Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stage to Screen Blogathon: Marilyn Miller in "Sally"

This is my entry in the Stage to Screen Blogathon hosted by the Rosebud Cinema and Rachel's Theater Reviews. 
This article is a pastiche of several articles I have written about Marilyn Miller

Back in the 1920s it was inconceivable that Marilyn Miller would someday be largely forgotten. I came upon her quite by accident, seeing her name in books about early Hollywood musicals. I had no idea who this great Broadway star was or why she was so famous. After some furious research I got up to speed, read all I could lay my hands on about her and poured over tons of photos. She was a huge star! Why had I never heard of her? And - more important - how could I see her? Photos are one thing, but I hungered to see her perform.
Marilyn Miller: One of Ziegfeld's greatest stars
Marilyn Miller was of the theater. She was a Ziegfeld star in the most rarefied galaxy. Her greatest triumph was in the Jerome Kern musical "Sally," a show that featured her signature song, "Look for the Silver Lining." Before her fame, the name Marilyn was barely found in the U.S. Census records. After America fell in love with her, it was the 16th most popular name in the country. She was known for her talent, her younger than springtime beauty, charm and devotion to her craft. She was also a fashion plate who was equally famous for her many love affairs, salty vocabulary and fondness for alcohol. She worked hard and played hard. She was an authentic diva.

The first Marilyn
Marilyn had a brief brush with silent films and Hollywood in the 1920s when, in 1922, she married Jack Pickford, thus becoming Mary Pickford's sister-in-law (by all accounts, Mary and Marilyn did not hit it off too well). As you can see from this video, everyone who was anyone was there and the star-studded affair held on the grounds of Pickfair.


Newlyweds Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller
After the honeymoon, the marriage quickly turned toxic and Marilyn, by way of a Paris divorce, beat it back to Broadway. 

Once movies were all talking, all singing, all dancing, Marilyn seemed a good bet for Hollywood stardom. "Sally" was brought to the screen by Warner Brothers in 1929 and Marilyn was famously part of the package. Her salary was exorbitant and her demands that of a diva. Thrifty Jack Warner acquiesced to her demands and fell for her charms. Marilyn was a gal who knew how to get what she wanted. Filmed entirely in early Technicolor, "Sally" only survived for many years in a tattered black and white version. Seeing Marilyn like this it is hard to fathom her appeal. She looks like a painted doll, as the Technicolor make-up looks flat and harsh in black and white. Added to unflattering looks, her singing voice is less than attractive. However, once she starts dancing, well, it all becomes clear. Filmed in full body shots like Fred Astaire a few years later, her love of dancing and entertaining cuts through all of the technical drawbacks of the era. 




Her leading man, Alexander Gray, was a wooden manly baritone, but she has some sweet scenes with Joe E. Brown as a displaced royal down on his luck. One of the supporting stars is Pert Kelton, later the mom in another Broadway to Hollywood film, "The Music Man."

After 2 other films, Marilyn Miller headed back to Broadway. Musicals were dying at the box office and this diva was not interested in failure. Sadly, after one last stage triumph, Marilyn Miller would die in 1936 at the age of 38 from complications related to a sinus infection. 


The footnote that Hollywood was to her fabulous career preserved her great stage success. The late twenties and early thirties movie musicals drew scores of Broadway performers to Hollywood. Most tried their luck and headed back east after one or two attempts. The stage and the screen have very little in common when it comes to star power. Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, who found success in films, were the exceptions. Big stage stars like Fannie Brice, Gertrude Lawrence, Helen Morgan, The Duncan Sisters, Charles King, Harry Richman and Marilyn Miller came and went. In a twist of irony, the medium scorned by the stage served to preserve the work of these artists for future generations.



Sally's famous "Butterfly Ballet" on Broadway.
How great it would have been to see this in color
Miracles of miracles, a snippet of "Sally" in its original Technicolor was found. It is the "Wild Rose" number and, in it, she is youthful, adorable and flirtatious. Here, she is much lovelier (the make-up now giving her a flattering glow) and her elegance, joie de vivre and enthusiasm is on full display. Filmed on a set that was over 90 degrees, the energy of the dancers is impressive.Her joy in performing is evident in every kick and twirl and here, preserved forever, is Marilyn Miller in all her glory. We catch a glimpse of her magic and she is no longer a mystery, just a name or photo in a book.We understand what made her a Broadway legend.




