Monday, January 26, 2009

Susan Hayward's Wonderful LIFE, Part II



What better way to cheer myself up from a personal crisis than to post more of my favorite Susan Hayward LIFE Magazine photos! I'm discovering that the lovely Susan isn't as well represented as many of her fellow 1950s actresses and haven't been able to obtain as many of her movies as I'd like, putting a crimp in the Susan Hayward Craze of 2009. Eventually, I hope to compile a list of her available DVD titles. However, being able to gaze upon her visage again should soften the blow of not having nearly enough of my favorite redhead in the olde collection.













As mentioned in Part I, LIFE has either added more photos from this Edward Clark photo session, or I just missed the "additional" shots the first twenty times around, because I'm constantly discovering new pictures.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Henry Mancini: An Appreciation

When I think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, two things come to mind: Audrey’s Holly Golightly character eating (a cruller? bear claw?) and drinking coffee outside early in the a.m., and Henry Mancini’s beautiful, immortal score. The film is remembered more for "Moon River" than for almost anything else, though for me Audrey Hepburn's reputation as a top-notch actress was also cemented in this film. She expressed her appreciation for Mancini’s score in a note to him:



Dear Henry,

I have just seen our picture- BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S- this time with your score.

A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun, and beauty.

You are the hippest of cats—and most sensitive of composers!

Thank you, dear Hank.

Lots of love,

Audrey



Henry Mancini (1924-1994) owned the early 1960s, musically speaking. While the baby boomers were scalding the air with rock music, the "Greatest Generation" needed something that they could enjoy and Mancini was their man. The composer was popular with the public and beloved by his peers. Mancini won three Oscars in 1961-62: Best Song (“Moon River”) and Score for Breakfast at Tiffany’s in addition to a nod for the song "Bachelor in Paradise." He was awarded Best Song again in ‘62 for Days of Wine and Roses. Mancini compositions would receive Oscar nominations in 1963 ("Charade"), '64 ("Dear Heart"), and '65 ("The Sweetheart Tree"). His memorable melodies played continually on the radio and would continue to do so for the next forty years. Mancini’s reputation was never much with the terminally “hip” baby boom generation and he became known as an Easy Listening lightweight, due to his popularity among the older generation and his "heavy rotation" on “Beautiful Music” stations in the 1970s. Mancini’s arrangement of Nino Rota’s Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet made that composition his own.




In the years after his death from cancer in 1994, Henry Mancini's work received newfound popularity and his melodies earned a kitschy, yet hip reputation. It's a pity he wasn't around to appreciate the wave of adulation the mid-1990s "Lounge Music" revival brought, as it made believers out of the baby boomers who had previously thought of Mancini as "Schmaltzy" or "Old-Fashioned." His music became the epitome of Rat Pack-era cool. I never saw him or his music that way, because even when his music is swinging, there’s an undeniable pathos to Mancini, and it’s in most everything he composed. With that in mind, his music doesn't seem so ideal for alcohol consumption, even if those RCA albums were supposed to be for happy cocktail parties. People also seem to think that Breakfast at Tiffany’s was just a comedy, but it wasn’t (have these people seen the movie?) and Henry Mancini's work was never strictly loungey pop music. It could be enjoyed as such, there's always something more there. He was a quiet, self-effacing man, and guarded his emotions, yet that sensitive personality was often present in his music.





Speaking at a tribute for composer Jerry Goldsmith, Mancini was quoted as saying, “Frankly, he [meaning Goldsmith’s talent] scares the hell out of us.” That compliment could also be applied to Mancini. He was a singular combination of classy sophistication and tasteful melodicism, sort of a George Cukor of Composition. Mancini’s melodies could break your heart (Soldier in the Rain), scare the hell out of you (the ominously hip “Experiment in Terror”), or make for fun party music ("It Had Better Be Tonight"; "A Shot in the Dark"). His session men were the best West Coast Jazz musicians, he had a great "white bread" chorus which gave Ray Conniff's gaggle of better-known warblers a run for its money, and he sold millions of excellent easy listening/soundtrack albums. Mancini could also claim that film music legend John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars) was a Mancini acolyte. But we didn't really know how good this guy was until his better film scores were issued on CD, not the easy listening re-records from the 1960s-70s, but the actual tracks as heard in the films, like A Touch of Evil and Wait Until Dark, and yes, even Breakfast at Tiffany's. (the music heard on the LP is markedly different from what is heard in the film; a release of the actual underscore is unlikely because Paramount shows no interest in releasing or liscensing releases of their film score library). These works are a step towards revising Mancini's legacy and removing the undeserved, idiotic appellation, "lightweight tunesmith." Time has proven him to be fine dramatic composer and the absence of melody in today's film scores only make those of us who loved Mancini's music adore his work all the more, because no one has replaced him.

