I kind of missed the boat on this blogathon, as my entry was due two weeks ago. Well better late than never, right? I thought I would write my entry even if ultimately it doesn’t end up as part of the official blogathon event. I will be better with my future events. I think I also over-commit because everything sounds so great!
Without further ado…
Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight, count ’em, eight films together: Dance, Fools, Dance, Laughing Sinners, Possessed (all in 1931), Dancing Lady (1933), Forsaking All Others and Chained (both in 1934), Love on the Run (1936) and Strange Cargo (1940). Prior to that, both appeared as extras (uncredited) in 1925’s The Merry Widow.
By the time the early 1931 rolled around, Crawford had become MGM’s top star and Gable had just been signed a short term one year contract by Irving Thalberg, MGM’s top producer who was famed for his youth and ability to select good scripts and find new stars. Gable’s first role at MGM was a small part as a villain in Crawford’s Dance, Fools, Dance. Thalberg, sensing that he had something special with Gable, ordered that the script be re-written and Gable be given some steamy scenes with Crawford. During their first clinch, sparks flew.
After Dance, Fools, Dance, Crawford and Gable made two more films together and many films apart. By the end of 1931, during the filming of Possessed, Crawford and Gable were involved in a full-fledged steamy affair. However, Crawford was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the time and Gable was married to Maria Langham. Both couples’ marriages were stormy, but due to morality standards of the time, it was imperative that Crawford and Gable kept their relationship on the down low.
Crawford and Gable mostly kept their relationship contained to working hours. They’d arrive to work early and stay late. They rendezvoused in Crawford’s fancy trailer, which incidentally was a gift from her husband, Fairbanks Jr. He was still even making payments on it! They also occasionally lunched together in the commissary, but only a couple times a week as to not arouse suspicion among their co-workers. Any breaks Crawford and Gable received were spent in the bed of a local hotel room. As we all know, the more a couple attempts to hide their relationship, the more people that know about it. Despite Crawford and Gable’s attempts at discretion, their steamy affair was a well known secret around the studio.
Louis B. Mayer got wind of Crawford and Gable’s torrid romance and threatened their careers if they carried on. Gable was to have made Letty Lynton with Crawford, but was removed when news of their affair broke. He was replaced with Robert Montgomery. Crawford and Gable kept apart for awhile but still managed to appear in five more films together. They continued their romance despite being married to other people. Crawford divorced Fairbanks Jr. in 1933. She remarried to Franchot Tone in 1935. Gable remained married to Langham until 1939, when Gable fell in love with Carole Lombard and was forced to pay Langham a pretty penny in order for her to agree to divorce him so that he could marry Lombard. Apparently, Crawford was jealous of Lombard’s relationship with Gable (whom everyone said was the love of her life and vice versa). During the filming of Strange Cargo in 1940, Crawford would continually whisper things to Gable, presumably about Lombard, that irritated him. However, in 1942 when Lombard was tragically killed in a plane crash, Crawford and Gable seemed to bury the hatchet. Crawford was one of Gable’s closest confidants during his mourning.
After Gable’s marriage to Lombard, and even after her passing, his relationship with Crawford carried on, but was never as steamy as it had once been. They were good friends, perhaps “friends with benefits.” Both Crawford and Gable remarried to other people. They carried on until Gable’s death in 1960. Even in interviews later life, Crawford referred to Gable lovingly, referring to him as her favorite leading man. When asked why she found Gable so attractive, Crawford put it succinctly, stating: “…Balls! Clark Gable had balls.” Crawford herself also had “balls,” figuratively speaking, which is perhaps why she and Gable got along so well. In many ways Crawford and Gable were cut from the same cloth: similar meager childhood backgrounds, similar struggle to make it to the top of the heap in Hollywood, similar insatiable sexual appetites and so much more.
Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Gene Kelly’s passing at the age of 83. I remember hearing of his death in the sixth grade and feeling so sad. I was a few months shy of twelve at the time. I had just discovered Nick at Nite the year prior and had just discovered Gene Kelly by way of his appearance with Lucille Ball in DuBarry Was a Lady (1943). While ‘DuBarry’ wasn’t his best film, I liked Gene. He just had that je ne sois quoi about him. After seeing him with Lucy, I was hooked. I religiously checked the TCM listings (then in its infancy) for Gene’s movies and tried to set the VCR to record them. With each recording, I’d cross my fingers hoping that I’d set up the recording correctly and that the tape wouldn’t run out before my recording was complete. Between TCM and the ever reliable Hollywood Video, I managed to see a few of Gene’s films. When I heard that he had died, I remember watching Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Pirate (1948)with my friend who also loved him.
While I love Fred Astaire, I would never compare him with Gene. Honestly, they’re like apples and oranges. Sure, they’re both dancers and both men, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. In the end though, I think I have to give Gene the edge–if only because I love the fabulous elaborate dance numbers he put together in his films. Astaire, to his credit, did do some pretty fantastic numbers in his post-Ginger Rogers films. However, Astaire never put together such productions like the ballet in An American in Paris (1951) and the “Broadway Melody” number in Singin’ in the Rain–two of my favorite numbers of any musical ever made. Gene was a pioneer and an innovator not only in musicals but in the world of film itself.
Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in “Ziegfeld Follies (1945)” Two fantastic, yet very different dancers.
