Friday, January 31, 2014

JERRY LEWIS TO BE HONORED AT TCM FESTIVAL

Legendary actor, filmmaker and humanitarian Jerry Lewis will take center stage in April at the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

Lewis, 87, will participate in a hand and footprint ceremony in front of refurbished TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday, April 12, and attend a screening of The Nutty Professor (1963), which he starred in and directed.

As a prelude to the classic comedy, Lewis will join actress Illeana Douglas onstage for an interview, then take questions from the audience.

"Jerry Lewis is a very important name whenever movie comedy is discussed and enjoyed," TCM host Robert Osborne, who also serves as the official host of the TCM Classic Film Festival, said in a statement. "Jerry has provided the world with great merriment and laughter, while also showing, in such films as Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, what an exceptional dramatic actor he can be.

"Add to that his many credits as a popular director, producer and writer, and you see the reasons we are pleased to be able to honor him for his more than 60 years of contributions to the world of motion pictures."

Lewis' celebrated films also include The Bellboy (1960), Cinderfella (1960), The Errand Boy (1961), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Family Jewels (1965) and 16 Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis films between 1949 and 1956. He received an honorary Oscar in 2012.

For more than 60 years, Lewis also has been the driving force behind the fight against muscular dystrophy, raising more than $2 billion for patient care and research.

SOURCE

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

NATALIE WOOD'S CAR FOR SALE

A stunning Mercedes originally owned by tragic Hollywood beauty Natalie Wood is expected to sell for £1 million at auction.

Wood was just 19 when she bought the brand-new Mercedes 300 SL Roadster in January 1958. Her 300 SL Roadster was one of the most sought after and exclusive cars of the day thanks to its looks and stunning performance.

And the young starlet made it one of the most unmistakable motors in Hollywood after she had it repainted PINK.

The Roadster, which is a convertible version of the iconic 300 SL ‘Gullwing’, is powered by a 3-litre engine developing 220bhp.This gives the Mercedes a top speed of more than 150mph – making it one of the fastest cars of its day.

Wood’s car, which has a red interior, also had the benefit of having the desirable Rudge wheels, with just 25 fitted by the factory. The car was later resprayed back to its original silver blue and has undergone an award-winning restoration.

It is going to be sold by its current owner at RM Auctions’ Amelia Island sale in Florida on March 8. Experts at RM expect the car to sell for around £1 million ($1.75m) when it crosses the auction block.

Gord Duff, car specialist at RM Auctions, said: “The 300 SL market is hungry for high-quality restorations with desirable factory options.

SOURCE

Monday, January 27, 2014

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: TUESDAY WELD


As teenagers started to be the driving forced behind ticket sales in the 1950s, more younger actresses were becoming famous and popular. Rock 'n' roll not only was changing the music industry but it was changing the movies as well. One such actress that emerged during those changes was the pretty Tuesday Weld. Weld was born Susan Ker Weld in New York City in 1943. Her father, Lathrop Motley Weld, was a member of the Weld family of Massachusetts, and he died in 1947, shortly before her fourth birthday. Her mother was Weld's fourth and final wife, the former Yosene Balfour Ker, the daughter of the artist and Life illustrator William Balfour Ker. Weld had her name legally changed to Tuesday Weld on October 9, 1959.

Weld made her acting debut on television at age 12 and her feature film debut the same year in a bit role in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock crime drama, The Wrong Man. The pressures of her career, however, resulted in a nervous breakdown at age nine, alcoholism by age 12, and a suicide attempt around the same time. In 1956, Weld played the lead in Rock, Rock, Rock, which featured record promoter Alan Freed and singers Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon, and Johnny Burnette. In the film, Connie Francis performed the vocals for Weld's singing parts. In 1959, having appeared as "Dorothy" in The Five Pennies, she was cast as Thalia Menninger in the CBS television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Although Weld was a cast member for only a single season, the show gave her considerable national publicity, and she was named a co-winner of a "Most Promising Newcomer" award at the Golden Globe Awards.


She was put under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox and appeared in feature films and episdodes of Fox-produced TV series. In 1960, she appeared as Joy, a free-spirited university student in High Time, starring Bing Crosby and Fabian. She also guest-starred that season on NBC's The Tab Hunter Show. On November 12, 1961, she played a young singer, Cherie, in the seventh episode of ABC's television series Bus Stop, with Marilyn Maxwell and Gary Lockwood. This was the same role Marilyn Monroe had played in the 1956 film Bus Stop, based on William Inge's play. Kim Stanley played Cherie on Broadway.

Weld's mother was scandalized by her teenage daughter's affairs with older men, such as actor John Ireland, but Weld resisted, saying, "'If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll quit being an actress — which means there ain’t gonna be no more money for you, Mama.'  In 1961, when Weld was 18, she had an off-screen romance with Elvis Presley, her costar in Wild in the Country.


She was well received for her portrayal of an abuse victim in Return to Peyton Place, the sequel to the 1956 film Peyton Place, but the film was less successful than its predecessor. Weld appeared with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen in the 1963 comedy Soldier in the Rain; her performance was well received, but the film was only a minor success. That same year she and former co-star Dwayne Hickman appeared in Jack Palance's circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth on ABC, but in separate episodes. Later in her career, she turned down roles in films that became great successes, such as Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary's Baby, True Grit, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

In her thirties, Weld performed in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) opposite Nick Nolte; and Michael Mann's acclaimed 1981 film Thief, opposite James Caan. In 1984, she appeared in Sergio Leone's gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America, playing a jeweler's secretary who is in on a plan to steal a shipment of diamonds. While the robbery is happening she goads Robert De Niro's character, David "Noodles" Aaronson, into "raping" her with her complicity.

