Van Johnson isn’t a name that often comes up when people think about figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, that isn’t to say that he wasn’t a star. He co-starred alongside many of Hollywood’s more legendary actors; but he never got that one film that would catapult him into the echelon of “legend.” Some of the “legendary” actors Van co-starred with: Gene Kelly (Brigadoon), Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (State of the Union), Judy Garland (In the Good Old Summertime), Humphrey Bogart (The Caine Mutiny), and Elizabeth Taylor (The Last Time I Saw Paris). However, despite not ever making “the film” to propel him to legend status, Van was a big enough star to appear as himself alongside two of television’s biggest legends: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, on an episode of I Love Lucy.
The I Love Lucy episode, “The Dancing Star,” was not Van’s first experience working with Ball and Arnaz. In 1939, while trying to make it as a young actor in New York, Van scored a gig as understudy to the three male leads of George Abbot’s hit Broadway play (featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart), “Too Many Girls.” One of the main cast members (whom I’m going to assume that Van did not understudy) was the young 23-year old Cuban musician, Desi Arnaz. The play was a smash hit and Arnaz along with co-star Eddie Bracken were brought out to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the RKO film adaptation of the play.
In Hollywood, Van joined the cast as an uncredited part of the chorus. He can be seen in the background of a few scenes, but most prominently in the front of the crowd dancing during Desi Arnaz’ big conga number. Another new member of the cast of the RKO production was Lucille Ball. Ball was the star of the film and would play the role of the ingenue college student, Connie. Ball and Arnaz were introduced prior to the start of filming. However, their first meeting did not go well as Ball was still wearing the makeup and costume from her current film, Dance, Girl, Dance, which co-starred Maureen O’Hara. Ball’s makeup and costume was a black eye and a torn gold lamé dress that she wore while shooting a catfight scene with O’Hara. Looking at Ball’s black eye and torn gown, Arnaz could hardly envision her as the virginal ingenue of Too Many Girls. Later that evening, Arnaz and Ball were re-introduced. During this meeting, Ball had cleaned herself up and sported her own clothing and makeup. It was love at first sight for Ball and Arnaz and the rest, as they say, was history.
Anyway, back to Van. After Too Many Girls, he got more understudy work, including as Gene Kelly’s understudy in the Broadway play, Pal Joey. Kelly would soon be starring in his first Hollywood film, For Me and My Gal, with Judy Garland. Discouraged, Van was about to quit Hollywood when friend Lucille Ball took him to the famous Chasen’s restaurant to meet an MGM casting director. This meeting led to Van getting a screen test at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Columbia didn’t pan out, but Van scored a few roles with Warner Brothers. After his contract with Warner Brothers ended, Van was signed to MGM. MGM is where Van finally got a break and soon was appearing in films. In 1943, Van got his big break when he appeared in A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. He continued to appear in many quality films throughout the 1940s.
In 1946, Van was re-teamed with friend Ball in Easy to Wed which also co-starred Esther Williams and Keenan Wynn. Through the remainder of the 1940s, Van continued to appear in many great MGM films. By 1950, Van was freelancing, which freed him up to appear in films in other studios. During the 1950s, Van also started appearing in shows on the burgeoning medium known as television. In 1955, Van was invited to appear in a guest spot as himself on his friends’ (Arnaz and Ball) sitcom, I Love Lucy. By 1955, I Love Lucy was a massive hit and big stars were willing to appear on their show for free just to get the chance to be part of the program.
Van appears during the Hollywood story-arc of I Love Lucy in the episode, “The Dancing Star.” Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) has been offered a role as Don Juan in Hollywood. He along with wife, Lucy (Ball), and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) all head to California. While in California, wacky Lucy has various run-ins with stars (William Holden, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Harpo Marx, Rock Hudson, Sheila MacRae, Eve Arden, and CORNEL WILDE IN THE PENTHOUSE), often with disastrous results. One such star who did not suffer at the hands of Lucy however, was Van Johnson.
In “The Dancing Star,” Lucy’s old frenemy, Carolyn Appleby (Doris Singleton) shows up unexpectedly to pay Lucy and Ethel a visit while she’s on her way to Hawaii to meet-up with husband Charlie. Carolyn says that she’s going to stop over for a couple days so that she can meet all the stars Lucy’s been hobnobbing with per the postcards Lucy’s been sending out to her friends in Hollywood. Obviously, Lucy didn’t expect her friends to show up wanting to be part of the action. As Lucy is panicking, Ethel tells her that Van Johnson is appearing in a show at their hotel, The Beverly Palms. Ethel spots Van sleeping next to the pool and tells Lucy to go down there and pretend that she’s talking to him. Ethel will then casually bring Carolyn up to the window, point out Lucy and Van and all will be well.
The plan goes off, somewhat, except that Carolyn has forgotten her glasses. Apparently Carolyn Appleby must wear contact lenses and has lost them, because in her previous appearances on the series, she’s had no issues with her eyesight. However, when Carolyn is in California, she’s blind as a bat. Carolyn can only make out two red-headed blurs and just has to assume that that is Lucy and Van. Of course, Lucy can’t leave well enough alone and brags to Carolyn about all the other stars that were also down at the pool. She then further ups the ante by telling Carolyn that she’s throwing a big soiree tomorrow evening where tons of stars will be in attendance. Conveniently, Carolyn’s flight to Hawaii is supposed to depart tomorrow evening. Aw shucks.
And because it’s Lucy and she has to be the object of envy of The Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League (who usually meets on Tuesdays, never on Thursdays, but occasionally on Fridays), she tells Carolyn that she’s “chummy” with Van. Lucy’s fib is based on the fact that Carolyn can’t see and that Van’s partner is a tall red-headed woman. With Carolyn’s blurred vision, she won’t be able to tell that Van’s partner is not Lucy. However, Lucy’s “great” plan is foiled when Carolyn’s airline finds her glasses and returns them to Carolyn at the hotel. Desperate, Lucy approaches Van and begs him to dance with her. She finally gets him to agree when she flatters him by saying that she’s seen his show 14 times and knows it backwards and forwards. Ethel and Carolyn see Lucy dancing with Van and all is well.
(VAN JOHNSON in response to LUCY RICARDO’S constant proclamations of not having much time and that “she’s” going to be here any minute)
VAN JOHNSON: “Who’s going to be here any minute?”
LUCY RICARDO: “Carolyn Appleby! Who do you think?!”
Van Johnson and Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) in “The Dancing Star,” I Love Lucy
Later that evening, Lucy gets her big chance: Van’s partner is sick and he needs someone to replace her last minute. Seeing that Lucy knows the routine, Van thinks that she’s the perfect choice. And with this set-up, we finally get to see Lucy Ricardo in one of her rare performances where she’s allowed to perform a dance number without purposeful or accidental mishaps. In the “How About You?” number, Lucy and Van perform a beautiful, simple song and dance number. Lucy looks beautiful in her feather-covered gown. She and Van are a sensation. Ricky watches his wife dance this wonderful number with a deep adoration. Ethel and Fred watch their friend, proudly. And Carolyn is overjoyed.
Wait? Carolyn?! Wasn’t she going to Hawaii?
Apparently, Carolyn has decided to put off her flight to Hawaii one more day to attend Lucy’s big Hollywood party. Yikes.
Cue the famous “Lucy Meets Harpo Marx” episode, the unofficial second part of “The Dancing Star.”
It’s not a secret that I love Lucille Ball. She’s been my favorite actress since I discovered her on her now iconic sitcom, I Love Lucy, playing the titular character, Lucy Ricardo. I Love Lucy not only made Lucille Ball a household name, it also forever cemented her identity as “Lucy.” Mention “Lucy” to almost anyone (at least those worth associating with) and Lucy Ricardo comes to mind. I was roughly 10-11 years old (circa 1994-1995) when I discovered Lucy and I Love Lucy. I began to borrow books about I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball during my family’s monthly trips to the library. As an 11-year old, I was able to read the biographies in the adult section, making it very easy to learn about my new favorite actress. In 1996, Lucy’s autobiography was published–7 years after her death. Apparently her daughter found her mother’s manuscript while going through her things and went forward with having them published. I may have been the only 12-year old who desperately wanted Lucille Ball’s autobiography.
Throughout my trips to the library and reading books about Lucille Ball, I learned about the movie career she had prior to finding stardom on television. Lucy appeared in over 70 movies prior to switching gears to the small screen. Her film career began in 1933 when she came to Hollywood to appear as a slave girl in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals. Not one to turn down any offer of paid work, figuring that every job offered her the chance to learn and hone her craft, Lucy appeared in at least a couple dozen uncredited roles before building up her momentum enough to score small, speaking roles. By 1937, Lucy scored a juicy part in the A-list ensemble drama, Stage Door, co-starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In 1938, Lucy was offered her first starring role in The Affairs of Annabel. Lucy plays Annabel Allison, an actress forced to carry out insane publicity schemes by her agent, played by Jack Oakie.
At the library, I managed to borrow every single Lucille Ball VHS that my library had. I was lucky in that my library seemed to have a large amount of the films in the “Lucille Ball Signature Collection.” This collection is how I saw many of Lucy’s movies, including the aforementioned The Affairs of Annabel, The Big Street, Dance Girl Dance, Too Many Girls, Seven Days Leave, and others. TCM had just come on the scene as well and I scoured the TV Guide (insert in newspaper, not the magazine) to review the upcoming week of programming. Any Lucille Ball movies were circled and set up to record on the VCR. Throughout my years of recording and watching Lucille Ball’s films, there was one film that I’d always wanted to watch and it seemed to elude me for years: A Girl, A Guy and A Gob.
Mercifully, TCM finally saved the day and aired A Girl, A Guy and A Gob at a time when I was able to see it. Then, Warner Archive went above and beyond and released the film on DVD. I have since built up a very decent sized collection of Lucille Ball’s films. Anyway, I digress.
Back to A Girl, A Guy and A Gob…
In this film, Lucy plays Dorothy ‘Dot’ Duncan, a young woman who has recently began work as a secretary to Stephen Merrick (Edmond O’Brien) a shipping magnate. Dot is obviously the “Girl” in the title. Stephen is the “Guy.” Playing the “Gob” is George Murphy. Murphy plays Claudius J. Cupp aka “Coffee Cup.” When I first watched this film, I had no idea what or who a “Gob” was. I learned that the term “Gob” refers to a sailor. Coffee Cup is a sailor in the United States Navy and it is established that he loves being in the Navy and regularly signs on for new missions after the previous one ends. It is also obvious that Dot and Coffee Cup have been together for quite some time, but I get the sense that Dot tires of waiting for Coffee Cup to settle down and somewhat resents being expected to stand idly by and wait for him to return over and over again.
