Sunday, November 29, 2015


I have to admit I have never seen the 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life. I have seen parts of it, but not the whole movie. I vow I will try to remedy that this year! In the meantime here is what the New York Times thought of the film when it published this review on December 23, 1946...

The late and beloved Dexter Fellows, who was a circus press agent for many years, had an interesting theory on the theatre which suited his stimulating trade. He held that the final curtain of every drama, no matter what, should benignly fall upon the whole cast sitting down to a turkey dinner and feeling fine. Mr. Fellows should be among us to see Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," which opened on Saturday at the Globe Theatre He would find it very much to his taste.

For a turkey dinner, with Christmas trimmings, is precisely what's cooking at the end of this quaint and engaging modern parable on virtue being its own reward. And a whole slew of cozy small-town characters who have gone through a lot in the past two hours are waiting around to eat it—or, at least, to watch James Stewart gobble it up. For it is really Mr. Stewart, who does most of the heavy suffering in this film, and it is he who, in the end, is most deserving of the white meat and the stuffing.

That is because Mr. Capra, back from the war, has resumed with a will his previously manifest penchant for portraying folks of simple, homely worth. And in this picture about a young fellow who wants to break away from his small-town life and responsibilities but is never able to do so because slowly they close in upon him, Mr. Capra has gone all out to show that it is really a family, friends and honest toil that make the "wonderful life."

His hero is a personable fellow who wants to travel and do big things but ultimately finds himself running a building-and-loan association in a one-horse town, married and locked in constant struggle with the greedy old banker of the town. And when it finally looks as though the banker is about to drive him to ruin, he makes what appears a brash endeavor to take his own baffled life. Whereupon a heavenly messenger providentially intercedes and shows him, in fanciful fashion, what the town would have been like without him. The vision is so distressing that he returns to his lot with boundless joy — and is saved, also providentialy, by the financial assistance of his friends.

In composing this moralistic fable, Mr. Capra and his writers have tossed in a great abundance of colloquial incidents and emotional tangles of a mistful, humorous sort. The boyhood of his hero, the frolic at a high school dance, the clumsy pursuit of a courtship—all are shown in an entertaining way, despite the too frequent inclinations of every one to act juvenile and coy. And the heavier sections of the drama are managed in a tense, precipitate style.

As the hero, Mr. Stewart does a warmly appealing job, indicating that he has grown in spiritual stature as well as in talent during the years he was in the war. And Donna Reed is remarkably poised and gracious as his adoring sweet-heart and wife. Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, H. B. Warner and Samuel S. Hinds stand out among the group of assorted small-town characters who give the picture variety and verve. But Lionel Barrymore's banker is almost a caricature of Scrooge, and Henry Travers' "heavenly messenger" is a little too sticky for our taste.

Indeed, the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer's point of view, is the sentimentality of it—its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra's nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities. And Mr. Capra's "turkey dinners" philosophy, while emotionally gratifying, doesn't fill the hungry paunch...

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Classic movies are filled with talented African-American actors and actresses that unfortunately were only in minor roles such as butlers, servants, and porters. However an actress like Louise Beavers rose above the roles. Even though she is largely forgotten now, the appearances she made in moves are lasting reminders of the talented African-Americans whom were a part of classic Hollywood.

Louise Ellen Beavers was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 8, 1902, to school teacher Ernestine Monroe Beavers and William M. Beavers, who was originally from Georgia. Due to her mother's illness, Louise and her parents moved to Pasadena, California. In Pasadena, she attended school and engaged in several after school activities, such as basketball and church choir. Her mother also worked as a voice teacher and taught Louise how to sing for concerts. In June 1920, she graduated from Pasadena High School and “worked as a dressing room attendant for a photographer and served as a personal maid to white film star Leatrice Joy”.

