April 17th will mark the 104th anniversary of William Holden’s birth. Holden is someone who I first became acquainted with when he appeared as himself on my personal favorite episode of I Love Lucy, and perhaps the best episode (imo)–“L.A. at Last!” or “Hollywood at Last!” as it’s also known. Holden’s episode is hysterical. The expression on his face when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose (“The California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says) is hilarious and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Throughout the rest of the Ricardo and Mertz’s trip in California and even later in the series, multiple celebrities make reference to Holden and his having warned them about Lucy’s antics. For whatever reason, the idea that William Holden was running around Hollywood warning people like John Wayne about Lucy Ricardo is hilarious. I Love Lucy and William Holden also brought about one of my favorite quotes from the series:
MAN (to ETHEL): Pardon me. Are you sitting on John Wayne?
ETHEL: Who, me? No!
MAN: Are you positive?
LUCY: Positive. She’s sitting on Bill Holden. She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.
“Lucy Visits Graumans,” I Love Lucy. Season 5, Ep. 1. Originally aired October 3, 1955
Anyway, my point in saying all of this was that for the longest time, I was only aware of William Holden by his appearance on my favorite show, and the constant references to him in the episodes leading up to and after his episode aired. I’d never seen one of his films before. I only knew him from I Love Lucy. Having not heard much about him, in comparison to the *big* Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, etc. I figured he was one of those stars who was big in their time, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, who made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy.
Oh how I was wrong.
After becoming fully obsessed with I Love Lucy as a middle schooler, I learned that Lucille Ball had appeared in a film with Holden–Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I borrowed the VHS from the library and watched it. I found that film pretty funny, especially Lucy’s role, but didn’t find anything remarkable about Holden. In the film, he played a character very similar to how Holden portrayed himself on I Love Lucy. Some time passed before I saw Holden in another film. He didn’t jump out to me as someone whose films I just had to watch.
Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.
My opinion on William Holden did a complete 180. In ‘Sunset,’ Holden was cynical, sarcastic, romantic, conniving, weary, compassionate, etc. etc. His performance in this film was so fantastic that I was hooked. Soon I ended up watching a lot of Holden movies: The Country Girl (the film he was promoting on I Love Lucy), Sabrina, Picnic, The Moon is Blue, Apartment for Peggy, Paris When it Sizzles, Network, Born Yesterday, Executive Suite… But one film that I watched that I really loved was Force of Arms, which premiered in 1951.
(Woo! Finally I made it to the entire point of this whole post.)
Force of Arms reunites William Holden with his ‘Sunset’ co-star, Nancy Olson. This was the third film out of four films that they starred in together. One part of ‘Sunset’ that I really enjoy is the relationship between Holden and Olson’s characters. Holden’s cynical yet romantic Joe Gillis does not get off to a good start when he first meets Olson’s Betty Schaefer. Joe, a screenwriter, and Betty, a script reader both work for Paramount Pictures. Joe walks into the office of a producer just to overhear Betty harshly criticizing Joe’s script. Later the two reunite at a New Years Eve party, and start working together on a new screenplay after Betty pitches some ideas to Joe as to how they can salvage his story. Throughout much of the film, Joe meets in secret with Betty while his employer (and perhaps keeper), Norma Desmond, sleeps. Joe and Betty have a cute relationship. They laugh, they share stories, they appreciate each other’s intelligence, and eventually they fall in love. And while things don’t work out for Holden and Olson’s characters in ‘Sunset,’ they fare much better in Force of Arms.
Force of Arms takes place during World War II in Italy. Holden plays another character named Joe, this time Lieutenant Joe “Pete” Peterson who is part of the American 36th Infantry Division. After a hard fought battle in San Pietro, Joe and his division are given five days’ rest in a small Italian town. One evening, while walking through a cemetery, Joe meets WAC Lieutenant Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay (Olson). Joe tries to better make Ellie’s acquaintance, but is rebuffed because she is in no mood to be picked up while in a cemetery. Later, Joe and Ellie are reunited when he and his friend go to the post office to see if they’d received any correspondence from back home. It turns out that Ellie works at the post office. Earlier in the day, Joe had received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Ellie offers to buy him a celebratory drink. He accepts.
