On One Hand: My Five Favorite Classic Stars

Five Stars Blogathon

It’s National Classic Movie Day again, and Rick has another question for us bloggers: Which five stars are your favorite? Eeeep. That’s even tougher than last year’s challenge. Anyone who’s an old film lover knows there’s so much to like about the Golden Age.

Me, I always enjoy watching the repartee between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. I also enjoy seeing Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur. Or Long John Silver. Or Moses. Or…you get my drift. Except for Planet of the Apes or Soylent Green. I know they’re cult favorites, but come on, Chuck–really? You had better moments than these. Much better.

Then there’s Cary Grant’s smooth charm, and Myrna Loy’s wry elegance, and Paulette Goddard’s fun flirtiness, and Gene Kelly’s manly stepping, and Claudette Colbert’s graceful versatility. Speaking of versatility, was there anything Mickey Rooney couldn’t do? Shakespeare, playing any number of musical instruments, singing and dancing up a storm, sight gags–you name it, Mickey Rooney did it. Well, except for pole dancing. Or other family-unfriendly forms of entertainment. If anyone had a right to be tired, it was Mickey Rooney.

Anyway, if I had to narrow things down, these are the five classic film stars I would pick (No, I’m not sneaking in any Honorable Mentions this time. 😉 ). Each of them has been a favorite for years, and there may or may not be a pattern here as to why they made the list. May I present…


Jimmy Stewart

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Source: IMDb

This guy makes me smile. Like a lot of people of my generation, I first encountered Jimmy in It’s A Wonderful Life, and it was like a domino effect. I had to see him again. Jimmy Stewart was gentle, warm, steely, unpretentious, and could go from comedy to drama to westerns to thrillers without batting an eye. He even made a few musicals, including Born To Dance, where he somewhat uncomfortably sang “Easy To Love” to Eleanor Powell.

Stewart didn’t like the Hollywood lifestyle; in fact, according to Gary Fishgall’s book, Pieces of Time, Stewart’s best friend from school was Henry Fonda, and they used to build model airplanes together. When Stewart arrived in California from Pennsylvania, Fonda, who had come out earlier, met him at the station. The first thing he said to Stewart was, “Where’s the plane?”

This down-to-earth attitude carried over into Stewart’s film work, and allowed him to inhabit roles in a way that other, stage-ier actors couldn’t. As a person and an actor, Jimmy was a guy you wanted on your side. If he cheered for you, he meant it. I remember thinking when I heard he had died that Jimmy Stewart was someone you wish could live forever.

James Cagney

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Source: AllPosters Japan

Here’s another guy who makes me smile. When I was eight, my family started watching Yankee Doodle Dandy on the Fourth of July. In fact, my dad still watches it every year, though it’s touch and go now whether anyone will join him. Most of us have the entire thing memorized. No, really.

“{I like bacon}. Ham makes me self-conscious.”

“I can write a play without anything but a pencil. Laugh.”

“I wouldn’t worry about America. We’ve got this thing licked. Where else can a plain guy like me come and talk things over with the head man?”

“My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.” (Okay, everyone knows that line.)

Don’t misunderstand me–I still enjoy Yankee Doodle Dandy. It’s just that Cagney had plenty of other things going for him. He was mainly known for his tough guy act, but like Jimmy Stewart, his filmography covers all genres. His time steps were just as good as his right hooks or his way with a monologue. He’s been imitated a lot over the years, but we all know that bit about imitation and flattery.

Also like Stewart, Cagney was unpretentious and un-Hollywood. He was a quiet person who liked to read in his off-time. Cagney acted because it was a job, and because it allowed him to do what he really wanted, which was farming. I remember seeing a photo once of Cagney squatting in a yard watching chickens peck around, with a look of satisfaction on his face that he probably never wore on a film set. I think it sums up Cagney nicely.

Judy Garland

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Source: InStyle

The unfortunate thing about Judy Garland is that a lot of people default to the sad parts of her life–her addictions, money problems, various marital upheavals, and her early death at age forty-seven. Sure, it’s dramatic, and Judy was definitely a casualty of financial mismanagement and being seen as a commodity, but there’s so much more to Judy.

I was six when I discovered Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, and wanted to be her. Who wouldn’t? She got to sing and dance down the Yellow Brick Road, and she got to wear the Ruby Slippers. As I got older and started in music myself, I began to see that this woman was a genius in so many ways. She was highly intelligent, a terrific raconteur, she could play drama or comedy, sing sweet or hot, and dance like nobody’s business. Judith Crist said that Judy was the only partner of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly who could draw attention away from Fred and Gene. She couldn’t read music, but was able to learn songs after only a single listen. She was also able to recall choreography from her movies years later, such as when dancer Ken Barry asked her in 1963 to show him the “Midnight Choo-Choo” number from Easter Parade. Any musician or dancer will attest that this takes serious talent.

What’s more, Judy’s one of the few solo performers in history who could play an entire concert by herself and keep her audience’s attention. No gimmicks, no trap doors, no fancy sets. Just Judy, a microphone, the orchestra, maybe a few backup dancers, and that’s it. Not even Bono dares to hold a show together by himself for too long; Judy did it all the time. She will always have a unique place in the annals of entertainment.

Audrey Hepburn

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Source: Magazine Horse

Audrey is someone I feel like I’ve always known, and I wish I could have been friends with. What a gracious lady she was. I admire the way she thought it was more important to raise her sons than be an actress. She never stopped being Audrey Hepburn, but to her boys, she was Mom first.

Obviously, as an actress, Audrey was no slouch. One of the key factors in her success was that she knew how to be herself, and audiences immediately took to her. Whether she played a nun or a hooker…ahem…call girl, Audrey’s genuine charm always shone through. I only wish she had gotten to dance more in movies, because ballet was her first love. Thank goodness for the few musicals she did make, like Funny Face, My Fair Lady and The Secret People. The joy in Audrey’s face is so evident in these movies, as well as in others she made, and it’s wonderful to see.

Also, there are not many people out there who are style icons without even trying. Audrey wasn’t a cutting-edge fashionista, but she knew how to make clothes work for her, and she carried herself superbly. People in the fashion world have a saying: “That’s so Audrey!” Whenever something is clean and classic and together, Audrey Hepburn always comes to mind.

John Garfield

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Source: Pinterest

The newest discovery of my five picks (and yes, another “J” name), I was introduced to John Garfield in 2008 when I heard the Lux Radio Theater version of Pride of the MarinesLike Cagney, Garfield tended to be pigeonholed as a tough guy, but also like Cagney, Garfield had depths as an actor that went beyond the tough guy image. Garfield played characters like he had nothing to lose, and displayed a raw energy unusual for the studio era. He was doing what we know today as method acting way before Newman, Hoffman, Dreyfuss, or Brando.

Garfield also lobbied for roles no one else would touch, such as, again, Al Schmid in what became Pride of the Marines. For some reason, Warner Bros. didn’t want anything to do with putting Schmid’s story onscreen, in spite of his being featured in Life Magazine for his heroism at Guadalcanal. Garfield’s persuasiveness made the movie of Schmid’s story happen, and his performance in the role is Oscar-worthy.

Even though the arena Garfield preferred was the stage, and even though he was an intense actor, he was still accessible and relatable to audiences. His presence never fails to draw people in, least of all me. There’s something satisfying about watching Garfield come up against adversity, even if he crumbles under it, because he always finds his footing again, one way or another. Garfield never failed at this, onscreen or off, until he was blacklisted and then died of a heart attack at the young age of thirty-nine.


Yeah, there’s definitely a pattern here (besides all the “J”s, of course)–I tend to gravitate to actors who aren’t the diva types, but real people who were able to communicate with an audience right where they were, and for the most part, didn’t allow Hollywood to dictate their identities. For people who are in the business of pretending, this is very difficult, and it’s always nice to see actors who successfully keep their feet on the ground. At least, more or less. 🙂

Who are your five favorite classic stars?

