Thursday, August 30, 2012


When Bing Crosby burst onto the scene in the early 1930s, many crooners scrambled to find a place in the business of crooner. Stars like Gene Austin and Harry Richman faded away from the limelight and a more romantic and sincere type of baritone took over the country. However, one pre Crosby crooner that remained fairly popular, despite have a nasal voice, was Rudy Vallee.

Rudy Vallee was one of the most popular vocalists of the pre-swing era. With his megaphone and nasal voice he will forever be remembered as the archetypal image of the early crooners. He was also instrumental in the careers of several other talented stars. Alice Faye, Frances Langford and Paul Weston all received their big break from him.

Rudy Vallée was born Hubert Prior Vallée on July 28, 1901 in Island Pond, Vermont, the son of Charles Alphonse and Catherine Lynch Vallée. Both of his parents were born and raised in Vermont, but his grandparents were immigrants. The Vallées were French Canadians from neighboring Quebec, while the Lynches were from Ireland.

Vallee grew up in Westbrook, Maine, where he played drums in his high school band. He dropped out of school and joined the Navy in 1917, at the start of America's involvement in WWI, but was soon discharged when the Navy discovered that he was only fifteen years old. Returning home, he found work as a movie projectionist and began to study the clarinet but switched to the saxophone when he first heard recordings of sax player Rudy Wiedoeft. He also re-entered high school and graduated, enrolling at the University of Maine in 1921. Hubert's fraternity brothers, knowing of his great admiration for Wiedoeft, nicknamed him 'Rudy' Vallee, a name which stuck.

In the fall of 1922 Vallee transferred to Yale University, where he worked for his tuition by playing at country clubs, social functions, and school dances, often as a member of the Yale Collegians. He also began to sing, using a megaphone to enhance his voice. It quickly became one of his trademarks and, in those days before electric amplification, was later copied by other vocalists.

In 1924 Vallee dropped out of Yale and went to London, where he worked at the Savoy Hotel, playing sax with the eight-piece Savoy Havana Band. He remained there for a year, making his first recordings. He then returned to Yale, playing in the school marching band and earning a degree in philosophy. After graduation, he briefly moved to Boston and then to the New York area, where he played alongside Tony Pastor in John Cavallaro's orchestra. Later he met bandleader Bert Lown. The two decided to form a group, fronted by Vallee, with Lown as a silent partner. It debuted in January 1928 at the Heigh-Ho Club. The band was an unusual one, consisting of two violins, two saxophones, and a piano. They played only choruses. No chorus was repeated, and no two tunes were played in the same key. Vallee sang in English, Spanish, French and Italian, using his megaphone.

The group quickly became very popular with those looking for something new and interesting. Radio broadcasts began the following month and Vallee's fame began to grow. Soon he was playing the Palace and Paramount theaters. In 1929 he appeared in his first film, Vagabond Lover, and began his long-running radio program, which was sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast.

From the beginning the main purpose of the band, the Connecticut Yankees, had been to back Vallee's singing, but Vallee himself had a large ego, which often led to resentment from many of the musicians. Despite their often hard feelings, Vallee was clearly the main attraction, and he quickly became a major star, continuing to perform on stage, appear in films, and broadcast his radio program up until the war years. In the late 1930s, he also starred in the Sealtest radio show with John Barrymore.

During WWII Vallee joined the Coast Guard, where he led a forty-piece orchestra until he was placed on the inactive list in 1944. He then briefly returned to radio. Vallee's last major hurrah as a singer was in 1943, with a reissue of the song ''As Time Goes By,'' which had recently been featured in the film Casablanca. The tune had previously been a big hit for Vallee twelve years earlier.

Vallee continued to work in film up until the 1970s. He made appearances on Broadway, where he scored a big hit in Frank Loesser's How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Vallee also appeared on television, guest starring on such programs as Petticoat Junction, Batman (as the villain Lord Phogg), Night Gallery, Alias Smith and Jones, and CHIPs.

In the twilight of his years, Vallee’s Yankee work ethic kept spurring him on. He kept a wide correspondence with celebrities and fans; he entertained lavishly at Silver Tip, his home in California; and he played benefit concerts for many veterans’ hospitals and charitable causes. Vallee passed away July 3, 1986, with his fourth wife Eleanor at his side. As they watched the Independence Day celebrations on television, Vallee’s last words were, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be there? You know how I love a party"...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I figured I would follow up my look at overrated stars by profiling the ladies now. I think my choices for overrated actresses will even be more controversial than my overrated actors profile. I have picked some of Hollywood's most beloved actresses, but in my opinion - and only my opinion, I believe that the following five actresses were overrated...


5. JOAN FONTAINE (born 1917)
It is not that I think that Joan Fontaine is a bad actress. She won an Oscar for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion" in 1941, but in every role she starred in she seemed cold and distant. She seemed cold in "Suspicion" (in that film it was called for), but if you want another example of her cold, almost wooden acting - watch her in "The Emperor's Waltz" (1948) with Bing Crosby. Watching Fontaine on screen I get a chill even if it is the hottest day in summer.

4. LANA TURNER (1921-1995)
Lana Turner was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but I feel her appeal was more her looks than her actual acting ability. I have to admit I do not hate everything Turner did. I think her best movie was the underrated "Ziegfeld Girl"(1941) which she plays a Ziegfeld girl. However, for the most part I feel that the public was going to see a Lana Turner movie to see beauty and not talent. That beauty (a form of talent) made her a popular star for decades though.


3. ELIZABETH TAYLOR (1932-2011)
Before Elizabeth Taylor passed away, I would have said she was the most overrated. However, since she died I have seen some of her movies, and she did have talent. I still think though that her popularity was more about the men she slept with and the marriages she broke up than her actual ability. One movie I did like her in was a more demure role in "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1954). I watched it for Van Johnson, but I discovered an ability that Taylor did have. Still though, she may be an icon but a very overrated one in my book.

