Friday, July 31, 2020


Yes, we will always have the films. But the stars are mostly gone — with due respect to the few who remain, de Havilland was our strongest surviving link to the Golden Age. The era has truly ended.

Of all that happened in her eventful life, Olivia de Havilland is best remembered for her role as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone With The Wind (1939). This is unfair for two reasons. Memorable as she is in GWTW, it is by no means her finest role. Her countless fans will point to the two roles that won her Academy Awards, the two others (besides the supporting role in GWTW) that won her nominations, and more. The second reason is that her legacy goes beyond her roles. Film historians, even law historians and labour activists, will point to the De Havilland Law.

De Havilland, who died this week at age 104, fought the system — and won. In 1943, when Hollywood’s powerful studios controlled the fate of actors, Warner Brothers refused to let her go at the end of their seven-year contract. The studio tagged extra time to the contract to compensate for periods when she had not been working. She sued in a California court, leading to the landmark 1944 ruling — informally known as the De Havilland Law — that the years in the contract mean calendar years. It loosened forever the studios’ grip on actors.

From her life, that is the biggest takeaway. From her death, the big takeaway is sobering: The Golden Age of Hollywood is slipping away. Yes, we will always have the films. But the stars are mostly gone — with due respect to the few who remain, de Havilland was our strongest surviving link to the Golden Age. The era has truly ended.

We are at that stage of history when this was inevitable. Actors who were old enough to play the lead when talking pictures arrived (not de Havilland, who was 11 when the first sound film released in 1927) would have been at least 110 today if it were possible to live that long (Greta Garbo, for example, would have turned 115 this year). Those old enough to have played the lead towards the end of the Golden Age (mid-1960s or thereabouts) will now be at least in their 70s, and more likely in their 80s or 90s. Or gone already.

Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis, de Havilland’s closest friend in the industry, left in the 1980s. Barbara Stanwyck and Audrey Hepburn died in the 1990s, Gregory Peck and Katharine Hepburn in the 2000s, and Elizabeth Taylor and Lauren Bacall in the following decade. Then Kirk Douglas and now de Havilland have left in the very beginning of the 2020s — both of them past 100.

How many are still with us? An online search throws up long lists that bring a false sense of relief. Most of the names, it turns out, are of actors who played smaller roles, or who were child actors during the Golden Age. Indeed, every link is vital in a vanishing chain, including Mickey Kuhn, now 87, who played Melanie’s young son in GWTW 81 years ago. But it’s the stars we want to count.

I found about a dozen names more familiar than others. Two of the bigger ones are Angela Lansbury and Jane Powell, both in their 90s now. Five others will be familiar to fans of Alfred Hitchcock — six if you count his daughter Patricia, now 92, who appeared in three of his films. Vera Miles, 90, is Marion Crane’s sister from Psycho (1960) and Henry Fonda’s disturbed wife from The Wrong Man (1956). Shirley MacLaine, 86, made her debut in Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry (1955). Tippi Hedren of The Birds (1962) and Marnie (1964) is now 90. Kim Novak of Vertigo (1958) is 87.

The most important among them is Eva Marie Saint, who turned 96 on July 4, three days after de Havilland turned 104. Saint was in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) with Cary Grant (died 1986), and in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954) with Marlon Brando (died 2004). We saw Saint at the Oscars in 2018, as a presenter. Cherish these moments, for a day will come, inevitably, when we will have only their films.

De Havilland never did a Hitchcock film. Her sister Joan Fontaine (died 2013 at age 96) did two, winning an Academy nomination for Rebecca (1940) and bagging the award for Suspicion (1942). They remain the only siblings to have each won one or more Academy Awards. Joan got there first, beating Olivia in the 1942 race, but this is not the time to reflect on their famed sibling rivalry. For today, we only have their films...

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


Here is a great story that was originally published on The Vintage Bandstand blog. It is much better than anything I could write...

Forgotten crooner Johnnie Johnston was born in St. Louis in 1915 (he was just a few days older than Frank Sinatra, and so 2015 marks the centenary of his birth as well), Johnnie Johnston had a beautiful light baritone voice, which, together with his attractive looks, made him a natural to pursue a career as an entertainer. In the 1930s he began a short tenure as the vocalist with the sweet band of Art Kassel, but it was actually his radio and nightclub appearances that would make Hollywood and the record industry beckon. Therefore, Johnston—whose first name was occasionally spelled "Johnny"—soon found himself appearing in low-budget musicals such as Sweater Girl, Incendiary Blonde, and You Can't Ration Love. He was also cast in more important productions, notably Star-Spangled Rhythm, with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and This Time for Keeps, alongside Esther Williams and Xavier Cugat. In time he would even appear in one of the first and most popular rock'n'roll movies, Rock Around the Clock (1956), but by then his star had pretty much waned.

