Friday, November 26, 2021

HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY: LINDA DARNELL

One of the most stunningly beautiful women in Hollywood was Linda Darnell. I feel her beauty was literally breathtaking. Sadly, Linda died tragically in a fire in 1965, but her beauty lives in, and here are a few examples of it...















Monday, November 22, 2021

MY FIVE FAVORITE FEMALE SINGERS

 Nothing relaxes me more than one of the great songbirds from the golden age of singing. Whenever I am feeling stressed out, I love going to my music room and just listen to golden voices in the dark and get lost in the audio aspirins. I made a list of my five favorite female singers in 2013 and 2019 so I figured I was due to update my list. There are so any great female singers out there...


5. BILLIE HOLIDAY (1915-1959)
People either love or hate Billie's voice, and I love her singing. From her early recordings in the mid 1930s with Benny Goodman to her said and weakened voice in the 1950s, Billie had a way to sell a song. Billie's best recording was "God Bless The Child". "God Bless the Child" became Holiday's most popular and most covered record. It reached number 25 on the charts in 1941 and was third in Billboard's songs of the year, selling over a million records. Billie died tragically too young but her voice lives on in so many vocal masterpieces. (rank in 2013: 9, rank in 2019: 6)


4. JUDY GARLAND (1922-1969)
Like Billie, Judy Garland conveyed so much in her voice. Judy became an icon for the gay movement, but she also was a great recording star. Her records I feel were even better than her movies. At a young age she was signed to Decca and recorded some great numbers there like "Figaro", "Over The Rainbow", "No Love No Nothin", and "This Heart Of Mine". She only recorded soundtracks afterwards at MGM Records, but once she signed with Capitol in the 1950s, she made some terrific albums. Again, like Billie, Judy died way too young. (rank in 2013: 10, rank in 2019: 8)


3. CONNEE BOSWELL (1907-1976)
If you need an audio aspirin, then please listen to Connee Boswell. Connee herself is widely considered one of the greatest jazz female vocalists and was a major influence on Ella Fitzgerald. After breaking up with her sisters in 1936, she made some great solo records for Decca for the next 20 years. Some of my favorite of these records are: "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart", "Sand In My Shoes", and "Why Don't You Fall In Love With Me" to just name a few. She made an excellent album for Decca in 1956 simply titled "Connee" with Sy Oliver and his Orchestra. Connee's last chart hit was "If I Give Myself To You" in 1954, and in my opinion I don't think she recorded enough. (rank in 2013: 2, rank in 2019: 3)

2. DINAH SHORE (1917-1994)
There is nothing finer than Dinah! After failing singing auditions for the bands of Benny Goodman, and both Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Shore struck out on her own. She became the first singer of her era to achieve huge solo success. She had a string of 80 charted popular hits, spanning 1940–1957. Eddie Cantor helped to discover her, and she got a contract to Bluebird in 1939 where she recorded such recordings as "Sleepy Lagoon" and "Yes, My Darling Daughter". She then went to Columbia and scored some mega hits like "Lavender Blue" and "Button And Bows". In the 1950s she also sang for Capitol Records for a time. Dinah became more widely known for her television shows by the 1960s, and her voice was not what it was, but she is still one of my favorite songbirds out there.(rank in 2013: 3, rank in 2019: 2)


1. JO STAFFORD (1917-2008)
Like Bing Crosby on my favorite male singer list, Jo Stafford has also been number one on my list for decades. In addition to her recordings with the Pied Pipers, Stafford featured in solo performances for Dorsey. After leaving the group in 1944, she recorded a series of pop standards for Capitol Records and Columbia Records. Many of her recordings were backed by the orchestra of Paul Weston. In the 1950s, Stafford had a string of popular hits with Frankie Laine, six of which charted. Their duet of the Hank Williams song "Hey Good Lookin'" made the top 10 in 1951. She had her best-known hits—"Jambalaya", "Shrimp Boats", "Make Love to Me", and "You Belong to Me"—around this time."You Belong to Me" was Stafford's biggest hit, topping the charts in the United States. Jo retired in 1970, and although she retired so young, she left us with such a great recording songbook. There was no one like Jo! (rank in 2013:1 rank in 2019: 1)

There are many other singers that I love too so here is my list of runners up to round out the top ten: Margaret Whiting (1924-2011), Peggy Lee (1920-2002), June Christy (1925-1990, Jeri Southern (1926-1991), and Kate Smith (1907-1986).