2. AUDREY HEPBURN (1929-1993)
I know having Audrey Hepborn on an overrated list is going to get me in trouble with movie fans everywhere. What was her appeal? I did not think she was beautiful - not to be rude, but she was kind of ugly. She made a lot of interesting movies ,and Hepburn has risen to such ultra stardom, but I do not understand why. She won an Oscar for "Roman Holliday" in 1953, and I do not think the movie role warranted an Oscar. I guess some people like the waif type beauty that Audrey Hepburn had, but her looks did not last, and I do not think her acting ability warranted legendary status either.

Okay even though I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand's singing, I do believe she had a good voice. However, as an actress I thought she was horrible. With the exception of her role as Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" (1968) and "Funny Lady" (1975), I have not seen another Streisand film I have remotely liked. I don't know who cast her as Dolly Levi in "Hello Dolly" (1969), but she ruined a great Jerry Herman musical. Her attitude like she knows she is this great star has also been a big turn off for me. Plus, I can't get past that nose! Like all of the stars on this list, they have more talent than I will ever have, but stars like Streisand are just way too overrated for me...

Saturday, August 25, 2012


To end out Gene Kelly week, I thought it was be interesting to take a look at some photos of the dancer. Gene Kelly's great talent was not only captured on film and records, but his photogenic nature is evidenced by a lot of the great pictures that were captured of him throughout the years. Here are some different photos that you normally see of this legendary dancer:




Friday, August 24, 2012


It is now one hundred years after Gene Kelly's birth and over 15 years after his death, but the public does not hear much about Gene Kelly's children - who they are and what they are doing now...

Gene Kelly had three children. His first was a daughter, Kerry (above), born in October of 1942 to Gene and his first wife, Betsy Blair. Although likely exaggerated (as fanzine interviews typically were/are), the Photoplay article “My Kids, The Kellys” (Feb. 1949) discusses young Kerry’s relationship with her father:

And with all of this Gene is great fun, too. He and Kerry sing together all the time. At five, Kerry knows the words of at least a dozen songs she’s learned from Gene. And sings them like Gene. And looks just like him, Gene’s eyes, his mouth, his mannerisms, and light as spindrift on her feet. I think Kerry is one of the luckiest little girls in the world.

At present, Kerry and her husband, Jack Novick, work as child psychologists in Michigan. Recognized for founding the Allen Creek Pre-School, a laboratory for integrating psychoanalytic insight with early childhood education, the couple has co-authored several books.

Gene’s second child and his first with Jeanne Coyne, is Timothy. He was born in March of 1962. Biographer Clive Hirschhorn documents how Gene apparently heard about the pregnancy:

While Gigot (1962) was being made in Paris, Jeannie became pregnant and informed Gene of the fact by sending him a birthday card which simply told him that she had his present inside her. (Hirschhorn)

Tim went to the University of Southern California’s Film School and, we think, still works in the film industry. In an interview for People magazine (1984), Tim opens up about his father, including their similar physical characteristics: “Our shirt, sleeve, neck, shoulder size, everything is the same. It’s amazing. I had the greatest black loafers of all time. Boy, I miss those loafers.” (The loafers, along with many of the family’s possessions were lost in a house fire.)

Gene’s third child is Bridget. She was born to Gene and Jeanne in 1964. Again, Gene recalls the occasion in Hirschhorn’s biography:

I was in the Cedars of Lebanon hospital waiting for Jeannie to give birth, when I received a phone call from a well-known newspaper columnist who congratulated me on becoming a father again and what, he wanted to know, did I have to say for myself? Well, I had no idea Jeannie had already delivered, and wondered how the hell the guy had heard before me! I knew it was impossible to keep a secret in Hollywood, but this, I thought, was ridiculous!

Bridget attended the American College in Paris and designs costumes for films. Some of her work may be seen The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996), Airheads (1994), Dennis the Menace (1993), and The Mambo Kings (1992).

It seems like wonderful children were born to an equally wonderful father and entertainer...


Thursday, August 23, 2012


During the Golden Age of musicals there were many dancers, but two stand out at the top of them all - Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. While Astaire and Kelly both made movies at MGM, there was no rivalry between them. Gene Kelly's style was completely different than Fred Astaire's style, and Kelly truly developed a unique all his own. It is amazing how quick the years have gone, but Gene Kelly was born on this day - August 23 - 100 years ago.

Kelly was born in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He was the third son of Harriet Catherine (née Curran) and James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman. His father was born in Peterborough, Canada, to a family of Irish descent. His maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Derry in northern Ireland and his maternal grandmother was of German ancestry.

At the age of eight, Kelly was enrolled by his mother in dance classes, along with his elder brother James. They both rebelled, and, according to Kelly: "We didn't like it much and were continually involved in fistfights with the neighborhood boys who called us sissies...I didn't dance again until I was fifteen." He thought it would be a good way to get girls. Kelly returned to dance on his own initiative and by then was an accomplished sportsman and well able to take care of himself. He attended St. Raphael Elementary School in the Morningside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from Peabody High School in 1929 at the age of sixteen. He enrolled in Pennsylvania State College to study journalism but the economic crash obliged him to seek employment to help with the family's finances. At this time, he worked up dance routines with his younger brother Fred in order to earn prize money in local talent contests, and they also performed in local nightclubs.