For more Top Five picks, please visit Rick’s Classic Film and TV Cafe. Thanks for reading, and Happy National Classic Movie Day!

Page To Screen: Anne of Green Gables

This is the first installment in my new, semi-regular series, “Page To Screen”. I thought it would be interesting to analyze books that have been made into films–what was changed, cut, expanded, whether or not the adaptation was effective, and so on. I wasn’t planning on starting with Anne of Green Gables, but you know how life is. It was a target of opportunity, suffice it to say. There are a few spoilers, so if you’re planning on watching…well, you know. Anyway, off we go…

If you’ve been hanging around my blog for awhile, you already know my position on remakes, and when I saw this trailer on YouTube, it wasn’t exactly a shock:

What was rather dismaying, though, was when Anne said, “Girls can do anything a boy can, and more.” Anne never made this statement in the books, not even an inference of it. I thought, “Oh no–they’ve made Anne Shirley into Gloria Steinem.” Don’t get me wrong–I’ve nothing against feminism if it’s honest and based on reality, but I can’t bring myself to back the types who treated my mother like dirt for being a homemaker, or who expect me to hate men. Or who make a stink because Wonder Woman doesn’t have armpit hair. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. Nope. Sorry. Not only that, but it’s a sad fact that many filmmakers love making everything political or presentist these days. It’s like a pill in jam, to paraphrase L.M. Montgomery, only more harmful than not. Simple, intelligent entertainment seems to be an endangered species.

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Source: CBC

But I digress.

Remakes, particularly those of beloved stories, can be like train wrecks–it’s hard to look away. In spite of my weariness of reboots, I wanted to see how this new iteration of Anne Shirley held up to Montgomery’s original novel. After all, they couldn’t change Anne too much, right? Anne Shirley is to Canada what Scarlett O’Hara is to America or Bridget Jones and Elizabeth Darcy are to the United Kingdom. Give Anne too drastic a makeover and people will jump down the filmmakers’ throats. And why not? Anne of Green Gables is full of beauty and fun and humor, and those who love it get protective. Anne is no stranger to remakes, either, with no less than fifty-three adaptations (including the current one) in various mediums, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the novel. The Megan Follows version is probably the best-loved and most familiar to the largest number of people.

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Original cover art, 1908. (Source: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, what is in the trailer of Anne With An ‘E’ is the nearest the newest Anne gets to its source material, and even then it’s off. Way off. The principal writer and producer is Moira Walley-Beckett, who is best known for her work on Breaking Bad, and her interpretation of Anne is mediocre at best, and ugly and ignorant at worst. Yes, ugly and ignorant. Just wait. This puppy’s off the charts.

The series starts out strongly enough, with terrific shots of the Island and is about sixty-percent faithful to the novel. Sorta. Interspersed throughout her journey to Green Gables, we see Anne (Amybeth McNulty) having flashbacks of being beaten and bullied when she was a home child and living with the Hammonds. It’s disturbing, but fortunately, these vignettes are very brief. Less than half an hour in, however, is when Anne does the boys-vs-girls schpiel to Marilla (Geraldine James) that we see in the trailer, and it’s all downhill from there. Every episode after the first one owes almost nothing to the source material, and it doesn’t seem that Walley-Beckett even likes her source material that much. She’s bragged to the press that the bridge between Montgomery’s words and hers is seamless, but if that’s the case, then why does she leave Montgomery out of her version of Avonlea? What’s more, Walley-Beckett seems unused to writing anything that doesn’t have edge, even when adapting a children’s novel.

The first major misstep is when Anne is accused of stealing a brooch. In the book, Anne’s punishment was missing a picnic. Walley-Beckett’s Anne gets sent away to the orphanage in Charlottetown, and Matthew (R.H. Thomson)  has to go through all this derring-do to find her, which he finally does–he sees Anne reciting poetry for money in a train station. It all seems tacked-on and unnecessary. I wonder if Walley-Beckett is familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan’s immortal song about letting the punishment fit the crime.

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Source: The Mary Sue

When Anne goes to school, things take on a Degrassi Jr. High feel. Then it’s all about playing hard to get with the boys, girls being mean to girls because they’re jealous of them, and all that teeny-bopper stuff. One of the best aspects of Montgomery’s novel, the competition between Anne and Gilbert (Lucas Jade Zumann), is glossed over in Anne With an ‘E’. They even flub Anne and Gilbert’s first meeting. In the book, the first words Gilbert says to Anne are “Carrots! Carrots!” right before Anne smashes her slate over his head. In the new Anne, Gilbert defends Anne from Billy Andrews (Christian Martyn) and they basically walk to school together, which is why Gilbert calling Anne Carrots later is a sharp hairpin turn. It makes him go from knight in shining armor to pest. In response, Anne swings her slate across his face like it’s a Lodge frying pan, which is considerably less satisfying than Montgomery’s smash.

Speaking of hairpin turns, in the ‘Anne’ books, Billy Andrews is a tubby, chortle-y fellow who is so painfully socially awkward that he asks his sister, Jane to propose to Anne for him, which Anne finds absurdly humiliating. In Anne With An ‘E’, Billy Andrews is a bully who calls Anne a dog and makes barking noises, not to mention yelling variations of “Woman, make me a sammich.” That’s one of the many things that bugs me about this series. Walley-Beckett apparently decided that Montgomery’s characters weren’t useful enough, so she made them pawns for her agenda and one-track coarseness. Matthew is another victim. In the book, he was so shy he seldom went from home if he could help it, and he was terrified of talking to women. In Anne With An ‘E’, Matthew not only races to Charlottetown to get Anne back, but reunites with an old flame and attempts suicide. Really, Moira? Really?

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Montgomery’s Anne did not have PTSD, as quotes like this one show. (Source: Call Me Cordelia)

Our heroine isn’t safe, either. She shows symptoms of PTSD in early episodes and is triggered frequently, which is a problematic angle to work. Childhood trauma does exist, but Montgomery’s Anne is so receptive to love that she heals very quickly. Walley-Beckett’s Anne has much more baggage to shed, and there’s little of Montgomery’s beautiful warmth or humor in the series. Fun scenes like Anne accidentally flavoring a cake with anodyne liniment or making a moonlight trek through the Haunted Wood are nowhere to be found in Anne With an ‘E’. I watched all seven episodes over the course of two days, and I probably only genuinely smiled a handful of times. It’s just downturn after downturn after downturn with no bottom. The feminist angle is very strong, too. Anne picks fights with boys she feels threatened by, and comes across as mean sometimes. She is also only allowed to prove herself via the sorts of exploits that make everyone else look incompetent, such as rushing into a burning building as if she alone knows how to put out a fire. And there is the continual drumbeat about how women can be smart, or they can be wives, but not both, which is yet another idea that Montgomery didn’t hold to.

It’s very disappointing that all the ways that Anne distinguished herself in Montgomery’s Green Gables weren’t good enough for this series. She was at the head of her class in Avonlea. She proudly learned to keep a house and cook to beat the band. She won the Avery scholarship when she went to Queen’s Academy to get her teaching license. Anne became a steady, reliable girl who put going to university on hold so she could stay with Marilla after Matthew’s death. Besides her imagination, energy, and capableness, Anne’s only other attribute from the novel that made the cut was her ability to recite poetry. Walley-Beckett’s Anne delivers verse in a hammy, meaningless fashion, with gestures that would have looked more at home in a bad silent movie. What also struck me was that the characters rushed and threw away all the lines that came directly from the novel and saved their acting skills for the other stuff.