Friday, November 19, 2021

MOMMIE DEAREST AND WHAT WENT WRONG

Based on Joan Crawford's adopted daughter's autobiography,Mommie Dearest is an oddity in the annals of cinema, a film which harbours such terrible family secrets and dark, almost taboo, depictions of child abuse that has earned a reputation as a campy, cult classic. This supposedly authentic recreation of Christina Crawford's upbringing should be a cautionary tale, an intense insight into the terror that comes along with the emotional and physical abuse of a child but instead the film has come to be perceived as an unintentional comedy, spurred forward by Faye Dunaway's now infamous performance as Crawford and a multitude of instantly quotable one liners that sound like they would be more at home in a Jon Waters film (my favourite being Gregg Savitt's comment on Crawford's drinking - "When you were a kid that made you look sexy. Now it just makes you look drunk.")

I sat down to watch Mommie Dearest knowing full well of its reputation (this in fact being the reason I was so interested in it) but was puzzled to find myself quite emotionally effected by the scenes of abuse rather than being able to find any sort of humour in them. This isn't to say the film as a whole is particularly good; it is, in fact, fairly atrocious in terms of its shoddy set design, tonal inconsistencies and warped sense of pacing but I wasn't able to fully immerse myself in what I had heard was a fun filled, campy misadventure due to the fact that the abuse scenes seemed so inexorably authentic. I'm not quite sure that watching a woman beat her child with a wire coat hanger is ever comedic, despite the melodrama or laughable dialogue that may have come before it.


The most derided and infamous aspect of the film's legacy lies in Dunaway's extravagant performance as Joan Crawford. The outright insanity and evil that Dunaway purveys throughout the film means she becomes the center of attention for the audience and, because of this, any insight or subtext is lost upon the viewer. Like a tornado she manages to draw everything in the scene into her sphere whilst simultaneously tearing everything in it apart, both physically and cinematically. Strangely though, I would be hesitant to deride the performance as bad. It certainly has a negative effect on the film as a whole but Dunaway herself is hypnotic and compelling, channeling a raw dynamism into what could have been merely an impression. Pauline Kael herself has said "“Faye Dunaway gives a startling, ferocious performance in Mommie Dearest. It's deeper than an impersonation...she turns herself into Joan Crawford, all right, but she's more Faye Duanway than ever".

So, is this a case of a director letting his star overpower the feature? Dunaway herself has expressed regret over the film, stating that she wished that director Frank Perry had "had enough experience to see when actors needed to rein in their performances." Whilst she may be correct in her analysis here, it ignores the fact that everything else in the film is so mundane. Aside from a few catwalk-esque shots of Dunaway framed by curtains in a beautiful dress, there isn't any attempt at artistic expression here to even deride. Ebert praised the film's look in his review but I disagree with him; it looks like a made for TV-movie and concludes like a made-for TV movie, dull and predictable. I'd argue that the only thing keeping this film alive is Dunaway and for that she should be applauded.

What was everybody else's experience of this film? Did you find fun and games in it or was it difficult to sit through? I'm still perplexed by it...

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

THE REAL GYPSY ROSE LEE

Here is a great article in Life Magazine by Ben Cosgrove. It is much better than I could ever write...

Ask any American today under the age of, say, 40, “Who was Gypsy Rose Lee?” and chances are pretty good that the reaction will be utter bewilderment. “Gypsy Rose who?”

On the other hand, ask anyone who came of age in the 1940s or ’50s the same question, and the reaction will likely be something along the lines of, “Gypsy Rose Lee? I haven’t thought about her in decades! But let me tell you, back in the day. . . .”