And that’s the truth, my huckleberry friend…



The Maestro, Henry Mancini

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cary Grant Was a Miserable Sod


Cary Grant, the quintessential movie star, onscreen sophisticate, idol of millions, impossibly wealthy, the fantasy of countless women (and more than a few men), was in fact largely unhappy, possessive, insecure, unsophisticated, emotionally distant, and used LSD hundreds of times in psychological therapy. If this man, who only became more distinguished looking, respected, and beloved with age couldn’t find happiness, then who on earth could? I guess being a filthy rich, beloved, talented chick magnet isn’t everything, is it?

It looks like society is sending me mixed messages again…

The 2004 documentary, Cary Grant: A Class Apart originally aired on Turner Classic Movies, which was when I first saw it. The documentary is now included as a bonus feature on the 2-disc edition of Bringing up Baby. When I first saw A Class Apart, I was left with an empty feeling. I was more familiar with Grant’s movies than I was about his personal life, so I was only vaguely aware of Grant’s alleged affair with Randolph Scott, and I learned of his LSD use from a 1988 rock song by a long-forgotten group called “The Godfathers.” Former wife Betsy Blair came off as an angry and bitter shrew (though I don’t blame her) and the whole experience was somewhat traumatizing. It was one of those times that I’d wished I hadn’t bothered to look deeper into a favorite artist’s life. I found it disturbing that a man who seemingly had everything wasn’t the happiest camper. I guess the old adage, “No matter where you go, there you are” holds true, even among those who seem to “have it all.” There are some actors I adore for their ability, like Jack Nicholson, for instance. But the little I know about his personal life doesn’t interest me at all. Same goes for Fred Astaire; just play the Top Hat DVD again, thank you. Gene Kelly was a jerk? Who cares? Let’s watch him melt our hearts with Leslie Caron again. Huh? Elia Kazan was a weasely informer? Oh, well, at least he was a great director. His spineless, self-serving behavior won’t deter me from watching Gentleman’s Agreement for the umpteenth time.

As for Cary Grant, I’m over that initial disillusionment and besides, his hang-ups were his problem, not mine. Actually, they’re not his either, since he took the night train to the big adios years ago…

The moral? Don’t let yourself get too wrapped up in this stuff…it's supposed to be fun.


Archie Leach: Don't let his insouciance fool you

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Memoriam: Ricardo Montalban


Most people from my generation remember the late, great Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009) as the villainous madman hell bent on vengeance in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), (which this blogger can quote at will), and dozens of scene-stealing TV appearances in the 1960s and 1970s. Those with a longer memory can recall Montalban as a pioneering Latin leading man in some excellent crime dramas: Border Incident (1949) and 1950's Mystery Street. Montalban worked with Lana Turner in 1953's Latin Lovers; I loved the way he says her name--in fact, hearing him say anything was a privilege. One that we'll enjoy as long as his filmed legacy remains.

Turner Classic Movies is rescheduling its programming January 23 in tribute to Montalban:

7:30 AM Fiesta (1947)
9:30 AM Neptune’s Daughter (1949)
11:15 AM Latin Lovers (1953)
1:00 PM Border Incident (1949)
2:45 PM Battleground (1949)
4:45 PM Across the Wide Missouri (1951)
6:15 PM The Singing Nun (1966)


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Barbara, Bette, Joan, and Kate

In The Golden Age of Hollywood, there’s only so much room at the top, not just career-wise, but historically speaking. Memory is embarrassingly limited when it comes to the once-popular, and some of Hollywood’s most popular and beloved actresses have been relegated to bloggers’ fantasies or the occasional TCM “Star of the Month” tribute. Yes, we film buffs know and love them, but the majority of actresses aren't as well known and just don’t measure up to the four who remain the quintessential icons of their (and every subsequent) generation.When discussing the Golden Age, four actresses loom large above all others. Let’s call them The Big Four. Listing them by just their first name (though I've included their mugshots, too) is just one indication of their stature:


Barbara

Bette

Joan

Kate

…and then there’s everyone else: I might as well include 1950s & 1960s actresses in this latter category, because no matter what their achievements, those women just don’t stack up to the four, first-name basis luminaries. When looking at The Big Four’s contemporaries, I find it hard to believe that these diversely talented Golden Age “heavyweights” haven’t enjoyed the same recognition as The Big Four. I will limit them to the 1930s-40s. The notable also-rans:

Ginger Rogers- Equally adept at light comedy and melodrama. She won an Academy Award over Bette and Kate in 1940. Oh, and she danced & sang a little in ten movies with Fred Astaire. Her solo career has been largely dismissed.

Irene Dunne- Another triple threat: hilarious in comedies, effective in dramas, and sang like an angel. In fact, Dunne really wanted to be an opera singer.