In 1931, Kelly enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to study economics where he joined the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. While at Pitt, Kelly became involved in the university's Cap and Gown Club, which staged original, comedic musical productions. Earning a Bachelor of Arts in Economics with his graduation from Pitt in 1933, he remained active with the Cap and Gown Club, serving as its director from 1934 to 1938, while at the same time enrolling in the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Also during this period, Kelly's family started a dance studio on Munhall Road in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

In 1932, the dance studio was renamed The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance. A second location was opened in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1933. Kelly served as a teacher at the studio during both his undergraduate and law student years at Pitt. In 1931, he was approached by the Rodef Shalom synagogue in Pittsburgh to teach dance, and to stage the annual Kermess. This venture was successful enough that his services were retained for seven years until his departure for New York. Eventually, though, he decided to pursue his career as a dance teacher and full-time entertainer, so Kelly dropped out of law school after two months. He began to increasingly focus on performing and later claimed: "With time I became disenchanted with teaching because the ratio of girls to boys was more than ten to one, and once the girls reached sixteen the dropout rate was very high." In 1937, having successfully managed and developed the family's dance school business, he finally did move to New York City in search of work as a choreographer.

After a fruitless search, Kelly returned to Pittsburgh, to his first position as a choreographer with the Charles Gaynor musical revue Hold Your Hats at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in April, 1938. Kelly appeared in six of the sketches, one of which, "La Cumparsita", became the basis of an extended Spanish number in Anchors Aweigh" eight years later.

His first Broadway assignment, in November 1938, was as a dancer in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me! as the American ambassador's secretary who supports Mary Martin while she sings "My Heart Belongs to Daddy". He had been hired by Robert Alton who had staged a show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and been impressed by Kelly's teaching skills. When Alton moved on to choreograph One for the Money he hired Kelly to act, sing and dance in a total of eight routines. In 1939, he was selected to be part of a musical revue "One for the Money" produced by the actress Katharine Cornell, who was known for finding and hiring talented young actors.

Kelly's first career breakthrough was in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Time of Your Life, which opened on October 25, 1939, where for the first time on Broadway he danced to his own choreography. In the same year he received his first assignment as a Broadway choreographer, for Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe. And the rest as they say is film history...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


It is hard to believe that we are celebrating what would have been the 100th birthday of dancing icon Gene Kelly. I have an actual minor connection to the legendary hoofer. Kelly was not only raised in my home town of Pittsburgh, but my great aunt actually baby sat him when they were both young.
Unfortunately, my great aunt died in 1991 at the age of 86, and all of her stories about living near the Kellys died with her. However, Gene Kelly was not only a local boy that made it famous, he was a musical genius who defined dancing in musicals alongside Fred Astaire for a generation.

Picking a musical to profile from Kelly's long career is not easy task, and I wanted to pick something different than An American In Paris or Singin In The Rain. So I picked Kelly's third movie for MGM, when he still was relatively new to film called Thousands Cheer.

Thousands Cheer is a 1943 American comedy musical film released by MGM. Produced at the height of the Second World War, the film was intended as a morale booster for American troops and their families.

The plot of the film is essentially a two-part program. The first half consists of a romantic comedy storyline involving an aerialist, played by Gene Kelly, who is drafted into the US Army but really wants to join the air force. During training, he falls in love with Kathryn (played by Kathryn Grayson), the daughter of his commanding officer, who has similarly put her singing career on hold in order to serve by providing entertainment for the troops. Unusually for this type of a film (and for this era of Hollywood), the character Kathryn has only recently met her father for the first time since she was a baby, her parents having divorced. A related subplot has Kathryn conniving to get her parents (played by John Boles and Mary Astor) to reconcile. During the first part of the film, Grayson sings several numbers and Kelly performs one of his most famous routines, dancing with a mop as a partner.

The secondary plot involves preparations for a major live show for the soldiers which will feature many MGM musical and comedy stars. For the second half of the film, all pretenses of a storyline are effectively abandoned as the film instead becomes a variety showcase of comedy, song, and dance, with all of the performers (save Kelly and Grayson) appearing as themselves. The show portion is hosted by Mickey Rooney.

Performing as "guest stars" in the film's show segment were: Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Red Skelton, Ann Sothern, Lucille Ball, Frank Morgan, Virginia O'Brien, Eleanor Powell, Marilyn Maxwell, June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Donna Reed, Margaret O'Brien, the Kay Kyser Orchestra and others. Pianist-conductor José Iturbi appears as himself in both segments of the film; this was his first acting role in a film and he would go on to make several more appearances (usually playing himself) in MGM musicals.

There are many musical highlights included a performance of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" by Kelly and a mop, "Honeysuckle Rose" by Horne and Benny Carter's band, a tap dance solo by Eleanor Powell (making her first color film and her final MGM movie until 1950's Duchess of Idaho), Kay Kyser's band delivering a frantic and humorous medley of "I Dug a Ditch in Wichita"/"Should I?", and a Garland performance (with classical pianist Jose Iturbi) of Roger Edens' "The Joint is Really Jumpin' in Carnegie Hall" which includes an early use of the word "rock" in a musical sense. Aside from Kelly's dance numbers, the Judy Garland number is by far one of my favorite numbers. Judy had not been seen in color on film since The Wizard Of Oz four years earlier.

After a brief resumption (and resolution) of the earlier storyline, the film ends with Grayson leading an international chorus of men (the United Nations Chorus) in a song pleading for world peace. The song, entitled "United Nations", actually predates the establishment of the United Nations political body by two years, but not the Declaration by United Nations which was made on 1 January 1942.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards; Best Cinematography, Best Score and Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Daniel B. Cathcart, Edwin B. Willis, Jacques Mersereau), but did not win any. Nevertheless, Thousands Cheer is a movie that we see Gene Kelly more relaxed on film. He was getting more confident to be able start doing some really inventive numbers. The film also was a great example of the war movies of the 1940s that not only entertained, but helped out soldiers forget about their problems. This is pretty much a forgotten Gene Kelly film, but it is one that should be watched and remembered fondly...


Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Here is a great article I discovered on researching Gene Kelly's family tree...

When I began my own research, I started by asking my parents questions about their parents and grandparents, and I also referred to an interview with my grandmother when I was in grade school and needed to complete a family history project. That same advice holds true today – you need basic facts about a family to begin your research. In the case of my subject, I couldn’t actually talk to Mr. Kelly. So instead I turned to the only biography that was written during his lifetime in which the author interviewed Kelly himself.