In 1942, Johnston became one of the first artists to be signed to the fledgling Capitol Records label and scored hits with "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year," "(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings," and "One More Dream." In 1945, his version of the haunting David Raksin and Johnny Mercersong, "Laura" peaked at number 5 on the Billboard charts for five weeks, and suddenly it seemed that Johnston had come to stay. Being slated to sing a couple of songs in the star-studded 1946 Jerome Kernbiopic, Till the Clouds Roll By, with Sinatra, Lena Horne, and Judy Garland, among many others, certainly could not hurt, but here is where the Johnston story starts going awry. After filming two medleys with his future wife, Kathryn Grayson, Johnston seems to have gotten into a serious row with studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, which ultimately led to the deletion of his scenes from the final cut of the movie. Just why this argument came about is unclear seventy years later; Edward Chase, who wrote the liner notes for the only CD release of Johnston's recordings currently available, describes it in rather vague

"Then, so the story has it, Louis B. Mayer came onto the set, where Johnston, perhaps carried away with his incipient success, proceeded in a jocular way, and with coarse language, to humiliate him. The upshot was that Mayer, unforgiving, summarily dismissed him from the film, and ordered the actor's two completed scenes to be deleted from the final cut."

It is unclear why a newcomer like Johnston would feel that it was a good idea to "humiliate" a powerful man like Mayer, but whatever actually happened that day on the set, this run-in with the studio boss definitely hurt Johnston's career. Not only was he cut from the movie, but his subsequent recordings for MGM after leaving Capitol did not sell well, and Johnston never recaptured the momentum he had gained with "Laura" and his previous hit records. In 1947, following their meeting on the set of Till the Clouds Roll By, Johnston and Kathryn Grayson married, but their marriage only lasted until 1951. That same year Johnston starred in the Broadway production A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a very promising show based on a novel by Betty Smith and with a score by none other than Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields. The show, however, was a flop from which Johnston's career would never recover, and other than his appearance in Rock Around the Clock, his work would be limited to occasional television spots and a few nightclub dates. According to his New York Times obituary, Johnston had come out of retirement very seldom (for instance, to perform at Capitol Records' fortieth-anniversary party), and by the time of his death in 1996 in Cape Coral, Florida, he had been married six times...

Saturday, July 25, 2020


Here is another guest post from the music guru blogger at the Geezer Music Club. You can read his great writings HERE...

Although his orchestra was enormously popular in its day, Eddy Duchin would probably not be a recognizable name to most current music fans except for one thing. A few years after his death, Hollywood star Tyrone Power portrayed him in The Eddy Duchin Story, a very colorful tale of his life that even today occasionally shows up on TV.

Like most Hollywood efforts the movie was often inventive, but it did get the big stuff right. Born and raised in the Boston area, Duchin had trained as a pharmacist but moved to New York in the early 1930s, determined to become a professional musician. Although he lacked a classical music education and was a long way from being a piano virtuoso, he managed to catch on and begin his rise up the ranks.

Along the way, he became a darling of the society crowd and even married into it, in the person of socialite Marjorie Oelrichs (played by Kim Novak in the movie). Tragically, she died shortly after giving birth to the couples’ son in 1937. Duchin himself was also destined for a short life, dying from leukemia at just age 40 in 1951. (Ironically, Tyrone Power would also die young — at age 44 — just a couple of years after making the movie.)

Although Duchin did find a certain measure of success during his short lifetime, his strongest legacy might have been his son, Peter Duchin, who would go on to a good career of his own as a musician and writer.

One interesting tune that — not surprisingly — didn’t make the movie soundtrack was “Ol’ Man Mose,” a song the band recorded in 1938 with a vocal by Patricia Norman. Some listeners thought the singer slipped in a very naughty word when she was singing about Mose’s ‘bucket’. Whether it was true or just a trick of the ear didn’t seem to matter. The record ended up being banned in some areas, but was one of the band’s biggest sellers...

