Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE PERSONAL SIDE OF HARPO MARX

I have always liked The Marx Brothers, and I think each of them were hilarious and great comedians. However, even though I did not know any of them, I have always felt that Harpo Marx was the kindest and most down to earth person of all of them. I started researching an article on Harpo Marx's personal side, and this is what I found out...

Harpo Marx, born Adolf Harpo Marx in 1888 was the second oldest of the Marx Brothers. Harpo married actress Susan Fleming on September 28, 1936. Fleming's wedding to Marx was announced to the public when President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the couple a telegram of congratulations that November. Marx had sent a thank you letter to Roosevelt in appreciation for a signed photograph of the President, in which Marx had stated that he was "in line for congratulations, too, having been married since September" in a ceremony that took place in an unspecified "little town up North".

Unlike most of his brothers (bar Gummo), (Groucho was divorced three times, Chico once, and Zeppo twice), Harpo's marriage to Susan was lifelong. The couple adopted four children: Bill, Alex, Jimmy, and Minnie. When asked by George Burns in 1948 how many children he planned to adopt, he answered: "I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows in my house. So when I leave for work, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye."


Harpo was good friends with theater critic Alexander Woollcott and because of this became a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table. Harpo, who was quiet in details about his personal life, said his main contribution was to be the audience in that group of wits. In their play The Man Who Came to Dinner, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart based the character of "Banjo" on Harpo. Harpo later played the role in Los Angeles opposite Alexander Woolcott who had inspired the character of Sheridan Whiteside. In 1961, Harpo published his autobiography, which was titled Harpo Speaks. In one chapter, he tells the story of a man who did not believe that Harpo could talk. Because Harpo never spoke a word in all of his movies and TV appearances, many fans and other people believed he really was mute. In fact, radio and TV news recordings of his voice can be found on the Internet, documentaries, and on bonus materials of Marx Brothers DVDs.


In relating one story to a reporter who privately interviewed him in the early 1930s, the reporter wrote that "Harpo had a deep and distinguished voice like a professional announcer" and, like his brothers, he spoke with a New York accent his entire life. Harpo's final presence before the public came in early 1964, when he appeared on stage with singer/comedian Allan Sherman. Sherman burst into tears when Harpo, speaking for the first time to the audience, announced his retirement from the entertainment business. Comedian Steve Allen, who was in the audience, remembered that Harpo – after announcing his retirement from the stage – kept talking for several minutes to the theater audience about his career and how he would miss it all, and he kept verbally cutting Sherman off when he tried to speak. After a while, the sorrowful audience started tittering and giggling. Allen said that everyone found it charmingly ironic that the comedian Harpo Marx, having been mute on stage and screen for several decades, "wouldn't shut up!"

Marx was also an avid croquet player, and was inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame in 1979. Harpo Marx died on September 28, 1964 (he and his wife, Susan's, 28th wedding anniversary), at age 75, after undergoing open heart surgery following a heart attack, barely six months after his retirement. Harpo's death was said to have hit the surviving Marx brothers very hard. Groucho's son Arthur Marx, who attended the funeral with most of the Marx family, later said that Harpo's funeral was the only time in his life that he ever saw his father cry. Harpo was cremated and his ashes were reportedly sprinkled into the sand trap at the seventh hole of the Rancho Mirage golf course, on which he occasionally played. In his will, he donated his trademark harp to the State of Israel. For never talking on film much, Harpo said a lot by his actions in his personal life...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP: JAMES GARNER

Movie and television legend James Garner has passed away. He was found dead of natural causes at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles Saturday evening, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez said early Sunday. Police responded to a call around 8 p.m. PDT and confirmed Garner's identity from family members, Iniquez told The Associated Press.
Although he was adept at drama and action, Garner was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially with his hit TV series, "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."
His quick-witted avoidance of conflict provided a refreshingly new take on the American hero, contrasting with the steely heroics of John Wayne and the fast trigger of Clint Eastwood.
Well into his 70s, the handsome Oklahoman remained active in both TV and film. In 2002, he was Sandra Bullock's father in the film "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." The following year, he joined the cast of "8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter," playing the grandfather on the sitcom after star John Ritter, who played the father, died during the show's second season.
When he received the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievement award in 2005, he quipped, "I'm not at all sure how I got here."
But in his 2011 memoir, "The Garner Files," he provided some amusing and enlightening clues, including his penchant for bluntly expressed opinions and a practice for decking people who said something nasty to his face — including an obnoxious fan and an abusive stepmother. They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.
It was in 1957 when the ABC network, desperate to compete on ratings-rich Sunday night, scheduled "Maverick" against CBS's powerhouse "The Ed Sullivan Show" and NBC's "The Steve Allen Show." ''Maverick" soon out polled them both. 