The book is Gene Kelly by Clive Hirschhorn (Chicago : H. Regnery, 1975). While it is not entirely accurate – especially since it begins with the incorrect birth date of its subject – it was a way to get basic information about his brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents – as close as I can get to acquring the info from Gene himself.

From the first chapter of the biography, I learned enough basic facts to begin my research on the Kelly family:

Gene’s parents were James Patrick Joseph Kelly and Harriet Curran. They married in 1906.

Both came from large families; James was one of eleven children, and Harriet one of 13.

Harriet’s father, Billy Curran, “had emigrated to New York from Londonderry in 1845…via Dunfermline in Scotland.” Billy met “Miss Eckhart”, of German descent, married and moved to Houtzdale, PA. They later moved to Pittsburgh.

Billy died before 1907 from pneumonia after he was left in the cold at night after being robbed.

There were 9 Curran children, and 4 who died, but only 7 are named: Frank, Edward, Harry, John, Lillian, Harriet, and Gus.

James Kelly was born in Peterborough Canada in 1875.

James died in 1966, and Harriet died in 1972. Of Harriet, Mr. Hirschhorn says, “No one quite knows whether she was 85, 87, or 89.”

In addition to Gene’s parents’ info were the basics about their children. In birth order, the Kelly family included Harriet, James, Eugene Curran, Louise, and Frederic. Gene was born on August 23, 1912. This is plenty of information to begin a search. But, don’t believe everything you read or everything your family members tell you – sometimes the “facts” can be wrong, and only research will find the truth!

Census records are a great place to begin your research. Back in 1989, my research began at the National Archives with the U.S. Federal Census records. Of course, back then the first available census was from 1910, and none of the records were digitized. Today, I still think census records are the best place to start researching a family. I used and began with the 1930 census. Despite many “James Kelly” families in Pittsburgh, PA, it was relatively easy to find the entire Kelly clan. As I continued backward with earlier census records and Harriet Kelly’s Curran family, I found some similarities to issues I had in my own family research:

Names can be misspelled. I expected this with Zawodny and Piontkowski, but not with Curran! The Curran family is listed as “Curn” on the 1900 census.

Ages are not necessarily correct. It seems that Harriet Curran Kelly has a similar condition to many of my female ancestors – she ages less than ten years every decade and grows younger!

Information can differ from census to census, and these conflicts can only be resolved by using other record resources. Despite birth year variations for both Gene’s mother and father, James Kelly’s immigration year differed on each census as did Harriet’s father’s birthplace (Pennsylvania, Ireland, or Scotland?).

Finding in-laws is a bonus, and a great way to discover maiden names. If I didn’t already know that Harriet’s maiden name was Curran (from Gene’s biography – and it is also Gene’s middle name), I would have discovered it on the 1930 census since her brother Frank Curran was living with the Kelly family. Also, I knew Harriet’s mother’s maiden name was “Eckhart” from the biography, and the 1880 census of the Curran family lists her brother and sisters – James, Jennie, and Josephine Eckerd.

In the few hours of research on census records alone, I was able to trace Gene’s father only to 1910 after his marriage to Harriet. In 1900 he was single, and I was unable to find a recent Canadian immigrant named James Kelly. Gene’s maternal line ran dry with the Curran’s in 1880. William Curran and Mary Elizabeth “Eckhart” married after 1870. There are too many William Curran’s from Ireland to determine the correct one, and I was unable to locate the Eckhart family prior to 1880.


Monday, August 20, 2012


The musical Anything Goes was a superb Cole Porter broadway show when it opened in the 1930s. Since its 1934 debut at the Neil Simon Theatre (at the time known as the Alvin) on Broadway, the musical has been revived several times in the United States and Britain and has been filmed twice. The musical had a tryout in Boston, before opening on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on November 21, 1934. It ran for 420 performances, becoming the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s, despite the impact of the Great Depression on Broadway patrons' disposable income.

The movie was first filmed in 1936 with Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman, but it bared little resemblance to the broadway show. Twenty years later, Bing was ending his contract with Paramount Studios after twenty four years with the studio. His last movie for Paramount would be an updated version of Anything Goes in 1956. Though this film again starred Bing Crosby (whose character was once more renamed), Donald O'Connor, and comedian Phil Harris in a cameo, the new film almost completely excised the rest of the characters in favor of a totally new plot. The film features almost no similarities to the play or 1936 film, apart from some songs and the title.

I have always enjoyed this 1956 swan song Bing made for Paramount. However, this movie could have been a great movie and not just a good or fair movie. I think my biggest problem with the film was Bing's co-star Zizi Jeanmaire. She was a popular French ballet dancer, who was married to the choreographer of the movie Roland Petit. Whether she got him his job on the film or visa versa, I don't know. However, she was totally wrong as Bing's love interest. Bing and Jeanmaire just did not have the chemistry. She was a fine dancer, but the Cole Porter song "I Get A Kick Out Of You" was wasted on her limited vocal ability.

Speaking of the Cole Porter score, Paramount did a grave injustice by tearing apart the great Broadway score. The primary musical numbers ("Anything Goes", "You're the Top", "I Get a Kick Out of You", "It's De-Lovely" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow") with updated arrangements appear in the film, while the lesser-known Porter songs were cut completely, and new songs, written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, were substituted. I enjoy the music of Cahn and Van Heusen, and they wrote some of the great songs in Frank Sinatra's songbook. However, when they wrote for Bing in the 1950s, the songs sounded tired and corny. The two songs they wrote for Bing were "Ya Gotta Give the People Hoke" and "A Second Hand Turbin". Bing deserved better songs than this.