Saturday, July 18, 2020


Amazingly this dress from 1945's Mildred Pierce sold for $27,500 in 2016. Despite being a stunning piece of movie memorabilia, it has beenre-dyed at some point in its history and therefore, biddersshowed reluctance.

The dress was originally white, but was dyed to a flesh colour at Warner Bros., presumably for use in another film. It has also been altered and the original belt was missing, replaced with a later example.

Mildred Pierce (1945) was directed by Casablanca's Michael Curtiz, and is considered Joan Crawford's defining role. Her first film for Warner Bros. after leaving MGM, it earned her the Best Actress award at the 1946 Academy Awards, as well as the title of Queen of the Movies...

Monday, July 13, 2020


By the end of the Second World War, subtle radio comedy was becoming as hard to find as an unfurnished apartment, a new pair of nylons, or a porterhouse steak. The war years had brought with them a bold, brassy style of humor that asked no questions and took no prisoners — with a machine-gun tempo and a Sherman Tank aggressiveness, the radio comics of the early postwar era beat their listeners over the ears with jokes and gags and made them like it.

The comedy characters who emerged from this era were every bit as outrageous as the material itself, wild, exaggerated caricatures of every possible human frailty — the cartoonish, vaudevillian denizens of Allen’s Alley, the flyspecked habitués of Duffy’s Tavern, the screaming pop-eyed stooges who surrounded Bob Hope and Eddie Cantor and Abbott and Costello. There was nothing realistic or nuanced about these characters — they had no grounding in the real world. They were caricatures, pure and simple, and the audiences of the time understood them as such, existing only for the sake of laughs. And perhaps no program of the era captured this zeitgeist of unrestrained lunacy quite so well as The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.

By the time bandleader Phil Harris and his recently-retired movie star wife Alice Faye converted the long-running Sunday night Fitch Bandwagon program from a musical variety format to a situation comedy, Phil had been playing a zany comic caricature for nearly a decade as a member of Jack Benny’s troupe. Here was the conceited, hard-drinking curly-haired pretty-boy entertainer in all his glory, traits painted in such broad strokes that audiences genuinely believed Phil Harris to be an irredeemable reprobate of the first water — except he never touched anything so pedestrian as water.

But adapting this caricature to a situation comedy format posed a problem. Harris and Faye proposed to do a family comedy, presenting themselves as a real-life married couple, with two young children. And with kids in the picture, Harris’s zany booze-fueled antics suddenly didn’t seem so funny. Writers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher solved the problem by turning Phil into the straight man for an even more outrageous caricature — the shiftless, scheming, childishly-irresponsible left-handed guitar player Frankie Remley.

Remley was a real man, a real member of the Harris orchestra and a close personal friend of Jack Benny, who began dropping random Remley gags into his program in the late 1930’s. These jokes, accumulating over several years, sketched a basic outline which Connelly and Mosher used as the foundation for a fully-developed character, brought to vivid life by the brilliant Elliot Lewis. As developed by Connelly and Mosher, and as expanded upon by the subsequent writing team of Ray Singer and Dick Chevillait, Frankie Remley wasn’t just a lazy, shiftless, no-account bum — he was the laziest, most shiftless, most no-account bum who ever lived. Lewis’s full-tilt performance in the role perfectly captured the characterization in the scripts — bringing Remley to life as a man who ricocheted from one mishap to another, all the while blissfully oblivious to the chaos he left in his wake. And next to a creature of such barbarous habits, even Phil Harris seemed just a bit more responsible, and thus more believable and acceptable as a parent of young children. It was a master stroke of character development that perfectly fit the mood of the times, and which created some of radio’s most hilarious moments.

The supporting characters who populated the Harris-Faye program were just as broadly drawn as the central figures. Three prominent adversaries stood in the path of whatever mayhem Phil and Frankie might be scheming up in any given week — and each of those characters was exaggerated to the extreme. The most prominent of these characters, the malevolent grocery boy Julius Abruzzio, was a sassy, vest-pocket delinquent who viciously and methodically tormented Phil and Frankie for the sheer joy it brought to his otherwise tedious life. He needed no other motive, he displayed no other traits. Actor Walter Tetley had made an entire career out of playing smart-mouthed kids, but with Julius he raised the stereotype to its ultimate degree. In keeping with the usual Harris-Faye Show pattern, he wasn’t just another brat, he was The Worst Brat Who Ever Lived, and audiences invariably screamed with delight as he made his weekly entrance.

