Saturday, April 17, 2021

WHAT A CHARACTER: EDWARD ARNOLD

I always forget that Edward Arnold died a long time ago in the 1950s. He was in so many movies, that I didn't think he died that long ago! Nevertheless, Edward was a prolific character actor who starred in over 100 films.  Arnold was born in New York on February 18, 1890 to German immigrant parents. Orphaned at 11, Arnold supported himself with a series of manual labor jobs. He made his first stage appearance at 12, playing Lorenzo in an amateur production of The Merchant of Venice at the East Side Settlement House. Encouraged to continue acting by playwright/ journalist John D. Barry, Arnold became a professional at 15, joining the prestigious Ben Greet Players shortly afterward. After touring with such notables as Ethel Barrymore and Maxine Elliot, he did bit and extra work at Chicago's Essanay Film Studios and New Jersey's World Studios during the early 'teens. Hoping to become a slender leading man,

Arnold found that his fortune lay in character parts, and accordingly beefed up his body: "The bigger I got, the better character roles I received," he'd observe later. Following several seasons on Broadway, Arnold made his talking picture debut as a gangster in 1933's Whistling in the Dark. He continued playing supporting villains until attaining the title role in Diamond Jim (1935), which required him to add 25 pounds to his already substantial frame; he repeated this characterization in the 1940 biopic Lillian Russell. Other starring roles followed in films like Sutter's Gold (1936), Come and Get It (1936) and Toast of New York (1937), but in 1937 Arnold's career momentum halted briefly when he was labelled "box office poison" by a committee of film exhibitors (other "poisonous" performers were Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn!) Undaunted, Arnold accepted lesser billing in secondary roles, remaining in demand until his death.


A favorite of director Frank Capra (who frequently chided the actor for the "phony laugh" that was his trademark), Arnold appeared in a trio of Capra films, playing Jimmy Stewart's millionaire father in You Can't Take It With You (1938), a corrupt political boss in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and a would-be fascist in Meet John Doe (1941). Despite the fact that he was not considered a box-office draw, Arnold continued to be cast in starring roles from time to time, notably Daniel Webster in 1941's The Devil and Daniel Webster and blind detective Duncan Maclain in Eyes in the Night (1942) and The Hidden Eye (1945).

During the 1940s, Arnold became increasingly active in politics, carrying this interest over into a radio anthology, Mr. President, which ran from 1947 through 1953. He was co-founder of the "I Am an American Foundation," an officer of Hollywood's Permanent Charities Committee, and a president of the Screen Actors Guild. Though a staunch right-wing conservative (he once considered running for Senate on the Republican ticket), Arnold labored long and hard to protect his fellow actors from the persecution of the HUAC "communist witch-hunt." Edward Arnold's last film appearance was in the "torn from today's headlines" potboiler Miami Expose (1956). After a career than spanned over 50 years, he died suddenly at the age of 66 of a cerebral hermorrhage at his home in Encino, California on April 26, 1956...


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

RIP: JILL COREY

1950s singer Jill Corey of Pittsburgh, formerly of Los Angeles, Calif., and New York City, N.Y., passed away Saturday, April 3, 2021, at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh at the age of 85. She was born Norma Jean Speranza, Monday, Sept. 30, 1935, in Avonmore, the daughter of the late Bernard and Clara Grant Speranza.

Before her good-bye performance for a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall, she signed a contract to the Columbia Records label, she appeared on our "Hit Parade" and was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1953. It was said that she had a voice that would break your heart. She was an avid bird watcher in Central Park, had a dazzling wit, was a loving mother and devoted wife to the late Donald Albert Hoak.


Jill took an eight-year hiatus in her singing career to travel with her husband of eight years. He had the distinction of playing for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates, being part of both of the 1955 and 1960 World Series. After the death of the love of her life she made a comeback in her career.

She is survived by her only daughter and best friend, Clare Hoak (Greg Damjanovic) and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, three brothers, Bernard, Dominic and Earl, and a sister, Alice Yockey. At her request, all services are private. Interment will take place at the family plot in Westview Cemetery, in Avonmore...

Saturday, April 10, 2021

THE EARLY YEARS OF COLE PORTER

J.O. Cole was the richest man in Indiana. His father had been a shoemaker, but J.O.--the initials stood for James Omar--went out to California during the Gold Rush and came back a wealthy man to Indiana, where he multiplied his wealth by way of timber and coal and other enterprises. J.O. married Rachel Henton, and when their daughter, Kate Cole, was born in 1862, nothing could be too good for J.O.'s girl. J.O. gave Kate expensive clothes, expensive tastes, and an expensive education that included music and dance.

