Saturday, December 4, 2010

Deanna Durbin: Happy 89th Birthday

Deanna Durbin, 1930s and '40s singing star, celebrates her 89th birthday today.

"Deanna's genius had to be unfolded, but it was hers and hers alone, always has been, always will be, and no one can take credit for discovering her. You can't hide that kind of light under a bushel. You just can't, no matter how hard you try!" (Producer Joe Pasternack)

Her real name is Edna Mae Durbin (she was actually always called "Edna" - not Deanna). Born in Winnipeg, Canada, her parents moved to California when she was little. When she was 14, she appeared in an MGM short, Every Sunday, with newcomer Judy Garland. However, MGM dropped her and her contract was picked up by the almost-bankrupt Universal. Together with producer Joe Pasternack and director Henry Koster, they launched what would go on to be a successful five year collaboration that saved Universal Studios from bankruptcy and cemented her as one of the great musical stars of the era. She became, literally, an overnight sensation with the release of her first film, Three Smart Girls. When she was 21 years old, she was the highest paid actress in the world!

Deanna's voice was classically trained and she specialized in classical songs, even performing operatic numbers with skill. She did sing some popular and folk selections, but usually with a classical style. However, in Something in the Wind, she performed pop songs with a remarkable effect (although the highlight of the film is when she sings a duet from the opera Il Trovetore with Metropolitan Opera star Jan Peerce). During her career she would costar with such movie greats as Bob Cummings, Herbert Marshall, Robert Stack, Charles Laughton, Joseph Cotten, Pat O'Brien, Gene Kelly, and Donald O'Connor. She also was a frequent performer on Eddie Cantor's radio show, often performing with child singer Bobby Breen.

She was one of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's favorite stars, and he had her movies privately screened before release in Britain. Italian dictator Mussolini published an open letter asking her to persuade President Franklin Roosevelt not to get involved in WWII. Anne Frank had photos of her tacked up on her picture wall in the Annex, which are still there today. During her career, her fan club was the largest in the world. (In the late 1930s, she made a personal appearance in her hometown of Winnipeg, where the crowd went wild at her arrival.Her mother, who was travelling with her, suffered several broken ribs, and the police had to lock Deanna in a jail cell overnight for her own protection!) Her first screen kiss, in her 1939 film First Love, actually pushed the war news of of the front pages of newspapers around the world.

(Click thumbnails for larger photo.)

Always unhappy with life in Hollywood, she was constantly at odds with the studio. She always insisted that the persona created for her on the screen was nothing like her real self and that all she wanted was to be a normal person. When she was 27 years old, she simply walked away from Hollywood after her 1948 film, For the Love of Mary, turning her back on her career and fame. She moved to France where she married her third husband, Director Charles David (who directed her in Lady on a Train), in Paris and they lived in seclusion until his death in 1999. She has a daughter, Jessica (b. 2/7/46), and a son, Peter (b. 6/20/51). She continues to live privately in a farmhouse in a small town outside of Paris.

Deanna Durbin's Feature Films:
Three Smart Girls (1936); One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937); Mad About Music, That Certain Age (1938); Three Smart Girls, First Love (1939); It's a Date, Spring Parade (1940); Nice Girl?, It Started with Eve (1941); The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1942); Hers to Hold (1943); Christmas Holiday, Can't Help Singing (1944); Lady on a Train (1945); Because of Him (1946); I'll Be Yours, Something in the Wind (1947); Up in Central Park, For the Love of Mary (1948).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teresa Wright and "The Pride of the Yankees"

The 1942 film, The Pride of the Yankees, portrayed the life of legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig (played in the film by Gary Cooper). Released less than two years after his death, this film made a fantastic impact on the public, in whose memory Gehrig's sad farewell at Yankee Stadium was still fresh. Many of Gehrig's Yankee teammates, including Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, appeared as themselves.

Cast as Eleanor Gehrig was 24-year-old ingenue Teresa Wright, who was nominated for the best-actress Academy Award for her performance. For the film, she got to wear the actual bracelet that Lou had given his wife for their fourth anniversary. The real Mrs. Gehrig brought the bracelet to the set to be used in the film, letting it be stored in the Studio vault at night. It is made from the medals commemorating the World Championships and All-Star Games that Lou Gehrig appeared in. The bracelet is now on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Here is a clip from the film showing the real bracelet.

