Feb 22, 2007

Hold The Phone! I've Got New Links!

Okay, operatic wonder Kathryn Grayson may not actually be, well, grayson Hollywood with her presence anymore - she now devotes her time to teaching voice lessons - but her legend still looms large with the creation of fan tributes on the internet. Case in point: The Zelma Hadrick Uber Shrine (yes, she was a Zelma before she became a Kathryn), run by a rabid fan with a great sense of humor and an obvious devotion to all things Grayson, is a true delight to peruse, with an extensive photo gallery, filmography, and an easy-to-navigate layout. The photos alone are worth the visit, but you'll no doubt find yourself smitten with the site overall. (Kathryn does have her own official website, but ah, those official websites are so...boring. Bring on the massive photo galleries and witty commentary of fan-created tribute sites!)

Another lovely leading lady who is now linked to Hillary's Classic Cinema is Lana Turner, whose fan-created website, Lana Turner Online, is a must for even the most casual and curious of Lana fans. Don't let the simple and inconspicuous site design fool you - LTO is among the most comprehensive of any star's fan sites on the web today, with hundreds of photos and articles scanned and organized into various categories, transcripts from a multitude of interviews with Turner, and even an exhaustive "Lana Encyclopedia" to reference if names and titles on the site need explanation. Here you'll find a wealth of information, including book reviews and a list films Turner declined to make (and really, I can't get over the photo gallery. It's huge). It's evident that creator Liza, featured on the site, has a true passion for Lana's life and career, and luckily, she has crafted a very appealing format with which to share her knowledge and memorabilia. I definitely recommend you swing by!

While stars' official sites are often easy to come by, I always find that those created and maintained by devoted fans are the most comprehensive and interesting, as the webmaster's true interest in their particular favorite star is often evidenced by the meticulous organizing and presentation of information and memorabilia; their genuine passion is parlayed into effective biographies, beautiful photo galleries, and useful sites of reference. If you've found or created an online site or tribute to a classic film star, send it to me, and I'll be happy to provide a link right here from HCC!


Feb 19, 2007

Breaking News: I Hate IMDb

In my nearly ten years as a classic film fan, The Internet Movie Database has proven a veritable mecca, reliably rife with quotes, anecdotes, information, and trivia on my favorite films and the stars I love. But its millions of registered users have found its functions rendered inaccessible this week while the entire site undergoes some major aesthetic changes, and I, for one, hate them (the changes, not the users).

Though its official question-and-answer page regarding the site explains that its old layout was "antiquated and, according to the traffic patterns, not as utilitarian as we would have liked", IMDb's new pages seem completely unnavigable, especially to seasoned users who are accustomed to the original layout's exact placement of specific information. A lack of discrepancy between the various fonts that serve as titles, active links, and actual text makes for a confusing read, too.

Luckily, IMDb is incredibly user-friendly and is encouraging feedback on the site overhaul, although that function is currently unavailable in the midst of the site reconstruction. I recommend sharing your thoughts on the new look - especially if you've found this blog while perusing IMDb's numerous message boards - either with IMDb, or by posting your comments below.

In the meantime, though, you can join me in carrying on as though not a thing has changed at my favorite site, and surf as you usually would on Former IMDb (same site, with the layout you love). Down with change!

Update, 2/20: My precious IMDb remains the same as of today! The new changes that were implemented last night are no longer available, and the extra features like message boards are now accessible again. Perhaps I have more influence than I thought...?


Feb 8, 2007

Magic Time

Eternally-beloved actor Jack Lemmon, perennial favorite of legendary directors like Billy Wilder and Blake Edwards, would have celebrated his 82rd birthday today, were he still living. The venerable actor passed away in 2001 at the age of 76.

Lemmon first captivated me in 1960's The Apartment as the sweet, idealistic C.C. Baxter, the office minion who displaces his own priorities to please others, at least until he meets pretty elevator girl Shirley MacLaine. Lemmon's performance here - as it was in every subsequent film of his I've seen - is ineffably touching but inarguably effective, a rare mix of likeability, "Everyman" appeal, visible vulnerability and true talent. He was skilled at comedy, especially when bouncing wisecracks off of lifelong on- and off-screen buddy Walter Matthau, but Jack's film legacy will always be bound to the dramatic roles he portrayed with heartbreaking sincerity, in movies like 1963's Days of Wine and Roses and 1986's portrait of a midlife-crisis, That's Life.

Open to the constantly-narrowing opportunities for an older actor, Lemmon was still working throughout the 1990s, with a major motion picture and several made-for-television dramas airing in the years just before his 2001 passing. His life and career are chronicled, albeit very subjectively, in the book A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to my Father by his son Chris, but for a more balanced yet still respectful account of the day-to-day Jack, I recommend Peter Bogdanovich's Who The Hell's In It?, which devotes a chapter to describing time the author spent with Lemmon in California some forty years ago.

From his role as feisty, palm-throwing Ensign Pulver in the sea-bound classic Mister Roberts all the way to his crotchety, frustrated 'old man' roles in Grumpy Old Men and Out to Sea, Jack Lemmon is a timeless talent, appealing to the heart of his audience as much as their mind, a star who's discovered by each new generation that delves into the genre that is classic cinema. And with a legacy like that, it will always be Magic Time.

Discussion Junction: We know he can do the drama...but what's your favorite Jack Lemmon comedy? Post below!

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Feb 7, 2007

Easy To Love

To be honest with you, I’m surprised Esther Williams is even alive. It’s not her age, mind you (84 is a spring chicken compared to some), or that her fame has expired in the years since her films brought her worldwide stardom (it hasn’t), but after reading of her life as MGM’s biggest swimming sensation and the numerous potentially-fatal accidents she endured in the name of glorious Technicolor spectacles, it truly is a miracle that she’s living, let alone a healthy, active businesswoman, still gracious to her legions of fans.