The film opens with Dot and her family settling down to watch a play from inside a box seat at the theater. This is a big deal for the Duncan Family. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Duncan’s anniversary and their children have (seemingly) purchased box seats at the theater as a gift. Meanwhile, out in the lobby, Stephen and his horrible fiancee Cecilia and her equally horrible mother are impatiently waiting for Stephen to locate their tickets. Stephen’s tickets are for their box seat, the seats where he, Cecilia and her mother sit every night at the theater. Dot figures out that her brother “Pigeon,” didn’t actually buy these seats. In reality, he gambled away the ticket money (that Dot gave him) and just happened to find Stephen’s tickets. Dot and Stephen get into an argument that ends with Stephen, Cecilia and her mother having to sit in ::gasp:: the regular section of the theater. After Dot realizes how her brother happened to come away with the box seat tickets, she is embarrassed and leaves but not before accidentally dropping her purse (with a giant “D” monogram) on Stephen’s head.
The next day, Dot shows up for a secretary opening at the Herrick and Martin shipping company, unaware that the “Herrick” in the company’s name is Stephen Herrick whom she’d hit with her purse at the theater the night prior. Stephen recognizes Dot’s purse (with the very obvious “D” monogram) and identifies her as the woman from the theater. They get off to a poor start, obviously. Later that day, Coffee Cup shows up, home from another Navy “hitch” (as he calls them). Coffee Cup and Dot take a walk and Coffee Cup spots his friend Eddie, a fellow sailor who has a shtick where he bets onlookers that he can stretch himself and grow four inches. Coffee Cup and Eddie gather a crowd in front of a pet store, much to the owner’s (Franklin Pangborn) chagrin. Stephen happens to walk by, Dot spots him, and borrows five dollars from him to bet on Eddie. The contest ends in a brawl and Stephen ends up being knocked out.
When Stephen awakens, he finds himself lying on the couch in Dot’s family’s apartment. The scene is so chaotic with people dropping in, Mrs. Duncan delivers the neighbors baby and delivers the results of the bet that the family had over the weight of the new Liebowitz baby (#9). The scene is so boisterous, but full of so much love, Stephen finds himself captivated. Stephen has a date with Cecilia, but ends up dancing the night away with Coffee Cup and Dot at the Danceland Dance Hall. Cecilia ends up spending the night all dressed up, but with nowhere to go. Whoops. Cecilia is the typical fiancee of the lead–boring, snobby, a real stick in the mud.
Throughout the remainder of the film, Stephen and Dot find themselves growing closer and closer together. Dot finds herself less enthusiastic about a future with Coffee Cup, despite admirably trying to carry on with him, because he is genuinely a nice guy. However, it is easy to see that a life with him may lack the stability that Dot may need. I get the idea she isn’t crazy about Coffee Cup leaving all the time. He’s also very much about having a good time, all the time and can be irresponsible. Stephen is a nice guy, but is also professional and runs a company. Stephen also realizes that a life with Cecilia would be stodgy and miserable. It is obvious that Cecilia is with Stephen for the material goods that he can provide and presumably the boost to her social class that he provides. Stephen also finds Dot’s spontaneity exciting and makes his day-to-day routine more fun.
Henry Travers who seems to be in everything, plays Stephen’s business partner, Abel Martin. Martin, who obviously dislikes Cecilia and sees through her true intentions, plays matchmaker in this film. He casually tries to convince Stephen that Dot is the woman for him and throughout the remainder of the film, he insinuates himself into their social group to try and get Stephen and Dot together.
This is such a fun and entertaining film. I love movies with love triangles. I love seeing such a young Edmond O’Brien. This was his third film. Dare I say that I thought O’Brien was somewhat cute in this film? George Murphy is always personable and of course Lucille Ball was fabulous. Harold Lloyd produced this film and his brand of physical humor is present throughout. Lucille Ball was able to show off both her skill for acting and physical humor. It isn’t often that we get to see O’Brien in a light-hearted film as he primarily made a lot of more intense films like White Heat and The Killers. George Murphy is affable and great. It’s easy to see how his enthusiasm and zest for life would make him the ideal candidate to join the boisterous Duncan family. However, this is Ball and O’Brien’s film and they convince me of their budding romance.
If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy, I wholly recommend A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob.
Full disclosure, I’ve been known to be on simultaneous kicks at a time. Some are short-lived, others go on for awhile. Last year, I was on an Edmond O’Brien kick and watched a ton of his films. Then, I briefly moved onto a Burt Lancaster kick. Then, I moved onto Robert Ryan. More recently, I was obsessed with Ralph Meeker, then I moved onto Joel McCrea.
With my recent purchase during the Kino Lorber Summer sale (still going on, through August 3), I may have reignited my Edmond O’Brien kick. during the Kino sale, I purchased the Ida Lupino Filmmakers 4-movie set for $29.95 (regular retail price $79.98). In this collection, there are two O’Brien films: The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist, both from 1953. I’ve seen both films and they are excellent. Not everyone can make you sympathize with a man who knowingly commits bigamy, but O’Brien manages to do so.
I don’t know what it is about Edmond O’Brien that I like. He’s nowhere near Errol Flynn when it comes to looks and charm. He doesn’t have extraordinary dancing ability like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. He isn’t an amazing singer like Judy Garland. He isn’t adorable like Sandra Dee (ridiculous comparison, I know). Perhaps it has something to do with his everyman persona (displayed to perfection in 1949’s D.O.A.). Whatever it is, O’Brien is definitely underrated and deserves to be better known.
The Hitch-Hiker definitely served as the catalyst to my kick. From there, I pretty much watched a different O’Brien film each night for weeks. Prior to seeing The Hitch-Hiker, I’d seen O’Brien in A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob (1941). And the only reason I watched that film was because it stars my girl, Lucille Ball. I didn’t think much of him in this film, only that I thought he was more attractive than George Murphy and I wanted Lucy to end up with him. I recently just watched this film again–okay, I watched it today–and I just love him. I think I may embark on another O’Brien kick.
A Girl, A Guy and A Gob (produced by Harold Lloyd) stars Lucille Ball, George Murphy and Edmond O’Brien. Lucy plays Dorothy ‘Dot’ Duncan, a secretary who hails from an eccentric family. One night, Dot treats her parents to an anniversary present–box seats at the opera. However, her box seats actually belong to the affluent Stephen Herrick (O’Brien), his fiancee and her mother. It seems that Stephen accidentally dropped his tickets and Dot’s brother (who was sent to the box office by Dot) picked them up. He fails to tell Dot how he obtained the box seats, he let her pretend that these were the seats he’d purchased with the money she gave him.
Stephen and his guests are understandably upset by the guests sitting in their seats. However, not wanting to make a scene or be conspicuous, Stephen drops the matter and relinquishes the seats to Dot and her family. Stephen’s fiancee, Cecilia, is furious.
The next day, Stephen discovers that his secretary, Miss Comstock, has eloped with her fiance and has quit her job. Dot enters the room and is introduced to Stephen as his new secretary. He is furious and tries to fire her, but Dot pleads her case and explains the previous night’s ticket mishap. Stephen agrees to put the night behind him and agrees to hire her as his secretary.
Stephen soon finds himself enamored of Dot and charmed by her eccentric friends and family. He also meets Dot’s beau, “Coffee Cup” (George Murphy) a sailor who returns to town after his latest stint in the Navy. He makes it known that he is planning on settling down and marrying Dot.
One day, Stephen awakens to find himself lying, trouser-less, in the Duncan’s living room. It seems that he was knocked out in the fracas in front of the pet shop after getting involved in the brawl that erupted after Coffee Cup bet onlookers $5/a piece that his friend Eddie couldn’t make himself grow 4-inches. Eddie’s talent for faking elongation and the money-making con that ensues is a running gag throughout the film.
Stephen finds himself completely charmed by Dot and her family and later accompanies her and Coffee Cup to a dance hall. He completely loses all sense of time and congas the night away, much to the chagrin of his fiancee, with whom he had a date. Oops! It’s okay though, because she sucks anyway.
As the film progresses, Stephen and Dot find their feelings for one another growing, all while Coffee Cup blissfully plans a life together for himself and Dot. This film features one of my favorite themes: the love triangle. It is obvious that Dot more than likely needs a man who is a little more serious and a little more dependable. Coffee Cup seems a bit flakey and truly loves the Navy. Whether or not he would truly be happy on land is questionable.
I actually thought that Edmond O’Brien was very attractive in this film. This is only his second film, he was only 26 when it was made. Unfortunately, bad habits led to him aging prematurely and affected his health. He had a heart attack at 45. He won the 1954 Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in The Barefoot Contessa (which I haven’t watched yet. It’s on my DVR though).
Edmond O’Brien films that I’ve watched and recommend:
A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob (1941)
The Killers (1946)
A Double Life (1947)
Another Part of the Forest (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
The Bigamist (1953)
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
I’ll probably end up re-watching all of these and hopefully more.
May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. And what would be better to watch during these trying times than a classic film? This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe’s annual blogathon is devoted to the 1960s. All participants have been asked to list their favorite films of this decade.
The 1960s are an interesting time for classic film as the Production Code and Studio System were all but gone. Sandra Dee, 50s/60s teen queen, was Universal Studios’ last contract star. Most of the classic film stars of the studio system were either retired, and unfortunately, many were deceased. Some of the younger stars of that era, e.g. Doris Day and Lauren Bacall, to name a couple, were still active, but even then their stars were waning. The 1960s brought a new crop of stars: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, to name a few. Some child stars, like Natalie Wood, had successfully transitioned out of juvenile roles and into ones for adults.
This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe has asked bloggers to name their six favorite films of the 1960s.
Without further ado:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this film. The violent shower scene where Janet Leigh meets her demise is iconic. Norman Bates’ name is synonymous with “mommy issues.” The fictional Bates Motel is infamous. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This is probably my second favorite Hitchcock film after Rear Window. I am not a big horror movie fan, but this film is more psychological than slasher and in true Hitchcock fashion, there are even some funny, albeit, macabre parts as well.