Weld has also appeared in a number of television movies, including a remake of the much-filmed tearjerker Madame X (1981), Circle of Violence (1986), Reflections of Murder (1974) (an American remake of the French film Les Diaboliques), and A Question of Guilt, in which she plays a woman accused of murdering her children. In 1993, she played a police officer's neurotic wife in Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall.

Weld and her demanding stage mother were definitively on the outs in the mid 1980s, and she began telling people that her mother was dead even though she was still alive. “I hated Mama,” Weld told The New York Times. “She took my childhood away from me. I was expected to make up for everything that had gone wrong with Mama’s life. She became obsessed with me, pouring out all her pent-up love—alleged love—on me. It’s been heavy on my shoulders ever since. I didn’t feel really free until she died. Otherwise her death didn’t really affect me much.” Tuesday’s mother retorted to the press, “I didn’t like being called dead."  In reality Tuesday's mom was very much alive. (She did pass away in 2001 at the age of 90).    


Weld was married to conductor Pinchas Zuckerman from 1985 to 1998. When he divorced her, Zuckerman complained that she had stopped caring about his career: “Why do I have to go to another concert when I’ve heard the piece before?” she would ask him. In Ethan Hawke’s dorm-roomy Chelsea Walls (2001), Weld’s unpredictability has gone to such an extreme that there’s almost a total disconnection between her oddball reactions and what Hawke has given her to say. Since 2001, Weld has lived quietly in Aspen, Colorado, and not much has been heard from her, but she knows full well that silence is much more intriguing than any further work might be. Since the ‘70s, she’s been rumored to have occult interests and connections, but her main project has always been her own ravenous mind, and at this point she just wants to be alone with it. “I like to be alone in general,” she once said. “I have a hunger for it. I eat up silence".

It is reported that Weld suffers from bipolar disorder, and as she turns 70 she is being cared for by her daughter. However, that report has not been fully proven or disproven. In recent years she has been scheduled to appear at movie fan shows and film festivals, but often she will cancel the appearance at the last minute. Despite having the demanding stage mother, Weld resisted the fame and still does late in her life. Even though she is not seen much these days, hopefully she is at peace with her life and knows how many fans she still has...  
 

Friday, January 24, 2014

RECENTLY VIEWED: MISSISSIPPI

It has been a long time since I had the time to sit down and watch a Bing Crosby movie all the way through. When I finally got a little bit of time to do so, I picked a film I had not seen since I was a little boy watching it as an afternoon movie. I wanted to rewatch the early Bing film - Mississippi (1935). The film was a delightful pairing of singer Bing Crosby and master comedian W.C. Fields. The film marked the first "costume movie for the crooner, and the plot was better than any film Bing had mad up to that time.

Commodore Jackson (W. C. Fields) is the captain of a Mississippi showboat in the late nineteenth century. Tom Grayson (Bing Crosby) is engaged to be married and has been disgraced for refusing to fight a duel with Major Patterson (John Miljan).

Accused of being a coward, Grayson joins Jackson's showboat. Over the duration of the film, the behaviour of the meek and mild Tom Grayson alters as a consequence of the constant representation of him, by Commodore Jackson, as "The Notorious Colonel Steele", "the Singing Killer", and the constant attribution, by Jackson, of duelling victories by Grayson to unrelated corpses freshly dragged from the river beside the showboat as "yet another victim of the notorious Colonel Steele, the Singing Killer".

The film provides sufficient opportunities for Crosby to sing the Rodgers and Hart songs, including the centerpiece number, "Soon", while Fields gets to tell some outlandish stories.


Crosby and Fields worked well together and there is one memorable scene in which Fields tries to tell Crosby how to act tougher. In the film, Crosby does a number of brilliantly engineered sight gags involving a chair and a bowie knife. Another highlight is Fields' remarkable story about his exploits among one notorious Indian tribe.

The score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart is good, but not great as compared to their Broadway score. Supposedly Bing did not like the many of the songs that the team had written, and many of them were cut. My personal favorite number though is "Down By The River". Bing in 1935 had such a strong voice that he sang it in nearly the operatic range. I am so glad this film is finally out on DVD, because you can tell by the print in some parts that the film was not saved properly through the years. The plot and the roles that the African-American actors had in the film is quite dated by today's standards, but the film was made in 1935. I enjoyed it immensely here in 2013...

MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WHAT A CHARACTER: VICTOR GARBER

I was inspired to write this profile of actor Victor Garber, as I listen to the broadway soundtrack to the revival of Damn Yankees from 1994. He is an actor that has been almost everywhere, but you may not recognize him just by his name. In addition to that Tony nominated role, I also remember Garber in the overrated movie Titanic (1996) as the designer of the doomed vessel. Also, he had a memorable role as Sid Luft in the television movie Life With Judy Garland - Me And My Shadow (2001). For years now Victor Garber has been a favorite of television, movie, and broadways audiences alike.

Born in London, Ontario in 1949, Garber is of Russian Jewish descent; his parents were Joe Garber (died 1995), and wife, Hope Wolf (an actress, singer, and the host of At Home with Hope Garber). He has a brother, Nathan, and a sister, Alisa. When Garber was twelve, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He attended Ryerson Elementary School. He also was enrolled in the children's program of the Grand Theatre, and at age 16 he was accepted at a six-week summer theatre training program at the University of Toronto taught by Robert Gill.

In 1967, after a period working as a folk singer, he formed a folk band called The Sugar Shoppe with Peter Mann, Laurie Hood and Lee Harris. The group enjoyed moderate success, breaking into the Canadian top 40 with a version of Bobby Gimby's song "Canada" in 1967. Three other Sugar Shoppe songs made the lower reaches of the Canadian top 100 in 1967 and '68, and the band even performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson before breaking up.

He is most well known for his portrayal of Jack Bristow on ABC's show, Alias, for which he earned three Emmy nominations. He recently appeared on the now-canceled television series Justice on Fox and ABC's Eli Stone. His most recent TV appearance is as a mysterious character named "Olivier Roth" in 4 episodes of the Canadian science drama ReGenesis. He appeared in the third episode of the Fox series Glee as Will's father.

