Oct 23, 2007

John Tracy, 1924-2007

So much sadness this month.

John Tracy, only son of film legend Spencer Tracy and his wife Louise, died this summer at the age of 82. He is survived by his sister, Susie, son Joseph, and Joseph Tracy's family.

Born in Milwaukee, WI, in 1924, John arrived before his father's momentous transition from stage to film in 1930, but the realization that the boy was completely deaf and suffered from infant paralysis was a blow to his young parents, who were soon determined their son live as fulfilling and active a life as possible despite his conditions.

Many sources, including Spencer's longtime friend and romance Katharine Hepburn, have attributed Tracy's infamous bouts of alcoholism to depression over his son's condition, though Spence was, according to his wife and family, still very much interactive with John, continuing to read and sing to him as he grew. Mrs. Tracy deferred her acting career to care for the boy and his younger sister, Susie, striving to learn as much as possible to equip herself for the care and education of her son, and the family opened the John Tracy Clinic in 1942, offering free services and education to parents of children who are born with hearing impairments. Its sole benefactor at its outset was Spence himself, in constant support of and solidarity with wife Louise's efforts. The clinic still stands today in Los Angeles, California.

Spencer Tracy died of lung cancer in 1967; his wife died sixteen years later. John's sister, Susie, is living today at the age of 75 in Southern California.

You can learn more by visiting The John Tracy Clinic Online.


Photographic Faves

Frank Sinatra and wife Ava Gardner take two straws apiece, early 1950's

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I don't think I can articulate it enough: I love classic movies. There is something about the paradox of esotericism and universality that stirs me: not everyone has seen Harold and Maude, for example, but I know everyone would love it if they did, and yes I am too basing that on empirical evidence. But oh, you should try and reign in my excitement when I see something old-movie-related completely out of context, an erstwhile anachronism just existing in everyday life. For example, the tile mosaics depicting scenes from Hitchock films that were installed in a subway station in Hitch's Leytonstone, England, hometown. Hotness? I think so.

The panels, comprised of over 80,000 tiles and completed in 2001, represent scenes from movies throughout the director's entire filmography, from well-known blockbusters like The Birds and Rear Window to less commercially successful fare like Pleasure Garden. They are nonetheless stunning - an intricate balance of homage and artistic license, tied to the English city with sly and careful references (many of Letonstone's most famous institutions are integrated into the scenes). And the detail! Anyone who immortalizes Jimmy Stewart in tile pretty much has my seal of approval.

To see more, visit The Joy of Shards website.


Oct 22, 2007

That's Right, Joan, Party!

Eternal younger-sister (to no less than the redoubtably elegant Olivia de Havilland) Joan Fontaine celebrates her 90th birthday today in Carmel, California. The thrice-Oscar nominated star has maintained a decided longevity in Hollywood, beginning her career in 1935, winning her first Academy Award in 1942, and appearing in television and stage roles until the 1980's.

Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born just fifteen months after elder sis Olivia, in Tokyo, Japan, where her parents divorced soon after. As an older child Joan bounced between American school in Japan and her mother's residence in Saratoga, California, where Olivia remained an active young stage and theatre-group actress. Family life soon centered around Olivia's burgeoning career in Hollywood, and Joan, partially following in her wake, moved to Los Angeles, roomed with Olivia, and tested for bit parts at MGM. It wasn't until 1937, when she adopted her stepfather's surname and landed more substantial roles, that Joan's own star began to rise. Her most memorable films came in the late 1930's and throughout the 1940's - George Stevens' delightful The Women, Hitchcock's Rebecca and Suspicion, and Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948) are among her best roles.

The first of Joan's four short marriages was to actor Brian Aherne, shown above with Joan; her only children resulted from her marriage to financier William Dozier, with whom she raised two daughters. She has been single since her final divorce in 1969.

While her eternal sibling-feud with Liv is arguably as publicized and enduring as both of their respective, respectable careers, I hope their impressive filmographies eventually take precedence in the public mind. Yes, the catfights and the estrangements are delicious to read about (oh, how I wish they had done a sisters' version of The Women!), but for two such talented women who have contributed so much during their concurrent tenures in Tinseltown, their unforgettable film roles deserve to be at the forefront of their legacies. Films first, ladies, hairpulling second.

Happy birthday, Joan!

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Oct 18, 2007

Rhymes with Star

Delicate Scottish star Deborah Kerr, best beloved for her roles in Black Narcissus, From Here To Eternity, and The King and I, and forever remembered as the endlessly elegant Terry McKay in Leo McKern's An Affair to Remember, died Tuesday, October 16, at the age of 86.

