Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer Days With Ginger

With Summer upon us (at least in the northern hemisphere), we at Hollywood Dreamland thought it best that we enjoy some of these long, blisteringly hot days--I'm based just north of Miami--or "Miamuh", as the old-timers called it--and I'll be scaling back the posts a bit. Perhaps four or five posts monthly instead of the average ten, though this month has seen twenty one due to the Favorite Actors List draining my rudimentary thinking and writing skills. Hope you're enjoying the Summer wherever you are--or Winter, where applicable.

Still a Knockout: Ginger Rogers poolside-- and in color.

Friday, June 26, 2009

John Wayne: Still #1

Though he was number three on the Hollywood Dreamland Ten Favorite Actors List (my wife insists I should've made him top of the list, given that I've been a Duke fan for so many years), John Wayne is still number one in terms of how much dough his movies raked in! Remember this list from a few years ago, proclaiming The Duke the all-time greatest movie moneymaker? You don't? Well, read on Pilgrim:

John Wayne All Time Top Money-Making Star

GROTON, Mass., Feb. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Using data from 72 years of Quigley Publishing Company's annual Top Ten Money-Making Star Poll of motion picture exhibitors, John Wayne has been named the Top Money-Maker of All Time. The Quigley Poll, conducted every year since 1932, is an annual survey of motion picture exhibitors, which asks them to vote for the ten stars that generated the most box-office revenue in the preceding year for their theatres. Long regarded as one of the most reliable indicators of a Star's box-office draw, the Quigley Poll has been cited in hundreds of publications and appears annually in Quigley Publishing Company's International Motion Picture Almanac and on our site; During this motion picture awards season, it is interesting to see who theatre owners and operators believe really have meant something at their box-office. During his 50-year career John Wayne appeared in over 150 films, including classics such as, The Quiet Man, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but only won one Academy Award for True Grit.

To come up with a weighted score, an actor received 10 points for a first place finish, nine for a second place finish, etc. The total score was determined by adding up the weighted scores from each year that the actor was voted on the list. John Wayne's appearance 25 times in the poll from 1949 to 1974 yielded 172 points versus 165 points for second place Clint Eastwood, who has been on the list 21 times. Tom Cruise placed third with 133.5 points combining six first place finishes with 16 appearances on the QP poll.

The rest of the Quigley Top Ten All-Time Money Makers are Bing Crosby #4, Gary Cooper #5, Clark Gable #6 and Burt Reynolds #7. Tom Hanks, who was recently voted the Top Ten Money-Making Star of 2004, tied with Bob Hope for #8 and Paul Newman was #10.

Of the current active stars, it appears that only Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise have a reasonable chance of overtaking John Wayne in the future.

Perhaps reflecting shorter careers in Hollywood than men, no women made it into the Top Ten but Doris Day #11, Julia Roberts #13, Betty Grable #15, Elizabeth Taylor #23 and Shirley Temple #25 were in the Top Twenty Five.

The complete list is:

QP All Time Weighted
Position Top Ten Stars Score

1 John Wayne 172
2 Clint Eastwood 165
3 Tom Cruise 133.5
4 Bing Crosby 111
5 Gary Cooper 106.5
6 Clark Gable 95
7 Burt Reynolds 90
8 Tom Hanks (Tie) 83
Bob Hope (Tie) 83
10 Paul Newman 76
11 Doris Day 72
12 Rock Hudson 69
13 Julia Roberts 68
14 Eddie Murphy 67
15 Betty Grable 66
16 Cary Grant 62
17 Abbott & Costello 57
18 Harrison Ford (Tie) 56
James Stewart (Tie) 56
20 Mel Gibson 55.5
21 Robert Redford 55
22 Arnold Schwarzenegger 53
23 Elizabeth Taylor 52
24 Sylvester Stallone 50
25 Jim Carrey (Tie) 49
Shirley Temple (Tie) 49

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Surprising Joan Bennett

One pleasant surprise we as young(ish) classic movie fans receive is the "shocking" revelation that Golden Age movie stars were actually young once! Every generation since the baby boomers were initially introduced to beloved performers through perpetually-running TV programs from our childhood or these days-- DVD, since 99% of classic shows just aren't shown on television anymore. Anyway, we grow accustomed to seeing an actor in a certain period of their careers and then after years of seeing that one era of their onscreen lives, we get a shock at finding their young, beautiful selves. Years ago, I got this kind of shock upon seeing Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire. Prior to that, I had known her only as "Miss Barbara Stanwyck" from the TV western, The Big Valley. So, this pleasant surprise theme continues as I marvel at the above photograph of Joan Bennett. I half-jokingly referred to her in the previous post as "Mrs. Banks" from Father of the Bride because Miss Bennett was such a thrill to behold in this picture. Although she wasn't exactly ancient (age 39) as Kay Banks' (Elizabeth Taylor) mother. If I had to guess her age in the lovely photo now, I'd venture to say--22. What a beauty!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Meet Joan and Constance Bennett

Mrs. Banks???: Joan Bennett, early 1930s.

The lovely Bennett sisters are two actresses I'm intrigued by, though my exposure to them has been rather limited. Both Constance and Joan were stunningly beautiful and both adept at melodrama and comedy. Connie's career cooled off by the mid-1930s with the changing tastes from melodrama to screwball comedy and musicals, while Joan's roles slowed in the 1950s after her husband, producer Walter Wanger (responsible for Susan Hayward's 1950s success) shot Joan's agent and alleged paramour, Jennings Lang (guess where he was shot!), who was quite the ladies' man; Kate Hepburn among his many interests.

