Sunday, January 31, 2010

Poll Results: Mae West

It should've been a landslide, but Mae West edged out Bette Davis by just one vote as the winner of the poll question: "Who's the greatest wisecracking dame of them all?" The competition was fierce! This was one of the closest polls HD has ever done. Myrna Loy led the pack early but Bette and Mae had a fierce see-saw battle over first place. Rosalind Russell did quite well, and I won't shy away from saying how pleased I was. I hope that those who haven't seen or heard these dames in action will seek their films out and discover what a joy each and every one of them is--even Joan; poor, poor, one-vote Joan. Here's how the voting went, with a total of 112 votes cast:

Mae West 25 (22%)

Bette Davis 24 (21%)
Rosalind Russell 18 (16%)
Myrna Loy 17 (15%)
Jean Harlow 16 (14%)
Ginger Rogers 11 (9%)
Joan Crawford 1 (0%)

It's my view that Mae West deserved to win because her wisecrackery is her legacy. West isn't known for her tremendous acting chops or her immortal film roles. This is how we know Mae West. Even if you never heard of her, it's possible you can still hear her voice speaking these lines whether they're from her films or not:

"When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."

"It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men."

"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."

"I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it."

"I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it."

"I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

"I've been in more laps than a napkin."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pernell Roberts: Another Hero Gone

Actor, singer, and civil rights champion Pernell Roberts died on January 24, aged 81. Roberts is best known for his six-year run on the Bonanza TV show. In 1958, he co-starred alongside Randolph Scott in the 1958 Budd Boetticher film, Ride Lonesome. This is the kind of role that often comes just before an actor gains his or her breakthrough role. A year later, Roberts would begin his stint on Bonanza and forever be remembered as the cool, quiet, intellectual Adam Cartwright, Ponderosa patriarch Ben Cartwright's eldest son. Roberts quickly grew tired of the role, the show's writing, and the portrayal of Native Americans and African Americans. He left behind a fortune when he left that show, but his freedom was infinitely more important to him.

Pernell Roberts was a hero of mine since childhood. But back then it was because I was impressed by how cool he was. I appreciate him even more now as an adult because I learned how he was a champion of civil rights and a sturdy man of conviction in every endeavor, just like Adam Cartwright. He may have grown tired of the show and what he saw as its limitations, but Pernell himself embodied the very best qualities of his character.

After Bonanza, Roberts proceeded to guest star on virtually every program on network television. On any given week, the average viewer would see him on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. to The Virginian to Hawaii Five-O. Roberts played all kinds of roles: tormented drifters, seedy gangsters, concerned fathers, fatcat businessman, and empty-headed cop. Roberts spent the years 1966-1979 wandering what I call his "Lost Road." He finally landed another starring role in a TV series when he played Dr. "Trapper" John McIntyre on the medical show, Trapper John, M.D. He admitted that he took the role for the security that a "nest egg" like that would provide, but Pernell Roberts paid his dues, did what he wanted and challenged himself more often than not with his inumerable acting gigs.

A public figure but intensely private man, Roberts disappeared from the show business scene in 1997 and retreated to quiet retirement. At the time of his departure from Bonanza, Roberts was often the butt of Johnny Carson's monologues, but Roberts is now seen by his many admirers as a man of principle and a singular talent who was on the right side of history with his progressive views on race and war and staying true to his beliefs.

Fighting the Good Fight: Pernell Roberts in a civil rights march, 1965

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Memoriam: Jean Simmons

Actress Jean Simmons died January 22, 2010. She was much younger than I belived her to be, but then as one gets older, everyone seems younger than you thought they were. Jean Simmons to me was a generous portion of Audrey Hepburn, for her demure nature, and a dash of Gene Tierney, for her beautifully awkward overbite. She was a stunning woman and a performer that flew under a lot of people's radar. She managed to appear in several classics but her lasting impression on me was when I first saw her, in Elmer Gantry (1960). Simmons had the thankless task of appearing opposite Burt Lancaster in his most famous role and how she managed that is testament to her ability. Simmons played evangelist "Sister" Sharon Falconer (she would play a similar role in 1955's Guys and Dolls, opposite Marlon Brando), whose sincere work is turned into a circus by Lancaster's scenery-chewing title character. She manages to be seduced by him, too, in a memorable and for-the-time, naughty, scene. Simmons' character was essentially a prop for Lancaster's ribald preacher, but her presence made me take note, and when I continued my journey into 1950s films, I saw how striking Jean Simmons was.