He appeared on Broadway in the original productions of Deathtrap, Sweeney Todd and Noises Off, and in the original Off Broadway cast of Assassins, as well as the 1990s revival of Damn Yankees. He has been nominated for four Tony awards and opened the Tony Awards program in 1994 (the year he was nominated for the Tony Award for Damn Yankees).

In 1998, he co-starred on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning play Art with Alan Alda and Alfred Molina. He continues to be a sought-after theatrical performer in musicals, comedies and dramatic productions. In 2005, he played the role of Frederic in the LA Opera's production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music. He played the male lead in a critically hailed Encores presentation of Follies in 2007, with Donna Murphy. In mid-2007, he played the role of Garry Essendine in a production of Noel Coward's Present Laughter at Boston's Huntington Theatre. He reprised the role in the Roundabout Theatre's New York production which opened in January 2010 to generally favorable reviews.

Victor Garber last appeared in 2012's Argo, and he is currently shooting two more movies. Garber prefers to keep his personal life private and has largely stayed out of the tabloids. He is close friends with director JJ Abrams, Jennifer Garner, and Ben Affleck and often appears with them offscreen as well as on screen. Garber referred publicly to his homosexuality in 2012. In 2013, he said "I don't really talk about it but everybody knows." As of 2013, he lives in New York with his partner of almost 13 years. Despite what role Victor Garber has - whether big or small - he always adds one thing to the role and that is character...

Monday, January 20, 2014

FUN FACTS ABOUT BLAZING SADDLES

I was ready to go to bed the other night, but I figured I'd flip through the channels one more time. Almost ready to give up, I stumbled on Blazing Saddles (1974) on one of the channels - I think it was Encore. Now I have seen the movie countless times, and I am one of the many people that think that director Mel Brooks was a genius in the 1970s. The film is nearly perfect, and I was not sure to write about - the movie has been reviewed countless times, and people are still talking about the movie almost 40 years after it came out. What I thought would be interesting would be to take a look at some of the fun facts about Blazing Saddles that many people may now know...


1. Blazing Saddles, originally titled Tex X, began as a story outline written by Andrew Bergman (Honeymoon in Vegas, The Freshman, Soapdish). After Mel Brooks (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, High Anxiety) became involved, the film script was written by Bergman, Brooks, Norman Steinberg (Johnny Dangerously, My Favorite Year), Alan Uger (“Family Ties, Champs”) and Richard Pryor (Bustin’ Loose, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling).


2. “The whole movie cost about $2.6 million—nobody got anything.” Brooks said he hardly made much himself, around $50k to write, direct, for everything. The remaining writers (after those that left for financial reasons) held in there and finished writing. They’d write every day until around midnight, then walk to Chinatown where there was a restaurant they liked—they’d have beef and broccoli and a Pepsi, then walk back. Brooks spoke of working hard to get the script done, it had to be completed by July.

3. Liam Dunn (Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie), who played Reverend Johnson, was described by Brooks as “very weird.” The actor had emphysema and when he would finish a scene, they’d ask him “Do you want water? Do you want orange juice? Do you want a cigarette?” Dunn would always choose the cigarette; he’d take a few puffs of smoke, then a few puffs of oxygen.


4. Brooks wanted actor Dan Dailey (It’s Always Fair Weather, The Getaway, My Blue Heaven [1950]) for The Waco Kid, calling him the best civilian horse rider around, but Dailey said he couldn’t do it, he was blind (wore “Coke bottle glasses”). Brooks later ran into John Wayne in the commissary and asked him to read the script. Wayne told Brooks he would read it that night and that Mel should meet him back at the commissary at noon the next day. When they met again, the actor said it was too dirty; “I can’t do it, I’m John Wayne.” Wayne did love the script and told Brooks he was up all night screaming, he loved it and would be first in line to see it.

5. Instead of background music, Brooks wanted foreground music—it had never been done. He brought in Count Basie (“the sweetest guy”) and his band to play April in Paris out in the desert. A composer himself, Brooks wrote I’m Tired and The French Mistake. Composer John Morris and Mel Brooks were both nominated for the title song which was performed by Singer/Songwriter/Actor Frankie Laine. (They lost to The Towering Inferno’s We May Never Love Like This Again.) Brooks said Laine sang with all his heart and tears in his eyes—they didn’t tell him the film was a comedy—Mel thought it worked beautifully.

6. Actress Hedy Lamar (Samson and Delilah, The Strange Woman sued the production for unauthorized use of her name; the case was settled out of court for “not a lot of money, a few thousand dollars. Brooks apologized for “almost using her name.”


SOURCE

Friday, January 17, 2014

SINGER SPOTLIGHT: ELLA MAE MORSE


I just recently discovered the wonderful singer Ella Mae Morse. I "discovered" her talent and magic nearly fiften years after she passes away. Her voice was unbelievable, and she deserves to be recognized as another one of the great girl singers alongside Jo Stafford and Doris Day. Morse was born in Mansfield, Texas in 1924. She was hired by Jimmy Dorsey when she was 14 years old. Dorsey believed she was 19, and when he was informed by the school board that he was now responsible for her care, he fired her. In 1942, at the age of 17, she joined Freddie Slack's band, with whom in the same year she recorded "Cow Cow Boogie", Capitol Records' first gold single. "Mr. Five by Five" was also recorded by Morse with Slack, and they had a hit recording with the song in 1942 (Capitol 115). She also originated the wartime hit "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet", which was later popularized by Nancy Walker in the film, Broadway Rhythm.

