Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy New Year in Living Color

While I absolutely abhor the practice of colorizing black and white films (a fad that has happily died), I have to admit that I am utterly fascinated with the colorization of black and white portraits of film stars. As I poke through cyberspace always looking for the right photo to accompany a blog post, I am struck by some of the beautiful work out there. I have many vintage hand colored postcards that are lovely, but I have to say I am really liking computer technology for this purpose.

So, I'd like to post a few of my favorites and take this opportunity to wish you all the happiest of new years. I have it on good authority that 2014 is going to be a wonderful year!

Aren't these just the bee's knees? Many thanks to the artists who generously share these with us.

Garbo and Adrian do it again in "Romance"

Garbo's eyes were the bluest of blues - I love this one

Vivien Leigh looking divine in "Waterloo Bridge"

Clark Gable looking even finer in color

I like this colorization of Harlow. Sometimes her hair comes
out looking electroplated, but here she looks very natural

Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky looking colorfully gorgeous

Valentino smolders in color.

Glorious Gloria even more glorious in color

William Powell and Clara Bow toast 
to the new year! I am totally loving Clara's gloves.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Clara Bow and Gilbert Roland: Brief Romance, Lasting Tenderness

I am hoping that someday a movie will be made about the life of Clara Bow. Not a trashy version based on scandals, but an insightful depiction of a life filled with enough tragedy and heartbreak to give those Greeks a run for their money. God knows this poor woman was exploited  enough in her lifetime, so one can only hope that the real drama of her life would suffice and she would be treated with kindness and respect.
The "It Girl": flappers, speakeasies and hooch in a flask
Unfortunately, kindness and respect were two things that Clara rarely encountered. Raised by a mentally unstable mother who tried to kill her and emotionally chained to a monster of a father who abused her in more ways than one, Clara was desperate for love, but, unguided, ran wild through the Roaring Twenties in Hollywood. Her youthful errors and unsophisticated Brooklyn background made her a target of the press. Her employer, Paramount, used her up and abandoned her. By 26 she was done. Mental and/or emotional illness followed and she lived out the rest of her life as a virtual recluse.

David Stenn's Bow biography, "Runnin' Wild," tells Clara's story with great compassion. Known for the many men in her life (Gary Cooper, Victor Fleming, Harry Richman, and husband Rex Bell to name a few), there is one story of a romantic encounter that stands out and touches my heart: her romance and engagement to actor Gilbert Roland.

Gilbert Roland (born Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso in Mexico) thought me might become a bullfighter like his father, but instead tried his hand at acting (his rechristened name being a combo of John Gilbert and Ruth Roland). He was gorgeous and the fact that he barely spoke English didn't matter in the days of silent films. He and Clara met when both were filming The Plastic Age in  1925. Based on a "banned in Boston" novel, The Plastic Age tells the story of those wild college kids of the 20s who do things that would make their parents blush.

Beautiful Clara and beautiful Gilbert, both 20 years old, soon became romantically involved. Clara later described Roland as her "first really big love experience." Young Budd Schulberg, son of producer B.P. Schulberg, was befriended by Clara on the film and recalled the blossoming romance when Roland handed him a note to pass to Clara:
The young lovers of "The Plastic Age"

"I don't know what was in the note because I was too conscientious to read it, especially when I could feel his strong Latin eyes drilling into my back as I caught up with Clara and delivered it. She mumbled 'Oh, thanks, Buddy, sweet of ya,' and took a quick glance over her shoulder at the young bullfighter turned actor. That evening they came into the local hotel dining room together, two head-turning twenty-year-olds whom my father had put together from such totally different worlds - Chihuahua and Brooklyn."

Roland was rugged, but sweet and both shared social insecurities: his because of his limited ability to speak English at that point and hers from a general lack of self-esteem that plagued her throughout her life. "We was real happy," said Clara, "sorta like two youngsters that didn't know what [life] was all about and was scared t'death of it." Bow's monster dad hated Roland because he was Mexican and Catholic (calling him a "greasy Mexican"), but her possessive father hated any man that came near his daughter.
Young Love

Clara and her bullfighter continued to have an ardent relationship for a time, but Clara was the girl of the moment and she could not resist the temptation of the attention of Victor Fleming and socialite Robert Savage who tried to commit suicide when Clara rejected him. When the press called Clara on the carpet for her dalliance with Savage she had a great comment:

"Well, lemme tell ya this. When a man attempts suicide over a woman, he don't cut his wrists with a safety razor blade, then drape himself over a couch with a cigarette between his lips. No, they don't do it that way. They use pistols."