I associate her with two other movies, 1952's Noir alongside Robert Mitchum, Angel Face, where Jean got to play a femme fatale (and for which there's a typically great Robert Mitchum story), and especially 1953's The Actress, the biographical biopic of actress/screenwriter Ruth Gordon. Simmons played opposite Spencer Tracy in the latter. She's about as Audrey Hepburn as she ever got in this "ugly duckling" role. I'm sure Turner Classic Movies will do a tribute for her, and that these films will be included. Don't miss Jean Simmons in The Actress!

Simmons had a beautiful speaking voice, and as a narrator, she was an ideal choice to do voiceover work for a documentray series, Mysteries of The Bible, no doubt owing to all the biblical epics she appeared in during the 1950s. Simmons' chronicling of all those sinners with their sexual intrigue brings it all back full circle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blatantly Beautiful Vivien Leigh

Sometimes a post need be nothing more than a great photo of a wonderful-looking actor. So here's Vivien Leigh, as she appeared in Waterloo Bridge (1940). That's it; the picture is just staggeringly amazing. However, in looking over Vivien's film credits, I was surprised at how few films she actually did. The stage was her main showcase, so the fact that Leigh won Oscars for two of the greatest films of all time (Gone with the Wind and A Streecar Named Desire) is testament to her ability and the material itself. I've seen little of her work, but if her other movies are anywhere near the level of those two, in terms of what she brings to them, then Vivien and I are going to have a great "relationship."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Never Refuse an Award II: Electric Boogaloo

J.C. Loophole of The Shelf has awarded Hollywood Dreamland with the Kreativ Blogger Award. Thanks, J.C! Now, since HD is not an island, we're going to follow the rules of being a good neighbor (thank and link to your bestower--done) and then list seven things about yourself that others might find interesting. Then, pass the Kreativ Blogger award on to seven worthy blogs.

So here we go:
Seven "Interesting" Things about me:

1. I didn't eat my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was 21. I just thought the combination was disgusting. I like them fine now.

2. Every time I post a comment on someone else's blog, I want to use the security word as a sign-off battle cry. "Enduri"!

3. My all-time favorite music recording is The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 by the Bill Evans Trio.

4. I never worry about important stuff, but the little everyday things send me into a tizzy. Killers after me? No problem! Creased spine on a book? It's the end of the world!

5. In 1979, after severe flooding in Miami, the neighborhood kids and I "hitched rides" on slow-moving cars making their way through the knee-high water by hanging on to their rear bumper.

6. I'm obsesssed with people dying just before historical events. Pauline Kael and Troy Donahue died a week before the September 11 attacks and Dick Powell and Jack Carson died the same day in 1963 and never knew about the Kennedy assassination. It torments me!

7. One of my very best movie-watching experiences was when I was up all night sick with a cold. At 2am, The Wild Bunch was on cable and I enjoyed every moment of it watching it from the couch in the dark, despite being congested, feverish, and just plain unpleasant. For some reason, the movie and its imagery fit the mood perfectly.

And now I bestow the Kreativ Blogger award on the following seven worthy blogs (imagine Archie Bell and the Drells Tighten Up playing as this takes place):

Dave at
Goodfella's Movie Blog

VP at Carole and Co.