J.O. naturally expected his Kate to choose a husband from the ambitious world of high-powered businessmen, someone who could take over his financial empire if and when J.O. ever chose to let go of the reins. But Kate Cole had a mind of her own, and the husband she selected was Sam Porter, said to be a weak and ineffectual, although modestly successful, pharmacist from her hometown of Peru, Indiana. One can only speculate, but one can at least suspect that Kate was too much like her father to want to marry a man of her father's stamp, and instead deliberately chose a husband that shecould rule.

J.O. fumed and grumbled, but in the end Kate got her way, and J.O. paid first for the wedding and then for the expensive lifestyle of the wedded couple. And then, on June 9, 1891, in Peru, Indiana, Kate's son, J.O.'s grandson, was born, and they named him Cole Albert Porter.

From the age of six, the little boy studied first violin and then, at age eight, piano, and soon he showed real talent for both. When he decided that he didn't like the violin, he devoted all his energies to the piano, practicing two hours every day. Frequently, his mother Kate would join him at the piano, and together they would make up wicked parodies of the popular songs of the day.


Kate knew that her son had talent, and did everything she could to pave the way for musical fame. Early on, she subsidized the student orchestra at the local music school, making sure that her son, dressed in velvet and lace, was the featured violin soloist. There were rumors that she also took steps to ensure that the local papers gave her son the right reviews. When Cole was ten years old, he began composing music, and his mother paid to have his compositions published and sent copies to family and friends. And when, at age 14, she sent Cole off to the exclusive Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, she decided that people would be more impressed with her son's accomplishments if her son were only twelve instead of fourteen. And so, she made Cole twelve, officially at least, by arranging some small changes in his school records.

When Cole was sent east to boarding school, J.O. was furious. J.O.'s plan was that his grandson would stay in Indiana, learning about the family business empire and preparing to eventually take it over. J.O. was so angry, in fact, that for two years he refused to speak to Kate. But, as always, Kate got her way.


Cole's stay at the Worcester Academy was a successful one. In later years, he remembered one of his instructors there, Dr. Abercrombie, as an important influence. Cole said that Abercrombie taught him about language and meter, and that, in a song, "Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one." When he graduated from the Academy in 1909, Cole was the class valedictorian.

Next came Yale, and Cole's undergraduate years at Yale were one of the richest periods of his life. He was a huge social success, famous on campus for the songs he was constantly writing and singing. He sang solos with the Yale Glee Club. He wrote football fight songs, some of which continued to be sung long after he left Yale, especially "Bingo Eli Yale" and the "Yale Bulldog Song". And he wrote songs for six full scale musical comedies, produced by the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and by the Yale Dramatic Association. Some of these shows went on tour around the country, and Cole toured with them, reveling in the parties and good fellowship that went with the tours. In all, Cole wrote around 300 songs while he was at Yale. And when he graduated in 1913, his classmates voted him the "most entertaining" member of his class. In his Yale years, Cole made many connections that would be professionally and personally important to him for the rest of his life.


At J.O.'s insistence, Cole then enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he roomed with a young man named Dean Acheson--yes, the Dean Acheson who would become Secretary of State from 1949 to 1953. But Cole had no interest in becoming a lawyer, and his activities continued to be mostly musical. Many of Cole Porter's stories about himself were inventions, but, according to Cole, the Dean of the Law School, Ezra Ripley Thayer, took him aside one day, during Cole's second year at the Law School, and told him, "Don't waste your time--get busy and study music." Whether the advice really came from Thayer or not, Cole took it, and transferred to Harvard's School of Arts and Sciences in 1915, where he studied for a graduate degree in Music. Cole told his mother Kate about the change in career plans, but both of them allowed J.O. to believe that Cole was still earnestly pursuing his Law School degree.

Cole left graduate school in 1916 and moved to New York City, where he lived at the Yale Club. His first show, See America First (1916), lasted for only 15 performances, but the audience was full of prominent socialites, and Cole himself quickly became a familiar figure in social circles in New York.

In July 1917, Cole moved to Paris. The First World War was raging, and Cole invented stories about joining the French Foreign Legion and performing numerous heroic exploits that were duly reported in the press back home and that remained part of Cole's official biography throughout his life. Not a word was true. In fact, Cole was enjoying Paris's fabulous social life, an endless stream of extravagant parties full of international celebrities, members of the minor nobility, cross dressers, artists, and eccentrics, accompanied by alcohol and other drugs, and featuring an assortment of gay and bisexual activity.


