Entr’acte

Oscar Wilde wrote, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

The clog dancer in drag in Covent Garden’s La Fille Mal Gardée stops the ballet. 

In 1955, Princess Margaret visited Noel Coward’s Jamaica home, “Blue Harbour.”

Ronnie Kray was probably more infuriated to be labelled “fat” than “poof” in London’s The Blind Beggar pub.

Alan Jay Lerner married 8 times, but never married Nanette Fabray. 

Truman Streckfus Persons was Capote’s given name.

Abe, Michael, Billy and Herbert—four Brothers—branded Minsky’s Burlesque. 

Woody Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn on December 1, 1935.

Third grade: delivering the massive picture tube to watch Elizabeth II’s Coronation, my dad’s workers dropped the TV.

Actor Louis Jordan was married for 68 years and died when he was 93 years old.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was loath to let anybody see his naked feet.

Troy Donahue complained that his being confused with Tab Hunter who was gay cost him screen assignments. 

1956 Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, has thus far paid investors profits of 8000%.

Nazi Nannies.

John B. Kelly, denied to row in the 1920 Henley Regatta because he had “worked with his hands,” instead became a 1920 Olympic champion rower, winning three gold medals.

To Catch a Thief (1955), Indiscreet (1958), Funny Face (1957), The Best of Everything (1959), Charade (1963), Rear Window (1954), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1961), Café Society (2016), and A Single Man (2009), compose Hollywood’s glamorous Top Ten.

Matt Smith is such a scene-stealer in The Crown—I wish I’d seen him in London’s American Psycho.

20th Century Fox refused to loan Tyrone Power to Warner Brothers to star as “Parris” in Kings Row (1942).

Pier Paolo Pasolini first wrote poetry in Friuli, his native dialect from the mainland area north of Venice.

During lunch hours, we met under the Marshall Field’s clock that summer every day. 

Peter Morgan makes yet another run at Elizabeth II for plot; he is already the celebrated author of The Queen and The Audience.  

Legend claims Deborah Kerr climbed a tree to stay out of range of spears during the shoot of the Masai ceremony for King Solomon’s Mine (1950).

Like James Mason, Claude Rains never misses the bull’s eye on the screen.

Farley Granger played Mr. Darcy in the stage musical based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I had tickets but did not see the show.

The DuPonts at Winterthur did not use the same seating plan for dinner parties as the DuPonts at Nemours.

Author Rona Jaffe claimed she had an affair with actor Donald Harron.

In Cockney rhyming slang “apples and pears” means “stairs.”

Sure he could pose, but Andrew Wyeth’s dog probably could also paint.

Fabian Publishers is as glamorous today since Jackie Kennedy Onassis later endowed the profession with luster.

The Last Tycoon is not about what Irving Thalberg did, but rather what Fitzgerald determined Thalberg might have done.

After murdering Gianni Versace in 1997, serial killer Andrew Cunanan was killed by the police hiding on Troy Donahue’s old Surfside 6 houseboat.

"Dimly and in Flashes" will take a summer hiatus.

The Penultimate Game Show… 


What's My Line? ran on CBS from 1950 to 1967 and was later syndicated. The original Mark Goodson & Bill Todman Production remains the longest-running prime-time game show. After guessing the occupation of several contestants, the panel questioned a famous Mystery Guest (first called a Mystery Challenger) each week. While blindfolded, the four-person celebrity panel sought in rotation to determine the identity of this famous contestant by asking only “Yes-No” questions until the round was terminated by a “No” answer. The final “No” ended a possible sequence of up to ten rounds. This year marks fifty years since the game show went off the air.

…And sign-in, please.

Panelist #1 (Anderson): “Dimly and in Flashes” is a movie blog, so let me start by asking you about movies—Are you interested in the movies?
Mystery Guest: Yes. Very interested.
Panelist #1: Have you ever made a movie?
MG: No
Moderator (Steve): That is one “No” down, nine to go.
Panelist #2 (Wendy): (To audience) How you doin’? (Audience applauds.) Do you routinely go to the movies?
MG: No
Moderator: Two and counting.
Panelist #3 (Drew): Are you sorry to attend so few movies?
MG: No—but I’m sorry so few movies are made that I want to attend. 
Moderator: And that is our third “No” answer.
Panelist #4 (Goldie): Do you know what happened to Bridey Murphy?
MG: What? No. 
Panelist #4: I meant Virginia Mae Morrow…
Moderator: Still a “No.”
Panelist #4: …(To Anderson) This is a set-up, dude.
Moderator: We are clearly at four down and six to go.
Panelist #1: I know this—do you think Grace Kelly is the most beautiful screen actress?
MG: Yes.
Panelist #1: But your favorite movie actress is Myrna Loy, Lana Turner, or Marilyn Monroe?
MG: Yes…one of that trio. 
Panelist #1: I told you I have a bead on him; your favorite movie director is Jean Negulesco, right?
MG: Correct. Yes
Panelist #1: Yet you do not think that Negulesco was not the best film Director. 
Moderator: A Double Negative means one resounding “No.” The point of no (stressing the negative) return—five down and five to go. 
Panelist #4: Wait a minute—I think Anderson should get a “Yes” for that Double Negative answer—Anderson should get another chance!
Panelist #2: (Talking over Goldie—then sarcastically to Anderson) How you doin’? (Audience bursts into laughter.) Do you like musicals?
MG: Yes.
Panelist #2: But your favorite movie is not a classic Studio-System musical?
MG: No, my favorite movie is not a classic Studio-System musical. 
Moderator: I think we’ll have to count Wendy’s “No” as a “Yes.” So it is still five-and-five and counting.
Panelist #1: That’s not fair…(To Goldie) Now Wendy is getting preferential treatment…
Panelist #2: (Cutting off Anderson’s whining) Is your favorite movie a Fred Astaire musical?
MG: No.
Moderator: That’s another “No.” Drew, your turn. 
Panelist #3: You like Astaire musicals but you prefer stage, not screen, musicals?
MG: Yes. But how would you know that?
Panelist #3: I do my homework.
MG: (With a flash of optimism) So you read my blog?
Panelist #3: God, no—I just do my homework. And am I correct that Hollywood butchered your favorite musical play?
MG: You did do your homework, Yes.
Panelist #3: Hey, Anderson, looks like I’ve got a bead on this guy… the play is American Psycho?
Moderator: (As MG shakes his head) That adaptation inversion is a “No.” Goldie. 
Panelist #4: I love Amy Schumer—she’s beautiful…(waiting for applause…audience remains silent) I’m on this…Great play—bad movie?…So your favorite Broadway musical is On A Clear Day You Can See Forever?
MG: No. 
Moderator: That makes seven “No” answers. Anderson.
Panelist #1: It is my turn. And I know it!! Gypsy—your favorite musical play is Gypsy?
MG: Yes.
Panelist #1: You like the play Gypsy (with increasing bravura) but not the 1962 movie adaptation. Yet you fear that there could be an even worse version of Gypsy soon on screen?
MG: Right. Yes. You don’t read the blog—how do you know that? 
Panelist #1: Nobody reads the blog (Audience explodes into applause.) but everybody knows any Barbara Streisand version of Gypsy would have to be the worst possible movie adaptation that could be produced.
MG: Yes. Definitely
Panelist #1: (Going for blood) In a final special episode of the TV series Looking, protagonist Patrick (Jonathan Groff) summed up Richie’s new boyfriend Brady: “He’s like a blog that nobody reads, but in human form.”  Do you understand that reference?
MG: Yes. Painfully.
Panelist #1: (Going in for the kill) More to the point—can you empathize with it? Have you been a readerless blog?
MG: No. Actually—I had one reader, maybe even two. So, No.
Panelist #1: That’s just not fair…I mean, nobody cares about his blog. Single digit readers amount to Nobody, so his “No” answer is a trick, so I should get another question…

All Aboard!

Bodega Bay, Peyton Place, Derry, Tree Hill, Winesburg, Twin Peaks…Kings Row

Original Cast: Robert Cummings, Anne Sheridan, Ronald Reagan.

Original Cast: Robert Cummings, Anne Sheridan, Ronald Reagan.

Small Town, America…you know the drill… 

I really like Kings Row (1942). Anne Sheridan is compelling as unconventional, independent Randy Monaghan, while as charming, small-town playboy Drake McHugh, Ronald Reagan gives his best movie performance. As pivotal character, Parris Mitchell, Robert Cummings manages to hang on to the complicated leading role. The large ensemble cast that populates their classic small town: Claude Raines, Charles Coburn, Betty Field, Judith Anderson, and Maria Ouspenskaya is Studio System casting at its best

Eric Wolfgang Korngold composed the musical soundtrack while screening the film; consequently his music develops as each scene develops. Influenced by Wagnerian leitmotifs, Korngold’s “Main Theme” is echoed and varied throughout the film, morphing into hymn at the final fade. Korngold’s name is not celebrated. Most film composers’ names don’t become household words and Korngold’s moniker rings as theatrical as Broadway musical hero, Jubilation T. Cornpone. But make no mistake when you hear the name…Korngold was a child prodigy, brilliant musician, classical music composer, and symphonic orchestra conductor in Vienna—the world’s musical capital before The Great War—as well as among the first composers of international stature to compose Hollywood scores. Korngold wrote scores for 16 Hollywood films, and expanded their scope to re-define film soundtracks. When explaining his aesthetic, Korngold said he composed his scores as Operas without singing. 

Nonetheless, the gorgeously photographed and scored black-and-white Kings Row is pushing 75 years old—that’s even older than I am—and so both story and movie demand and deserve a modern perspective without the original’s interference from Joseph Breen and the Hays Office. 