There is some controversy as to how Beavers began her acting career. She was in a group called the Lady Minstrels who were "a group of young women who staged amateur productions and appeared on stage at the Loews State Theatre". It was either her performance in this group or in a contest at the Philharmonic Auditorium, which occurred later. Charles Butler from the Central Casting Bureau, who was known for being an agent for African American actors, saw the performance and recommended that Louise try out for a role for a movie.” At first she was hesitant to try out for movies because of how African Americans were portrayed in movies and how Hollywood encouraged these roles. She once said, “In all the pictures I had seen… they never used colored people for anything except savages.” Despite this, she tried out for a role in the film Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1927 and landed the part.

In 1934, Beavers played Delilah in Imitation of Life, a leading role that was not overshadowed by a white lead actor or actress. Her character again plays a black maid, but instead of the usual stereotype of subservience, Delilah's role in the story line is equivalent to the white lead. The public reacted positively to Beavers' performance. It was not only a breakthrough for Beavers, but was also “the first time in American cinema history that a black woman's problems were given major emotional weight in a major Hollywood motion picture”. Some in the media recognized the unfairness of Hollywood's double standard regarding race. For example, California Graphic Magazine wrote, “the Academy could not recognize Miss Beavers. She is black!”

Beavers, who was raised in the North and in California, had to learn to speak the southern “Negro” dialect. As Beavers' career grew, some criticized her for the roles she accepted, alleging that such roles institutionalized the view that blacks were subservient to whites. Beavers dismissed the criticism. She acknowledged the limited opportunities available, but said: "I am only playing the parts. I don't live them.” As she became more famous, Beavers began to speak out against Hollywood's portrayal and treatment of black Americans, both during production and after promoting the films.

Beavers was one of four actresses (including Hattie McDaniel, Ethel Waters, and Amanda Randolph) to portray housekeeper Beulah on the Beulah television show. That show was the first television sitcom to star a black person. She also played a maid, Louise, for the first two seasons of The Danny Thomas Show (1953–1955).

Later in her career, Beavers became active in public life, seeking to help support African Americans. She endorsed Robert S. Abbott, the editor of the Chicago Defender, who fought for black Americans' civil rights. She supported Richard Nixon, whom she believed would help black Americans in the United States in the civil rights battle.

In later life, the actress was plagued by health issues, including diabetes. She died on October 26, 1962, at the age of 60, following a heart attack, at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles; it was the 10th anniversary of the death of Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to win an Academy Award...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Just in time for Thanksgiving, here is a great receipe from actor Burgess Meredith (1907-1997). I did not know he could cook, but this dessert sounds really tasty...

Burgess Meredith's Grand Marinier Souffle

Place half of Vanilla Souffle mixture, as below, into a greased mold. Cut a layer of spongecake slices, dipping them into Grand Marinier liqueur. Line mold with slices, and cover with remaining half of Souffle. Bake in 325 degree oven for one hour. When serving, stir some whipped cream into a vanilla custard, and arrange on top. Add more Grand Marinier.

Vanilla Souffle:

1/3 cup flour
7 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 eggs, separated

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in saucepan. Pour milk in gradually, stirring briskly. Cook over low heat until smooth and thick. Add beaten egg yolks. Cool. Whip egg whites until frothy. Sprinkle with cream of tartar and continue whipping until whites are stiff. Add vanilla, and combine with first mixture.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


It all started on a Saturday afternoon in the early 1940s when my friend Betty and I went to a Baltimore theater to see The Singing Marine, starring Dick Powell. His good looks and romantic songs were more than I could resist!

Before the end of the movie, I was head over heels in love. I even saw the movie again—something I’d always considered a waste of money. Soon I found myself buying movie magazines and cutting out photos of Dick Powell, filling page after page in my scrapbook.

In the midst of this craze, Betty and I were invited to the home of a friend, Doris, for a picnic and swim. Her Uncle Leo from California was there for a visit, and I was surprised to learn that he was the producer of the Hopalong Cassidy serials.