One more thing I would have done differently with the film is the use of Phil Harris. Harris not only was a great personality and singer but also a personal friend of Bing. In the movie he played the father of Mitzi Gaynor. He had a good role in the film, but Harris did not have much interaction with Bing. I think that was a wasted opportunity for a musical number between the two. It would have made for some great cinema.

Again, while the 1956 version of Anything Goes is no Singin' In The Rain, it is not a bad movie. It was one of the first Bing movies I remember watching and dispite what I would change, I think the pairing of Bing and Donald O'Connor was great. Also the finale of "Blow Gabriel Blow" is a fitting end to Bing's association with Paramount. He helped to save the studio from bankruptcy in 1932, and Bing was one of the studio's biggest stars for the next two decades...


Saturday, August 18, 2012


The west Cork village of Glengarriff is famous for two things: the lush vegetation that flourishes in its balmy Gulf Stream and its most exotic flower, the legendary Hollywood actress Maureen O'Hara, who made it her home many years ago.

In recent months, the climate has chilled thanks to a rather poisonous fallout from a dispute over the elderly actress's affairs.

Under an unpleasant spotlight is Carolyn Murphy, whom she personally entrusted with power of attorney over her personal affairs. Until recently Ms O'Hara, the flame-haired beauty who tamed John Wayne in The Quiet Man, robustly defended her friend, dismissing reports of elder abuse that found their way into the press. But, since her family told her of concerns they had about Ms Murphy's handling of her affairs, the 91-year-old actress mustered all her trademark feistiness to rail against her former friend.

Last Thursday week, the actress called a press conference at the Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff which she said was to "set the record straight". Reporters, conscious of the stories that have swirled in recent months, gathered in the function room wondering what it was all about. She made her entrance in a wheelchair, pushed by her grandson Conor Beau Fitzsimons, 42, who lives in Idaho. By her side was Pablo O'Neill, the long-standing family accountant who is based in the US Virgin Islands, and Ed Fickess, an American tax lawyer and newly recruited as adviser to Ms O'Hara.

From her wheelchair, she beamed at a couple of reporters and asked: "Did Ireland win the match last night?" The reporters were confused. The European Championships had finished weeks ago. What match was she talking about? Then she revealed the reason why she had gathered them all there: it was to clear up the "rumours" and the "false information" about her personal life and the Maureen O'Hara Foundation that was to be her legacy to Glengarriff.

In a prepared statement, she said had recently made "discoveries" that caused her "grave concern" over Ms Murphy's handling of her affairs and had revoked her power of attorney.

She was "profoundly disappointed" at how her "original dream" for the foundation had been "so distorted". She demanded that Ms Murphy hand over all financial records to her accountant. In conclusion, she noted that the "silver lining" in the turmoil was her family -- previously isolated from her and now restored.

Afterwards, she answered questions with more of that famed feistiness. She wasn't just upset, she said, she was "damned upset".

What exactly Ms Murphy was accused of was not clear, but the insinuation of impropriety in the carefully worded statement was enough to leave her reputation well and truly challenged. Ms Murphy, who had no forewarning of the press conference, issued a short and dignified statement through a spokesperson that said she was, and would remain, a true and loyal friend of Ms O'Hara's.

But she was so stung by what she said were utterly unfounded allegations against her, that last week she felt compelled to speak publicly.

So on Thursday morning, Ms Murphy, 71, sat nervously in the living room of her restored farmhouse on the outskirts of Ballylickey, a village near Bantry, preparing to give her account of this sorry saga. Her husband, Bill, sat in an armchair nearby and her son, Brendan, served coffee and cakes. "They have annihilated my name in this community," she said. "I am just not capable of this kind of thing. I can tell you with all my heart and soul, I have not done anything wrong. I would never hurt Maureen."

Carolyn and Bill, both Americans, had what she called an "international family". They lived in Brazil and later Germany, and moved to Ireland in the Seventies, six young children in tow. "We loved it. The kids loved it. We decided that this would be a better place to raise the children, so we moved here and stayed here," she said.

Their friendship deepened over the years. Ms Murphy described herself as a "speech therapist cum housewife" but she also ran an Italian restaurant in the Nineties and volunteered with local projects. She met Ms O'Hara at a local environmental awareness project in Bantry in 1978.

It was the year the actress's husband died and she lived between America and her stunning home, Lundine, in Glengarriff.

According to Ms Murphy, they just clicked. "We just had an affinity to one another. I wasn't star struck. She didn't know who I was. But, you know, you just look someone in the eyes -- and we just clicked.

"She'd always come in June and go home before October. She'd always have family around her and I had a lot of children too. We were very busy but we'd always manage to have a lunch together or a dinner together and just talk about real-life things, not movies, or anything. We were just friends.

"When I had the restaurant, she would come two or three times a week. I was really, really busy those years. But we still managed to get time together. She spent a lot of time in the house with us. We've been very, very close friends since then."

According to Ms Murphy, their friendship became even closer in 2004 when Ms O'Hara, who was then in her early 80s, asked her for help. That day, Ms O'Hara dispatched her daughter and her carer out for lunch.

"She said, can we have a sandwich or something here, Carolyn. I need help and I don't know who to turn to. We sat down and she said: 'I have signed some papers. I've changed my will and I've changed my trust'."

Ms O'Hara said she wasn't happy with the changes.

Ms Murphy said she agreed to help. She flew with Ms O'Hara to the US where she re-instated the original will and trust.

Two years later, in 2006, she said Ms O'Hara, who due to her health was advised against foreign travel, asked her to accept power of attorney over her affairs. Ms Murphy is bound by confidentiality from discussing what she did for Ms O'Hara, but as a successful Hollywood actress, Ms O'Hara's financial interests are complex.

Entrusted with power of attorney, Ms Murphy said she carried out Ms O'Hara's instructions. They met on Fridays at Ms O'Hara's house. They called it "business day".

