Monday, October 28, 2013

The Magical Mystery Tour Inside My Head

No – this is not a post about the Beatles. It’s about the wonder and magic and endlessly enchanting internal journey that is my love of film. It’s why I write this blog – to give voice to and share that private and personal world of living stories in the dark.

Watching Movies: It's personal in public
Watching movies is such a curious experience. On one hand, you can share it with those in a theater (or sitting around a TV set). On the other, it is deeply personal. A look, a gesture, a snippet of a song can reach your heart in a way that echoes your own personal experience. Like a small tremor or a large earthquake, you can be shaken by the power of film.

Feeling the power
Unlike life, film never changes (though our reaction to it may). Bad day at the office? Cary Grant will always rescue Eva Marie Saint at the end of “North by Northwest.” Dog ate your homework? The Blind Girl will always see Chaplin at the end of “City Lights.” Spouse being a real took bag? The beans always win around the campfire in “Blazing Saddles.” People can let you down, but the movies never do.

The beans never fail
As with all art, it is what you bring to the experience that makes it unique. For instance, I have had a somewhat roller-coaster relationship with Irene Dunne, mainly because she looks like my mother. Now that I am older, I appreciate the hell out of her and treasure her in every way. But, not so much as a stupid kid. As for Shirley MacLaine, I should adore her. She has never offended me in any way and is generally a delight. However, she has the bad fortune of reminding me of someone who I can’t abide. Poor Shirley – I always have to steel myself before giving into your considerable charm!

More than a star, more than an actress
While I can appreciate great visuals and even technological trickery, it is always the power of human emotions that draws me in. Film is the greatest canvas of the human face and the thousand of emotions that it betrays.

The beauty of the human face
In December I will be participating in the CMBA Blogathon called Film Passion 101, which encourages us to share that first movie that got us hooked on classic film (for me it was James Cagney in “The Public Enemy.”). That was quite some time ago (no – I did not see the original release in 1931!) but not much has changed for me. I've been thinking about my relationship with film a lot lately and it amazes me that I am still moved by the power of film, new and old. It is constant, it is fixed, it is forever.
You'd didn't think I'd forget him did you? Another love that endures!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean

Oh joy! I have a beautiful new book on my coffee table!

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean is not a comprehensive biography of the actress. For that, you should refer to Anne Edwards' excellent biography published in 1977 or Hugh Vickers' bio published in 1989. Kendra's book focuses on Leigh's career as an actress, her passionate pursuit of and marriage to Laurence Olivier and the resulting legend that embraced and suffocated both of them. In fact, if there is one word to describe Vivien Leigh, it would be passionate. The book glides lightly over other important personal relationships, but deals sympathetically with the mental illness that plagued her and destroyed her marriage.
The Golden Couple of the British Theatre
For all of Vivien's gifts, hers is a sad story. Blessed with so much during her youth, much of it was cruelly robbed from her in middle age. One could not help thinking that Vivien Leigh was born too soon. Had she been alive today, new drugs and medical attention could have controlled her bipolar disorder. One also feels a bit of regret over her relentless pursuit of a stage career in order to work with Olivier. The camera loved her and Hollywood knew how to showcase her beauty and talents (she had 2 Academy Awards to prove it). But, she was a woman who was driven to follow her heart and, for her, all roads lead to Olivier.
Vivien triumphed as Lady Macbeth 
But this is a coffee table book and, as such, it is beautifully done. The size is just right (not too big nor too small), the paper is heavy and glossy and it is loaded with photos, some previously unpublished. Kendra Bean is the fist Vivien Leigh biographer to have been granted access to the Laurence Olivier archives. The information contained in medical documents and intimate letters shed new light on Vivien's great struggles and great triumphs and serve to humanize this seemingly other-worldly creature. As mercurial as she was, Vivien had a great capacity for love and friendship and made many life-long attachments that, though tested greatly by her illness, remained intact. Her friends were as loyal as they come.

If you are like me, the text of a coffee table book is important, but not as important as the photos and here the book does not disappoint. Vivien Leigh is a beautiful subject and we are treated to an eyeful of beautiful images.
Hollywood Beauty: Vivien photographed for Waterloo Bridge
We see Vivien at all stages of her life. From her youth to her early marriage to her charmed life as Scarlett O'Hara and Lady Olivier to the ultimate struggles with age, illness and loneliness, the pictures tell the story. And a big flat out thank you to Kendra Bean for including a beautiful full-page photo of Vivien as Scarlett O'Hara in my favorite dress from Gone With the Wind.
Scarlett's beautiful love bird dress designed by Walter Plunkett
This lovely portrait of a gallant and magical star has been a labor of love for writer Kendra Bean. Kendra is the author of the fantastic site that is all things Viv and Larry all the time.