Joan (1911-90) is the one with whom I'm most familiar, as her role as Ellie Banks in Father of the Bride (on TCM tonight!) shows her low-key but effective sense of humor, but I'd like to see her earlier work from the 1930s and 40s. She's also well-known for her role on the Gothic TV soap opera Dark Shadows, which I just found out about!

Glamour Every Night: Joan Bennett prepares for some fancy outing in the 1940s

Sizzle: Connie, early 1930s.

Connie (1904-65) has two George Cukor-directed movies I have yet to see, Our Betters (1933; July 7 on TCM!) and What Price Hollywood? (1932), which is an early take on the A Star is Born formula. The excerpts I've seen look promising, and I am quite the Cukor admirer. I have seen her in 1937's Topper, but apparently that didn't make an impression on me. She gets another chance when I see her in her early-1930s peak.

I'm open to your suggestions and recommendations for these two ladies' finer films, and would appreciate all feedback on this most-pressing matter! I need me some Bennett sisters!

Ravishing: Connie in her early-thirties prime.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Favorite Actors, #1: Spencer Tracy

First Movie I Saw Him In: Father of the Bride (1950)

Three Favorite Movies: Father of the Bride (1950); The Last Hurrah (1958); Inherit the Wind (1960).

Honorable Mention: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Favorite Movie with Katharine Hepburn: Adam’s Rib (1949).

Favorite Performance: Father of the Bride (1950)

Why I Like Him: For years, all I heard about Spencer Tracy was that he was widely considered the greatest American screen actor. Everyone from Anthony Hopkins to Bruce Willis raved about him. Tracy was The Actor. As so often with these things, I had to do a little maturing to understand what all the hoopla was about. I was about twenty six when I first watched Father of the Bride and at first I was taken with the witty and literate script, the uniformly excellent cast, and the tasteful direction by Vincente Minnelli.

It was also the film where I understood what was so great about Spencer Tracy. I never saw him acting. He just was. That’s what makes Spencer Tracy so good. You notice and accept the character first and never consider the man. Ideally, that’s how acting should be. It’s a towering achievement, especially since Tracy lacked the typical attributes that make a screen actor memorable. He didn’t have a distinctive voice-- certainly not like the top four of this list-- he wasn’t considered handsome, wasn’t tall, overtly funny, and couldn’t sing or dance. He rarely raised his voice to get his point across, yet everything was present that made Spencer Tracy great and worthy of that adulation; he was natural. Tracy didn’t have the belabored acting mannerisms of the later conspicuous “method actors” with their superfluous gestures and cries of “What’s my motivation?” When watching Tracy on screen, notice how he listens—great actors are great listeners. He doesn’t think about what he’s going to say, but rather he’s in character and the person he’s playing is thinking and reacting as if in actual conversation. Tracy excelled at natural, unselfconscious acts and it was he before anyone else who discovered how important it was not to be “caught” acting. Tracy’s own advice: “Learn your lines and don’t trip over the furniture.”

His best performances are the films set in contemporary times. Tracy typifies the man of the 1930s and 1940s. Not the high-gloss glamour of those decades, but the man working as a newspaperman, coach, politician, and as a father. I often wonder if many men from the Greatest Generation modeled themselves after Spencer Tracy. Perhaps they didn’t, but I like to think otherwise; must be my tenuous grasp of reality.

Tracy’s films with Katharine Hepburn chronicle an accomplished, cosmopolitan couple and much of that Tracy-Hepburn magic chronicles a surprisingly-modern and still-relevant depiction of married relationships. We see Tracy’s difficulty in grasping a strong female in Woman of the Year and Adam’s Rib and there's that final statement of the couple’s history in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? I've always viewed these three movies as chronicling the beginning, middle, and end of their onscreen partnership, as if it were the same couple in all three films. There’s never been a couple whose on-screen collaborations have produced such a rich, deep, and meaningful body of work.

Spencer Tracy was a giant among movie stars. His peers respected his talent, and Tracy received nine Oscar nominations for Best Actor, winning back-to-back awards in 1937-38. It would be nearly sixty years before that feat was duplicated. By the early sixties, Tracy was the craggy face and weathered voice of wisdom. Who else could have been the voice of reason in Inherit the Wind or Judgment at Nuremberg? Or the narrator of the American experience in How the West Was Won? Tracy’s stature as an actor and a screen presence were unparalleled within the movie industry. Spencer Tracy was a tormented and unhappy man and no one knew exactly why. Tracy was prone to sudden rages and odd behavior, and was plagued by alcoholism, which hastened his decline; I choose to remember Spencer Tracy the artist. His brilliant, low-key, and unaffected performances put him at the very top of this list.

Random Info: Lived in a rented bungalow on director George Cukor’s estate for several years.

So there you have it, Hollywood Dreamland's Top Ten Favorite Actors. There are eight million lists in the Classic Movie Blog-o-sphere; this has been one of them…

None Better: Spencer Tracy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Favorite Actors, #2: James Stewart

First Movie I Saw Him In: The Stratton Story (1949)

Three Favorite Movies: The Philadelphia Story (1940); Anatomy of a Murder (1959); Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)

Honorable Mention: Bend of the River (1952)

Favorite Performance [this week, anyway]: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Why I Like Him: I was stunned by my babbling incoherence in the previous entry, so I’ll taper back on this one.

Do you know how hard it is to pick only three favorite James Stewart movies? Choosing a single favorite performance is even more difficult. I’m staggered by the amount of great movies he’s done and the directors with whom he’s worked. He’s also well-known enough that I know that what I like about James Stewart is most likely what everyone likes about him.