Nevertheless, Clara's wandering ways and Roland's jealousy put an end to the youthful romance, but both remembered one another fondly for the rest of their days. She chose Roland as her costar in one of her last films, the successful Call her Savage. Many years after Clara's career had ended and she was living in seclusion, Roland was one of the few people she allowed to visit her. "Still handsome and still my favorite actor," she said. They spoke regularly and this one letter illustrates why Clara never shut him out of her life:

Hello, Clarita Girl:

I am truly sad that you don't feel well. Sometimes when I go to church and I think of you, I say a prayer. It will be heard. God hears everything.

You tell me that you long for your boys. I share your feelings. My daughters are with their mother in Wiesbaden, Germany. And there is nothing I can do, except cry a little once in a while.

I hope someday they show "The Plastic Age." It would be wonderful to see that dancing scene, you and I. It would be pleasant seeing how I looked when I was your beau and you were my dream girl. It would be pleasant seeing that. And then it might be very beautiful, and suddenly it might be very sad.

It seems you are in my thoughts.
It's good to feel that way.
It's good I have never forgotten you.
God bless you.

Could you have ever parted with a letter like that?

After Clara, Roland went on to romance Norma Talmadge and marry Constance Bennett (the mother of his two children). After divorcing Bennett, he wed again and remained married to the same woman for 40 years (until his death). Known as "Amigo," he was indeed a loyal friend to a fragile woman who was his "dream girl."

Clara Bow & Gilbert Roland in "Call Her Savage"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

CMBA Blogathon: Film Passion 101: Starstruck by Cagney in The Public Enemy

This is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association Blogathon: Film Passion 101. Click here for the full roster of fabulous entries!

I must have been about 10 or 11. My parents were going out for the afternoon. I assume my older sister was enlisted to be home, as well, but it felt as though I was home alone. I’m pretty sure it was a Sunday. I had probably just finished watching the 3-hour Sunday morning show, Wonderama (WNEW Channel 5 New York), and do recall being intrigued enough by the upcoming teaser to stay put and watch the afternoon movie, The Public Enemy.
Charisma to burn!
I almost turned it off. It was so old! The sound was so scratchy! And then he appeared and my life was never the same. It was Cagney and I was in love*. Who was this man? Was he alive? Dead? Famous? Forgotten? My knowledge of old-time stars up to that point consisted of Abbot and Costello, the Three Stooges and Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland and Joseph Cotton (thanks to an accidental trip to the movies to see Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte that had a live appearance by Bette and Olivia, but that’s another story). I do recall seeing Alice Faye and Bing Crosby on a show called Hollywood Palace, but not in any movies that I was willing to sit through.
But back to Cagney. I was under his spell. I had to know more about him. When my mom got home I was full of questions. She answered as best she could, but it was hardly enough. Monday brought a trip to the library to look up anything and everything about the man. Weeks were spent examining each new TV Guide to see when a Cagney picture would be shown, as I wanted to see them all (by my count he starred in 61 feature films; I’ve seen 50 – most of them on WNEW, who seemed to have the rights to a lot of old Warner Brothers films). While I love the Internet, I have to admit that nothing beats that exciting feeling when you are digging through old books and magazines and come upon a treasured piece of information.

Harlow was horrible, but who cared?
So, I loved the Public Enemy because of Cagney. I later learned that my Dad had a big crush of Joan Blondell and that Jean Harlow was not the world’s worst actress (my Aunt Lois apparently loved Harlow as a kid, kept a scrapbook, called her only by her first name and informed me that Jean never wore underwear). Oh, and that ending (Oh the awful sound of that rain, and did the size of that curb and Jimmy being sent home to his Irish mother wrapped as a mummy) scared the beejezus out of me. Poor Jimmy!!!

My love of classic film is always anchored to the star. Cinematography, director, all that stuff never much interested me and still really doesn't, although I have learned to appreciate it much more. I was star struck by James Cagney in The Public Enemy and from there it was just a short trip to this down the rabbit hole.
James Cagney

Bette Davis                               Ann Sheridan                          Joan Crawford
Ann Dvorak
Kay Francis                                            ê

                 Cary Grant

Katharine Hepburn                      Audrey Hepburn                Doris Day             
Spencer Tracy                              William Holden                James Garner
                                                       Gloria Swanson

                                                  Charlie Chaplin             
Edna Purviance                                   ê                               Buster Keaton
                                                    Mary Pickford
                                                 Douglas Fairbanks

 and so on and so on and so on.........................

Of course, that was only the beginning.....

* Before my massive crush on Cagney, I did have a kid-crush on the host of Wonderama, Sonny Fox.
Who sorta looks like my #1 movie star love affair of all time, doesn't he?