First things first, let’s keep that iconic score—but adapt it to our time, just as composer Korngold adapted nineteenth century symphonic Mendelssohn and Liszt compositions for his groundbreaking twentieth century soundtracks. Out of the gate, harness the energy of a high-voltage director. Definitely go color. With a big Budget. And lavish production design. Make it an Amazon or Netflix production with an expanded running time. Retain the epic scope on screen, but in the remake, hose down the “Acting with a capital A”, particularly the child actor’s Acting, so it need no longer vie with the plot for our attention. Bottom line, cast one hell of a star-power-on-steroids leading man not just to carry but also to drive the controversial, mercurial tale of social hypocrisy, incest, murder-suicide, euthanasia, and sadistic mutilation counterpointed with pastoral innocence, idealism, courage, and friendship. 

Dream-remake cast: Finn Wittrock, Emma Stone, and Billy Magnussen.

Dream-remake cast: Finn Wittrock, Emma Stone, and Billy Magnussen.

My dream remake? Bennett Miller (Capote [2005] and Foxcatcher [2014]) directs the sobering, choreographed, small-town-America epic. Emma Stone is Randy Monaghan; this leading lady is a modern woman navigating Middle America at the dawn of the twentieth century and Stone would be perfect casting. Billy Magnussen is Drake McHugh. Talk about irresistible charm: in Sondheim’s Into The Woods (2014) on screen, Magnussen surfaces as leading man among coy Chris Pine, aging Johnny Depp, and saccharine James Cordon overacting so unbearably on every side of him that they could sink a high-school-auditorium production of the musical. 

At the center of the remake? Kings Row needs an actor who can fuel the narrative, an actor who can galvanize Parris Mitchell into a hero galactic enough to launch Kings Row from last century’s melodrama into tomorrow’s storytelling stratosphere. Several years ago, I witnessed Finn Wittrock on stage in the thankless role of second son, Happy Loman, genteelly run away with each and every scene in the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman; later in a supporting role on film, Wittrock discretely stole his every scene from the featured actors, including hungry sharks, in Unbroken (2014). And with absolutely no subtlety—even when paired with formidable actor, Matt Bomer—in American Horror Story on television, Wittrock firmly stood his ground scene to scene, charismatic frame for frame, compelling shot by shot, all fine and Dandy. Finn Witrock is Parris Mitchell.

Classic Negulesco

Fontainebleau Hotel 1954:  Mural, Lobby Staircase; Pool Fountain; Sunken Dining Room.

Fontainebleau Hotel 1954:  Mural, Lobby Staircase; Pool Fountain; Sunken Dining Room.

 The influence of Hollywood was enormous during the 1950s because the Dream Factory fueled the exuberant American lifestyle expectations. Thus Architect Morris Lapidus described his legendary 1950s Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach not as his rendering of historical French architecture, but rather as French architecture in Hollywood movies: Think Diane (1956) with its Technicolor chateau, outrageous neon sets and costumes, and Lana Turner as the fifteenth century noblewoman, Diane de Poitiers. 

Lana Turner, Diane (1956)

Lana Turner, Diane (1956)

Rocketships into space…jet flights to weekend escapes…household air conditioning…suburban barbeques…stereo sound systems…tomorrow’s color TV today…and next year’s wilder fins on your flashy convertible—architecture, décor, fashion, and transportation were bold and glorious. Driving the exhilarating decade, Populuxe designs put the deprivations of post-World-War recovery firmly in the rearview mirror to anticipate instead the promising, unknown itinerary ahead. 

1959 Cadillac Eldorado

1959 Cadillac Eldorado

By the 1950s the Hollywood’s Studio System was on its last legs—but Hollywood was by no means going gentle into its good night.  Instead, ironically, gigantic CinemaScope projection and vibrant color photography made the movies bigger—flamboyant melodrama ruled the screen—musical scores were operatic…production design was epic—the Star System…and star performances…were on overdrive. Think Lana Turner’s 15 credits (Turner also appeared uncredited in Singin’ in the Rain in 1952) during that decade culminating in her masterpiece, Ross Hunter’s “spare no expense” production of Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life (1959). Then illuminate the Populuxe era with Hollywood searchlights and screen Jean Negulesco’s The Best of Everything (1959). 

Based on a controversial best seller, the movie is lush as soon as the languid lavender script of opening credits glides over the postcard images of New York City already awash in the velvety voice of Johnny Mathis working the title song. Earlier that decade, Negulesco had directed How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), and A Woman’s World (1954), the apogee of the Three-Girls-on-the-Move genre. His triptych of comedies deftly chided courtship in a world on the eve of the sexual revolution; sexual politics in post-World-War marriage; and gender politics in the global, corporate world. But in Negulesco’s knowing farewell to the 1950s, he explored these issues differently, triggering some tussles with the Hays Office. Moreover, since the three women each makes different lifestyle choices, no traditional Happy Ending at the final fade—instead winners and losers in love, career, and life have been determined. 

 April (Diane Baker), Gregg (Suzy Parker), and Carolyn (Hope Lange) toast the future, The Best of Everything (1959).

 April (Diane Baker), Gregg (Suzy Parker), and Carolyn (Hope Lange) toast the future, The Best of Everything (1959).

Negulesco hit genre pay dirt. All Star Studio System Cast: April (Diane Baker) confronts abortion; Carolyn (Hope Lange) “literally” lets her hair down; and Gregg (Suzy Parker) stalks her lover (the always charming Louis Jordan) until she takes a Brody from his fire escape. Fred Shalimar (Brian Aherne) shines as their droll, chauvinistic boss; Mike (Stephen Boyd) as Carolyn’s love interest is bolstered on screen by Boyd’s concurrent stint as treacherous charioteer Messala in Ben Hur: Dexter (Robert Evans) all too naturally plays the unlikable womanizer; handsome Sydney (Donald Harron ) and Barbara (Martha Hyer) make a charming case for office infidelity; and pre Miranda Priestly, aging harpy Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford) makes the trio’s career aspirations hell. Even Lana Turner couldn’t give this genre film a more stunning Hollywood pedigree: Joan Crawford is in the trio of naïve young women who confront reality in Sally, Irene and Mary (1925), the silent movie most often labeled rootstock of this longstanding genre. 

The real stars of the movie are Director Negulesco, three art directors, two set directors, and an Oscar-nominated costume designer. There is an avalanche of sleek costumes. The vibrant office set of Fabian Publishing is kinetic Mondrian. The Lever Building has enough screen time to be a character, and the futuristic-office-building location of Fabian was indeed New York’s one-year-old, iconic Seagram’s Building. 

By the next decade, the genre had obviously outlived its potential. Women had proven the Three-Girls-on-the-Move genre dated. The 1960s addressed and soundly labeled this quest out of fashion. In fact, that innocent perspective had been replaced by disillusionment, even rage. The itinerary ahead. But in this 1950’s classic, “Romance is still the Best of Everything.”

“Life Is A Comedy Written By A Sadistic Comedy Writer.”

I’ve liked all 47 titles written and directed by Woody Allen, almost—we walked out in the middle of Whatever Works (2009); I didn’t like Sweet and Lowdown (1999); and I couldn’t even face Anything Else (2003) or Scoop (2006).  Yet although Café Society premiered last May at the Cannes Festival, I didn’t screen Allen’s 2016 movie until just this week. Here’s the conundrum: like me, the filmmaker is getting old (Allen is 82), so in the last fifteen years, I approach his most recent work already suspicious that it will not be among his best and fearful that my admiration of his earlier work will consequently be diminished.

Although Allen’s movies are about universal types: fathers, mothers, lovers, and small-time crooks, he most famously portrays creators of art and the people who follow them. His stories are often about artists and charlatans and the symbiotic Art and Museum Set of academics, critics, pseudo-intellectuals, groupies, and the socially elite. In 1979’s Manhattan, Isaac (Woody Allen) and his posse of New Yorkers banter about the changing academic reputation of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the populist pronunciation of Van Gogh. Thirty year later in Midnight in Paris (2011) when New Yorker Gil (Owen Wilson) escapes into the previous century in the City of Light, it is to share la Vie Bohème with Fitzgerald, Dali, Man Ray and other artistic icons of the Lost Generation being geniuses together. 

In his movies, Allen has exhibited a particular interest in the art and industry of moviemaking: the Dream Factory. New York writer Alvy Singer is a fish out of water shooting TV in Hollywood (Annie Hall [1977]); when Val directs his movie on location, he does so blind because of a conversion disorder (Hollywood Ending [2002]); and in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Cecilia begins an impossible love affair with a character in a movie who has come off the screen in her local movie palace and justifies, "I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything." 

When he is the Director of his screenplays, Allen is a cinematic stylist immediately recognizable in his opening credits, dialogue heavy scenes, and the impeccable inclusion of music on his soundtracks. Allen often writes screenplays with particular actors in mind, but he casts actors for his films in brief sessions. He casts actors from Broadway’s as well as Hollywood’s A Lists and pairs celebrities in tandem with Actors with a capital “A”—think Diane Keaton, Parker Posey, Michael Caine, Diane Wiest, Leonardo di Caprio, and Allen himself. He incorporates famous (and infamous) movie legends as well as young actors building their careers. Consequently, he has constructed ensemble casts to work in each or several of his films over six decades.  Allen extends this inclusionary process to assembling his crews and has assimilated the enormous evolution in moviemaking techniques and technology to provide his productions with organic, contemporary energy. 

So, about Café Society. Café Society is a Woody Allen film: it looks like a Woody Allen film marking the 29th time Allen partnered with Production Designer Santo Loquasto to replicate an era on screen. And it sounds like an Allen film: Bullets Over Broadway (1994) was a comedy punctuated by violence. In Radio Days (1987), a family excursion to Radio City Music Hall sent a Valentine to 1930’s Old Hollywood glamor; The Purple Rose of Cairo remembered the Hollywood Studio System as dream making tinged by regret. Woody Allen made this most recent movie in his personal style in collaboration with an amalgamated old and new cast and crew on the set. This collaboration endowed Café Society with a sense of film history and a moviemaking provenance unique in American cinema. 