In 1998, at the age of 80, Teresa Wright was invited to throw the first ceremonial ball at the Fourth of July celebration of Gehrig's farewell speech in 1939. Confessing that she had never thrown a ball or been to a ballgame in her life, she accepted the invitation (although she did practice throwing a ball in her garage with her grandson before leaving for the stadium). She was given a World Series jacket and hat, and when she went to the mound the crowd applauded her pitching. From that day on, she was hooked on baseball, now fully appreciating what Lou Gehrig meant to the Yankees.

In honor of her performance in The Pride of the Yankees, when she died in 2005, her name was included with the ballplayers when the roll call of Yankees who had passed away was read.

(Click thumbnails to see larger photos.)
For more high quality photos of Teresa Wright and The Pride of the Yankees, click here to go to Dr. Macro's High Res Scans.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Fasten Your Seatbelts" . . . All About "All About Eve"

"We're a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we theatre folk."

Director Joseph Mankiewicz had always been interested in the theatre. He had an idea about writing and directing a film that told the story of an actress' rise to stardom. However, he needed an element that would be unique. It wasn't until 1949 when a studio story editor found a short story called "The Wisdom of Eve" that Mankiewicz turned his dream into reality. After six weeks of writing, Mankiewicz submitted the story to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck, who was so enthusiastic that he decided to personally produce the film. Zanuck's feedback mainly consisted of two concerns. First, that the audience should not realize that Eve was the heavy too soon in the film, and second, that a series of scenes between Eve and Lloyd Richards be cut. Zanuck thought that they slowed and dirtied the picture, preferring the power of suggestion. The main goal was to keep the film moving and not let it get bogged down by unnecessary scenes. After the first draft was completed, there were not many revisions and the production moved forward.

"Fasten your seatbelts . . . it's going to be a bumpy night"

Few could imagine anyone better than screen legend Bette Davis as Margo Channing, the aging star whose career is put in jeopardy when she befriends a young "fan". However, when Fox Studio head Darryl Zanuck and Director Joseph Mankiewicz began casting, Bette Davis was not their first choice. Actually, not even the second! They originally planned the role for Susan Hayward. However, as they continued to work on the script, it was decided that, as the plot revolves around Margo turning 40, Miss Hayward was too young, being only 31 at the time. Marlene Dietrich was suggested, but decided against. Finally, Claudette Colbert was cast. However, while filming another movie, she sustained a serious back injury, and as filming was beginning in a little more than a month, they had to replace her. Their second choice was Gertrude Lawrence, but a suitable arrangement could not be reached. Finally, Zanuck and Mankiewicz agreed that Bette Davis had what they were looking for in the actress to play Margo. Miss Davis was in a career slump, having left Warner Bros. after eighteen years and had several flop films. However, Bette Davis and Zanuck had not spoken to each other since a disagreement in the early 1940s, so Zanuck sat on his pride and personally called her, explaining the problem. After reading the script, she accepted the part and her current film production was hurried so that she could make the starting shoot date for "All About Eve".

"No brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington. Eve . . . but more of Eve later. All about Eve, in fact."

Zanuck's choice for the role of Eve Harrington was Jeanne Crain. However, Mankiewicz was not impressed with her previous film performance. Contract player Anne Baxter was finally settled on when Miss Craine backed out after finding out that she was expecting. The only other large change in casting was that the original choice for Addison Dewitt was Jose Ferrer. However, George Sanders was ultimately signed and went on to win an Oscar for his performance as the cynical critic.

Before filming with the principal players began, Mankiewicz and a camerman flew to New York and New Haven to film the exterior opening shots of the theatre, 21, and the apartments. Back in California, they decided on filming inside a real theatre, eventually renting the Curran Theatre in Los Angeles for ten days at the beginning of the shoot. Bette Davis lost her voice, before filming, due to stress and traffic noises were heard inside the theatre, requiring most of the dialogue to be rerecorded in the sound studio after filming.