AnneDiana
Source: Z103.5

Another thing that irked me about Anne was that evidently no one bothered to do any research of the time period, or if they did, they discarded whatever they found. It’s almost laughable. Sure, the characters wear the right clothes and the sets look pretty correct, but Walley-Beckett wrote scenarios that would have never, ever happened in the Victorian or Edwardian eras. Everything that’s wrong with the series historically could fill a book, but I’ll focus on the top three biggest anachronisms:

Scientists Predict Greenhouse Effect

This was yelled by a Charlottetown paperboy in Episode Two. Accurate weather data was only just beginning to be compiled in the nineteenth century, and people of that time roundly dismissed the idea of man effecting change in climate. Having a paperboy announce it as if all scientists believed in the greenhouse effect seems like a rather desperate and token attempt by the filmmakers to push their ideas and beliefs.

If They’re Touching, They’re Making A Baby

Here’s the thing: In L.M. Montgomery’s day, people did not discuss bodily functions or their bodies in general, especially with people outside of their family or close circle. It was considered indelicate and rude. If someone didn’t feel well, they were “indisposed.” Anne’s parents die of “a fever,” which is obviously non-specific. This discretion was such a hard and fast point of etiquette that even table legs were called “limbs” and tables were often covered with tablecloths or skirts to hide the legs and suggest modesty. Yet in Episode Three of Walley-Beckett’s Anne, Anne and Diana see Prissy Andrews in the school supply closet with Mr. Phillips and Anne remarks that men have “a mouse in their pants.” Mr. Phillips is touching Prissy’s hand, and Anne says it means the two of them are “making a baby.” It basically leads to Anne talking in detail to the girls at lunch about Prissy and Mr. Phillips having “intimate relations,” and how often she heard Mrs. Hammond touching Mr. Hammond’s “mouse”. Excuse me?! This is a children’s story, folks–even veiled sex talk is inappropriate.

My Name Is Marilla, And I’m A Progressive Mother

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Source: IMDb

Also in Episode Three, Marilla attends a support group for progressive mothers. I so, so wish I were kidding, but I’m not. First off, support groups as we know them didn’t exist in the nineteenth century. Meetings were generally service-oriented–women would have joined Ladies’ Aid societies, or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, or gone to quilting bees, or sewing circles, or teas. Not support groups. What’s also annoying is the women who invite Marilla to this group call themselves the Progressive Mothers Sewing Circle, except that they don’t sew–they just sit around talking about books and education. Marilla goes to the meeting, and it turns out to be Feminism 101. Very devious, isn’t it? Lure people in with something that appears to be innocent, then trap them into listening to your agenda. Secondly, a town like Avonlea wouldn’t have had enough people (or time) to form any kind of support group. You either fit in or you didn’t. That’s just how society was, and still is. In fact, the first dedicated support group was Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded in 1935, but the concept of peer-to-peer support didn’t really reach critical mass until the nineteen-eighties. To Anne With An ‘E’‘s credit, however, some of the characters admit that progressivism isn’t compassionate and adds unnecessary mindsets to life. Too bad Walley-Beckett didn’t take her own advice.

So, yeah. If Anne‘s filmmakers didn’t want to stick to their source material, fine. The least they could have done was have the tiniest semblance of historic credibility. Disavowing any connection to Anne would have been nice, too. But we know that’s not what they’re about, don’t we? Yep. They. Must. Present. Their. Agenda. Or. Die. Trying. Grrrrrrr.

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L.M. Montgomery in the mid-1890s. (Source: Find A Grave)

One of the things I have always appreciated about L.M. Montgomery’s writing was that it handled controversial topics subtly, such as Anne being neglected and unloved before coming to Green Gables. We never saw Anne beaten or abused in the novel, even though the narrative alludes to her previous existence. Anne was never given flak for being an orphan or a girl, either. Gender isn’t even an issue in the books.  In fact, the story arc of Green Gables is Anne’s learning to live and succeed in the real world, with her imagination in its proper place. Montgomery allowed her characters to model how society should be, as opposed to preaching to her readers or being ugly. This is a method that is completely lost on too many of today’s writers and filmmakers.

There were some good points to Anne With An ‘E’. Anne and Diana (Dalila Bela)’s friendship is very sweet, and Matthew and Marilla set out to create a loving environment for Anne after her ordeal as a home child. On the whole, though, pills in jam are the order of the day, and Walley-Beckett’s piling-on of current day issues and sensibilities drags everything down. I’m not the only one who feels this way, either. Anne has met with mixed responses from Canadian viewers, and Americans have been even less kind, such as these critics from Vanity Fair and The New Yorker (They loathed the brooch bit, too). The most common complaint is that there were too many liberties taken with Montgomery’s novel. Imagine that. If I’m going to watch Anne on film I’ll stick with the Megan Follows version, thanks.

Alrighty, hope everyone has a good Mother’s Day! Thanks for reading (congrats if you made it this far), and see you Tuesday for National Classic Film Day…

Get Me To the (House) On Time

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Time to go home. Well, sort of…

I have to say, I’ve never done a review like this before. One of my favorite blogs is Hooked On Houses, but it’s the kind of thing where I look but don’t touch. Part of this is because I live in an apartment, so I have no skin in the real estate game, and the other part is I tend to be more interested in the actors than in the sets around them.

Still, I get to wishing sometimes.

I have always enjoyed seeing the Banks’ abode in the 1950 version of Father of the Bride, starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor. Ordinarily, a house like this would be a little too formal for me–the styles I like best are Kraftsman and twenties bungalows–but there’s something about the Banks house that’s very warm and inviting.

We meet the Banks house thusly. It’s a straight-ahead colonial that’s so typical of the East Coast. I’m presuming the story is set in Connecticut or New York State, but the actual house was built on the M-G-M backlot.

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The first thing we see inside the house is the foyer. The characters spend a lot of time here–about a third of the movie’s action takes place in this area.

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Off to the left facing the stairs, we have the living room, and it seems to be a mix of colonial and Victorian furniture, but it’s more classic than hodgepodge.

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Then on the right is the formal dining room. Very timeless and obviously made for entertaining, but Kay still feels comfortable coming to dinner in her grubbies.

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Speaking of Kay, here’s her bedroom upstairs, and I think it’s perfect. I would love to have a room like this. Window seat and everything. Yas.

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Meanwhile, Moms and Pops have a spacious bedroom with their own window seat. Twin beds, of course. Kay also has two younger brothers, but we don’t get to see their rooms for some reason. Oh well.

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Here we have the bathroom. I can’t imagine this whole giant house having only one full bathroom, but evidently this house does. At least, it’s the only one we see. For that matter, we never see the toilet in this bathroom either, but this was before Leave It To Beaver. No one in film or TV had dared to show a porcelain throne until then. Thanks, Hays Office! 🙂 Anyway, I like all the chrome in this bathroom, especially the towel rack and the shower. It’s very clean and streamlined.

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The house also has a den, which becomes the repository for all the wedding gifts, including a rather hideous Venus de Milo clock.

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I think my favorite room in the house is the kitchen. Older houses tend to have public spaces and private spaces instead of the open floorplans we have now, and kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms were considered private. As such, the kitchen is plainer than the other rooms, and it’s fitting that the characters act differently in the kitchen than in any other place. It’s where Stanley gets stuck making drinks during Kay’s entire engagement party, and sprays himself with Coke when trying to use the bottle opener. It’s also the room where he and Kay have a heart-to-heart over a sandwich the night before the wedding. The room is obviously meant to be where the characters get vulnerable.

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No visit to the Banks house would be complete without seeing it transformed for Kay’s wedding, of course.

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The calm before the storm:

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Let the festivities begin…

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The wedding is the only time we get to see a little bit of the backyard:

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All good things must come to an end, though, and after Kay and her new husband go off on their honeymoon, Stanley and Ellie end the night on a romantic note:

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And there we have the Banks’ house. And Spencer Tracy. He’s in pretty much every scene, but that’s by no means a bad thing. 🙂 I hope you enjoyed reading, and if you want to see more favorite film and TV houses, there are plenty of them at Phyllis Loves Classic Movies today and Love Letters To Old Hollywood will have more tomorrow. Thanks for hosting, ladies! Coming up next…

Five Stars Blogathon

Rick’s running the show, so please pay him a visit if you want to contribute. See you later!

