By 1962, Bette Davis’ days as a leading lady were long over. After successes like Dangerous (1935), Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), Now, Voyager (1942), and Mr. Skeffington (1944), Davis became unhappy with the assignments she was provided. Almost all the films she made from 1946-1949 were either financial and/or professional disappointments. Davis was also getting on in age (in Hollywood years anyway, she was only late 30s) and was not being cast in the romantic leading roles she had been given a decade earlier. In 1949, she was cast in the film noir, Beyond the Forest. At the time, Davis knew it was a clunker and the critics like Hedda Hopper provided the same assessment, even going as far to say, “If Bette had deliberately set out to wreck her career, she could not have picked a more appropriate vehicle.” At the conclusion of the filming of Beyond the Forest, Davis was finally released from her contract, after eighteen years with Warner Brothers.
By 1950, Davis was working as a freelancer. After completing Payment on Demand, Davis was offered the leading role of Margo Channing in All About Eve. ‘Eve’ provided Davis with one of her best known roles. While Davis worked steadily after ‘Eve,’ she wasn’t able to recapture the success she achieved in the 1930s-1940s. By the early 1960s, Davis’ career had segued into horror films. She made many horror films during the 1960s-1980s, including: The Nanny (1965), Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Watcher in the Woods(1980). Her most famous one however, is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). A film that is just as notorious for what went on behind the cameras as what went on in front of them.
In 1962, Davis was cast in Robert Aldrich’s psychological thriller/horror film, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? She was cast alongside longtime rival, Joan Crawford. Davis’ character, “Baby Jane,” was a huge child star. Crawford’s character, Blanche, spent her childhood in Jane’s shadow always standing in the wings watching her sister perform. When the girls reached adulthood, Jane’s star was snuffed out. She was too old to be “Baby Jane” and wasn’t talented enough to be an adult actress. Blanche on the other hand, ended up becoming a famous actress and achieved the Hollywood stardom that Jane always wanted for herself. The pre-credit scenes are a flashback showing the two women’s careers in Hollywood. The sequence ends with one woman purposely hitting the other woman with her car and paralyzing her. It is assumed that Jane is the one who paralyzed Blanche.
The contemporary part of the film depicts Jane and Blanche as they are today–two sisters, former stars, living in a decaying Hollywood mansion. They are living off of Blanche’s money (which is quickly running out) and Jane is her caretaker. Jane however, is insanely jealous of Blanche’s success and career and does what ever she can to torment her. Jane is bonkers and the things she does to Blanche are terrifying. When Jane discovers that Blanche is planning on selling the mansion, her mental health deteriorates even further. She cuts the cord to Blanche’s telephone, essentially cutting her off from the world. Jane also starts tampering with Blanche’s food, making her scared to eat. On one occasion, there was a rat on the platter and on another, a dead bird. Jane ends up catching Blanche on the phone trying to get outside help and she beats Blanche unconscious, gags and binds her and locks her in her bedroom. When Blanche’s cleaning lady returns unexpectedly, Jane murders her.
The levity in the movie (if you can call it that) is when Jane decides that she is going to recapture the fame she experienced during her youth. She dusts off her old sheet music, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” and hires a pianist (Victor Buono) to accompany her singing. Jane, a woman in her late 50s, still dresses like the 10-year old girl she was when she was superstar Baby Jane. She even still wears her hair in blond ringlets, except for now they’re ringlets of dirty and greasy hair. She also wears pounds of makeup which only highlights how haggard she is. Apparently, Bette Davis designed her character’s makeup, by stating that Baby Jane seems like someone who would never take her makeup off, she’d just put more on. Baby Jane looks like she’s wearing 30+ years of makeup, all at the same time.
Davis and Crawford’s animosity toward one another during the filming of ‘Baby Jane,’ was well known and in the 55 years since then, their feud has evolved into one of the most notorious stories in Hollywood history. There is even a new mini series, Feud: Bette & Joan, that is on right now that depicts the off screen shenanigans of Davis and Crawford. There is no way to know the real truth, unless you happened to be on the set with Davis and Crawford, but their feud definitely makes the on-screen drama even more juicy. Their feud was legendary and hard to place where and how it started. Did these two ladies really dislike each other that much? Or was it played up for publicity for the film? There are theories abound regarding professional rivalries (Crawford winning an Oscar for Mildred Pierce, a film Davis turned down), romantic rivalries (Davis’ crush Franchot Tone marrying Crawford), and even award rivalries (Crawford was upset that Davis was nominated for the Oscar for ‘Baby Jane’ and not her. However, she got her revenge by accepting winner Anne Bancroft’s Oscar that year after Davis lost).
Two years later, Robert Aldrich tried to recapture the “magic” (if you want to call it that) of ‘Baby Jane,’ by re-casting Davis and Crawford in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. However, Crawford just couldn’t get through another period of drama with Davis and she feigned illness and eventually was replaced by Olivia de Havilland. De Havilland and Davis were friends, so there would be no drama with the new casting decision. ‘Hush, Hush’ shares many commonalities with ‘Baby Jane’ (except this time, Davis is the one being tormented). However, while it is entertaining, it isn’t as good as ‘Baby Jane.’ De Havilland, a wonderful actress in her own right, just doesn’t bring the right vibe to the film. The palpable tension between Davis and Crawford just makes ‘Baby Jane’ the film it is–a film that is delightfully creepy, hilarious, campy, and macabre, all at the same time.