The scene between Margo and Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) in the car (after it has run out of gas on the way to the station), where they are really cold, was actually filmed in early Summer and between the weather and the lights it was over 100 degrees while they had to film this scene! Also, Celeste Holm could laugh on command, a skill that Bette Davis admired when filming the scene in the Cub Room, stating that she herself could not even try to do that.

"For those of you who do not read, attend the theatre, listen to unsponsored radio programs, or know anything of the world in which you live, it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison Dewitt. My native habitat is the theatre. In it, I toil not. Neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre."

"He was a brilliant actor, but he wasn't much fun." That was costar Celeste Holm's opinion of character actor George Sanders. He was accustomed to napping in his dressing room between every take. Anne Baxter, who shared many scenes with Mr. Sanders in the film, didn't mind this until it came time for the climax where Addison tells the true story of Eve's past. In her autobiography, she tells the story. The scene "required a gamut of emotion, building to and culminating in hysteria and ending in acrid defeat. I am a starting gate actress. From the moment I climb into the makeup chair my mind is prancing . . . George yawned his way through rehearsals. I was spiraling through them. That first take was an opening night." Director Mankiewicz took her aside, encouraging her to take it easy. She continues, "I tried, but by take five I was a rag. Understanding Joe called a short break and took George aside. I walked around, taking deep breaths and trying to relax and yet maintain my emotional juices. Take six. Take seven - and George went off like a rocket."

"And this is my dear friend and companion, Miss Birdie Coonan"

The incomparable Thelma Ritter was cast as Margo Channing's companion, Birdie. A rather thankless role. Birdie is more of a plot device than a character. She is the one who sees through Eve from the very beginning, while the principle characters are wrapped up in her sentimental story. One of my favorite scenes in the film is after Bill's birthday phone call, when Margo is talking to Birdie and suddenly realizes that Birdie was right about Eve. Margo stares as Eve leaves the room, turning to Birdie after the door is closed. Birdie meets the gaze and slowly exits, still looking directly at Margo, who remains in bed looking at the closed door. Fabulous acting! Thelma Ritter has NO trouble keeping up with Bette Davis in any of the scenes where she appears. Sadly, after Margo has realized the extent of Eve's infiltration, Birdie is dropped from the film, making her very understated exit holding a sable coat after talking to Karen at the end of the party.

Shooting for "All About Eve" finished in June 1950, and in October the film premiered in New York. The film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, a record that it still holds as a tie with "Titanic". Both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were nominated for Best Actress. Anne Baxter had insisted on being nominated for Best Actress instead of Supporting. Voters, therefore, the Academy had to choose between "Eve" actresses and the votes were divided between Bette Davis and Anne Baxter with the result that Judy Holliday garnered enough votes to win for her performance in "Born Yesterday". However, in the end, the film won six Oscars including Best Picture of the Year, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for George Sanders.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beloved Enemy (1936)

Beloved Enemy is a love story set in 1921 during the Irish Revolution, starring Merle Oberon and Brian Aherne.

Dennis Riordan (Brian Aherne) is the leader of the Irish Rebels. He is still at large because the British do not know what he looks like. Lord Athleigh and his daughter, Lady Helen (Merle Oberon), arrive in Dublin to try to find a peaceful solution to the Irish uprising. Dennis meets Lady Helen under a false identity and they end up falling in love. When she accidently learns his true name, she discloses his whereabouts to the British authorities who arrange an ambush for the next day. Riordan escapes and refuses to believe that Lady Helen was the one who betrayed him. They arrange a secret meeting and she admits that she betrayed him, saying that her action proves they can never be close. Each is unwilling to leave though, and they both declare their love.

Unknown to Lady Helen, the Colonel in charge of the British Occupation had her followed to their secret place. The military surrounds Riordan's flat and prepares to move in. Riordan and his friend, O'Rourke, escape over the rooftops and evade capture. That night Riordan swears that he will never see Lady Helen again. Lord Athleigh takes Helen back to London that night and also makes her promise never to see Riordan alone again.