“Do you know Dick Powell?” I blurted out.

“Sure,” Leo said.

“Can you get me an autographed photo?”

“Of course,” Leo assured. “And if you’re ever in Hollywood, give me a call and I’ll arrange a lunch date with Dick.” I nearly swooned at the thought.

A couple of years later, while attending the University of Maryland, I was lucky enough to be chosen as our sorority’s delegate to a convention in Pasadena. Taking advantage of the situation, I decided to stay the summer. I got a job at a department store at Hollywood and Vine and eventually moved in with the mother of one of my friends, a wonderful woman named Harriet.

I told Harriet about Leo, and she encouraged me to call him. When I did, Leo asked if I still wanted that lunch date with Dick Powell!

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Terrific!”

Harriet was thrilled, but I was scared to death! And of all places, we were going to the Brown Derby, where the movie stars hung out.

On the big day, Leo drove up in a snazzy Cadillac. As he opened the rear door for me, I could see the other man in the front seat was not Dick Powell.

“Dick couldn’t make it, Jane,” Leo apologized. “But I brought you another good-looking actor. I’m sure you’ve heard of…”

Flustered as I was, I didn’t catch the name! It sounded something like Donna or Andre, but it meant nothing to me. And I didn’t recognize his face.

All through lunch, people kept asking for his autograph. I tried reading the “chicken scratch” of his handwriting but couldn’t make out his name.

Later, when Leo drove me home, I was too embarrassed to ask the star’s name. Leo had done me such a big favor, I couldn’t let on my ignorance.

“Who was your date?” Harriet asked excitedly when I returned.

“I don’t know,” I confessed.

“You don’t know?” she gasped. “Jane, you had lunch with him.”

I explained the problem. With that, Harriet gathered up all her movie magazines for me to look through, but I couldn’t find his picture. It wasn’t until weeks later that I found a magazine with his photo and name.

Now I’ve enjoyed this fine actor’s films for decades. But back then, I have to admit, I wouldn’t have known Dana Andrews if I’d eaten lunch with him!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


The Thanksgiving film is a bit of a tricky wicket, as the Brits like to say. And to be honest I’m not sure why. The points of drama are pretty obvious: who among us, trapped in a car with parents who are starved for our attentions, has not seen the potential for an angsty comedy about the return home? But there aren’t actually that many Thanksgiving films of this kind — I guess they get overwhelmed by the Christmas releases, every year — and the ones that do pop up tend to be small indie efforts like The Myth of Fingerprints (I am always the only person who knows this one, but surely out there is another Noah Wyle completist who hears me). And no, I don’t count Hannah and Her Sisters as a Thanksgiving movie, because the element crucial to the Thanksgiving movie, it seems to me, is that people leave their big city lives behind, not simply transpose the holiday onto their cosmopolitan Upper West Side classic-six existences.

One of those small movies was Jodie Foster’s second directorial effort, Home for the Holidays. It was released in 1995 to little fanfare — the “directorial debut” publicity push having already been expended on Little Man Tate. I think I must have been so enamored of it because, at the time, I was deep in the throes of a Claire Danes obsession; My So-Called Life had recently gone off the air. Unfortunately for teenage me, she was only in the movie for about five minutes. Still, though I hadn’t (until this weekend) seen it since roughly the year 2000, I’ve always referred to it as my “favorite Thanksgiving movie.” I decided to revisit this opinion.

Well, it turns out that Home for the Holidays hasn’t aged well, which perhaps explains why it’s very hard to obtain. (Your intrepid reporter may or may not have watched it on YouTube.) The premise is this: Holly Hunter is an art restorer who has just been fired from her job as she heads home to Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft. Her brother, Robert Downey, Jr., arrives with his friend Dylan McDermott. Robert Downey, Jr., is clearly gay but the family prefers not to discuss it, particularly not sister Cynthia Stevenson, who is a Republican fond of Peter-Pan collared dresses. Dinner gets served, and grease-laden hijinks ensue.