At a time when the networks were crowded with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a fresh breath of air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre's values.
After a couple of years, Garner felt the series was losing its creative edge, and he found a legal loophole to escape his contract in 1960.
His first film after "Maverick" established him as a movie actor. It was "The Children's Hour," William Wyler's remake of Lillian Hellman's lesbian drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.
He followed in a successful comedy with Kim Novak, "Boys Night Out," and then fully established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama "The Great Escape" and two smash comedies with Doris Day — "The Thrill of It All" and "Move Over Darling."

Throughout his long film career, Garner demonstrated his versatility in comedies ("The Art Of Love," ''A Man Could Get Killed," ''Skin Game"), suspense ("36 Hours," ''They Only Kill Their Masters," ''Marlowe"), Westerns ("Duel at Diablo," ''Hour of the Gun," ''Support Your Local Gunfighter").
In the 1980s and 1990s, when most stars his age were considered over the hill, Garner's career remained strong. He played a supporting role as a marshal in the 1994 "Maverick," a big-screen return to the TV series with Mel Gibson in Garner's old title role. His only Oscar nomination came for the 1985 "Murphy's Romance," a comedy about a small-town love relationship in which he co-starred with Sally Field.
His favorite film, though, was the cynical 1964 war drama "The Americanization of Emily," which co-starred Julie Andrews.
Unlike most film stars, Garner made repeated returns to television. "Nichols" (1971-72) and "Bret Maverick" (1981-82) were short-lived, but "The Rockford Files" (1974-80) proved a solid hit, bringing him an Emmy.
Among his notable TV movies: "Barbarians at the Gate" (as tycoon F. Ross Johnson), "Breathing Lessons," ''The Promise," ''My Name Is Bill W.," ''The Streets of Laredo" and "One Special Night."
He said he learned about acting while playing a non-speaking role as a Navy juror in the 1954 Broadway hit play "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial," starring Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan.
"I had no lines, and I had trouble staying awake," Garner recalled.

After "Caine Mutiny," Garner found work in Hollywood as a bit player in the "Cheyenne" TV series. Warner Bros. gave him a screen test and signed him to a seven-year contract starting at $200 a week.
The studio cast him in supporting roles in three minor films, followed by the important break as Marlon Brando's sidekick in "Sayonara." When Charlton Heston declined a war movie, "Darby's Rangers," because of a money dispute, Garner assumed the role.
"Maverick," which co-starred Jack Kelly as brother Bart Maverick, made its debut on Sept. 22, 1957.
Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner (some references say Baumgarner) in Norman, Okla. His mother died when he was 5, and friends and relatives cared for him and his two brothers for a time while his father was to California.
In 1957, Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, and the union prevailed despite some stormy patches. She had a daughter Kimberly from a previous marriage, and the Garners had another daughter, Gretta Scott. In the late 1990s, the Garners built a 12,000-square-foot house on a 400-acre ranch north of Santa Barbara.
"My wife and I felt ... we'd just watch the sunset from the front porch," Garner said in 2000. "But then the phone started ringing with all these wonderful offers, and we decided, 'Heck, let's stay in the business for a while.'"
One of his last great roles was as the aging devoted husband in 2004's "The Notebook". Garner had been in failing health for years after suffering a stroke in 2008, a few weeks after his 80th birthday...