"We talked about what needed to be done. I never did anything without asking Maureen first. I never spent a penny without asking her," said Ms Murphy.

She said she was paid €500 "every now and again" to cover her expenses, but wouldn't take payment.

"I really have to say on behalf of Maureen, at least three times a year for the last eight years she has offered me wages, which I continually turned down," she said.

According to Ms Murphy, her involvement in Ms O'Hara's affairs was accepted by her family. There was some occasional tension. Things became fraught, however, after Ms Murphy returned from a business trip to New York, in her capacity as Ms O'Hara's attorney.

After that, she said, her relationship with Ms O'Hara's family deteriorated but she could not elaborate. "I am in a strange position. My hands are tied because of the confidentiality of my position."

In April, Ms O'Hara's nephew, Charles Fitzsimons, made a complaint about her over elder abuse to the health authorities. The family believed the elderly actress was being worked too hard, and attended too many functions. A social worker followed up on the complaint, interviewing Ms O'Hara for two-and-a-half hours, and later Ms Murphy. Ms O'Hara dismissed the claims, and signed a statement saying she was happy to do public appearances and with Ms Murphy as her attorney. The HSE social worker concluded that no harm had been done to Ms O'Hara.

Ms O'Hara said as much when that story reached the newspapers: "There is nothing scandalous about us or our behaviour, or what we are trying to do."

But the allegations against Ms Murphy became far more serious. At the end of May this year, the actress's long-standing family accountant, Pablo O'Neill, and an American attorney, visited Glengarriff to look into the actress's affairs. And according to Ms Murphy, rumours and gossip began circulating about her in the village, although she was never formally accused of anything.

Ms Murphy said she last spoke to Ms O'Hara in late May and Ms O'Hara seemed supportive of her.

Soon after, lawyers acting on Ms O'Hara's instructions wrote to tell Ms Murphy that her power of attorney had been revoked. Ms Murphy has refused to accept this. She hired a solicitor, Frank Buttimer, and plans to go the High Court in order to have her position legally clarified.

Why would Ms Murphy just not walk away?

She said: "I am honour-bound," adding that she is holding on to her papers, as her "proof" that she has done nothing wrong.

Although old friends, Ms Murphy and Ms O'Hara have not been out together since late May.

"Friday nights were our date nights. Bill picked Maureen and I up at her house on Friday nights, and she got dressed up beautiful for him. She just loved Bill Murphy. I think her heart must be broken right now. She had her own little corner in Casey's Hotel. We say she's holding court," said Ms Murphy.

"What was so nice about it was that families came in, with their children, and stopped to say hello to her, and touch her hand. Groups came down from Dublin, men playing golf, they were in there drinking their pints and they would come over and talk to her and sing to her. She spent two hours every Friday night with us in there, and she was a queen and she just thrived on it. And she called it date night."

Later on Thursday, Frank McCarthy, who runs an accountancy practice in Bantry, called to the Murphys' home in Ballylickey. He is chief executive of the Maureen O'Hara Foundation, and said he was "flabbergasted" when the actress claimed her "dream" had been "distorted".

"I met her in 2009 and I had a long chat with her. If I was going to take over formulating this foundation and making sure that the foundation stones were laid correctly, I asked every question in the book of Maureen to make sure I understood her dream," he said.

He incorporated the foundation in 2010, with the primary purpose of setting up an acting and film academy for children and young people in Glengarriff, with memorabilia displayed to boost local tourism. Cork County Council provided the site in Glengarriff; it has two awards ceremonies and a Classic Film Festival under its belt. It has no assets, little income and will be financed by fundraising.

Mr McCarthy completed a detailed business plan -- for which he charged no fee -- in February, which he talked through in detail with Ms O'Hara.

He said: "I was personally flabbergasted because there was no way I saw this coming from this business plan and two years of my work. I never saw that coming. It's out of the blue. It's like a bolt of lightning to me.

"This is her dream and I'm involved with it two-a-half years. This is her dream."

He does not believe the stories about Ms Murphy either.

"I think it is disgraceful to go for trial by media. I do not believe them. I am working two-and-a-half years with Carolyn and her reputation and professionalism is impeccable."

Others in the community have also rallied to Ms Murphy's support, including Fr Pat Coughlan, a Holy Ghost priest who has known the Murphys since their time in Brazil: "That Carolyn's generosity has been misconstrued is a travesty."

Speaking from Los Angles, Charlie Fitzsimons, Ms O'Hara's nephew, said the family had concerns about expenditure and claimed there wasn't enough consultation about Ms O'Hara with family members. He said his family wanted to conduct an audit of her affairs. As for the foundation, he claimed it was outrageously ambitious and far from Ms O'Hara's original idea of a small museum in Glengarriff.

Ms Murphy rubbished these claims, saying she was accountable not only to Ms O'Hara but to her team of advisers for every penny that was spent. Records, which she was prepared to submit to the High Court, would vindicate her, she said.

When business decisions had to be made, she consulted only Ms O'Hara and her advisers, because she considered her affairs confidential.

Mr McCarthy was equally dismissive: "Maureen has spoken to me about what she wanted. Her legacy is not a museum. Her legacy is all about children," he said. "The foundation was a separate entity charged with fulfilling Maureen's dream. If we had decisions to make, I would ask Maureen."

Mr Fitzsimons said he now holds co-power of attorney over Ms O'Hara's affairs.

Ms O'Hara, he said, was very well but worried about all that had happened: "On a personal note, I would like to see a quick and peaceful resolution to this and we can all get on with our lives."

At the centre of this unpleasant affair is a woman nearing the end of her life who now faces the prospect of having to prove her competency before a court of law as accusations swirl about her former friend.

Mary Twomy, a retired teacher who lives in Bantry and has known her since 1984, stills visits her at her home in Glengarriff. "Maureen's welfare is very important to me and my family," she said.