I had somehow forgotten, in the intervening years, that the chief point of crisis in this film comes when Cynthia Stevenson makes a long speech about how disgusting it is that her brother married his lover. And I realize, in 1995, that wasn’t such an odd position for a family member to take. In fact, around that time I had a friend who came out and his terror at the rejection of his family seemed to us not only rational, but logical. Moreover, I’m quite aware that Jodie Foster, who apparently collaborated quite closely with the screenwriter, was not examining this particular kind of conflict from an abstract place. Even if she hadn’t experienced this kind of rejection personally, she was working from a place of knowing people who had.

But watching it now, it feels false, somehow, for the sister to quite literally complain that her brother kissed another man in public, and that she’s disgusted by it. I am fully prepared to own up to the privilege of that. But it’s a film-ruiner all the same.

We tend to think of the best movies as having a timeless quality. That belief is, in fact, pure bullshit; Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even Casablanca all bear pretty clear timestamps. They rely on time and place to flesh out the attitudes of the characters, and to elicit particular reactions from the audience. So Home for the Holidays is no different in that regard, I guess. It’s just that a Thanksgiving movie can only succeed if it manages, between all the family infighting and turkey throwing, to give you some flavor of just why we all engage in the ritual anyway. We want the sentiment of Thanksgiving — the ideal of the loud, noisy, boisterous-but-still-loving family to come through. And Home for the Holidays lacks it because it lets that one sister’s sourness ruin the whole. I guess that might be the truth, but it certainly doesn’t make me ever want to go home again...

Monday, November 16, 2015


Legendary actor Mickey Rooney appeared in over 300 films and before his death in 2014 was one of the last remaining stars of the silent film era. However, the last years of Mickey Rooney's life weren't peaceful or quiet, they were tragic and violent. The Hollywood Reporter's Gary Baum and Scott Feinberg report on Rooney's last years and how his family exploited and abused him until the end.

The alleged wrongdoing and how it went on for so long has been a mystery — until now. Five years after that interview, and more than a year after the star's death, an investigation by "The Hollywood Reporter" (uncovering legal documents, witness testimony and financial records that never before have been publicized) indicates Rooney's life was more abusive than he let on while he was alive. What's more, the trouble persisted until he died in April 2014 in a Studio City rental, with only $18,000 to his name. (Rooney's body rests at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where many legendary movie stars are buried.)

Just weeks after Chris was served with a restraining order on Valentine's Day in 2011 accusing him of financially exploiting Rooney as his business manager, the actor flew to Washington, D.C. Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Special Aging Committee, had read press reports that a conservator for Rooney was pursuing elder-abuse charges, and he invited Rooney to testify about what he'd been through. As a transcript of that hearing reveals, Rooney, without naming names, tearfully explained that he'd himself been a victim of the increasingly common crime, stripped "of the ability to make even the most basic decisions about my life," leading to an "unbearable" and "helpless" daily existence. In a process that began after Rooney confided in a Disney executive during filming of 2011's "The Muppets," Rooney's attorneys filed court papers in their petition for a conservator (to protect him and recover his assets) that revealed the extent of the control — he wasn't even allowed to buy food or carry identification. 

For her part, Jan, 76, who now lives with Chris at his house (and receives $100,000 a year from Rooney's SAG pension and Social Security benefits), insists that she has been falsely accused and characterizes her late husband's Senate testimony as coerced and unreliable. "Mickey was a 90-year-old man who was in and out of it mentally and was easily influenced by other people," she explains. Only now will the public learn that the alleged debasement was not just financial but physical, too. Numerous family members and others close to Rooney say the small-statured actor frequently was abused by Jan, his wife of 36 years, who weighed twice what he did. "THR" also has learned that she was struggling with mental health issues during this time. 