Working again with Loquasto, Allen also teamed with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and shot on Digital, both for the first time. (Storaro used Sony's F65 4K camera with the F55 on a Steadicam). Allen counterpointed his confection about Tinseltown with a “tone poem” about New York. Violence was a narrative refrain in the Voice-Over revealing an underlying melancholy for Depression age familial dependency. The movie exposed that Dream Factory aspirations are dreams inevitably doomed by reality. The movie’s ambiguous conclusion questions not “if” but rather “how many” bittersweet dualities will prevail after the final fade. Consequently, Woody Allen’s Café Society is also a new film in its own right.

“Dimly and in Flashes”

Long ago, when I was growing up in Chicago, our landmark department store, Marshall Field’s, was a glorious storehouse of dreams. There was even a covered pedestrian bridge directly into the store from the Wabash Avenue “El” station (El for Elevated or “L” for Loop, I am never quite sure). Inside was a Tiffany-mosaic vaulted ceiling crowning…multiple atria…floors of glamorous departments…every toy and game on display on one sprawling floor…chocolates, confections, and specialty sweets in mountains on another beneath, and a collection of exotic gift items—unique crystal, marble, and silver ornaments from around the globe adorning the ground floor. Shopping there as a kid was like a trip to an amusement park.

For my twelfth birthday, my grandmother took me to the third (as I remember it) floor Book Department and told me I could select any book I wanted as a present: I choose a volume of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Scribner’s book jacket was green—I still treasure the book today. In my life, Fitzgerald is without peer. I have read The Great Gatsby every year on my birthday since I first read his masterpiece. I treasure the congratulatory note I received from Scottie Fitzgerald on taking my PhD. I burned up the web on the possibilities that I had found (and purchased) the wooden shutters from Fitzgerald’s home at Belly Acres in Encino, CA, where he worked on The Last Tycoon. I wrote a dissertation so I could write about him. Over a five-year period, I counted and categorized—this research predates computer searches—all the words in two of his novels (one and a half, actually) to investigate why Fitzgerald’s prose, the most visual in our language, is somehow static as motion picture.

The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s unfinished last novel, is going to be a series on Amazon. Green-lighted. Billy Ray wrote and directed the pilot—I was impressed by Ray’s work when I saw his Shattered Glass in 2003; critics were generally put off by the Amazon pilot episode: and a respected colleague called to tell me he had screened the pilot and admired it. Three for three…I was preordained to like it.

This single episode is more extrapolation than adaptation. Most pertinent details of the novel have been altered, almost everything that is subtle in Fitzgerald has been spelled-out, upper case, in neon, and most effectively, the historical reality of Fitzgerald’s fictional universe, not the incidents of his plot, has been staged for the camera. The pilot is an unfinished adaptation of an unfinished book. Somehow this lack of closure makes the single episode seem strangely reflective of, and as, a work in progress.

It is Fitzgerald’s coup that all his movie adaptations are opulent—no exception with this pilot. But this pilot is his coup d’état. The Depression era story glorifies the 1930s, so we are spared an arcane 1920s sing-a-long soundtrack and tiresome sequences of madcap “flappers” dancing in fountains. Meticulous in every detail of the production, the decade never looked better or sounded more lush as underscored by the pilot’s brooding sense of destruction just round every sumptuous corner. Hoovervilles at the gate. Suicides on the set. Nazis in the board room. Casting is great—Dominique McElligott is dazzling, Kelsey Grammar can act, and Mark Bomer not only understands Fitzgerald, he is handsome as hell. Finally a hero for Fitzgerald, epic, beautiful, and dangerous.  Bomer channels Monroe Stahr as well as he channels  Stahr’s alter ego and creator, Fitzgerald himself. Monumental things are happening beautifully all around him–are they real? Sure. His gorgeousness is their reality—and so every hyperbolic incident in this flamboyant production has grace—just as every gorgeous word has in the Fitzgerald novel. 

At Tycoon’s Writer’s Ball on screen before Stahr dances with the exquisite Kathleen to perfect music reducing the perfectly elegant ballroom set to mere window dressing and gets his face slapped by a crazed widow to boot—looking absolutely perfect in his white tie and tails, during perfect table conversation with his boss’s daughter who is in love with him among a bunch of writers in street clothes, Stahr reveals, “ I like people and I like them to like me, but I wear my heart where God put it—on the inside.” What? What did he just say? The guy is a walking, talking literary trope. And who the hell looks like that? Who sounds like that?…Who?...obviously, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Myrna, Lana, Cary, Grace, Farley & Troy

04032017.jpg

Farley Granger and Troy Donahue were born Farley Granger and Merle Johnson, Jr. They were both coached and shaped to be Movie Stars by the Studio System. They were not encouraged to garner mug shots and they were not permitted to declare their half-baked personal opinions (This is how it became known as “Old Hollywood Glamor.”).

Granger and Donahue were not expected to select roles against their type either. They always played a definite part—Hollywood Idols. Granger was a Matinee Idol; Donahue was a Teen Idol. I guess there is still some variety of these Idols in the movies today, even if handsome save-the-day heroes (Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman) have gone out of style with audiences. Today we have that endless parade of buff-beyond-endurance comic book heroes flashing six packs and superpowers. We also have last generation’s male superstars who keep turning out aimless comedies. Although decades separate these “movie icons” from their glory days, now they make inane movies that we forgive so they can further feather their nests. Although let’s face it, these guys have already done their share of heavy nest-feathering…isn’t Jack Nicholson soon expected to make a come-back in a remake (Sorry, Norma, I mean making a “return!”) of the German comedy Toni Erdmann (2016)?

Farley Granger lived one version of Hollywood celebrity. Sam Goldwyn signed Granger as a contract player after he discovered the stage-struck high-school senior in a local theater production. Tall, dark, and classically handsome, Granger made films to appeal to young viewers in the audience. This was the 1940s heading into World War II and the studios reigned supreme. After Granger came home from the duty-end of war, Granger’s youth fare films included the delayed release of Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948). Alfred Hitchcock then starred him in Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951). 

Hitchcock’s Rope is probably the most famous exercise in filmmaking that did not work while Strangers on a Train is among the canon of Hitchcock masterpieces. Granger is a handsome, homosexual thrill murderer in the first and a handsome elitist tennis pro stalked by a sexually ambiguous, psychopathic murderer in the second. After international genius auteur, Luchino Visconti, saw Rope, he starred Granger in his choreographed masterpiece Senso (1954). Never comfortable with movie stardom, upon his return from the shoot in Europe, Granger boycotted Hollywood and starred in four Broadway productions, won the Obie off Broadway, and was a founding member touring the country both seasons with the aborted American National Theater. He also acted in The 20th Century Fox Hour, The Bell Telephone Hour and Playhouse 90 during TV’s classic era of live television drama, working on television right up to and including a stint on a daily soap opera. 

Troy Donahue who was addicted to alcohol and pills and died unsung and washed-up, lived another version of Hollywood celebrity. After being groomed in small parts, Donahue became a featured Warner’s contract player. He stands out as Frankie, Susan Kohner’s abusive, racist boy friend, in a small role in the Lana Turner masterpiece Imitation of Life (1959). Last gasp of the Studio System moving into the swinging 60s. Blonde, blue-eyed, and All-American handsome, Donahue made the kind of films that earned him a young fan base, his films were not only made for teens but were geared to make him into a teen idol. He starred with Sandra Dee in A Summer Place (1959) as the handsome young heartthrob and into the following decade in Susan Slade (1961), Rome Adventure (1962), and Palm Springs Weekend (1963). He was the Handsome Young Heartthrob in the stable in the first, on tour in Italy in the second, and on spring break in the third. Among his other titles on the big screen during the decade, in Parrish (1961) he stopped adolescent lovemaking long enough to go into the Coast Guard and grow up. Then Donahue guested on everything on the small screen including Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and The Patty Duke Show, finally starring as the handsome young heart throb in two popular TV crime series, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6. Donahue would later appear in Godfather II (1974) as a character named Merle Johnson and work for John Waters in Cry-Baby (1990).

In the off-Broadway play, Mr. Goldwyn, a running joke is a series of phone calls from Farley Granger trying to break his movie contract to free himself to do “serious” theater. Troy Donahue became the co-inspiration for the Simpson’s character, Troy McClure, and is celebrated as the quintessential teen star in songs from both Broadway’s Grease and A Chorus Line.

Spring Training

Get in shape for those summer movie trivia sessions. Find the common denominator for each trio below: tag the actor in all three roles or the common characters’ profession, map the three identical movie settings or name the director of the three movies, or maybe even tag the shared plot device or insider reference. Can you find the common denominator for each trio below? If you do, score a cinematic home run; if you don’t…three strikes, and you’re out!

Request an answer key via email by clicking here.