Joe and Ellie begin to spend more and more time together and grow closer as the movie progresses. However, despite how much Joe wants to be with Ellie, she keeps him at arm’s length as she’s afraid to fall in love again. It seems that she was previously engaged to another soldier and was deeply in love, but then he was killed in the war. She is too scared to fall in love as she doesn’t want to experience heartbreak again. However, her mind is changed when Joe’s leave is cut short. Not wanting to lose him, she agrees to marry him when he returns on his next leave.
The film then transitions into a bunch of battle scenes which usually don’t interest me. I love World War II era movies (or in this film’s case, films that take place during the war), but I am more interested in the homefront aspect–or if it directly involves the war aspect, there needs to be another storyline interwoven with the battle scenes. Thankfully, Force of Arms has a romance that is intermingled between the gunfire and carnage. Despite being involved in the very serious situation that is war, Joe remains determined to see Ellie again. Even after falling into a deep depression after the death of a friend and not wanting to see anyone, even Ellie, we know that true love will prevail–Ellie and Joe will be together again. Otherwise, what was the point of this movie?
Nancy Olson was the perfect person for the part of Ellie. Her cherubic face, her sweet demeanor. She is what brings hope to Holden’s bitter, cynical Joe. Were a harsher woman cast, Joan Crawford, for example, or Ida Lupino, I don’t think this film would be nearly as heart wrenching. Ellie is the perfect compliment for Joe. She can provide sympathy and warmth to an angry man. Ellie represents hope and happiness for Joe. No matter how nasty he acts towards her, she remains in love with him. Ellie is what keeps Joe from giving up all hope. She makes him want to live. When Ellie receives some shocking news about Joe, she is in disbelief. She cannot believe what she is being told. Ellie’s anguish is palpable.
William Holden plays the type of character he became best known for in this film. Joe is a handsome everyman, who is just angry at himself, angry at the world. However, despite his bitterness, he never once becomes mopey. Never is Joe mean. He isn’t an unbearable person. He’s just disappointed. Upset. Depressed. Tired. Despite how cynical and jaded Joe is, there’s always this glimmer of hope. He knows that things can get better. Joe just needs some luck or an opportunity. Holden always manages to bring a charm and vulnerability to his roles. You can’t hate Joe. You can’t hate Holden.
While this might not be the greatest World War II-set romantic drama ever made, I loved this film when I first saw it. But I’m always a sucker for a genuinely romantic film, free of most of the typical plot contrivances that malign the romance genre.
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.
Kim Novak is someone who I discovered when I saw Picnic (1955) for the first time. I had heard of her and knew what she looked like, but I had never actually seen any of her films until I saw Picnic. She wasn’t my original draw to the film either. I originally recorded it because I was a fan of co-star William Holden and I also love the overwrought melodramas of the 1950s. My initial impression of Novak was that she was very pretty but she seemed somewhat stiff. I began wondering if it was all style and no substance when it came to Novak. However, as I kept watching her in Picnic, I noticed that she didn’t seem as stiff as she had in the opening scene. I found myself warming up to her.
In Picnic, the crux of Novak’s character, Madge, is that she feels that she is only wanted and appreciated for her looks. Her mother insists that Madge seal the deal with her rich upper crust boyfriend Alan, before her looks begin to fade. Madge is 19, by the way. Alan talks about and treats Madge like she’s a trophy on his arm. Madge begins to resent everyone only focusing on her looks and not showing any regard for her wants, needs and desires. Novak was very skilled in bringing the conflicted Madge to life. On one hand, Madge doesn’t want to disappoint her mother; but on the other hand, she wants to live her own life and not skate by on her looks, even if that path looks uncertain. Madge spends much of the film battling with her own wants and needs, versus those of her mother, boyfriend and the hot, mysterious, and exciting drifter William Holden.
After Picnic, I remember making a point of seeing Novak in some of her other films. I saw Bell, Book and Candle co-starring James Stewart. This film allowed the audience to see Novak as another type of character–a beautiful woman afraid to fall in love. In this film, Novak plays a beautiful witch who lives in Greenwich Village in New York City. Novak develops a crush on Stewart and ends up casting a love spell on him when she discovers he’s engaged to marry another woman. The love spell causes Stewart to fall in love with Novak instead. Soon Novak finds herself falling in love with Stewart and she’s faced with a choice to make: Fall in love with Stewart and lose her magical powers or keep her powers and let Stewart go. Novak plays it cool in this film and is very adept at showing the progression of her character falling in love. Despite being very beautiful and being labeled as one of the 1950s sex symbols of Hollywood, Novak’s characters are never overt in their sexuality, unlike someone like Marilyn Monroe.