Stewart’s career was so rich and varied that his career can be divided into separate periods: The young, idealistic Jimmy that dazzled us as an everyman in the 30s and 40s; the hard, tightly-wound Stewart of the early 1950s whose psychological torment as seen in all those Anthony Mann westerns reflected the dark, unpleasant side of America; and there’s the elder statesman, whose man-of-the-establishment, folksy wisdom and “seen it all” attitude, which was representative of a generation of Americans who had endured the most horrific conflict the world has ever known. Every decade of Stewart’s career is fascinating and for a man who was often labeled the everyman, Stewart himself was, too.

With Stewart, I’d want to be like his greatest screen characters. To be thoughtful, reflective, and even-handed enough in my beliefs and judgments that it would result in my attaining a decency and dignity like Stewart himself idealized in his greatest roles. I love the elder statesman Stewart the best, which is why the otherwise fluffy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation is among my favorite movies of his. He’s a rock of the establishment and still possesses those great qualities that made him one of the most beloved stars in movies. By the time that film was made, James Stewart was an icon and an institution. Actually, he became that icon the moment he completed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939. After that, he would catapult himself into the legion of immortal actors—but not before serving his country and performing the most dangerous duty of World War II—bomber pilot over Germany. At the start of his career as a leading man, Stewart put that promising career aside, serving in the military and remained in the reserves for two decades. It’s as though Stewart was the common man of the Greatest Generation and that his growth in his film career reflected the changes both he and his country faced. That sounds heavy-handed but that’s how I see him.

Big concepts aside, I just like his folksy, aw-shucks manner, and average Joe characterizations; he’s just so darn likable! When I see his early movies and then flash forward to his latter period, I see the same character. It’s like having a grandfather who’s older and wiser, but you also know that he was once a young firebrand like Jefferson Smith or a man down on his luck like George Bailey, or the cagey lawyer in Anatomy of a Murder. But it’s more than that; his best roles are when he’s the regular guy who ends up doing things that are more important than things in his own self interest: whether it was a filibuster in Congress, defending settlers from predatory outlaws, protecting his family from the encroaching Civil War, or dealing with his own personal demons.

Random Info: In his later years, Stewart appeared on The Tonight Show and recited some of his original poetry. He was also amusing when he poked fun at his reputation for stammering.

James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Favorite Actors, #3: John Wayne

First Movie I Saw Him In: I don’t know; the Duke’s always been around. The Alamo (1960) comes to mind, though I know that's not it.

Three Favorite Movies: The Searchers (1956); El Dorado (1967); The Shootist (1976)

Honorable Mention: Rio Grande (1950)

Favorite Performance: The Searchers (1956)

Why I Like Him: You either love him or you don’t. It’s that simple. Now that that’s out of the way…

This is the toughest entry because I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching a John Wayne movie. But the Duke was a simple, direct man so my admiration for his movies should make for a simple entry. Early on, I probably tuned in because parents or grandparents were watching, so his presence in my movie-viewing life goes way back. Before I even knew about movie stars or movie genres, I was watching John Wayne. You couldn’t get me to sit still for a Cary Grant movie, but if it was a western and John Wayne was in it, I was there. John Wayne was the first “action hero” I can recall and he’s the only movie star who became a genre unto himself. His continued popularity is amazing. Wayne was such a force of nature that when the Western was in decline in the early 1970s, he was the only major star making them—his westerns continued to earn money at the box office. I remember trips to a video store—not a rental store, but where all videos are for sale—and John Wayne had his own section! He remains the most-popular movie star ever and was a top ten attraction for twenty-five years. His appeal is primarily to men, for his no-nonsense, rugged individualism, and his penchant for kicking ass, though not in that order. If there are any female John Wayne fans reading this, please comment! I refuse to believe that his popularity lies squarely in the realm of macho.

I honestly can’t describe all my reasons for liking John Wayne.; his movies are “comforting.” I also enjoy the stock company of actors he often appeared with, whether it is in his films with director John Ford or later on when Duke was a producer of his own films. He is and will always be a vastly underrated performer, despite all of his career accomplishments and popularity. One thing that gets me angry is when people parrot what Wayne’s critics say or things people they know say about Wayne: “He can’t act; he’s the same character in every movie.” Give his movies a try and you’ll see an excellent screen actor who excelled at comedy, both with wild slapstick as well as the subtler humor of his more serious pictures. Of course, it was always within the John Wayne screen character, but you could make that same claim against 99% of all actors throughout film history. And face it: any actor who John Ford sees fit to cast in his greatest films has to have considerable ability. John Ford didn't suffer anyone gladly, least of all someone who could be dismissed as not being able to act! And if Wayne couldn't act, then he's still the greatest actor of all time, because he fooled the world all of those years he was top of the heap. And Wayne continues to bamboozle the masses thirty years after his death. Hey, that John Wayne was good! The bottom line about movie stars is that their success is measured in how well that performer can work within his or her definitions and Wayne is no exception. In fact, he’s the rule. It’s an argument I’ll not continue here; the man's polarizing enough without me having to defend his very ability!

A couple things that keep John Wayne from being my all-time favorite actor is that he didn’t do romantic comedies and he was rarely in movies set in contemporary times. I’d love to have seen the Duke as a Frank Capra everyman; he would have been great in such a role. Wayne was wonderful in what he did; too bad he didn't do some different things outside of war and western movies. Of course, he may have had a few more box-office flops…but it’d be interesting to see.