Carrie at Classic Montgomery

Harley at Dreaming in Black and White

Zoe Walker at The Big Parade

Trixie at That's Just Stupid What You Said (She won't know how to handle the fame)

Millie at Classic Forever (She will)

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Three Stooges: A Personal History

If you're male and grew up anytime between the 1950s and 1980s, the Three Stooges were a part of your regular television viewing. The Stooges--meaning Moe, Larry, and Curly, no other incarnation matters--were usually on your local independent station at 3pm--just after school. In my neck of the woods, it was probably WCIX Channel 6. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, independent stations were a veritable dumping ground for classic A and B movies, cartoons, movie shorts, memorable and obscure TV shows, and the late and lamented "Late Night Movie" often hosted by a local TV or radio "personality." In looking back, it was a bountiful treasure trove. Whether or not I naturally gravitated towards ancient pop culture or was just brainwashed by local programming directors is up for debate, but I like to think that I just loved old shows.

But back to the Three Stooges-- they were an institution. Moe, Larry, and (especially) Curly were here before me, and will be around long after I'm gone. My grandfather loved them and my dad watched them whenever possible. I remember the family driving to my grandparents' house one weekend in 1978 or so and WCIX's audio signal was on the far left side of the radio dial. So we got to hear the Stooges poke each other's eyes out as we pulled up into the driveway. Much to my mother's chagrin--I'll avoid the "Women Hate the Stooges" topic.

The Stooges were every bit a part of a kid's TV habits as cartoons were. Curly's genius was every bit as brilliant as Bugs Bunny's. The guy seemed like he was from another planet, not a Vaudeville veteran. And most of my friends watched them, too. And as much as we liked the boys' antics, we never once gouged each other's eyes out or crunched one another's skulls in an industrial-strength vise; though I'm sure it was tempting in our sillier moments. I'll sheepsishly admit that as a kid, I believed that the Stooges, with their rooming together and drifting from odd job to odd job was how all bachelor men were supposed to live. Your buddies were more important than any old gal, right? And even in the stories where the boys have wives, the six of them all shack up in some dump, with the wives badgering them to get decent jobs instead of sleeping in all day while they, the women, worked. What role models!

When those local stations were absorbed by media conglomerates, fare like the Three Stooges were only found on "Superstations" and then just as quickly, bounced from everyone's TV schedule, at least here in Miami. It would be more than a decade before I'd see them crop up on AMC--formerly "American Movie Classics; now "A Million Commercials"--hosted by Leslie Nielsen. I hadn't seen or even thought about the Stooges since their ignominious departure from local television and wondered if their brand of comedy still resonated. It did, but as an adult, I picked up on the then-popular references and witty one liners. The slapstick was still great, too. I was relieved that something from my childhood didn't look awkward and stupid (Dif'rent Strokes and Galactica 1980, anyone?). So when the DVDs came out a couple of years ago, it was wonderful to see the boys uncut and with "politically incorrect" humor intact.

In viewing the Three Stooges today, it's amazing how well the stuff holds up. The boys are nothing less than brilliantly timed, sound effects dubbed perfectly, and "special effects" which while not better than your average backyard production, are meant to be funny. Every time I see the credits for a Stooges short, I think to myself, "Grown men thought of this!"

And for the record, my all-time favorite Three Stooges short: 1937's Three Dumb Clucks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Great Ginger Picture

I'm always dazzled by how well put together movie stars from the 1930s always were. Here, Ginger Rogers is in her 1935 splendor in Top Hat with director Mark Sandrich. I love the candid shot of Ginger, who looked her best in photographs like these. I wonder how long it took to get her hair in such an immaculate state? I have only one regret about Top Hat, and that is the fact that "The Piccolino" didn't catch on like "The Carioca" did. I'll blame Mussolini.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Miami: The Golden Age Revisited--and Cold!

Back in July, I posted an entry about how cold Miami got back in Winter, 1940. Well, I'm referring my readers to that post again! Why? Because since the new year began, Miami has experienced a very rare cold snap of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Wind chill in the mid-20s. Yeah, yeah that's shorts and ice-cold cocktails weather for the rest of the northern hemisphere but let's remember the context: This is Miami---temperatures in the 30s are the exception, not the rule!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Classic DVDs Take Another Hit

Old news to some of you, but it looks like Warner Brothers--in its infinite wisdom--is deleting tons of its 1929-72 DVD library, according to Rare and Out of Print DVDs. That would explain Amazon's $5.79 blow-out sale last month. Many of these titles are already included in box sets but if you want a copy of, say, China Seas (1935), you'd best hurry and snap it up unless you wish to plunk down for the entire Clark Gable box set.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nora Charles is No One's Mother!