Lady Helen pursuades her father to fight for a peaceful solution to the Irish problem. He succeeds in getting a temporary truce and safe conduct for an Irish delegation to come to London in order to discuss a treaty. Dennis and five of his men come, but the two countries are unable to come to an agreement. One night, Riordan takes a walk alone, and Lady Helen finds him, trying to convince him that peace would be better than war. He signs the treaty the next day and bids Lady Helen a sad farewell as he returns to Dublin with the treaty.

Minutes after Riordan has bid her goodbye, Lady Helen learns that He is going home to great danger. Members of his party who wanted war more than peace would most likely kill him the next day. Lady Helen takes the first boat to Dublin the next morning. She finds out that Riordan is going to be assassinated that night at a rally. She hurries away and arrives in time to see him shot as he stepped into his car. She manages to get into the car and they rush to Riordan's flat. Once the doctor has seen him she is allowed to go to him. He tells her not to worry, that he isn't going to die. After all, "a good Irishman never does what's expected of him". Happy music and a beautiful close-up of the two stars brings the film to a very satisfying ending!

This is one of my favorite films. Originally titled "Love Under Fire", the first ending of this film had Dennis shot and killed. However, after the film didn't do well in the box office, they replaced it with the happier end that is played today. Only 87 minutes, the story never bogs down. There are enough light moments to keep this from being too dark of a film. Miss Oberon and Mr. Aherne are perfectly matched and the supporting cast is just as good. David Niven is definitely a stand-out as Lord Athleigh aide. Although it is set in 1921, the costumes are obviously 1936 styles. But authenticity can be forgotten when Miss Oberon looks so grand in the current styles. When this film came out in '36, 1921 styles would have looked simply outdated!

Click here to watch a scene from Beloved Enemy.

Read the 1936 NYTimes movie review.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne 1917-2010

Yesterday, May 9, singer Lena Horne died at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She was 92 years old.

Lena Horne was a jazz and popular singer who appeared with popular bands, in films, nightclubs and on Broadway. She did many cameo appearances in well-known musicals such as "Ziegfeld Follies", "Till the Clouds Roll By" and "Thousands Cheer". She also had starring roles in the two most famous all-black musicals - "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather" (the title song also became her signature song!).
Click here to read an in-depth bio and obituary from The Guardian.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Heart of a Flower

Here is a very funny story that Grace Kelly (then Princess of Monaco) told about Clark Gable in her book "My Book of Flowers" .

"I remember the story of Clark Gable, who was in Cornwallin the Autumn of 1952, making a picture that was directed by the late Delmer Daves [the picture was "Never Let Me Go" with Gene Tierney] . They were on location in a little village. The sets were being changed and the work was taking longer than had been anticipated. Ever conscious of his stars well-being, the assistant director said to Clark Gable, 'Why don't you and Delmer take a little drive in the country, and by the time you're back we'll be ready for you?' Once they left the villiage in the car, they were in virgin country. Delmer Daves was a remarkable man. He was fascinated by every aspect of nature - botany, biology, geology - all the natural sciences that explain the wonders of the earth. He always carried a jeweler's magnifying glass to look at specimens that interested him, whether they were rocks, flowers, or insects.

When something went wrongwith the automobile, Delmer was not the least concerned and suggested that they take a walk. They were in the middle of nowhere when he suddenly said, 'Look! Look at that field of anemones over there,' and, turning to Gable, asked, 'Have you ever looked into the heart of a flower?' Gable, that down-to-earth gentle giant, replied, 'You're kidding!' With that, Delmer brought out his little glass and invited Gable to look for himself.

They were standing there deep in concentration when some people drove by and stopped to ask directions. They drove off, but, soon realizing who was standing among the anemones, turned the car back and pulled up again. The man said, 'I've been having a discussion with my wife as to why Clark Gable would be in a field in Cornwall. You are Clark Gable, aren't you?' Gable leaned all those six feet over and answered, 'My good man, have you never looked into the heart of a flower?'"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Lovely to look at, delightful to know" . . . Irene Dunne Remembers

"Lovely to look at, delightful to know . . . "
Composer Jerome Kern wrote this song especially for actress Irene Dunne, who starred in the 1935 film version of the hit musical play. Here she tells a funny story about filming the number.