Vivien Leigh: and Intimate Portrait is available from a variety of sellers, including Amazon.

Monday, October 14, 2013

SCANDAL! Clara Bow: The It Girl's Lifestyle on Trial

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.
October's scandal: Clara Bow and the Hired Help
The irresistible Clara Bow
The troubled life of Clara Bow is legendary. Behind the vivacious and fun-loving persona of the "It Girl" was an uneducated woman whose mad mother had tried to kill her and whose drunken amd worthless father had most likely sexually abused her. Her trusting nature and lack of a support system that had her best interests at heart lead her to be taken advantage of by friends, lovers, family and employers. Paramount Studios had notoriously overworked her and exploited the quintessential flapper in movie after movie and, when she was worn out by life and frightened by the microphone, famously saw her as all washed up at age 25. Her no-good father continued to mooch off of her until his death and lovers used her to get their names in the papers.
Clara never thought she was beautiful, but we disagree

From 1923 - 1929 Clara Bow was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. She was also one of its most provocative, with scandals always swirling about her. Her parade of lovers was legendary (she had four fiancees: Gilbert Roland, Victor Fleming, Harry Richmond and eventual hubby, Rex Bell, as well affairs with Gary Cooper, a married doctor whose wife named her as the "other woman" in a divorce case and maybe Bela Lugosi who kept a nude portrait of Clara until his death) and her devil-may-care attitude shocked many of Hollywood's elite.
Clara's fiancees: Rex Bell, Gilbert Roland, Victor Fleming and Harry Richman
By 1930, Clara was worn out. Tired of the merry-go-round of lovers, the callousness of her studio and scared to death of sound films, Clara thought she had found 2 strokes of good luck when (a) handsome cowboy star Rex Bell entered her life, and (b) private secretary (and former hairdresser) Daisy DeVoe (originally DeBoe) began to set her affairs in order. There was only one problem: Bell and Devoe disliked one another and guarded Clara, and their position in her life, with equal jealously.

In 1929, DeVoe opened a "special account" in which Clara's paychecks were deposited and from which DeVoe paid her bills. Under DeVoe's management, Clara went from near bankruptcy to financial health. However, she lost the power struggle with Bell, who accused Daisy of stealing from Clara and fired her. When Daisy asked for a severance settlement, Bell interpreted this as blackmail and notified the police.

At Bell's and Paramount's request, DeVoe was arrested and questioned for 27 straight hours. Sticking to her guns, she refused to sign a confession and steadfastly asserted her innocence. She was then jailed without the opportunity to contact an attorney. Upon release, she sued the Los Angeles District Attorney for false imprisonment  who, in turn, retaliated by charging Devoe with 37 counts of grand theft.
Clara is smeared 
In the end, DeVoe was cleared of 34 counts and found guilty, unbelievably  of only 1. It was unbelievable because it involved a check for $825 signed by Clara herself and made payable to the IRS for her income taxes. For this offence, DeVoe got 18 months in prison.
Clara testifies to the Grand Jury
But it was Clara Bow who received the harshest punishment. During the trial DeVoe divulged the most intimate and unflattering tales of Clara Bow's life. Tales of wild sexual encounters, drunkenness and gambling kept the public's attention glued to the trial. Smelling blood, a smarmy yellow paper called The Coast Reporter printed unsubstantiated tales of drugs, gang sex with the USC football team, sex in public, sex with multiple partners, sex with men, sex with women and even sex with dogs. Clara was ruined. In the court of public opinion, Clara Bow was morally unfit to appear in films. Adding insult to injury, Paramount cancelled her contract and screwed her out of the money owed to her.
Clara comes back in "Call Her Savage" looking beautiful and
supported by old friend Gilbert Roland
Clara, bruised and exhausted, married Bell and retreated from the public eye. She made a comeback with Fox Pictures in 1932 making 2 films that were successful. But, Clara had had enough. The remainder of her life was lived largely out of the public gaze, although Bell went on to have a political career in Nevada. While she struggled mightily with her demons for the rest of her life, she and Bell remained married and she had 2 sons who worshiped their mother until the day she died. Ex-fiancee Gilbert Roland never abandoned her completely and wrote her tender and affectionate letters throughout her life.
Although Clara and Rex had a rocky marriage,
she was devoted to her 2 beautiful boys
The story of Clara's dysfunctional Hollywood home eventually found itself as the basis for the Jean Harlow film, "Bombshell." Directed by ex-flame Victor Fleming, he knew first hand how the leeches that surround a star can drain the life out of her. Although it was played for laughs, the vulnerability and hurt that was Clara's was never forgotten by the man who once loved her.
Clara as she is remembered best: sexy, adorable and modern