I've mentioned before how much I disliked the writers making Myrna Loy's Nora Charles character a mother-to-be at the end of the otherwise brilliant After the Thin Man (1936). Screenwriter Albert Hackett was quoted a saying: “We thought the second Thin Man picture would be the last when we hinted they were going to have a baby . . . but the reviews [said] there must be a third picture planned, because they were going to have a baby. We just made it doubly hard on ourselves.” William Powell was also against the idea and was concerned at how old junior would make him and Loy appear on screen as the child grew up.

I believe that there was more to making "Mr. and Mrs. Thin Man" parents than just the screenwriters trying to end the series. Remember that MGM's studio chief, Louis B. Mayer, was known for his love of America and its cherished institutions. MGM series like the Andy Hardy films (starring Mickey Rooney) with its idealized vision of America and the all-American town of Carvel was the kind of entertainment Mayer loved. A favorite movie of this blogger is The Human Comedy (1943; also starring Rooney), a paean to small-town virtues and values that chronicled the effect of World War II on the U.S. homefront. The Human Comedy isn't so much a motion picture as it is a series of propagandistic vignettes glorifying the American Way. Both the Andy Hardy films and The Human Comedy are among Hollywood Dreamland's favored films, so it's not the concept itself that is the problem, but rather foisting motherhood on a character who was as far removed from the staid characterization that was imposed on Myrna Loy.

Nora Charles was based on author, playwright and all-around "troublemaker" Lillian Hellman, who was Thin Man author Dashiell Hammett's constant companion. Hellman, as far as I know, never had children and any character based on that firebrand was sure not going to be the mothering type! When one learns on whom Nora was based, the very idea of Nora Charles--tippling heiress and wisecracking wife--being anyone's mother all the more laughable.

Myrna Loy, despite her four marriages, never had any children, either. Nor did Ginger Rogers, another star at the peak of her popularity in the 1930s-40s. Other than Bachelor Mother (1939; aka "Get a blood test!") Ginger's characters never were mamas, either. Maybe making Myrna the "Perfect Wife" was the only thing that MGM could think of to reinvent Loy's screen image. Perhaps they feared that she was getting too old to play such a feisty character anymore. Loy was 29 during the first Thin Man movie but by 1936 they had her ready for motherhood at her character's expense. It's easy to assign the blame to the on-the-record screenwriters Hackett and Goodrich, but they get their marching orders from producers and Louis B. Mayer.

Mayer's taste in such wholesome content would eventually be his undoing, as he was ousted as MGM's head in 1951 by Dore Schary, whose preference for "message" films disgusted the old-fashioned Mayer. The Asphalt Jungle (1950) was made despite Mayer's disapproval. But in any business, money talks, and Mayer just wasn't getting the job done anymore. Changing tastes and more sophisticated fare came to Hollywood in the form of Crossfire (1947), Battleground (1949) and countless Films Noir to MGM and Hollywood in general.

All of this probably will elicit a big "So what?" but the declawing of Myrna Loy was a big blow to a great character and while Nora Charles still could crack wise with the best of them, she would not have the same punch she did in the first two Thin Man films.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Searching for The Thin Man

In checking the (meager) visitor stats for the blog, it was nice to see that TCM's Thin Man Marathon inspired people to look up the movies and its stars. A popular search term was "Myrna Loy's Thin Man Outfits", so it leaves me hopeful that today's audiences can still be bowled over by a seventy-five year-old film. The dress pictured above is Myrna's greatest. It's not up to the level of Ginger Rogers' Swing Time dress, but it certainly places second. I hope TCM's marathon gives them enough confidence to air the "Fast" films (Fast Company; Fast and Loose; Fast and Furious) along with Star of Midnight and The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. I know that I'd be pleased as punch to sit still for that brief time in Heaven!