"Sally" in her wedding dress - the full Hollywood treatment


Marilyn Miller, though no longer a household name, continues to be ever-present on Broadway, her true home. In the late 1920s the I. Miller Shoes (no relation) building was adored with statues of four great theater stars: Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia, representing drama, Rosa Ponselle as Norma, representing music, Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy, representing film, and Marilyn Miller as Sunny, representing dance (I wonder how Mary feels being frozen in time next to her despised ex-sister in law?). The building, located at Broadway and West 46th Street in Manhattan, now houses an Express clothing store on street level. But if you stand on the corner and look up, there is Marilyn, surveying her empire. Still.


Friday, October 3, 2014

O Canada Blogathon: Dudley Do-Right and Canadian Manhood

This is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click here for more wonder from the Great White North.

English men are charming, 
Italians romantics, 
And Latins can sway you
with their amorous antics.
But Canadians are stalwart and
Prolific of chin.
Their backbones are upright and
and they are free of all sin.
They love with a pure heart,
Their fidelity a bounty,
And none is so pure
As the Canadian Mountie.




Yes, those Mounties. They are not suave, or sophisticated and they can't drape a gal in diamonds on their salary, but boy are they loyal. And none was more loyal than that Mountie Deluxe, Dudley Do-Right.
Dudley Do-Right was handsome, thick as a plank, well-meaning and hopelessly in love with Nell Fenwick, the daughter of Dudley's boss, Inspector Fenwick. Dudley's love was true, but Nell, like most adolescent girls, held more affection for Dudley's horse, Horse. Dudley was usually kept busy rescuing Nell from the clutches of the evil Snidely Wiplash (voiced by that old smoothie, Hans Conreid). Snidely seemed a lot smarter than Dudley, but he was no match for the intellectual prowess of Horse. Plus, his karma was probably bad.
Okay, I know this was a cartoon, but each episode played like a mini silent movie melodrama. Created by Jay Ward and shown during the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, Dudley was the virtuous pale male, Nell the damsel in distress and Snidely the dark villain who twirled his mustache, tied women to train tracks, threw widows and orphans out of their homes when the mortgage wasn't paid and peered over his shoulder wrapper in a sinister black cape. All of this was set to the sound of a lone, melodramatic piano. No wonder I love silent films.
The Perils of Pauline showed Jay Ward how to depict a damsel in distress
So, Dudley do-Right was my vision of the Canadian Mountie:

No - not that one, this one!



Thank you, Canada, for a man so straight and true!





Sunday, September 28, 2014

There's One Thing I Do Know....and that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you.

Scarlett is 75 and she never looked better! (keep reading for more information about the giveaway!)
You're beautiful. No, you're beautiful
Say what you want, the gal has staying power. She has been restored to her original Technicolor glory and she is more beautiful than ever.

Real Estate Lesson #1: Location, Location, Location
I know, I know....it's probably Honey Boo-Boo's favorite movie, too, but I can't help it. It's a great story. Margaret Mitchell wrote a timeless winner and created unforgettable characters. David O. Selznick drove himself and everyone else nuts to produce the work of a lifetime. Max Steiner wrote an unforgettable and emotional score, Walter Plunkett designed costumes that live forever in our memories, and Victor Fleming (and George Cukor) herded these cats with skill and clarity.
Director Fleming at the helm
Now, the old gal has become rather commonplace these days and is regularly shown on television. So, remembering the great experience of seeing it in the theater many moons ago, I jumped at the chance to see it on the big screen. Boy, am I glad I did.