Carole Lombard- She’s known more nowadays for being Clark Gable’s wife than she is for being the greatest screwball comedienne ever. She was excellent at dramatic parts, and she died young. World events “upstaged” her untimely death.

Jean Harlow- Comedic brilliance and stylistic immortality; known more for the latter than the former. Too bad.

Myrna Loy- Surprisingly modern but pretty tame, Loy was the most popular female star in 1937; she was “Queen” to Gable’s “King” title. Maybe it was playing the ideal wife in so many movies that did her in, even though she began her career playing exotic vamps. In real life she was as gutsy as The Big Four in battling studio heads for pay befitting her status.

Claudette Colbert- This Oscar winner who could charm you (Midnight) or make you cry like a baby with her dramatics (Since You Went Away). Today, people are apt to think she’s Stephen Colbert’s grandmother.

Joan Fontaine- She and hated sister Olivia De Havilland were wildly popular Oscar winners and both had long-running careers. Now just a footnote, though both are still living. Probably because both are waiting for the other to die; hatred’s funny that way.

Rosalind Russell- Four-time Oscar nominee. Roz epitomized the strong, independent career woman. But her choice of roles did her in, as she only has four or five bona fide classics to her name.

Greer Garson- Always seemed to land all the melodramatic “women’s pictures” and was a perennial contender at Oscar time.

Greta Garbo- She quit making movies by 1941 and has been reduced to a punch line for shut-ins (“I vant to be alone...")

Marlene Dietrich- Best known for her sexually ambiguous attire and being a stylistic influence on pop star Madonna.

Honorable Mentions: Norma Shearer, Janet Gaynor. Their careers reach back to the Silent Era. That probably hurts them.

What made The Big Four so great? Why does the mainstream remember them over the rest? They certainly weren’t the most beautiful, and didn’t sing or dance with any great ability. Bette and Joan weren’t comedic actresses, at least not intentionally. Barbara and Kate excelled in the few they did. Bette and Joan were raconteurs of the highest order, so it would seem that comedy came naturally to them. Was it their longevity? All four were active for at least forty years. How about their twenty-nine combined Oscar nominations? Maybe it’s just the fact that no other actresses produced that high a quality of work for such a long period of time. Maybe it’s the public’s notorious short-term memory. Perhaps it’s because their off-screen lives were infinitely more interesting than anyone else’s. It was probably all of these things, and a hundred more variables I haven't thought of yet. Or, maybe there’s just only so much room at the top. I don’t think that there’s a definitive answer, but it’s a question worth asking, and a fun one to ponder.

And I apologize for having put Bette and Joan adjacent to one another, given their history...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Recommended Reading: The Citadel Film Series


In the days before the internet, The Citadel Press Film Series (aka: "The Films of...") was a Godsend to classic movie lovers, with each volume providing the details of a particular star’s credits along with a brief, but thorough biography in a time when career retrospectives were limited (though there was always plenty of gossip available). When the series took off in the early 1970s, it was no doubt due to the revival in interest in Golden Age movies. Film schools such as the program at USC helped lead to a scholarly publishing boom during the mid-1970s. The Citadel series' quality was uniformly excellent, as a knowledgeable film historian or entertainment writer covered an individual performer’s career, but the best books were often the ones written by fans with an encyclopedic knowledge of a star’s life and career. The typical Citadel Press book would include detailed film credits, numerous high-quality black & white photographs, and review excerpts during the time a specific movie was in release. Author Tony Thomas, whose The Films of Kirk Douglas (published 1972) was the first of the series I found. It even included an introduction from The Intense One himself! There were also tributes from Vincente Minnelli, William Wyler, and Stanley Kramer. This led me to believe that an actor receiving The Films of… treatment may have been a big deal. Anyway, it turned out that all of the movie stars I like have been given the Citadel treatment. The books were in print for years and as recently as the late 1990s updated editions could be found at major bookstores, though I haven't seen them lately.





My interest in the series just got a boost because I now have *Drum Roll* The Films of Susan Hayward, and it’s hands down the most exhaustive book ever written about her. It’s not merely a complete filmography, but more like a bio-filmography. It contains dozens of black & white photographs throughout its 280 pages, including several culled from author Eduardo Moreno’s collection, many of which are unavailable anywhere else (take that, internet!). There are print ads Susan did during the 1930s, publicity stills, full-page glamour shots, and photos of her Academy Awards appearances, including her last-ever public appearance in early 1974. The Citadel Film Series (over 100 titles) has always been a good read, but this volume is infinitely superior to any other I've seen, and that's not just because I’m on a Susan Hayward bender!