Linda Lee Thomas from Louisville, Kentucky, was another prominent socialite in Paris. Divorced from an abusive husband, wealthy, and considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, Linda soon became one of Cole's closest friends. She was older than Cole, and was quite aware of his homosexual preferences and activities. Nevertheless, on December 19, 1919, Cole and Linda were married. Although sex was never a part of their relationship, they truly liked each other, and Linda was deeply dedicated to Cole's career, so, in its own way, their marriage proved a close, successful, and mostly happy one.

Cole and Linda led a glittering social life in Paris, Venice, and the Riviera. Their Paris home had platinum wallpaper and zebra skin chairs. For one extravagant party in Venice they hired 50 gondoliers and a troupe of circus acrobats. For another party, they hired an entire ballet company.

But while his social life was dazzling, Cole's career was moving frustratingly slowly. He studied briefly with the noted French composer Vincent d'Indy. He had a few small successes, contributing songs to such shows as Hitchy-Koo 1919 and the Greenwich Village Follies of 1924. And in 1923 he had a success in Paris with a short ballet called Within the Quota. But Broadway producers had little interest in his work. However, in 1928, Irving Berlin recommended Cole to the producers of a "musicomedy" called Paris, starring Irene Bordoni. Cole wrote five songs for the show, and one of those songs "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)", became Cole's first big success....

Saturday, April 3, 2021

THE THREE BIGGEST OSCAR SURPRISES

I don't really watch the Oscars anymore. I can not remember the last time I watched them all the way through. It might have been when "Blame Canada" was nominated for Best Song from the South Park movie, but I do love to follow Oscar history. I wanted to take a look at three of the biggest surprises in Oscar history...


1. In 1951, Judy Holliday won best actress for Born Yesterday. This was the year of the ultimate diva battle between Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard playing a Grand Guignol gargoyle and Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve playing a Grand Guignol gargoyle. This was a battle royale equal to King Kong vs. Godzilla. Gloria had won all of the awards up to that point and she was expected to bag the Oscar. I think Gloria and Bette ended up cancelling each other out, which was combined with the fact that Anne Baxter was also nominated in that category for All About Eve and may have taken some of the votes away, so Judy just snuck in there.  . It wasn't really highway robbery that she won, but it was a surprise that has stood the test of time.


 2. The second biggest upset in Oscar history was in 1954, when Judy Garland was nominated for A Star is Born. She was actually [recovering from just giving birth] to Joey Luft the night of the Oscars, so a camera crew had gathered around her to film her acceptance speech from her hospital bed. The winner, however, was Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. Are you noticing a trend here? It's always the younger, prettier actress who wins -- it's still the case today. Grace Kelly had drabbed herself down for The Country Girl and proved she really had the chops, but most people thought she couldn't compare to Judy's incredible, luminous performance in A Star is Born. The problem, however, was that A Star Is Born was kind of a mess -- it was badly edited and just sort of all over the place -- and it didn't make much money. So Grace won and Judy sat there while the camera crew unplugged and left without saying a word. Poor Judy the loser.


3. In 1993, they announced Best Supporting Actress as Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny. This was one of the biggest shocks of all time. Not just in the Oscars but in history. She was up against four really grand divas with hoity-toity accents, where as Marisa was featuring sort of a pre-Jersey Shore demeanor in My Cousin Vinny. She was a gum-popping Guidette and beat out Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson. Conspiracy theories started immediately that they had read the wrong name, or that something really fishy had happened. But, like Judy Holliday, in retrospect, I don't think its horrible that she won. And she acquitted herself really well. She got two other nominations after that for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler, so she had the last laugh after that, proving herself to be a real Academy Award-type of actress. But, it really....people's jaws just dropped when she won. That had to have been rough for her...


Sunday, March 28, 2021

THE DARK SIDE OF JOAN DAVIS


I found this great article online from The Life And Times Of Hollywood blog. I do not believe they are publishing new articles anymore, but this is an interesting story...

Joan Davis was a comedienne that was in vaudeville, radio, film and television. She never achieved the success of fellow Comic actresses such as Lucille Ball, Ann Sothern or even Eve Arden. Her television show and one great Abbott & Costello film (Hold That Ghost) are what she is primarily remembered for today, however she had a much more extensive career.