Battle of the Backlots

(Cue Rocky theme music.)

Welcome, film fans!

We have come to a big face-off between two movie heavyweights. Both are scrappy and determined, but only one will win the title of Best Backlot.

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Source: Culver City Historical Society

In this corner, we have M-G-M, which roared onto the scene in 1924. Called by industry professionals “the Tiffany of the business,” M-G-M was known for films of all kinds. Ars Gratia Artis may have been its official company motto, but its real one was “Do it big, do it right, give it class.” During its heyday, M-G-M won more Oscars than any other studio and was said by some to have the biggest and best backlot in Hollywood.

Or does it?

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Source: Pinterest

In the other corner we have Warner Bros, which came out swingin’ in 1923. Known for gritty realism, Warner has always been out in front when it comes to tackling tough issues head-on. They were the first to throw punches at Nazi Germany and fascism while the other studios tiptoed. Warners has also led in pioneering film technology, most notably sound and film restoration.

Two contenders. One title. Who will come out on top? You, me, and Steven Bingen will decide.

Who is Steven Bingen, you ask? He is the co-author of M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot and Warner Bros.: Hollywood’s Ultimate Backlot, both of which will be our primary, but not only, source materials. With adjectives like “ultimate” and “greatest” being bandied about, a match-up is inevitable.

The fight will be divided into five rounds:

  1. Size and Quality of Backlot.
  2. Variety of Films Produced.
  3. Output.
  4. Star Power.
  5. Last Backlot Standing.

The rounds are now set. Challengers to your corners, and…

(Yes, I’m trying to work in as many boxing clichés as possible. Seeing as my knowledge of the sport could barely fill one of Manny Pacquaio’s gloves, this could be quite a feat.)

Round One: Size and Quality of Backlot

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Source: TripAdvisor

Before location shooting became a thing, backlots were the place to be for exterior work. All studios had their New York Street, Midwest Street, European Street, and so on. They may have gone by slightly different names, but the intent was the same–these sets stood ready to be dressed up as whatever locale or time period the production teams required. As far as acreage goes, Warner Bros.’ backlot boasted thirty acres to M-G-M’s eighty-one, which is very impressive. M-G-M’s backlot was also widely considered to be the most beautiful in Hollywood, whereas Warner Bros. looks great while getting the job done. Both studios gave their outdoor sets plenty of TLC. Unfortunately, however, M-G-M’s backlot was allowed to deteriorate after the sixties, while Warner Bros. has consistently maintained theirs.

Point: M-G-M

Round Two: Variety of Films Produced

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Source: Beliefnet

As mentioned before, both M-G-M and Warner Bros had their strong suits, but each studio produced musicals, family films, war films, westerns, dramas, comedies, and television shows. M-G-M seemed to move between genres with more consistent quality than Warner Bros., though. If Warner made a musical or a family movie, for instance, it usually came out well, but it would always have a little harder edge than something similar made at M-G-M. Gold Diggers of 1933 did this literally in the Ginger Rogers number, “We’re In the Money,” with women waving giant coins around. Unless we’re talking about Slumdog Millionaire or This Is Spinal Tap, musicals lend themselves to beauty in at least some capacity. Warner’s musicals had beauty, but with an attitude, while M-G-M’s were full of women in floaty fabrics, touches of sentiment, and in the case of the “Beauty” number in Ziegfeld Follies, copious amounts of bubbles. On the other hand, if M-G-M made a war movie or a heavy drama, it would have as much edge as necessary. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a great example. Van Johnson still got the star treatment, but the film didn’t gloss over the hardships he faced as Captain Ted Lawson.

Point: M-G-M

Round Three: Output

warnerbrosgazebo
Source: Dear Old Hollywood

The studio systems operated like factories. Films were made simultaneously–some could be in pre-production while others were being shot and reshot, edited and re-edited, or scored. Studios aimed for releasing a film a week, but this seldom occurred. At its height, M-G-M released forty-nine movies a year, while Warner Bros. has been a wee bit more aggressive. In 1934, Warner Bros. had a major fire which leveled fourteen acres, at a loss between a quarter and a half-million dollars. In spite of this, Warner still managed to release fifty-four features the year the lot was being rebuilt. Until the Hollywood Anti-Trust Case of 1948, both studios maintained a steady output, but had to seriously curtail production beginning in the fifties. In all, it is thought that during the studio era M-G-M’s backlot was the location of an estimated fifth of all films and television shows made in the United States, while Warner’s filmography is many thousands and still growing.

Point: Warner Bros.

Round Four: Star Power

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Bette Davis with Greer Garson, date unknown. (Source: Pinterest)

This one depends on what type of actor or actress you’re after. M-G-M touted that it had more stars than there are in the heavens. Warner Bros. wasn’t too shabby, though. The difference is that the studios looked for different things in their stars. For the most part, M-G-M wanted their big stars to be the total package: beautiful people with acting chops; otherwise, an actor was relegated to character parts. Warner’s had plenty of beautiful people as well, but looking unconventional wasn’t a detriment to one’s career–it was more important to bring it in the acting department. Bette Davis and Greer Garson are terrific examples: Greer, an M-G-M star, was a typical kind of gorgeous; Bette, a Warner’s star, was not, but each were able to make it. Both studios also had their completely unique, break-the-mold players. For instance, M-G-M had Esther Williams, while one of Warner’s was James Dean.

Point: Tie

Round Five: Last Backlot Standing

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A view of the (possible) Showboat lake today. (Source: Yelp)

When the Hollywood Anti-Trust Case of 1948 passed, some studios were hit harder than others. The Supreme Court decreed that the movie-makers could no longer own theaters, and block-booking, or forcing independent theaters to rent pre-selected double features and extras, was now illegal. Both of these measures cut studios off from guaranteed income. Worse, the advent of television hobbled the studios even further. While Warner Bros. was able to ride out the transition, M-G-M wasn’t so fortunate. Loew’s, M-G-M’s parent company, took the longest to let go of its theater chains, and paid the price by slowly diminishing profits and fewer stars under contract. After limping along for roughly a decade, M-G-M was acquired by millionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who turned the old lion into a hotel company with filmmaking on the side. Props and costumes were auctioned off, and beginning in 1972, the backlot was gradually taken down. It’s since been replaced by a senior center and condos. According to Yelp, the only remaining parts of the backlot are the lake and river used in Showboat, but who knows if that’s really true (Note: the lake and river are in an active condominium complex. If you visit, please don’t disturb the residents.). M-G-M, while still producing and distributing films, now has its facilities in Beverly Hills, with Sony Pictures occupying its former lot.

In sharpest contrast, Warner Bros. changed very little from the nineteen-sixties through the nineteen-eighties, which may look like a bad business move, but it was one of the key factors in their preservation. Warner’s also had relatively consistent executive leadership throughout the rough spots, unlike M-G-M, which changed heads frequently after L.B. Mayer was fired. Since the nineteen-nineties, the backlot and other facilities at Warner Bros. have been refurbished and shuffled around a little, leaving the studio basically intact and on its original site.

And we all know what that means–M-G-M is down for the count, and…

WINNER: Warner Bros.!