Janet Leigh stars as Marion Crane, a secretary for a local real estate company in Phoenix. On a Friday afternoon, she meets with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), for a quickie during lunch. Their rendezvous is complicated when Sam announces that he cannot marry Marion because of debts he incurred after divorcing his first wife. Marion, disappointed, returns to work. When she arrives, her employer is in the middle of settling a large real estate deal. The client ends up giving Marion’s boss $40,000 cash as a down payment. Marion, seeing an opportunity to solve Sam’s money woes, so that they can marry, feigns a headache. Her boss, not wanting such a large sum of cash in the office over the weekend, asks Marion to deposit the cash on her way home. Marion absconds with the money instead and drives to California where Sam lives.
While enroute, there’s a fantastic scene (with Bernard Hermann’s amazing score) where Marion is driving and she imagines her boss’ conversation after he discovers that she’s stolen the money. Marion trades in her vehicle after a weird encounter with a police officer who keeps questioning her when she acts odd and suspicious after he wakes her up from a roadside nap. During a heavy rainstorm, Marion comes across a motel off the beaten path– The Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a little odd, but seems harmless.
Unfortunately, Marion is never seen again.
The remainder of the film deals with her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), Sam, and Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam), trying to find out what happened to Marion. It becomes clear to all involved that Norman has a weird relationship with his mother. Lila and Arbogast decide that Mrs. Bates might hold the key to the whole mystery.
***SPOILER*** These are my favorite scenes:
Marion’s infamous shower scene
Lila tapping on the shoulder of “Mrs. Bates” and having the chair spin around only to see a skeleton wearing a wig.
“Mrs. Bates” stabbing Arbogast and him falling down the stairs.
Norman Bates’ reveal as “Mrs. Bates” That scene is funny, if anything.
The last scene featuring a close-up of Norman Bates’ face with “Mrs. Bates” providing the internal monologue. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Cape Fear (1962)
I saw this film for the first time a couple years ago. Prior to that, my only experience with Cape Fear was the Simpsons parody with Sideshow Bob assuming the Robert Mitchum role. I saw Scorsese’s 1991 remake last year and while it was okay, I preferred the original. Scorsese’s version was too graphic and gross. I liked the subtlety of the original. Cape Fear, in my opinion, is very progressive for 1962. It might be one of the first sexual thrillers. This film is terrifying and Robert Mitchum deserves all the credit for imbuing the film with the creepy and uncomfortable atmosphere present through the entire film. In Scorsese’s 1991 remake, Robert DeNiro assumes Mitchum’s role, and in my opinion, Mitchum was much more effective. DeNiro was just creepy, gross, and a complete psychopath. Mitchum, on the other hand, was creepy, but also possessed that dreamy quality (which also makes him excel in romantic roles). He was believable as a man who could charm a potential victim into spending time with him–only for her to realize his true character when it was too late. DeNiro is just a creep from the start.
The original Cape Fear takes place in contemporary 1962 Georgia. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), has just been released from prison. He has just completed an 8-year stint after being convicted of rape. What’s interesting in this film is that Max’s crime is never explicitly stated, but is implied. After leaving prison, Max travels to the hometown of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer who assisted in delivering the eyewitness testimony that sealed Max’s case and got him convicted and incarcerated. Max is determined to get revenge on Sam. He promptly discovers where he lives. The remainder of the film deals with Max stalking both Sam and his family. It gets even worse when Max sets his sights on Sam’s 14-year old daughter, Nancy.
There is a terrifying scene between Max and a woman he picks up at a bar, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase). This scene is made even more disturbing in the 1991 Scorsese version.
The highlight (and scariest part) of the film is the famous houseboat scene–parodied perfectly on The Simpsons. Sam’s family heads to their houseboat in Cape Fear, North Carolina, in an effort to lure Max. The scene between Max and Sam’s wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) on the houseboat is so disturbing– it just gives me the willies thinking about it.
This film is fantastic and highly worth watching. I recommend watching it in the dark to get the full effect. In fact, I may watch this movie tonight in honor of National Classic Film Day.
Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)
Full disclosure: I love The Brady Bunch. I can watch it all day long and I never tire of it. However, other family sitcoms, e.g. Full House, I can only take an episode or two at a time. Both sitcoms have overly sappy moments, both can be saccharine at times, there are lessons to be learned in each episode… so what’s the difference between the two shows? I have no idea, except the The Brady Bunch is superior.
In 1968, when Sherwood Schwartz was looking for a new project, he came across a newspaper column offering the statistic that 30% of marriages involve children from a previous marriage. He created a pilot for a series involving Mike Brady, a widower with three children, falling in love with and marrying Carol Martin, a divorcee with three children. Due to objections from the network, Carol’s marital status was made more ambiguous. Schwartz presented his pilot to all the major networks. Each network liked the project, but requested multiple changes. Then, two films about mixed families premiered– With Six You Get Eggroll (Doris Day & Brian Keith), and Yours, Mine and Ours (Lucille Ball & Henry Fonda), the latter film turning a major profit. The success of ‘Yours,’ served as the impetus for one network, ABC, to take a chance and greenlight The Brady Bunch.
Yours, Mine and Ours is based on the true story of Frank Beardsley and Helen North, two widowers who, between the two of them, have enough children to play an entire baseball game–defense and offense. They meet and marry and then try to unite their families and manage their massive household. Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu, purchased the rights to Helen Beardsley’s (nee North) autobiography, Who Gets the Drumstick? Ball enlisted her I Love Lucy writing dream team, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh to write the screenplay. Ball, of course, would play the role of Helen North. She enlisted her friend (and former beau), Henry Fonda, to play her husband, Frank Beardsley.
Frank works in the Navy and has recently left his post on the USS Enterprise. He has taken on a new role (one that presumably keeps him at home) working as a project officer. One day, at the commissary, he meets Helen North, a nurse on the base. They have a friendly, cordial meeting. But nothing comes of it. Later, Frank and Helen reunite when Frank has to bring 12-year old daughter Louise in for an exam. Frank and Helen hit it off and decide to go out on a date. The trouble? Frank and Helen are both single parents to a large number of children. Frank has 10 children, Helen has 8.
While on the date (at a VERY crowded club), there’s a funny scene where Helen practices nonchalantly telling Frank about her 8 children. Since she’s practicing out-loud, the men around her think that she’s coming onto them. Later, there is another funny scene where her fake eyelashes (courtesy of her daughters) keep falling off and later her pinned up slip falls down (her girls also shortened her dress, making her slip too long).
Finally, the truth comes out when Frank and Helen make their respective broods known to one another. After some funny scenes with the children including a manic Lucille Ball crying/drunk scene, and a near break-up, Helen and Frank marry and then work on combining their respective households–but not without help from Frank’s buddy, Darrel (Van Johnson).
My favorite scene is when Frank is doling out bedroom and bathroom assignments. Each bedroom is assigned a letter. The bathrooms are assigned a color. The children are assigned a number, based on their position within the group of children. There’s a funny quote when one of the younger children (11/18) walks down the hallway, repeating the mantra over and over: “I’m 11, red, A.” For the record, in my house, I’m 1, red, A. My husband is 2, red, A. My sister/boarder, is 3, red, B.
I’m not usually a big fan of children-centric movies/shows or actors (which probably makes my love of The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours, even more bewildering)–but both The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are free of the annoying, precocious child with a catch phrase–so that’s probably why I like them. For the record: My favorite Brady kid is Marcia (close second: Greg), and my favorite Yours, Mine and Ours child is Phillip (perhaps the Jan Brady of the Beardsley household), close second: Veronica)
For the record, these are the children in their order of rank:
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
I know that this is not the best movie in the world. It’s not even the best of the Gidget franchise. However, I love this movie. It’s so ridiculous in the best possible way. First of all, we’re supposed to believe that this is a continuation of 1959’s Gidget–just look past the fact that Deborah Walley (Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian) looks absolutely nothing like Sandra Dee (the original Gidget in Gidget). The sequel even went as far as to film “flashbacks” of scenes from the first film, with Walley wearing some of Dee’s costumes! Gidget’s parents in the second film–Carl Reiner as Russ and Jeff Donnell as Dorothy, are completely different. Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche assumed the roles in the Dee film. In the first film, only the surfer boys refer to Gidget by her nickname. Gidget’s parents refer to her by another nickname, “Francie,” based on her real name: Frances. In the second film, everyone calls Gidget by her nickname. The one constant in both films? And really the only constant that even matters? James Darren’s Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews.
In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget and Jeff are still together. At the end of the first film, Gidget turns 17 and is entering her senior year of high school. Jeff is a college student, who is on summer break and planning to return to school in the fall. We can assume that Jeff is either a year or two older than Gidget. In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the timeline is a little fuzzy. Presumably, this is a year or so after Gidget, based on the fact that Jeff is on summer vacation, returning to college again in the fall. At this point, Gidget is presumably at least 18, and perhaps Jeff is 20-21 (He’s still in college in 1963’s Gidget Goes to Rome. Super senior? Pursuing a MA?) He gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film, something that he did at the end of the Dee film. Is this a continuity error? I’m not sure. I choose to believe that perhaps Jeff got another pin and is giving it to Gidget. I really don’t know. Regardless, in Gidget’s world, Jeff has just proposed marriage, and they’re basically engaged now.
After an idyllic summer of surfing, bonfires on the beach and romantic dates, Gidget and Jeff reach their last two weeks of vacation together, before Jeff has to leave for school. Then Gidget’s dad drops a bombshell–he’s booked a two-week trip to Hawaii for the family. Most people would be ecstatic at this news, but not Gidget. She’s devastated, as two weeks is all she and Jeff have left together until he leaves for school. Her father is understandably both upset and bewildered at Gidget’s unhappiness. Gidget tries to get sympathy from Jeff, and he tells her that this trip is an opportunity of a lifetime (because it is) and that she’d be nuts not to go. Gidget, because she’s bonkers, takes Jeff’s encouragement as a sign that he’s indifferent to her leaving or not, gets mad, and breaks up with him. Meanwhile, Gidget’s parents have decided to turn their family trip into a romantic trip and cancel Gidget’s adjoining room. Gidget then announces that she’s coming on the trip after all, and her parents scramble to re-book her room. Her adjoining room is gone, but they’re able to book her a single room down the hall. Gidget and her family are on their way to Hawaii.