These close acquaintances also say Rooney — who himself was arrested in 1997 by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department on suspicion of hitting Jan during a fight (the case was dropped) — was bloodied and bruised in multiple altercations, in his final years emerging as a feeble man lying to his doctor about why he was being treated for this black eye or that missing tooth. While Rooney always denied spousal abuse, multiple sources tell "THR" that, when confronted, Jan herself acknowledged assaults. In a long interview with "THR" via email, Jan is adamant that "I never physically abused Mickey, but we had some minor pushing scuffles, tempers flared when we were angry. Sometimes it was his fault, sometimes mine. We always made up."


Saturday, November 14, 2015


One of my all-time favorite classic Hollywood stars was and is Charlie Chaplin. Even though he is a comedian, his movies have brought me to laughter, shed massive tears, and look at the world in a different way. Here are some of my favorite quotes from this artistic genius...

"We think too much and feel too little."

"A day without laughter is a day wasted."

"Nothing is permanent in this wicked world - not even our troubles."

"I love to walk in the rain so no one can see my tears"

"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot."

"A man's true character comes out when he's drunk."

"A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure."

"What do you want a meaning for? Life is a desire, not a meaning."

“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”

"Words are cheap. The biggest thing you can say is 'elephant'."

"I do not have much patience with a thing of beauty that must be explained to be understood. If it does need additional interpretation by someone other than the creator, then I question whether it has fulfilled its purpose."

“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.”

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity; more than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”

"As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where everything is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”."

"Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the headless monster, a great, brutish idiot that goes where prodded."

"I am at peace with God. My conflict is with Man."...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


In honor of Veteran's Day and the men and women that have given their lives for us through the years, I wanted to list some of the classic Hollywood stars that have served their country so bravely...

Humphrey Bogart: Sailor, U.S. Navy
He enrolled at age 18 after being expelled from prep school and was, according to naval records, a model sailor who spent most of his months after World War I ended ferrying troops back from Europe. Bogart supposedly got his trademark scar from a shrapnel wound while at sea, leading to his characteristic lisp.

Ronald Reagan: Captain, U.S. Army
Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve during peacetime (1937) and was already a Second Lieutenant when war broke out. He reported for active duty in 1942. His nearsightedness prevented him from serving overseas, however, and he spent the war doing armed forces PR in Culver City, California.

Jimmy Stewart: Brigadier General, U.S. Army
Having enlisted before Pearl Harbor, Stewart was the first major American movie star to don a uniform in World War II. An avid pilot, Stewart already had his pilot's license and hours of pre-war flying experience. After he began flying combat missions, he was quickly promoted to Major and then Colonel, eventually becoming a Brigadier General after the war in the Reserves.

Clark Gable: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps
Enlisted after the tragic death of wife Carole Lombard in 1942. Spent most of the war in the U.K. making recruiting films on "special assignment." He did fly some combat missions, however, and earned a few medals. Adolf Hitler was a fan, sort of: He offered a price on Gable's head if anyone captured him, unharmed.

Henry Fonda: Quartermaster, U.S. Navy
Enlisted at the peak of his career in 1942, declaring, "I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio." Served for three years on the destroyer USS Satterlee and was later commissioned as a Lt. Junior Grade in Air Combat Intelligence and was awarded a Presidential Citation and the Bronze Star.

Paul Newman: Radioman/Gunner, U.S. Navy
Enrolled in a Navy program, hoping to become a pilot, but was ineligible due to color-blindness. He instead became a radioman and gunner, stationed to torpedo bombers in Hawaii in 1944. He was on the USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater.

Kirk Douglas: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
In his autobiography 'The Ragman's Son,' Douglas related that he applied for the Air Force, but failed their psychological test. He was able to join the Navy despite less-than-perfect eyesight, and became a Communications Officer in antisubmarine warfare. He received a medical discharge for war injuries in 1944.