Gene was born in Pittsburgh in 1912. As a child, he was reluctantly enrolled in dance classes with his brothers. Gene dreamed of playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team–not being a world renowned movie star, dancer, choreographer and director. At some point, Gene had a change of heart and gave up on his dream of being a professional baseball player. Lucky for us, he decided to dedicate himself to dancing. By the early 1930s, Gene was a teacher at his own dancing school. By the late 1930s, Gene had established a very successful dance studio and decided to move to New York City to find work as a choreographer. He didn’t find much success during his first stint in New York. By 1940, he was back in his hometown starring in and choreographing local theater productions. It was in one of these productions where he was discovered and given a larger part. That part led to an even larger part in a bigger production and so on.
By 1940, Gene was back in New York appearing on Broadway in Pal Joey–a play which was later made into a 1957 film starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. During Gene’s appearance in Pal Joey, he was approached by Hollywood mogul David O.Selznick for a Hollywood contract. By the time Gene made his film debut in 1942 in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland, Selznick had sold Gene’s contract to MGM. During the next couple of years, Gene appeared in a few dramatic films and even appeared in a musical with Lucille Ball who had recently signed with MGM after a long stint at RKO as “The Queen of the Bs.”
Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Tommy Dorsey, Rags Ragland and Zero Mostrel in “DuBarry Was a Lady.”
Gene’s big big break was when he was loaned to Columbia to appear with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944). It was this film where he finally started to show glimpses of what he would achieve later. One of the best dance numbers in this film is when Gene dances with his own reflection. For the next decade or so, Gene appeared in a remarkable series of films that gradually built upon one another and showcased the innovative film and storytelling techniques and dance routines that Gene would become known for. Gene was lucky to come around at just the right time–the Golden Era of the Hollywood musical from the mid-1940s through the mid to late 1950s.
By the late 1950s, the public’s tastes had changed and intense dramas and issue driven films were more popular. The musicals of the 1960s and beyond definitely have a different feel about them and feel gritty and grim–which is a definite contrast to the glamorous and sparkly looks of their predecessors. By this point in his career, Gene had mostly retired from dancing and turned into a director. One his biggest films was 1969’s Hello, Dolly! which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three. In 1980, Gene returned to the big screen in the musical Xanadu.
Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John in that cinematic classic, “Xanadu.”
Despite its reputation as one of those “so bad, its good” movies, I love Xanadu. It has everything you’d want in a film: Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly roller skating, Gene Kelly playing the clarinet, Olivia Newton-John singing catchy 80s pop songs, a big roller skating dance number, flashbacks, Greek Gods, magic, neon… This film has everything. When asked about why he made this film, Gene stated that the film had a great concept, it just didn’t quite turn out. I think it turned out great. This is truly one of the gems from 1980. After Xanadu, Gene was pretty much retired and spent the remainder of his life making the award show circuits (picking up a Cecil B. DeMille award in 1981, Kennedy Center Honors in 1982, AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1989, just to name a few of the honors he received). By the late 1980s-early 1990s, Gene’s health steadily declined until his passing in 1996.
My favorite Gene Kelly movies:
Words and Music (1948),”Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” Gene and Vera-Ellen only appeared in a segment of this musical biopic starring Mickey Rooney and Tom Drake, however, they are definitely the highlight. “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” is definitely a sexy number, a trait that is unusual in the goody two shoes MGM movies of the 1940s. Vera-Ellen’s character is killed and she dies on the staircase, on her back, right in front of the camera. All we see of Vera-Ellen’s character is her chest and legs. This number also has great music that I really like.
Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in “Words and Music.”
On the Town (1949). This film is the final film that Gene made with Frank Sinatra and I feel that it is their best. I like Anchors Aweigh but cannot stand Kathryn Grayson, so that film pales a little bit in comparison with ‘Town.’ I thought Gene had a great rapport with not only Frank but love interest Vera-Ellen. My favorite number in this film is actually the “Prehistoric Man” number that mainly features Ann Miller, but Gene provides some amusing backup. However, for Gene’s best number in this film, that honor would have to go to “A Day in New York” where all his co-stars, save for Vera-Ellen (who had ballet training, which non of the actor cast members had). Vera-Ellen and Gene make a great duo–which is interesting because I don’t typically think of Gene as being part of a dancing team.
An American in Paris. This film is widely considered Gene’s masterpiece and won the 1951 Oscar for Best Picture over the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun. While I like ‘Desire,’ and ‘Sun,’ give me ‘Paris,’ any day. This film is so much fun and such a delight to both the eyes and ears that it makes an enjoyable experience each time I see it. The best number in this film is of course the seventeen minute ballet at the end of the film. This was a huge gamble for Kelly, director Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed. Not only was the ballet expensive to produce, but it was unknown whether the audience would respond to it. Well the audience did and the film was a huge hit, winning six Oscars, including the aforementioned “Best Picture” Oscar. Gene was also given an Honorary Oscar for his versatility and achievement in choreography on film. My favorite part of the entire ballet is the Toulouse Lautrec part. Could anyone else but Gene Kelly wear a flesh colored leotard?
Gene Kelly’s flesh colored leotard in the Toulouse Lautrec part of the ballet in “An American in Paris.” I’m not going to lie, this gif was the whole reason for this post.