Of course, this is entirely subjective (and pretty tongue-in-cheek), so what did you think? Was it a fair fight? Here’s how our two contenders stacked up with our poll responders:

Yep. Survey says it’s a draw. Thanks to everyone who voted! 🙂

mgmhollywoodsgreatestbacklot
Source: Amazon

For those whose interest is now piqued, Steven Bingen’s books are wonderful resources. He takes a lot-by-lot, building-by-building approach in each one, with more particulars than you can shake a stick at. I read his M-G-M book one day while sitting in one of the museums I volunteer at, and the entire time I was grinning like a fool because it’s so fascinating. There are some really obvious errors in it, such as when Bingen says Mickey Rooney was younger than Lana Turner (he was a year older), but it’s an invaluable record of the studio over the years. There are tons of photos–more photos than text, actually–with plenty of facts and figures about the size and function of each M-G-M lot. Bingen even pays tribute to the long-gone Lot One backlot, which was the site of the early, early films at the studio, like 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man and the 1925 version of Ben-Hur. This backlot was bulldozed in the mid-thirties, and a parking garage now sits on the site. Most of the locations Bingen mentions in the book have since been changed completely, and this may make the reader feel a bit like a time-traveler, which is always good fun.

wbhollywoodsultimatebacklot
Source: Amazon

Bingen’s Warner Bros. book is more text-heavy and less of a photo essay than the M-G-M book, but the time-travel aspect is the same. The book is extra personal to Bingen, as he was the archivist at Warner’s for many years and has spent a lot of time there. It’s full to the brim with biographical info about the Warners, as well as tons of behind-the-scenes tidbits. For instance, did you know that paintings used in films are sprayed with a special matte coating to prevent the painting from reflecting light? Or that there were several copies of the Maltese Falcon statue used in various other films as set dressing? Bingen also writes extensively about his very early days of puttering around Warner Bros. in the early nineteen-nineties, and seeing such famous sets as the spaceship from the TV series, V, still impeccably dressed and seemingly frozen in time. I wish this book had more photos, but the information contained in it is gripping. Once again, I was grinning like a fool.

Okay, I hope you enjoyed reading, and see you all next week for the…

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There’s still time to throw your hat in the door, so if anyone’s interested, please stop by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies or Love Letters To Old Hollywood. Till then, all…

Reblog: Have a Happy Easter with Old-Time Radio

Don’t know about you, but I can’t resist a good radio show. Happy Easter, everyone!

Once upon a screen...

Happy Easter to one and all!
The night is over, the sun is tall.
The day did break with a tiny beam
And flooded life with Light supreme.
Paul F. Kortepeter, Holly Pond Hill: A Child’s Book of Easter

Here’s wishing you and yours an old-fashioned, happy Easter.

Ann Miller

You can find a collection of vintage Easter images here.

If you prefer the sounds of the season enjoy these old-time radio shows courtesy of supreme talents in entertainment…

From April 5, 1953 it’s The Jack Benny Program with “Easter Parade”

Stars of The Jack Benny Program: Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Dennis Day, Mary Livingstone, Jack, Don Wilson & Phil Harris

From March 27, 1948 it’s The Life of Riley with “The Giant Easter Bunny Fertilizer”

Life of Riley radio cast

From April 2, 1944 it’s The Charlie McCarthy Show Easter entry with guest stars Orson…

View original post 103 more words

Iron Sharpens Iron

standbyme
Source: Amazon

It’s spring! Well, kinda. I know a lot of people are still getting wild and crazy weather, but what can you do? Happy Easter or Passover to those who celebrate them, and I hope everyone’s having a great month so far. My son has another four days of Spring Break as of today, and we’ve managed to rest the heck out of this week. It’s a real good feeling. Now, on to today’s review… 

As a Christian, I want to put good things in my head, and Philippians 4:8 is the yardstick I try my best to live by. When it comes to Christian fiction, though, particularly if it’s set in the present day, I tend to back away slowly. It’s not that all Christian fiction is terrible, and it definitely isn’t (Frank Peretti creams Stephen King in my opinion, thank you very much), but some of it just doesn’t come off very well. I’m thinking of chick-lit especially. Most Christian chick-lit tries too hard to be quirky, or hip, or squeaky-clean, and either way a lot of it seems unrelatable.

Neta Jackson’s Yada Yada Prayer Group series is one of the major exceptions, though. The ongoing story of a diverse group of women who met at the Chicago Women’s Conference, Yada Yada is not only realistic but unusual in Christian chick-lit. Characters mess up, they feel inadequate, they have to deal with issues such as AIDS and racism, and that’s just for starters. Most of all, these women come together to pray for each other. The books are so successful that they have inspired real-life Yada Yada Prayer Groups around the United States, and the series has been repackaged more than once, such as the “Celebration” editions, which feature recipes. Jackson has also written a spin-off series and several stand-alone novels, one of which is Stand By Me.

The narrative is divided between Avis Douglass, principal of Bethune Elementary, and Kat Davies, graduate student at Chicago Crista University. These two ladies couldn’t be more different. Avis is formerly a widow who married her husband’s old friend, Peter. She’s also a grandmother and a worship leader at SouledOut Community Church. Avis is a classic strong woman who seems to be very together. In reality, though, Avis has lots of worries. She worries about her school possibly closing, and about the teachers and students who may be displaced. She also worries about her daughter, Rochelle, who is HIV-positive and mother to a little boy, Conny. Rochelle comes around now and then asking for money or to crash at Avis and Peter’s condo. Peter isn’t too happy about this idea because he thinks it enables Rochelle’s flaky behavior, but Avis wants desperately to help her daughter and grandson find stability.

Meanwhile, Kat is a pre-med student-turned education major who transfers to Crista from the University of Arizona on a whim, much to her parents’ chagrin. She’s already gotten her master’s degree and is staying in Chicago over the summer to take a concentrated Spanish language course because she wants to work in urban environments. Kat is a very take-charge kind of lady, rather chatty, and slightly arrogant. Food issues are so important to her that she only eats in the university dining hall under protest. She makes a habit of rescuing discarded groceries from the local Dominick’s. Kat gets bent out of shape when she sees kids eating potato chips on their way to school at seven in the morning. She’s so impulsive that one of her professors tells her, “Talk less. Listen more.” which Kat thinks is advice fit for a child. However, Kat means well, and she’s chomping at the bit to help people and do good wherever she can.

Avis and Kat’s worlds collide when Kat and her three friends, Livie, Nick, and Brygitta make plans to get an apartment together and really experience Chicago. Lo and behold, Avis’s downstairs neighbors, the Candys, are going to be in Costa Rica and need to sublet their unit while they’re gone. Kat, of course, jumps at the idea, and her friends aren’t too hard to persuade, either. Peter and Avis are less than thrilled about the idea of four college students moving in downstairs, because of typical college kid foibles like loud noises at all hours. However, since Kat and Company have started going to SouledOut, Peter and Avis bite the bullet and put in a good word for them with the Candys. It’s only for three months after all, right?

Heh. The Douglasses and the four college students being neighbors turns out the be the easy part of Stand By Me. In fact, the situation is downright sedate, with the exception of one quick incident when Nick plugs in his speakers and scares everyone in the building. The hard stuff comes in when Pastor Clark, longtime clergy of many of the characters, keels over during a sermon and dies of a massive heart attack. This throws the church into turmoil, as there’s now a shortage of leadership. Pastor Cobb, the remaining clergyman, asks Avis and Peter to be co-interim pastors, since they are so active and well-known to the congregation anyway. The Douglasses hesitate, not only because Avis and Peter are already in leadership positions at their jobs, but Avis has overheard two women talking in the restroom about the church becoming “too black.” Plus, they have been asked by a couple they know in South Africa to come over and work at their mission for women suffering from AIDS.

On her end, Kat experiences some great blows to her confidence and preconceived notions. She jumps in and gives Pastor Clark CPR when he collapses, and then worries that she didn’t keep going long enough or do it properly. She continues checking the Dominick’s dumpster for cast-off items, but a young woman chews her out for taking food away from people who really need it. Interestingly enough, Kat had seen this same young woman hanging around the entrance to Avis and Peter’s three-flat, only she takes off running when Kat starts asking questions. Kat also has her ideas shaken up about Christianity–she thought it was just a cultural thing and she certainly admired Christians, but as far as the personal commitment part went, she had no clue. It’s no surprise that the influence of the SouledOut congregation helps her change her mind very quickly, and not through any kind of coercion or struggle. She just gets it. The other big thing with Kat is once she relaxes, she’s able to see what people actually need as opposed to what she thinks they need, and this allows her to play a key role in helping some of the other characters heal. In the end, it allows Kat to heal from something she’s been hiding as well.