George C. Scott: Guard/Instructor, U.S. Marines
Scott served the USMC from 1945 until 1949, and was assigned to the 8th and I Barracks in Washington, D.C, where he served as a guard at Arlington National Cemetery (a duty that drove him to drink, he said years later). He also taught English literature at the Marine Corps Institute.

Gene Hackman: Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps
In 1946 at 16 (he lied about his age), the future 'Unforgiven' star left home to join the Marines, where he reportedly served four-and-a-half years as a field radio operator.  Hackman's stint included assignments in China, Japan and Hawaii. His first showbiz gig was as a DJ on the Armed Forces Network.

Steve McQueen: Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps
Joined up in 1947 and was quickly promoted to Private First Class, but -- much in keeping with his future tough-guy film image -- was demoted seven times due to insubordination. He also spent 41 days in the brig for going AWOL to be with his girlfriend. He eventually shaped up, saving the lives of five other Marines, and was honorably discharged in 1950.

Clint Eastwood: Swimming Instructor, U.S. Army
Drafted in 1950, during the Korean War. He was stationed at Fort Ord in California, where, thanks to his lifeguard training, he served as a swimming instructor. He saw the most action on leave: In 1951, a bomber he was in crashed in the ocean near Point Reyes. He and the pilot swam three miles to shore, a more-than-adequate prep for his role in 'Escape From Alcatraz.'

James Earl Jones: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army
During college, he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps and became a cadet in the Pershing Rifles Drill Team. Although the Korean War was underway, Jones wasn't activated until 1953. He says he was "washed out" of Ranger training and was instead sent to establish a cold weather training unit in Colorado...


Monday, November 9, 2015


One of the most beautiful and mysterious of all the beauties of classic Hollywood was Hedy Lamarr. Her beauty was timeless, but she was born on this day in 1914. Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, the only child of Emil Kiesler and his wife Gertrude (Lichtwitz) Kiesler. Her mother was a pianist and Budapest native who came from the "Jewish haute bourgeoisie". Stephen Michael Shearer, a Lamarr biographer, asserts that Lamarr's mother had converted from Judaism to Catholicism and was a "practicing Christian". Lamarr's father, a banker, was a secular Jew born in Lemberg.

In early 1933, at age 18, she starred in Gustav MachatĂ˝'s film, Ecstasy (Extase in German and Czech), which was filmed in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Lamarr’s role was that of a neglected young wife married to an indifferent older man. The film became notorious for showing Lamarr's face in the throes of orgasm as well as close-up and brief nude scenes in which she is seen swimming and running through the woods.

Friedrich Mandl, her first husband, objected to what he felt was exploitation of his wife and "the expression on her face" during the simulated orgasm. He purportedly bought up as many copies of Ecstasy as he could find in an attempt to restrict its public viewing. In her autobiography, she insists that all sexual activity in the film was simulated, and the orgasm was achieved using "method acting reality". The authenticity of passion was attained by the film director's off-screen manipulation of a safety pin strategically poking her bottom. Lamarr had married Mandl at the age of 19 on 10 August 1933. Reputed to be the third richest man in Austria, Mandl was a munitions manufacturer. In her autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Lamarr described Mandl as extremely controlling, preventing her from pursuing her acting career and keeping her a virtual prisoner, confined to their castle home, Schloss Schwarzenau. Although half-Jewish himself, Mandl had close social and business ties to the fascist governments of Italy and Nazi Germany, selling munitions to Mussolini.

Lamarr wrote that Mussolini and Hitler had attended lavish parties hosted at the Mandl home. Mandl had her accompany him to business meetings, where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences were her introduction to the field of applied science and the ground that nurtured her latent talent in science.

After escaping her husband, she fled to Paris in 1937 where she met Louis B. Mayer, who was scouting for talent in Europe. Mayer hired her but insisted that she change her name to Hedy Lamarr—she had been known as "the Ecstasy lady"—choosing the surname in homage to the beautiful silent film star, Barbara La Marr, who had died in 1926 from tuberculosis. Upon arriving in Hollywood in 1938, Mayer promoted her as the "world's most beautiful woman."