BORN ON THIS DAY: NATALIE WOOD

When I first started getting into classic movies, I never thought much about Natalie Wood. However, as I have watched more of her movies, I thought she was a great child star, and a beautiful actress when she got older. It is sad that Natalie Wood left us so quickly and tragically, but it is great to celebrate her work. Natalie Wood would have been 76 years old today. She was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko in San Francisco on July 20, 1938, to Russian immigrant parents Nikolai Stepanovich Zakharenko and Maria Stepanovna (née Zudilova; 1912–1996). As an adult, she stated, "I'm very Russian, you know." She spoke both English and Russian with an American accent. Her father was born in Vladivostok and he, his mother, and two brothers, immigrated to Montreal, Quebec, and later to San Francisco. There, he worked as a day laborer and carpenter.

Biographer Warren Harris writes that under the family's "needy circumstances", her mother may have transferred those ambitions to her middle daughter, Natalie. Her mother would take Natalie to the movies as often as she could: "Natalie's only professional training was watching Hollywood child stars from her mother's lap," notes Harris.
Shortly after Wood's birth in San Francisco, her family moved to nearby Sonoma County, and lived in Santa Rosa, California, where Wood was noticed during a film shoot in downtown Santa Rosa. Her mother soon moved the family to Los Angeles and pursued a career for her daughter. Wood's younger sister, Svetlana Zacharenko — now known as Lana Wood — also became an actress and later a Bond girl. She and Lana have an older half sister, Olga Viriapaeff. Though Natalie had been born "Natalia Zacharenko", her father later changed the family name to "Gurdin" and Natalie was often known as "Natasha", the diminutive of Natalia. The studio executives at RKO Radio Pictures, David Lewis and William Goetz, later changed her name to "Natalie Wood".

Wood made her film début a few weeks before turning five during a fifteen-second scene in the 1943 film Happy Land. Despite the brief part, she attracted the notice of the director, Irving Pichel, who remained in contact with Wood's family for two years when another role came up. The director telephoned Wood's mother and asked her to bring her daughter to Los Angeles for a screen test. Wood's mother became so excited at the possibilities, she overreacted and "packed the whole family off to Los Angeles to live," writes Harris. Wood's father opposed the idea, but his wife's "overpowering ambition to make Natalie a star" took priority. According to Wood's sister, Lana Wood, Pichel "discovered her and wanted to adopt her."

Wood, then seven years old, got the part and played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946). Welles later said that Wood was a born professional, "so good, she was terrifying." After Wood acted in another film directed by Pichel, her mother signed her up with 20th Century Fox studio for her first major role, the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street; the film made her one of the top child stars in Hollywood. Within a few months after the film's release, Wood was so popular that Macy's invited her to appear in the store's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. The rest is Hollywood history. Wood became the leading teenage star in the 1950s, and then a great leading lady of the 1960s and 1970s. A tragic death in 1981 silenced Wood’s talent, but the films will keep her talent and beauty alive forever…



Thursday, July 17, 2014

RIP: ELAINE STRITCH

Actress Elaine Stritch, star of Broadway hits including “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” and “Show Boat,” who was nominated for multiple Tonys and Emmys, winning three of the latter, has died. She was 89.

Stritch, an atypical star of stage and screen known for her association with Stephen Sondheim, quickly gained a reputation for the worldly, acerbic wit that often defined her characters. In her one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” Stritch talked candidly about battling the bottle and her colorful, albeit destructive, love life.

Her role as the drunk yet lucid Claire in “A Delicate Balance” earned her a 1996 Tony nomination for best actress. Roles in “Bus Stop,” “Sail Away” and “Company” snagged her three other noms while “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” won her the 2002 award for special theatrical event.

On television, Stritch was memorable late in her career for her recurring role on NBC’s “30 Rock” as the crusty, goofy mother to Alec Baldwin’s character, drawing five nominations for the role and winning in 2007. She was also impressive as a fierce but notably ethical defense attorney on two episodes of “Law & Order,” winning an Emmy for the role in 1993. A P.A. Pennebaker documentary of her “At Liberty” stage show won several Emmys in 2004, including for her the award for outstanding individual performance in a variety program.
 
Stritch did not restrict her candor to the stage, once telling Variety’s Army Archerd that she “flipped over Rock Hudson — and we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be,” referring to her failed romance with the closeted actor. These gritty, honest revelations contributed to the unique style Stritch brought to her work.