  1. Roy Hobbs  /  Oscar “Hap” Felsch  /  Crash Davis
  2. LaLa Land  /  Whiplash  /  Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
  3. Red Desert  /  The Passenger  /  Beyond the Clouds
  4. Peter O’Toole  /  Peter O’Toole  /  Malcolm McDowell
  5. Maria Sophia Coletta Ragetti  /  Cinzia Zaccardi  /  Anna Cabot
  6. All About Eve  /  Birdman  /  The Producers
  7. Rhett Butler  /  Hamish Bond  /  Blackie Norton
  8. The Man Who Knew Too Much  /  Psycho  /  Rear Window
  9. Gloria Wandrous  /   Vivian Ward  /  Holly Golightley
  10. Queen Freya  /  Queen Victoria  /  Princess Mary
  11. Lt. Daniel Kaffee  /  Elle Woods  /   Atticus Finch
  12. Mark Schultz  /  Jimmy Logan  /  Pretty Boy Floyd
  13. Hoyt Brecker  /  Parrish McLean  /  Johnny Hunter
  14. Annie Hall  /  Vicky Cristina Barcelona  /  Deconstructing Harry
  15. Play Misty for Me  /  Flags of Our Fathers  /  Unforgiven
  16. Lady Edwina Esketh  /  Adela Quested  /  Elizabeth Gilbert
  17. Georgie Elgin  /  Linda Nordley  /  Lisa Carol Fremont
  18. Ens. Frank Pulver  /  Nestor Patou  /  CC Baxter
  19. Up the Down Staircase  /  Good Morning, Miss Dove  /  Mr. Holland’s Opus
  20. Tracy Lord  /  Jane Hudson  /  Violet Venable
  21. Claudette Colbert  /  Sophia Loren  /  Elizabeth Taylor
  22. Harry Sanborn  /  Jake Gittes  /  Jack Torrance
  23. Link Larkin  /  Charlie St. Cloud  /  Matt Brody
  24. Mikael Blonkvist  /  Perry Smith  /  James Bond
  25. Viridiana  /  Black Narcissus  /  The Sound of Music
  26. Ramon Navarro  /  Charlton Heston  /  Jack Huston
  27. The Apartment  /  Stalag 17  /  Some Like It Hot
  28. Kathy Bates  /  Judi Dench  /  Emily Blunt
  29. Gangs of New York  /  Hugo  /  Silence
  30. Maggie Pollitt  /  Martha Pineda  /  Leslie Benedict
  31. Barry Lyndon  /  Eyes Wide Shut  /  The Shining
  32. Jo Stockton  /  Regina Lampert  /  Holly Golightley
  33. Charles Laughton  /  Richard Burton  /  Eric Bana
  34. Lora Meredith  /  Marianne Patourel  /   Constance MacKenzie
  35. Arthur Chipping  /  T.E. Lawrence  /  Robinson Crusoe
  36. The High & the Mighty  /  Sully  /  Memphis Belle
  37. Walt Disney  /  Chelsey Sullenberger  /  Sam Baldwin
  38. The Graduate  /  The Birdcage  /  Carnal Knowledge
  39. Alan Bosley  /  Stephen Myers  /  Holland March
  40. Bob Falfa  /  Jack Ryan  /  Rick Deckard
  41. Gustav von Aschenbach  /  John Baxter  /  Vesper Lynd
  42. Brokeback Mountain  /  Life of Pi  /  Wedding Banquet
  43. Andrea Riseborough  /   Eve Best  /  Lia Williams
  44. Humbert Humbert  /  Rene Gallimard  /  Alfred Pennyworth
  45. The Secret of Santa Vittoria  /  Sideways  /  This Earth Is Mine
  46. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  /  Charade  /  Royal Wedding
  47. Lise Bouvier  /  Suzanne  de Persand  /  Lili Daurier
  48. The Piano  /  Big  /  Sincerely Yours
  49. Roman Holiday  /  The Collector  /  The Little Foxes
  50. The Trouble With Harry  /  Weekend at Bernie’s  /  Corpse Bride
  51. Dirty Pretty Things  /  Prick Up Your Ears  /  The Queen
  52. Domenico Soriano  /  Marcello Rubini  /  Ferdinando Cefalu
  53. Paolo di Leo  /  Neil McCormick  /  Joe Buck
  54. Nora Charles  /  Ursula Georgi  /  Milly Stephenson
  55. Jane Hudson  /  Sebastian Flyte  /  Maria Williams
  56. Mildred Pierce  /  Harriet Craig  /  Crystal Allen
  57. And the Ship Sails On  /  Amarcord  /  Ginger & Fred
  58. Die Hard  /  Fountainhead  /  Towering Inferno
  59. Gwen Stacy  /  Allison Vandermeersh  /  Skeeter Phelan
  60. Inland Empire  /  To Be Or Not To Be  /  A Short Film About Killing
  61. Abby Yates  /  Susan Cooper  /  Michelle Darnell
  62. Nickie Ferrante  /  Cole Porter  /  Philip Shayne
  63. Bang the Drum Slowly  /  Field of Dreams  /  It Happens Every Spring

“The Beauty Is”

44LIGHTINTHEPIAZZAPIX1.jpg

There are supposedly more than 20 green-lighted musical projects preparing for the camera in Hollywood. I hope one of them is The Light in the Piazza. 

In Elizabeth Spencer’s novella, an American lady of the 1950s touring Florence with her daughter sets two families’ lives as well as Italian and US cultures on a collision course. When Margaret makes the decision to allow—actually to engineer—a marriage for her daughter Clara…beautiful Clara, “with the mental age of a ten year old”…the mother surely does so for Clara. Perhaps Margaret also does it for herself. Are the two cultures akin if not alike, and love is all …as a wife in a language she does not speak, will Clara be able to forge a life she understands …what other opportunity for happiness would ever come Clara’s way again? ...who has a happy life in the US—and who doesn’t have a happy life in Tuscany? ...and what is happy anyway? The slender volume poses questions in a story as delicate as that, and creates a work of Art just as monumental.

Two years after The Light in The Piazza’s publication, it was made into a movie

The 1962 screen adaptation was soundly trashed—everything was off—Julius Epstein’s screenplay (Julius and his brother scripted Casablanca) was a love story and in order to make it a love story for the screen, the lush movie travelogue glazed over the central issue in the novel. The movie obliterated Spencer’s questions, prompting a US critic to conclude “despite the sweet performance of Miss de Havilland, the pretty color pictures and a highly romantic musical score by Mario Nascimbene…Arthur Freed, the producer, and Guy Green, the director, did in whatever chance there was to make something of Elizabeth Spencer's little story when they glamorized the girl.” A critic on the other side of the Atlantic was as unimpressed. “Elizabeth Spencer's baroque, almost Jamesian novel of New World corruption versus Old World integrity is brought to the screen in the form of a 'grand tour' of North Italy. In the course of this, Olivia de Havilland tries to marry off her mentally retarded daughter to a wealthy Italian...a terrible film.”

Yet somehow there is still wiggle room for me to champion the movie. The film is just plain beautiful. And, just between us, I go for the Baroque…even the Jamesian…and Piazza had both literary chops when I first read Spencer’s novella in school. I immediately felt the prose was absolutely lyrical. Operatic. Lots of novels and DVDs and bookcases since then, and this tiny volume has made all those moves with me.  Regardless the critical lambasting of the movie adaptation, I added the Light in the Piazza DVD to my shelves. 

44LIGHTINTHEPIAZZAPIX3.jpg

In 2005 I saw the musical adaptation at Lincoln Center.  No curtain…no overture…unseen orchestra…heard melodies…Victoria Clarke in pink as the 1950s mother with her guide book; Kelli O’Hara, the damaged ingénue in pale blue; Matthew Morrison in billowy white, her swarthy Italian suitor; the impressionistic Piazza with a verdigris papier-mâché statue coming to life on the stage as Clara’s single note of reverie morphs into a song…Clara’s straw sun hat flies above us on string as a cast of tourists and Florentines at work and on passeggiata becomes a musical story. Spencer’s lilting fable with a score by Adam Guettel worthy of his pedigree as Maestro Richard Rodgers’ grandson.

The artificiality of the story as a Broadway musical ironically gives traction to the story’s themes. The complications mesh because as a stage musical, the production is…lyrical….operatic. In Donizetti’s  "Mad Scene" aria, "Il dolce suono... Spargi d'amaro pianto", no one questions Lucia di Lammermoor’s breakdown awash in the coloratura soprano’s gorgeous musical breakthrough. Beauty becomes the language of reality. I bought Craig Lucas’ play’s text; I bought Guettel’s original cast CD, and I purchased the souvenir program, now all treasured along with the DVD movie adaptation and Spencer’s lithe novella in my bookcase. 

“Succès d’estime”

George S. Kaufman was a legendary wordsmith. Turns out that the “G” man was also a legendary lover. Just read actress Mary Astor’s purple diary. Astor’s diary prompted a scandal when read in court during her battle with her second husband contesting their child custody arrangement. Astor’s husband, Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, warned her that if Astor filed suit against him, he would reveal her adulterous sexploits luridly detailed in her diary. She did; he did.  And the sensational details of her affair with Kaufman among her slate of celebrity lovers kept spectators on the edge of their seats and rocked Hollywood in the 1930s. Absolutely no such explosion drives the cinematic “Succès d’estime”—Kaufman’s term for a success that runs out of steam.

The textbook cinematic Succès d’estime has to be Bell, Book and Candle (1958)—a glamorous 1950s comedy about a beautiful witch with a cat—that has all the ingredients of one fun film brew. As soon as witch Gillian (Kim Novak) and her spellbindingly beautiful feline familiar, Pywacket, hex Shep (good ol’ boy Jimmy Stewart) into a love trance, it looks like we are in for some real movie magic. But even an A List comic coven can’t get this cauldron stirring. Ironically when Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester, and Jack Lemon, three of Hollywood’s finest, join the already formidable cast and enter the promising story, it becomes obvious that the movie has nowhere to go and the plot, like our interest, just trails off. 

The most frustrating Succès d’estime has to be 1957’s Funny Face. A dream crew: Stanley Donen (albeit no friend of Broadway’s Alan Jay Lerner—but that’s another story) is a bona-fide musical-movie-genius director with Singin' In The Rain (1952) to prove it: Maestro George Gershwin wrote the music, which includes bookmarked favorites from the American Song Book. Edith Head AND Hubert de Givenchy’s created the elegant costumes. And it gets better—Funny Face has a dream cast: Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and Kay Thompson.  Opening Credits by Richard Avedon skyrocket this glamorous mid-century musical about Fashion set in Paris into orbit. We are off and running. And by the time the stars are off and sailing—Funny Face provides one hell of a conclusion with Astaire and Hepburn dancing on the water out of frame and into the future.

But what about those hours in between? Succès d’estime. Funny Face starts with such an outrageously stellar pattern that it is actually irritating in those screen scenes when it shows its seams. The itinerary is as haute couture as the film’s pedigree is aristocratic. And the glitches are few. But you can’t avoid feeling those leaden moments that border on redundant—or worse—downright off the rack. Lethargic genre devices lumber forward and the film struggles to mount the catwalk, much less dazzle along the runway. The cast is so graceful that they make the story ethereal; problem is, the movie just doesn’t take off with them. You wince whenever the film plot touches, much less hits, the ground and just lays there. The film boasts several sensational sequences, but that opening promises far more.  Funny Face neither moves as fluidly nor delivers as effortlessly as it promises. Its lackluster inertia makes Funny Face both flawed Masterpiece and “Succès d’estime.