Whatever the dynamic was between Davis and Crawford, it worked for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s a shame if their disdain of one another was all because of something petty or a misunderstanding. Depending on the circumstances, this final line from the film could have been applicable to Davis and Crawford’s relationship:
“You mean all this time we could have been friends?” BABY JANE to BLANCHE
I Love Lucy, Ep. 79 “The Million Dollar Idea” January 11, 1954
This weekend, “A Shroud of Thoughts” is hosting a blogathon. The theme is “Favorite TV Show Episode.” I knew that I would have to write about an episode from my favorite television show of all time–“I Love Lucy.” But which episode?! They’re all so great. It was difficult to narrow it down. I didn’t want to write about “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (aka “The Vitameatavegamin Episode”) or “Job Switching” (Lucy & Ethel work in the chocolate factory) or “Lucy’s Italian Movie” (Lucy stomps grapes) because I feel like those are the episodes that are always trotted out when someone discusses the best “I Love Lucy” episodes. While I adore these episodes, there are many other great episodes that deserve recognition. I settled on “The Million Dollar Idea.” A hilarious episode that features one of my favorite quotes. On paper, it’s not really that funny, but Lucy’s delivery of the line makes it.
“The Million Dollar Idea” opens with the Ricardos and Mertzes having dinner in the living room.
Ethel (Vivian Vance) and Fred (William Frawley) rave about Lucy’s (Lucille Ball) homemade salad dressing. Lucy admits that it is her Aunt Martha’s recipe. Fred tells Lucy that she should consider bottling and selling it. Ricky (Desi Arnaz) on the other hand, takes this opportunity to remind Lucy that her bank account is overdrawn…again. They have an off-screen battle over the household accounts.
The next morning, Lucy decides that she’s going to take Fred’s idea and bottle and sell her Aunt Martha’s Salad Dressing. She enlists Ethel’s help and the ladies are in business. They come up with a product name: Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing. To market their product, Lucy decides to take advantage of her friendship with “frenemy” Carolyn Appleby (not seen in the episode) since she remembered that Carolyn’s husband Charlie works at a television station. “[We’ll] cut her in, to the tune of, say, three cents a bottle,” Lucy tells Ethel. “Yeah. She likes that kind of music,” Ethel agrees. They decide to go on The Dickie Davis Show.
On the show, Ethel appears as “Mary Margaret McMertz,” a parody of popular radio show host Mary Margaret McBride who dispensed household advice to women for over 40 years. Ethel touts the salad dressing and asks an “average housewife, picked at random, from [the] audience” to come up on stage. Of course, this wasn’t a random selection at all. It is Lucy, disguised as average housewife Isabella Klump. Ms. Klump raves about the salad dressing, to the point where she’s literally drinking it from the jar! Ethel asks her viewers to write (623 E. 68th Street) or call (CIrcle 7-2099) to place their orders. Of course, Ethel holds the cards backwards and then upside down, but that doesn’t hurt orders. By the end of the show, Lucy and Ethel have 23 orders–at the bargain price of 40 cents a quart!
Back at home, Lucy and Ethel get to salad dressing production. As far as I can tell, the ingredients in the salad dressing are: oil, salt and onions. One has to assume there must be some vinegar in there? But the dressing isn’t a vinaigrette–it looks more like mayonnaise. Perhaps the dressing has eggs in it and when emulsified, it becomes more of mayonnaise type dressing? Then there are the onions. Big pieces of onion only cut into quarters. Maybe it goes into the blender next? Not sure. Regardless, Lucy and Ethel have horribly under-priced their product. Ricky, who obviously has more business acumen than Lucy (he does manage the Tropicana Club, after all), decides to calculate Lucy and Ethel’s profit. After calculating the cost of the ingredients, the cost of the jars and the cost of the labels and dividing it by their 23 orders, Ricky determines that they’ll churn out a 3 cent per jar profit–the same profit that was promised to Carolyn Appleby. He tells Lucy that that figure doesn’t even include shipping, mailing, insurance, taxes or overhead. “Oh. Well. If you’re going to figure all that stuff,” Lucy tells him. Ricky urges Lucy and Ethel to get out of the salad dressing business. Fred then enters the kitchen carrying an enormous bag of mail, one of three bags that were delivered. “We must be terrific television salesmen!” Ethel declares.
Dismayed at the thought of having to produce so many jars of non-profit salad dressing, Lucy and Ethel decide to return to The Dickie Davis Show. They figure if they’re so good at selling the dressing, that they’ll be good at “un-selling it.” The next day, Mary Margaret McMertz is back. She once again advertises Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing and invites “an average housewife, picked at random, from [the] audience.” Of course, Lucy comes up on stage, this time as country bumpkin, “Lucille McGillicuddy.” Mrs. McGillicuddy smells the dressing and is immediately disgusted. “Smell it” she tells McMertz. McMertz smells it and is taken with the same bad smell. “How about that? Looks like Aunt Martha had too many old-fashioneds” Mrs. McGillicuddy says. McMertz asks Mrs. McGillicuddy to taste the dressing. After getting over her initial repulsion and the promise of a new jar, Mrs. McGillicuddy takes a swig. She’s overcome with disgust and looks for a place to spit it out. “What’s Aunt Martha trying to do? Poison me?” she asks.
Under great duress, Mary Margaret McMertz says, “Friends, I can no longer endorse this product. If you have ordered it, send in your cancellations.”
Which brings me to my favorite part of the episode. Falling to the floor after drinking the vile salad dressing, Mrs. McGillicuddy pops up and says:
McMertz once again shares the cancellation phone number and address.
Mrs. McGillicuddy reappears. “AND DO IT NOW!” she pleads.
After the show, the girls are sure that they’ve succeeded in getting out of making all the salad dressing. Fred brings in more sacks of mail. Lucy and Ethel excitedly start reading the postcards. “Cancellations!” they think. Except they’re not. They’re more orders! 1133 more orders to be exact. Lucy and Ethel decide to purchase salad dressing from the store, remove the labels and attach their own labels. It’s not entirely honest and costs 50 cents a quart (10 cents more than their product), but they can get their scheme over and done with in the shortest amount of time. Lucy and Ethel, decked out in matching outfits, some sort of apron vest like thing (looks like something that a newspaper delivery boy would wear), roller skates and shopping carts (that they got from somewhere. I doubt that people with minimal storage, like in an apartment, would have shopping carts lying around) get ready to deliver their wares. “You take the east side, I’ll take the west side and I’ll be in Jersey a-fore ya!” Lucy tells Ethel.
