Jul 28, 2006

Quote of the Week

"Oh, we just love Julie! At Christmastime we watch her movies the way you folks watch Christmas ones." - a delightful young British woman professing her country's love for fellow lady Julie Andrews, overheard last week.

I asked my mother to grill a co-worker of hers, a very kind young woman who hails from England, about whether she loves the same British exports that I do...like Julie Andrews, Paul McCartney, Cadbury Eggs, and Courreges go-go boots. Naturally, she loved all of them, but was particularly enamored of Miss Andrews (or Dame Julie, or Mrs. Blake Edwards, or Fraulein Maria, as I'm sure she goes by all) and expressed immense pride and respect for one of my personal favorite film stars. What intrigued me most, though, was the impression that Jules' films are a tradition for Brits as much as It's A Wonderful Life is for the majority of Americans I know. Why don't we institute a national Julie Andrews Day? Seriously, who doesn't love this woman?!

Jul 10, 2006

A New Star in the Heavens

Beloved television and screen actress and radio personality June Allyson died this weekend after a long illness in her Ojai, California, residence. The fresh-faced star, perhaps best known for her roles in lively musicals of the 1940's, was 88.

June was born Ella Geisman on October 7, 1917, and was raised in considerable poverty in her Bronx neighborhood by her divorced mother. A debilitating accident at age 8 left doctors doubting her future mobility, but as she neared adolescence (and after four years in the confinement of a steel brace), young Ella taught herself to dance under the impressive tutelage of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' The Gay Divorcee. As a teenager she auditioned for a Broadway musical on a dare, won the role, and continued to appear as a chorus girl throughout her high school career. She intended to study medicine and become a doctor, but until then, Geisman saw her stage success merely as ideal financing for her college aspirations. When she was scooped up by MGM for not only a screen version of her Broadway role in Best Foot Forward (1943) but a long-term contract with the studio as well, her future was drastically changed.

June Allyson was the refreshingly girl-next-door face in an era of screen sirens, a petite powerhouse of talent and pizazz amidst the sultry dramatic actresses of the day. If contemporaries like Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, and Barbara Stanwyck sizzled, then June Allyson sparkled and shone alongside the top male stars of her day: Jimmy Stewart, Peter Lawford, and Van Johnson, to name a few. Her role as rebellious softheart Jo March in the 1949 version of Little Women is not only one of my favorite of Allyson's performances, but one of the most faithful book-to-film transferences of a character and among the most heartbreakingly-endearing characters in classic cinema.

Rather than fading into obscurity or distancing herself from her illustrious and long-spanning Hollywood career, Allyson embraced her past in recent years, proving an invaluable resource in the preservation of information related to MGM's Golden Years. She also raised funds in memory of friends and former co-stars, helping to create museums in honor of Judy Garland and James Stewart in the 1990's.

May June find peace and know that she is remembered not only for her incredible film legacy, but for her enduring kindness and the darling image that she truly lived up to.

Photos courtesy of The Official June Allyson Website, which I encourage you to visit for a more detailed look at a legend via fabulous photo galleries, a detailed biography and wonderful interviews with Allyson

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Jul 8, 2006

The Ginge & Stany Birthday Bash

Banks are closed. Post offices won't be open, either. Most people will relax and enjoy July 16th as the holiday that legions of classic cinema fans recognize it to be, making the most of their time off of work.

Well, it could be that it's a Sunday, too - but I'd like to think it's America's way of paying homage to two of its finest examples of the classic Hollywood actress. July 16 marks the birthday of not only gorgeous blonde hoofer Ginger Rogers, but also of tough-as-nails screen siren (and later, small-screen matriarch) Barbara Stanwyck: it's practically a made-to-order holiday for me.

Bright, sassy, and beautiful, Stanwyck and Rogers both exemplified the archetypical, multi-faceted star of the 1930's and early '40's. Barbara may have played the stripper to Gary Cooper's prim professor (1941's Ball of Fire is a surefire classic) and sure, Ginger was somewhat the female Fred Astaire in oh, say, 9 films, but each delivered darker, richer performances in more demanding dramas, like Rogers' Kitty Foyle and Stanwyck's famous Wilder-directed Double Indemnity. I don't mean to downplay their lighter, more comedic roles, either: Depression-era audiences were as enthralled with Ginger's golden locks and gorgeous gams as the critics were impressed with her serious turns - and her legacy, preserved on film for posterity and newly released on dvd, is inarguably a vividly great one.

Barbara Stanwyck, meanwhile, is a fascinating study - though unconventionally beautiful and possessing a seemingly unfathomable resevoir of talent, she is somewhat forgotten to all but the most ardent fans of classic movies, a paradox as an esoteric celebrity. She turned out some deliciously scandalous pre-code pictures like Night Nurse (1931) and Baby Face (1933) before creating onscreen classics such as the weep-inducing Stella Dallas, 1944's Double Indemnity, and, in 1941, three delightfully daring (and different) movies: Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve, and Meet John Doe. Sociable, kind, and refreshingly down-to-earth, Stanwyck was highly esteemed among her co-stars and valued by the studio bosses and directors she worked with, who particularly noted her on-set patience and strong work ethic.