Let’s take a gander at America’s greatest novel when it’s been transferred to the screen. There are five adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby…from silent version (1926) to simplistic black-and-white melodrama (1949), then three more versions (1974, 2000, 2013) that lurch from excessive Technicolor to 3D-neon overstatements with increasingly painful miscasting. While the infrequent successes of the five versions differ, their failure to entertain, much less engage, is their common denominator: all five film adaptations run out of steam.  On film, The Great Gatsby always promises to deliver…but never does. And lavish as the films look, even the trailers quickly turn tiresome.

When Fitzgerald’s Gatsby plans his party, on the page as on the screen, he includes celebrities among his guest list and sends engraved invitations. He orders food and Prohibition liquor and hires an orchestra with vocalist, parking attendants, and Security to augment his formidable household staff. He opens his luxurious mansion from his Versailles-like galleries out to his grand terraces with monumental sculptures bordering manicured gardens cascading to his private beach. He has his custom-tailored formal attire laid out for him, then poses looking handsome and nonchalant, and waits for guests to arrive…. In the novel, hope, infidelity, love, idealism, crime, wealth, deceit, and the American Dream will collide at Gatsby’s party…a sense of uber anticipation; in the films, no, no, and five times over, definitely No. We’re talking five big-time Succès d’estimes.

South Kensington Station

 “My God,” the old lady said crushed by the crowd against the Selfridge’s window like Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), “It is bedlam out here.” And I took the excuse to take sanctuary from my wife’s Oxford Street January sales shopping expedition. A burger and pint, maybe two (pints) later in a generic sandwich shop on nearby Molton Street, I regained consciousness and deciphered the blue marker above my non-descript black leather booth, noting it as the site of arcane poet/copper engraver William Blake’s studio in the 18th century.

London is a collection of ancient and contemporary neighborhoods sprawling into a massive world capital. By definition a city continuously redefines, reimagines, and remaps itself with each new generation. In an idiosyncratic grid, London entangles the most perplexing similarly- named streets, roads, avenues, rows, lanes, squares, mews, and circuses. Then London numbers them all in an equally incomprehensible system of addresses to mark the doors from Samuel Pepys to Martine Rose.

London also maps myriad fictional addresses from Eliza Doolittle to Bridget Jones and has been mapped in our imaginations by literature, theater, and film. Thus to investigate London is a passport to history…actually to histories.

Visiting London movie locations can be particularly problematic—because some London sites were pure Hollywood invention. Even if you find the specific location of a shoot, the site was most likely among a conglomeration of different locations pieced together for the camera.

For example, classic Alfred Hitchcock London. Although some of his movie locations are still there—these exteriors had been altered for the shoots—most buildings have been highly renovated if not demolished—many were matte shots anyway—still others were sets built at the studio—and consequently, these classic locations were already imaginary London.

Both Hitchcock’s 39 Steps (1935) and The Paradine Case (1947) are set on London’s Portland Place, but neither was shot there.  Shots of nearby Park Crescent East augmented the sequences shot at the studio.  In Dial M for Murder (1954), the Wendice home address is 61A Charrington Gardens, Maida Vale. No such address exists in Maida Vale. The film was actually filmed in Hollywood and the London location used by the second unit team to shoot the Maida Vale exterior is unknown. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 & 1956) depicts the “Wrong Man” being chased while he is on the chase of the “MacGuffin” (red herring), and Hitchcock considered the original the first real Hitchcock thriller. The Park Lane House that served as the Embassy was demolished for the Hilton Hotel. The exterior of Ambrose Chapel at 17 Ambrose Street, Bayswater in the film was actually shot at St. Savior’s Church Hall on Vicary Street in Brixton Hill. A temporary belfry was added for the establishing shots. While the building’s rear exterior was a studio matte painting and the red phone box studio rear projection, the interior was a constructed set at Paramount Studio in Hollywood. Vicary Street was demolished in 1968 and, like St. Savior’s Church Hall, neither now exists. But Albert Hall is gloriously still there.

My wife and I once celebrated New Year’s Eve in this historic circular Victorian orchestra hall.  We were immersed in the firing cannons and proximate pyrotechnics of “The 1812 Overture” erupting on stage in counterpoint with the underlying tension of that final cymbal crash of The Man Who Knew Too Much’s  “Storm Clouds Cantata” all around us. Arthur Benjamin’s “Cantata” was composed for Hitchcock’s original (perhaps better) black-and-white sequence and also scores the 12-minute, no-dialogue, Hitchcock color sequence remake at the Royal Albert Hall. In the remake, composer Bernard Herrmann appears as the symphony conductor, leading The London Symphony Orchestra and Covent Garden Opera Chorus performing one of the few songs he didn’t write for the 1956 film. 

And we were there, in London, in the practical monument dedicated to Prince Albert just south of the decorative monument, Albert Memorial, there in Hitchcock’s 1934 classic, and there in his color remake all at once. Victoria Regina rules; Doris Day loudly sings a song to save her son; then saves World Order screaming aloud. Just when you fear there is no stopping that musical codetta and the cymbals will note disaster, Right triumphs over Evil. And there is champagne at the intermission.

The Crown

A. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip B. Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in The Crown C. Duke and Duchess of Windsor D. Duke (Alex Jennings) and Duchess (Lia Williams)  of Windsor, in The Crown

A. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
B. Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in
The Crown
C. Duke and Duchess of Windsor
D. Duke (Alex Jennings) and Duchess (Lia Williams)  of Windsor, in
The Crown

I just binge watched The Crown. One word description? Lush. The most interesting performance? As Queen Elizabeth II, Claire Foy appears in all the episodes, so her performance has to be ground-zero spectacular to drive this gargantuan series…and it is; the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) emanates that he is born and bred to wear The Crown while suggesting his style and sartorial magnificence are louche…his Duchess (Lia Williams) is so soignée and glacial that her majestic splendor functions as haute couture, mid-century set decoration among The Crown’s lavish production design. On the other hand, Prince Philip (Matt Smith) is on screen throughout the episodes, but not yet out of the gate as a character. So far, he has been required to play a one-trick-pony plot device. Who the hell could look dangerous, petulant, and sexy, yet entirely redeemable, for ten hours of redundant scripted “bad-boying?” Smith is an interesting actor who well essayed both Doctor Who and London’s musical American Psycho; The Crown has 50 hours running time and five decades of plot to go, and I am pulling for him. 

No such hope for Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). Ironically, this portrayal of Churchill has already been an awarded “Acting” tour de force. Churchill is such high “Acting” that by the time he disguised his first stroke, “enough already.” And by Episode Nine, “too much already.” By the time Churchill sits for his portrait, you hope that a dingo will steal his baby, and welcome him to over-acting heaven. But this series already featured many, too many, touching flashbacks, so I’m scared. Jared Harris, Richard’s son, who was excellent as Lane Pryce in Mad Men, created a memorable King George VI. But then after his untimely demise, George was back on screen so often in the first season flashbacks that he overstayed his welcome—and unwelcome already in life, Winston could be…

There is the gnawing question of historical accuracy. Bottom Line: accepting that The Crown is not history, but television—there is much to say about it as visual storytelling. The smog episode including the death of an invented, spunky secretary, rings as overwrought political agenda. The car chase of Princess Margaret by reporters too blatantly echoes that tragic, final car chase of Princess Diana by the paparazzi. The Queen Mother’s idyllic romantic misadventure buying a Scottish castle misfires. The Commonwealth Tour looks too much like a montage from the “Rainbow High” musical roadshow in Evita (1996). The Crown evidenced some editing glitches. The editing disintegrated by mid-series into repetitive jump cuts among ominous events to keep our interest: Philip is up to something—cut—Margaret is on the prowl—cut—Anthony Eden is injecting himself (again)—cut—Egypt’s Nasser is threatening—cut! The editing device of morphing reality in and out of black-and-white news coverage also got old midstream. 

OK, first season of The Crown was not perfect. 

But it was definitely impressive. The series looks glamorous-elegant and sophisticated from the first shot. The costumes and production design are perfect in every detail. The editing (if overdone) is stylized throughout the episodes. The screenplay’s refrain of Tradition vs Happiness (other side of that same coin: Duty vs Indulgence) is head and shoulders above other episodic television themes. 

TV’s aesthetic heretofore was to insure ratings. As the Netflix series was conceived with a two-year commitment, The Crown was already renewed for a second season before the opening credits. The first season, budgeted at $130 million, ran ten hours, but with one season for each decade of Elizabeth II’s reign, there are 50 projected hours more to screen. Furthermore, with Netflix’s method of delivery, the audience was no longer solely week-to-week installment viewers; the audience has been expanded into myriad individual 24/7 viewers. The series need neither abide by any previous code of conduct nor process of production. Thus, the massiveness of the series and its place in television history is, in its own right, exhilarating.

Movie Masters

Host (Alex Trebeck): …only remaining category is Movie Masters. It appears none of you had a cinematic calling, but it is now the only category from which to choose. You will want to give the name of the Movie Master, (lowering his voice suggestively). The movie master and that alliterative pattern will occur in each answer…

Contestant #1: Movie Masters for $800, please.

Host: “Nominated for Best Director in 1984, this director—who scored a Best Picture Oscar in 1989—came to international attention for his intense drama about the court martial of three lieutenants in the Bushveldt Carbineers during the Second Anglo-Boer War who executed prisoners to divert attention from their superior’s war crimes.”

Contestant #1: (Buzzing in) Who is Robert Redford?

Host: No.

Contestant #3: Who is Hal Hartley?

Host: No...who is Hal Hartley? (Audience laughs)

Contestant #2: Breaker Morant…Who is Bruce Beresford?

Host: Yes…Uhuru remembered just in time that it is not about the movie magic (audience applauds Alex’s second alliteration)…we want the name of the Movie Master who made that movie magic.  We have a very close game, and although in third place, Uhuru is now in control of the board.

Contestant #2: Movie Masters, $400.