In 1943, Morse began to record solo. She reached #1 in the R&B chart with "Shoo-Shoo Baby" in December for two weeks. In the same year she performed "Cow Cow Boogie" in the film Reveille with Beverly and starred in Universal's South of Dixie and The Ghost Catchers with Olsen and Johnson and How Do You Dooo? with radio's Mad Russian, Bert Gordon. She sang in a wide variety of styles, and she had hits on both the U.S. pop and rhythm and blues charts. However, she never received the popularity of a major star because her versatility prevented her from being placed into any one category of music.

In 1946, "House of Blue Lights" by Freddie Slack and Morse, (written by Slack and Raye) saw them perform what was one of many of Raye's songs picked up by black R&B artists. Her biggest solo success was "Blacksmith Blues" in 1952, which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The same year her version of "Down the Road a Piece" appeared on Capitol with Slack again on piano accompaniment. Morse also recorded a version of "Oakie Boogie" for Capitol which reached #23 in 1952. Her version was one of the first songs arranged by Nelson Riddle.


Morse ceased recording in 1957, but continued performing until the early 1990s at such clubs as Michael's Pub in New York, Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Cinegrill and the Vine St. Bar and Grill. She appeared regularly at Disneyland for several years with the Ray McKinley Orchestra, and did a successful tour of Australia shortly before her final illness.

Her music career was profiled in Nick Tosches' 1984 book, The Unsung Heroes of Rock 'N' Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years Before Elvis. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street. Her entire recorded body of work was issued in a deluxe box set by Bear Family Records. As Morse's musical style blended jazz, blues, and country, she has sometimes been called the first rock 'n' roll singer. A good example is her 1942 recording of the song "Get On Board, Little Chillun", which, with strong gospel, blues, boogie, and jive sounds as a genuine precursor to the later rockabilly/ rock 'n roll songs. Her records sold well to both Caucasian and African-American audiences. As she was not well known at the time of her first solo hits, many people assumed she was African-American because of her 'hip' vocal style and choice of material.

Ella Mae Morse passed away in Bullhead City Arizona on October 16th, 1999 at 8:58 PM.  The former Capital Records Gold Record recording star, and "Dallas Dark Horse", died from complications due to cancer. She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Jack Bradford, her six children, Laura Bradford of Bullhead City, AZ., Dan Bradford of Lomita, CA., Kenny Kendall, Marcia Mar of Sacramento, Anne Prewitt of Bellevue, WA, Dick Gerber of Prescott Arizona, plus several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Sadly, Ella Mae and her sister Flo were estranged and never spoke to one another since the 1960's. It's always sad to hear about family estrangment, but one good thing is Ella Mae Morse was never estranged from her fans. Generations of music lovers are discovering and rediscovering her, and I am happy I am one of them..

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: CLASSIC STARS AND HORSES



I am not the biggest animal lover in the world. Growing up we never had any pets of any kind. However, I would never hurt an animal, and I have a distant awe of them. I do like riding horses, and I wanted to do a little feature on classic stars and their horses. I was amazed at how many stars had horses or have photos taken with them...


BING CROSBY (1903-1977)



MARILYN MONROE (1926-1962)

CLARK GABLE (1901-1960) AND CAROLE LOMBARD (1908-1942)

ROBERT TAYLOR (1911-1969)


RHONDA FLEMING (BORN 1923)

THE THREE STOOGES: LARRY FINE (1902-1975), CURLY HOWARD (1903-1952), AND MOE HOWARD (1897-1975)

Monday, January 13, 2014

INTERVIEW: DEANNA DURBIN - 1983

The following is a 1983 interview with classic movie star Deanna Durbin, conducted by David Shipman. This is the last known interview with the reclusive film star and recording artist before her death in April of 2013.


DEANNA DURBIN
BY DAVID SHIPMAN

PARIS. No exclamation point. I’ve had Paris. I lived there for five years and what I disliked about the city - the traffic and the prices-can only have increased. Still, I had never seen the Centre Pompidou nor the lady I had come to meet, despite a correspondence that goes back several years. She was once one of the most famous women in the world, which didn’t exactly fit in with her conception of the life she wanted to lead. She was Deanna Durbin and she is now Deanna Durbin David: but recent showings of her films on British and American television and reissues of six LP records have persuaded her to become Deanna Durbin again-for just one evening. The British season came about when a BBC radio programme devoted to the public’s comments on the corporation’s output, established that it received overwhelmingly more requests for her films and records than for those of any other star.

She became famous overnight in Three Smart Girls, a run-of-the-mill feature whose budget was doubled after studio executives had screened the result of her first few days work. The studio was Universal, threatened with closure for some years, but re-established as a major studio because of her popularity. That popularity was due to her “fetching naturalness”, as the News Chronicle put it. There was also the mature soprano voice. She sang operatic arias and songs such as “Beneath the Lights of Home” and “It’s Foolish But It’s Fun”, which became Hit Parade records. Her first screen kiss received more press coverage than any of Elizabeth Taylor’s marriages, and the transition to adult roles was so successful that, as she left her teens, British cinema managers voted her the biggest draw for three years running.-indeed in 1942 the Odeon Circuit throughout the country offered a Durbin Festival, a different film on each of the week’s seven days, and that has been done for no other star.

However, the poor quality of her later films caused her to retire. She had made just twenty-one films in all, and her career had lasted just thirteen years. Like Garbo, she turned her back on Hollywood: both of them were still young women and both of them refused to even consider further offers. Living since then in a beautiful old farmhouse, just outside Paris with her French husband, she has, during these thirty odd years, refused to see the press-and Monsieur David, champion of guardians, has been the intermediary, patiently explaining that she really isn’t interested in show business, and certainly not publicity. She is finally breaking her silence because she is deeply touched by the reaction of old…and new fans. I doubt whether any other star of her generation has held the love of her fans quite so surely: so many people, hearing that I was about to visit, became emotional and all-too-serous as they made me promise to mention their affection.
“I knew that sooner or later I would give an interview and decided that I would do it with you. I liked your two books on the stars and such statements you made as, “the system was firmly rigged against the individual in favor of the machine”. I admire you as one admires a scientist who, with a few bones, manages to reconstruct an entire dinosaur. So I am curious to see what you’ll make with the bits and pieces I offer you today…”Why did I give up my career? For one thing, just take a look at my last four films and you’ll appreciate that the stories I had to defend were mediocre, near impossible. Whenever I complained or asked for story or director approval, the studio refused. I was the highest paid star with the poorest material-today I consider my salary as damages for having to cope with such complete lack of quality.”