Shown in its original aspect ratio, the close-ups are particularly lovely (and not stretched across a wide screen giving it that botox look). The performances are almost perfect, with Hattie McDaniel's Mammy full of heart and dignity and Olivia de Havilland's Melanie especially touching in her scenes with Gable. I have always had a bit of an issue with Leslie Howard's Ashley (who was apparently raised in England and educated at Oxford. Which makes me wonder when Scarlett had a chance to fall in love with him). But today, sitting in a theater full of people, I gave him a pass. He charmed me. A bit.

Let's dish during nap time

The heart and soul of Tara and beyond
And let's just get it out there and there could never be another Rhett other than Clark Gable and another Scarlett other than Vivien Leigh. Gable is magnificent and sexy (more so on the big screen than you can even imagine), but Leigh is a miracle. She is in almost every scene and she carries this load on her elegant shoulders like the champ that Scarlett is.

Spend what you like, Scarlett. What a husband!
I guess that's what I love about Gone With the Wind. It really is all about Miss O'Hara. Scarlett is many things, and some of them not nice, but she is a survivor and stronger than she ever knew. She is put through the wringer and refuses to give up. And, after all that she had been through, remains an optimist. You go girl. I know you got him back.
Scarlett in her lovebird dress on her honeymoon
Giveaway alert (good though October 11, 2014)

Interested in winning a copy of the Gone With the Wind 75th Anniversary Blu-Ray DVD? Besides a bright and shiny restored version, the DVD comes with a few nice extras including the Christopher Plummer narrated "Making of a Legend," a reminiscence by Olivia de Havilland and the TCM bio of Vivien Leigh.

If you'd like to take a chance, please see the instructions on the sidebar to the right of this post.

Good luck!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

MOVIE ROLE MODEL: JOAN CRAWFORD, GENE TIERNEY AND BARBARA STANWYCK IN A SUIT

All of my role models were movie or TV stars. I’m sorry – no public servants, no servants of God, no philanthropists. What can I say? I’m shallow (but in a deep sort of way). 
Somebody get this woman her coffee
Growing up in the ‘60s, the perceived, went through radical changes. Opportunities that, for my mother and father were impossible to grasp, presented themselves. Getting married and having babies was no longer the only goals to which women should aspire. We were told to want more. But what should we want? 
Typing for herself - I liked that!
I never didn't think I was going to college and I never didn’t think I would have a career. As I sat on my bed in my teenage room (yellow and white with a daisy-patterned bedspread and yellow shag rug) I knew I could pull myself up by my go-go boot straps and be an independent woman. Being independent meant a) having a job, b) making money, c) living on my own, and, most important to me at that time, d) looking the part (I told you I was shallow).
 
Hat, gloves and an awesome clutch add to the appeal
There were lots of fabulous 60s chicks to look up to, but, for some reason, my ideal of the independent woman was a combo of Gene Tierney, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford in a suit. Julie Christie (the woman whose looks I most coveted) was soft and rebellious. But not professional. Gene, Barbara and Joan were always in possession of themselves, they spoke with authority and they rocked in those suits. They were crisp, clean and perfectly made up. And they were tough. Nobody was going to tell these gals to get coffee!
Sometimes a sweater was okay if you were working hard

Life was a little bit like Laurence Olivier’s approach to acting – if you look the part, you will become the part. I think I eventually came close. Close enough so that now the inside feels authentic and the outside can relax a little.


A great look for take your puppy to work day!
So, thank you, Joan, Gene & Barbara, my secret confidence builders.
That's right - it's my corner office now!

Friday, September 5, 2014

MATA HARI: Garbo goes undercover

This is my entry in the World War One in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently and Silent-ology. Click HERE for more war to end all wars brilliance.


MATA HARI
Rhianna and JLo got nothing on this fashionista
"Mata Hari. She makes love for the papers."

Alicia Huberman, Notorious
Prostituting oneself for patriotism is apparently a virtue. Just ask 2 Hitchcock heroines Eve Kendall (North by Northwest) and Alicia Huberman (Notorious). Of course, they both ended with up with Cary Grant, so maybe it was worth it? But, I digress. Both of these ladies made fine spies, but they could never hold a candle to the original female spy, the woman whose name is synonymous with espionage and seduction, Mata Hari. And who better to portray the mystery, the sex, the cool that was Mata Hari than the mysterious, sexy and uber-cool Greta Garbo? That's what MGM thought in 1931. The result is an entertaining film of the Garbo formula: you know - an all-knowing woman of the world who is brought to her knees by the love of an innocent man/boy. Oh wait, is that Camille? The Kiss? Well, you get the picture....