Random Thoughts: The greatest Wayne quote comes from The Shootist:

“I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Favorite Actors, #4: Cary Grant

First Movie I Saw Him In: North By Northwest (1959; age 11 with my grandparents)

Three Favorite Movies: The Awful Truth (1937); The Philadelphia Story (1940); North By Northwest (1959)

Honorable Mention: His Girl Friday (1946)

Favorite Performance: The Awful Truth (1937)

Why I Like Him: [Cue Masterpiece Theater music] A sign that a lad is growing up is when he starts to appreciate movies where something doesn’t have to explode every second or have his ears insulted by constant gunfire only interrupted by a thick Austrian accent barely getting out a “catchy” one liner. Instead, the growing lad finds it stimulating when he can savor an actor with impeccable comic timing, a dark side when the material calls for it, and a well-attired gent with every hair on his head perfectly coiffed, as well as a wardrobe that does not consist of ragged, stained logo t-shirts and jeans. No, the maturation process begins with appreciating an actor with splendid sophistication and an appeal to women and an effortless charm and suavity. He’s also the template for any man to emulate. My dear boy, welcome to Cary Grant.

Cary Grant is another actor I’ve scrawled on and on about in these pages, so I won’t repeat what I’ve already posted. I use the name of one of his characters in one of his many, many great films. I’m sure there were dozens of leading men who should’ve sent Cary a case of his favorite liquor every year for the many roles that Cary didn’t accept—with the exception of a slow start in the early 1950s, Grant’s body of work is among the most impressive careers in the history of film. Once he got his start with 1937’s The Awful Truth, the Grant screen image was set. Here was a dashing, handsome, yet funny guy who wasn’t afraid to fall down for a gag and get that great head of hair disheveled. He’d play second fiddle to a wire-haired Terrier named Mr. Smith or George, be made a fool of by a screwball heiress. Here was a leading man who didn’t seem to take himself all that seriously on screen. But Grant could dangle on the darker end of the spectrum, too. He'd break down in tears and beg to keep his child or twist himself up emotionally over a love affair. Grant’s approach was unique and still modern. You could reach the moon climbing the also-rans who were labeled “The Next Cary Grant.” (The latest rung on that ladder is named Clooney).

Random Info: Was the opposite of his worldly, sophisticated screen image. Grant preferred pub food and casual clothes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Favorite Actors, #5: Burt Lancaster

Now we enter that special place: The Top Five. This is where the appreciation for each actor grows exponentially with every entry.

First Movie I Saw Him In: Gunfight at O.K. Corral (1957; circa 1984, age 13)

Three Favorite Movies: From Here to Eternity (1953); Sweet Smell of Success (1957); The Swimmer (1968)

Honorable Mention: Lawman (1971)

Favorite Performance: Elmer Gantry (1960)

Why I Like Him: With sixty-four teeth instead of the traditional thirty-two, unparalleled athleticism, and distinct speaking mannerisms, Burt Lancaster was one of the 1950s’ most magnetic on-screen personalities. He was brash, cool, belligerent, and charming. I’ve already scribbled a couple of entries on Burt’s career, but what I didn’t touch on was his ability to change with the times. After a tentative period in the mid-1960s, Lancaster evolved into elder statesman status with a series of gritty, bleak, and violent films beginning with 1971’s Lawman. He continued on that track with Valdez is Coming (1972), Ulzana’s Raid (1972), and Scorpio (1973). These movies weren’t masterworks like many of his 1950s films, but they’re fascinating to see how Lancaster was able to use the harshness of his own personality to full effect once the Production Code and Studio System were dead. Sometimes it’s off-putting to see the “old timers” in the early 1970s performing in such graphic films, but Lancaster took the challenge and was able to be believable in movies with graphic material. Burt Lancaster would’ve been a star during any time in film history.

Maybe it was all those Noir roles early in his career, but for me Lancaster’s best movies are the ones where he’s morally shady: Come Back, Little Sheba; Vera Cruz; Sweet Smell of Success; Elmer Gantry; The Birdman of Alcatraz; Seven Days In May; and Lawman, for example. Burt’s characters inhabit the gray area of morality or they can just be downright bad. When Lancaster gets parts like these he’s the most mesmerizing figure in films. When Burt is cast as a regular movie hero, the performance is fine, but lacks the depth (and interest from me) that he brings to the morally ambiguous characters which typify his best performances. I think the real Burt Lancaster, for better or worse, comes out in those roles, and he’s a knockout when he does. You'd also be hard pressed to find another leading man from Burt's era who so willingly chose unconventional projects with which to stretch his acting range. Would Gary Cooper ever play a cold-blooded killer? Never. But Burt would do it and do it well.

Random Info: Though raised in a humble family, Burt became a learned, wealthy, and highly-cultured man after fame found him. He boasted a large art collection, and loved opera.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sun, Sand, and Surf With Gene Tierney

The Favorite Actors countdown will resume Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the sun, sand, and surf with lovely Gene Tierney.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Favorite Actors, #6: William Powell

First Movie I Saw Him In: Mr. Roberts (1955)

Three Favorite Movies: The Thin Man (1934); After the Thin Man (1936); Love Crazy (1941)

Honorable Mention: Libeled Lady (1936)

Favorite Performance: The Thin Man (1934)

Why I Like Him: Powell’s the relative newcomer on this list, even though I’ve watched those Thin Man movies countless times for nearly ten years now. He’ll always be Nick Charles to me, and that makes him just as great as, say, Sean Connery as James Bond or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Powell is the one on this list that I’d love to be. As I mentioned in a previous post, if I could live my Silver Screen Dream, it would be in a continuous Thin Man film, with endless wisecracks, cocktails, and murders to solve, all while trying to spend all the money my wife inherited (my own wife will be stunned to learn of this newfound wealth). Powell was so cool, calm, and witty. A great speaking voice, a subtlety--he’s the “b” in subtlety—in his wit that makes him the ideal guest or host at a sophisticated cocktail party and a comeback for everything. He never gets ruffled or loses his composure, even when he’s engaging in slapstick and becomes disheveled, as in Libeled Lady and Love Crazy, Powell never fell as low as his character.