Host: I see you’re apologizing to this easier question? (Audience laughs) “Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, his thrillers maintain a distanced objectivity. This ‘Mainstream New Wave’ director paired famously with his discovery, iconic French actress Isabelle Huppert, to make several popular French films including (with pronounced French accents) Gutave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.”

Contestant #3: (Stabbing at her buzzer frantically) …

Contestant #2: (Buzzing in first) Who is Jim Jarmusch (Frenchifying a second-syllable accent to mispronounce the name)

Host: No…(To #3) Mary Kate?

Contestant #3: Who is Claude Chabrol? 

Host: Parfait!

Contestant #3: Movie Masters for $1200, Alex.

Host: Movie Masters for $1200 and the lead. “This Italian movie master was a published poet who worked with film icon Orson Welles and opera icon Maria Callas. He adapted Sophocles, Chaucer, and Boccaccio to the screen and made Rome into a maternal metaphor (Stressing the alliteration) about Rome.”

Contestant #3: (Unable not to show off her knowledge) Love in the City is the maternal movie about Rome…who is Fellini, Federico Fellini… (smugly stressing the alliteration)?

Host: No, your answer is incorrect. Unfortunately, Pat and Uhuru’s opportunity to answer. Uhuru rings in first...

Contestant #2: Who is Robert Rodriguez?

Host: No, Uhuru… (looking to Contestant #1) Does Pat know?

Contestant #1: Who is Pasolini? Mamma Roma is the maternal movie magic of Movie Master, Pier Paolo Pasolini! (Stressing all his alliterations)

Host: Right…Mary Kate, Fellini’s name is alliterative, but, while Fellini directed TWO films about Rome, Rome Open City as well as Love in the City—we wanted Mamma Roma—maternal metaphor, Mamma Roma—(Contestants continue to chatter about Pasolini’s Porcile and Teorema…) Contestants, cease continuing cinematic chit chat! (Audience applauds Alex’s witty double alliteration.) The game. Pat?

Contestant #1: Movie Magic, sorry, Movie Masters, for $1600, Alex.

Host: “When explaining his opus of the ten commandments that Stanley Kubrick deemed ‘the only masterpiece made during my lifetime,’ this Polish Movie Master went all Jeopardy! saying ‘I don't have any answers, but [I] do know how to pose questions.’”

Contestant #2: Who is “Billy” Wilder?  This is a double trick question because Wilder’s given first name—William—makes it the alliterative William Wilder…and Wilder was born in Sucha Beskidzka, then partitioned as Austria-Hungary, mountain-town Sucha Beskidzka is, in fact, in Poland.

Host: I’m sorry that is incorrect—You have us on Poland…but although “Billy” was Wilder’s nickname, Wilder’s given name was Samuel.

Contestant #1: (Buzzing in) Who is Krzysztof Kieslowski?

Host: Whoa, Pat—just when we thought you were sleeping! And that means this final $2000 question will clear the board and take us to Final Jeopardy.  “This Hollywood Movie Master’s films include acknowledged masterpieces of Screwball Comedy, Musical, and Gangster genre films—but his uncredited work on a SciFi classic most magnifies his movie magic.” (Mary Kate is frantically pushing her buzzer) Mary Kate?

Contestant #3: William Wyler. Who is William Wyler?

Host: (To distinguish with Billy Wilder’s name) Again please?

Contestant #3: Who is Movie Master William Wyler—Maestro of movie musical, Funny Girl.

Host: No—unlike Billy Wilder, William Wyler’s given name was William, but there was no uncredited SciFi direction by William Wyler.

Contestant #1: Movie Master’s musical magic is Magic Mike… (triumphantly) who is Steven Soderbergh?

Host: No…. (Uhuru is defiantly shaking his head) Uhuru? …

Contestant #2: Who is Jon Jost?

Host: Are you serious? Howard Hawks…who is Howard Hawks?

KCK 021917 2.png

Old Gold

L to R: Model Grace Kelly snaps a photo.  Princess Grace & Prince Ranier wedding portrait.  Grace Kelly publicity still.

L to R: Model Grace Kelly snaps a photo.  Princess Grace & Prince Ranier wedding portrait.  Grace Kelly publicity still.

“Isn’t it a shame she’s too shy ever to amount to anything?” classmate John Cassavetes remembered wondering about Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly enjoyed what would today be termed “a privileged childhood.” On November 12, 1929 (the same year that Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Onassis were born) Grace Patricia Kelly was born at Philadelphia’s Hahnemann Hospital. Baptized at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, Kelly attended Ravenhill Academy for girls (since purchased by Philadelphia College) and completed her high school education at Germantown’s more socially prominent Stevens School. Kelly debuted on stage at the Old Academy Theater in East Falls. By the time she was fourteen years of age, she had performed in six shows there including Craig’s Wife. (Craig’s Wife was written by Kelly’s uncle, playwright George Kelly, and garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1926. First made a movie starring Rosalind Russell, the play was adapted again, renamed, and remade as a Joan Crawford vehicle, Harriet Craig [1950] to become irresistible movie fare). After her high school graduation from the Stevens School, Kelly attended New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. As classmate John Cassavetes remembered her there, Kelly was a serious student, a reader, who wore inconspicuous clothes, sensible shoes, and thick reading glasses.

The summer of 1949 after returning home from the American Academy, Grace appeared first in a local revival of her Uncle George’s comedy, The Torch Bearers, then in The Heiress at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. That fall she returned to New York to make her Broadway debut at the Court Theatre, playing the daughter of Strindberg’s The Father

Working in New York as an actress and model, during the following year, Kelly became the face of Old Gold cigarettes in a national campaign. In 1951 Grace Kelly landed her first movie with a small role in 20th Century Fox’s Fourteen Hours (1951). 

The following year she starred opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952); then opposite King of the Movies Clark Gable in John Ford’s Mogambo (1953), her first Oscar nomination. In 1954, the most monumental year of her astronomical career, she starred with Ray Milland in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, with Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with Stewart Granger in Green Fire, with William Holden in Bridges at Toko-Ri, and with Bing Crosby in The Country Girl—for which she was awarded the Best Actress Oscar. Also in 1954 she met Prince Rainier in Monte Carlo during the location shooting of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955). 

Edith Head’s Costumes for Grace Kelly, To Catch A Thief

Edith Head’s Costumes for Grace Kelly, To Catch A Thief

Co-starring with Cary Grant thirty years her senior, ten separate costumes were designed for Kelly by Edith Head for this film. Set on the French Riviera and an obvious contender for the most stylish film ever produced, To Catch a Thief presents Kelly as having absolutely no competition to be Alfred Hitchcock’s “Volcano covered with snow” as well as the Motion Picture History’s classic Ice Goddess.  The following year Kelly played a Society bride with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in High Society (1956), the Cole Porter musical adaptation of The Philadelphia Story (1940), a Princess opposite Alec Guinness in The Swan (1956), and then left Hollywood that same year to marry a prince. Busy Girl. 

At her 1956 wedding (Kelly chose to marry in the Cathedral of her adopted country), the Pastor of St Bridget’s witnessed the wedding in Monaco while the Kellys paid to have St Bridget’s church ceiling in East Falls painted to replicate Monaco’s St Nicholas Cathedral. Grace Kelly’s bridal gown, designed by MGM’s Helen Rose, has inspired six decades of wedding gowns including the wedding dress of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Kelly’s gown is now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The screen’s hottest picnic: Francie Stevens (Kelly) and John Robie, “The Cat” (Grant) in her Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine Sports Mk I roadster. To Catch A Thief (1955)  

The screen’s hottest picnic: Francie Stevens (Kelly) and John Robie, “The Cat” (Grant) in her Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine Sports Mk I roadster. To Catch A Thief (1955)
 

I am a dolt in mathematics, but I figure in adjusted 2016 box office tallies, Grace Kelly films of her six-year movie career grossed a total of more than $1.25 billion. Eighty-nine women have won the Best Actress Oscar to date. In US history, 32 American women have made royal marriages. But the list of women who generated more than a billion dollars in their careers, won the Oscar, became a Princess, and were the most beautiful woman on the screen—by the time they were 26 years old—totals one: Grace Kelly. 

“Speak for yourself, John.”

Rooftop Honey

I used to buy honey from a farm stand in Manhattan’s Union Square Green Market. I still do, but for almost ten years, I’ve ordered directly from the farm online. Either way, it is absolutely the most luscious honey imaginable (along with the best wild blueberry jelly in the world). I miss shopping for the honey in the city. I liked to look up from that farm stand in the crowded city market to survey the Union Square roofs on all four sides of the market square. Skyscrapers look so antiseptic. But I imagined all those bees at work on the roofs and enjoyed thinking about the hives traveling up and down in their high-rise-apartment-building elevators. The hives were situated just high enough to soften the skyline and enhance perspective of the horizon. I savored that bucolic image of beehives atop the roofs of those otherwise undistinguishable city apartment buildings. It made living in the city seem as sweet as rooftop honey. 

I live in a Center City high-rise and am all for cities soaring into the sky—it is exhilarating to think of inhabiting a penthouse that exposes the latitude and longitude of the curve of the world below your windows. But there was a definite charm in America’s most charming era to the cityscape that reached for the sky while maintaining its connection to the landscape. It was melodic. You could reach to grasp your dreams from the skyline, but you were on a rung climbing the ladder of nature. So you could keep your footing steady because you were as much part of the ground below as of the sky above. 

I figure I created this Penthouse image after a one/two punch more than half a century ago. One, when Decca Records re-issued Gordon Jenkins’s Manhattan Tower, his narration and music chronicling living in an urban high-rise on a two-disc 78-rpm set. And, two, of course, a movie. Although The Robe (1953) was the first Cinemascope movie to be released, Jean Negulesco’s How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) was the first movie filmed in Cinemascope. Big screen—big cast of stars—big, glorious Technicolor: that sophisticated comedy cinched the deal. It was my dream to live in the clouds. And looking to that classic film today, I’m still awed by its mid-century glamor. Particularly by drinking champagne afternoons on a massive brick terrace above the streets of the working city.