And oh what a picture she is. Vamping around World War I Paris in costumes to die for, Garbo wears some of Adrian's most outrageous designs with panache and a much-admired seriousness. If anyone doubts Garbo was a great actress, just think of the great acting it took for her to wear some of these things with a straight and smoldering face. In fact, she never looked more beautiful.
Garbo really didn't need a hair dresser on this film

I like this colorization, as it is how I imagined the costume

But, back to the war. Garbo's Mata (I love that her lovers call her by her fake first name - Mata) is an exotic dancer/courtesan who is spying for the Germans. She's got French General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) under her spell and spilling his guts and reports to her spymaster, Adriani (Lewis Stone). All is going well for Ms. Hari,as she is the toast of the town and no one can make the spy allegations stick. A fly enters the ointment in the person of Russian officer Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro). Well, I think he's Russian, but when he pronounces "mother" as "mow-ther" I think the family got sidetracked from Kiev to Juarez. Anyway, Rosanoff is hot and young and stupid and brave.  In other words, meat for Mata. 
Garbo looked incredibly uncomfortable during her cooch
dance, which one reviewer described as "polite"
But, because Mata is Garbo, love enters the picture and, as we all know, there is no room for love in the spy game. She shoots the jealous Shubin as he threatens to expose her and goes into hiding. But the Russian lover boy crashes his plane and loses his sight. Mata comes out of hiding to comfort her boy-toy and is arrested. Rosanoff remains blind in so many ways and Mata faces the firing squad like a man.
Basic black is always right for a firing squad
The film has lots of pre-code fun, and I must say that Ms. Garbo is quite a delight when she is pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Her smile and laugh are adorable. I'm not so enamored of Mr. Novarro here. He is way too boyish to be of interest to such a worldly and glamorous creature. He acts as though he wants to carry her books rather than snuggle between the sheets. But, their scenes, thanks to Garbo, have some heat and the after-code release had some steamy moments cut out.


Was this film a dress rehearsal for Garbo?


The reclusive Garbo never tooted her own horn. While other stars publicly made contributions to the WWII effort (entertaining or fighting), secretive Greta, it seems, was actually in the employ of the British intelligence (MI6) Beginning in 1939, Garbo frequently left Hollywood for New York for "medical treatment." It turns out that "medical treatment" was her code word for a little espionage for the British.

Working with Alexander Korda (himself recruited by MI6), Garbo gathered information on Swedish millionaire Axel Wenner-Gren, a friend of Hermann Goering. This spying went on for several years and her missions resulted in great success (you can read more about Greta's spying days here).  Seems just playing Mata Hari was not enough for the great Garbo.

The real Mata Hari
As you can see, the real Mata Hari made Garbo, MGM, Adrian and the Pre-Code Hollywood look tame.




Mata Hari was a Dutch haus frau whose lousy marriage led her to Paris where she went from circus horse rider, artist model, exotic dancer and courtesan. In between it looks as though she did spy for the Germans and maybe even for the French. She did have a love affair with a Russian aviator and did end up on the wrong side of a firing squad. Whatever the truth, her name became synonymous with intrigue and seduction and dangerous women.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

MANTRAP: WARNING! CLARA BOW USES WEAPONS OF MASS SEDUCTION!

This is my entry in the Build Your Own Blogathon, hosted by The Classic Film & TV Cafe, featuring 20 bloggers over 20 days.

MANTRAP
Alverna does her daily flirting exercises. A girls has to keep in shape!
No, Clara Bow is not the mantrap of the title (yeah right). Mantrap is the name of the little Canadian outpost where our story takes place. It's a simple story. In New York City, divorce attorney Ralph Prescott (Percy Marmont) has developed a distinct dislike for the opposite sex (agreeing that his client's husband was right to beat her – grrr… we already don’t like him). His buddy, hosiery salesman Woodbury (Eugene Pallette) suggests that what they both need is some male-bonding time in the wilderness. Prissy Ralph agrees and off they set to mantrap for some fishing, hunting and, presumably, belching.