The only “trouble” with William Powell is that his brand of elegance, wit, and personality are unknown and unwanted in Hollywood today. You often hear “There’ll never be another [name here]”, but in his case, even more so; we’re just not classy like that in movies anymore. Something else I've noticed about Powell is that he's the best listener onscreen. I can't help but watch what he's doing when another actor is speaking. Observe him and take in how good he is, even when merely listening to another actor. Ol' Bill also does "phone acting" really well, and I don't mean a "dialed-in" performance! In a scene where he's on the receiving end of a phone call, his reactions and timing are superb. I've seen enough crappy takes of this from other performers, including ones I like.

Random Info: In 1936, he had the greatest year of any actor ever. He appeared in the Best Picture of 1936, The Great Ziegfeld, was nominated for Best Actor in My Man Godfrey, and in addition to those films, starred in After the Thin Man, Libeled Lady, and the wonderful, Thin Man-styled The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, which was a box-office smash for RKO (their #3 moneymaker that year).

Gentleman of Leisure: William Powell spent the last thirty years of his life in retirement and seclusion, happily married, with cocktail in hand; it's just what Nick Charles wanted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Favorite Actors, #7: Fred Astaire

First Movie I Saw Him In: Ghost Story (1981; I was a kid and shouldn’t have been watching!)

Three Favorite Movies: Top Hat (1935); Swing Time (1936); The Bandwagon (1953)

Honorable Mention: Shall We Dance (1937)

Favorite [Song and Dance] Performance: “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)” from Top Hat (1935)

Why I Like Him: His movies with Ginger Rogers are among my all-time favorites. The best of those exist in their own Deco world and is the ultimate 1930s fantasy. He's the most underappreciated actor on my list, given his other tremendous abilities. Astaire excels at snappy dialogue with impeccable comic timing, a lighthearted wit, and gentlemanly charm. That comic ability is often overlooked, even by classic movie buffs. There's also Fred the singer. It was he who introduced more music Standards (Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter) than any other singer. Astaire’s way with a vocal is sublime. Listen to Fred sing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, and then you’ll know why. Astaire also sings the definitive version of The Way You Look Tonight (sorry, Frank!). It's also no debate that he's the single most influential dancer of the twentieth century, and, dare I say it, the twenty-first century. Fred Astaire was an entertainment giant who conquered every entertainment medium he was involved with. Did he have a radio show? He’s probably the best radio dancer ever, too. And off-screen, based on most accounts, Astaire was a true gentleman. Oh, and for my money he's the best-dressed man on the planet---even if he apparently didn't like wearing "top hat, white tie, and tails", but photos of him in even the most casual attire saw Astaire impeccably put together.

Random Info: Nothing revelatory, but I love the showbizzy names he has in his RKO musicals: Guy Holden, Jerry Travers, Bake Baker, Lucky Garnett, Pete Peters, etc. When I go into witness protection someday, I want one of those names as my alias.

Not That You Asked: This is Hollywood Dreamland's 100th post.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Favorite Actors, #8: Robert Mitchum

First Movie I Saw Him In: The Winds of War (1983; not a factor in me liking him, but it was the first; I also knew who he was prior to this-- ya see, Mitchum and I go way back)

Three Favorite Movies: Out of the Past (1947); El Dorado (1967); Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Honorable Mention: One Shoe Makes It Murder (1982) (a TV movie, but Mitchum is so good in everything; even detective dreck like this. Actually, it's not bad!)

Favorite Performance: Out of the Past (1947)

Why I Like Him: Big, Bad, Bob Mitchum. The only actor ever who could sing a calypso tune, pummel some guy into unconsciousness while a cigarette dangled off his lip--and never break a sweat. He's the face of film noir: weary, cynical, but with a sense of humor that gets him through it all. He’s my American Ideal as to what “cool “ should be; too bad there aren’t people like him around anymore. On top of that, Mitchum’s a genuine character. Ever see his 1971 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show? Watch the scotch in his cup rise and fall after every commercial break. I actually prefer the “Mature Mitchum”, when he was a living dinosaur, a tough guy from another era who was an island unto himself. His very Mitchumness made him unique, yet he was still timeless, ageless; a reminder of another era but strangely contemporary and fresh. I know that probably doesn’t make sense to you, but it does to me…

Random Info: Got around a ban an on-set drinking ban imposed by director Vincente Minneli during the filming of Home from the Hill (1960) by injecting oranges with syringes full of vodka. No one could figure out how Mitchum stayed intoxicated. Mitchum sent actor and one-time co-star George Hamilton a Mother’s Day card every year until the end of his life.
Oh! I should also mention that I often "amuse" my wife when I offhandedly suggest that when I'm an old man, I'll wear those huge eyeglasses like Mitchum did in his later years. My glee is endless when I get a reaction from her.