Singin’ in the Rain. This is probably Gene’s best known film and honestly, it is probably the best musical ever made. I love this movie. From the amazing cast (Gene, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen) to the great music, fun storyline, great costumes, everything. This film is almost perfect. The only thing marring this fabulous film, in my opinion, is the fact that Debbie Reynolds’ character has three different singing voices. O’Connor is hilarious and has his amazing “Make ‘Em Laugh” dance routine. Has there ever been a dance that looked so physically exhausting? Jean Hagen is hilarious as Lina Lamont, Gene’s delusional co-star and Hollywood-manufactured love interest. Lina has a horrendous voice that is fine in silent film (because obviously you can’t hear her), but in a talkie… ugh. And Debbie is just adorable as Gene’s love interest and the studio’s new discovery, threatening to supplant Lina’s status as top female star at the studio. Pretty much every number in this film is fantastic, but my favorite would be the “Broadway Melody” number toward the end of the film. It is colorful, has great dancing, a storyline, and fun music. My favorite part of it is the part where Gene dances with Cyd Charisse, who is wearing a fringed and beaded green flapper dress. The music is fantastic and Gene and Cyd just sizzle on screen. This is one of the sexier musical numbers during the production code era. The best part is when Gene lifts Cyd up with just one arm.
The most famous moment in Gene Kelly’s entire career, singing (and dancing) the title song from “Singin in the Rain”
Other favorite Gene Kelly films:
–Summer Stock (1950). “Get Happy” is probably one of the best numbers in Judy Garland’s career. On the flipside, “Heavenly Music” is probably one of the absolute worst numbers in Gene’s career. I loathe that number. The only good part is when the dogs run out on stage.
–The Pirate. This film failed at the box office in 1948, but it’s a great film. Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Gene has all kinds of great athletic numbers, including one where he dons shorty shorts and dances with fire. Judy is great and looks gorgeous and there is a fantastic number at the end where Gene dances with the amazing Nicholas Brothers. They sing “Be a Clown” which suspiciously sounds like “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” came before Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s “Make ‘Em Laugh.” However, both The Pirate and Singin’ in the Rain were produced by Arthur Freed. Hmm…
-Les Girls (1957). Gene dances with Mitzi Gaynor in a fantastic number called “Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal?).” Mitzi looks great and she and Gene have a great dancing chemistry.
Gene Kelly and Shirley MacLaine spoofing the big 1940s musicals in “What a Way to Go!”
–What a Way to Go! (1964) This film stars Shirley MacLaine as an inadvertent black widow who just wants to live a simple life, free of material possessions. The present day part of the film features her telling the story of how she met and married each of her husbands and how money led her husband to his eventual death–the kicker being that it was Shirley who in trying to help her husband’s psyche, ends up leading him to riches. With each death, Shirley inherited her husband’s fortune. She’s worth millions upon millions of dollars and just wants to give it all away. She’s sent to a psychologist (Robert Cummings) because who wouldn’t want all that money? In this film, Gene plays Shirley’s fourth husband, Pinky Benson.
When Shirley meets Gene, he is working as a two-bit clown in a small club. His act is lame and nobody in the club pays attention to him. She feels sorry for Gene because he’s a very nice man and she senses that underneath the clown getup, he does have some talent. One night, Gene is running late and doesn’t have time to put on the clown costume. She convinces him to go out without the costume and just perform his act. Well, Gene’s simple soft-shoe routine is a sensation and soon he’s off to Hollywood. We are then treated to a send up of the big flashy MGM musicals as Shirley describes her life with Gene to the psychologist (each of her stories about her different husbands is a spoof of a different genre of film). Shirley is up to the task of dancing with Gene and they do a really great and funny number together. Gene’s character eventually becomes a huge, egotistical star who lives in an all-pink mansion (his character’s name is “Pinky” after all), and by all-pink, I mean ALL-PINK. He eventually meets his fate when he is crushed to death by a stampede of adoring fans.
One of the best things about watching classic film is discovering new favorite performers. Sure, there are the well-known legends of classic film: Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, etc. and I love many of them too and can completely see how and why these men and women have endured decades after their last film; but there are a whole crop of other actors in these films that deserve to be just as well known. Many of my favorite performers were steadily working actors and were even stars in their day, but over the years, they’ve been all but forgotten. Thankfully, through vehicles like TCM, the internet, the TCM/Fathom classic film events and other film revivals all over the country, these actors are once again getting their day in the sun. It is my hope that through TCM and the classic film events that these actors will once again be in the limelight. Often for me, it is the films with the big name that leads me to discovering these other performers, many of whom are just as good as the big name to whom they’re lending support, or even sharing a star billing with them!
One such performer who was a star in her day and whom deserves more recognition is Ann Blyth.
My first exposure to Ann Blyth was her star-making turn as the daughter-from-hell, Veda Pierce in the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce. ‘Mildred,’ starred Joan Crawford as the title character, a recently divorced mother who is determined to give her spoiled teenage daughter, Veda, everything she wants. This film was a comeback vehicle for Crawford whose contract at MGM had been terminated two years prior, after eighteen years with the studio. In 1945, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers and immediately embarked upon a string of hit films, mostly in the melodrama genre, where her career thrived for the next decade or so. As an aside, frankly, I prefer this short period of Crawford’s career. I’ve never been a huge fan of Crawford, but I absolutely love Crawford during her Warner Brothers era–plus I really love melodramas. But I digress…
Back to Ann Blyth.
Prior to ‘Mildred,’ Blyth was under contract with Universal, mostly appearing in musicals that took advantage of her singing talent. She was paired often with Donald O’Connor as Universal hoped that they could replicate the success of MGM’s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals that were popular a few years prior. The Blyth/O’Connor musicals were successful enough, but Blyth’s star skyrocketed after she was loaned out to Warner Brothers to appear in ‘Mildred.’ Blyth was cast after Shirley Temple, Virginia Weidler, Bonita Granville, and Martha Vickers were considered. Frankly, the idea of Shirley Temple slapping Joan Crawford sounds intriguing. I believe Granville could also have done a pretty good job as she played a horrible child in 1936’s These Three. But after seeing Blyth’s performance (and having seen it multiple times as Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite movies of all time), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part.
