptic, but after the reading, I have to admit there might be something to it! However, I am more easily mesmerized by a movie than a spiritualist, and even more mesmerized by movies about these special powers. 

I don't know about you, but I love to be mystified by the eerie unknown.Things like ghosts, spirits, messages from the spirit world, etc. that present a mystery are just plain fun! I doubt I would find having a restless spirit in my home fun, but on film, they do delight me. The spirit world has inhabited the movies since the beginning of film time. Here are a few of those spooky stories that "haunt" me.

Shadow of a Doubt
One of the most fascinating things to me about this endlessly fascinating Hitchcock film is young Charlie's psychic connection with her Uncle Charlie. As she longs for his presence and begins to send him a telegram, she receives one from him telling her that he is on the way. Of course, he is the notorious "Merry Widow Murderer" on the lam, but young Charlie doesn't know that (yet). She keeps hearing Franz Lehar's "Merry Widow Waltz" in her head. What does it all mean? I suppose we are to divine that there is a mystical bond between young Charlie and her uncle, but those powers of hers are never elaborated upon and it leaves me a bit frustrated. Did Charlie get married to Mcdonald Carey's cop? Or, did she share more of a dark side with Uncle Charlie than she would care to admit and run off and join a circus to gaze into her crystal ball?

Nightmare Alley
Speaking of the circus, this one just blows my socks off. Of course it's all about fakes and con artists, but Tyrone Power (along with Joan Blondell) are fabulous. Blondell's "Mademoiselle Zeena" holds the code to the phony mind-reading act, but Tyrone soon has it and she is left out in the cold. Not content with ripping off circus folk and nightclub patrons, he soon enters into an unholy alliance with a crooked psychiatrist. Ty is next passing himself off as a medium, as well as a mind-reader, and it all ends badly. Next thing you know, Ty's in the geek ring, biting off the heads of chickens. Love might save him in the end, but the love story is a drag on this otherwise great film about the dirty rot of ambition that corrupts the soul and how the vulnerable are preyed upon by phony spiritualists. 

The Others
I always love a movie where I just don't see the ending coming! I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might not yet have seen this, but Nicole Kidman and the rest of the cast are terrific. Also terrific is the look and mood of this 2001 film. You will constantly be asking yourself "what the xx%$^ is going on here?" and once you find out, your jaw will drop.

The Uninvited
This is a beautiful, atmospheric film with a great ghost story. Gail Russell is breathtaking and Ray Milland is romantically heroic in this English tale of a house with secrets. There are ghosts, but all is not what it seems. A chilling version of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," it's a winner and once you see it, it will be a favorite. Guaranteed. A bonus is the theme song "Stella By Starlight," which captures the fragility and beauty of Gail Russell's haunted Stella.

What Lies Beneath
This is a bit of a guilty pleasure. I know it's all been done before, but it does have Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford, an unbelievably beautiful house in Vermont, a thrilling (if over the top) climax and a pretty good ghost story. Again, I won't give it away, but there are lots of spooky things going on in the spirit world in that Vermont home, and even freakier real-life things, too. Michelle is glorious, Ford plays a nasty man here and the whole thing is gorgeous to look at. Turns out their outwardly beautiful life is not so beautiful. So, not for the hall of fame, but a spirit-world winner for me.

Some Other Spirit-World Favorites
The Wizard of Oz
Auntie Em! Auntie Em! (who looks like Dorothy's grandma, not aunt, but that was another blog).
A popular favorite love story, I also just love Whoppi Goldberg's con artist fake psychic who suddenly hears voices. She is a hoot. Karma, indeed!
The Sixth Sense
While my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time, I missed all of the clues and was shocked, surprised, and delighted when it all came together in that one scene (you know, ring dropping on the floor..... that's all I'm saying). I love it when that happens!
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Haunting, atmospheric and tragic story of a demented medium's attempt to use the staged kidnapping of a child to promote her abilities. Things backfire when the tragedies of her life intervene. A film I like and a rare chance to see the great Kim Stanley at work.
The Gift
A bona fide psychic, murder, southern gothic, suspects galore and Cate Blanchett. How could I not like this movie?
Well, it is a bit light, but I just wanted to give a shout out to my favorite ghost, George Kerby (aka: Cary Grant). Shameless of me, no?

Did I omit your favorite visitors from the other side? Which other-worldly film forces send a welcoming shiver up your spine?