Just as I did with the other Yada Yada novels, I devoured Stand By Me–it’s riveting. Neta Jackson is terrific at making characters who are engaging and intriguing, even if they aren’t necessarily likable. The meaner ones, too, have chinks in their armor to be discovered and peered through. Having said that, the only thing that bugged me about the book was the title, which may make people think of that famous ditty from the sixties, or like my husband, a certain movie that shall remain unelaborated upon. It fits, but it’s a little bit confusing. The other thing is, since Jackson is working with known settings and characters, the story may mean more to those who are familiar with the original Yada Yada books. However, there’s ample background given, so newbies can still enjoy Stand By Me. I highly recommend it.

POLL: Which Studio Has (Or Had) the Best Backlot?

I know it may be a tough question if you’re into classic film, but what do you think?

Is it M-G-M’s gone-but-not-forgotten backlot?

mgm-logo
Source: Variety

Or has Warner Bros. done it better?

Warner_Bros._1993
Source: Logopedia

Do you like both of them? Or maybe you prefer some other studio? Comment below! Or on Twitter. Or on Instagram. Preferably not a combo, though. 😉 The results will appear in a future post. Thanks in advance for your feedback, everyone.

Oh, and April’s entries will be devoted to books, although film won’t be completely absent. What a concept, seeing as Taking Up Room started out as just book reviews, right? TTFN… 🙂

Bette’s War

bettebondrally
Source: freedomandunity.org

During the Second World War, most stars worked to support the fight. Jeanette MacDonald joined the American Women’s Voluntary Service (AWVS). Rita Hayworth donated the bumpers off her car for scrap and replaced them with wooden ones. Many, many actors, directors, and crew members, like Jimmy Stewart and George Stevens, enlisted in the Armed Forces. There were tours of camps and hospitals to entertain the troops. The Armed Forces Radio Service broadcast special programs such as Command Performance, a request show for the servicepeople overseas.

The big stars were, of course, expected to be the most visible, and Bette Davis was no exception. In fact, she was so active that the Department of Defense presented her with the Distinguished Civilian Service Award in 1982. Bette went on bond tours alongside other stars such as James Cagney and Judy Garland, where she used her bad girl persona to great effect. According to Wikipedia, she was able to pull in two million dollars in two days, plus another quarter of a million for a picture of herself in Jezebel. Bette also did public service announcements such as this slightly extreme one…

…or novelties like this one-off musical number in the all-star extravaganza, Thank Your Lucky Stars (Yes, that is Bette’s real singing voice):

However, the Hollywood Canteen is Bette’s biggest contribution to the war, and one people still talk about. Originally John Garfield’s idea, the Canteen was to be a place for servicemen and women to relax and have fun with the stars while they were in the Los Angeles area. All the studios contributed to the project, but Bette and John were at the helm, with Jules Stein working quietly in the background. They threw themselves into finding a location, coordinating volunteers, booking entertainment, and securing food from donations and local restaurants.

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Servicemen waiting to get into the Canteen. (Source: Messy Nessy Chic Cabin of Curiosities)
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Bette Davis and John Garfield on the Hollywood Canteen’s opening day. (Source: Betty Davis Estate)

The Canteen was located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. The building had previously been a livery stable, and then a succession of nightclubs. After a major overhaul, the Canteen opened to great fanfare on October 3, 1942. Over 3,000 industry professionals were on the Canteen’s volunteer roll, ready to wait tables, dance with soldiers, serve food and perform. I hate to keep bringing Wikipedia into this, but they do have a list of the bigger names who took part. Everything was free to those in uniform, and the club was fully integrated and international. The Canteen was like a party every night, with raffles, music, skits, and lots of dancing. Believe it or not, Bette even took a pie in the face once (Yep, I hear ya. Pics, or it didn’t happen 🙂 ).

Over the course of the war, the Hollywood Canteen served approximately three million servicemen and women. It closed on Thanksgiving night, 1945, and according to the L.A. Daily Mirror, the building was demolished in December of 1966. Robby Cress of the wonderful Dear Old Hollywood took this photo of the site in 2009:

Hollywood Canteen Location 1
The Canteen stood approximately where the parking garage is today.

Fortunately for the rest of us, not to mention posterity, Warner Bros. released a film of the same name in December of 1944. Through the eyes of a fictional soldier named Slim Greene (Robert Hutton), the moviegoing public got a taste of what the average serviceperson experienced when visiting the Canteen. There is a plot, but it’s merely incidental, as the film is mostly a revue of some of the performers who were volunteers.

hollywood-canteen-original_1_
Source: ru_oldmovie.livejournal.com

Slim (Robert Hutton) and his buddy, Sergeant Nolan (Dane Clark) are two wounded soldiers stationed on an unknown island in the South Pacific. Slim fills his time dreaming about Joan Leslie. When Slim and Nolan are sent to Hollywood for a short leave, Nolan wants a beer, but Slim wants to see the sights, so they split up for the day. While wandering around town, Slim finds his way into the Hollywood Canteen, and meets star after star after star. Via an improbable series of events involving a red claim ticket, Slim gets a kiss from his dream girl, Joan Leslie. A dazed Slim meets up with Nolan later, and Nolan is a little-hard pressed to believe Slim when he hears about his day.

The next night, Slim and Nolan go to the Canteen together, and basically by a freak accident, Slim is also the millionth man to enter. A line of girls comes up to kiss him, including Joan Leslie, naturally. As the Millionth Man, Slim’s won free admission to any nightclub, a hotel stay, a studio tour, a rental car, and just when it seems things can’t get any better for him, Slim finds out he has his pick of girls to be his date (One guess who he asks). Slim, again in a daze, can only stammer out, “Golly.” It doesn’t take much for Joan to get Slim out the door later. They have a sweet little almost-romance over the next couple of days, and he gets to meet her family. Literally–Joan Leslie’s real-life sister has a cameo.

bettygrablemillionthman
Source: Pinterest

While this part of the film may seem like a long shot, it does have a basis in fact. The actual Millionth Man was Sergeant Carl Bell, who entered the Canteen on September 15, 1943. He received a kiss from Betty Grable and Marlene Dietrich was his escort.

Meanwhile, Nolan is by no means idle. After a bumbling attempt at speaking French to Ida Lupino, he gets a bit of advice from Paul Henreid that can be summed up in four words: We are subconsciously primeval. Okeydokey. Nolan apparently is a bit fuzzy on what “subconsciously primeval” means, but when he meets who he thinks is a young starlet (Janis Paige), it all suddenly becomes clear.

Hokey? Yeah. Fun, though.

The music in Hollywood Canteen is fantastic, and it runs the genre gamut. Among the acts featured are the Andrews Sisters, of course, as is Jimmy Dorsey and his Band, Carmen Cavallero and his Orchestra, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, Roy Rogers, Joseph Szegeti, and Jack Benny. The film also showcases dancers Rosario and Antonio and schtick from comic Joe E. Brown. Plus, it briefly ventures outside of the Canteen for a glimpse of Warner Bros. during the war, with Joan McCracken dancing the “Ballet In Jive.”

vlcsnap-2017-03-15-17h02m13s012Initially, the film was supposed to be a joint effort like the real-life Canteen, but studio executives balked at loaning out so many stars at once. As a result, every Warner Bros. star or contract player who could work it into his or her schedule was in Hollywood Canteen. Bette Davis and John Garfield are on hand to run the show, including emcee duties, and to explain the history of the Canteen. Bette also voices what was no doubt a common sentiment among the Canteen workers and Hollywood in general: “You’ve given us something we’ll never forget. Wherever you go, our hearts go with you.”

Even though the film is a tad unrealistic, its star wattage is dazzling, and gives a lovely snapshot of the marvelous job Bette Davis, John Garfield, and hundreds of others did at the Hollywood Canteen. No one who entered the place will ever forget it. No one who caught a little of Bette Davis’s energy during the war will ever forget it, either. I’m sure everyone who came in contact with her was tremendously grateful.