Blyth’s portrayal of Veda, I believe, is one of the all-time most “femme-fataly” of all femme fatales in noir. On the surface, she looks harmless. She’s got a sweet face and a very nice sounding voice. However, under the surface, there lies one of the most shallow, despicable characters in classic film. Veda is brazen and unapologetic about what she wants and what she’s willing to do to get what she wants. In some ways, I find that admirable, because she knows what she wants and she doesn’t care what she has to do to get it. On the other hand, the way she goes about it is questionable. Veda can show moments of kindness and sympathy, but one has to wonder how genuine it is when the next scene has her saying/doing something awful to Mildred. My favorite moment of the entire film is Blyth’s “f-you” speech to mother, Mildred, which culminates with Mildred ripping up Veda’s windfall (in form of a check that Veda received after some mild extortion), Veda slapping Mildred, and Mildred kicking Veda out of the house.
VEDA (to MILDRED): “With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men who wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money, I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!”
Damn. I’ll have to say that Veda deserves everything she gets in this film. Her monologue above pretty much sums up Veda’s entire character. There is nothing redeeming about Veda. Mildred does everything for her, even jumping into the incredibly difficult restaurant industry, and despite after much success, really has nothing to show for it at the conclusion of the film.
After ‘Mildred,’ Blyth appeared in a variety of different film genres. One such film was 1948’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid with William Powell. This fantasy film is a lot of fun. Powell portrays a middle-aged psychiatrist, Arthur Peabody, who is experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis when it occurs to him that his fiftieth birthday is quickly approaching (we’ll look past the fact that Powell already looks 50 and then some). While on vacation, Peabody hears some singing coming from a distant island. Taking his fishing boat, Peabody travels to the island and discovers the source of the singing. It’s a mermaid, Lenore, played by Blyth.
While Lenore is mute and does not speak, she does sing. Throughout the rest of the film, Peabody spends a lot of time with Lenore. Lenore is mischievous and charming which Peabody finds exciting as it is pulling him out of the rut he feels he is in. Lenore is also young and likes Peabody, which he also finds exciting as a man nearing fifty. Peabody even ends up teaching Lenore how to kiss. Much of the film involves Peabody trying to hide Lenore, first in the bathtub of his hotel room and later in the insanely large fish pond at the hotel. Other characters in the film, overhearing snippets of Peabody’s conversations with Lenore and seeing Lenore’s face (not her mermaid body obviously) immediately think he’s having an affair.
While Blyth has no lines in ‘Peabody,’ she is completely enchanting as the mermaid. Between her beautiful face and her gorgeous singing voice, it’s no wonder that Peabody is instantly smitten.
Blyth’s Hollywood career wasn’t incredibly long, though longer than some. Over the course of thirteen years (1944-1957), she appeared in about thirty or so films. While I believe Mildred Pierce represents the apex of her career, Blyth makes an impact in every films of hers that I’ve seen. In addition to the two films I mentioned above, I also recommend Blyth’s last film, The Helen Morgan Story. Despite her voice being inexplicably dubbed, Blyth’s performance as tragic torch singer, Helen Morgan, is excellent. She portrays a woman who was at the top of her career, only to lose it to alcohol addiction. While this may not be the best biopic, Blyth shines in a performance that was different than the many musicals that she made prior to this film.
Today Blyth lives near San Diego, California. At 89 years old, she still answers her fan mail and is known to journey up to Los Angeles occasionally to appear at film related festivals. In 2013, Blyth appeared at the TCM Film Festival to be interviewed by late TCM host, Robert Osborne. In this interview, she showed that she still had the charm and lovely demeanor that she showcased in all those films decades prior. Fortunately, the real Ann Blyth is nothing like her best known role, Veda Pierce.
So sorry I missed my last two advertised Blogathon events. Frankly, I’ve been really busy at work and at the time I signed up for the events, I wasn’t anticipating how busy we’d be. Inventory Control in the warehouse has been crazy and everyone (myself included) have been working mandatory 10-hr shifts + OT on Saturdays. We’re halfway through the month, so if I can get through May, I should have more time to dedicate to writing. I did not want to miss National Classic Movie Day. This year, we’ve been asked to discuss our Top Five Favorite Actors, which believe me, is was quite an arduous task just to narrow down my favorites.
Without further ado…
My boyfriend, Errol Flynn. He’s the whole package: unbelievably attractive, charming, athletic, gifted, great accent, tall, he’s got everything. Aside from his physical attributes, Flynn is a highly underrated actor. One of Warner Brothers top stars of the 1930s-1940s, Flynn provided a nice alternative to the gangster and “weepy” films that also permeated the movie landscape at the same. Though dozens of actors have tried, nobody can top Flynn’s portrayal of the legendary Sherwood Forest outlaw, Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn was born to steal from the rich and give to the poor. He is one of the few male performers who completely steals the viewer’s gaze (or maybe the female viewer, lol) from the female lead. Who even notices “her” when he’s on the screen? Did I mention that he’s super cute? And that accent! ::swoon::
Best Known Films: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Dodge City and They Died With Their Boots On.
My Favorite Films:Gentleman Jim, Uncertain Glory, The Sisters, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Never Say Goodbye and Footsteps in the Dark.