'... the thing I'm proudest of was the song he wrote for me for Roberta, 'Lovely To Look At'. To show you how the mind can play tricks, I got so nervous over the song because I knew I'd have to be lovely to look at walking down that staircase, singing the song, that I got no sleep the night before and when I went in the next morning , the cameraman told the director, 'I'm not going to shoot her today. Tha's all there is too it. She'll have to go home and sleep'. We waited for a day or two, I rested up and then we shot it. . . . but the song I'm known for - if I walk into some place where they know me, they play 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes'."

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Unstoppable Duo: Bette Davis and Max Steiner

While filming the dramatic scene at the end of Dark Victory (the part where you know that she's going upstairs to die), Bette Davis stopped and asked the director, "Who's scoring this film? Max Steiner?" The director said he thought so. "Well," Bette declared, "either I am going up those stairs or Max Steiner is going up those stairs, but not the two of us together."

The great actors in Hollywood understood that a good music score was as important a part of each film as their own presence on screen, and that often looked like competition. While Max did go up the stairs with Bette (to the delight of fans everywhere), she wouldn't have seen it all put together until she saw the finished film. She wasn't going through her lines with the music softly playing in the background. From this side of the screen, they were an unstoppable duo. Twenty-one of Bette Davis' films, including some of her greatest roles, were scored by Max Steiner. Together, they made movie history.

Max Steiner (1888-1971) was one of the greatest film score composers in Hollywood, scoring hundreds of films from 1930-1965. He composed scores for films that are now considered classics, such as Gone with the Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), and King Kong (1933).
A musical genius since childhood, Steiner studied under legendary composers Gustav Mahler and Johannes Brahms. Moving to the US as a young man, he began orchestrating and conducting on Broadway. With the advent of talking pictures, he was quickly brought in by the movie studios to help transistion from silents to talkies. Steiner was one of the first film
orchestrators/composers to create a musical score that was specific to the content of a scene and to give certain characters their own themes. Throughout his long and remarkable career he composed hundreds of film scores, some which are still recognizable today. Nominated eighteen times, he won Academy Awards for his scores for The Informer (1935), Now, Voyager (1942), and Since You Went Away (1944).

Bette Davis (1908-1989) was one of the great actresses to emerge during the golden era of cinema. Called by many "The First Lady of Film", she appeared in over 50 films between 1931 and 1987. She was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award 11 times, winning twice (Dangerous, 1935; Jezebel, 1938).
With fellow actor John Garfield, she co-founded the Hollywood Canteen for service men during World War II. She continued acting throughout her whole life, guest appearing on many TV shows. Films such as Now, Voyager, Dark Victory, The Letter, and The Little Foxes are classics and still shown today.

Here is a list of Bette Davis / Max Steiner films:
Way Back Home (1931)
Of Human Bondage (1934)
Kid Galahad (1937)
That Certain Woman (1937)
Jezebel (1938)
The Sisters (1938)
Dark Victory (1939)
The Old Maid (1939)
All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
The Letter (1940)
The Great Lie (1941)
Shining Victory (1941)
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
In This Our Life (1942)
Now, Voyager (1942)
Watch On the Rhine (1943)
The Corn is Green (1945)
A Stolen Life (1946)
Winter Meeting (1948)
Beyond The Forest (1949)
John Paul Jones (1959)

Friday, March 26, 2010

How They Make An Oscar Statuette

Have you ever wondered how they make an Oscar statue? Below is a link to an interesting video from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences showing how an Oscar Statuette is made.

The Oscar is first cast in Britannium, then electro-plated in Copper, Nickel, Silver, and finally, 24K Gold. They are then mounted on a black nickel-plated base. The personal engraved tags which identify the winners are engraved after the ceremony and attached later.

Click to watch "Making an Oscar Statuette" at

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Luise Rainer, 'The Viennesse Teardrop': 100 Years

This year, 1930s screen legend LUISE RAINER celebrated her 100th birthday.

Co-star William Powell described her as "one of the most natural persons I have ever known. Moreover, she is generous, patient and possesses a magnificent sense of humor. . . She has judgment and an abiding understanding which make it possible for her to portray human emotion poignantly and truly. . . Everything she does has been subjected to painstaking analysis. She thinks over every shade of emotion to make it ring true. "

Born January 12, 1910 in Germany, she went on the stage at the age of sixteen. She became a well-known German and Austrian stage actress before entering into Austrian films. In 1935, she came to Hollywood and was cast in "Escapade", opposite William Powell, who was so impressed with her that he insisted she be billed with him above the title and even introduced his co-star at the end of the film.