A Dirty Harry-like Tagline: "In a world gone soft, there's still one tough guy!"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Favorite Actors, #9: Kirk Douglas

First Movie I Saw Him In: The Fury (1978; probably on cable in 1979)

Three Favorite Movies: Young Man With a Horn (1950); The Bad and the Beautiful (1952); Man Without a Star (1955)

Honorable Mention: Ace In the Hole (1951)

Favorite Performance:
Detective Story (1951)

Why I Like Him: Kirk never came off like a relic from "the old days" when I was a kid, though I always loved old movies and TV shows, but Douglas has a vitality that never dates itself. He's the most intense actor of the pre-Brando era and played nasty S.O.B.s better than anyone, even Robert Ryan. I still try and impersonate Douglas' slow-burning anger routine in his voice just before he explodes in an incandescent rage. He's intense!!! Some of my favorite Kirk Douglas rage moments: Kirk in Young Man With a Horn having a crack up at a bar; his explosion of anger at Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful and then kicking her to the curb; In Harm's Way (1965), when Douglas is leaving the morgue after identifying the body of his trollop of a wife. His look of pure misery (along with Jerry Goldsmith's amazing underscore) brings home that Douglas intensity.

Random Info: Ivy League cesspool Harvard used to bestow a "Kirk Douglas Overacting Award" in the 1950s and 60s.

The Old Lion: Kirk at the Golden Globe Awards, 1986.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Favorite Actors, #10: Gary Cooper

It’s been pouring rain here every afternoon for the past three weeks and since any outdoor plans have been scuttled by the sheer ugliness outside, it occurred to me that I never did do a favorite actors list. And since part of this blog’s identity is its honored performers--though it’s obvious by who shows up in these pages—I thought I’d better go ahead and list those preferred gents of the screen. However, instead of just slapping down ten pictures and leaving it at that, I’m going to dedicate one post for each actor and provide a few things in terms of what I like about them and whatever else comes to mind. This way, I don’t just put some photos up, but I also don’t torture anyone with any long-winded reminiscences (though I’m sure those will come later; it’s what I do). Anyway, the Hollywood Dreamland Top Ten Favorite Actors List begins today!

#10) Gary Cooper

First Movie I Saw Him In: High Noon (1952; in 1990 or so)

Three Favorite Movies: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); High Noon (1952), Man of the West (1958)

Honorable Mention: The Fountainhead (1949)

Favorite Performance: High Noon (1952)

Why I Like Him: Cooper was everything he appeared to be on screen and seemed as genuinely down to earth and the regular Joe he often played in films. I completely see how subtle his acting was, yet he could steal a scene without saying a word, too. Men love his “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” attitude; women love his decency and think he’s among the most beautiful creatures to ever walk the Earth, particularly in his 1930s prime. There are still dozens of his earlier films I need to see.

Random Info: He’s name dropped in the Irving Berlin song Puttin’ On the Ritz, which gives you an idea of how popular this guy was.

Effortless Charm: Cooper with Ingrid Bergman. Note how she's aglow and Coop is so...relaxed.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 6, 1944

For a truly amazing account of that day's events, read D-Day: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Misty About the Fog

Man, do I miss Mel Tormé (1925-1999). Tormé (nicknamed "The Velvet Fog" by a disc jockey) died on this day ten years ago. Mel was an accomplished everything: singer, composer (The Christmas Song aka "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."), drummer, writer, airplane pilot, and all-around Bon Vivant. Whenever I think of swinging and sophisticated singing, Mel is the one who comes to mind. He's hands down my favorite singer. As far as local history goes, Mel performed at Miami Beach's Carillon Hotel many times and I think of that every time I drive past that Miami landmark. It's easy to imagine him in his tuxedo making his way to the stage in front of a well-dressed crowd, circa 1958. Tormé's appeared in movies, too, making his debut in Higher and Higher (1943) as did another well-known singer--some guy named Sinatra.

There is no official or any fan website dedicated to Mel, and there haven't been any recent CD reissues of his work. However, two of his best 1950s-60s albums are on CD: the self-titled Tormé from 1958 and 1960's Swingin' On the Moon. I highly recommend his 1988 autobiography, It Wasn't All Velvet, as it's one of the best entertainment memoirs ever written. Mel tells many tales about Hollywood stars, including anecdotes about his relationships with Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Poll Results: Audrey Hepburn

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”

~Audrey Hepburn

The May poll results (82 total votes):

Audrey Hepburn- 26 (32%)
Marilyn Monroe- 19 (23%)
Grace Kelly- 18 (22%)
Doris Day- 11 (13%)
Elizabeth Taylor- 8 (9%)

I’ll admit that these polls are merely an excuse for me to ramble on about whoever the winner is. I always hope that someone reading might agree with what I say, or, even better, provide an eye-opening point of view that I hadn’t previously considered. I know very little about these actresses, and what I believe is largely based on my perceptions of them onscreen. So feel free to jump in and share what it is you like about them (or dislike; just be nice) I’m also willing to welcome someone passionate enough about their choice to invite them as a guest blogger here. Okay? Great!

I thought that the May poll question, “Who do you think is the quintessential 1950s actress?” would be handily won by that ever-popular cultural icon, Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn has all the snapshot images: the white dress blowing up, the kiss from the window, entertaining the troops in that slinky black dress in Korea, the bleach-blonde hair and the endless commercialization of said images.

Perhaps Doris Day might have emerged victorious, given her status as the prototypically 1950s “Girl Next Door.” But Day is a polarizing figure and has as many detractors as she does admirers, though she performed respectably in the poll.

Grace Kelly had a stellar year in 1954, even winning an Oscar (and beating out Audrey). But she beat it out of Hollywood in 1956 and married that schlubby prince.