Continuing along those same lines, the second great adversary on the program was Willie, Alice’s brother, who served as her business manager and general factotum — and who never missed an opportunity to look down his nose at Phil and Frankie and their nonsense of the week. Portrayed by Broadway character actor Robert North, and later by film comedian John Hubbard, as a mincing, officious Franklin Pangbornesque flibbertigibbet, Willie was the ultimate caricature of the irritating, meddling, live-in brother-in-law.

These were the basic ingredients, a volatile blend of exaggerated personality types destined for comic conflict, and each week they were plunged into plotlines every bit as outrageous. What happens when Frankie tries to beat the meat shortage by buying his own cow? How about Phil and Frankie deciding to develop new drugs for Rexall with a kitchen-table chemistry set? Or when Frankie becomes the manager of a hard-boiled lady wrestler? Or when Phil replaces the blower motor on the furnace with a war-surplus wind tunnel? Or when Phil and Frankie try to cook a fifty-four pound turkey for Thanksgiving? What if Phil and Frankie buy an old trunk with a dead body in it? No subtlety here, no heartwarming special moments, just raw, untamed, wide-open comedy — just what postwar America wanted most. When Singer and Chevillait took over the program in 1948, it reached its zenith, with each episode more unpredictable than the one before. The writers were given free rein, with minimal editorial control by Harris and Faye, who were perfectly willing to engage in whatever nonsense they cooked up each week.

The sort of comedy the Harris-Faye Show specialized in couldn’t last. It was too wild, too undisciplined to sustain itself over the long term, especially with the shift in the national mood during the early 1950’s. Zaniness faded from favor, and warm, lovable families were back in vogue. Security and responsibility and gentle chuckles were coming back in style — and a world like that had no place for Phil and Frankie, their friends, and their enemies. By 1954, the series was on its last legs, and it never had a chance of moving to television.

But the Harris-Faye Show lives on today, a consistent favorite among old-time-radio enthusiasts. While many radio comedy programs seem corny or dated to present-day listeners, the Harris-Faye style of comedy stands out as startlingly modern — sardonic, self-referential, and self-aware, as much a sharp parody of the conventions of family comedy as it is an actual family comedy. What made it the perfect expression of its own era makes it equally appealing to audiences six decades later....

Tuesday, July 7, 2020


URBAN LEGEND: When comedian Jimmy Durante would refer to "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash" at the end of his performances, he was refering to his deceased wife.

: Yes, it is true.

The mysterious "Mrs. Calabash" was indeed Jimmy's late wife Jeanne Olson, but "Calabash" was a reference to Calabasas, California, where she was hospitalized in her later years. His first love was Jeanne, whom he married on June 19, 1921. She was born in Ohio on August 31, 1896. She was 46 years old when she died on Valentine's Day in 1943, after a lingering heart ailment of about two years, although different newspaper accounts of her death suggest she was 45 or perhaps 52. As her death was not immediately expected, Durante was touring in New York at the time and returned to Los Angeles right away to complete the funeral arrangements.

Jimmy confirmed in a 1966 interview with the National Pres Club, that "Mrs. Calabash" was indeed a tribute to his first wife...

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Our guest reviewer Bruce Kogan is back for his usual excellent review. This time around he reviews a silent film...

Feel My Pulse casts Bebe Daniels. as a rich girl who because of her parents' fear of germs has been raised like a hothouse geranium. Howard Hughes or television's Adrian Monk has nothing on her.

Because of some 'excitement; it's decided that Daniels needs a rest cure and the family has endowed a sanitarium located on an an offshore island. But the mental health field just ain't that lucrative and the one they put in charge of the place has turned it over to William Powell and a gang of rum runners. Remember this is the time of Prohibition.

One of Powell's gang is roughneck Richard Arlen and while Daniels may have led a sheltered life she sure knows what she likes in men. Though the two don't hit it off at first she comes around.

The film is directed by Gregory LaCava and he would go on to direct William Powell in one of his greatest films My Man Godfrey. When he decides to play along with Daniels and treat her like a patient in her own sanitarium notice his body language. It really does look like Godfrey Park in My Man Godfrey.

The climax is hysterical as Daniels shrugs off all the inhibitions her hot house upbringing has given her. Can't say any more, you have to see it.

Glad this silent film has not been lost...