“I did not hate show business. I loved to sing. I was happy on the set. I liked the people with whom I worked and after the nervousness of the first day, I felt completely at ease in front of the camera. I also enjoyed the company of my fellow actors, the leading men who were so much older, like Herbert Marshall, Melvyn Douglas, Franchot Tone, Walter Pidgeon, Joseph Cotten, Vincent Price and Robert Cummings. I did two films with my special friend, Charles Laughton. Working with these talented men helped me so very much and I grew up much faster than the average teenager. What I did find difficult was that this acquired maturity had to be hidden under the childlike personality my films and publicity projected on me.”

I thought it ungentlemanly to ask about money, but asked whether it was true that her father had handled her investments. “Yes, he did before my first marriage, but he was not a broker or a businessman as the publicity department always made him out to be. My father-Lancashire born and raised-had taken his family to Winnipeg, where he worked as a blacksmith for the Canadian Pacific railway. As the cold Canadian winters ate up all the summer savings, he took us all to California where he worked as a welder and held a variety of manual jobs. His clever hands, combined with my mother’s intelligent housekeeping got us all through the Depression. But my father started having trouble with his health. I remember when he came to pick up mother and me from the studio where I had gone for an audition. Dad looked pale and sick. He had fainted twice and the doctor had told him that he had to stop working for quite a while. He was desperate. “Would it help Dad, I asked, if I brought home a hundred dollars a week? The studio wants you to come back tomorrow and sign a contract for me. I’ll never forget the look on his face, the happy tears in his eyes.”

“I had been singing since the age of goodness-knows. Some neighbors knew an agent, not one of the important ones, and he got a try out for me at the Disney studios for the voice of Snow White, which I didn’t get for they said I didn’t sing like a child. Then he took me to MGM and I sang for one executive who went out and got another executive and I sang again, and I sang again. Each time I sang there was a lot of whispered consultation and someone else was sent for. I must have sung about ten times in all.”


MGM put her into a short with Judy Garland, Every Sunday, and this particular Hollywood legend is true, that when Louis B. Mayer said “drop the fat one” he meant Garland, not Durbin.

“For me this was the end. My dog Tippy and I went for a long walk. I was crying bitterly and decided that I’d kill myself-I couldn’t go back to school a failure. Not many months later, returning from my first publicity trip for Three Smart Girls in New York, I saw huge posters of me all over Hollywood. I had become a star. I was tired, but happy and alive!”

“Judy soon entered her own period of triumph. Right from the start Judy had an immense talent. She was a professional and had been on the stage since she was two. Her later story is tragic, but I’m certain she could never have given up. She needed an audience as she needed to breathe.”

There is no need to comment on the difference between their two fates since Deanna exudes happiness. She goes on, “I understood Judy, though. I did some vaudeville with Eddie Cantor when I was beginning in pictures and between our weekly radio show. Eight shows a day! It was very exciting. Contact with a live audience is heady stuff, like the evening I walked in to sing at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City when the entire audience rose to its feet. She laughs. I should have done more live shows”. I point out she did sing extensively for the troops during the War, but that, she says, was a very different emotional experience, remembering one evening when she was lifted on the back of a truck and sang without accompaniment to soldiers about to embark for overseas.

“I hated being in a goldfish bowl. If I went to New York, I had to stay in my hotel room or go everywhere under guard, whisked away in a big black limousine, terrified that the fans running alongside would get hurt in the traffic. My mother and I were once mobbed in Texas: the police lost control of the crowd and my mother suffered two broken ribs from people trying to reach me. I have never been so frightened. They put me in the town jail for safety and to avoid the mob still waiting at the station, they flagged the train down in the middle of nowhere, where I got on safely.”

Realizing that at fifteen Deanna had the world at her feet, I wondered about her upbringing. “…very ‘proper’. It was drummed into me that I must never have sex with a man before I was married, and then the next day I was off to the studio where a very different set of rules prevailed.-I must admit that it was lovely to be asked and even lovelier to be able to say no…or yes, - Part of the fun of being asked meant that I wasn’t a little girl anymore…and that is why I wanted to look glamourous. I couldn’t wait to wear low cut dresses and look sultry. I remember the day when Philippe Halsman from LIFE magazine came to my home. He said he was going to photograph me ‘looking like an angel’. I answered that I may not know how I did want to be photographed, but if there was one way I certainly did not want to be photographed it was looking like an angel! He laughed and the picture he took more than satisfied me. I'll admit that for some of my public all of this must have been hard to understand.”


“My two broken marriages were not an asset either. When my first marriage failed everyone said that I could never divorce. It would ruin the ‘image’. How could anyone really think I was going to spend the rest of my life with a man I didn’t love, just for the sake ‘of an image’?!”

“The second divorce was traumatic, for there was a child involved. Being the child of a movie star can mean a life even more unreal than that of the parent, and at that point I knew that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in Hollywood.”

“Donald O’Connor once said that I was a professional, which, coming from him, pleased me, but that at the time we worked together I was unapproachable…’in a funk’ as he put it. With my second marriage breaking up at that time, I’m sure he was right.”

In 1950 she left for France where she married Charles David who had directed her in LADY ON A TRAIN. Since then she has resisted some tempting scripts: “I would have had to go through all the paraphernalia…the pre-recording of songs, wardrobe fittings, publicity and so on, not to mention the time this would have taken me away from my family.”