Elizabeth Taylor had the movie star pedigree: the child star that came of age in the 1950s and was also the one with all the Oscar nominations earning consecutive nods in 1957 through 1960.

However, the clear winner is Audrey Hepburn, who, despite trailing early in the voting, emerged as the majority’s choice as the quintessential 1950s actress. I still believe that she won because in the view of many classic movie lovers, Audrey has more substance than Marilyn, even if we know virtually every detail of the latter’s perpetual unhappiness and early death. Marilyn longed to be considered a “serious” actress and an intellectual. That never happened. It would also seem that the Audrey fans out there stuffed the Hollywood Dreamland ballot box! Her fans are legion; just look at the amount of blogger profile pictures that use Hepburn as their avatar.

I have a theory about Audrey’s popularity, and I’ve commented on it before when her role as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday won March’s poll:

Audrey isn’t the sex goddess Marilyn is, she’s not the goody-goody Doris’ public image made her out to be, she didn’t have Grace Kelly’s royal, icy aloofness, and she wasn’t shrill and mean as Liz Taylor could be in her films. Audrey happened to just happened to carry herself like a princess, was beautiful like a porcelain doll, but emotional, sensitive, and above all—accessible. This is speculation, but I think that Audrey, regardless of her beauty and ability, had whatever the heck it was that most any girl out there understood: uncertainty, the feeling of being alone in the world. Marilyn Monroe, who obviously felt that way in her personal life, never conveyed those feelings onscreen. Audrey was able to show happiness tinged with an ever-present sadness. It was often seen in her movies as a moment of joy quickly replaced by her sad knowledge of the world, and of her own condition. This isn't present with any other actress and Audrey used that and made it her—I use this word too much---persona.

Of course, there's not a single, definitive reason that Audrey has become as popular as she has. When I was growing up, Marilyn Monroe was the star that girls idolized. MM’s popularity has dimmed since that time, but clearly a new awareness of Audrey Hepburn’s appeal has made itself known. Whatever it is, there wasn’t anything in the popular culture to catapult Audrey above these other actresses, so I’d be interested in knowing what makes Audrey so special to you. As for those that didn’t win, do chime in on what it was that made you vote the way you did.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's Ginger Rogers They Come To See

Back in February, I posted a Ginger Rogers photo where she's wearing that beyond-gorgeous dress from Swing Time. That entry was done during a moment of exaltation, as I had just finished watching that movie for the eleventeenth time this year and everything about the film was a cause for celebration: the songs, the dance numbers, Ginger, and of course "THE Dress." Four months later, that post remains Hollywood Dreamland's most-landed-on entry, while "Ginger Rogers Dress" is by far the most-searched term in this not-very-busy blog (average visit time: zero seconds). I guess her wardrobe from those Astaire-Rogers movies still inspires a sense of awe some seventy years later. Speaking of dresses/gowns/female clothing-- the picture above is of Ginger in Shall We Dance.

By the way, two other commonly-searched terms that people use to find themselves here are: "Husband and Wife Detectives", which I consider a personal victory, as I'm obsessed with the genre, and the other, which is amusing considering that what they're looking for isn't here:

"Gloria Grahame Nude"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gail Patrick: Deco Dame, Part VIII

Today's entry is not new, as this Gail Patrick post already appeared in the May 19 Silents and Talkies. However, Kate Gabrielle's stellar artwork can only be found at her blog--its available for purchase, too; gotta plug my friend's livelyhood-- but I wanted to include the post here for the olde archives. It's obvious that I need little or no reason to put Gail on the blog again, despite an earlier announcement stating that I wouldn't. I've added the above picture of her from My Favorite Wife. I've excluded all those links I always feel the need to cross reference you to death with. Consider it a generous gift. Anyway, once more---Gail Patrick:


Have you ever seen a movie and find that it’s one of the second-tier stars who gets your attention, and that you find yourself waiting for their next fleeting appearance onscreen? This happened to me years ago when I saw Gail Patrick (1911-1980) in the 1936 Screwball Comedy, My Man Godfrey. This is the film that introduced me to the Golden Age’s definitive “Other Woman.” Patrick’s best-known roles have her trading deliciously catty barbs with Hollywood’s greatest stars, most notably in this film, and also in Stage Door (1937), opposite Ginger Rogers.

In My Man Godfrey, her most-famous role, Gail plays Cornelia Bullock, one of the daughters of the impossibly-wealthy Alexander Bullock. The entire family is an out-of-touch rabble afflicted with having too much money during the Great Depression. I don’t want to spoil the entire plot, but what I like about Gail’s role is that she’s the only character who comes full circle and ends up growing as a person. Cornelia is completely different at the end of the film than she was at the beginning. Of course, I didn’t catch on to this plot development until many years and several “Godfrey” viewings later.

From the first time I saw Gail Patrick--I dubbed her the Deco Dame-- I was enraptured and intrigued by the actress who was often characterized as a huffy, stand-offish, statuesque beauty; I’d add that she had a great speaking voice, too. She was someone I sought out in any 1930s film I was watching and I would perk up at the sight of her name in the credits. I didn’t see her in many movies, but when I did it was an event. You see, Gail was the first “bad girl” that I had a cinematic crush on. Normally, I tend to prefer the girl next door types, like Ginger Rogers or Myrna Loy, but Gail changed the dimensions of that daydream. There was a radiant beauty, but I sensed that Gail possessed a keen intelligence. This was merely an assumption on my part, but it would turn out to be true, given her post-acting career accomplishments.