Davis appeared in vaudeville with her then husband Sy Wills ( their act was much like Burns & Allen), did shorts then films, lots of radio even nightclubs. On her second attempt for a tv series, she tried to duplicate Lucille Ball’s success with I Married Joan which staggered for three years(1952-1955).

When I talked to those who worked with her including her television husband Jim Backus, her TV director John Rich, actor/ producer Sheldon Leonard, actress Hope Summers, actor Hal Smith ( Otis the drunk on Andy Griffith), actress Sandra Gould and others- one clear word was heard from all- asshole.

John Rich, whose extensive career as a legendary tv director for everything including the Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family and even as the owner/producer of McGyver( with Henry Winkler) detested Joan. John was young and caught what he though was a lucky break to become the primary director of the second year of I Married Joan.


“She was a bitch on wheels. An insecure diva. A drinker. One year with her and I couldn’t wait to get away. She had the aspirations of being Lucy but did not have that fundamental talent, ” Rich told us. ” She was an absolute nightmare. She was cruel to the crew and every actor- she even demanded that her own untalented daughter, was cast as her f**cking sister, for christsakes…”

The dislike between actor Jim Backus( later Thurston Howell III on Gilligans Island) made the unhappy relationship between Vivian Vance and William Frawley seem like a love affair. Backus absolutely detested Joan and the way she berated the crew and fellow actors. He told us that she even picked on the elderly Bernard Gorcey (Louie Dumbrowski of the Bowery Boys). We later talked to Sandra Gould (second Gladys Kravitz of Bewitched), Hope Summers (Clara on Griffith Show) and Hal Smith ( Otis the drunk) who confirmed her abuse of fellow actors).


When Backus’ contract was up in the third year, he ran for cover. Backus told us that she aspired to be Lucy although he said she was not disciplined. He also said that she tried to push the career of her daughter, Beverly Wills, who played her daughter. Backus claimed that her daughter- who looked like Joan and wanted to be a clone of her mother- was deeply troubled and often drank on the set.

Wills later tragically burned to death in her late mother’s Palm Springs home when falling asleep smoking a cigarette at the age of 30 in 1963 Her two young sons and grandmother ( Joan Davis’ mother) also died in the fire.

Backus and Davis had zero chemistry. on “I Married Joan” It was due to the fact that Davis and Backus HATED each other and it showed on screen.

Backus told us stories of Davis once slapping a little boy at a restaurant only because the child asked for an autograph and that she sued a beauty salon in Hawaii when in a fit of rage she knocked over a bottle of bleach.

Backus later wrote about Davis that “her psyche, if indeed she had one, was as dark and uncharted as the wide sargasso sea.”


According to the great producer, Paul Henning who created The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and wrote Burns and Allen- who had an early job writing the Rudy Vallee radio show had known Joan who appeared on Vallee’s show. He claimed that Joan and Eddie Cantor had a longtime affair in the 1940s. They had co-starred in two features, Show Business (1944) and If You Knew Susie (1948).

After I Married Joan, Davis attempted another pilot with her daughter that was never bought. She had ownership of I Married Joan which had become a juggernaut in syndication. With the dearth of other shows in syndication, stations had no choice to buy and repeat the series. Having become wealthy, Davis retired to a beautiful home in Palm Springs but died of a heart attack at the yong age of 53 in 1961, soon followed by her daughter, grandkids and her mother....



Sunday, March 21, 2021

HOLLYWOOD URBAN LEGEND: BUDDY EBSEN

URBAN LEGEND: Was Buddy Ebsen supposed to play The Tin Man in 1939's Wizard Of Oz

ANSWER: Definitely Yes!



As part of the shifting casting that often goes on in the lead-up to motion picture productions, the person first cast to play the Tin Woodman in MGM’s 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz was Ray Bolger. Buddy Ebsen (later to become familiar to generations of TV viewers as Jed clampett, the patriarch of The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom family), was originally intended for the role of the Scarecrow, but Ray Bolger eventually managed to convince MGM to allow him to swap parts with Ebsen (not, as is often claimed, because a clause in Bolger’s contract stipulated that he could play the part of the Scarecrow if MGM ever made The Wizard of Oz).