So I urge you to salute these two vivacious and unforgettable stars next weekend, by any means as unique as the women themselves - I, for one, plan to spend a rare day indoors reveling in air conditioning, Irving Berlin soundtracks, and the incomparable Ms. Stanwyck in a parade of fur coats and seductive double entendres. It doesn't matter how you remember these women...just remember them.

Discussion Junction: What's your favorite non-Astaire Ginger Rogers movie? Your favorite Barbara Stanwyck flick? Do you own any of these women's films?

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Jul 7, 2006

Lana, Wood You Go Away?

It must be difficult being Lana Wood. Growing up in the shapely shadow of older sister Natalie, feeling second-rate as her own career skittered along in walk-on roles on obscure television shows while the other Ms. Wood snagged movie star boyfriends and the top row on movie marquees worldwide - it couldn't have been easy on the girl. Nothing, however, justifies her authoring a tell-all book about her beautiful and effervescent sister that focuses largely on herself.

Natalie: A Memoir By Her Sister could perhaps be more appropriately titled Lana: A Self-Indulgent Narcissist Recalls Her Former Married Lovers and Talks About When Her Sister, Who Was A Famous Movie Star, Used to Hang Out with Her. The book opens with Lana's recollections of watching her big sister film the famous racing scene from Rebel Without A Cause, then reaches back to flesh out the sisters' family history up through Natalie's untimely drowning in 1981 at just 43. The insightful anecdotes and juicy inside stories Lana tells, though, are scattered amidst multi-page descriptions of her own unsuccessful film career, vivid details of her trysts with married lovers, and an in-depth portrait of her daughter's birth and infanthood. Nat fans who pick up the book to indulge in a veritable list of Natalie's fabulous wardrobe and her favorite pieces of jewelry will first have to endure pages of Lana's sexual encounters with Sean Connery and Alain Delon ('I would characterize Alain as the perfect fling'); to uncover a gem of a tale about Nat's seaside antics while on vacation (she pranked a local restaurant and convinced them they'd been held up), one would best be prepared to hear about how upset Lana was upon discovering someone had mistakenly gotten her birth-control pills wet in the bathroom. This book obviously had no editor, or if it did, it was one hypnotized by the potential for huge profits that a racy tell-all book on tragically dead Natalie Wood could reap.

Here's a sample of Lana's 'Me too!' style of writing:

"Natalie wore a jacket and a skirt of green and gold cut velvet...She looked stunning. I wore a plain black dress with long sleeves and an open back that was draped to the waist. I looked stunning too." (190)

Wow...riveting. I guess I shouldn't expect Tennyson-like prose or deep, thought-provoking passages from a juicy, scandal-soaked celebrity memoir fished from the dollar bin at my local library, but I am floored by the phenomenal self-centeredness of its author. Insecure, overshadowed and discouraged, this younger sister of a still-brilliant star is too close to the story's heart to give a focused homage - and too selfish to even try. Buy it secondhand (or relieve a disgusted owner of it) for the photos, then burn the rest of this drivel before it sours your love for Natalie Wood.

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Quote of the Week

"Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead." - gorgeous redhead Lucille Ball

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Jul 1, 2006

Happy Birthday Livvie

Lovely Olivia de Havilland celebrates her ninetieth birthday today in Los Angeles, California, where her daughter, Giselle, lives. Olivia is perhaps best-known for her role as Melanie Wilkes, the sweet, stoic wife of Ashley (Leslie Howard) in David Selznick 's epic Gone With the Wind, but her career encompasses far more than the 1939 blockbuster: the dark-haired diva garnered five Oscar nominations in her lifetime, taking home two awards for her lead performances in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). Acting in films since the 1935, she quickly rocketed to stardom opposite Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, a pairing that would repeat itself nine more times in the coming decade. Other notable films include 1941's The Strawberry Blonde, which features a rare comedic turn for Olivia, and the gripping The Snake Pit (1948).

The summer of 2006 has been a particularly busy one for the star, as she graciously accepted an honorary tribute from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in mid-June. Besides de Havilland, who had flown in from her home in Paris, other distinguished guests included the night's host Robert Osborne, and studio-head-spawn Daniel Selznick, Roger Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. (yes, descended from the David O., Louis B. and Samuel L. of yore, respectively).

I, for one - always being more of a Miss Melly than a Scarlett kinda girl - am ecstatic that Olivia is being honored by both her esteemed colleagues and her fans alike. She is a true living legend, a dedicated and multi-talented actress, and an overall lovely woman. All my best to you, Olivia! The Male Animal was awesome!

Don't miss TCM's birthday tribute to Olivia all day today, July 1, highlighted by a screening of Gone With the Wind as this week's Essential. Visit tcm.com for a complete lineup and set your TiVo's now!

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