Born in Detroit, Stritch ironically attended finishing school before landing the abrasive, tough-as-nails roles for which she became known. She studied acting at the New School’s Dramatic Workshop with Marlon Brando and once said of performing: “There are a lot of things I do that I don’t want to, but I have to. It’s truly an emotional need for me to perform.” This necessity was reflected in her career, which spanned several decades and two oceans, leading her to stages in London’s West End and dozens of appearances on the small and silver screen.


On TV, she racked up credits in the episodic anthologies of the 1950s, appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” starred in a TV series version of “My Sister Eileen” in 1960-61, starred in the U.K. sitcom “Two’s Company” in the late ’70s and had a role on “The Ellen Burstyn Show” in 1986-87.

Film credits include the 1957 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” Woody Allen’s 1987 film “September,” the Robin Williams comedy “Cadillac Man,” Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” and romancer “Autumn in New York.” She also starred alongside Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in 1997's "Out To Sea", and as Jane Fonda's mother in "Monster In Law" in 2005.

Stritch made her stage debut at New York’s New School in 1944. The actress understudied Ethel Merman for “Call Me Madam” while simultaneously appearing in the 1952 revival of “Pal Joey”; later she starred in the national tour of “Call Me Madam.”

Her professional relationship with Sondheim lasted decades. She made famous Sondheim’s sneeringly witty tune “The Ladies Who Lunch” in 1970’s “Company,” sang his enduring “I’m Still Here” in her 2002 solo show and performed in a 2010 revue of his tunes called “At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time.” The actress appeared in Garth Drabinsky’s smash hit “Show Boat” in 1994 and in Edward Albee’s play “A Delicate Balance” in 1996.

In 2010 Stritch replaced Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music” on Broadway. The actress was profiled in the 2013 feature documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me”...

RECENTLY VIEWED: OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

There are not many new movies that I have wanted to see. Spending over $10 for an overblown and overhyped CGI movie does not interest me. However, I did want to see this year's Oz, The Great And Powerful. I was amazed that I caught it on the Starz movie channel already, and I did not have to leave the house or spend $5 for a bag of candy to see it! Oz the Great and Powerful is a 2013 American 3D fantasy adventure film directed by Sam Raimi, produced by Joe Roth, and written by David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner. The film stars James Franco as Oscar Diggs, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Michelle Williams as Glinda. Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King and Tony Cox are featured in supporting roles.

The film is based on L. Frank Baum's Oz novels, and also pays homage to the 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz. Set 20 years before the events of the original novel, Oz the Great and Powerful focuses on Oscar Diggs, who arrives in the Land of Oz and encounters three witches: Theodora, Evanora and Glinda. Oscar is then enlisted to restore order in Oz, while struggling to resolve conflicts with the witches and himself. Oz the Great and Powerful is set in the year 1905, 20 years before the events of the original novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The film features several artistic allusions and technical parallels to the books and the 1939 film.


The film's opening sequence is presented in black and white. When Oscar is caught up in the tornado, the audio transitions from monaural to surround sound. Fading into color when Oscar arrives in Oz; additionally, the aspect ratio gradually widens from 4:3 Academy ratio to 2.35:1 widescreen. As in the 1939 film, Glinda travels in giant bubbles, and the Emerald City is actually emerald; in the novel, characters wear tinted glasses to make it appear so. The iconic green look of the Wicked Witch of the West is closer to her look in the classic film, as the Witch is a short, one-eyed crone in the novel.

The Wicked Witches are portrayed as sisters, an idea which originated in the 1939 film. Several actors who play Oz characters make cameos in the Kansas segments, such as Frank, Oscar's assistant whom he refers to as his "trained monkey" (Frank's "Oz" counterpart is the winged monkey Finley) and a young girl in a wheelchair who serves as the Kansas counterpart to China Girl (in Kansas, Oscar is unable to make the wheelchair-bound young girl walk, and gets a chance to do so when he repairs China Girl's broken legs). Another character, Annie (Michelle Williams), informs Oscar that she has been proposed to by a John Gale, presumably hinting at Dorothy Gale's parental lineage. Other referenced characters include the Scarecrow, who is built by the townspeople as a scare tactic and the Cowardly Lion, who is frightened away by Oscar after attacking Finley. Similarly, various other races of Oz are depicted besides the Munchkins; the Quadlings, the china doll inhabitants of Dainty China Country, and the Winkies (who went unnamed in the classic film). Similarly, Glinda is referred to by her title in the novel (the Good Witch of the South), unlike the 1939 film, where her character's title is "Good Witch of the North" (due to her character being merged with the Good Witch of the North). Theodora's tears leave scars on her face, reflecting her weakness to water. Also, Oz is presented as a real place as it is in the novel, and not a dream as the 1939 film presents.