When a theater curtain opens, it reveals a full orchestra in formal attire playing an overture. The 20th Century Fox Orchestra is arrayed before the camera to perform "Street Scene," conducted by its composer (and Fox studio music chief) Alfred Newman. This serves to highlight CinemaScope's new four-track magnetic stereophonic sound system and widescreen visuals in wide shots with no close-ups of Newman or any of the musicians.
 


Then shots of a beautiful penthouse boldly splash clean lines of mid-century high-end décor influenced by French antiques, including (when not pawned) a baby grand piano across the gigantic screen. The movie sets the address of the penthouse at 36 Sutton Place South (on the corner of East 55th). Luscious sets and costumes and big-screen cinematography are served by the worldly screenplay and glamorous direction of a charming story about gold-diggers Lauren Bacall (in her most tolerable role), Betty Grable (1950s comedy gold with first billing in the credits), and Marilyn Monroe (the mesmerizing icon-in-the-making, who was billed first in all the advertising) and their three amiable husbands-to-be—with a bonus, the stand-out gentleman performance of William Powell.

But my impression is all about that penthouse terrace. Floor-to-ceiling windows open from the lavish interior and substantial brick walls surround the large, comfortable terrace permitting postcard views of Manhattan. Easy. Relaxing. Elegant. Just the place for this beautiful trio to do their work and land themselves millionaires. All in good fun. On the terrace, Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) dubs their husband plan “the deepest thing” she has ever heard as their conversation, that we know will resolve itself happily, invites us all to enjoy warm afternoon sun, city views, deli groceries, vintage champagne…and rooftop honey. 

A Second Look

 Truman Capote’s derivative 1966 Black and White Ball of celebrities at New York’s Plaza Hotel, not Le Bal Oriental, Count (“Charlie”) Beistegui’s masked ball for high society at the Palazzo Labia in Venice in 1951, has been labeled “The Party of the Century” in a 2007 book. This appellation might well have pleased Capote. A chronicler of the rich and famous, Capote was both a legendary Host and Guest. He was also an inveterate celebrity who acted out to gain and retain celebrity status.  At whatever cost (see photo above). However, the half-century passed since he lived and wrote has softened Capote’s public image. His dedication to being a Celebrity and Social Critic is being reduced to footnotes in critical biographies. 

Bold stacks of Capote’s new novel were piled theatrically in the display window of Kroch and Brentano’s bookstore under Chicago’s L tracks in 1966. That single blood spot on each dust jacket upon publication of his masterpiece best seller evoked the random Clutter family murders out on the bleak Kansas plains. Today, In Cold Blood (1967) remains as cruelly evocative on screen for its indifference to that vicious 1959 mass murder in rural Kansas.  Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1968, the stark black-and-white adaptation of In Cold Blood is a monument to the horror of indiscriminate violence. Capote’s autobiographical "A Christmas Memory,” “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, and “Among the Paths to Eden” are all holiday fiction adapted for television. The productions earned positive reviews, prestigious awards, and seasonal reruns. Now available on DVD, Capote’s holiday movies have become bona-fide seasonal classics. 

Novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Capote’s most recognized work. Capote was not a fan of casting Audrey Hepburn in the movie. Moreover, Holly Golightly’s cinematic rescue of Cat in a rainy alley and Audrey Hepburn’s wistful singing of Oscar-winning “Moon River” on her fire escape usurped and have far outlived Capote’s African effigy of his heroine in prose. The 1961 film adaptation that won two of the five Oscars for which it was nominated—not Capote’s novella—guaranteed Breakfast At Tiffany’s fame. Thank you, Audrey Hepburn, George Axelrod, Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards, Audrey Hepburn, Henry Mancini, Audrey Hepburn, and Hubert de Givenchy. 

Most significantly, in addition to frequent and successful screen adaptations of his works, author Truman Capote has also twice been the subject of a biographical movie. The pair of biographies was released in cinematic tandem. Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the author in the first film biography, Capote (2005).  The film’s five 2006 Academy Award nominations include Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actress—a nod to Catherine Keener’s portrayal of Capote’s lifetime friend, To Kill a Mockingbird’s author Harper Lee. When Capote set his sights on writing about the Clutter murder, he summoned his Depression-era aesthetic, research tenacity, and formidable writing talents to write In Cold Blood challenging creative demands and trampling moral reservations.  

In Venice Film Festival, Independent Spirit, and London Critics Award nominee, Infamous (2006), when Capote’s superficial involvement among New York’s café society plays out on screen, Capote is drawn to his fascination with Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) who burns up the screen as the Clutter murderer who becomes Capote’s In Cold Blood character.

Creativity—not last century’s arcane Beautiful People—are at the center of both Capote bio-movies. Both biographies focus on the author’s process of writing. These cinematic renderings illuminate an artist confronting our indifferent world to pose unanswerable questions. As we follow Capote crafting his “wicked” masterpiece on screen in either movie, we marvel at the Artist making Art out of the horror of inexcusable historical events.  Capote's indifference to misery and his determination to be a celebrity at all cost are now more accepted by an amoral 21st Century audience. Consequently, as both source novelist and as movie subject (twice), Truman Capote may well be the American author best served by the movies.

 

For David Markson

Coining the catch phrase “Location, location, location” is attributed to British Real Estate Magnate Lord Harold Samuels in his 1987 obituary.

When Tony Curtis’s and Jack Lemon’s heavy drag make-up turned their faces green, Billy Wilder shot Some Like It Hot (1959) in black and white.

In 1825, the HMS Blonde, under the command of Lord Byron’s cousin, sailed to Hawaii mainly to return the bodies of their king and queen who both died during a trip to London.

Farley Granger had a Hollywood romance with Shelley Winters.

Coco Chanel was the godmother of Suzy Parker’s daughter.

Richard Rogers is an “EGOT” (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner).

Elizabeth Taylor appears as a masked reveler at a royal ball in Anne of a Thousand Days (1969).

Is the only Emperor the Emperor of Ice Cream?

The 2016 Save Venice Ball held in New York’s Hotel Pierre raised more than $1 million for Venetian restoration projects.

The Sir Michael Balcon Pub on the mall in Ealing, London serves Aberdeen angus rump steak.

After Edward Albee’s rewrite, the musical play Breakfast At Tiffany’s, starring Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain, closed after four previews and never opened on Broadway.

When Dawn doesn’t get the “Cha Cha Heels” she wants for Christmas, all hell breaks loose in John Waters’s Female Trouble (1974).

A scrimshander makes scrimshaw.

The lawsuit won by author Lew Wallace’s estate against the 1926 silent adaptation of Ben Hur set copyright precedence.

Calle Minelli, 4260/B, 30124 Venice.

Actor John Dall sustained a serious fall visiting London in 1970. In 1971 Dall died of a heart attack at his Beverly Hills home. He was 50 years of age. His body was donated to medical science.

Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) budget was $250 million; Lynch’s budget for Mulholland Drive (2001) was $15 million.

Manticore, the trained tiger that mauled trainer Roy Horn on stage in Las Vegas, died peacefully at home with Horn at 17 years of age on March 24, 2016.

“Warm Brandy”-voiced, singer, Dolores Gray, carried a bullet in her left lung, an inoperable wound suffered in the crossfire of a gang fight during her youth in Chicago.

Best souvenir is Paris: Vuitton key ring.

On a break from shooting Visconti’s Senso (1954), Farley Granger had a tryst in Paris with Ava Garner.

Ella Fitzgerald singing “Dancing On The Ceiling” on The Nat "King" Cole Show November 19, 1957.

During the Intermission, legendary dancer Ann Miller signaled me to come over and talk with her near the bar. She wore a bright green pantsuit.

The color master of Stephen Sondheim’s 1966 TV play, Evening Primrose (1966), has never been found.

Gregory Peck would not permit footage of John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956) to be used in Jaws (1975).

Farley Granger had a hot affair with Arthur Laurents. 

When Jean Peters and Howard Hughes divorced in 1971, Peters agreed to a lifetime $70,000 annual payment (adjusted for inflation) and waived all other claims to Hughes' estate. 

Margo Channing’s Broadway bash in All About Eve (1950) is so glamorous, it could only happen in the movies.

The studio re-titled Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” as The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) so movie-goers would not expect a biblical epic.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for more than forty years. 

Alfred Hitchcock used Lily Safra’s villa, La Leopolda. as a set in To Catch a Thief (1955).

Ingrid Bergman was Ingmar Bergman’s first choice to play the grandmother in Fanny and Alexander (1982).

Decree Nisi

“La nuit American” is the daylight shoot of a nighttime scene.

Fontana di Trevi

On a December Thursday in 1996, the lights of Rome’s Trevi Fountain were dimmed and the water stopped flowing from the white marble statue of Oceanus. As a solitary musician played a tune on a wooden flute, two black drapes were unfurled over the sides of the massive white fountain. Then, from the edge of the 18th century fountain, Rome’s police marching band played an excerpt from a Handel symphony. “This fountain has its historic value,” Rome's mayor, Francesco Rutelli, pronounced. “But for the whole world it represents the most famous scene of Italian cinema.”

A fountain “at three streets” was originally commissioned on this site in Rome before the birth of Christ.  Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, installed it here at the terminal point of an ancient aqueduct that ran almost fourteen miles.  The mostly travertine Trevi Fountain was finally completed by Giovanni Panini in 1762 when Pietro Bracci’s massive Statue of Oceanus was placed in the central niche.

Standing almost 90 feet high and over 160 feet wide, the fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.  A destination throughout history, we can look to images of Trevi recorded in pastel sketches on the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as daguerreotypes made in the 19th century at the beginning of photography and commercial tourism. In 2015, Karl Lagerfeld staged a fashion show on a translucent runway spanning the fountain to celebrate Fendi Couture’s 90th Anniversary and its international coverage dazzled again. The fountain had been restored in a nearly two-year renovation funded by Fendi Roma. Already prime real estate by 19 BC, today, every day, Trevi remains a destination, the setting of countless tourist selfies.  The fountain has further evolved as a preeminent site because of its appearance in three classic movies.