No Scanner Blues: Photo courtesy ebay

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Susan Hayward's Wonderful LIFE

One of the many great things that have come out of the LIFE Magazine photo archive is the slew of previously unpublished images. I'm not certain if these Susan Hayward photographs taken on November 11, 1949 fall into the "unreleased" category, but they sure are revelatory. These truly wonderful pictures (the one above is my favorite) find thirty-two year old Susan at the beginning of her run as one of Hollywood's most popular and respected actresses. By the time of this photo shoot, she had already received her first Academy Award nomination for Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) and would earn another in 1949, for My Foolish Heart. So when LIFE photographer Edward Clark went out to the Hayward homestead to shoot these photographs, he was capturing Hayward at her unadorned best: no makeup, freckles in plain view, and looking absolutely beautiful.


In the search for All Things Susan Hayward, I've looked through LIFE's Hayward collection numerous times and I think that new images are continually being added. There are more "Susan Variations" of the actress in her dude-ranch style western wear; white blouse, slacks, and belt buckle, plus "domestic" pics of her doting over her two young sons. It's all so darned charming that the gal from Brooklyn, New York could look so right in those clothes. The overall spirit of the photos is one of a happy young woman just a few years before becoming a major star and Hollywood icon.




More to come...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gloria Grahame: An Appreciation

I'm not sure when this picture of Gloria Grahame (1923-1981) was taken, but it's probably 1954, when she appeared in two little-known crime dramas: Naked Alibi and Human Desire. She's clearly at the peak of her sex appeal, but the Noir vixen was also at a career peak in 1954.

I'll admit that Gloria Grahame's obvious, physical charms are what initially got me interested in her, but having seen nearly all of her 1950s work, I've come to realize that Grahame's 1950s screen credits compare favorably with many of her better-known contemporaries, including an absolutely stellar year in 1952. It's a shame she isn't better known outside of Film Noir circles, where she's revered. Grahame won me over with her onscreen vulnerability, her likability--even when she plays a truly awful character-- and with a voice like no other. She invariably enlivens any scene she's in and makes watching Noir all the more exciting.

The 1950s proved to be an impressive decade for the actress, who began making her presence known in 1946 with her role as Violet in It's a Wonderful Life. She made a bigger impression playing a b-girl in 1947's Crossfire. The role earned the 24-year-old her first Oscar nomination. Grahame would begin the 1950s in Nicholas Ray's haunting In a Lonely Place, one of the director's best films and Grahame's rendering of the film's last lines is one of the most effective moments in all of Film Noir: "I lived a few weeks while you loved me." Ray and Grahame later married, but that union was destroyed when Grahame began an affair with Ray's 13 year-old son from a previous marriage.

"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."


1952 would prove to be Gloria Grahame's finest year. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Bad & the Beautiful, playing a flighty southern belle who cheats on her screenwriter husband. Grahame was Jack Palance's conniving girlfriend in Sudden Fear, co-starring Joan Crawford. Grahame further added to her credentials with her appearance in the year's Best Picture winner, The Greatest Show On Earth. Another iconic crime drama, 1953's The Big Heat, showcased Grahame as a spurned gangster's moll. In 1955, she would be absolutely charming as "Ado Annie" in the otherwise bloated film adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Grahame ended the decade with an odd but memorable part in 1959's Odds Against Tomorrow, where, in a near-cameo role, she is aroused by the cruelty of Robert Ryan's nasty character.


"We're all sisters under the mink."

Gloria Grahame was impressive during the 1950s, starring in several Noir classics, winning an Oscar, appearing in a Best Picture winner, and even warbling in a musical. Despite those accomplishments, it's her work in crime dramas that have proven to be her enduring legacy. Given the cultish appeal of Film Noir, it is unlikely that Grahame will receive a widespread renaissance, but to those who've seen her work, she's a fondly-kept secret.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gail Patrick: Deco Dame, Part IV

Because you demanded it...Okay, I demanded it... Here’s the fourth installment of Hollywood Dreamland’s ongoing Gail Patrick tribute. We’re proud to claim that 97% of the attention Gail receives on the internet comes from this blog. This entry will focus on "Gail the Glamorous." Many of the stills the actress posed for have her in high-fashion costumes that emphasized her icy characterizations as the “other woman.” The third photo is another cigarette card, like the one featured in Part II. The second image is my favorite, as Gail looks particularly striking. Enjoy.













The last image is a Milton Caniff drawing. Gail's not rendered here, but I wouldn't be surprised if she'd been an inspiration for his 1930s comic strip, Terry & the Pirates. Gail looks a lot like the "Dragon Lady" character from Terry. Caniff would use the same dame imagery for his long-running (forty-one years) Steve Canyon comic strip. Take a look at the dame on the top right and below on the left, immediately next to Caniff; both women are definitely Patrickesque.

TCM Schedule: Gail in My Favorite Wife (1940) today at 2:30pm (et).