Williams’ 1999 autobiograpy Million Dollar Mermaid is a revelation for classic film lovers, despite the book’s tendency to gloss over such unsavory aspects as Williams’ suspension for refusal to star in the film The Opposite Sex or her rocky marriage to Fernando Lamas (truly, though, how many chapters of the Argentine brute could you bear?). From Ava Gardner to Victor Mature, Williams has a story to tell involving nearly everyone, and her engaging narrative and attention to detail will engross even the rare reader who isn’t particularly a fan.

From her modest beginnings as the youngest of five children in a rural, Midwestern family to her present-day success as a Los-Angeles-based swimwear executive and grandmother, she covers it all: her teenage swimming triumphs, the ruined Olympics bid, her failed marriages (the stormiest of which were to two other stars, Ben Gage and Fernando Lamas), the serious injuries she sustained while shooting some of her most memorable aquatic stunts, turbulent relationships with her three children, and of course, her years as one of Hollywood’s most popular stars, the irreplaceable Million Dollar Mermaid. Swimmers will love Williams' descriptions of her most intricate and stunning underwater choreography (and the sore legs and chlorine-stung eyes she earned in the process), savvy sartorial enthusiasts should savor the details of her glittering costumes and consultations with her wardrobe designers, and burgeoning fans will appreciate the synopses of her films in chronological order and the anecdotes that accompany their production. Juiciest of all, though, are Williams’ accounts of behind-the-scenes tactics at MGM, whether she’s going head-to-head with Papa Mayer over shooting details, getting locked in an underwater soundstage, or listening at the wall of Lana Turner’s dressing room – it’s a voyeuristic view of Tinseltown’s biggest backlot.

Critics of the book denounce its dialogue, as the word-for-word accounts of decades-old conversations do become tiresome and read somewhat contrivedly, but when weighed against the veritable vault of Hollywood backstories that Williams pours forth in a most absorbing fashion, this complaint is truly trivial. A hardworking star both wet and dry, Esther Williams has led a fascinating life – and her manner of telling her story makes her all the more easy to love.

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Feb 4, 2007

Photo of the Week

Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds, circa 1953

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Feb 3, 2007

Deborah Kerr - Rhymes with "Star"

Scottish-born Kerr's name may not actually rhyme with star, but in creating this cute couplet for her first U.S. film in 1947, MGM's crafty promotions department touched on something that legions of film fans have acknowledged in the years since then: while vastly underappreciated as a dramatic actress, the British beauty* is very much one of Tinseltown's twinkliest.

Having said that, it doesn't really take too much for me to like a star. Wittiness, sophistication, sex appeal, the perfect shade of lipstick - all traits that, once an actor's talent has been established, I tend to focus on, wondering how I can employ them in my rather dull college-girl lifestyle and add that ineffable Hollywood allure to my own list of desirable traits. After watching 1957's weepy drama An Affair To Remember this week, I was simply enchanted with regal redhead Deborah Kerr who, with her rosy beauty and genteel demeanor, is definitely one to admire.

Scottish-born Deborah Jane Kerr
was raised and educated in England during the 1920s and '30s, and after discovering an outlet for her passions in acting, the shy teenager was given an opportunity to play 'legitimate theatre' by her aunt, a radio celebrity. After being noticed by producer/director Gabriel Pascal and winning a small but notable role in his 1941 film Major Barbara (she recited The Lord's Prayer at her audition), she quickly became a star in Britain. Hollywood had yet to take note of her, but Deborah's role in the gripping drama Black Narcissus (1947) got their attention, and she was soon under contract at MGM.

Aside from few notable anachronistic parts - her lusty, seaside From Here To Eternity turn in the surf with Burt Lancaster being the most profound and the most iconic - Kerr was consistently cast as women she later called "high-minded, long suffering, white-gloved and decorative", such as parts in The End of The Affair (1955) and my personal favorite, An Affair To Remember. Her propriety and elegance, attributed as much to her upbringing as to the strictness of an insistent Victorian grandmother, were often called on more than her dramatic ability, though her deft combination of these elements and her skill garnered her six Oscar nominations in twelve years. (She was eventually awarded an honorary statuette in 1994).

Kerr quit movies in 1968 after divorcing first husband Anthony Bartley, father of her two daughters, and settling into marriage to director Peter Viertel, to whom she remains married today. She lives in Switzerland, but Parkinson's disease has rendered her incapable of publicly sharing her Hollywood history or granting fan requests for autographs. Her stunning celluloid legacy is still accessible, though, and she is as powerful a screen presence as she was sixty years ago. I recommend you pour yourself a pink champagne and get to know Deborah Kerr...she rhymes with "star" for a reason.

*I know Kerr's not British, but she played long-suffering English ladies in so many of her best-known roles...

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Feb 1, 2007

Blockbusters on a Budget

Warner Bros. Home Video announced Wednesday that it plans to repackage some of its best-loved classic films into three-movie collections, selling the new compilations at around $30. Ten dollars for the eternally-expensive Meet Me In St. Louis?! Casablanca? The Wizard of Oz? It's true, but the company is quick to note that while these versions will be the most recent digitally-remastered editions of each film, they will not include the lavish special features that accompany current multi-disc collectors' edition copies of each movie. Additional titles to be re-issued in these sets include Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, My Fair Lady and Singin' in the Rain.

Though further details are as of yet unavailable, update information is anticipated on The Warner Home Video DVD Collection official website (yes, there really is one). No word yet regarding tentative release dates.

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