While on the plane, Gidget and her parents become acquainted with another family on board–Monty (Eddie Foy, Jr.) and Mitzi (Peggy Cass) Stewart and their daughter Abby (Vicki Trickett). Abby and Gidget are the same age. While seated on the plane together, Gidget and Abby get to talking. Gidget bares her soul to Abby about Jeff and how lost she is without him. The whole group is staying at the same Hawaiian hotel together. While at the hotel, Gidget and Abby meet Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), a dancer who is appearing at the hotel. The girls, Eddie and his friends all spend time together during the trip.
Gidget is miserable during the beginning of the trip. She just sits and mopes in the hotel, refusing to take in the sights of Hawaii. Her parents are understandably concerned. Gidget’s dad arranges to have Jeff fly to Hawaii as a surprise for Gidget. Between Gidget’s moping and Jeff’s arrival in Hawaii, she comes out of her shell and quickly wins over Eddie and the guys. Abby is jealous of Gidget’s popularity and appeal to the boys and quickly resents her.
I really like this film because it’s fun and has amusing moments. I do feel bad for Deborah Walley–only because I feel the costume team did her a real disservice. Gidget is presumably at least 18, but is dressed like she’s 12. Walley is not chubby by any means, but her tight, short waisted, twee dresses greatly undermine her figure. She looks best in her swimwear and when Gidget imagines that she’s a streetwalker. I also don’t know what’s up with the half up, half down hairstyle she sports–it’s not appealing. But I’ve seen it on other women during the early 60s, so I’ll assume that it was the style.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s teen beach movies. I love all of them: Gidget, Beach Party, everything. One of the best films of this genre is Where the Boys Are. This film has more in common with the coming of age story in Gidget (1959) and less with the wackniess of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. Much like Gidget, this film is progressive in its discussion of not only teenage sexuality, but the sexuality of young, unmarried, women. Where the Boys Are tells the story of four young college women (Freshmen) who travel to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a two week spring vacation.
Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) is a young woman who talks a good game when it comes to young women being free to date, makeout and have sex (aka “backseat bingo”) with whomever she wants. This progressive attitude of course scandalizes the professor of the “Courtship and Marriage” class. It is obvious that the four main characters in the film attend an all-female university. Merritt’s outspoken views have her kept under close watch by the school’s dean. At the conclusion of the school day, Merritt and her friends Melanie Tolman (Yvette Mimimeux), Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss), and Angie NoLastName (Connie Francis) set off for Fort Lauderdale.
While on the road, the girls come across TV Thompson (Jim Hutton) who is looking to hitch a ride to Florida. After being impressed by his height and shoe size, Tuggle (who stands 5’10.5 and desperately seeks a taller man) invites him into the car. They arrive in Florida and check into their apartment. As the events of the film unfold, it becomes apparent that each girl has a different viewpoint when it comes to sex.
MERRITT: Outspoken advocate of pre-marital sex. Talks a good game, but might not be as experienced and confident as she lets on. She meets Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), a senior at Brown University. He’s wealthy and his intelligence is on-par with Merritt’s. It becomes clear that he probably actually has the experience that Merritt talks about and it seems that he may have been led on by her at first.
TUGGLE: Strives to become a wife and mother “the chaste way,” she says. Tuggle believes that her height and build has her destined to become the mother to multiple children. She is more traditional and doesn’t particularly share Merritt’s opinion about sex. She wants to meet a man, marry and then have sex after marriage. TV ends up becoming her beau throughout the film and at first seems to be upset about her wanting to be a “good girl.” However, TV seems like a good guy.
MELANIE: She’s insecure about her lack of experience and takes Merritt’s outspoken views to heart. Her main goal while in Florida is to meet a “Yale-ie” and lose her virginity. Unfortunately for Melanie, she might be dealt the worst hand in this film. She meets a couple Yale-ies in the film.
ANGIE: Angie is your classic tomboy. She’s a pretty girl, but isn’t tall like Tuggle, or blonde like Melanie and Merritt. She’s short and brunette and a little curvier than the other girls. Angie is the captain of her school’s field hockey team. Nobody worries what Angie is doing on vacation or while at school. It is implied that everyone just assumes that Angie won’t have to worry about pressure to have premarital sex. The one asset Angie does have is that she has a killer voice. Her voice attracts the attention of Basil (Frank Gorshin) a didactic jazz musician.
This film has some very funny scenes such as at the club when the gang watches Lola Fandango (Barbara Nichols) perform an Esther Williams-esque underwater number; and when Angie and Merritt attempt to save money by ordering hot water (and dipping in their own contraband tea bag) at a restaurant. I also love the scenes showing the mob at the beach and in their hotel room (the girls end up sharing their 2-bed room with 7 other girls). There are also some very serious scenes as well as some sweet ones.
This is an excellent film for anyone who loves coming of age stories, teen beach movies, or movies with killer title theme songs.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Last but not least, one of my other favorite films of the 1960s is the cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. This film is so ridiculous in all the best ways possible. Prior to watching this film, I was unaware that “dolls” was a term for pills. I always thought that the “dolls” in the title referred to the women in the film. Oh how I was wrong.
This movie is amazing. Everyone in this film has a million problems. The most sane person is probably Susan Hayward’s Helen Lawson, and even she’s a piece of work. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) a recent college graduate who takes a job as a secretary at a theatrical agency. Their number one client is Helen Lawson–an aging, and cutthroat Broadway star. Helen is appearing in a new show, which is featuring a young ingenue, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). Neely is very talented and Helen fears that Neely will overshadow her performance. In an effort to get Neely to quit the show, Helen orders for all of Neely’s best scenes, including her big musical number, cut. The ruse works and Neely is out. Anne is immediately disheartened with show-biz after witnessing Helen’s cruel behavior toward Neely, but is convinced by her employer to not quit and stay with the company.
Anne and Neely befriend another young woman, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Jennifer is gorgeous, but her talent is limited. Neely’s agent at the theatrical agency (which employs Anne) lands her an appearance on a telethon, which leads to a nightclub gig, and so-on. The audience is treated to an amazing 1960s montage of Neely’s rise to success. Neely is offered a Hollywood contract and off she goes. Unfortunately, the pressure of the business and instant success gets the best of Neely and soon she’s a glorious, alcoholic, doll-addicted disaster. In all honesty, Neely’s complete collapse and self-destruction is the highlight of the film. I know it’s campy, over-the-top, and absolutely absurd, but I love it. Neely O’Hara was my hero in this film. One particular highlight is when a drunk, drugged out of her gourd Neely goes to a bar. She plays her own song on the jukebox and plays the “don’t you know who I am?” card. Nobody knows who she is because she’s a shell of her former self.
Unfortunately, the other two ladies, Anne and Jennifer, don’t fare much better, though Anne’s plight lasts all of 5 minutes. I wish she’d self-destructed a little bit more.
The absolute best part of the entire film is the showdown between Neely and Helen. It is amazing and one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. I absolutely love this movie from start to finish. It is worthy of its status as one of the all-time best campy, cult films. Lee Grant has an appearance as the sister to Jennifer’s beau. Dionne Warwick sings the very melancholy theme song.
Now I want to watch this movie. Valley of the Dolls / Cape Fear double feature? Is that weird?
Once again I’ve fallen off the posting train. I need to make it more of a habit, but I struggle to find time. Then, I had trouble with my WordPress account and I couldn’t post. I finally got that fixed. I didn’t want to miss posting on National Classic Movie Day. I also plan to post about the late, great Doris Day soon.
For this year’s National Classic Movie Day, the Classic Film and TV Cafe are asking participants to post his or her top 5 favorite films from the 1950s.
Without further adieu, here are mine:
The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
This is my absolute favorite movie of all time. I have probably seen it a hundred times (no exaggeration). I’m a big fan of I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball. The Long, Long Trailer is basically a 90-minute I Love Lucy episode. Ball and Desi Arnaz’ (aka Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy)character’s first names in ‘Trailer’ are very similar to those of their Ricardo counterparts– Tacy and Nicky, respectively. This MGM comedy is hilarious and I never tire of it, even though I’m at the point where I can recite the dialogue. Quotes from this film regularly make it into everyday conversations I have with friends and family (only those who have seen this film of course). My favorite quote to use, while driving, is “Turn right here, left.”
The Long, Long Trailer tells the story of Tacy and Nicky Collini, newlyweds who are embarking on a road-trip for their honeymoon: Los Angeles to Colorado. The Collinis decide to purchase a 40′ New Moon trailer for their journey. The film depicts the Collinis trying to handle trailer life and all the trials and tribulations that come with it: noisy trailer parks, parking on uneven surfaces, getting stuck in the mud, spending the night on a noisy highway, weight limits, cooking, parking, backing in, and more. Will the newlyweds’ marriage survive the trip?
My favorite part of the movie is when Tacy and Nicky decide to go off-roading and end up stuck in the mud. The trailer is all whopperjawed. Tacy and Nicky get through dinner and go to bed. Nicky is on the downhill side. He has no issues getting into bed. Tacy on the other hand, is on the uphill side and can’t stay in bed. One may ask why she doesn’t make her husband move over and she can share his bed. Well that would be the logical solution, but since this is Lucy, that isn’t going to happen. After a couple of feeble attempts to get into bed, the jack holding the trailer up (kind of) collapses in the mud and Tacy goes flying out the door. Nicky, awoken by his wife’s blood-curdling scream, comes to the door and says: “What’s the matter honey? Can’t you sleep?” While sitting in a 5′ deep mud puddle, Tacy gives him a look that could only convey “[expletive] you.”
I’ve mentioned Gidget many times on this blog, but it’s worth mentioning again. I love this movie. I’ve seen it dozens of times and I never tire of it. Sandra Dee is adorable. James Darren is hunky. The story is relatable. Gidget was the start of the 1950s-1960s teen surf movie craze and I’m all in for teen surf movies. Of all the teen surf movies (the ‘Beach Party’ films, For Those Who Think Young, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, etc.) the original Gidget film is the best.
In this coming of age story, Sandra Dee plays the titular character, Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, a seventeen year old tomboy who is uneasy about her girlfriends’ new hobby: manhunting. Frances is more interested in snorkeling than finding a boyfriend. Her friends on the other hand, act like they’ll be old maids if they aren’t “pinned” by the end of the summer aka the beginning of their senior year of high school. The girls (except Frances) try posturing and flaunting themselves in front of a group of male surfers, but fail to catch their attention. Frances clumsily tries to play along, but gets frustrated and goes snorkeling instead. Her friends ditch her. Frances, swimming in the ocean, gets stuck in kelp.