100 years ago today, one of television’s great pioneers was born–Desi Arnaz. Desi was born in Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba, behind Havana. Desi’s family was well off and he enjoyed a happy, carefree and idyllic childhood. Desi’s father was the mayor of Santiago. In 1933, when Desi was 16, his entire world came crashing down when the Batista Revolution came crashing into town. Desi’s father was imprisoned. All three of the Arnaz family’s homes were destroyed during the Revolution. Six months later, the Arnazes fled to Florida, now penniless.
Now living in Miami, Desi finished his last year of high school. His best friend was Al Capone, Jr. Desi and his father, the former mayor of Santiago, lived in an unheated warehouse where they ate beans from a can for dinner. They regularly took turns chasing rats out of of their living space. Desi found work cleaning canary cages. Desi’s father ended up starting a small business building mosaic art pieces (fireplace mantels, for example) after capitalizing on broken tile that came from a nearby business. Barely speaking English, Desi also attended English language courses in Tampa.
At the age of 19, Desi found work performing in a small musical group–The Siboney Septet (even though there were only five members, maybe they hoped for more?). Desi was now earning $50/week. Not a lot of money, but was more than he had been earning for quite some time. The Siboney Septet regularly performed at a hotel in Miami. It was at one of these performances where famous bandleader Xavier Cugat (whom you’ll remember as a rival of Ricky Ricardo’s in I Love Lucy) spotted Desi and offered him a job with his orchestra. Desi actually had to take a $15/week pay cut, but was willing to gamble, because Xaxier Cugat’s band had the “name” and prestige that could open doors. This is one of the first glimpses of Arnaz’ innate business acumen that would serve him well in about fifteen years.
After about a year with Cugat’s band, Desi decided to take another gamble–he was going to form his own orchestra. The Desi Arnaz Orchestra started playing in small clubs and developed a following. Eventually the Orchestra ended up in New York City. Desi is also credited with starting the Conga craze in the United States. In 1939, while performing with his orchestra, Desi was spotted by Broadway director George Abbot. Abbot was casting his new play, Too Many Girls and was looking for a someone for the role of Manuelito, the Argentinian football player. Desi won the role and was soon performing on the stage. In 1940, RKO purchased the rights to the story and soon a film version was in the works. Many of the Broadway cast members, including Desi, were brought to Hollywood to appear in the film. Too Many Girls (1940), a B-movie musical at best, may be largely forgotten today and in all honestly, isn’t all that great of a film, may perhaps be one of the most important films ever made–not because of anything that happened on screen, but for what happened off screen. Without this film, television could be very different today.
When casting the ingenue role in Too Many Girls, RKO bosses settled on 28-year old Lucille ‘Lucy’ Ball. Lucy who started as an extra and bit player in 1933 at RKO, had steadily moved up the ladder, getting bigger and better parts with each passing year. She managed to score some supporting roles in A-list films, like 1937’s Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, but she was nowhere in the same league as either star. In 1938, Lucy finally scored a leading role in The Affairs of Annabel, but this was a ‘B’ film. The film was a modest success and Lucy had proven that she could carry a film. By 1940, after starring in numerous ‘B’ films, Lucy was known as “Queen of the Bs” at RKO. Too Many Girls was just another ‘B’ to her.
During a pre-film meeting, in June(ish) of 1940, the future of the world was changed when Lucy met 23-year old Desi Arnaz. Fresh off the soundstage after filming a cat fight scene with Maureen O’Hara in Dance, Girl Dance, Lucy looked worse for the wear. Dressed in a torn gold lamé gown, while sporting tousled hair and a big, fake black eye, Lucy looked a fright and Desi was not impressed. Lucy, on the other hand, took one look at the young, very attractive Cuban singer, and said in her autobiography, “It wasn’t love at first sight, it took five minutes.” Later that evening, at a cast party, Lucy returned, all cleaned up and Desi was smitten. After a whirlwind six months of filming their movie, traveling back and forth across country for their respective film and music commitments, and of course, dating when they were able, Lucy and Desi married on November 30, 1940.
Their marriage is famously tempestuous. Both Lucy and Desi had their respective careers–two very demanding careers that kept them apart much of the time. Desi tried a film career, but in 1940s America, his thick Cuban accent prevented him from getting many film roles. His best film is arguably 1944’s Bataan, where he plays Felix Ramirez, a Mexican soldier during World War II. In this film, (spoiler alert!) he plays an excellent death scene. By the end of the 1940s, Lucy’s film career was really not going anywhere, even after two studio changes (MGM and later Columbia). In 1948, she was appearing on radio in CBS’ My Favorite Husband, playing Liz Cugat (later renamed to Liz Cooper), a character very similar to Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. In 1950, CBS wanted to move My Favorite Husband to the burgeoning new entertainment medium, television.
Lucy was very eager to take on this new opportunity, but with one provision, she wanted husband Desi to appear with her on the new show. Lucy and Desi were tiring of their routine and were looking for a project that could keep them together. They also wanted children and after a series of miscarriages, that dream looked to be finally coming true by the end of 1950, Lucy was pregnant with daughter Lucie Arnaz. CBS balked at the idea of a Latin being married to an American girl like Lucy and were hesitant to take on the project. Lucy and Desi, in an effort to prove CBS wrong, formed a vaudeville act and took their show on the road. For anyone who is a big fan of I Love Lucy (like me), their act consisted of “The Professor” bit from Ep #6, “The Audition,” and the “Sally Sweet/Cuban Pete” bit from Ep #4 “The Diet.” Their road show was a massive success and CBS was successfully won over.