One of Novak’s most famous films is her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Novak is cast as one of Hitchcock’s typical icy blondes, but she brings so much to her complicated, somewhat dual role. In this film, Novak must portray the beautiful and tragic Madeline who Stewart meets and falls in love with. Later, she portrays the small-town girl, Judy, who of course resembles Madeline, and agrees to allow Stewart to transform her into his lost love. As Madeline, Novak plays the wispy blonde, who is so beautiful but with an underlying vulnerability. As Judy, Novak plays a more average looking woman (more like a gorgeous woman wearing too much heavy makeup) from Kansas who is trying to make it in big city San Francisco. She is brassier and more no-nonsense than Madeline. Of course there is more to the story than meets the eye and Novak was fascinating to watch.
Novak is a highly underrated actress who I believe wasn’t taken seriously because she was so beautiful. In all her films, she brings charm and also an underlying vulnerability that makes her a joy to watch on screen. Today, Kim Novak lives on a ranch in a small town in Southern Oregon. It’s exciting to think that one of my favorite Classic Hollywood stars is still alive and thriving in a town only about 3.5 hours south of me. Maybe someday, I’ll make it back down there and maybe run into Kim Novak on the street or something. I can always hope!
My favorite Kim Novak films:
-Picnic (1955).I already talked about this film above; but this film deals with a drifter (William Holden) who interrupts the tranquility in a small Kansas town. Most of the action occurs at the town’s annual Labor Day picnic. Novak portrays Madge, a beautiful nineteen year old woman who is dating Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), one of the town’s most eligible bachelors. Novak falls for Holden, much to the chagrin of Robertson and her mother (Betty Field).
–Bell, Book and Candle (1958). Described above as well. This film depicts the story of a beautiful witch (Novak) who casts a spell on a man (James Stewart) whom she’s been admiring from afar. Soon, she must decide whether to fall in love with Stewart and give up her magical powers, or let Stewart go in order to retain her powers.
–Vertigo (1958). Mentioned briefly above. This film is so complex that it would be hard to describe it and do it any justice. This is a film that has to be watched and watched intently, not casually. A couple weeks ago, I watched this film in the theater and was fascinated by how much of the film I had forgotten or hadn’t pieced together the pieces of the story. Once I had the story figured out, I found it amazing and captivating. In a nutshell, this film tells the story of a man, James Stewart, who falls in love with a mysterious blonde and loses her in a tragic accident. He meets another woman, Kim Novak, who resembles his lost love. Stewart goes to work transforming his new girl into the girl he lost.
–Boys’ Night Out (1962). This 1962 comedy is silly and definitely not worthy of any sort of award, but I love it. There’s just something about early 1960s comedies. In this film, Novak plays a college student who rents an apartment from a group of men (James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Morris and Howard Duff). The men are all married, except for Garner. The husbands are bored with their wives and their day-to-day routine and want to set up an apartment to have a fling. They base their plan on the same tactics their boss uses to have his fling. Novak rents the apartment not knowing of their plan to commit adultery and the men don’t know that Novak is pretending to romance them as a means to gather material for her college thesis on the sexual life of the middle class male. Hilarity ensues.
-Pushover (1954). This is a really great noir and is Novak’s film debut. Novak portrays the beautiful girlfriend of a man who robs a bank and both of them are now on the lam. Fred MacMurray co-stars as an undercover cop who is tasked with setting up a stakeout in an apartment across the street from Novak’s. While watching her, MacMurray ends up falling in love with Novak. Soon Novak is trying to corrupt him to join her side and MacMurray is conflicted between his love for Novak and his duty to his job and the police department.