In the first of a couple kelp episodes, Frances is saved by one of the surfer boys, “Moondoggie,” played by James Darren. Frances is infatuated with him from the get-go. And frankly, who wouldn’t be? Frances is nicknamed “Gidget” by the boys (a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget”). She also takes an interest in surfing and is soon hanging out with the boys everyday. Her surfing skills steadily improve and pretty soon, she’s good enough to really “hang” with the boys. Throughout all the surfing scenes, Gidget and Moondoggie grow closer, culminating with a kiss at the luau. However, Gidget’s awkwardness threatens to keep them apart.
My favorite part of this film is probably Moondoggie serenading Gidget at the luau and planting the kiss on her. I also love the scene with the fight at Kahuna’s beach shack and the elderly neighbor’s witness statement to the police: “When I saw that other one (Moondoggie) run in there (the beach shack). I knew there’d be trouble. I can spot trouble through a crack in the blinds.”
All About Eve (1950)
One of the best known classics in Hollywood, I never tire of this film. The cast. The dialogue. The story. Everything about this film is perfect–except Thelma Ritter’s abrupt exit during the first half of the film. What happened to Birdie? She went to get the guest’s coat and never came back! This story is timeless, even in real life. No matter how great and indispensable you think you may be, there’s always someone waiting in the wings who is better than you are.
All About Eve begins at the Sarah Siddons Award ceremony. Rising star Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is slated to receive the prestigious Sarah Siddons award, the highest honor given to persons in the theater community. As acerbic critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) introduces the cast of characters, us as the audience knows that there is a story behind Eve’s rise to stardom. Huge star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) looks like she wants to shoot Eve. The playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) of Eve’s award-winning play do not look proud or happy in the slightest. Lloyd’s wife, Karen (Celeste Holm) takes over the narration and lets the audience in on the true story about Eve Harrington.
On a rainy night, after another performance of Margo’s hit play, “Aged in Wood,” Karen comes across Eve, a young woman she’s repeatedly spotted waiting outside the backstage exit. Thinking she’s doing the young woman a favor, Karen invites the young woman inside to meet her idol, Margo Channing. Little does Karen know what lurks ahead. As the story progresses, we see Eve slowly insinuate herself into Margo’s personal and professional life. Perhaps this is why Birdie disappears! Eve’s goal is to star in Lloyd’s next play, Footsteps on the Ceiling.
What I love about this film is how slowly Eve’s scheme unfolds. It is not obvious that Eve is taking over Margo’s life. It’s only through the music, Birdie’s “I told you so” face, and Margo’s growing frustration that we figure out what Eve is doing. As Eve gets away with more and more, the more brazen she becomes–such as calling Lloyd to her apartment in the middle of the night. My favorite part of the film is Addison’s take-down of Eve and Eve’s comeuppance at the end when she meets #1 fan, Phoebe (Barbara Bates).
Pillow Talk (1959)
Starring the recently departed Doris Day, this film is her first of three films with co-star Rock Hudson. Of their three films together, the others being Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964), Pillow Talk is my favorite. I love the catchy theme song, Doris and Rock’s undeniable chemistry, Tony Randall, and Doris’ gorgeous wardrobe. The film is funny, romantic and a little sexy.
In Pillow Talk, Doris stars as Jan Morrow, an interior decorator. She’s a successful career woman who’s driven up the wall by the romantic escapades of her party line partner Brad Allen, played by Rock Hudson. Tony Randall portrays Jonathan Forbes, a mutual friend of Jan and Brad’s. Jan and Brad bicker constantly on the party line. Jan tries to offer a compromise over the use of the line, but Brad is unwilling to participate. Jan ends up (unsuccessfully) filing a complaint against Brad with the phone company.
One night, Brad and Jan just happen to be at the same nightclub. Brad sees her and learns her name, figuring out that she’s the one who he bickers with on the party line. He concocts the fake persona of “Rex Stetson” a Texas cattle rancher. Using a Texas drawl, Rex successfully picks up Jan and takes her home. Soon they are seeing each other regularly. Jan finds herself falling for “Rex.” Brad/Rex finds himself falling for Jan.
My favorite part of this film is watching 6’5 Rock Hudson try to squeeze himself into a tiny sports car, Jan’s maid Alma (Thelma Ritter) drinking Hudson under the table, and every scene with Tony Randall. He is hilarious. Pillow Talk set the pace for the sexy 1960s sex comedies. Watch 2003’s Down With Love (with Renee Zelwegger and Ewan McGregor) for a fun send-up of Pillow Talk and the other sex comedy tropes.
Rear Window (1954)
This is my favorite Hitchock film. Everything about this film is fantastic: the story, the dialogue, the cast, the sets, everything. I absolutely love the set of this film. Hitchcock’s courtyard set is amazing. The attention to detail is fantastic. I love how the other neighbors all have storylines, even though they never set foot in James Stewart’s apartment. Miss Torso, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Songwriter, all the neighbors are fantastic. The only fault in this film is the cheesy way the ending looks, but I’ll chalk that up to 1950s technology.
In Rear Window, James Stewart plays photographer LB “Jeff” Jeffries, who is homebound after breaking his leg. He is bored and spends most of his days watching the goings on of his neighbors in the courtyard. He devises names for the neighbors and keeps up on their lives. One neighbor in particular, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), catches his attention. It seems that Thorwald had an invalid wife, until all of a sudden, he didn’t. Curious about what happened to Mrs. Thorwald, Jeff begins watching him more intently with a large telephoto lens.
Jeff sees Thorwald engaged in all kinds of suspicious activity and is determined that he was behind his wife’s disappearance. Using his binoculars and camera lenses, Jeff basically engages in a stakeout. Throughout all his investigation work, Jeff’s girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, and his nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter come and go. At first the ladies are dismissive of Jeff’s interest in Thorwald and his determination to prove him a murderer. However, after seeing Thorwald’s behavior first-hand, the ladies are hooked and soon join Jeff in his stakeout. Lisa and Stella become further involved in Jeff’s independent investigation when they leave the apartment to gather evidence from Thorwald’s garden and home.
My favorite part of this film is the scene with Jeff, Lisa and Stella watching Thorwald scrub his walls. “Must’ve splattered a lot,” Stella says matter of factly. Lisa and Jeff look at her disgusted. She then defends her position, saying “Come on. That’s what we’re all thinkin’. He killed her in there, now he has to clean up those stains before he leaves.” I also love Grace Kelly’s wardrobe. If there was ever an actress who epitomized Hollywood glamor, it’s Grace Kelly.
Today is National Classic Movie Day. In honor of this occasion, Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting “The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon.” What better way to celebrate National Classic Movie Day by watching an old favorite film?
I discovered I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball on Nick at Nite in 1995. From then on, I was hooked on all things Lucy. When I discovered that she had a film career prior to I Love Lucy, I began looking for Lucy’s films on TCM. One day, TCM was airing something titled The Long, Long Trailer (TLLT) that starred not only Lucy, but Desi Arnaz too! Lucy and Desi in the same film? I’m in! From the first time I saw TLLT it quickly became my favorite film. It is still my favorite film. TLLT also became one of my family’s favorite movies as well. We regularly brought it camping to watch in our small camping trailer that we owned. I have now probably seen TLLT at least a hundred times–I am not exaggerating.
I absolutely love this movie. It is hilarious, has memorable scenes and lines and is just so much fun to watch. As someone who has gone camping almost her entire life (literally, I went camping for the first time when I was six-weeks old) many of Lucy and Desi’s adventures are relatable. While we never stayed in trailer parks, we have dealt with the drama of backing it in, having the trailer collapse, trying to maneuver it in small areas and even dealing with it when it was slightly off-kilter. Lucy’s physical comedy scenes are top-notch and Desi’s no slouch either. My entire family can quote so many lines from this film and it’s to the point where I can almost recite the dialogue alongside the actor on-screen. I never tire of this movie, no matter how many times I see it–it’s the definition of a comfort film.
TLLT plays like a 90-minute Technicolor episode of I Love Lucy. Lucy in TLLT might not be as big a schemer as Lucy Ricardo, but she is the one who goes through the ringer as the result of the ideas she has. Desi’s character is a bit of a hybrid of Ricky Ricardo and Ethel Mertz as he willingly goes along with Lucy’s ideas, but is also the one that is the voice of reason. Lucy and Desi’s character names in TLLT,Tacy and Nicky, even sound similar to their I Love Lucy characters, Lucy and Ricky. Much of the humor of TLLT are the problems that Lucy and Desi experience. These are problems that any naive novice trailer owner could encounter: getting stuck in the mud, not being able to park, trying to prepare dinner in a moving vehicle, driving on a narrow, treacherous mountain road–all things that could happen to the owner of a trailer.
TLLT opens with Desi driving in a downpour, seemingly looking for someone or something. He pulls into a trailer park and enters the lobby. An older gentleman, Mr. Tewitt (Moroni Olsen), is sitting in the lobby. As Desi begins to converse with Mr. Tewitt, we learn that he is looking for his wife, who along with his trailer, has gone missing. Desi has spotted his trailer in this park. Mr. Tewitt tells Desi that his wife is currently out looking at a trailer in the park–it is being sold by a young lady who has had a change in plans and needs to sell. Desi puts two and two together and realizes that that young lady is his wife. As Desi begins to tell Mr. Tewitt his story, the film segues into a flashback.
Soon-to-be-married Lucy and Desi are at home and Lucy is looking at a series of trailer brochures. It seems that Desi has been offered a new position that will take him to different jobs all over the country. It is not clear what Desi’s job is, but Lucy says: “If it (Desi’s job) isn’t a tunnel in Colorado, it’ll be a bridge in Alaska or a dam across the Pacific.” Based on this, I am assuming that Desi works as some type of engineer. Lucy, not wanting to spend her married life living out of suitcases and eating in random restaurants, suggests to Desi that they purchase a trailer. They can travel from job to job and still have a home to return to. Lucy promises to cook and clean and do everything needed to get Desi to agree. With some reluctance, Desi agrees to go to the annual trailer show with Lucy to look at the “Bungalette” trailer that she has her eye on.