The next year, Producer Irving Thalberg lobbied for her to play the role of Anna Held, insisting that Luise Rainer was the only actress who could play the part. She was cast (again opposite William Powell) and her heartfelt performance, particularly in her final scene where she telephones Ziegfeld to say 'goodbye', was praised by audiences and critics alike. On March 4, 1937, she was awarded the Best Actress Academy Award.

Her next film, "The Good Earth" (based on Pearl S. Buck's best-selling novel), where she plays the wife of a Chinese farmer whose land is threatened by famine, earned her another Best Actress Academy Award, becoming the first actress to win consecutive Oscars, a record unmatched until thirty years later by Katherine Hepburn.

Unhappy in Hollywood, and feeling emotionally drained, Rainer left Hollywood in 1938 for Europe, where she studied medicine and returned to the stage, occasionally appearing on television.

At the beginning of this year, she celebrated her 100th birthday, making her the oldest surving Oscar winner. She will be appearing in April as a special guest at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival to introduce a new restored version of "The Good Earth". She currently resides in England.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody . . ."

One of the most spectacular musical extravaganza numbers, "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" from "The Great Ziegfeld", won an Oscar for Best Dance Direction. Costing over $200,000 (almost the same amount the real Ziegfeld spent on an enitre show), featuring more than 175 performers, and using 4,300 yards of Rayon for the gigantic curtains, this can't help but be a spectacular musical number. A young Dennis Morgan is featured as the solo singer, although - for some unknown reason - the studio dubbed him, and it is actually Allan Jones' voice that you hear singing. The song was written by the legendary Irving Berlin for the real "Ziegfeld Follies of 1919".

"A pretty girl is like a melody
That haunts you night and day,
Just like the strain of a haunting refrain,
She'll start up-on a marathon
And run around your brain.
You can't escape she's in your memory.
By morning night and noon.
She will leave you and then come back again,
A pretty girl is just like a pretty tune."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Movie Trivia: Trigger's Film Debut

Roy Rogers' famous horse, Trigger, began his soon-to-be-distinguished movie career in a very small, and rather unnoticeable, role.

Originally named "Golden Cloud", Trigger appeared in the 1938 Technicolor classic film "The Adventures of Robin Hood", starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Covered in burgandy trappings, he made two brief appearences as Maid Marian's horse, both of them in the sequence that depicts the ambush in Sherwood Forest. Needless to say, he looks much more impressive with Roy, wearing his plastic saddle and looking like "The Smartest Horse in the Movies".

(Leonard Maltin interview clips from "Welcome to Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood")

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kathryn Grayson 1922 - 2010

Singer and actress Kathryn Grayson died at home, Wednesday, February 17, at the age of 88. Longtime secretary and companion Sally Sherman stated that "She just went to sleep and didn't wake up".

Kathryn Grayson graced the MGM musical screen through the 1940s and '50s. Appearing with cinema stars such as Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, and Mario Lanza, Some of her best remembered films include Anchors Aweigh (with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra), Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate (both co-starring Howard Keel).

Here is a link to a pretty song sung by Miss Grayson - "Beauty" from Ziegfeld Follies (1946)

Read The Los Angeles Times Obituary.
Read The Morning Call Obituary.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Miss Barbara Stanwyck: Stuntwoman Par Excellence

Today, Barbara Stanwyck is remembered as one of the golden-era actresses. Many of her films, such as Meet John Doe, Double Indemnity, and Ball of Fire are considered classics. Although most of her films are dramatic or comedic roles, her favorite genre was westerns, which culminated in her TV show The Big Valley. An interesting fact that many people don't know is that she loved to do her own stunts. Even when she was in her 60s, she still insisted on doing many of them herself.