–Pal Joey (1957). This is a musical starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Novak. Sinatra portrays Joey, a singer and charmer who can make pretty much any woman fall for him. The only problem is that he’s a complete cad. Sinatra meets Novak, a chorus girl in one of his shows. He genuinely seems to have real feelings for her. Sinatra dreams of opening his own nightclub but needs money. He appeals to an old flame, Hayworth, who used to also work as a stripper. She married a wealthy man and is now widowed. Sinatra decides to romance Hayworth in order to convince her to give him money for his nightclub. Throughout the film, Sinatra and Hayworth use each other and continues to romance Novak. The love-triangle continues throughout the film until Sinatra is forced to make a decision.
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.
“I gotta get somewhere in this world. I just gotta.” -Hal Carter, Picnic.
And so sums up William Holden’s character in Picnic. I’ve written about this film previously in this blog, but I thought that this time I would focus on William Holden and his character in the film. Holden thought that he was miscast in this film and in many ways, he is right. Hal is clearly supposed to be in his early to mid-twenties, as he’s a college classmate of Alan Benson’s (Cliff Robertson). Holden himself was 37 and looked every bit of it. From an age perspective, Holden is right. He is too old. However, from a personality standpoint, he is perfectly cast.
Holden made his screen debut in 1939’s Golden Boy, co-starring Barbara Stanwyck. Holden was nervous and ill at ease and it was affecting his performance. Columbia Studios bosses were unhappy with his performance and were on the verge of firing him. Stanwyck, then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, employed her star power and demanded that Holden remain in the film. She coached him and helped him get through the filming of Golden Boy. While Holden’s “green-ness” shows in this film, he’s not terrible (that honor goes to Lee J. Cobb, then 27, who was inexplicably cast as 21 year old William Holden’s father. Cobb is horrible and very annoying in this film). While Holden got steady work, it would take eleven years to finally “make it” and be a big star.
In 1950, Holden won the leading role in Sunset Blvd. As “down on his luck” screenwriter, Joe Gillis, Holden developed his signature brand of cynicism, world weariness, but an overall good guy. He would play this character in most of his films from here on out. One of the best applications of “The William Holden” persona is his portrayal of Hal Carter in Picnic. A film in which, like I mentioned earlier, Holden felt he was miscast. Yes, age-wise, Holden is too old. He knows it and the audience knows it. But personality-wise, Holden is perfect as Hal Carter.
In Picnic, Hal Carter is a drifter who winds up in Kansas in hopes to reacquaint with an old college friend, Alan Benson. Hal is unemployed and has jumped from job to job and city to city since dropping out of college. He is trying to get his life back together and hopes that Alan will give him some sort of job. Alan’s family owns a large grain mill and Alan promises Hal a job scooping wheat. This job is not exactly what Hal has in mind–he wanted to be an executive. Hal ends up meeting and falling for Madge Owens (Kim Novak), a 19 year old woman who is known to be one of the prettiest “girls” in the area. But, oops! Madge is already involved with Alan. This will drive a wedge between Hal and Alan.
Hal is just trying to find a niche for himself in a community where he can thrive. He is tired of the drifting lifestyle and just wants to fit in somewhere. From Hal’s expository dialogue, we learn that he is responsible for his previous failures. Alan, believing that Hal is sincere in getting his life together, invites him to the town’s annual Labor Day Picnic. At first, everything’s going great and Hal is charming everyone. After Alan senses that Hal may have his sights set on his girlfriend, Madge (and Madge has her sights set on Hal), Alan begins giving Hal the cold shoulder.
Madge is facing a similar situation to Hal. She is known for being beautiful and that’s it. Her mother and boyfriend think that Madge can skate by on her looks and nothing matters except for her to “be pretty.” It is apparent that Madge’s mother, Florence, wants Madge to use her beauty to land a boyfriend with a high social standing, so that by proxy, the Owens women (Madge, sister Millie, and mother “Flo”) will have high social standings as well. It is apparent that Alan is really only interested in Madge so that he can have a pretty trophy on his arm. Nobody takes Madge seriously because it is assumed that someone so beautiful couldn’t have any problems, right? Hal on the other hand, has made so many previous mistakes in his life, that his sincere actions are dismissed by others, thinking that he’s just a ne’er do well bum. Both Madge and Hal are trapped by other people’s perceptions and expectations (or lack thereof) of them.