At the trailer show, Lucy and Desi locate the “Bungalette” and discover that the brochure was deceptive in how much space was available. This trailer is tiny. It’d be fine for camping, but not as a comfortable space to serve as a home for two adults. Desi is secretly happy that Lucy is disappointed. Undeterred, Lucy keeps looking and soon spots “it” as Desi says. “It” is a gorgeous yellow and chrome 36′ Redman “New Moon” trailer. Lucy and Desi tour the trailer and agree that it’s gorgeous but must be expensive. A salesman, seeing the opportunity to pounce, talks to Lucy and informs her that the trailer is $5345. Of course, it can be paid in installments. 1/3 of the cost will need to be put down as a downpayment. Lucy quickly calculates the downpayment to be roughly $1750 (actually $1763). It seems that she and Desi’s budget for rent is $1800/year(!). Lucy goes to work.
Before he knows it, Desi is signing paperwork and trading in his old car. It seems a new car is needed to haul the trailer. Lucy and Desi purchase a gorgeous pale yellow convertible to haul the gargantuan trailer. Next, we’re treated to the hilarious scene of Desi at the auto shop getting the car fitted with new equipment to haul the trailer. He has a hitch welded to the bumper, trailer brakes are installed and he’s given “block and tackle just in case.” His trunk is full of all kinds of “just in case” crap that the mechanic decides is necessary–though Desi isn’t briefed on the function of any of it. But, at least he has it, right?
After a terrifying first drive with the new trailer, Desi delivers the trailer to Lucy’s home where she and her girlfriends are stocking it with all of the wedding presents and other essentials. This scene is utter pandemonium, culminating with a traumatized Desi cowering in the bedroom after a woman topples a pile of clothes hangers. The chaotic scene is juxtaposed with a glimpse of Lucy and Desi’s fairly tranquil wedding reception. After the reception, with the car and trailer packed, Lucy and Desi are on the road, ready to start their honeymoon!
On their wedding night, Lucy and Desi pull up to a seemingly nice, but noisy, trailer park. The residents are all friendly, a little too friendly perhaps. As Desi attempts to carry Lucy over the threshold, Mrs. Hittaway (Marjorie Main) sees them and for whatever reason assumes that Desi must be carrying Lucy because she’s injured. I would think that Mrs. Hittaway would have seen Lucy walk up to the trailer, but apparently not. Instead of telling the truth, Lucy and Desi concoct some story about Lucy twisting her ankle. Mrs. Hittaway takes charge and devotes herself to administering aid to Lucy. Mrs. Hittaway’s first order of business is getting some food into Lucy and Desi’s stomachs. She orders husband Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear) to go get some food.
Word gets around the trailer park and soon Desi is hosting a neighborhood get together. All the neighbors come over to gawk at the large trailer and also to socialize. Poor Desi spends his evening washing dishes and serving soda to a bunch of people he doesn’t know (and honestly probably doesn’t even care to know. They were only going to stay at the park overnight). Lucy is passed out due to being slipped a sleeping pill by Mrs. Hittaway. The wedding night is a bust.
The next day, eager to get out of the park, Lucy and Desi hightail it out of there and are back on the road. The next day, the newlyweds decide that they want a private evening. Lucy suggests that they pull off onto a remote road somewhere and camp. Desi, not knowing any better agrees. Soon they are driving on some bumpy, muddy logging road, and the trailer becomes stuck and lopsided. Then of course, it starts raining. Desi tries his best to level out the trailer. Lucy attempts to make dinner. She attempts to make eggs by rigging up some wire clothes hangers and forks to keep the pans in one place, but it doesn’t really work. Lucy and Desi end up eating cheese and drinking wine for dinner. Night time comes and Desi is fast asleep in his twin bed on the leaning side of the trailer. Lucy has the twin bed at the top of the lean. She tries to get into bed multiple times, falling out of bed each time. At this point, one might ask, “why she doesn’t crawl into bed with her husband?” To that, I say, “if she did that, then we wouldn’t be treated to the hilarity that ensues when the trailer collapses, the door opens, and out goes Lucy–straight into a six-foot deep mud puddle!
After her impromptu mud bath, morning comes. Desi gets the trailer towed and cleaned up and soon he and Lucy are back out on the road! The next stop is Lucy’s Aunt Anastacia (Madge Blake) and Uncle Edgar’s (Walter Baldwin) home. The newlyweds dream of a short visit where they don’t have to spend any money–or drive the trailer! Desi and Lucy arrive with their trailer (40 feet of train, remember) much to the astonishment of the neighborhood. After some obligatory introductions, Uncle Edgar nonchalantly tells Desi to back the trailer into the driveway. “That way you have use of the car!” he says. Apparently there are so many people living in the home that Lucy and Desi are still sleeping in their trailer.
Desi, not having ever backed the trailer up, pulls out his useless user manual which advises him to “pull into an attractive trailer park, shop for food and start eating!” He finally finds the instructions on how to back the trailer in and gives it a-go. He makes multiple attempts and fails. He drives into yards, plants, crowds of people, and worst of all, Aunt Anastacia’s prized rose. Mortified, Lucy yells at everyone to get back and shut up and she will direct Desi. Lucy gets Desi lined up with the driveway and instructs him to back in. He does a good job, until the carport is shredded due to the trailer being too tall. Personally, I blame Uncle Edgar. He’s the one who told Desi to back into the driveway.
A few days later, Lucy and Desi leave their relatives and get back on the road. Their next stops are uneventful. They visit a nice, quiet trailer park and Lucy fixes a romantic meal. It is at this point that we learn that Lucy has been canning fruits and vegetables in an effort to truly make her house a home. We also find out that she’s been collecting rocks as souvenirs from different places they’ve been on their honeymoon. These aren’t just little pebbles however, these are enormous rocks that probably each weigh 10-15 lbs.
The next day, Lucy wants to learn how to drive the trailer. Desi reluctantly lets her take the wheel and soon regrets it. Lucy drives much faster than he does, passes cars despite the solid yellow line, gets distracted by dresses in the windows… she’s all over the place. Understandingly, Desi is a mess. Lucy assures him that she’s only driving 35 miles per hour. “I am sitting in the suicide seat” he says. Desi’s backseat driving ends up reaching its peak when he makes a comment about women drivers and Lucy understandably gets mad and sits in the backseat, fuming. Their fight continues onto their next stop that evening–a service station on the side of the highway. Lucy and Desi fight about who sleeps in the living room, with Lucy winning. Their fight ends when they hear some frightening highway sounds–in the form of sirens and gunshots.
When morning comes, Lucy tells Desi that she has a solution for alleviating some of the tension between them: she will cook dinner in the trailer while Desi drives. Sounds like a great idea right? It’s not. Not only is it illegal (something Lucy and Desi don’t find out until after the fact), but it’s impossible to cook in a moving trailer. Lucy concocts an elaborate meal: ragout of beef, caesar salad, and angel food cake. While Desi drives, Lucy discovers that everything rocks while the trailer is in motion. Soon, she and her meal are being tossed every which way and Lucy discovers that this was a bad idea. She tries to get Desi’s attention but between the noise of the road and the noise of his “Ragout of Beef” song, he doesn’t hear her. She’s all over the place, her food is all over the place, the trailer is a disaster.
After stopping the trailer, Desi returns to find Lucy bruised and battered. He takes her to the beauty salon to get cleaned up. While in town, Desi speaks with a man who is interested in purchasing the trailer. Thinking that this is a fantastic idea, Desi speaks with Lucy who is vehemently opposed to the idea. Lucy ends up winning and it’s back on the road.
The last big stretch of their trip takes them up a very steep mountain–8,000 feet elevation. The roads are very narrow and are almost completely vertical. This is a very dangerous road for the trailer, but the detour will take them hundreds of miles out of their way. I don’t know, after watching them complete the drive, I think I’d rather take the detour! Desi gets the trailer and car worked on and is advised by the mechanic to not take any extra unnecessary weight. Lucy needs to get rid of her rocks and all her canned fruits and vegetables. Desi tells Lucy of their weight restrictions and she is not happy. While preparing the trailer, Lucy schemes with the manager of the trailer park (where they’re staying) and ends up determining that if the weight is distributed evenly across the trailer, then it should be fine. She then lies to Desi about getting rid of everything.
It’s time to start the big climb. The trip is harrowing. The car’s wheels spin in the dry gravel. The trailer can’t make it around a big curve without Desi having to back-up (with half of the trailer hanging over the cliff!) in order to make the maneuver. They encounter a fellow driver who has to basically drive his car into the rocky wall in order to let the trailer pass. Desi passes him successfully, even though the trailer does scrape against the car while passing. Lucy and Desi have an awkward conversation about a book that Lucy was reading, which ends up turning into a conversation “a beautiful actress who loved squirrels.” I am thinking the “beautiful actress” is Elizabeth Taylor as Desi references Michael Wilding.
While the trailer makes its ascent, Lucy’s rocks and canning jars start coming out of their hiding places and moving toward one end of the trailer. Lucy and Desi finally reach the top of the mountain. They get out of the car for a well deserved breather when suddenly one side of the trailer collapses. Desi opens the door and out falls one of Lucy’s rocks. Livid, Desi starts tossing all of the rocks and jars off the side of the cliff. We are then brought to the beginning of the film.
After Desi has finished recounting the entire story of how he ended up looking for Lucy and his trailer, he ends up finding Lucy in the trailer park. She has sold the trailer to Mrs. Tewitt and is busy packing. Desi returns to apologize, but cannot overcome his ego to do so. Lucy cannot seem to find the words to apologize either. He leaves. It’s looking like curtains for Lucy and Desi’s marriage, until Lucy realizes that she doesn’t want Desi to leave and goes chasing after him. Lucy and Desi apologize, embrace and return to the trailer.
William Holden was born 100 years ago today. He made his film debut in Golden Boy (1939) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck. Holden was only 21 when he was cast in his first film and it was apparent to everyone that he was inexperienced. Holden was almost fired from his first part; but veteran film star Stanwyck took him under her wing and coached and encouraged him, often on her own time. Under Stanwyck’s tutelage, Holden was able to keep his job and turned in a serviceable performance. After the filming on Golden Boy ended, Holden and Stanwyck remained lifelong friends.