By early 1951, Lucy and Desi had formed their own production company, Desilu Productions. Desi was President and Lucy held the Vice President position. After successfully selling their pilot (basically their Vaudeville show), they went to work on their weekly series. They assembled their crew using the writing staff from My Favorite Husband, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Karl Freund, (who was interested in the novelty of television) and a variety of other professionals. They also hired their supporting actors, Vivian Vance and William ‘Bill’ Frawley, who would forever be linked together for eternity (I’m sure much to both Vance and Frawley’s chagrin). With all the players in place, I Love Lucy was born.
Early on, before the first episode was filmed, Desi made one of the shrewdest business deals in television history–CBS was hesitant to pay all the extra costs accrued by the film, live audience, etc., so Desi offered to have Desilu pay all the extra fees in exchange for the rights to all the episodes. CBS, obviously not knowing what they were doing, laughed and said (and I paraphrase): “Sure. You can own the episodes.” Desi, Lucy and Desilu made millions from the residuals of I Love Lucy.
Desi Arnaz ended up being one of the most powerful television producers of the 1950s. He is credited, along with Freund, with inventing the three-camera filming technique that became standard practice for all scripted comedy shows. This invention became a necessity when CBS wanted I Love Lucy to be filmed in New York, live. Desi and Lucy balked, stating that they lived in Los Angeles and intended to stay in Los Angeles. Desi also did not want to film I Love Lucy live, as it used kinescope film which was of very poor quality. While the East Coast feed looked decent, the West Coast would be treated to a blurry and fuzzy picture. Desi decided he wanted to film the show on 35mm film same way that films were produced. The three camera filming technique is just one of the innovations that emerged during Desi’s fifteen year tenure as one of the top producers in America.
In addition to filming the series, Lucy and Desi also wanted to film the series in front of a live audience. Desi argued that Lucy needed a live audience to do her best work. He retrofitted a soundstage with bleachers that could accommodate an audience. He arranged the lighting and other necessary production equipment in a way that would not obstruct the audience’s view. Finally, of course, he had to install or modify parts of the soundstage to up to various fire and city building codes.
In addition to the filming technique and the live audience-equipped soundstage, Desi is also credited with inventing the rerun while simultaneously challenging the social mores of the day. During the show’s second season, Lucy found out she was pregnant. Pregnancy depicted on screen was taboo. Lucy and Desi were worried that their show was done. Desi decided that Lucy Ricardo should be pregnant too. CBS was horrified. Desi made a deal with CBS: They will let three members of the clergy (priest, rabbi and minister) review each of the “baby” episodes to determine whether any of the content was objectionable. Obviously, they didn’t find anything “bad,” in fact, they told CBS (and I paraphrase), “What’s wrong with a married couple having a baby?” The only concession the I Love Lucy crew made was that the word “pregnant” would not be used in an episode.
To accommodate Lucy’s condition, the cast and crew produced as many episodes as they could before Lucy was unable to work any further. While Lucy was on maternity leave, Desi decided to re-air previous episodes. CBS again, playing the negative nelly role, said “who is going to want to watch something they’ve already seen?” (oh how little they know, I’ve probably seen every episode of I Love Lucy 100+ times). To appease them, Desi, Vivian and Bill filmed new flashback segments that will set up the rerun. After the rerun episodes aired, CBS discovered that the rerun episode got a higher rating the second time around than it did the first time. After this, the flashback segments were dumped and CBS aired reruns of I Love Lucy during the show’s hiatus in the summer. As a result, the cast and crew were also able to shorten their seasons (30 episodes/season vs. 35).
I Love Lucy ran from 1951-1960 (The last three seasons were a series of weekly specials, titled The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. The official last episode of I Love Lucy, #179 “The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue,” aired in 1957). In that time, it was one of the most popular shows on television. In 1953, it was the most popular show, garnering staggering ratings. Episode #51, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” got higher ratings than President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration. Almost 72% of the television sets in America were tuned to I Love Lucy, when Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Ricky Ricardo, Jr. Lucille Ball had also given birth to real-life son, Desi Arnaz IV on the same day the episode aired. Since I Love Lucy’s debut in 1951, the show has never been off the air. It regularly airs all over the world, every single day. The show won numerous Emmy Awards including accolades for both Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance. William Frawley received multiple nominations, but never won. Desi on the other hand, was never nominated.
By the mid to late 1950s, Desilu Productions was a thriving enterprise producing multiple television shows, including The Untouchables, Make Room For Daddy and Our Miss Brooks. In the 1960s, Desilu went on to produce The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Star Trek. Desi retired from Desilu in the early 1960s. He dabbled in television here and there and even taught a college course on television production in San Diego in the 1970s. In 1976, Desi published his autobiography, A Book (Excellent book by the way, if you can find a copy, it’s out of print). In 1982, Desi appeared in his last film, The Escape Artist. In early 1986, Desi was diagnosed with lung cancer. By the end of 1986, Desi was nearing the end. On November 30, on what would have been their 46th wedding anniversary, Lucy called Desi. While he was too ill and weak to speak on the phone, daughter Lucie (who was caring for him) held the phone up to his ear. Lucy told him “I Love You” over and over again. That was the last time they spoke. Desi passed away a couple days later, on December 2. He was 69.