"I can see the difference in Maureen since Carolyn has taken over. I saw a massive change in Maureen's demeanour, and her quality of life. She was alive, and content and had peace of mind. You couldn't but notice the difference."

UPDATE JANUARY 2013: You read more news on Maureen O'Hara here. She has left Ireland and is now living in Idaho.


Friday, August 17, 2012


I was not even born when the legendary television series "The Andy Griffith Show" first aired. However, reruns of the landmark show were a big part of my childhood. There was something appealing and heartwarming about the little town of Mayberry on the show. (Even though there was never anyone other than white people in the town!)

With the death of the show's namesake, Andy Griffith, I have rediscovered the show. The characters and the actors that played them made the show from Andy Griffith to Ron Howard to Don Knotts. Not to be forgotten is the great Aunt Bee - played to countryspun perfection by actress Frances Bavier. Bavier was a complex woman who was much different than her easy going character on television.

Born in New York City in 1902, Bavier attended Columbia University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before embarking on a career in acting. She first appeared in vaudeville, later moving to the Broadway stage. Bavier had roles in more than a dozen films, as well as having played a range of supporting roles on television. Career highlights include the play Point of No Return, alongside Henry Fonda, and her turn as Mrs. Barley in the classic 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. In 1957 she played Nora Martin, mother to Eve Arden in the short-lived series The Eve Arden Show.

Bavier had a love-hate relationship with her most famous role, Aunt Bee, during The Andy Griffith Show. As a New York actress, she felt her dramatic talents were being overlooked. At the same time, she played Aunt Bee for eight seasons and was the only original cast member to remain with the series in the spin-off Mayberry R.F.D., staying two additional seasons. In contrast to her affable character Aunt Bee, Bavier was easily slighted and the production staff would often appease her by "walking on eggshells." She won the Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Comedy in 1967. Series star Andy Griffith addressed the fact that the two sometimes clashed during the series' run. According to Griffith (Larry King Live, April 24, 1998), Bavier phoned him four months before she died, and said she was deeply sorry for being "difficult" during the series' run.

In 1972, Bavier retired from acting and bought a home in Siler City, North Carolina. On choosing to live in North Carolina instead of her native New York, Bavier stated in an interview that, "I fell in love with North Carolina, all the pretty roads and the trees." She briefly returned to acting in 1974 in the family film Benji. Bavier never married or had children. Seemingly awkward in one-on-one relationships, she seemed to be charitable to the needs of organizations and fans.According to a 1981 article by Chip Womick, a staff writer of The Courier Tribune, Bavier enthusiastically promoted Christmas and Easter Seal Societies from her Siler City home, and often wrote inspirational letters to fans who sought autographs. Overly zealous fans however, often invaded both her property and privacy, and Bavier became reclusive.

Bavier's medical condition prevented her from taking part in the 1986 television movie Return to Mayberry.

Frances Bavier had been a fan of Studebaker cars since the thirties. In Mayberry R.F.D., she drove her own 1966 Daytona 2 door Sports Sedan (which was the last model of the South Bend factory, though produced in Canada from 1964 to 1966). She kept this car in perfect state while alive and refused to purchase a new car when her driver suggested it. As her health failed it sat idle in her garage and was found with four flat tires, and a ruined interior from her many cats. . It was auctioned for $20,000 one year after her death, and is still in the same condition as it was found. The new owners felt if it was restored, then it would no longer be Aunt Bee's Studebaker. She was also a member of the Studebakers Drivers Club.

On November 22, 1989, Bavier was admitted to Chatham Hospital. She was suffering from both heart disease and cancer and was kept in the coronary care unit for two weeks. She was discharged on December 4, 1989, and died at her home two days later of a heart attack. Bavier is interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Siler City. Her headstone includes the name of her most famous role, "Aunt Bee" and reads, "To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die"...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Since almost movies began, the industry was interested in making film biographies of famous people. Especially in classic Hollywood, the movies were not truly factual, but "based on" the life of a famous person. Some of those film biographies like Pride Of The Yankees (Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig) or The Spirit Of St. Louis (Jimmy Stewart as Charles Lindbergh) are famous to this day.

I have always been interested in who can be cast as a famous person. For years I said to people that Kevin Spacey bears a striking resemblance to crooner Bobby Darin. Then Spacey (although too old) made and starred in a movie of Darin's life called Beyond The Sea (2004). My wife gets tired of me constantly telling her I had the idea for the movie even before Spacey did!

Through the years interesting casting has been announced like Tom Hanks as Dean Martin, Forest Whitaker as Louis Armstrong, and Reese Witherspoon as Peggy Lee. As of this article, the movies have not came to be - but the casting ideas are still interesting.

Here are some movie casting ideas I have been thinking about for years and you heard it here first if they ever happen!

No two actors in film history are more bug eyed and sickly looking than Steve Buscemi and the great Peter Lorre (1904-1964). Lorre's life might not be the story Hollywood is looking for, but Buschemi could play him. Lorre's later years was filled with constant gall bladder pain and an addiction to morphine, so maybe there is a movie there.

I think both Nathan Lane and legendary comedian Lou Costello (1906-1959) are truly great entertainers. At one point in Lane's career I think he could have played funny man Costello. The time might have passed now that Lane is in his mid 50s, but I think the similarities and even voice to a degree are uncanny.

Berry has already played famous actresses like Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965), but of all of the great black actresses out there I think only Berry could play legendary singer Lena Horne (1917-2010). When Horne was alive it was proposed that Janet Jackson would play her life, but Horne was against it. Berry of course can not sing, but she can act.

Now I know this is stretching it a bit, but I always thought Chris Rock has more acting chops than his movies have shown. He is a great comedian, and I believe he can capture the essence of fellow funny man Richard Pryor (1940-2005). Pryor's life could make a trilogy of movies not just one film, but again Chris Rock is not yet viewed as a capable dramatic actor.