In 1978, the two friends appeared together as presenters at the annual Academy Awards ceremony. Holden deviated from reading the list of nominees to publicly thank Stanwyck for her helping and supporting his career when he was first starting out. Four years later, Stanwyck appeared at the Academy Awards to accept an Honorary Oscar. Holden had passed away a few months prior. After her very genuine and humble speech, Stanwyck paid tribute to her friend stating: “I loved him very much and I miss him. He always wished I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish.” It was a very sweet and emotional tribute. I highly recommend looking up both Holden’s tribute to Stanwyck and Stanwyck’s tribute to Holden on You Tube.
Whether or not Holden would have still become a star without Stanwyck’s help, it is unknown, but being fired from his first big part could have definitely curtailed his career. Stanwyck should definitely be given credit for being kind and generous and helping out a young man who wanted a film career. She could have been a diva and demanded a more experienced co-star (and could have probably gotten one), but she saw something in her young 21 year old co-star and opted to provide her knowledge and advice instead. For the next eleven or so years after Golden Boy, Holden continued in small parts and small films and continued to grow his skills and gain experience. During this period, Holden appeared in many B-list films including one with RKO’s former “Queen of the Bs,” Lucille Ball.
In 1949, Holden and Ball appeared in the comedy, Miss Grant Takes Richmond. Ball had just been signed to Columbia Pictures after a recommendation from Buster Keaton to Columbia studio-head, the irascible Harry Cohn. Keaton suggested to Cohn that Ball would be perfect for comedic parts. Miss Grant Takes Richmond was the first film Ball made under her new contract. This film is mainly a vehicle for Ball and her physical comedy talents, but Holden provides excellent support as her straight-man. His worldly, but weary, everyday man persona had emerged by this time and also provides Ball with a handsome and worthy love interest. Reliable character actors, James Gleason and Frank McHugh, provide excellent support.
In Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Ball plays Ellen Grant, an aspiring secretary. She attends secretary school and is the worst student in the class. She can’t type, has to make constant corrections, pulls the ribbon out of the typewriter and manages to get ink everywhere. She seems hopeless as a secretary–a sentiment echoed by her aunt and uncle and fiance who cannot understand why she’d want a career when she could just get married and be a housewife. One day at the secretary school, Dick Richmond (Holden), comes in looking for a secretary for his real estate office. Much to everyone’s surprise, including Ellen’s, Dick selects her.
At the office, it seems that there is more going on between Dick and his associates, Gleason (James Gleason) and Kilcoyne (Frank McHugh). Ellen constantly takes calls from people seemingly wanting to put down-payments down on various properties in various neighborhoods. In reality, Dick and his cronies are actually running a bookmaking operation. The calls and payments that Ellen is accepting are actually bets being placed on horses at various racetracks. The real estate office and Ellen are just a front to fool authorities. To keep up the charade, Dick mentions that there is some land available for a housing development, but the owner wants $60,000. He mentions that this is too expensive, but he’d be willing to pay $55,000. Without his knowledge, Ellen goes down to the owners of the property and manages to negotiate the price down to $50,000.
Ellen, her fiance (who is also a District Attorney), and the owner of the property all go down to Dick’s real estate office to let him know of the deal to purchase the land. Ellen explains that Dick’s office will now be able to build a housing development of affordable housing. Dick knows that this deal will cause financial trouble for his operation, but has to play along. He then decides to try and scare Ellen away from the organization by being aggressively romantic with her, but that backfires when he finds out that he’s fallen for her.
Dick’s ex-girlfriend, Peggy Donato comes to visit her old flame and to also place a large bet ($50,000) on a race. Ellen accepts the bet, not knowing that a) Donato is placing a bet on a horse race and b) That the race that Donato is betting on is fixed, in her favor. Dick cannot afford to pay $50,000 to Donato. Dick tries to explain his predicament to Donato who is not sympathetic in the slightest. Donato, who still has feelings for Dick, tells him that he can either run away with her or she’ll have her goons take care of him.
Back at the housing development, Dick has put Ellen in charge. He has also embezzled funds from the down-payments he received for the houses in the development. There is a funny scene at the construction site where Ellen and the female customers decide to adjust the foundation outlines (by moving the ropes) of their respective homes. When they’re done, the size of the rooms are wildly out of proportion. The construction crews start pouring the cement foundations, per the rope guidelines and soon realize something is horribly wrong. There is a funny scene where the foreman rants about the crazy foundations. People’s homes are overlapping, some rooms are enormous while others are tiny, there are random triangular shaped rooms that are too small to use, you name it, it’s a problem. However, the project now has a larger problem, it’s out of money.
Dick, feeling guilty about scamming innocent people and Ellen, decides to run off with Donato and pay all his customers back. Ellen finally figures out that the whole operation was a scam and that Dick took the money from the housing development. She is upset, but decides that she still cares about her former employer and opts to scheme to get rid of Donato. In a scene reminiscent of the 1957 I Love Lucy episode, “Lucy Wants to Move to the Country,” Ellen decides to dress up like a gangster and pass herself off as the real brains of the bookmaking operation. She cobbles together her own “gang” and tries to intimidate Donato’s gang. That plan backfires when Donato’s gang proves to be too strong. At that time, Gleason and Kilcoyne show up with $50,000 that they won in a bet placed with Donato’s operation–which can be repaid to the people who purchased the homes at the development (or can be used to actually complete the homes).
This is a fun film that shows off both Ball and Holden’s strengths. Two years later, Ball would be starring in her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy. In 1954, five years after their film together, Holden would be reunited with Ball when he made an appearance as himself on her show. “L.A. at Last!” was the first episode of the Hollywood story arc of I Love Lucy. Holden has his first encounter with the star-struck Lucy at the fabled Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. Later, he meets Lucy again in the Ricardos’ hotel room where she attempts to disguise her appearance with a putty nose. My favorite thing about Holden’s entire appearance is the fact that this sets up the idea that Holden is a gossip. There are multiple episodes featuring other celebrities where the celebrity alludes to Holden giving them the low down on Lucy.
By the time Holden makes his appearance on I Love Lucy, his star had risen exponentially since Miss Grant Takes Richmond, much like Ball’s had. In 1950, a year after ‘Richmond,’ Holden got the plum role of Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd. This film catapulted Holden into stardom. He received an Oscar nomination for his part as the weary and cynical screenwriter who allows himself to be a “kept man” by the delusional and absurd former silent screen star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). After Sunset Blvd., Holden appeared in a string of hits: Born Yesterday (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), The Moon is Blue (1953), Executive Suite (1954), Sabrina (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Country Girl (1954), Picnic (1955), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1955). Holden took home the 1953 Best Actor Oscar for Stalag 17. Holden’s string of hit films during just this five year period is remarkable and a feat which is rarely repeated.
Picture it: Salem, Oregon, 1995. A beautiful peasant girl turns on her parents’ 15″ black and white tube TV. She comes across a show on something called Nick at Nite. She is instantly transfixed by the action on the screen. A redhead (we’ll have to take the characters’ word for it, it’s black and white after all), her Cuban bandleader husband, and their two friends were involved in some wacky scheme. The next day, the girl tuned into Nick-at-Nite again and watched another episode of this hilarious show about a woman whose only dream in life, it seems, is to be in show business, much to her husband’s chagrin. The show was I Love Lucy, and the beautiful peasant girl, was me, minus the peasant part–just tapping into my inner Sophia Petrillo.
I Love Lucy is rightfully considered one of the best, if not the best (which “best” is obviously subjective) television show in history. The show was groundbreaking, almost literally, and created the blueprint for all situational comedies to come. Every show, from The Dick Van Dyke Show, to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to Cheers to Friends are indebted to I Love Lucy for inventing the situation comedy and engineering the way in which to perform in front of a live audience.
In 1950, CBS approached Lucille Ball with an offer to move her popular radio show, My Favorite Husband, to the new burgeoning medium of television. CBS wanted Ball, her co-star Richard Denning and the other cast members to make the move with her. However, Ball had other ideas. At this time, Ball had been married to her husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz for ten years. The couple’s marriage was faltering. Much of the strain on their marriage was caused by their differing schedules. Ball was in Hollywood filming her radio show and Arnaz was on the road, touring with his band. Ball, seeing an opportunity to work with her husband and keep him home, told CBS that she was interested in the offer, but only if Arnaz could star as her husband. CBS balked, thinking that the American public would not accept that their star, Lucille Ball, was married to a Cuban. Of course, CBS was completely wrong, but to prove it, Ball and Arnaz concocted a vaudeville routine and took their act on the road. People across the country loved them and soon CBS had to relent and give Ball and Arnaz the go-ahead.
In March of 1951, Ball and Arnaz filmed their pilot. It was filmed in kineoscope. Kineoscope was a method of filming a live performance. A camera lens would be focused on a video screen, which would record the performance as it was being recorded. This footage would later be re-broadcast to other markets. Typically shows were filmed in New York, as this is where a majority of the population lived in the late 1940s-early 1950s. If you have ever seen a YouTube video where someone has made a video of a movie, show, concert, etc. playing on their TV, you know that the sound is muffled and tinny and the picture is blurry. This is exactly what it was like to watch a kineoscope show if you didn’t live near New York.
To see a couple examples of Kineoscope, go to You Tube and search for: “I Love Lucy Pilot,” and “Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on The Ed Wynn Show.”
Above is a screenshot from the I Love Lucy pilot episode. Ball wears a housecoat and big baggy pants for much of the episode because she was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz. The Ricardos live in a completely different apartment and the Mertzes haven’t been created yet. I Love Lucy episode #6, “The Audition” is essentially a re-do of the pilot. In the pilot episode, Ricky schemes with his agent, Jerry. In the I Love Lucy episode, Jerry’s lines are given to Fred Mertz. The pilot episode was a success and Ball and Arnaz were given the green light to start their series.
To produce their series, Ball and Arnaz formed Desilu Productions. Arnaz was president and Ball was vice-president. They hired the writers from Ball’s radio show, My Favorite Husband. Many of the crew members they hired were acquaintances from Ball’s radio program and from Ball and Arnaz’ movie and music careers, respectively. For the Mertzes, they originally wanted Bea Benederet (Betty Rubble in The Flintstones and Kate Bradley in Petticoat Junction) and Gale Gordon (Mr. Mooney in The Lucy Show and Harry Carter in Here’s Lucy). However, Benederet was under contract to The Burns and Allen Show and Gordon was on Our Miss Brooks.