Desi Arnaz was a television pioneer. While he lacked any sort of formal business training, he was one of the most powerful television producers in the country. What he lacked in education, he made up for in intuition, willingness to take risks, negotiating skills and simply an unwillingness to take “no” for an answer. He didn’t receive the appreciation or accolades in his lifetime (simply, I Love Lucy would not exist were it not for him. Even Lucy herself would attest to this) and was often just thought of as “the Cuban bandleader,” “Lucy’s husband,” or even “Ricky Ricardo.” But he was much more. Finally, some thirty years after his passing and sixty-plus years since I Love Lucy, he is finally being recognized for his contributions to television. In 1990, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted Desi into their Television Hall of Fame. In 2009, a statue of Desi was added to the plaza in front of the Television Arts and Sciences Headquarters in Hollywood. His statue joins the Lucy statue that was installed in the early 1990s.
In his autobiography, Desi says: “If we hadn’t done anything else but bring that half hour of fun, pleasure, and relaxation to most of the world, a world in such dire need of even that short a time-out from its problems and sorrows, we should be content.”
I recently checked a new book out from the library, TCM: Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by the Films we Love. While I questioned some of the meals, I liked the idea of pairing a meal and a cocktail with a film. A decade or so ago, TBS had a television show that followed these same lines. It, I believe, was called “Dinner and a Movie.” In the show, the hosts would prepare a meal that was loosely themed to the featured film. Usually it had some cutesy name (often times the name was a pun on the name of the film). I liked the ideas featured in the TCM book as it was less corny and seemed more in tune with my idea of making film viewing an event in and of itself. Who says you have to leave the house to “go out” ?
I’ve been trying to come up with some type of feature for the blog. I often enjoy pairing drinks and/or meals with specific films. Even if this is my hundredth time watching the film, it can feel like a different experience in the context of a dinner and drink event. For my first feature, I went with Roman Holiday (1953). I decided to go with Roman Holiday, because I wanted to watch something that took place in Italy to go with my Italian meal. I made lasagna and paired it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from California. I’m not going to include recipes, because lets face it, I had to use a recipe to make the meal in the first place–so it’s not my recipe. My lasagna happened to be made with italian turkey sausage (instead of the traditional ground beef or ground beef and pork sausage blend). The turkey makes the meal feel lighter. I also added fresh spinach to the ricotta filling.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. I USUALLY TRY NOT TO BLOW PLOT POINTS, BUT I NEED TO DO SO FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION***
Roman Holiday is such a delight. It is Audrey Hepburn’s first major film role and is the film that catapulted her to stardom. Peck was very kind to Hepburn during the making of this film. At this point, Peck was the bigger star and should have received sole star billing (i.e. above the title). However, he felt that this was Hepburn’s film and that she would win an Oscar for it. He insisted to the studio heads that Hepburn’s name also appear above the title with his. He was right. Hepburn went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her work in this film. Peck and Hepburn went on to be life long friends.
In this film, Hepburn portrays Princess Ann. Princess Ann’s nationality I do not believe is ever disclosed in this film. Princess Ann is on a European tour and is quickly growing bored with her regimented routine and schedule. One night, appearing at another function (undoubtedly just one of hundreds that she has to attend), Ann has a breakdown after being briefed on her next appearance. A doctor gives her a sedative (seemingly every doctor in the Golden Age’s solution. “She’s hysterical. Give her a sedative”). Not knowing about the sedative, Princess Ann sneaks out of the embassy and into Rome. Joe Bradley (Peck), an American reporter for the American news service comes across her sleeping on a bench. Not knowing of her true identity, he tries to give her money for a taxi to go home, but she’s too out of it to cooperate. He ends up taking her home to sleep it off.
The next morning, word is out that Princess Ann has taken ill and has canceled all appearances (obviously the embassy is trying to save face and figure out where she is). Bradley ends up going to work late under the pretense that he’s completed his interview with Princess Ann. His boss calls him out on his lie. Bradley sees a photograph of the Princess in the newspaper in his boss’ office. Seeing an opportunity, Bradley bets his boss $5,000 that he can get an exclusive interview with Princess Ann. He returns home and despite the Princess’ hesitations, he ends up taking her out for a day of fun in Rome. With her newfound freedom, Princess Ann cuts her hair short and even drives a Vespa around town! Unbeknownst to her, Bradley has hired his friend Irving (Eddie Albert) to photograph the Princess during her day of freedom.
Many romantic comedies involve deception. Roman Holiday features multiple deceptions. Gregory Peck deceives Audrey Hepburn in two ways: 1) He knows her true identity but pretends like he doesn’t and 2) He tells her that he is a fertilizer salesman. Audrey Hepburn deceives Gregory Peck by devising her fake identity of “Anya.” Of course, Hepburn’s deception seems reasonable, as she wouldn’t want word to get out as to her whereabouts. Peck on the other hand, at the beginning of the film, is lying to Hepburn purely to profit off of her decision to be “free.” Of course, in most of these romantic comedies, the characters usually find out about the other’s deception and the relationship seems to be in jeopardy at first until one of them makes a great gesture.
In Roman Holiday, however, Hepburn never finds out about Peck’s true intentions. In fact, she realizes that her jig is up when the government agents track her town at a party and chaos ensues. At the conclusion of the party, Hepburn bids Peck adieu, stating that she must resume her royal duties. Peck realizes that he’s developed true romantic feelings for her and doesn’t want to hurt her by profiting off of the photos he has of Hepburn acting very un-Princess like. While appearing at another meet and greet event, Peck and Albert present Hepburn with the photos of her trip under the guise of a generic memento of her trip to Rome. Hepburn and Peck exchange some vague but direct allusions to their day together while maintaining the appropriate distance between a royal and a “strange” reporter. At the conclusion of the event, Peck is left to wonder what could have been as he leaves Princess Ann. I can’t help but think that Peck’s character will stick around in Rome hoping to see Princess Ann each time she visits–or perhaps he’ll get an assignment in Princess Ann’s country.