The Star Who Introduced Me to Classic Film: Lucille Ball. In 1995, when I was in the sixth grade, I discovered Nick at Nite. How I ended up on the channel, I don’t know and I don’t care. The first show I watched was I Love Lucy. I was immediately hooked. I thought this show was hilarious. Then, I ended up falling in love with the shows that came on after I Love Lucy, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch and The Munsters. But ‘Lucy,’ was always my favorite. On weekdays, I made sure to have all my homework and such completed, so that I was ready to go at 8pm to watch “my shows” uninterrupted. On Saturdays, Nick at Nite had the “Whole Lotta Lucy Saturday” which was my favorite day, because you got to watch two episodes of I Love Lucy and an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.
From my love of Lucy and my natural curiosity, I started borrowing books about Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy from the library. It was from these books that I learned that Lucy had been a movie actress prior to being on I Love Lucy. Soon, I needed to watch all the Lucy movies that I could get my hands on. Lucille Ball appeared in dozens of films before hitting it big in radio and television–she could never seem to find her niche in film. At this same time, TCM was in its infancy and soon I was scouring the TV Guide (remember the paper TV Guide that used to come in the Sunday newspaper?) looking at TCM’s schedule to see what Lucille Ball films were airing. I would rig up the VCR and cross my fingers that 1) The recording actually worked; and 2) The tape didn’t run out!
From my exposure to Lucille Ball on TCM, I was exposed to other actors which led me to learning about other actors and so on. I discovered Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers through Stage Door (which also featured Lucy); I discovered Gene Kelly through Du Barry Was a Lady (featuring, you guessed it, Lucy). From Gene Kelly, I discovered other favorites like Ann Miller and Cyd Charisse. I Love Lucy started me down the glorious wormhole that is classic film. I never tire of classic film. I never tire of Lucille Ball; and I never tire of I Love Lucy.
Best Known Films:Stage Door, The Long Long Trailer, Yours Mine and Ours, Mame and The Big Street.
My Favorite Films: The Long Long Trailer (My #1 favorite film of all time), Stage Door, The Affairs of Annabel, Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Five Came Back, Next Time I Marry and Beauty For the Asking.
The Star to Whom I Just Want to Give a Big Hug: Judy Garland. Poor Judy. She had such a sad, tragic life. She had a lot of problems that unfortunately affected her work. However, you would never know of her problems from watching her on screen. She is so charming and such a joy to watch. She was a very unique performer. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. As an audience member, you feel every feeling she’s emoting on screen. She’s very underrated as an actress and only appeared in a handful of films where she didn’t sing. One of her greatest performances is as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. Frankly, as much as I like Grace Kelly, Garland was robbed of the Best Actress Oscar in 1955. Her performance is brilliant and also features one of her greatest musical performances, the torch song, “The Man Who Got Away.”
I find it tragic that MGM (allegedly) treated her so poorly when she was under contract. Louis B. Mayer referred to her as “[his] little hunchback” and frequently made unkind comments about her appearance. As a teenager, Judy was often cast as the less attractive buddy to the male star. This is most evident in her films with Mickey Rooney. Judy was Mickey’s friend, but she was never the object of his affections. It didn’t help that Judy competed with the likes of Lana Turner and Ava Gardner who were all her peers when she was at MGM. I think Judy was very pretty. She had a unique beauty. Frankly, I find Judy prettier than Lana Turner, only because Turner seems to have a bit of a generic blonde starlet look about her. Judy is her prettiest in Meet Me in St. Louis and Easter Parade.
Judy’s performances and songs often have an underlying sadness about them and that’s why I want to give her a hug.
Best Known Films: The Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, and the Mickey Rooney films (Babes in Arms, Girl Crazy, Babes on Broadway and Strike Up the Band).
My Favorite Films: Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, The Clock, The Pirate, The Harvey Girls, Summer Stock and Presenting Lily Mars
Star Who I Could Watch Dance ALL DAY LONG: Gene Kelly. I love Gene Kelly. I love Fred Astaire too, but I love Gene Kelly and would venture to give him a slight edge over Astaire. I would never compare the two men as dancers, as they have two completely different styles, but in terms of films, I love Gene’s films just a wee bit more. I have found that some people are not fans of Gene’s because they find him too hammy or what not. I don’t. I find his smile endearing and also enjoy the massive musical numbers he puts on. The ballet in An American in Paris is exquisite and a real joy to watch. The Broadway Melody in Singin’ in the Rain is amazing. Gene’s greatest on-screen moment may be his performance of the title song from Singin’ in the Rain. Gene’s joy and enthusiasm is contagious in this number. I defy anyone to watch it and not instantly feel happier. If it doesn’t move you, then you’re made of stone and I don’t know if I want to watch movies with you anymore.
Each of Gene’s movies are so innovative and so different from one another. They really are a work of art and demonstrates how much Gene loves dancing and showcasing the artistry of dance. His films, like On the Town, An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, elevated the musical film as an art form. One of his greatest contributions to the musical is forming the plot around the music and dancing so that it makes sense within the context of the film. Many opponents of musicals dislike them because they find the musical interludes random and they cannot suspend their disbelief. I’ve found that Gene’s musicals (and many of Astaire’s as well) so beautifully incorporate the music and dance into the film and the dance numbers seem natural and not random at all.
I remember when he died. I was in the seventh grade and so sad– I watched Singin’ in the Rain in his honor.
Best Known Films: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, On the Town, Anchors Aweigh, For Me and My Gal
My Favorite Films:Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, On the Town, The Pirate, Summer Stock, What a Way to Go!, Cover Girl, Xanadu
Actor Who I’d be Terrified of, but Also Fascinated By: Bette Davis. I love Bette Davis. She is amazing. She seems like she would have been completely intimidating in person, but also a joy to listen to. She is compelling in her 1971 Dick Cavett interview (I highly recommend watching it on You Tube or Hulu if you have a chance). I could listen to her recollect about her life and career all day.