Holden incorporates a raw sensuality and a brashness into Hal that is in direct contrast to Novak’s Madge who exhibits an uneasy and inhibited sensuality. Hal knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to speak up. Madge on the other hand, is conflicted. For her entire life, she’s had people telling her what to do. Finally, she finds herself feeling something for a man whom is the complete opposite of anyone she’s ever known. Her mother doesn’t approve. Her boyfriend doesn’t approve (well obviously I guess), not because he loves her, but because she’d look good on his arm. Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), a boarder at the Owens’ home, goes off on Hal–not because she doesn’t like him, but because she resented him falling for younger Madge and not her middle aged self. Rosemary is having her own personal crisis. She is worried that she’s getting old and that she’ll be a spinster her whole life. The only characters in the film who like Hal are: Millie (Susan Strasberg), Howard (Arthur O’Connell) and elderly neighbor Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton).
A powerful moment in the film is when Hal returns to the Owens home the day after the picnic (and a day after his and Madge’s rendezvous at the river bank) and makes one last plea for Madge to run away with him. He proclaims his love for her and she realizes that she feels the same for him–so does Hal. He yells “you love me! you love me!” repeatedly to Madge as he departs for the train. Their feelings for one another are so expertly depicted in the now classic “Moonglow” dance–one of the sexiest scenes in film. No words. No nudity. Nothing explicit–yet Hal and Madge’s feelings for one another are so explicit during the dance. The sexual tension had already been building in the scenes preceding the dance and it explodes during the first moments when Madge hijacks sister Millie’s (more innocent) dance with Hal.
Holden was uneasy with the idea of dancing on screen. Holden demanded $8,000 “stunt pay” to do the dance scene. He figured the studio would balk and replace him with a dance double. Well, that backfired. The studio ponied up the money and Holden was on the hook to perform the dance. The director tried having Holden and Novak, with a few drinks in them, practice dancing to music from jukeboxes in the local bars, but they were too awkward and the end result was not sexy. When it came time to shoot, Holden was allowed to have a few drinks beforehand. The camera work was set up in a way to allow the stars to do minimal movement. The camera would move around Holden and Novak on a dolly. A bunch of lights were also added to change colors as the stars moved around which added visual interest to the screen. Whatever hang ups and issues there were and whatever workarounds the crew had to incorporate in order to complete this scene worked, because the end result is gorgeous. With each swivel of the hip, the audience can watch Holden and Novak slowly fall for one another. This is where the audience begins to root for Holden and Novak to end up together.
Holden was able to so effortlessly bring sexiness, charm, humor, but at the same time, common sense and cynicism to his parts, that it really made him feel like an everyday person. He lacked pretension. You don’t feel like he’s putting on any type of facade. He’s a “what you see is what you get” type of person. He isn’t a distinct persona like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do a “William Holden impression.” But that’s not to say he’s lacking in any personality. It’s just that he’s so approachable and real. He isn’t larger than life. While I like Grant, Bogart and Cagney, I find Holden’s realism refreshing and enjoyable. Whereas, someone like Marlon Brando (to me), always seems like he’s using a shtick (don’t get me wrong, he’s excellent in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire), he’s a bit too intense. Holden seems like a guy you could go out for a beer with and not feel intimidated or nervous that you wouldn’t have anything to say to him. He (and his characters) is a real person.
To use the words of Madge to describe Hal, and in effect, describe an audience’s view of Holden himself:
I wanted to incorporate one of my other loves into this website–classic television. My love of classic television was born after I discovered Nick-at-Nite one evening, circa 1995 when I was in the sixth grade. The first show I watched on Nick-at-Nite was I Love Lucy. This ignited my love of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy. From then on, I had to see every episode of ‘Lucy.’ Later, my love of Lucille Ball led me to TCM to see her films. From watching films with Ball, I ended up discovering a variety of other favorite actors including (but not limited to): Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Ann Miller and Maureen O’Hara, just to name a few. I Love Lucy also featured a lot of great classic movie stars whom I loved on the show and discovered their films later on TCM. One of the all-time best I Love Lucy guest stars was William Holden. Holden guest starred in my favorite episode– “L.A. at Last!”