Gypsy Rose Lee (born Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle in 1911) was and remains a force in American popular culture not because she acted in films (although she did act in films) or because she wrote successful mystery novels (although she did write successful mystery novels). The reason Lee’s influence endures can be attributed to two central elements of her remarkable, all-American life story: first, her 1957 memoir, Gypsy, which formed the basis for what more than a few critics laud as the greatest of all American musicals, the 1959 Styne-Sondheim-Laurents masterpiece, Gypsy; and second, her career in burlesque, when she became the most famous and perhaps the most singularly likable stripper in the world. (Modern “neo-burlesque” performers, like Dita Von Teese, Angie Pontani and others, cite Gypsy in near-reverent terms as a pioneer and inspiration.)


Here, LIFE.com celebrates Gypsy Rose Lee’s life and her career with a selection of pictures by George Skadding, a LIFE staffer far better known for photographing presidents (he was long an officer of the White House News Photographers Association) than burlesque stars. But, as the images in this gallery attest, Gypsy was hardly just another stripper; instead, as a performer, a wife and a mother of a young son, she had something about her an approachable, self-deprecating demeanor aligned with a quiet self-certainty that any politician would envy.

“I’m probably the highest paid outdoor entertainer since Cleopatra,” she’s quoted as saying in the June 6, 1949 issue of LIFE, in which many of these pictures first appeared. “And I don’t have to stand for some of the stuff she had to.”

“Confidently taking her place among history’s great ladies, Gypsy has for the first time in her life gone outdoors professionally,” LIFE wrote at the beginning of Gypsy’s six-month tour with what was called “the world’s largest carnival,” The Royal American Shows. The prospect of having to do her old strip-tease act 8 to 15 times a day “all across the country to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,” meanwhile, although hardly thrilling to the 38-year-old mom, was also something Gypsy could, characteristically, put in perspective:

“For $10,000 a week,” she told LIFE, “I can afford to climb the slave block once in a while.”


She also, as LIFE put it, “had it soft, as carny performers’ lives go. She lives in her own trailer with her third husband, the noted Spanish painter, Julio de Diego. With them is her 4-year-old son, Erik [film director Otto Preminger’s child, as it turned out] and his nurse. Gypsy, who loves to fish, carries an elaborate angler’s kit, and whenever the show plays near a river, goes out and hooks fish as ably as she does customers.”

But it’s in the notes of writer Arthur Shay, who spent a week with the star in Memphis, Tennessee, in May 1949, that we meet the woman who emerges when the lights go down and the crowds depart and it’s clearly this Gypsy who truly connected to audiences wherever she went:

“Funny thing about show people or just plain fans,” she told Shay at one point, offering insights into the appeal of her nomadic life. “They think if you’re not in Hollywood or on Broadway making a couple of thousand a week taking guff from everybody and his cousin in the west, and sweating out poor crowds on Broadway you’re not doing well. [But] I’ve been touring the country playing nightclubs and making twice as much as I made in the movies, and having more fun! I get a lot more fishing done, for one thing, and I can live in my trailer and see the country.”

Gypsy Rose Lee died in April, 1970, of lung cancer. She was 59 years old...


Friday, November 12, 2021

DANA PLATO: ANOTHER TORTURED CHILD STAR

I was raised in the 1980s, and watching television was the main form of relaxing. This was before cell phones and computers! I remember my first crush I ever had was Dana Plato, who played ther daughter on the hit series "Different Strokes" from 1978 to 1986. Sadly, as with so many younger stars, her life ended sadly.

Dana was also remembered for her troubled life after "Different Strokes" when her career spiraled downward after becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. She was born in Maywood, California on November 7, 1964  to an 16-year-old unmarried teenager who gave her up for adoption. When she was three years old, her adoptive parents divorced and her mother started auditioning her at an early age. At the age of seven, she began doing television commercials for companies as diverse as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dole, and Atlantic Richfield. In 1977 she made her film debut in Return to Boggy Creek. She was also an accomplished figure skater, and at one point she was training for a possible Olympic team spot. 