Bette Davis has an interesting career trajectory. She started out with small parts in a variety of pre-code films. Many of these films are not good, but she has a few early films here and there that show that Bette had that certain something. Her big break was Of Human Bondage in 1934. Many felt that Bette was robbed of the Oscar for her performance in that film, and that her 1935 Oscar win for Dangerous was a consolation prize for having lost to Claudette Colbert the year prior. Bette had to fight for good roles at Warner Brothers, which was very male driven. She was on suspension many times, which paid off in the end, when she finally became Warner Brothers’ top female star. The tides turned for Bette in 1938 when she won her second Oscar for Jezebel. From then on, through the end of the 1940s, Bette churned out one hit film after another. By the end of the 1940s, Bette’s star was waning. She left Warner Brothers after filming ended on the hilarious (albeit, unintentionally, I think) Beyond the Forest. She had a bit of a comeback with the amazing All About Eve, however this didn’t end up materializing with any other huge parts. By the 1960s, her career had segued into “psycho-biddy horror films” (as they’re known). I for one, really enjoyed her small role as an elderly aunt in 1976’s Burnt Offerings.
I love Bette because she really gives her all in her roles–she sacrifices glamour in name of the character. In The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Bette had no qualms about playing a 60 year old Queen Elizabeth I to Errol Flynn’s 30 year old Lord Essex. She shaved her hairline to mimic the real Elizabeth I’s balding and studied very hard in an attempt to play the Queen as true to life as possible. In Mr. Skeffington and Now, Voyager, Bette allows herself to appear very unattractive as it fits within the confines of the plot. In ‘Skeffington,’ Bette’s character is very vain and goes through great lengths to maintain her appearance. After a bout of diphtheria, Bette’s character’s looks are ruined and she must cope. In Now, Voyager, Bette appears as a frumpy, overweight, bushy eyebrow-ed spinster who undergoes a makeover which changes her life. Even when Bette is completely bonkers, like in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, she commits. “Go big or go home” seems to be her motto.
Best Known Films: Jezebel, Now Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Dark Victory
My Favorite Films: Now Voyager, All About Eve, Mr. Skeffington, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Sisters, Three on a Match, June Bride, The Letter, Little Foxes and Beyond the Forest.
Today is Doris Day’s 95th birthday–not her 93rd like previously thought. It’s only fitting that I honor Doris’ birthday by discussing one of her films. Doris made her screen debut in 1948 with Romance on the High Seas after forging a career for herself as a big band singer and radio performer. She had originally wanted to be a dancer, but a 1937 car accident injured her legs and essentially ended her dancing career before it even began. She landed a job at Charlie Ye’s Shanghai Inn as a waitress in her hometown of Cincinnati, OH while she pursued a singing career. In 1939, she landed a job as a big band singer, which evolved into also performing on radio. Her singing career led directly to her career in film. By 1949, Doris was appearing in her third film, It’s a Great Feeling, a lightweight Warner Brothers film that was essentially a “who’s who” of the Warner Brothers lot in 1949.
It’s a Great Feeling isn’t a great film by any means and isn’t even a definitive Doris Day film. It is most likely a foot note in the careers of the stars who appeared as themselves (if the film was even mentioned at all). However, the film did serve its purpose. It put Doris Day’s star on the map and directly led to her getting bigger and better roles in every successive film. Doris Day was a star for over thirty years before she retired (by choice) from her career. She is a living legend and one of America’s most beloved stars.
In It’s a Great Feeling, Doris plays Judy Adams, a waitress in the Warner Brothers commissary. Star Jack Carson has been signed to appear in the new film, Mademoiselle Fifi. Multiple famous directors (Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh and King Vidor) are approached to direct the film, but refuse once they find out about Carson’s casting. A running joke in the film is that Carson is such a terror to work with that nobody will work with him. The studio reluctantly agrees to let Carson direct the film (since nobody else will). Now, he needs to find a female co-star. He tries enlisting well known female stars, like Jane Wyman, but nobody will have anything to do with him. Carson enlists friend Dennis Morgan to help him find a co-star and Morgan suggests he look for an unknown–rationalizing that nobody who knows Carson will work with him, so he’ll have more luck finding someone who doesn’t know any better.
Carson and Morgan end up coming across Judy, the waitress in the commissary. Carson and Morgan’s first step to “discovering” her, is to introduce her to fictional studio head, Arthur Trent. They remember that Trent likes to discover his own talent, so Carson and Morgan “arrange” to have Judy conveniently pop up in random places–elevator operator, cab driver and dental hygienist. All Carson and Morgan end up doing is driving Trent bananas. Judy keeps trying too hard to appeal to the casting director by looking at him with a goofy smile and rapidly fluttering eyelids. (I do think that the weird sounds that accompany Judy’s smile and eye flutters are very annoying, and really the only blight on this otherwise entertaining film).
After their first scheme fails, Carson and Morgan arrange a screen test for Judy. That too is a disaster, as it experiences technical problems and actually causes studio head Trent to experience a nervous breakdown. Judy later re-appears as a French singer in an attempt to convince Trent that she is right for the role. However, despite an elaborate ruse and help from two major actresses, Trent sees through Judy’s charade and she’s turned down.