After spending two weeks driving across country and making stops at a run-down cafe/hotel near Cincinnati, OH, a brief detour/jail stint in Bent Fork, TN, and a visit with Ethel’s father in Albuquerque, NM, the Ricardos and Mertzes finally make it to Los Angeles, CA. After scoping out their hotel suite in the heart of Hollywood (courtesy of MGM), Ricky makes plans to have lunch alone (i.e. without Lucy) at the studio commissary. To soothe Lucy and the Mertzes’ disappointment, he gives them full use of their car and some money for lunch.
Since they set foot in Hollywood, Lucy and Ethel have been on the hunt for movie stars. Lucy wonders out loud if there’s any place where [the stars] gather in a big herd. Fred jokingly says, “maybe they all gather at the same watering hole.” This gives Lucy an idea and soon they’re off to “the watering hole,” aka The Brown Derby. While in the restaurant, Lucy and Ethel immediately begin gawking and rubbernecking at every celebrity in sight. We hear the restaurant page various unseen celebrities that they have a telephone call: Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon and Gregory Peck. Fred reminds Ethel that “they’re (the stars) just people like you and me.” “Telephone for Ava Gardner!” says the overhead page at the restaurant. Fred jumps up and Ethel reminds him: “Remember? She’s (Ava Gardner) just people like you and me.” “She may be people, but she’s not like you and me!” Fred hilariously replies.
After an embarrassing interaction with Eve Arden where Ethel asks her if she’s Judy Holliday or Shelley Winters, William Holden is seated into the next booth on the other side of Lucy. Ethel gets Lucy’s attention and soon Lucy is gawking at Holden and making him uncomfortable. He decides to turn the tables on Lucy and stare back. Lucy is very uncomfortable and after a hilarious scene where Ethel cuts Lucy’s spaghetti with her manicuring scissors, Lucy and the Mertzes make a hasty exit–but not before Lucy trips the waiter and the pie on his tray falls on Holden.
Later, we see Ricky trying on costumes, a knight costume, for his new Don Juan picture. He just so happens to meet Holden at the studio and Holden offers to give him a ride home. Knowing Lucy’s love of movie stars and Holden in particular, Ricky asks Holden if he’d be willing to come in and meet Lucy. Holden is only too happy to oblige. Lucy, fearful of being exposed as the one who threw a pie at Holden, tries to disguise her appearance.
The funniest scene of the entire episode is the scene between Lucy with her fake putty nose, Holden and Ricky. Lucy’s nose constantly needs re-shaped and she ends up lighting it on fire. The looks on the men’s faces when Lucy is monkeying around with her nose is the absolute funniest part of the episode. After the jig is up, Holden doesn’t let Ricky know about the shenanigans at the restaurant and tells him that he wanted to ask the waiter “who the beautiful redhead was,” but Lucy ran out before he had a chance. Overwhelmed at Holden’s kind gesture, Lucy plants a kiss on him. “I kissed Bill Holden!” she exclaims.
What I love about this episode, besides the episode itself is how it sets up William Holden for being a big blabbermouth. In multiple episodes, other celebrities mention having heard from Bill Holden about Lucy. I like the idea that Holden is going around town telling everyone about Lucy and how ridiculous she is.
In my first post, I lamented blogs being abandoned soon after being started. I unfortunately temporarily fell victim to that phenomenon, because I didn’t know what to do next. I wanted to start the blog, but felt overwhelmed. I decided today (Labor Day) to try and get this thing going. I thought I’d kick things off with the film I’m watching right now in honor of Labor Day–Picnic (1955).
(I’ve seen this film multiple times and never tire of it)
Picnic opens with star William Holden (Hal Carter) hitching a ride on a freight train headed through a small Kansas town. He has an acquaintance (and former fraternity brother), Cliff Robertson (Alan Benson) who lives in this town. Hal, who failed in his latest venture, Hollywood star, is hoping that Alan will set him up with a job at his wealthy father’s grain mill. After disembarking from the train, Hal ends up meeting Verna Felton (Mrs. Potts), a kind elderly woman who not only dispenses kind advice to the young single mom next door, but she also is her mother’s (!) caretaker. In exchange for breakfast, Hal offers to help her out with any work she needs done around her home. Despite her protests (“It’s Labor Day. Nobody works on Labor Day,” Mrs. Potts tells Hal), Hal insists on completing some yard work for her. Mrs. Potts is hilarious because on at least two occasions (perhaps even three), she tries to get Hal to take his shirt off. She succeeds in the first scene when she offers to wash his shirt while he does her yard work.