That finishes my Day Three, and as always, Crystal has more Bette at In the Good Old Days of Classic HollywoodThanks for reading, and a big shout-out to Crystal for hosting this great blogathon! Hope we can do it again next year. 🙂

Sailing Forth

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Source: allposters.com

In Of Human Bondage, we saw Bette play a cruel, gold-digging vixen keeping a romantic young man in her clutches. Eight years later, the shoe was on the other foot when Bette took the role of Charlotte Vale, a woman controlled by her mother, in the 1942 film, Now Voyager. Not only is the movie an interesting character study about moving beyond the effects of parental abuse, but it shows the progress Bette made as an actress.

The film opens with a view of a solid-looking lawn jockey, with the word, “Vale” across the base. The rain is coming down in sheets, obscuring a showy mansion with columns like a Grecian temple. Inside, a severe-looking woman (Gladys Cooper) in Edwardian satin descends the stairs, wondering when her daughter-in-law and a man she’s bringing with her will arrive. As she sweeps through the foyer into the sitting room, it’s clear the whole house is formal and stiff like a vatermorder collar.

The daughter-in-law, whose name is Lisa (Ilka Chase), and her friend, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), show up promptly, and Mrs. Vale looks at the doctor as if he’s a bedraggled stray cat. Lisa says she’s concerned about Charlotte’s secretiveness and crying jags, and simply wants Dr. Jaquith, a top psychiatrist, to evaluate her. Mrs. Vale doesn’t trust doctors, and she dismisses the idea of her daughter being sick, mentally or otherwise. “She’s no more ill than a molting canary,” Mrs. Vale says. Uh huh. Mrs. Vale’s denial is more than obvious, and she herself doesn’t let up rubbing her thumbs together in a neurotic fashion. Molting canaries, my foot.

Bette Davis is introduced gradually in Now, Voyager. The first things we see of her as Charlotte Vale are her hands, deliberately and slowly carving an ivory box, then stopping abruptly when called by the butler. A cigarette totters on a china saucer next to the box. The hands make sure to hide any evidence of smoking in the trash can before answering the door. Next, we see heavy, laced-up Oxford heels descending the stairs, and a chunky, hunched-over woman sidling into the drawing room, twisting and squeezing her hands. Everything else about her is heavy as well, from the fabric of her dress to her brows to the way she sags from her mother and niece, June (Bonita Granville), teasing and belittling her mercilessly. The poor thing can barely function, and is as skittish as a scared rabbit. The family doesn’t bother putting on company manners for Dr. Jaquith, either, and Charlotte runs upstairs.

vlcsnap-2017-03-12-19h56m38s531Charlotte agrees to show Dr. Jaquith her room, and she reveals a life hidden behind what her mother wants. Charlotte was a late child, and her mother has always discouraged her from making friends, from romantic relationships, and even from dieting or taking off her glasses. As a result, Charlotte quietly rebels. She locks her bedroom door from the outside. Not only does she smoke, but she reads books her mother doesn’t approve of, stashing them at the back of her bookshelf. In spite of her contraband activities, Charlotte is cracking under the strain of her mother’s oppression. While her mother is horrified at the idea of a Vale having a nervous breakdown, the die has been cast, and Dr. Jaquith recommends Charlotte come to his sanitarium, Cascades.

In the next scene we see Lisa pulling up in a town car to meet Dr. Jaquith at his sanitarium, which is lively and cheerful, and they go to see Charlotte. She’s lost weight, but still wearing the heavy dresses and glasses just as she did in Boston. Charlotte can now speak without trembling or her eyes darting around, but she continues to be very unsure of herself, and she definitely doesn’t want to go home. Fortunately for her, Lisa has cooked up a little scheme to delay that as long as possible, but before letting her in on it, Dr. Jaquith hands Charlotte a typed piece of paper with a verse by Walt Whitman:

whitmanquote
Source: haikudeck.com

Charlotte does just that, as Lisa’s scheme involves Charlotte taking a cruise around South America. The film cuts to a big group of cruise ship passengers waiting to go on a shore excursion, except that they’re short one person–the mysterious Miss Beauchamp. They’re all speculating about her because she’s spent the whole voyage in her cabin, and one woman remarks that Miss Beauchamp looks as if she’s been ill, and seems “pale, but interesting.” Everyone stops short when a pair of high-fashion pumps pause at the top of the gangplank, and then our Charlotte descends, looking completely transformed but tentative. Everyone breathes out and relaxes before absorbing Charlotte into the group.

Charlotte is asked to go ashore with a man who introduces himself as Mr. Jeremiah Durrance (Paul Henreid), but as he and Charlotte get more friendly over lunch, he tells her to call him Jerry. Jerry’s on his way to Rio de Janiero on business and is married with two daughters. Jerry’s so sympathetic that Charlotte tells him that she’s been in a sanitarium and a friend, Renee Beauchamp, let her take her spot on the cruise at the last minute. The two become quite a pair on the voyage, and Jerry introduces Charlotte to his longtime friends, Deb and Frank McIntyre (Lee Patrick and James Rennie). Deb tells Charlotte how Jerry’s wife plays the victim even though she was the one to hook Jerry. Since he’s a gentleman and because of their two daughters, Jerry stays in the relationship.

vlcsnap-2017-03-19-21h56m35s513On a drive up Sugarloaf, Charlotte and Jerry have a mishap when their taxi driver accidentally strands them, and they have to spend the night in a shack, which means bundling to stay warm. Charlotte stays in Rio with Jerry while waiting for a plane to take her back to the cruise ship, and Jerry confesses he’s in love with her. Charlotte is resistant to the idea of an affair with a married man, but she finally relents, and five days later she goes to meet her ship, thinking she will never see Jerry again.

Back in the United States, Lisa is overjoyed to see how confident Charlotte has become. Instead of hiding in her cabin, she’s the most popular lady aboard the cruise ship. Likewise, the rest of Charlotte’s family are shocked and pleasantly surprised at the changes. They all realize there’s a new sheriff in town when Charlotte goes against what their mother wants, such as lighting a fire in a fireplace that’s never been lit before. An old friend of hers, Elliot (John Loder), is also there, and he asks if Charlotte will see him, which she readily accepts, and after a suitable period of time, they become engaged.

vlcsnap-2017-03-19-22h31m33s554The only person who doesn’t take to the new Charlotte is, naturally, Mrs. Vale, who wants Charlotte under her thumb again. Charlotte disagrees, so Mrs. Vale tries to lay on the guilt. She either accidentally or on purpose falls down the stairs and sprains her ankle, but instead of crumbling, Charlotte delegates duties to a nurse named Dora (played by the wryly funny Mary Wickes). Mrs. Vale grudgingly accepts that Charlotte will no longer be cowed, and the two of them call a truce. Sorta.

Charlotte and Elliot go to dinner at a friend’s house before a group outing to a concert, and who should show up but Jerry. He and Charlotte pretend as if they’ve just met, but in whispers they catch up with each other. Charlotte realizes she’s just been pretending with Elliot, and they end up breaking their engagement. Unfortunately, right after this, Charlotte and her mother have a confrontation about the nature of their relationship, and Charlotte tells her, “I didn’t want to be born, and you didn’t want me. It’s been a calamity on both sides.” Mrs. Vale then dies from a heart attack, probably due to the sudden shock. Charlotte blames herself, even though her mother had been told it was only a matter of time before her heart finished her.

Alone again, Charlotte flees back to Cascade, thinking she’s going to collapse into another nervous breakdown. Life says, “Not so fast, Miss Vale,” and what happens next allows Charlotte to use her experiences to help someone else, bringing light and fun to places where only darkness and gloom had been. Jerry may figure into things as well. Or not.

vlcsnap-2017-03-21-21h09m39s533What I appreciate about Now, Voyager is Charlotte’s growth and development. Charlotte could easily continue to rebel against her mother just because she can, but it’s more of a case of her becoming a whole, complete woman. She learns to look outside herself and channel her energy into investing in other people. She also manages to keep her integrity instead of pursuing what may turn destructive, even if it was gone after for noble reasons. What’s interesting as well is that every time Charlotte makes progress as a person, the camera starts at her feet, pans upwards and Bette pauses just before she takes her first step, inviting viewers to symbolically move forward with her. Then as she helps other people to move forward, the camera follows them in a similar way.