I am a big fan of both Kelsey Grammer and Jack Benny (1894-1974), and it is amazing at the similarities in the comic styles of both actors. Looking at Grammer on the television series "Cheers" and "Frasier", you see a lot of Jack Benny in Grammer's mannerisms. Grammer even hosted a great special on Benny for NBC in 1995. I am not sure of Kelsey Grammer looks enough like Jack Benny, but I think it would be a great role to do. Unfortunately, Jack Benny was such a nice guy, it would probably be boring doing his life story.

For every great film movie like Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray (2004), there is Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (1981). Still Hollywood will continue to make film biographies because where else but Hollywood could the town get the best ideas and stories. The stars' lives are often more interesting than the movies they were in.

What casting ideas do you have...

Monday, August 13, 2012


In the 1930s, many actresses competed to get their big break in show business. Sound made the movies more popular than they ever had been before, and they were an escape for depression weary audiences. One actress that seemed to be poised for stardom was a cute little import by the name of Lyda Roberti. Unfortunately, her stardom was short lived.

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Roberti was the daughter of a clown and as a child performed in the circus as a trapeze artist, and as a vaudeville singer. As the family toured Europe and Asia, Roberti's mother left her husband, settling in Shanghai, China where the younger Roberti earned money singing. They moved to the United States in the late 1920s where Roberti began singing in nightclubs. She made her Broadway debut in You Said It in 1931, and with its success became an overnight sensation. She also appeared in the short-lived Gershwin musical Pardon My English in 1933.

She moved to Hollywood and during the 1930s played in a string of films. Her sexy but playful characterisations, along with the unusual accent she had acquired during her years in Europe and Asia, made her popular with audiences.

The movie I remember her most in was Sam Goldwyn's "The Kid From Spain" (1932). She played Eddie Cantor's leading lady who spends the whole movie chasing Cantor around. She held her own alongside the comic genius of Cantor, and I think the high point of her career was her duet with Cantor on the song "Look What You've Done". It is amazing to me she plays a Spanish/Mexican girl yet she was from Poland.

She starred in Edward F. Cline's movie Million Dollar Legs (1932) as "Mata Machree, The Woman No Man Can Resist", a Mata Hari-based spy character who is hired to undermine the President of Klopstokia (played by W. C. Fields) in his efforts to secure money for his destitute country. Her plan is to seduce the athletes that Klopstokia is sending to the Olympic Games, and thereby prevent them from medaling. Highlights of the film include Mata Machree's steamy rendition of "When I Get Hot in Klopstokia", and the dance she performs to inspire Fields's opponent in the weightlifting competition.

She found success as a comedian, and was also popular as a singer on radio. Unfortunately she made very few recordings. Her biggest hit record was the song "College Rhythm" which she recorded for Columbia/Brunswick in October of 1934. Roberti replaced Thelma Todd in a couple of films after the death of Todd, but her health was failing due to heart disease. She began to work less frequently although two days before her death she performed a radio show with Al Jolson.

According to her friend and co-star Patsy Kelly, Roberti died suddenly on March 12, 1938 from a heart attack while bending to tie her shoelace on. She was survived by her husband, Bud Ernest, who was an actor and radio announcer. They had been married for only 2 and a half years and they had no children. She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Lyda Roberti is largely forgotten among all the other starlets that have come to Hollywood after her, but thankfully her few movie appearances live on...

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Lately it seems like I have been watching more cartoons for my son, and more "chick flicks" for my wife to keep them both happy. I was surprised when my wife had never seen the moving Hanging Up. I actually saw it years ago when I was home for some reason. The movie was on again on one of the cable channels, and we rewatched it.

Hanging Up is a 2000 American comedy-drama film about a trio of sisters who bond over their ambivalence toward the approaching death of their curmudgeonly father, to whom none of them were particularly close. This film features Diane Keaton (who also directed), Meg Ryan, and Lisa Kudrow as the three sisters, and Walter Matthau (in his final film appearance) as the father. In very poor health throughout filming, he was diagnosed with colon cancer for the second time in his life in November 1999 shortly after filming ended. He died over seven months later, four months after the film's release.

Georgia Mozell, Eve Marks and Maddy Mozell are adult sisters. Georgia is the editor of her own wildly successful self-titled women's magazine. She strives for publicity at any cost. Party planner Eve is the mother hen of the group, not only of her own family, but also of her siblings and father as their mother, Pat, not only emotionally left their father when they divorced, but her daughters as well. And Maddy is a vacuous soap opera actress who has always struggled for her own identity. Despite being as busy with her own life as the others, Eve is the only one of the three who deals with the long term hospitalization of their cantankerous seventy-nine year old father, Lou Mozell, when he enters the early stages of dementia, and the associated outcomes of that hospitalization. Eve's caring for Lou is despite an especially hurtful incident with him seven years earlier. As the emotional aspect of looking after Lou becomes more and more stressful, Eve has to figure out how to maintain her own sanity, while dealing with her sisters, who believe they too are part of their father's care while they don't lift a finger to help.

Hanging Up was released in United States on February 18, 2000, to relatively negative to average reviews. It made just over $15.7 million opening weekend, over the Presidents' Day weekend, opening at #2 behind The Whole Nine Yards. Hanging Up opened in 2,618 theatres at an average of exactly $6,000. It lasted eight weeks in domestic release before dropping out of the top 10 in its third week of release. Domestically grossing $36,050,230 with an extra $15,829,814 (from worldwide audiences) brought its international total to $51,880,044. Hanging Up ultimately fell $9 million short of recuperating its budget of $60 million.

If you want to see a better movie about children coming to grips with a dying parent I would recommend Nothing In Common (1986) and Big Fish (2003) much more than Hanging Up. However, the acting is great in Hanging Up, and as a fan of Walter Matthau I recommend seeing him in his last movie role. It's a tearjerker - just not the best terjerker...