MGM initially had no idea exactly how to costume Ebsen for his role. They tried a variety of materials for his clothing (real tin, silver paper, cardboard covered with silver cloth) and makeup before finally settling on aluminum dust (applied over clown white) for the latter. When The Wizard of Oz began principal photography on 12 October 1938, Ebsen had finished all his costume and makeup tests, recorded his songs for the film soundtrack, and completed four weeks of rehearsal. Nine days later, he was rushed to the hospital and placed in an oxygen tent when his lungs failed. As Ebsen described the onset of symptoms in his autobiography:

"It was several days later when my cramps began. My first symptoms had been a noticeable shortness of breath. I would breathe and exhale and then get the panicky feeling I hadn’t breathed at all. Then I would gasp for another quick breath with the same result. My fingers began to cramp, and then my toes. For a time I could control this unusual cramping by forcibly straightening out my fingers and toes.

One night in bed I woke up screaming. My arms were cramping from my fingers upward and curling simultaneously so that I could not use one arm to uncurl the other. My wife tried to pull my arm straight with some success, just as my toes began to curl; then my feet and legs bent backward at the knees. I panicked. What was happening to me? Next came the worst. The cramps in my arms advanced into my chest to the muscles that controlled my breathing. If this continued, I wouldn’t even be able to take a breath. I was sure I was dying."


The aluminum dust used in Ebsen’s makeup had caused an allergic reaction or infection in his lungs that left him scarcely able to breathe, and he ended up spending two weeks in the hospital and another month recuperating in San Diego.

While Ebsen was recovering from his illness, producer Mervyn LeRoy hired Jack Haley to replace him. (The aluminum makeup was modified as well, changing from a powder that was brushed on to a paste that was painted on. Haley missed four days of filming when the new makeup caused an eye infection, but treatment was rendered in time to prevent any permanent damage.)

Because Ebsen had fallen ill away from the set, just before production was shut down for several days when original Oz director Richard Thorpe was fired, the rest of the cast was unaware of what happened to him. Haley and others assumed that he had been fired along with Thorpe. Although Ebsen was replaced before filming resumed, his voice can still be heard in the soundtrack, when the quartet of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion sings "We’re Off To See the Wizard"...



Wednesday, March 17, 2021

MOVIE REVIEW: TOP O' THE MORNING - PART TWO


Like many of Bing Crosby films, the singing was the major draw of the film. My favorite number was Bing singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”. Bing did not record the number for the movie soundtrack, but he did record it a few years before the film was made, on May 7, 1946. The songwriting team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke were commissioned to write new songs for the film, but only two songs were written. They wrote the title song “Top O’ The Morning”, which was my favorite song from the film. Bing must have liked the song too, because he sang it three times in the film. The songwriters also wrote a pretty forgettable ballad called “You’re In Love With Someone”, which Bing sang, and then it was sung later in the film as a duet with Bing and Ann Blyth. Rounding out the music were traditional Irish songs like “Kitty Coleraine”, “The Donovans”, and “Oh Tis Sweet To Think”.

Bing was in fine voice towards the end of the 1940s, and as always, he was his charming self in the movie, so he cannot be blamed for this misguided film. Bing did however personally selected David Miller as director of Top O’ the Morning.  Groucho Marx recommended him to Bing.  Miller had just completed what turned out to be the final Marx Brothers’ film.  It was Love Happy, the least revered of all the Brothers’ films. I think also movie audiences were changing as television was beginning to take hold.



Some of the critics liked the film though:

Bing Crosby, after two lush Technicolored musicals, has been handed a light, frothy and more moderately budgeted picture by Paramount to cavort in, which should put him once more at the top of that studio’s breadwinning list.
      …Under David Miller’s light-handed direction, Crosby and the rest of the cast fall right into the spirit of the story. Groaner, despite his having to play to a gal (Ann Blyth) who is so obviously younger, is socko. His easy way with a quip, combined with his fine crooning of some old Irish tunes and a couple of new ones, is solid showmanship.
      …Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen have cleffed two bright new tunes for the film, both of which, with Crosby to introduce them, should get plenty of play. “You’re in Love with Someone,” a ballad, has the edge but the other, “Top O’ the Morning,” has the lilt that Crosby fans go for. Crooner also gets a chance to dispense a round of traditional Irish airs, ranging from “Irish Eyes” to the lesser-known but more sprightly variety.
(Variety, July 20, 1949)

In my opinion, Top O’ The Morning is not a great Bing Crosby movie, but even a bad Bing film is worth viewing. The last fifteen minutes of the movie is the best, and some of the plot is pretty sinister for a lighthearted Bing film. Bing and the cast does the best they could with the script, and this film is worth watching. My copy came from a showing on AMC Network in 1998, and now TCM has also shown the film, so if you get a chance check out this slight Bing film. The film was not great but pleasant enough...

MY RATING: 6 OUT OF 10