Bette Davis’s performance in the film is excellent. In the eight years between Of Human Bondage and Now, Voyager she made a lot of leaps and bounds as an actress, keeping her emotions more subtle, as opposed to laying everything and everyone bare. Her Charlotte Vale becomes a strong, gutsy woman, both flawed and admirable, but always intriguing. Now, Voyager is a fine example of what makes Bette Davis an important part of film history.

And there we have my Day Two of the Bette Davis Blogathon. In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood has plenty more Bette for anyone who’s so inclined. Thanks for reading, and see you tomorrow for Day Three!

Bye, Mildred

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Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy blogathon (OK, I couldn’t resist 🙂 ).

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Source: Subscene

It’s a fact of life that not all attraction is mutual. It’s also a fact that sometimes relationships happen because one person wants to throw the other a bone. It is yet another fact that abuse can come from any corner, and can be as hard to separate from as Super Glue from skin. Like lots of people, I had to learn these lessons, and they’re tough pills to swallow. 1934’s Of Human Bondage explores the effects of toxic relationships, and one man’s efforts to gain freedom.

The film reunites Bette Davis with her co-star from The Petrified Forest, Leslie Howard. Most of the action revolves around Howard’s character,  Philip Carey, a man with clubfoot who tries to be an artist in Paris, only to be told he has no future in it. Philip then proceeds to Plan B, which is to go to medical school. He seems to be plugging along at it, except for his professor’s condescending attitude towards him about his clubfoot. “It’s not interesting,” he says. Philip protests, but in a half-hearted way, as if he’s expecting to be kicked around.

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Something interesting up there, Mildred? (Source: The Film Experience)

One fateful day, a friend asks Philip to be his wingman and help him impress the pretty Cockney waitress at the local watering hole. As it sometimes happens with these types of schemes, however, his friend gets bored and Philip is the one to be taken with the waitress, whose name is Mildred.

Philip asks Mildred to dinner, and she’s a cold fish. Not even champagne thaws her out. It’s not that Mildred’s the hard-to-get type, either. Her disdain for Philip is obvious–she doesn’t bother to look at him properly at first, let alone smile, not even when he’s a customer at her place of employment. On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing that Mildred doesn’t often look at Philip straight on, because when she does, he’s hypnotized. As if under a spell, he’s got to hang around her restaurant waiting for her to get off work and beg her to go out with him. Philip winces as he sees Mildred carry on with a mustachioed, gregarious businessman named Emil Miller (Alan Hale). He’s so lovesick that his classroom work suffers. Philip is a lot like Walter Mitty in a way. He blissfully dreams of he and Mildred having a passionate love affair, complete with champagne toasts and him dancing brilliantly in spite of his clubfoot, along with Mildred’s Cockney accent magically disappearing.

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Don’t get caught. (Source: TV Tropes)

Meanwhile, the reality is a lot less rosy. It’s not until Mildred tells Philip she’s been seeing Emil on the side that he really falls apart. He bombs his next exam at medical school, and thinks the only way to cheer up is to reunite with Mildred. She is amiable about the whole thing until Philip asks her to marry him, and Mildred blithely informs him she’s going to marry Emil. Devastated, Philip spends a lot of time walking back and forth, up and down the street, looking placidly morose. I groaned a bit as time went on, thinking, “Dude, you could do so much better.”

Philip rebounds with Norah (Kay Johnson), a romance writer who encourages him to do the best he can at school. She’s Mildred’s polar opposite, gentle and motherly. Norah obviously loves Philip and he gets a twinkle in his eye whenever he looks at her.

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Two degrees of torture. (Source: IMDb)

Unfortunately, though, our hero still can’t catch a break. Mildred suddenly reappears, pregnant and alone again. She goes all penitent and tells Philip she wants things to be different because Philip had always been kind to her. Ever the gentleman, Philip goes to see Emil and tells him he ought to marry Mildred or at least support her, at which Emil pulls out a photo of his wife and child. Whoops. Philip then takes it upon himself to provide for Mildred, while the bewildered and heartbroken Norah sends him telegrams, wondering why he hasn’t been to see her. The two break their relationship off, and Philip throws himself into caring for Mildred. Philip seems to think he can save Mildred, as if he’s a romantic hero and she’s the damsel in distress.

There’s only one not-so-minor problem, and it isn’t exactly a shock: Mildred has no intention of becoming a dutiful wife. She has a baby girl, but then sends her to an orphanage because she’s not interested in being a mother, and she’s plainly still bored with Philip. Ever trying to appease her, Philip invites his friend, Harry (Reginald Denny), over. Harry and Mildred laugh and carry on just a little too intimately, while Philip stands awkwardly by, and it soon becomes apparent that Harry is Mildred’s new Emil. Instead of striding forlornly up and down the streets, however, Philip kicks Mildred out. His friendship with Harry is rather icy for a long time as well, even though Harry dropped Mildred pretty quickly.

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At last! Someone who understands. (Source: Inafferrabile Leslie)

Free of Mildred again for the time being, Philip throws himself into his medical studies. One of his patients is a jovial Welshman, Mr. Altheny (Reginald Owen), who just happens to have a pretty daughter named Sally (Frances Dee). Mr. Altheny insists Philip come to dinner after he’s well, which turns out to be one of the nicest parts of the film, even though it’s late in the game, because Philip relaxes for the first time. He and Sally quickly fall in love, and everything is going great. If only the proverbial bad penny didn’t turn up again. And again, in even worse shape than before. Will Philip hop off Mildred’s carousel for good, or will he make another fruitless effort to grab the brass ring?

Of Human Bondage is a no-holds barred portrayal of abuse. Anyone who’s ever been in a similar situation or knows someone who has may find it tough to watch. It’s not just that Mildred treats Philip like dirt, but she treats herself like dirt as well. In fact, she’s her own worst enemy. She’s habitually attracted to unavailable men, and she seems determined to drag others down with her. Philip trying to break free of Mildred reminds me of that Twitter meme, “Bye, Felicia.” It’s a bit from an Ice-T movie called Friday (which I would not recommend to anyone under any circumstances). This woman named Felicia tries to sponge off Ice-T’s character and his buddy, but Ice-T is so jaded towards her that he dismisses her with “Bye, Felicia.”  I so, so wanted Philip to have his “Bye Felicia” moment, where he tells Mildred to take a hike, and I also wanted him to shake off his fantasies of being the romantic hero and decide to be a real one. As it happens, Of Human Bondage winds up nicely. It’s sad for some characters, but satisfying for others.

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Reality bites hard sometimes. (Source: IMDb)

As far as the cast is concerned, there are some deft performances put in. Leslie Howard’s acting is always on point, and he really made me root for Philip. Bette’s turn as Mildred was, well, a teeny bit scary. She has a meltdown scene in the film that would give any of Joan Crawford’s plenty of competition. Crawford brought a lot of anger to her meltdowns, but I have to say, the daggers shooting from Bette’s eyes in Of Human Bondage had quite a bit of edge. On the other hand, Bette’s Cockney accent was a bit muddled, as she goes from Cockney to mid-Atlantic to high-class Brit all through the film. Maybe accents weren’t her thing. However, I can see why this film made her a star, because she lays it all out there–her Mildred almost literally deteriorates onscreen. It is definitely a memorable performance, and Of Human Bondage is a memorable movie. It’s not something to watch when feeling blue, but it’s a captivating film.

That concludes my Day One in The Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon. If anyone would like to see more about Bette, please visit In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Until tomorrow, all…