May 22, 2007

Le Movie Star Mysterieuse

This screen siren has made appearances in some of the best-loved films of all time, though she's rarely, if ever, appeared in a starring role...

So just who is she? Take a crack at her identity and post your answers below!
Update 5/22: Poster Marc correctly guessed blonde bombshell Gloria Grahame was the mystery movie star! Somebody knows his stunning starlets...


May 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, James

Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?

James Maitland Stewart (1908-1997)

I certainly don't remember the day Jimmy Stewart was born, but I do know where I was the moment I heard he had passed away - I was newly twelve and had just tasted what I found to be the most incredibly romantic film in the world, Capra's essential It's A Wonderful Life. Every facet of the movie appealed to my preteen ideals: the tender and hesitant romance, the resounding moral to be gleaned from George Bailey's struggle and his ultimate revelation from God (via Clarence, of course), and the inherent loyalty and desperate need for independence weighing down the young protaganist. It was the kind of movie that makes one ache with gratefulness and that inspires a renewed sense of purpose, and I was just beginning to understand how powerful cinema can be. I owe much of that discovery to Jimmy Stewart.
Whether he is wooing Hedy Lamarr with memorized poetry as night falls in a quiet country house (1941's Come Live With Me is an utterly sweet confection of a movie), drinking champagne and skinny-dipping with Kath Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, or avenging his son's death in films like the Civil War-themed Shenendoah, Jimmy is an unforgettable presence on the silver screen. He worked opposite the best and brightest of Hollywood; he shone under the direction of masters like Capra, Hitchcock, and John Ford; he was close lifelong friends with fellow star Henry Fonda; his film career spans an incredible five decades. Yes, James Stewart is one of the greats.
He inarguably appeals to every person in one character or another; he is somehow Everyman and yet each distinct character he portrays, simultaneously. Vertigo, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Rear Window, Winchester 73, Shop Around the Corner, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance...there will never be another Jimmy Stewart.
So thank you, Jimmy, for your luminous career, for your enduring star persona, for all you've given us movie lovers to moon and dream over for decades and decades. Your inherent sweetness will no doubt never cease to charm us, and your stoic, dramatic side will allow your darker films to remain classics even as time renders their contemporaries inconsequential.

You know, Clarence was right all along. When a man isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?

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Okay, dear readers, you must allow me the liberty of expressing my absolute fervor of excitement over the days-away release of 1941's sassy, saucy romantic comedy Ball of Fire. When nothing else could convince me of lead Barbara Stanwyck's classic actress status - her critically-acclaimed turn in Double Indemnity, my first foray into her films, left me totally unappreciative (the blonde wig! ugh!) - it was her part as Fire's wise-cracking gun moll Sugarpuss O'Shea that turned me into a true Stany fan. Pair her effortless effervescence with the expert direction of Howard Hawks and a script penned by Billy Wilder himself, and you've got a delightful flick filled with equal parts sentiment, sequins, and sex appeal. And don't forget Gary Cooper as the sweet and loyal Professor Potts - ohhh, the hotness!

Do yourself a favor and dig into this dish of forties farce a la mode, available on Tuesday, May 22, 2007 (just click on the link to order from DeepDiscountDVD). As Sugie herself would say, it's a killer diller.

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May 12, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I was to do something different, and, even more important, I got to die at the end! If anything was going to establish me as a serious actress, I thought, dying ought to do it."

- actress Jane Powell on making the film "Enchanted Island", (as quoted in her autobiography The Girl Next Door and How She Grew)

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A Century of Eccentricity

They call her Kate the Great, and with good reason. She's played a fierce lawyer and a con man, a hard-hitting reporter and a heartbroken widow, a battle-embroiled queen and a barefoot mountain girl. She's come to us as an East Coast socialite (many, actually - usually rich, lacking pretentions), a minister's daughter of the Old West, a concerned California mother and a Chinese peasant in the throes of oppression. She wore slacks and loafers in an age of platinum-blonde sexpots in slinky gowns, she balked at the Hollywood code of behavior, refused interviews and hid from the press, and, for over six decades, she remained a mainstay of then-contemporary cinema despite the fall of the studio area and the ushering in of innumerable new genres of movies. I'd say Kate the Great may be just the moniker for inimitable screen queen Katharine Hepburn, who, were she living, would be 100 years old today.

Katharine Houghton Hepburn hailed from Hartford, Connecticut, where she was born in 1907 to liberal and well-educated parents. The elder Hepburns' high-minded social ambitions, namely to educate society on such delicate and unmentionable issues as personal hygiene and birth control, combined with her mother's vocal discontent at being an educated woman relegated to merely running a household, contributed to the general air of eccentricism, self-assurance, and gender-blind aspirations in which Kate was raised and with which she later pursued her acting career. After obtaining a degree at Bryn Mawr, Kate heeded her mother's advice, eschewing the typical life assigned to women of the day: that of wife and mother, playing "nursemaid to the upcoming generation" as Hep herself called it, and instead, she set out determined to find her worth as a person, unrelative to her status as a female in what was then largely a man's world.

Through what she considers a lucky break, Hepburn was noticed by talent scouts while performing a role on Broadway and, within the same year of 1932, found herself starring opposite John Barrymore in the film Bill of Divorcement. It didn't know it then, but Hollywood would never quite recover from the arrival of the enigmatic starlet, though her icon-status would be years in the making.

Despite a rocky period of film failures in the 1930s which caused studio heads to deem her "Box Office Poison", Hepburn's popularity with filmgoers and movie moguls alike was essentially cemented with her performance in both the stage and screen versions of The Philadelphia Story (1940), in which she starred opposite fellow screen icons Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart and a host of superb supporting players. 1942 marked Hep's first pairing with the inimitable Spencer Tracy, whom she quickly developed a deep affection for and friendship with during the production of Woman of The Year; their mutual respect and attraction is evident in the film even today and, while not as incendiary as most romances of the era tend to be, theirs is an incredibly warm and affectionate romance to witness as it unfolds onscreen. The couple's real-life relationship lasted until Tracy's death in 1967, just days after the two finished work on another distinguished gem in their career, Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?.

She earned an astonishing twelve Academy Award nominations in her career and took home the statue an unprecedented four times, although, disinterested in the politics of the Oscar-giving process, Hepburn was never actually present to accept her awards (and the fourth, earned in 1982, she gave to an ailing friend to spur on his recovery). In her later years, Kate focused on spending time with her extended family in their Connecticut summer home, keeping a relatively active schedule, reading and responding to fan mail and conversing with historians and authors like A. Scott Berg, who published a book of his experiences with the actress after her 2003 death at age 96.

Whether she is putting her way to golf superstardom or taming leopards with song, battling court cases or scrambling to make breakfast for screen hubby Spencer, Katharine Hepburn remains an unforgettable face, an inimitable voice, a deft professional touch in some of classic cinema's most revered scenes and stories. Kate the Great, indeed...and one hundred years of her screen magic for posterity to delight in make her all the greater.

""I always wanted to be a movie actress. I thought it was very romantic. And it was."

Katharine Hepburn

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