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards for 1953, including Best Picture, Roman Holiday won Best Costumes, Best Motion Picture Story, and Best Actress Oscars…featuring Audrey Hepburn’s debut. The Roman location shooting, including the Trevi Fountain, had historical significance:  when William Wyler insisted on filming on location, because the studio had assets frozen in post-war Italy, Paramount agreed…provided Wyler reduced his budget. So Roman Holiday became the first American movie shot entirely in Italy; Wyler shot in black-and-white; and he cast the unknown Hepburn.

The Fountain of Trevi is featured from opening credits to closing fade-out in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which won Oscars for the title song and cinematography and was nominated for Best Picture. Three Coins in the Fountain is Jean Negulesco’s cinematic postcard to the Eternal City. Trevi drives this story of three ex-pat American career women in Rome. This lush technicolor film—half travelogue/half romance—begins with the legend of tossing a coin and making a wish at the Trevi fountain and ends with three happy couples whose wishes have been granted rushing from the three tiny Quirinale streets back to the fountain.

Eighty Roman locations, including St. Peter’s Dome and the Via Veneto, were created at the Cinecittà Studio for Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). In addition, Fellini shot his film on locations in Rome. In the cold week Fellini shot Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Eckberg, and a white cat in the Trevi fountain, Fellini re-made the fountain, lighted the statues, and diverted traffic around the nexus of the three streets. On the first night, the water was so filthy that Fellini had to commandeer a green sea dye marker—used to gain attention in an emergency—from an SAS airline employee on set to disguise the putrid water for his black-and-white night scene. Fellini commandeered the cat from among the feral army of Rome’s strays. Although Scandinavian Eckberg went into the fountain voluntarily, Mastroianni needed a wet suit under his costume and relied on a bottle of vodka to join her.

On a still, warm night, Marcello Rubini—and I—stands in late-night Rome. In the Trevi fountain, the blonde movie goddess invites us, seduces us, to join her as she dances in her strapless black evening gown in the cascading water. She poses—with a sensuous white cat—who surely looks like my cat Georges—held above her head.

Fire and Ice

Left to right: Suzy Parker, 1952;  Fire and Ice Advertisement, 1952; Chicago’s 55th Street with Acadia Theater marquee, 1952.

Left to right: Suzy Parker, 1952;  Fire and Ice Advertisement, 1952; Chicago’s 55th Street with Acadia Theater marquee, 1952.

I was searching for a picture of Suzy Parker online when I was instead confronted by a strangely familiar vintage cosmetics campaign for Revlon’s “Fire and Ice.” Turns out Suzy Parker’s older sister, Dorian Leigh, was the model photographed for that 1950s Revlon advertisement. In fact, Leigh’s modeling popularity secured her younger sister’s being signed by the Eileen Ford Agency.  This colorful mid-century ad colors my childhood memories as well because this bold ad campaign, along with other arcane Chicago memorabilia, fuels the anecdotes from my personal history. 

Suzy Parker is often labeled the precursor of today’s Super Model. Flame haired and statuesque, Parker was the 1950s face of Chanel and a favorite subject of photographer Richard Avedon.  Although her forte was acting for the still camera, she steals the scene in a 90-second montage of pink in her movie debut, 1957’s Funny Face. Only a bona fide movie star could hold her own on the screen even for a minute and a half with that musical’s trio: Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and force-of-nature Kay Thompson.  

Later, who noticed Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, or Jayne Mansfield with porcelain Suzy Parker in the frame? By 1959 Parker is stealing the scene from “this is not my first time at the Rodeo” Joan Crawford in the I-can-always-watch-this-movie, Jean Negulesco, The Best of Everything (1959) and proved to be Dutch-angle gold on a New York City fire escape. Before she retired and left Hollywood to devote herself to their family (she married her 1960s co-star, actor Bradford Dillman), Suzy Parker would notch 19 acting credits. Suzy Parker was outrageously beautiful. Her fashion shots are still sensational. She was a constant cover girl.

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I used to go to the movies every Saturday. I would walk on my own to the neighborhood movie palace: the Acadia Theater. On the way home from the Double Feature late on Saturday afternoon, I’d stop first at an old-time ice cream parlor named Gertie’s. Suzy Parker was on the cover of every magazine in the display case at the front of the shop…of course all those magazines have gone either online or, more often, into oblivion. Moreover, since the 1950s are the Old Times, Gertie’s wasn’t at all old-time back then. 

My having seen so many movies and having seen so many movies on my own surprises me now. The number of annual Hollywood releases was staggering in the 1950s, and my solo-movie-matinee routine might just have spurred my lifetime involved with the movies. Early glimmers of sophisticated comedy.  Adult romances. Horror films. 3-D. Action and adventure movies set in exotic locales—I explored Ceylon before it became Sri Lanka—just blocks from home down 55th Street. 

Anyway, I can’t imagine that I was allowed to make these trips alone, but I know my brother and sister weren’t there and my parents were definitely not moviegoers—so I figure I walked to the Acadia by myself as a kid—all the way on busy 55th Street, to boot. I don’t think I could really relate the simplicity of my childhood in Chicago—and I also suspect that eventually all our childhoods morph into these halcyon day.

Let’s go at this from a different direction. 

I remember being scared one afternoon at the Acadia Theater by a scene in a black-and-white movie. It should have been a classic 1950s horror film like Them! (1954) or Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), but truth is, it was some unidentifiable B crime movie back-half of a routine weekly double feature. A singer tosses popcorn balls from a basket out into her audience as part of her nightclub act, singing all the time; somebody in the audience throws one back, now loaded with a knife, straight at her. Bull’s eye. I am always searching to find a name for that movie online but—unlike fashion shots of Suzy Parker or the “Fire and Ice” ad—I can’t find the movie’s name…if there ever was such a movie…

Cities of Stars

Left: The Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life: Emily (Kelly Bishop) Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel).  Right: Mia (Emma Stone in electric blue) and roommates dancing down the street, Lalaland 2016.

Left: The Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life: Emily (Kelly Bishop) Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel).  Right: Mia (Emma Stone in electric blue) and roommates dancing down the street, Lalaland 2016.

The Countdown on New Year’s Eve isn’t over until the fat lady sings. And indeed 24 hours and counting ago, the Covent Garden coloratura rose at midnight from her table in The Ivy to sing an a cappella “Auld Lang Syne.” Tradition demands, as procrastination ensures, that the Christmas tree will now stand too long into the New Year. We can enjoy this understandable annual lull. It is soon time for regrets, resolutions, vows to diet, and the anticipation of starting another New Year…now, it is all about movies.

Christmas Hallmark movies are yesterday’s news, so I marathoned Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life to run out the year. Unfortunately, we have lost actor Edward Hermann, who played grandfather Richard Gilmore. In the new episodes, grandmother Emily, now a widow, moves from their Hartford mansion to be a docent in Nantucket, channels bloody, bloody Moby Dick, and runs away with the story again; Lorelai plans a wedding in the Stars Hollow gazebo; and in Rory’s story arch in London, just when it appears she and Logan would not keep their date at The Ivy, the cliff-hanger ending in Stars Hollow begs a reunion reunion.

Many of the recurring actors from the series original seven-year run appear in this six-hour re-boot. There was suspense about the return of superstar Melissa McCarthy as Sookie; chef Sookie St. James and Rory’s father, Christopher Hayden, make the last and most superfluous of myriad cameo appearances. Among all those cameos that color the four seasons of a year in Stars Hollow to shape the episodes, I felt myself loopy—lots of those characters were fun to see again, of course (everybody has a favorite)—and I appreciate that every fan’s Miss Celine is another fan’s Hanlin Charleston. Even with characters that never were fun for me, at least we have a history…so I could sit through Taylor and Babette in the reunion because I always did during the series…on the other hand, when newcomers Sutton Foster and Christian Borle just arrive in town out of nowhere (actually from Broadway), it felt like their third episode musical production would never end, and they almost drove Stars Hollow into LaLaland.

Actually, I was already in LaLaland because I’m starting the new movie year hung up on Damien Chazelle’s musical. And with good reasons. It was probably the most interesting film of the past year, and it was surely my favorite. Thus, this New Year fascination proves timely. January means that Award Season is soon upon us, and so I want to enjoy films now before the hype, promotion, and hysteria of the awards sour me on the merits of the films forever.

From the opening song in LA freeway traffic, LaLaland is a technical knockout. Structured as four seasons in LA—ironically identical in weather—music delineates the plot. Like Chazelle’s previous film, Whiplash (2014), this film is all about music, but LaLaland is also about genre filmmaking. It works because this homage is absolutely twenty-first century, and while references to musical movie history abound, Chazelle’s voice is heard everywhere and visualized to the smallest production detail. The core of Lalaland is the quintessential casting of today’s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Those classic movie musical performances were Dancers who could act; here Gosling and Stone are Actors who can dance. Ryan Gosling is first rate as Sebastian; partner Emma Stone is perfect as Mia. The final montage counterpoints Happy Ending movie romance with contemporary reality that never misses a beat. The montage is focused and even includes damaged super 8 footage that while historically preceding the audience’s digital family video reality, instead illuminates Chazelle’s montage in movie history images. When Mia (the character) comes down the LA street with her roommates dressed to take the town, swishing her skirt like Anita in Wise’s West Side Story, Stone (the actress) boldly takes the story beyond the screen. Later in the film, when Mia runs up the long street into the LA night to escape her date and meet Sebastian at the movies—evoking Fran Kubelick’s beat-the-clock midnight-countdown-run on New Year’s Eve in Wilder’s The Apartment—Stone invites us to follow her into the frame. Movie history is lush in Chazelle’s mirror movie images, but his film is neither camp nor reverential. David Lynch’s Hollywood is here as is Nicholas Ray’s along with Stanley Donen’s—but this movie always gives us more because Lalaland is always Damien Chazelle’s City of Stars.