During this time she was spotted by a producer during a brief appearance on the daytime television's "The Gong Show," and won her role on "Diff'rent Strokes" and the show was an immediate hit. In 1984 she became pregnant by her boyfriend, rock guitarist Lanny Lambert, and the show's producers of felt that a pregnancy would fit the show's wholesome image, so she was let go but returned for several appearances during its final season. The two married in April 1984 but separated in January 1988, a week after her adoptive mother's death. 


After "Diff'rent Strokes" was cancelled, she attempted to establish herself as a serious actress, but found it difficult to step out of the long shadows cast by her sitcom career and ended up taking roles in B-movies such as "Bikini Beach Race" and "Lethal Cowboy." During this time, she also posed for Playboy magazine. In 1991 she ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada unemployed and took a job at a dry-cleaning store. On February 28, she entered a video store, produced a gun, and demanded the money in the register. Approximately 15 minutes after the robbery, she returned to the scene and was immediately arrested. The gun was only a pellet gun and the robbery netted her $164. Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton posted her bail and she was given five years' probation. 

She made headlines and became part of the national debate over troubled child stars, particularly given the difficulties of her "Diff'rent Strokes" co-stars, Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. In January 1992 she was arrested again, this time for forging a prescription for Diazepam. She served 30 days in jail for violation of the terms of her probation and immediately entered a drug program. The same year, she was one of the first celebrities to star in a video game. The game, "Night Trap," was not a great success, but is considered a pioneering title as it was the first game to use live actors, specifically a well known personality, and was one of the first video game titles to have mature content and attracted controversy due to its depiction of violence. 


Toward the end of her career, she chose roles that could be considered erotic or even soft-core pornography, appearing partially nude in Prime Suspect (1988) and Compelling Evidence (1995), but her most infamous film was the 1997 pornographic movie Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill. On May 7, 1999 she traveled to New York City, New York with her finance Robert Menchaca, where she appeared on "The Howard Stern Show" to talk frankly about her life, including her run-ins with the law, financial problems, and drug and alcohol addictions. She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, but claimed that she had been sober for more than ten years by that point, and was not using any drugs, with the exception of prescribed painkillers due to discomfort and pain from the recent extraction of her wisdom teeth. 

The following day, she and Menchaca were returning to California and stopped by his mother's home in Moore, Oklahoma, for a Mother's Day visit. She went to lie down inside her recreational vehicle parked outside the house and subsequently died of an overdose of the muscle-relaxant Vanadom (Soma) and painkiller Lortab at the age of 34. Her death was ruled a suicide. Tragically, almost 11 years to the day of her death, her son Tyler Lambert committed suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It is sad that Dana Plato never escaped the horror of being a child star. Dana and her son deserved better...


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

FORGOTTEN ONES: GARY CROSBY

I have taken a look at three of the sons Bing Crosby had with his first wife, Dixie Lee. However, I hesitated to profile Bing's oldest son Gary Crosby. As a lifelong fan of Der Bingle, I have been bitter against Gary for the scathing book he wrote about his father in 1983. However, now nearly 40 years later, it is what it is. Bing had a very difficult relationship with his four sons especially Gary. Despite that book, Gary's life was a life worth living, and I feel his life should not be forgotten.

Gary Crosby was born on June 27, 1933 in Los Angeles and graduated from Stanford University. He entered the entertainment business and performed in a harmony singing group, The Crosby Boys, with his three brothers, Philip, Lindsay, and Dennis, during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. As a teenager, he sang with his father on numerous records songs, and two of them "Sam's Song" and "Play a Simple Melody",  became the first double-sided gold record in history.  He also recorded duets with Louis Armstrong and at least one 45-single with Sammy Davis Jr.. He also performed on several variety programs, including ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the mid-1950s, Gary also had his own radio program, the Gary Crosby Show on CBS. The musical variety program debuted June 6, 1954, as a summer replacement for Bing Crosby's show.