She received good reviews for her American film debut in Algiers (1938) with Charles Boyer, who asked that Lamarr be cast after meeting her at a party. In Hollywood, she was invariably cast as the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origins. Lamarr played opposite the era's most popular leading men. Her many films include Boom Town (1940) with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, Comrade X with Gable, White Cargo (1942), Tortilla Flat (1942) with Tracy and John Garfield, H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) with Robert Young, and Dishonored Lady (1947)...

Saturday, November 7, 2015


This time around we are printing the review of Eddie Cantor's last feature film If You Knew Susie (1948). I don't have the author's name, but the review is well written and his blog link is below the story...

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy If You Knew Susie (1948). This movie is interesting for several reasons. For one, it’s Cantor’s last starring role. While still as popular as ever on radio, his film career had been grinding to a halt for over a decade. The sparkling, fast-paced, Goldwyn/ Busby Berkley musicals of the early 30s were far behind him now. He was already having difficulty solving his film career when World War 2 came along to interrupt things still further.

By 1948, Cantor was 56 years old, and he needed a different character from the fast-talking, brash but timid New York street kid. These were years of reinvention for him. The Cantor of If You Knew Susie was the one Americans knew from his late radio and tv work, a post-war presence not unlike so many others, a middle class, middle aged family man not worlds away from Bing Crosby, Perry Como or Danny Thomas.

Thus, though the title of If You Knew Susie is cribbed by one of Cantor’s most popular, iconic hits of the 1920s, it doesn’t evoke the spirit of that era at all. It merely has that name because it’s the name of the character played by his co-star Joan Davis. Fellow radio star Davis had also co-starred with Cantor in his previous film Show Business (1944), and the two were said to be having a long term affair (so much for the family man!) In Susie, the couple play a pair of retired vaudevillians who move to a small Connecticut town where every one shuns them for being showfolk. Then they just happen to stumble on a latter from George Washington that seems to indicate that he knew Eddie’s ancestor — and owed him money. In the world of the film, this ingratiates him with the locals whose families have all lived there since Colonial times. And truly, this is a FASCINATING bellwether of the tenor of the post-war period. On the one hand, there is an obvious eye-winking joke about Cantor’s Jewish identity: Washington BORROWED MONEY from him? Really? On the other hand, his Jewish identity is buried. His last name is Parker, and as far as the film is concerned he’s as white bread as everyone else. This kind of conformity was the spirit of the age, a definite leap backward from the expansiveness of the 20s and 30s. Even the fact that the Parkers have put show business behind them, and are seeking to ingratiate themselves with the establishment hierarchy. Is the movie funny? Mildly. But mostly you just want the two characters to tell their neighbors to go to hell...


Wednesday, November 4, 2015


In 1952, the movie industry was in a sharp decline.

"Nobody knew what to do," says journalist Henry Scott. "Revenues had fallen sharply, Americans were watching TV and going bowling — so that alarmed execs. And the specter of anti-communist investigations ... hadn't gone away."

The same year, "girlie magazine" publisher Robert Harrison decided to launch a gossip rag all about Hollywood celebrities called Confidential. The subhead of Confidential — "names the names" — is exactly what the magazine did: It called out celebrities who were in the closet, in rehab or having marital problems.

"They were sleazy and accurate," says Scott, who details the ups and downs of Confidential in his new book, Shocking True Story. "They also printed a little less than they knew — they might not choose to mention that the woman [in an affair] was 14. If the man said, 'We'll sue,' they said, 'We'll mention she was a minor.' "

Confidential specialized in spreading gossip about huge Hollywood stars — and making sure the facts were right. When Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were on the cover of Life magazine, for example, Confidential ran a cover story saying Arnaz had an affair with a prostitute. (Which was true, but it had happened years earlier.)