Disillusioned with her lack of success and treatment in Hollywood (including all the nonsense that Carson and Morgan made her endure), Judy decides to head back home to Goerkes Corner, WI to marry her longtime sweetheart Jeffrey Bushdinkle, whom she left to pursue her career in Hollywood. After discovering that there may be an opportunity for Judy in pictures, Carson and Morgan follow her to her hometown and plan on breaking up the wedding. When they arrive, the Adams/Bushdinkle nuptials are already in progress. Watching in bemusement to see who Judy could possibly want to marry in lieu of pursuing a film career, Carson and Morgan watch through the window. The groom’s face is hidden until after the vows. The bride and groom are declared man and wife and they go in for the kiss. When their faces part, Carson and Morgan finally get to see the groom. With a name like Jeffrey Bushdinkle, how attractive could be possibly be?
Answer: Very. I won’t give it away, but if this man were waiting for me in Small Town, USA and there was a choice between living in this tiny town and being with this gorgeous man… well… it would be a very difficult choice and I don’t blame Doris Day’s character for one second.
Rain in movies is often used to evoke feelings of depression, despair, unhappiness, etc. Film noir often uses rain to set the mood of the film. In Key Largo (1948), the constant rain storm keeps the action contained onto the ship and gives the film a claustrophobic feeling. While, noir and other more serious types of films tend to use rain as a way to make the scene dreary, scary, what not, other genres of film use rain for other purposes. Romantic films like The Notebook (2004) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) use rain to create romantic kissing scenes. Often times, in romantic films, the characters will be somewhat on the outs, only to realize their love for one another during a horrific rainstorm. Their romantic feelings for one another will culminate with a passionate clinch and kiss in the pouring down rainstorm. Other films, such as Pleasantville (1998) and Beauty and the Beast (1992) may use rain to symbolize change. It is the idea of change that is represented so beautifully in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Gene Kelly in an iconic scene, memorably dances down the street in the pouring down rain.
And so starts one of the most memorable rain scenes in film.
Singin’ in the Rain is quite simply one of the best (if not the best) musicals ever made. It tells the story of Hollywood’s transition from silent films to “talkies.” Stars Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are great romantic stars and are also involved in an off-screen romance–at least according to Monumental Pictures’ publicity department. In reality, Don cannot stand Lina. She on the other hand, cannot allow her ego to believe that someone doesn’t love her. Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) is in charge of the studio’s music department and is also Don’s best friend. Don ends up involved with an aspiring actress, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) who Lina is intensely jealous of. Not only is Don in love with Kathy and not Lina, but Kathy also threatens Lina’s career. Kathy can sing and dance–two things Lina can’t do. After the hilarious failure of Monumental Pictures’ first talkie, Cosmo, Kathy and Don come up with the idea to turn their turkey of a movie into a musical. After dropping his love Kathy off at home and excited about their new venture, Don is on Cloud Nine. Not even a torrential downpour can dampen (pun intended) his spirits.
Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number is simply put, one of the greatest things to ever grace the silver screen. His excitement over his new romance and the new direction his career is heading is infectious. Even though he starts out carrying his umbrella, he quickly puts it away. Kelly’s character Don, is so happy about his life that he doesn’t even care that he’ll be soaked on the way home. He gleefully taps and skips his way down the sidewalks with a big smile on his face. Don sees a lamp post, jumps up and twirls around. He pretends his umbrella is a guitar, and playfully tips his hat to the woman in the store window advertisement. He taps into his inner child, without a worry in the world during his magical walk down the street. Don throws and catches his umbrella and allows water from the downspout dump on his head. He pretends to balance on a curb. Don’s rain dance culminates with him splashing around in the massive puddles. A cop finally ends the number when he stops and stares at this guy essentially playing in the road. Don unconcerned, croons “I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain” and walks down the sidewalk, arms still swinging happily. His glee and enthusiasm is contagious. It is impossible to not feel happier after seeing this scene. In a way, the rain represents a new life. It washes away all the unhappiness and annoyances of his previous life and now he can start anew, with his new film persona and lady love.
The song “Singin’ in the Rain” was not written for Singin’ in the Rain. In fact, all the songs in the film, except “Make ‘Em Laugh” (which sounds exactly like Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”) were used in past musicals. “Singin’ in the Rain” was crooned by Cliff Edwards in the 1929 musical, The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Judy Garland gives a rousing rendition of the song in the 1940 musical, Little Nellie Kelly. In 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, the song was used in a more disturbing fashion. Star Malcolm McDowell hums the iconic song while raping a woman. Gene Kelly’s rendition of the song plays over the closing credits. Kelly himself was not pleased to be associated with this film. In 2007, Usher re-created the famous musical number in an homage to Kelly’s famous number, complete with the same style suit and everything.
Even though “Singin in the Rain” was more than 20 years old by the time it was used as the title song for the 1952 classic and had been performed multiple times by different artists, even by big star Judy Garland, it is Gene Kelly’s rendition that is the most famous. The image of Gene Kelly twirling on the lamp post while ‘singin’ in the rain’ will forever be a part of American pop culture. In an era where the word “iconic” is thrown around too often and too loosely to the point where it doesn’t really mean much, the image of Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain truly meets the definition. The song itself has such a catchy tune, it’d be hard to find someone who at least doesn’t know the main part of the chorus. Even Cary Grant was humming it in the shower in North By Northwest.
And thus begins one of the all-time funniest screen performances. Jack Lemmon, who landed the role of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like it Hot after Jerry Lewis turned it down (thank goodness), delivers an Oscar-nominated performance and frankly, just one of the best portrayals ever to grace the silver screen. His little cackles, facial expressions, mannerisms, everything he implements to create “Daphne,” are fantastic. He makes the film. Without him, it might have been funny, but not hysterical. Don’t get me wrong, co-stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Joe E. Brown had their moments, but Some Like it Hot belongs to Jack Lemmon.