While Hal is working away in the yard, Susan Strasberg (Millie Owens), a soon to be high school senior, is sitting outside next door, reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. She is a bookworm, a bit of a tomboy who very much resents being in the shadow of her 19 year-old sister, Kim Novak (Madge Owens). Madge is considered one of the prettiest girls in town. Betty Field (Flo Owens) portrays the single mother of the two girls. It seems that Mr. Owens walked out on the family when Millie was a newborn, so Flo has been on her own for a long time. Flo’s main goal for her daughters is that Millie will use her academic talents to attend college and Madge will use her beauty (it is alluded to that academics aren’t Madge’s specialty) to snag a rich husband, in this case, the intended target is Madge’s boyfriend, Alan. Rosalind Russell portrays Rosemary, the local schoolteacher who also rents out a room in the Owens’ home. She is also depressed because she’s unmarried and is hoping that her longtime beau, Arthur O’Connell (Howard Bevins), will marry her so she can lose the title of spinster. All these characters end up at the annual Labor Day Picnic, which is where a bulk of the action takes place.
The main conflict in this film:
Flo wants Madge to be more committed to wealthy boyfriend Alan, who is really only interested in Madge because she looks good on his arm. Madge, it seems isn’t really into Alan, she’s dating him because her mother wants her to. There is some funny and icky (in the sense that it’s mother and daughter) dialogue between Flo and Madge about her relationship with Alan.
FLO: “If she (a pretty girl) loses her chance when she’s young, she might as well throw all her prettiness away.”
MADGE: “I’m only nineteen.”
FLO: “And next summer you’ll be 20, and then 21, and then 40!”
MADGE: “You don’t have to be morbid.”
Madge then later has to endure this awkward conversation with her mother, where her mother essentially tells her to put out in order to seal the deal with Alan and secure him as a husband:
FLO: “Madge, does Alan ever make love?”
MADGE: “Sometimes we park the car by the river.”
FLO: “Do you let him kiss you? After all, you’ve been going together all summer.”
MADGE: “Of course I let him!”
FLO: “Does…does he ever want to go beyond kissing?”
MADGE: “Oh mom!”
FLO: “Well I’m your mother for heaven’s sake…these things have to be talked about! Do you like it when he kisses you?”
FLO: “You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”
MADGE: “Well, what do you expect me to do? Pass out every time Alan puts his arms around me?”
FLO: “No. You don’t have to pass out. But there won’t be many more opportunities like the picnic tonight, and it seems to me you could at least–”
At the picnic, Flo sees that Hal is crushing on Madge and Madge is reciprocating. Madge and Hal’s attraction to one another is obvious when they dance to “Moonglow” at the picnic. Flo is worried that Madge’s attraction to Hal will get in the way of Madge’s relationship with Alan which would move her family up on the social ladder. Flo is also concerned about Hal’s influence on Millie.
(One of the most romantic scenes in film)
Some of the minor conflicts:
2. Millie resents Madge getting all the attention because of her beauty. On the flip-side, Madge resents that Millie gets attention for being so smart and winning a full ride scholarship to college.
3. Rosemary is jealous that Hal is only paying attention to the younger Madge and not interested in her.
4. Alan is upset with Hal because his former fraternity buddy is obviously hot for his girlfriend. Alan wants Madge because she would look good on his arm (i.e. “A trophy wife”). Alan’s father doesn’t approve of Madge because her social standing is much lower then theirs.
All of these conflicts come to head at the annual Labor Day Picnic.
I love this film. I am a sucker for the overwrought melodramas anyway and Picnic does not fail to deliver. This film has everything: shirtless William Holden, romantic dancing, a sexy “did they? or didn’t they?” love scene, a drunken breakdown, over-the-top dramatic scenes and much more–everything you’d want in a melodramatic film. It also offers one of the corniest, albeit creepiest, pick up lines in film history:
ALAN (to MADGE): “I want to see if you look real in the moonlight.”
(Alan is obviously hinting to Madge that he wants to seal the deal too).
If you like any of the stars and/or melodramatic films, I highly recommend Picnic.