Oz, The Great And Poweful is a beautiful film to watch, and the whole movie is enjoyable. I am not a big fan of actor James Franco, and he always looks high to me, but he was believable in his role. The actress that stole the movie away in my book is the beautiful Mila Kunis. Kunis really channeled her inner witch as well as a tiny bit of Margaret Hamilton, who played the with in the 1939 film. I think personally that she made the movie. Although a lot of friends I know took their children to see the film, I don't think it is a family film. There are some adult storylines, but movie is definitely worth seeing. The movie is missing Judy Garland and the innocence of the 1939 movie, but it is still a great story...

MY RATING: 7 OUT OF 10

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

WHAT A CHARACTER: JOHN MCGIVER



You may not recognize the name John McGiver, but you probably know the face. He was in countless movies and televison shows throughout the years. John Irwin McGiver was born on November 5, 1913 and was an American character actor who made more than a hundred appearances in television and motion pictures over a two-decade span from 1955 to 1975.

The owl-faced, portly actor with the mid-Atlantic accent was known for his performances as the kindly Tiffany's salesman in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961); the honorable but ill-fated Senator Thomas Jordan in the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate (1962); and as religious fanatic Mr. O'Daniel in the film Midnight Cowboy (1969). He also appeared on many TV shows and commercials, including a Baggies spot in the 1960s, as well as the first of a popular series of commercials for the American Express charge card ("Do you know me?").

McGiver was born the son of Irish immigrants. He received a B.A. in English from Fordham University in 1938 and master's degrees from Columbia University and Catholic University. He was an English teacher before he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and served as an officer in the U.S. Army's 7th Armored Division in Europe during World War II. His stage career also began before the war, when he was an actor-director in New York's Irish Repertory Theater. He continued to teach English and speech at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, working occasionally in off-Broadway plays, until 1955, when he became a full-time actor.

In 1959, McGiver appeared in the episode "The Assassin" of NBC's espionage drama Five Fingers, starring David Hedison. In 1962, he appeared as Gramps in the episode "The Seventh Day of Creation" of the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour, starring Wendell Corey and Jack Ging. He appeared on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes "Six People No Music", "Fatal Figures" and the Twilight Zone episode "Sounds and Silences". He also played a butterfly collector in a 1966 episode of Gilligan's Island (season 3, episode 7, Man With A Net). In 1971 he guest starred in Alias Smith and Jones with Pete Duel and Ben Murphy (season 1, episode 8, 'A Fistful of Diamonds').

Between 1963 and 1964, McGiver appeared in five episodes of The Patty Duke Show as J.R. Castle, who was Martin Lane's boss at the fictional newspaper The Chronicle. In the 1964–1965 television season, McGiver played the widower Walter Burnley, the head of the complaint department of a fictitious Los Angeles department store in the CBS sitcom Many Happy Returns. His costars included Elinor Donahue, Mark Goddard, Mickey Manners, and Elena Verdugo.

McGiver died of a heart attack on September 9, 1975 in West Fulton at age 61. His remains were cremated. McGiver was married to Ruth Schmigelsky from 1947 until his death; they had ten children. Also surviving were the memorable roles McGiver had throughout his remarkable career...



Saturday, July 12, 2014

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: EVEN MORE ODD PAIRINGS

This is the third addition of this series. I love featuring different pairings of movie stars in pictures that you are used to seeing together. There always seems to be different photos that I discover:


ELVIS PRESLEY and RUDY VALLEE

CHARLIE CHAPLIN and AL JOLSON


MICHAEL JACKSON and FRED ASTAIRE


EDDIE CANTOR, JUDY GARLAND, GEORGE JESSEL

MARY TYLER MOORE and JIMMY DURANTE

GROUCHO MARX and JAYNE MANSFIELD