Tag Archives: Joan Crawford

Blogathon (Belated) Clark Gable & Joan Crawford’s affair

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Favorite Performer: Ann Blyth

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.

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Ann Blyth, 1940s

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.

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Veda tells Mildred what she really thinks about her in Mildred Pierce

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.

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Ann Blyth and William Powell in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

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.

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Ann Blyth Today

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.

 

 

Bette Davis Blogathon

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

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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.

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“Beyond the Forest” (1949) a film so bad, it’s good.  This film is hilarious, highly recommended.

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.

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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.

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Baby Jane practices “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”

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.

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The Davis/Crawford re-teaming that never happened. On the set of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte

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