When I first saw this film, I loved Audrey Hepburn’s character but thought that Gregory Peck seemed wooden. I have had that same opinion of Peck in other films, but as I see more of him and learned about him as a person outside of the silver screen, I’ve grown to appreciate him more. Now, when I watch him in Roman Holiday, he still has that deep, stiff sounding voice. However, now his deep voice lends itself to sounding more romantic and strong–which is a good quality for a leading man. He and Audrey have magnificent chemistry. Audrey’s effervescence is a nice contrast to Peck’s tendency to seem too serious and she helps lighten him up a bit.
This film is filled with so much joy and happiness that it is impossible to tire of it. This film was a wonderful way to introduce Audrey Hepburn to the American public.
Beloved television icon Mary Tyler Moore passed away today at the age of 80. While I knew that Mary had been in poor health for the last few years and I’m not entirely surprised by her passing, I am still very sad. I absolutely love Mary Tyler Moore. Along with I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was my “must see” show during my Nick at Nite years. I also loved The Dick Van Dyke Show, the show that put Mary on the map, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show will always have a special place in my heart.
While I Love Lucy is my #1 favorite television show of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show comes in a close second. While Lucy Ricardo got the best of her husband Ricky often and for the most part, always got her way, she was still expected to live up to the expectations of women in the 1950s. Lucy was expected to keep house, take care of children (or in her case, child) and attend to her husband’s needs. Husband Ricky was the breadwinner. She took care of all domestic chores. To Lucy, this life was mundane and she wanted the excitement of show business, something that Ricky experienced on a daily basis. Ricky didn’t want his wife having a career. Even when Lucy got her way and made her way onto the stage, she was still expected to return to her domestic duties. In the only two-three cringe-worthy moments in I Love Lucy, Ricky actually spanks Lucy when she does something he doesn’t like. Ricky keeps Lucy in her place and she usually always returns to domestic life even though it is apparent that she wants more.
In 1961, 24-year old Mary Tyler Moore was cast in The Dick Van Dyke Show. She landed the star-making role of Laura Petrie, wife of Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke). This role allowed Moore to showcase her talent for dancing and also her comedic skills. In addition to her excellent chemistry with Van Dyke, the role of Laura Petrie allowed Mary to establish one of her great comic shticks. Where Lucille Ball’s comedy came from situations she got herself into, much of Mary’s comedy came from being embarrassed. In the episode “My Blonde-Haired Brunette,” Laura decides that Rob has become uninterested in her. Knowing that blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield are currently in vogue, Laura decides to make herself blonde. She looks horrible as a blonde and Rob tells her over the phone that he loves her brown hair and he’s taking her out to dinner. Desperate to change her hair before he comes home, she enlists friend Millie to help her. Unfortunately, Rob arrives home when Laura’s hair is only half dyed. She comes out with her half and half hair and collapses into a blubbering mess. Mary Tyler Moore became one of the all-time best criers on television. Even though Rob encouraged his wife to explore her talents, Laura Petrie ultimately was still a housewife and was expected to take care of son Ritchie and their home. Laura somewhat bridges the gap between Lucy Ricardo and Mary Richards.
Which brings us to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966 after a very successful five-year run on television. Between 1966-1970, Mary was having trouble finding her next project. She tried movies. Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) was successful, but did not lead to any big projects. In 1969, Mary and Dick reunited for a special called, Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman. In this variety special, Mary and Dick portray themselves and through a variety of song and dance routines, it shows off the various sides of Mary and Dick’s musical comedy talents. This special paved the way for Mary to get her own show. In 1970, The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered.
In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary portrayed Mary Richards, a newly single 30-year old woman who moves to Minneapolis to start a new life and career after her long-term relationship fizzles out. Mary moves into a fantastic studio apartment managed by longtime friend, Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). Soon to be BFF, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), lives upstairs. Applying for a secretarial position at WJM News, Mary lands the job of Associate Producer. WJM’s news is the lowest rated news program in the city. Mary’s new co-workers include the brash, but secretly a softie, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), sarcastic and disillusioned writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod) and the buffoonish, arrogant anchorman, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). Later, Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White) who hosts “The Happy Homemaker” program at WJM and Georgette Franklin (Georgia Engel) join the gang. Georgette ends up becoming Mrs. Ted Baxter.
Mary Richards in many ways is the ideal woman of the 1970s (and maybe even now). She’s gainfully employed and makes enough money to live independently. She has many friends and even a close-knit group of co-workers who in many ways serve as a surrogate family for Mary. While she would like to be married and have children, she isn’t desperate to have them. She goes on dates and it is even implied that she spends the night with some of them. She’s on The Pill! Prior to 1970, were there any female television characters that even had sex, let alone were on The Pill? Mother characters don’t count. Mary lived her own life according to her own terms. There were times when Mary was a bit of a pushover and naive, but this is where the Rhoda and Lou characters came in handy–they were able to express their concerns to Mary in hopes that she’d make the right decision. Throughout the 1970s, Mary Richards approached uncharted territory. In an early episode, she discovers that the man who had her job before her made $50 more a week than she does. She confronts Lou and demands to know why; In the fifth season, Mary faces the possibility of jail time for not revealing her news source; In the seventh season, Mary becomes hooked on sleeping pills. These are just a few examples.
Without further ado, my top 10 favorite episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
(This definitely isn’t meant to imply that I am not a fan of the other 158 episodes of the show)
1. Put On a Happy Face (Season 3, Ep. 23)
Mary Richards is having a really bad week. She’s late to work after her alarm fails to go off; She drips coffee on her new sweater before a meeting; she gets a flat tire; her paper bags fail causing her to drop her groceries all over the floor; she slips on the freshly waxed floor and sprains her ankle after trying to walk to the ladies’ room to fix her “hair bump”; she catches a cold from soaking her sprained foot; her date to the Teddy Awards bails; she ends up going to the award show with a “Robert Redford-type” (aka Ted Baxter); the dry cleaner ruins her dress; her hair dryer breaks; she gets a run in her stocking; it starts raining… This all culminates with Mary showing up at the Teddy Awards in a tacky dress, one wet slipper and one shoe, wearing a yellow rain slicker and haphazard hair. Her false eyelash falls off. She of course wins the Teddy Award she was nominated for and ends up a blubbering mess on the podium, only managing to apologize for her appearance. She gets her award, and Mary is spelled wrong. Of course it is.