Joe Pasternak, who produced her early movies, used to telephone whenever he was in Paris. “Are you still happy?,” he would ask, and when she answered “yes”, he would say, “damn, well I’ll try again next time” and hang up.

“Just once was I seriously tempted, by the prospect of My Fair Lady on Broadway. It was still in an embryonic state just a few songs completed when Alan Jay Lerner came to my home to play them for me. I loved them…but I had my ticket to Paris in my pocket and anyway, Julie Andrews was great and so was Audrey Hepburn in the film.”


So she brought up her children: Jessica returned to America to marry while Peter, her son by Charles David, is working there in medical research. I sense rather than see her pride in them and the reason I don’t see it is because her radiance is absolutely undimmed by the years. She speaks with the directness and vitality of the young Deanna, but again I sense an extra enthusiasm when she says that bringing up the children and seeing them happy represents no sacrifice. Now she and her husband indulge their passions for music and travel, combining both with regular visits to the United States, Salzburg, Florence, Prague, Vienna, Glyndebourne and London. They speak enthusiastically about certain of their favorite singers such as Victoria de Los Angeles, Kiri Te Kanawa, Gundula Janowitz, Frederica von Stade and Teresa Stratas…

Deanna herself still sings. She is grateful to her second film, One Hundred Men and a Girl, for introducing her to Mozart. At the age of fifteen she sang Mozart’s Alleluia with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting.- It is impossible not to say that I would like to hear her sing, which receives a crisp “thank you”. She did not want to continue making films when she left films because the required publicity would have destroyed the privacy she longed for. I wonder, without asking her, whether she might be tempted now. She does turn down all requests to appear on TV shows and does not want a biography done. I did not suggest that any other form of comeback could be considered, even with the children grown up, for I could not imagine her ever being more contented than she now is – and we were talking, one or the other of us, for more than five hours. The waste of her talent is in the past, even if, at a cheerfully admitted sixty-one she looks a mere thirty-five, slim and so attractive that it is a relief when she puts on glasses and looks maybe forty. Because of this youthful appearance, and because I doubt whether she has even glimpsed a beautician since she left Hollywood – she is not only like the young Deanna but uncannily like: candid, sensible, completely without affectation, concerned and captivating company. Like all great stars, and despite her particular qualities, she is mysterious. She is Deanna Durbin – one of the best-loved of all stars. It is to return that love that she has given her first interview in so many years.

I assure her that many people who asked me to convey messages of affection were not even born when she quit movies. She smiles, too much of a realist to be surprised. And when you’ve been smiled at by Deanna Durbin you stay smiled at, even when the car won’t start, even when another car has gone into its rear on the Avenue de La Chapelle, even on the rainy drive to Boulogne and find the Hovercraft isn’t running...

Deanna in 1981

SOURCE

Friday, January 10, 2014

CONNEE BOSWELL: THE LATER YEARS

Connee Boswell, I feel is one of the most important voices in the history of female vocalists. Along with her sisters, Connee had a slew of hits in the 1930s before the sister group broke up in 1936. Connee stayed with Decca Records for the next twenty years, inspiring a generation of female voices. Much is written about her time as a Boswell Sisters and early solo efforts, but I thought Connee's later work from the mid 1950s and on deserved to be spotlighted.

In 1954, Connee recorded her last charted hit, “If I Give My Heart to You.” The song was a smash hit for Kitty Kallen but Boswell’s version rose to the #10 spot in September, 1954, and spent 11 weeks on the charts. After almost 25 years of chart topping hits - it was a great end to a momumental recording career. However, I wish more of her later work would have charted, because it saw her in great form.

On March 20, 1955 Connee and her husband Harry Leedy boarded a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to New York for a recording session. The American Airlines DC-7 made a crash landing in Chicago due to an engine failure. During the emergency landing, Connee puts on an in-flight performance from her wheelchair to help calm everyone on board. She sang "Comin' In on a Wing and a Prayer". All 66 people on board escape any serious injury after the plane lost it's nose gear and landed virtually tail up. Connee was praised for heroism by the media.

In August of 1955, the Boswell Sisters performed for the last time publicly. Vet and Martha go to see Connee perform at Jimmy Fazios Supper Club in Milwaukee. Connee persuaded her sisters to join her onstage. After a couple of false starts they performed the song they would also start a show with for good luck: “Heebie Jeebies.”

In April of 1956 Connee was back in Decca’s recording studios in NYC with Sy Oliver and His Orchestra. The subsequent recordings were issued as her second album, simply named “Connee.” This is her last recording session with Decca records, ending a twenty-five year collaboration that had yielded many hit recordings. If you have an opportunity to listen to one album - listen to this one. It is one of my favorite records of all-time. Connee sings some great numbers like "Stardust" and my personal favorite "I'd Climb The Highest Mountain".


On July 2, 1958 Connee's sister Martha Boswell Lloyd died in Peekskill, NY after a lengthy illness. At the same time Connee appeared in her last film. I is a low-budget picture called “Senior Prom,” which briefly features her singing “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In.”  Also in 1958 Connee unfortunately made her last album "Connee Boswell Sings The Rodgers & Hart Songbook" on the Design Record label. It is unfortunate that Verve never signed Connee as they did Ella Fitzgerald. Connee still had an amazing voice in the 1950s.

Connee moved on to more causes that are dear to her heart by the 1960s. Connee was on the board of an organization called, “Comeback, Inc,” whose focus is rehabilitation of the chronically ill, aged and handicapped. By 1962 she decided to limit her performances to some occasional television work and club dates and stays much closer to home to care for Harry.

In radio interviews (and perhaps on television interviews as well), there was some talk about making a comeback, recording an album of Broadway tunes, and even that she had been working on her autobiography. There was also rumor of her talking with Hollywood studios about making a bio-pic of her life story, but these plans never materialized. She continued in her humanitarian work and volunteer appearances at children’s hospitals, and in her hobby of training dogs.