Kerr, retired from film since the late 1960's, spent the last years of her life in Switzerland, where Parkinson's disease interfered with her ability to publicly share her Hollywood memories through interviews or written accounts, and to accomodate fan requests. She is survived by her husband of almost fifty years, Peter Viertel, and two daughters from her first marriage, Melanie and Francesca.

I am forever indebted to Deborah for introducing me to the charms of peach lipstick, pink champagne, and sexy, witty banter as the reservedly passionate Terry in Affair. She was an inexhaustible example of timeless grace and propriety even when such attributes were out of vogue in Hollywood, but her professionalism and skill won out as she fought for better, more demanding, less decorative roles; her film legacy is a testament to such victories. And oh, was she right - pink champagne, chic camelhair coats and Cary Grant do a happy woman make.

When MGM brought British Deborah stateside in the 1940's and proclaimed 'Deborah Kerr rhymed with "star"', they were right. They just never knew she would be one herself.

Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)

For a more comprehensive tribute on the lady herself, you can check out my Actor Profile here.

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Oct 16, 2007

Photographic Faves

The incomparable Fred Astaire, date unknown

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Oct 11, 2007

Candid Candice

When you hear the name Candice Bergen, what do you think of?

Murphy Brown
? Boston Legal? That one lady from Miss Congeniality?

For most - us classic film connoisseurs included - these are legitimate, and accurate, references, so entrenched in recent pop culture is this brazen blonde with an ample arsenal of witty banter and a stunning ability to articulate it for comedic effect. But Bergen's sphere of relevance spans far beyond groundbreaking television and cameos in feature films, as proven by her 1984 autobiography, the aptly-titled Knock Wood.

While her contribution to classic film is somewhat underwhelming, it is her personal history and frame of reference that prove relevant to one interested in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Born in 1946 to famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wife, model and actress Frances Westerman, Candice was blessed from the start: before the age of five, she attended parties at Walt Disney's house, made friends of celebrity offspring like Vicki Milland and Cheryl Crane (daughters of Ray Milland and Lana Turner, respectively) and dressed up in studio-gifted reproduction dresses during afternoons at pal Liza Minnelli's house. But the intelligent child was soon aware of the singular elements of her upbringing that, she felt, contributed to the ease with which she acquired elite privileges like private education, extensive travel, popularity, social prestige, and opportunity - namely, her wealth, influence, and beauty. The unrest accompanied her into young adulthood, and amongst European boarding schools, modeling contracts, college courses and the inevitable movie career, Bergen strove to seek out diversity, to estrange herself from the conservative politics and principles of her parents, to establish herself as a photographic and literary talent, and to familiarize herself with the struggles of others, all the while feeling that she could never fully extricate herself from the position of privilege she was born into, nor did she deserve it. Her struggles to find herself worthy of such entitlements speak to her depth and character and give a dimension to her words that is almost completely anachronistic in the genre of celebrity autobiography; additionally, she writes of her extended eschewing of adult responsibility, her long and isolated travels across the globe, her obstinance in personal relationships, and her continued seeking of her father's approval, traits at total contradiction with her public bubbly, California-girl, movie-star persona.

In essence, Knock Wood has a savory dichotomy in its every page: the adventures of a young woman coming of age in the turbulent 1960's and who strives to find balance, relevance, and fulfillment in the decades that followed, and the dealings of the entertainment business, the demise of the studio era, and the complete lack of acknowledgment of once-beloved entertainers of her father's WWII generation (Bergen's father, dejected at the idea of having faded into relative obscurity, died while on a farewell tour in Las Vegas in the late 1970s).

Pick up Knock Wood for an exceptionally honest, expertly-crafted, personalized view of life in Hollywood, looking out with dazzling deprecation over the manicured hedges of a swank Bel-Air mansion and set amongst the larger-than-life personalities of those who populated Tinseltown in our favorite era. After Charlie McCarthy and before Murphy Brown there was just Candice, and her story as a woman is well worth a read.


Knock Wood is out-of-print, but I recommend buying a used copy from Betterworld.com. You'll pay only a few dollars, skip the shipping fees, and help fund local, national, and global charities with your online purchase.

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Oct 10, 2007

Did You Know?

Sinsister-voiced actor Vincent Price, best known for his roles in dark dramas like The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Wax, and my personal favorite, 1944's Laura, was a Yale graduate of art history, an avid art collector, and author of a syndicated art column in the late 1960's. He also founded and headed the Vincent Price Collection of Fine Arts at Los Angeles College, still an active element of the campus today.