*This is my favorite episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
2. The Dinner Party (Season 4, Ep. 10)
It’s time for another of Mary’s disastrous parties. For someone who is so pleasant and well-liked by her co-workers and friends, it becomes a running gag in the series that she can’t seem to give a good party to save her life. Nothing that happens at her parties is ever her fault, it just seems like everyone likes to bring their troubles to her parties. In this party, Mary has invited Congresswoman Geddes as her guest of honor. Her table only seats six. The guests will be: Congresswoman Geddes, Mary, Lou, Rhoda, Murray and Sue Ann (who is cooking the dinner). Sue Ann cooks exactly six portions of “Veal Prince Orloff.” Rhoda shows up with a date (Henry Winkler) who has just been fired from Hempels and she feels bad. Lou ends up taking 3 portions of Veal Prince Orloff and has to return two portions to the platter. Ted, who was not invited to the dinner party, shows up to dessert.
3. The Lars Affair (Season 4, Ep. 1)
This is the funniest Phyllis episode. This episode also introduces the Sue Ann Nivens character. In this episode, Phyllis learns that husband Lars and Sue Ann are having an affair after meeting at Mary’s party. Phyllis agonizes over the fact that her husband is cheating on her and even bakes a pie in an attempt to compete with Sue Ann. The episode culminates with a confrontation on the set of “The Happy Homemaker” where Sue Ann refuses to give Lars up even after Phyllis points out all of his faults. Sue Ann finally relents when Mary gives her an ultimatum, stating that being a homewrecker wouldn’t be a great image for “The Happy Homemaker,” it’s either Lars or her show.
4. Rhoda the Beautiful (Season 3, Ep. 6)
Perpetual dieter Rhoda has finally reached her goal. Mary, Phyllis and the WJM staff give her praise but Rhoda cannot accept any of the compliments and meets each kind statement with a self-deprecating remark. She ends up entering her department store’s “Miss Hempel Beauty Pageant.” After a hilarious scene where Mary and Phyllis help Rhoda find something to wear (and Phyllis sings “10 Cents a Dance” from Love Me or Leave Me), Rhoda leaves for the pageant. She looks fantastic and wins the contest. Rhoda is finally able to admit that she looks good.
5. You Try to Be a Nice Guy (Season 5, Ep. 21)
Mary ends up becoming reacquainted with Sherry, a prostitute she met in jail while she was incarcerated for not revealing her news source. Sherry got out of jail but was arrested again. She recruits Mary to be a character witness at her court appearance. Sherry is relying on a good character witness like Mary to keep her out of jail. Mary agrees but unwittingly becomes responsible for Sherry’s behavior after having to give an oath promising to help Sherry look for legitimate work. Mary, taking her oath seriously, is determined to find a decent job for Sherry but struggles since Sherry doesn’t have any marketable skills. Finally, Sherry tells Mary that she wants to be a fashion designer. Mary encourages her to pursue her dream. To thank her, Sherry makes Mary a custom gown. It ends up being a ridiculous, green colored concoction with lots of cutouts across Mary’s stomach and legs. Only Mary Tyler Moore could wear this dress and not look atrocious, but it is so tacky and so completely not Mary Richards, that she looks ridiculous. Ted and Georgette happen to show up at the same time Mary is wearing this dress and Ted can’t keep it together. His reaction is the funniest part of the episode.
6. The Last Show (Season 7, Ep. 24)
All good things must come to an end and The Mary Tyler Moore Show unfortunately reached that point in 1977. I personally think they could have continued a couple more years, but it’s good that the show ended before the episodes started diminishing in quality. In what is perhaps one of the best (if not the best) series finales of all time, the WJM crew (with the exception of Ted) learn that they are going to be fired. Though they’re trying to repress their emotions, they finally let it all out after the end of their last newscast. It’s hard to watch this scene without getting at least a little teary-eyed. Lou and Mary emotionally give speeches to everyone. This culminates with the group sobbing in a large group hug. Ted (or maybe Lou?) says he needs Kleenex and they move in one big glob toward the Kleenex box. To lighten the mood, they sing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and leave the room. Mary is left to turn off the lights. Thus ending The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
7. Sue Ann’s Sister (Season 7, Ep. 3)
Sue Ann’s sister Lila is in town. Sue Ann is deeply jealous of Lila as it seems that every time Sue Ann gets something, Lila comes around and steals it from her. Upon arrival, Lila and Lou immediately become chummy, which infuriates Sue Ann. Lila then announces that she is interviewing for a “Happy Homemaker” type show on a rival network. This latest news is just too much for Sue Ann and she retreats to her bedroom. The scene in Sue Ann’s bedroom is the funniest part of the entire episode. Her bedroom is frilly gaudy. She sleeps in a round bed, which we learn also vibrates. She’s also got Tchaikovsky’s “Love Theme” from “Romeo and Juliet” queued up to play whenever I imagine she’s got something hot and heavy going on. The best scene is when Ted walks in, looks up, and straightens his hat and tie–telling the audience about Sue Ann’s mirrored ceiling.
8. I Was a Single for WJM (Season 4, Ep. 24)
Inspired by the popularity of a local singles bar, WJM News decides to do a feature on the singles scene in Minneapolis. The crew spends time at the bar each evening looking to find an “angle” for their story. By Friday, Mary has become acquainted with many of the regulars and hopes to use them in WJM’s story. When the singles become aware of the plan for cameras to enter their hangout and interview them, they become camera shy and leave in droves. By the time the news starts, the bar is empty and Mary and co. are forced to improvise.