In other hands, like original choice Jerry Lewis’ for example, the role of Daphne could have easily evolved into something absurd and obnoxious. Lemmon’s portrayal is absurd, but in a good way. What makes his portrayal so successful is that he commits to the role. He is in no way self conscious about dressing in drag. What makes his introduction of Daphne so funny is how he suddenly embraces his persona while being introduced to Sweet Sue. Jerry and Joe had already agreed that they would be Geraldine and Josephine, respectively, and suddenly Jerry blurts out “Daphne.” “I never did like the name Geraldine,” he says. His enthusiasm is a contrast to the scene just a minute prior where complains about his outfit and shoes and then sees lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), walk down the train platform and is disillusioned that their charade is even going to work.
JERRY: “Look at that. Look how she moves. That’s just like Jell-O on springs. They must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell ya, it’s a whole different sex.”
The train ride from Chicago to Miami is one of the funniest scenes in the film. Jerry is painfully aware that he’s supposed to be a woman–an awareness that only gets more cumbersome when he’s partying with a dozen girls inside his upper berth. When Sugar invites herself into his “room” (if you can call it that), he has to remind himself “I’m a girl. I’m a girl” only to lament, “I wish I were dead.”
Another of my favorite scenes is when Sweet Sue (the band manager) emphatically states “There are two things I will not put up with during working hours: liquor and men!” To which Jerry (as Daphne), who has completely embraced his female alter ego (and is bordering on trying too hard to be believable as a woman), says:
JERRY: “We wouldn’t be caught dead with men! Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands. And they all just want one thing from a girl!”
The funniest part of that exchange is the disgusted look he makes afterward. Pretty much everything “Daphne” says is hilarious.
The best part of Some Like it Hot is Daphne’s budding romance with Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), the oft-married (and oft-divorced) mama’s boy millionaire, who spends his time hanging out at the Seminole Ritz Hotel in Miami, always looking for his next ex-wife. When Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters enter the hotel lobby, Osgood immediately has his sights set for Daphne. While the subplot featuring the budding romance between Shell Oil-heir “Junior” (Tony Curtis doing his Cary Grant impression) and Sugar is amusing, the Daphne/Osgood courtship is comedy gold.
While the audience and Jerry know that this relationship has no future, watching the millionaire become more and more enamored with Daphne is hysterical. The tango scene where they literally tango until dawn (originally meant as a scheme for Joe bring Sugar to rendezvous in Osgood’s yacht, without Osgood being present, of course). Jerry is really into their dancing and is having the time of his life. The tango night leads to Osgood proposing to Jerry and giving him a diamond bracelet as an engagement present. The scene where Jerry announces his engagement is one of the best parts of the film:
JOE: “What happened?”
JERRY: “I’m engaged.”
JOE: “Congratulations. Who’s the lucky girl?”
JERRY: “I am!”
JERRY: “Osgood proposed to me. We’re planning a June wedding.”
JOE: “What are you talking about? You can’t marry Osgood.”
JERRY: “Do you think he’s too old for me?”
When Joe tries to talk some sense into Jerry by asking the obvious question (well obvious in 1959 that is), “why would a guy want to marry a guy?” Jerry answers, “Security.” Then goes on to say:
JERRY: “I don’t expect it to last. I’ll tell him the truth when the time comes.”
JOE: “Like when?”
JERRY: “Like right after the ceremony. Then we get a quick annulment, he makes a nice settlement on me and I keep gettin’ those alimony checks every month.”
Throughout this entire scene, Jerry is shaking maracas and humming the tango. He is excited about his proposal, even though he knows that he can’t really marry Osgood. Though as someone who hocked his overcoat to gamble money on a dog at the track (and lost), the prospect of being financially secure is probably an enticing one and he’s probably considering it, even though realistically, it can’t happen. Jerry’s maracas weren’t originally in the script; however, they were added after preview audiences laughed so hard that much of Jerry’s dialogue was lost. Director Billy Wilder added the pauses and maracas and re-shot the scene so that the humor and the dialogue would remain intact.
The ending scene between Jerry and Osgood is one of the funniest (and most perfect endings) in film. The moment has come when Jerry really needs to come clean about his true identity and call off the engagement. He tries to hint to Osgood the reason why he can’t marry him:
Osgood wants Jerry to wear his mother’s wedding gown:
JERRY: “I can’t get married in your mother’s dress…she and I, we are not built the same way.”
OSGOOD: “We can have it altered.”
Jerry tries again:
JERRY: “I’m not a natural blonde.”
OSGOOD: “Doesn’t matter.”
JERRY: “I smoke. I smoke all the time!”
OSGOOD: “I don’t care.”
JERRY: “I have a terrible past. For three years, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.”
OSGOOD: “I forgive you.”
JERRY: “I can never have children.”
OSGOOD: “We can adopt some.”
Exasperated, Jerry finally lays it all out on the table:
JERRY: “I’m a man”
Then, one of the greatest lines and endings of all time:
OSGOOD: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
How will Jerry ever get out of this mess?
Nothing to do with Jack Lemmon, but this is one of my favorite lines from “Some Like it Hot,”
DOLORES: Have you heard the one about the one-legged jockey?
…then later, we hear the punchline…
DOLORES: “Don’t worry about me baby, I ride side-saddle!”