On January 1, 1975 After nearly forty years of marriage, Harry Leedy died in New York City. Connee later said that he came to bed, kissed her goodnight and the next morning when she woke up, he was gone. Connee beggan to make more frequent appearances in clubs and even appears with Benny Goodman in an anniversary concert. However, before long, it is clear to all that Connee was also ill. She has always had a very healthy appetite, saying herself that she could “eat like a horse.” She experienced severe stomach pain so she sought medical attention. On February 11, 1976 Connee underwent surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC to remove a tumor from her stomach. Doctors were optimistic that they could remove the tumor successfully.

Sometime afterward though, they discovered that the cancer had returned and began chemotherapy. By the early fall, she was confined to her hospital room at Mt Sinai and finally asked doctors to stop all treatments. On October 12, 1976 Constance Foore Boswell Leedy died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She was 68 years old. She was buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York, next to her husband Harry.

She wrote the following poem just five days before her death:

“My days are numbered and it’s just as well.
Just how soon no one can tell.
I hope that it’s soon for the pain is vile,
A face filled with frowns instead of a smile.
When the end comes I’ll be at rest,
And just remember, it’s all for the best,
And when I’m gone remember me when
The sun shone brightly.
And now, Amen.”


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

RECENTLY VIEWED: PSYCHO

I would have to say that Alfred Hitchcock is easily my favourite director of all-time. I have seen most of the masterpieces he has directed. However, until recently I had never seen his 1960 film Psycho. I used to think that Hitchcock's crowning achievement was the film he made the year before North By Northwest with Cary Grant. However, my wife and I recently got into a new television show on the A&E network called "The Bates Motel" which is a sort of prequel to the Psycho story. The television series, which is surprisingly good, finally got me to see this Hitchcock original.

When originally made, the film was seen as a departure from Hitchcock's previous film North by Northwest, being filmed on a low budget, with a television crew and in black and white. Psycho initially received mixed reviews, but outstanding box office returns prompted reconsideration which led to overwhelming critical acclaim and four Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Leigh and Best Director for Hitchcock. It is now considered one of Hitchcock's best films.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her boyfriend Sam Loomis meet for a secret romantic rendezvous during lunch hour at a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. They talk about how they can barely afford to get married. Upon Marion's return to work at a realtor's office, a client comes in with $40,000 in cash to purchase a house for his daughter. The money is entrusted to Marion, who decides to steal it and skip town.

On the road, she pulls over to sleep and is awoken by a policeman who detects that something is wrong. The policeman lets her go, but upon arriving in another town, Marion pulls into a used car dealership and hastily exchanges her car for another one. Driving during a rainy night, Marion pulls up to the Bates Motel, a remote lodging that has recently lost business due to a diversion of the main highway. The proprietor, youthful but nervous Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) invites her to a light dinner in the parlor. Norman discloses that his mother is mentally ill, but he becomes irate and bristles when Marion suggests that she be institutionalized. The conversation induces Marion to decide to return to Phoenix and return the stolen money. Marion later takes a shower in her room, during which a shadowy figure comes and stabs her to death. Norman bursts into the bathroom and discovers Marion's dead body. He wraps the body in the shower curtain and cleans up the bathroom. He puts Marion's body in her car and sinks her car in a nearby swamp.


In Phoenix, Marion's sister, Lila, and her boyfriend Sam Loomis are concerned about Marion's disappearance. A detective named Arbogast confirms she is suspected of having stolen $40,000 from her employer. Arbogast eventually finds the Bates Motel. Norman's evasiveness and stammering arouse his suspicions. Arbogast later enters the Bates' residence, looking for Norman's mother. A figure emerges from her room and murders Arbogast.

Fearing something has happened to Arbogast, Sam and Lila go to the town of Fairvale and talk with the local sheriff. He is puzzled by the detective's claim that he was going to talk to Norman's mother and states that Mrs. Bates died years ago, along with her lover, in a murder-suicide. Norman, seen from above, carries his mother down to the cellar of their house as she verbally protests the arrangement.

Sam and Lila rent a room at the Bates Motel and discover the cabin Marion stayed in. Lila explores it and finds a scrap of paper with "$40,000" written on it, and notes that the bathtub has no shower curtain. Sam distracts Norman while Lila sneaks into the house, looking for Mrs. Bates. Norman subdues Sam and chases Lila. Seeing Norman approaching, Lila hides in the cellar and discovers Mrs. Bates sitting in a rocking chair. The chair rotates to reveal a desiccated corpse, the preserved body of Mrs. Bates. Norman enters the basement, wearing a dress and wig while wielding a large knife, revealing Norman to be the murderer all along. Sam enters and saves Lila.


After Norman's arrest, a psychiatrist who interviewed Norman reveals that Norman had murdered his mother and her lover years ago, and later developed a split personality to erase the crime from his memory. At times, he is able to function as Norman, but other times the mother personality completely dominates him. Norman is now locked into his mother's identity permanently. Mrs. Bates, in a voice-over, talks about how harmless she is and how it was really Norman, not she, who committed the murders. The final scene shows Marion's car being recovered from the swamp.

The murder of Janet Leigh's character in the shower is the film's pivotal scene and one of the best-known in all of cinema. As such, it spawned numerous myths and legends. It was shot from December 17 to December 23, 1959, and features 77 different camera angles.The scene "runs 3 minutes and includes 50 cuts. Most of the shots are extreme close-ups, except for medium shots in the shower directly before and directly after the murder. The combination of the close shots with their short duration makes the sequence feel more subjective than it would have been if the images were presented alone or in a wider angle, an example of the technique Hitchcock described as "transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience".