Linda Evans (Co-Star in The Big Valley, 1965-68) witnessed it first hand. "Barbara absolutely loved doing stunts. When she would get a script, she would look for the action, and if she'd be doing some stunts, she was just in heaven . . . Once, they [the producers of The Big Valley] put the two of us in a burning house. We're all tied up, they're setting everything on fire, and it's so hot, and I'm scared to death, and I look at her and she's just loving it. She said, 'Oh, this is great!'

Here is a film clip from "Forty Guns" (1957), in which Barbara Stanwyck gets dragged by her horse during a tornado. The stunt lady refused to do the shot, at which point Stanwyck declared that she would do it herself. She was 49 years old at the time and walked away from the scene with only minor cuts and bruises.

Barbara Stanwyck was well thought of by her directors, co-stars, and crew members. Director Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life) loved the emotion that she put into her roles, but realized that she gave her best on the first take. After realizing this, he would rehearse the other actors , only bringing Barbara Stanwyck in when they were ready to film the scene. Capra said that, with Stanwyck, one take was plenty. She never missed a line.

Famed director Cecil B. DeMille (The Biggest Show on Earth) described her better than anyone else. “I am sometimes asked who is my favourite actress, among those I have directed. I always dodge the question by explaining that I have to continue living in Hollywood.

But if the tortures of the inquisition were applied and an answer extracted from me, I would have to say that I have never worked with an actress who was more co-operative, less temperamental, and a better workman, to use my term of highest compliment, than Barbara Stanwyck.

I have directed, and enjoyed working with, many fine actresses, some of whom are also good workmen; but when I count over those of whom my memories are unmarred by any unpleasant recollection of friction on the set or unwillingness to do whatever the role required or squalls of temperament or temper, Barbara’s name is the first that comes to mind, as one of whom a director can always count to do her work with all her heart.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grace Kelly's Engagement Ring

In December 1955, the engagement between Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly was officially announced. He gave her a "temporary" engagement ring of diamonds and rubies while her real engagement ring was being made.
Princess Grace's engagement ring was a 10.47 carat emerald-cut diamond set in platinum. She wore it while filming her final movie, "High Society" (1956) with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. (Movie clip coming soon!)

From left to right: The engagement ring; Princess Grace wearing her ring in a publicity portrait for High Society; Princess Grace wearing her "temporary" engagement ring.

Bullets and Squibs

Here is a cool piece of movie trivia. Dad was reading "How in the World? A Fascinating Journey Through the World of Human Ingenuity", a really cool book about a wide variety of questions that people ask/wonder about science, inventions, food, special effects, etc. Have you ever watched a movie where something/someone gets shot and you wonder how they make the bullet holes? Being great fans of westerns, my sister and I have tried to figure it out many times. Here is a very interesting, concise explanation.

"In the early days [of movies], bullets hitting walls, bottles or fences were actually fired by a marksman using live ammunition. But it was potentially dangerous and other techniques had to be developed.

For bullets splintering a wooden wall, detonator caps of gunpowder were inserted and eploded to synchronize with the gunshot. For bullet hits on people, a similar cap was attached to a metal plate that the actor wore under his clothing. The cap was electrically detonated by wires leading to a technician's "keybourd". But it could result in burns or lacerations from fragments.

So effects men developed the "squib" - a small, smokeless, non-metallic, explosive charge. It can be detonated by small batteries strapped to the actor, by wires from a control board, or by radio control.

For her "death" in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Faye Dunaway had scores of squibs concealed beneath her clothing. The effects man Danny Lee arranged them in sequences, and they were wired to an off-camera battery which detonated them in sequences. The car in which Bonnie was machine-gunned was first punched with holes into which squibs were inserted and then painted over. The scene was shot at high speed which, played back normally, gave the shot a slow, dreamlike quality."

Now that you know how the shots are created, what about when there's blood? Easy . . .

"The effects man. . . attached latex bags to the squibs. The bags were filled with bright red, gelatine-based fluid. When the squibs burst the bags, the "blood" spurts."

"To create the effect of a pear, arrow or knife striking someone, the most common technique is to fire the projectile, which is hollow, along a wire from a compressed air device. The wire is attached to a metal plate strapped under the actor's clothing. The spear speeds along the wire and thuds into a cork pad fixed to the plate."

Well, how is that for ingenuity! Next time you see a rousing gun battle you can explain how it happens!