My Favorite Wife (1940) is another of Gail’s better-known films. Gail’s ability to barely contain her annoyance at Cary Grant’s kids’ piano recital is her most memorable comedic moment. However, she managed to make me sympathize with her because she really wasn’t a bad person. We’re supposed to want Cary Grant to be able to get away from Gail, and so the flawed script had to make Irene Dunne more desirable to him, so Gail was sacrificed on the altar of “The Hollywood Ending.”

My favorite Gail Patrick role is in Love Crazy (1941). She’s teamed again with her My Man Godfrey co-star, William Powell. Here Gail plays a lighthearted variation of her “other woman” persona in the role of Isobel Grayson, who’s more of a playful vixen than a catty ex-girlfriend. Isobel has moved into ex-fiancée Powell’s apartment building and of course she causes trouble, if unknowingly, with Powell and his wife of four years, played by Myrna Loy—and on their wedding anniversary. Of all her movies where she’s a supporting player, Love Crazy is the role that lets Gail be bubbly, fun, flirty, yet mischievous. She steals every one of the few scenes she’s in, and has one of the best lines in the whole movie, when she’s covering up for William Powell when the latter is trapped in her shower.

When her movie career ended in 1947, Gail started her own children’s boutique that catered to the Hollywood clientele she knew so well. However, her most significant off-screen accomplishment was serving as the producer of the Perry Mason television series. It was Gail’s suggestion that Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, and William Talman be cast in the long-running courtroom drama. She was close friends with Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner and he trusted her decisions. In fact, Gardner only allowed the show to exist if Gail would produce it! It would seem as though the tough-as-nails persona Gail honed onscreen also extended to her real-life business career.

Gail Patrick would die from leukemia in July, 1980. She had been both a respected actress and a powerful producer in her extended entertainment career. I still get that sense of excitement every time I watch My Man Godfrey. Of course, there’s the nostalgia when I think of the first time I discovered Gail in her, but now there’s that newfound knowledge that she imbued her characters with a drive, determination, and intelligence, that is plainly evident in all of her performances.

Coming On Strong: Isobel Grayson (Gail Patrick) gets chummy with ex-boyfriend Stephen Ireland (William Powell) in 1941's Love Crazy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review- The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails

Charles Tranberg, author of the highly-praised I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead, has turned his attention to the Thin Man film series with The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails. It’s a well-written and well-researched work, and when considering the paucity of material and interviewees available, it’s a valiant effort, too. In writing a book about Nick and Nora’s screen adventures, Tranberg has to compete with the sad reality that the internet has made books like this largely superfluous. For instance, there’s a lot of substance in Rich Drees’ excellent Thin Man article from Film Buff Online of some years ago. There’s plenty of information for an extended online article, but not necessarily for a three hundred page book. However, I’m glad that there’s even a Thin Man book available in this day and age. It’s informative, and reading this information in a book is preferable to being hunched over the computer screen’s sinister glow, but it isn’t as focused on the film series per se. It’s most likely that there just isn’t all that much Thin Man information around.

The set up in Murder Over Cocktails is simple: Tranberg lays out a brief plot synopsis, adds some memorable quotes from the film, and includes a precious handful of anecdotes about the behind-the-scenes goings on, many of which have appeared in Jon Tuska's (highly-recommended) Jon Tuska’s The Detective In Hollywood and Myrna Loy’s autobiography, Being and Becoming. The rest of the chapter is a compilation of blurbs from various press sources of the day, extolling each movie’s virtues. There's also a rundown of the supporting players’ career highlights. In fact, so much space is dedicated to actor biographies that I found myself impatiently flipping ahead in the dim hope that I’d find something else—anything—on the movies themselves. The index wasn’t any help—there isn’t one! Curse you, Bear Manor Press! However, these actor and technician profiles may prove to be the best thing about Murder Over Cocktails. But while it's nice to have a performer’s career highlights at one’s fingertips, I’d prefer that there be more about the actual Thin Man movies, even if it were just photos, extended dialogue, or publicity materials. It’s also unfortunate that Tranberg didn’t dedicate some time on the actual era in which the series was made, instead of merely listing the personnel’s film credits. Was Nick Charles the ideal American male? Was Nora the feminine ideal? What about those other Sleuthing Couples? The book includes a decent selection of photos, some of which I hadn’t seen before, and instead of an index, there's a supporting actor portrait gallery, which varies in quality; some actors’ photos are from much later in their career; Sam Levene’s (Lt. Abrams in the second and fourth films) picture looks like it was taken in 1971 rather than 1941.

Despite my own mild disappointment with Murder Over Cocktails, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book to someone just getting interested in The Thin Man movies, as it would serve as a good primer in learning about the actors and behind-the-scenes technicians involved. And there’s something to be said about any book getting published about Nick and Nora Charles; for that alone I'd give this book five stars! This volume is #1 in the Film Series Series. Redundant title aside, I hope there are more volumes in this new series, as it would be great to have future volumes cover the Andy Hardy, Blondie, Bowery Boys, and Charlie Chan films. For the longtime fan there’s nothing here we haven’t already read before, but I guess I’ll have to accept the fact that there’s a finite amount of Thin Man information out there. Whatever the case may be, count me as grateful that a publisher even put this book out there.

Left To Right: Maureen O'Sullivan, William Powell, Producer Hunt Stromberg[?], Director W.S. Van Dyke, Myrna Loy, and actor Ronald Colman on the set of The Thin Man (1934). Note Loy's beautiful dress, worn in the film.