I am glad now I finally watched the movie. Although Psycho is still not my favorite Hitchcock film, I do think that every movie lover should watch it at least once. While I found the ending of Vertigo (1958) more shocking and the ending of Shadow Of A Doubt (1943) more satisfying, I did like the gritty and dark look to the film which many of Hitchcock's prior movies in the 1950s did not have. Also seeing the underrated Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, makes anyone that has mother issues see a little normal by comparison...

MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10


Monday, January 6, 2014

FORGOTTEN ONES: EUGENIE BESSERER

Who the heck is Eugenie Besserer you may ask? No one born in the last fifty years probably knows. Eugenie Besserer is an actress that was born during the Johnson administration. Not Lyndon Johnson, but Andrew Johnson. I have only seen one movie she was in, and it probably her best remembered role. She played Al Jolson's mother in The Jazz Singer in 1927.

Born in Watertown, New York on Christmas 1868 to French-Canadian parents, she was taken by her parents to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada as a girl and spent her childhood there. She was left an orphan and escaped from her guardians at the age of twelve. She came to New York City and arrived at Grand Central Station with only 25 cents (Canadian currency) in her pocket. She managed to locate a former governess, with the assistance of a street car conductor, who helped Eugenie locate an uncle, with whom she lived. She continued her education.

Besserer's initial theatrical experience came with McKee Rankin when the producer had for a star, Nance O'Neill. Soon she appeared with stage luminaries like Frank Keenan and Wilton Lackaye. As a youth she played a juvenile part with Maurice Barrymore. She performed a season at Pike's Opera House in Portland Oregon. Another season Eugenie acted in a drama opposite Henry Kolker. The actress came to Hollywood in 1910 when films were just starting to be made there. The illness of her sister brought her to the west coast. In motion pictures Eugenie was usually cast in mother roles, most famously as mother of the Al Jolson character in The Jazz Singer ("Mammy"). Jolson famously sings "Blue Skies" to her. She was 59 when she made that film.




She shared a home with her husband, Albert W. Hegger, an art dealer, from the time she came to Los Angeles. They lived in a hilltop home above Silver Lake, and had one daughter, only known to us as Mrs. R.F. Ulrich.

Her last movie was To the Last Man, a 1933 Western starring Randolph Scott. In the film she played Granny Spelvin. On May 28, 1934 Eugenie Besserer at the age of 65, from a heart attack at her home. Having married Hegger when she was a teenager, the couple were due to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in 1935. A funeral mass was held at St. Theresa's Church, with a rosary service at Edwards Brothers Colonial Mortuary, Venice Boulevard, in Los Angeles, California. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles. She mostly played motherly roles, but the roles she did play were important to the early days of film making...

Friday, January 3, 2014

THE LAST DAYS OF MADELINE KAHN

One of the most talented and versatile actresses of recent generations was Madeline Kahn. She died too young, but left behind some monumental performances in movies. Madeline Kahn was an Oscar & Golden Globe-nominated & Tony Award-winning actress best known for her zany, bawdy roles in Mel Brooks' classics: Blazing Saddles; Young Frankenstein; and High Anxiety. Off-screen she was an intensely private and shy person who made her home in New York City. When she gave commencement speeches at colleges she often described herself "apart from the herd but able to get sustenance." She encouraged students to "follow their own vision and not be driven by the herd."

She was born in 1942 and grew up in New York City was a stage mother than got her involved in the business. A role in the Broadway musical Two by Two attracted the attention of a casting director - which led to her feature film debut in Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? Madeline was more than happy to leave the Broadway show and her nasty co-star Danny Kaye for work in Hollywood. Years later she was asked to star opposite Danny Kaye in another Broadway show and made no bones about telling producers: "If you hire him, you lose me." She had another bad experience with a huge legend - Lucille Ball. Kahn was supposed to star opposite Ball in the film of Mame in 1974, but Ball disliked her voice and had her removed from the film. Kahn was hurt but it opened her up to star in Blazing Saddles.

Madeline went on to do more film, stage and TV work throughout the 1980s and 90s and became known for her professionalism. ("I have appeared in crap...but I never treat it as such. Never!" ). Her funny but nuanced and endearing portrayal of an affluent Jewish suburban matron in the Broadway play The Sisters Rosensweig earned her a Tony Award in 1993. Her final film role was in the indie film Judy Berlin (1999) where Madeline showed that underneath her amusingly frazzled housewife character was a woman with a core of strength.


For the next two decades, Kahn work steady rotating between film, television, and stage roles. While shooting the NY-based sitcom "Cosby" in fall 1998 with Bill Cosby, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer (the same disease that claimed the life of her friend Gilda Radner). Madeline endured three rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and experimental treatments for the—notoriously hard to detect and resistant to treatment—cancer. Her work on Cosby was reduced to only 4 episodes in the final season. Madeline thanked "the entire extended family on Cosby who moved heaven and earth to make me feel as comfortable as possible" these past few months.

Despite being desperately ill (or because of), in October 1999, Madeline married her partner of 10 years John Hansbury. She managed the strength to stand for the ceremony, and her voice, which had been reduced to a whisper in recent weeks, spoke loudly and clearly, "I do."

On Nov. 4th 1999, Madeline made a public statement about her cancer battle. "It is my hope that I might raise awareness of this awful disease and hasten the day that an effective test can be discovered to give women a fighting chance to catch this cancer at its earliest stage." Three weeks later, Kahn entered Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan for her latest dose of chemotherapy - where she stayed and fought until the end.
She died on December 3, 1999 at the age of 57. By her side were her husband and her brother Jeffrey. A comic genius was silenced, but the laughter lives on...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

CELEBRITY ADS: EDDIE CANTOR

One of my favorite old time radio shows was The Eddie Cantor radio show. By the 1940s, Cantor was known more for his radio shows than his movie career which had slowed down since he left Samuel Goldwyn. His long time sponsor was Pabst Blue Ribbon, and every time I see that beer in a bar I think of Eddie Cantor. Here are two great print ads from 1947...