As an actor, Crosby appeared in many television programs. On March 20, 1955, he appeared on the Jack Benny Program Season 5, Episode 13. Later, he was briefly under contract to 20th Century-Fox in the late 1950s. He appeared in a number of supporting roles for the studio, normally comedies in which Crosby played a soldier: Mardi Gras (1958) with Pat Boone; Holiday for Lovers (1959), as Carol Lynley's love interest; A Private's Affair (1959), with Sal Mineo; The Right Approach (1961) with Frankie Vaughan. Gary spent a small stint in the military where he was stationed with Elvis Presley whom he would make Girl Crazy with in 1965.

He is perhaps best-remembered for his recurring roles as Eddie the scheming bellhop on The Bill Dana Show and Officer Edward "Ed" Wells on NBC's Adam-12 from 1968–75, as well as appearances on several other shows produced by Jack Webb's Mark VII Limited (including an episode of Dragnet 1969 and five episodes of Emergency!). In addition to the aforementioned, he also appeared in three episodes of The Rockford Files.


In the 1970s, he appeared occasionally on game shows such as Match Game and Tattletales as a guest panelist. He married and divorced three times; he had one stepchild as a result. A lifelong alcoholic, Gary jumped at the change to write about his famous father. The children of other famous stars such as Christina Crawford (daughter of Joan Crawfrod) had made millions off of the tell-all tales of growing up famous.

In 1983, six years after his father's death, Crosby published an autobiography, Going My Own Way, which revealed the effects of his alcoholism and his difficult childhood as a result of his mother's alcoholism and his father's emotional and physical abuse. Some, especially his brother Phillip, said the abuse was not as severe as Crosby described. Gary himself reportedly admitted the book was a big exaggeration to make money.

In the late 1980s, Gary gained peace in his life and became sober. At the time of his death, he was planning a duets album with his father like Natalie Cole had done with her father Nat King Cole. Gary Crosby died of lung cancer in Burbank, California on August 24,1995, and is interred at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery. Just like Gary Crosby made peace with his father, I feel I need to make peace with Gary's book. Who know how anyone would have turned out if they had Gary's life. The important thing is that he finally had peace at the end...

RIP: DEAN STOCKWELL

Dean Stockwell, an American actor with a career that spanned more than 70 years, died on Sunday. He was 85.

Sources representing the actor say that he died peacefully, in his sleep at home.

Among his best credits were a leading role in the sci-fi series “Quantum Leap,” “Air Force One” and David Lynch films “Dune” and “Blue Velvet.”

Born as Robert Dean Stockwell in March 1936, Stockwell began his career as a child actor under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His first know film appearance was in “Valley of Decision” in 1945. Other early titles included “Anchors Aweigh” and “The Green Years.”


Arguably, Stockwell’s biggest role was as Admiral ‘Al’ Calavicci in NBC sci-series “Quantum Leap” which ran for five seasons between 1989 and 1993. The womanizing, larger than life character was the foil for Scott Bakula’s role as Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist who engaged in space time experiments.

The role earned Stockwell multiple nominations for the Primetime Emmys and for the Golden Globes, with a Golden Globe win in 1990 for “best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, miniseries or motion picture made for television.” Stockwell received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on Feb. 29, 1992.

Stockwell earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination for 1988 film “Married to the Mob.” Before that he was twice named best actor at the Cannes film festival in 1959 and 1962. The first of these was for “Compulsion,” in which Stockwell reprised a role he had earlier played on Broadway.


Stockwell famously dropped in and out of his acting career. In the 1960s, he joined the Topanga Canyon hippie group did drugs and participated in love-ins. In the early 1980s, after becoming depressed about his restarted acting career, Stockwell obtained a real estate license and moved out of Hollywood. He was apparently persuaded by Harry Dean Stanton to return and try again.

What followed were roles in some of the era’s defining movies. These included Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “The Rainmaker,” “Robert Altman’s “The Player,” “Married to the Mob” and the two Lynch movies.

He went on to have recurring roles in “Battlestar Galactica” series and “The Tony Danza Show.”