One day, William Frawley, an old acquaintance of Ball’s from her movie days, called Ball and asked if there was room for him on her show. Leery of his reputation as a hard-drinker, Arnaz and Ball met with him and decided he was perfect. Ball later said: “William Frawley was ‘Fred Mertz,’ period.” Frawley was cast on the condition that he always show up to work sober. He would be fired on the spot if he ever showed up to work intoxicated. During all six seasons of I Love Lucy and the three seasons of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, Frawley kept his promise.
Casting Ethel Mertz turned out to be more of a chore. Ball originally wanted to throw the job to her old friend, Barbara Pepper (Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres), but CBS said no. Much like Frawley, Pepper had a drinking problem too, but hers was much more severe. Then I Love Lucy director Marc Daniels (who directed the first season) suggested an actress he worked with in New York, Vivian Vance. Vance had a successful Broadway career and had spent twenty years on stage acting in various plays until re-locating to Hollywood in the late-1940s. She appeared in a couple films, but by 1951, she was still relatively unknown outside of the Broadway circle. She just happened to be appearing in a revival of Voice of a Turtle in La Jolla, California. Arnaz and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer, drove down to see Vance and hired her on the spot. Vance was reluctant to give up her stage career for the unknown medium of television, but friend Daniels convinced her it’d be her big break–and it was.
With all the pieces put in place, it was time to start producing I Love Lucy. Desilu purchased two soundstages and tore down the dividing wall to create one large room that could hold four separate stages. The Ricardos’ living room was the larger, permanent stage. The Ricardos’ bedroom was typically in the smaller stage to the left and the kitchen was the small stage to the right. The other stage would often be the Tropicana. The walls of the small stages had wheels that allowed them to move around. Oftentimes, when a scene with a large amount of action was filmed, the walls of the set would be rolled in front of the Ricardos’ living room set. Case in point, there is a blooper in the famous Vitameatavegamin episode (#30 “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”). When Lucy comes staggering out of her dressing room (plastered on Vitameatavegamin, alcohol 23%) and the stage hands are searching for Ricky, you can see the Ricardos’ living room between the Vitameatavegamin set and Ricky’s set where he performs.
CBS wanted Arnaz and Ball to use the cheaper kineoscope and to film their show in New York. Arnaz and Ball informed CBS that not only did they plan on remaining in Los Angeles, but they also wanted to film their program on 35mm film, the same film used by the motion picture studios. They wanted the whole country to see their program clearly, not just the East Coast and they wanted to have copies of their program–figuring that if it bombed, at least they’d come away with some “home movies” for their children. CBS complained initially about the increased cost of the film, but Arnaz, the shrewd negotiator he was, offered to deduct $1000/week from his and Lucy’s salaries in exchange for the right to use film and the rights to their show. CBS, figuring that this whole thing will never work, agreed.
Arnaz knew that Ball performed best in front of a live audience. To accommodate a live audience, Arnaz had to equip his soundstage with bleachers. He was also required by the fire marshall to bring the building up to code by adding bathrooms and other modifications required of a facility that is going to hold large groups of people. In order to ensure that the cameras didn’t block the audience’s view of the action, Arnaz, along with Academy Award winning cinematographer, Karl Freund, devised the three camera technique. This camera, nicknamed “the three-headed monster,” would film the action from three angles. Then after production, the editors would splice together the footage to create the final show. This technique is still in use today.
The very first episode of I Love Lucy, that aired, was actually the second episode filmed. Episode #2, “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub” is the first of many “versus” episodes. In this case, it’s the men versus the women. Lucy and Ethel want to go to a nightclub for the Mertzes’ anniversary and Fred and Ricky want to go to the fights. Lucy and Ethel declare that they will find their own dates who will take them to the club. Ricky informs Lucy that he and Fred will do the same. Enlisting the help of an old friend, Lucy gets herself and Ethel set up as Ricky and Fred’s blind dates. Except, the girls aren’t just coming as themselves, they show up dressed as hillbillies. This is the first of many episodes where Lucy tries to pull a fast one on Ricky. Arnaz made it clear to the writers from day one that while Lucy can play tricks on Ricky, he didn’t want Ricky to look like an idiot. Ricky either needed to be in on the joke from the beginning or figure it out before Lucy succeeded. In the case of this episode, Lucy blows her cover by offering to go grab cigarettes for everyone, stating that she knew where they were. Ricky tells Lucy he knows it’s her and Ethel, they make up and all is well–except that the men end up at the fights with the ladies dressed to the nines. Let’s just hope that a compromise was reached and maybe they went to the fights and the nightclub that evening.
I Love Lucy was a success and was at the top of the ratings 4/6 years it was on television. In 1953, Ball found out she was pregnant (with Desi Arnaz Jr.) and she, along with Arnaz, thought it was the end of the program. However, it was decided that Lucy Ricardo would be pregnant too. Desilu hired a priest, rabbi and minister to read the scripts and highlight any objectionable content. All three religious leaders could not find any issues. CBS allowed Ball and Arnaz to go ahead with their plan and Lucy Ricardo was set to have a baby. The only stipulation being that the word “pregnant” could not be used on the show. They had to opt for the funnier ‘spectin coming from Ricky. Words and phrases like “infanticipating” and “having a baby” were used instead. The episode where Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky was the highest rated episode of any television show (at that point) and even got a higher rating than Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration that took place the following day after Little Ricky was born. During this time, Arnaz invented the re-run by re-airing old episodes of I Love Lucy. He wanted to give Lucy time to recover. To make the episodes “fresh,” he and Frawley and Vance filmed new flashback scenes to introduce the episodes. When these repeats garnered the same or higher ratings than the original airing, it was decided to forgo the new flashback footage and just re-air the episodes as-is.
I Love Lucy enjoyed huge success during its original six year run, winning multiple Emmy Awards and achieving high ratings. It ended its run #1 in the ratings. However, I Love Lucy has achieved even greater success in the decades since. It is estimated that I Love Lucy has never been off the air since its debut in 1951. Ball’s face is one of the most widely recognized faces in the world. There are new generations of fans discovering I Love Lucy each and every day. It is truly an indelible part of pop culture and television history.
My Top 5 Favorite Episodes of I Love Lucy:
1) Episode #114, “L.A. at Last!”
The Ricardos and Mertzes finally make it to Hollywood. After checking into their hotel at the Beverly Palms Hotel, Lucy and the Mertzes are on the prowl for movie stars. They decide to go to “the watering hole,” aka The Brown Derby for lunch and celebrity spotting. Ethel manages to embarrass herself in front of Eve Arden and Lucy ends up embarrassing herself in front of William Holden. The true gem of this episode is later, when Ricky, newly employed at MGM, meets Holden. Holden offers to give him a ride to his hotel. Ricky, unknowing about what transpired at the Brown Derby earlier that day, asks Holden if he’d mind coming in to meet Lucy. Lucy, understandably freaked out, but forced into meeting Holden, tries to disguise herself with a scarf, glasses and fake putty nose. The funniest part of the entire episode is the look on William Holden and Desi Arnaz’ faces when Lucy turns around after having re-shaped her nose.
2) Episode #147, “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown”
In Paris, Lucy makes it known to Ricky that she wants a Jacques Marcell dress. Ricky, not wanting to pay the huge price tag, says no. Lucy, not willing to give up, stages a convincing hunger strike in protest of Ricky’s decision. Ricky, feeling bad for Lucy, buys her the dress, but then discovers that Ethel has been sneaking food to her. The dress is returned and Lucy is fuming. To appease Lucy and “cure” her of her desire for high-end French fashion (which Ricky and Fred think is ridiculous), they find some potato sacks, a horse’s feedbag and a champagne bucket and have two Parisian original gowns designed and created: one for Lucy and one for Ethel. The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy and Ethel realize that they’ve been duped and attempt to hide under a tablecloth, that they apparently steal from the restaurant as they run away.
3) Episode #81, “The Charm School”
After an upsetting party where Lucy and Ethel feel ignored by their husbands, especially when the date of another guest attracts all their attention, Lucy and Ethel decide that their husbands are bored with them. Lucy finds out that the woman who came to her party the night prior had just finished a course at “Phoebe Emerson’s Charm School.” Lucy and Ethel sign up and are put through a charm regiment that involves learning to walk, speak and dress like a charming lady. The time comes for the big reveal and Ricky and Fred are speechless. The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy opens the door to let glammed-up Ethel in. As she opens the door, there’s Ethel leaning against the door frame, dressed in a one-strapped, skintight, leopard print dress with a cool snake-like thing around her arm.
4) Episode #23, “Fred and Ethel Fight”
The Mertzes are fighting (because Ethel said that Fred’s mother “looked like a weasel,” to which I say: “Fred’s mother is still alive?”) and Lucy decides to invite each one over for dinner without the other one knowing. She lets Ricky in on the plan. Ricky works with Lucy trying to get Fred and Ethel back together, but during course of conversation, he and Lucy end up getting in a fight. Now it’s Ethel and Fred’s turn to try and get Ricky and Lucy back together! The climax of the episode is when Ricky stages a fake fire in the apartment, so that he can “save” Lucy and be a hero. The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy wants to pretend like she was hit by a bus and has Ethel help her put on casts and a metal arm brace thing and then Ricky stages the fake fire which Lucy doesn’t know is fake. Lucy freaks out trying to grab things, casually tossing them out her 4th story window. She grabs some dresses and her huge jug of henna rinse. Then she makes a rope with a bedsheet and ties it around herself, but neglects to tie the other end to anything.
5) Episode #122 “The Star Upstairs”
Lucy discovers that she has met 99 movie stars and wants to meet one more so she can have an even hundred. She reads a blind item in the paper that a big star is staying in the penthouse of a local hotel for some rest and relaxation. Lucy instantly jumps to the conclusion that the star is in her hotel, and after pressing the bellboy for details, her assumption is confirmed–Cornel Wilde is staying in the penthouse right above the Ricardos’ hotel room! Lucy blackmails the bellboy into letting her borrow his outfit so she can deliver the paper. That scheme fails wholeheartedly. In the next attempt, Lucy hides under the bellboy’s cart. Through the course of events, Wilde ends up thinking that Bobby is a really talented ventriloquist who can throw his voice across the room. The scheme comes off well, but Lucy ends up being left behind in Wilde’s room. Desperate to get out, she attempts to climb down the balcony using a makeshift rope that she crafts out of a beach towel. The funniest part of the entire episode is Ethel trying to distract Ricky from seeing Lucy’s legs dangling from the balcony.
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.
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.