Prescott and Woodbury:City Boys Gone Wild
Meanwhile, in Mantrap, good-hearted merchant Joe Easter (Ernest Torrence) is lonely for female companionship and decides to take a trip to Minneapolis to see what the big city has to offer. There, while getting spiffed up in a barber shop, he meets manicurist Alverna (Clara Bow). She's an adorable flirt, but senses that big-lug-small-town-Joe is a decent guy and agrees to meet him for dinner.


Next we catch up with campers Ralph and Woodbury, who are engaged in a fierce and juvenile battle over some wilderness supremacy. Joe happens upon the pair and figures the best way to solve the problem is to remove one of these citified gents from the fight. He offers to take Ralph back to his home in Mantrap for the rest of his vacation. Ralph agrees, thinking that is will be a blissful place to continue his pursuit of manly things without female interference.

Alverna and her 2 men - neither one quite worthy
This is when we find out that Joe has married Alverna. She greets her man at the dock and welcomes visitor Ralph with open arms. She is an incorrigible flirt, but before long she and Ralph do begin to have feelings for one another. After a spat with Joe, Alverna leaves with Ralph to head back to civilization. They endure a few hard nights in the wilderness (Alverna is more than up to the task and proves herself to be a tough survivor). Joe, frantic that Alverna has flown the coop, goes off after the couple in hot pursuit. Eventually he catches up to the bedraggled pair. While Ralph and Joe try to decide Alverna's fate, she declares that "no one is the boss of me," gets in Joe's motorboat and leaves both of those knuckleheads behind.

Alverna livens up the locals
Since this is Hollywood, alls well must end well. Fast forward a bit and Joe is still heartbroken over losing the flirtatious Alverna. His nasty neighbors try to tell him that he is well rid of the little baggage, but when she knocks on the door and declares she has missed her man, Joe welcomes her back with a grateful bear hug. Of course, when a manly Mountie happens by, Alverna can’t help but shift into flirt mode. But she asks Joe to keep an eye on her, just in case.
Clara Bow as 21 when "Mantrap" was made, but had already appeared in over 30 films. Given a good story and a great director, she rose to the occasion and set the screen on fire. Never was she more captivating and charismatic and beautiful. Director Victor Fleming was in love with Clara during this time and it is clear that he is truly besotted with his subject. Her close-ups are luminous. Publically, he compared Bow to a Stradivarius violin: "Touch her, and she responded with genius.” And what a genius – both Torrence and Marmont are hardly romantic ideals, yet Clara makes you believe that a girl like Alverna would actually give them a second look.

Lovebirds Clara Bow and Victor Fleming during the filming of "Mantrap."

He-man Fleming went gaga for Clara. Can you blame him?
"Mantrap" is based on a story by Sinclair Lewis which is apparently a misogynistic nightmare. However, in the hands of 2 female screen writers (Ethel Doherty and Adelaide Heilbron) and with the magical Clara at the forefront even that toughest of he-men directors Victor Fleming, could only see it Alverna’s way.

Clara Bow considered "Mantrap" to be her best silent film. I completely agree.

Impossible to resist



Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Art of Bill Jart

You can meet the most interesting people on Facebook. Who is Bill Jart? Well, I am not quite sure. I know that he is a regular on my Flickchick's Movie Playground Facebook page and that he generously posts his amazing classic film artwork. He posts them on the star's birthday or the day TCM is showing one of their movies. 

Take a peek at some tasty samples:
James Cagney

Carole Lombard

Cary Grant (sigh.....)

Kirk Douglas

Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney

Katharine Hepburn

James Stewart

Judy Garland

Luise Rainer and Paul Muni

Gregory Peck

Barbara Stanwyck

William Powell

Ronald Colman

Bill Jart - I don't know who you are, but you are an amazing artist. Thank you so much for sharing your talent with us - your work is beautiful.