Journalist Henry Scott says that in a time when celebrities' public and private lives were more clearly differentiated, Confidential changed the way Americans viewed their movie stars.Joyce Ravid

The magazine also used innuendo to talk about celebrities indirectly.

"When they wrote about Lizabeth Scott," says Henry Scott (no relation), "they didn't say she was a lesbian. They said she preferred the company of babes."

Confidential alluded to the sexuality of a number of celebrities, among them Tab Hunter — and hired a former Los Angeles cop named Fred Otash to wire Rock Hudson's home.

"Otash had access to conversations where [Hudson] confesses to having sex with a man and talked at length about his life," says Scott. "The studios prevailed on Confidential not to write it, and said they'd give them a story of Rory Calhoun instead. Calhoun was a small-time criminal, and [Confidential] wrote a story about his secret criminal life. But instead of hurting him, [the story] made [Calhoun] into a tough guy."

Other Confidential headlines include a dinner party where Robert Mitchum removed all of his clothes — and an incident involving a broken door, a hotel room, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra.

Scott says the magazine changed the way America viewed movie stars.

"In the '40s and '50s, we had public lives and private lives," Scott explains. "The way we looked at the world was influenced by movie theaters. Movie theaters say gays didn't exist and that cheaters would be punished. There were very rigid, unrealistic codes that movies projected. So [Confidential] helped show the real image of America."
The magazine ended its publication in 1978...

Monday, November 2, 2015


Bing Crosby and Al Rinker had been together in a Jazz band in Spokane, Washington while in college. The band was so popular that the two dropped out of college and drove Rinker's Model T to Los Angeles where Rinker's sister, Mildred Bailey, who was a Jazz singer was working. Shortly after their arrival in Los Angeles they landed a gig on the vaudeville circuit, as a vocal act. Some members of Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, caught their act and recommended them to Whiteman who hired them in October of 1926.

While waiting to join Whiteman's Orchestra they made their first record "I've Got the Girl" with Don Clark's Orchestra ( (a former member of Whiteman's Orchestra) at The Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles (506 South Grand Ave.). Bing and Al then joined the Whiteman Orchestra in Chicago, where they made their first records with Whiteman. At first, things didn't go well for Crosby and Rinker. Whiteman's audience didn't like them and the theatre manager where they were playing at the time asked that they be dropped from the act, but rather than drop them, Whiteman added a young singer and song writer, Harry Barris to the act. The act was billed as the Rhythm Boys. The trio sang in three part harmony with both Rinker and Barris playing piano. Barris wrote a song called "Mississippi Mud" which became a hit with the Whiteman Orchesta and featured Bix Beiderbecke on cornet.

After awhile, Whiteman and Crosby were not getting along. Bing drank a lot had landed in jail a couple of times. He missed some of the filming of Whiteman's movie "King Of Jazz," after being involved in an auto accident while driving drunk. Whiteman pulled some strings and got Bing released from the jail. Crosby was escorted in handcuffs to the studio by a police officer whenever he was scheduled to appear in the film. After the movie was completed in 1930, Whiteman fired them. The Rhythm Boys then joined the Gus Arnheim Orchestra at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. Bing was featured more and more as a soloist, and in 1931, Bing recorded his first solo hit, I Surrender, Dear with Gus Arnheim and his Cocoanut Grove Orchestra.

Radio broadcasts from the Cocoanut Grove made Bing a star, but his wild ways caused him to start missing performances, and Crosby's pay was docked. The Rhythm Boys quit playing at the club, but the local musicians' union banned them from playing, which caused the Rhythm Boys to call it quits. Bing's solo career soared after the Rhythm Boys broke up. Crosby went on to become one of the biggest stars of Twentieth century. The Rhythm Boys performed only one more time, in 1943, on a radio broadcast called Paul Whiteman Presents...