9. Edie Gets Married (Season 6, Ep. 1)
In this very emotional episode, Lou finds out that ex-wife Edie is planning on remarrying. While he knows there isn’t a chance of them getting back together, Lou is still having trouble admitting that that aspect of his life (he & Edie) is over. In a goodwill gesture, Edie invites Lou to her wedding. Lou doesn’t know if he wants to attend, but ultimately does. With Mary as his date, Lou very graciously and stoically watches his ex-wife tie the knot with someone else. Originally Mary was supposed to provide moral support, but by the end of the ceremony, she’s a blubbery mess. Lou then wishes Edie the best of luck in her marriage and Mary loses it completely. Lou ends up taking her to the bar to console her.
10. The Square-Shaped Room (Season 2, Ep. 13)
Lou wants to surprise wife Edie with a makeover of their living room. He plans to hire an old “designer” friend who currently decorates bus stations. Mary suggests Rhoda, whose vocation is window decorator. Lou hires Rhoda. Rhoda agonizes over the right details for the room and finally settles for an all white motif with modern design. The bookshelves appear to be made of white PVC piping. There’s lots of white, shag, PVC and glass and a big number “5” on the wall. This room is not Lou’s style at all and Rhoda has to return the room to its original state–however, there’s one change that Lou and Edie liked–the white walls.
The great thing about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was that despite the show being named after its star, it was truly an ensemble show. While Mary was in every episode, not every episode centered around Mary. Every character had their own story lines and chances in the spotlight. This is one of the few shows where the main characters were fleshed out. We knew each character’s backstory, frustrations, successes, etc. What I also loved about this show is how effortlessly they blended drama with comedy. Lou had many very emotional moments (especially when dealing with Edie) and the show was able to easily add levity to a situation without undermining the scene.
In the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode, Chuckles the Clown dies. Not funny stuff. Chuckles was dressed as a peanut and a rogue elephant tried to shell him. His death is absurd and tragic. Lou, Murray and Sue Ann get all the jokes out of the way in the first half of the episode. Mary is mortified at her co-workers’ lack of sensitivity. At the funeral, the co-workers are able to provide the somberness required for the occasion. Mary, on the other hand, finally realizes the absurdity of the situation and can’t stop laughing during the pastor’s eulogy. However, laughing at a funeral would be a very un-Mary Richards like thing to do–her laughter quickly turns to loud sobs. It is a testament to Mary Tyler Moore’s talent that she was able to switch from laughter to crying so quickly and realistically.
For my blogathon entry, I am covering Carole Lombard’s friendship with Lucille Ball.
January 16, 2017 is the 75th anniversary of the death of comedienne Carole Lombard. In 1942, Lombard, along with her mother, husband Clark Gable’s press agent, and fifteen army servicemen were killed when their plane crashed into the mountains in Nevada. Lombard, et. al. were on their way back from a war bond rally in Lombard’s home state of Indiana. It has been said that the group was supposed to travel back to Los Angeles via train, but Lombard was anxious to return home and wanted to fly. Her mother and Gable’s press agent did not want to fly, but agreed to flip a coin with Lombard. Lombard “won.” After her death, Clark Gable was inconsolable and was seen racing around his San Fernando neighborhood on his motorcycle. Friends were concerned that he was suicidal. Two such friends were Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz.
Ball and Lombard were friends from RKO Studios. They were neighbors in the San Fernando Valley. When Ball and Arnaz married in November of 1940, Lombard and Gable (who married the year prior) threw them a party at the Chasen’s nightclub in Hollywood. Many of Ball and Arnaz’ friends predicted instant doom for their union, but not Lombard and Gable. Lombard and Gable frequently invited Ball and Arnaz to spend the day with them at their ranch. After Lombard’s death, Gable (after tearing around on his motorcycle) would stop at Ball and Arnaz’ doorstep just to talk about his beloved wife Carole. He would also occasionally bring over one of her films for the three of them to watch. In her book, Love Lucy, Ball notes that she was never sure whether Gable was trying to torture himself by watching his late wife’s films, or whether seeing and hearing her brought him a sense of comfort (Ball, p. 123). However, Ball and Arnaz were there for Clark and consoled him and entertained him when he needed it.
By 1951, Ball’s career in the movies was waning and Arnaz’ never really started (because of his accent, studios claimed he was difficult to cast). They had an opportunity to star in their own series in the fledgling industry of television. Ball was currently appearing on CBS’ radio show, My Favorite Husband, and the network wanted to move the program to the small screen. At the time, “movie people” frowned on television as it seemed like a novelty and beneath them somehow. It took some time to lure big screen stars to the small screen. Ball and Arnaz (who at this time was a successful bandleader with The Desi Arnaz Orchestra that toured the country frequently) had to make a decision. One night, Ball had a dream where friend Carole Lombard appeared and she said (to Lucy) “take a chance honey, give it a whirl.” This was all the confidence Lucy needed and I Love Lucy was born and television history was made.
TRIVIA: Lucy had a superstition about the combination of the letters AR–a combo which is present in both Lombard’s first and last name. Lucy believed she hadn’t hit it big until she married Desi ARnaz. When I Love Lucy filmed their pilot, Lucy and Desi’s characters were Lucy and Larry Lopez. Aside from the fact that those names sound corny, Lucy wanted the characters renamed to incorporate “AR.” Lucy and Larry Lopez became Lucy and Ricky RicARdo. Later in her subsequent sitcoms, Lucy appeared as: Lucy CARmichael (The Lucy Show); Lucy CARter (Here’s Lucy) and Lucy BARker (Life With Lucy).