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Oct 3, 2007

Remembering Grace

Aside from the whole made-love-to-Cary-Grant-repeatedly-in-To Catch A Thief aspect of her movie-star life - that was also the film were she was devastatingly rich, wore fabulous Edith Head gowns, exceeded the speed limit along the coast of France in her sporty convertible and carried a picnic basket of chicken and beer to entice swarthy men like Grant's character, John Robie - posh Philadelphian actress Grace Kelly truly did have a pretty enviable life, cut short though it was by tragedy. The softspoken blonde beauty, best known for her roles in Hitchock classics like Rear Window and the aforementioned Thief (her chemistry with Grant is incendiary), attended the Academy for Dramatic Arts and cracked into stardom in only her second film, High Noon, at age 22. The movie was a blockbuster, and Grace, opposite perpetual American hero Gary Cooper, was vaulted into the hallowed halls of Hollywood superstardom, an instant and unforgettable icon who would only make 9 more films in the course of her career. (In case you aren't jealous of her resume yet, she won an Academy Award at the age of 25 for only her sixth film role ever and, less than a year later, married the Prince of Monaco, thereby becoming one of America's first princesses.)

Despite the obvious attractive elements of her fame, position and dramatic talent (not to mention the whole Cary Grant thing), the point is inarguable that Grace Kelly is absolutely and astonishingly beautiful, her lithe frame and delicate features a perfect complement to the chic, understated, fitted-and-full styles of her era; every aspect combines to create the epitome of effortless elegance that she embodies in so many of her films. Her propensity for being tirelessly photogenic would be intolerable were it not so enchanting, even decades later - a modern goddess in a Helen Rose creation.

Still smitten with her image decades later, LIFE Magazine has published a special full-length issue devoted to America's motion picture princess in honor of the silver anniversary of her tragic and untimely death in an auto accident - she would be 77, were she still living - and it is a lush, intimate photofest, cover-to-cover with voyeuristic views of the American princess's day-to-day life, spanning the years of her fame into the quieter, more reclusive time she spent with her family as Monaco's Royal Highness, where her films were banned and her actress past wasn't spoken of. Famed photographer Howell Conant provides the picture retrospectives which span from 1955 until Kelly's death in 1982, and his camera extracts a multitude of facets of his single subject matter - the demure, the sophisticated, the unforgettable Grace Kelly.

LIFE's "Remembering Grace" is available only at booksellers, not online, for a cover price of $10.99.

Update: I bought this magazine over the weekend and I absolutely cannot stop reading it - it was made to pore over again and again. The text may be a little lame, but the photos are simply stunning and well worth the price. Putting off my calc homework has never been so chic!

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If you consider how much I rhapsodize about the inarguable appeal of some of classic Hollywood's most prominent men - Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant and the incredibly wooden John Gavin, just to name a few - it may seem curious, in contrast, that I don't print much about my favorite crooners of the era, of which smooth, suave Perry Como is paramount. Pair his particular brand of scintillating singing with the effortless effervescence of one Miss Cyd Charisse (well, she is Mrs. Tony Martin, but you know what I mean) and you have romance a la mode, mes chers. Here, once you bypass the pouty Mickey Rooney and the European sight-seeing tour - this clip was taken directly from 1948's all-star spectacle Words and Music, and includes additional portions of the film immediately pre- and succeeding the musical portion - you'll find the dreaminess only Como, Charisse and an MGM musical can provide. You can start the video at about 1:15 for the musical sequence only.

Now honestly, isn't that just the most heartwarmingly endearing thing you've ever seen?

Video courtesy YouTube user ComoFan123

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Oct 1, 2007

She Must've Done Something Good

The venerable Dame Julie Andrews, 1960s film phenomenon, accomplished soloist, and wife of veteran director Blake Edwards, turns 72 today. Happy birthday, Fraulein Maria!

Julie made her film debut in 1964's Mary Poppins, for which she won an Oscar; her best-known role, that of impetuous postulant Maria in the unforgettable The Sound of Music, came just a year later. She married Edwards in 1969 and the two formed a formidable film force, along with famed composer and frequent collaborator Henry Mancini, to create intriguing, esoteric movies as vehicles to showcase Edwards' gift for scripts and the musical abilities of Andrews and Mancini. 1970's Darling Lili, 1981's S.O.B., and the blockbuster hit Victor/Victoria, later revived for a Broadway tour, are prime examples of the couple's colorful collaborations.

A routine surgical operation in 1998 left Andrews with damaged vocal chords, culminating in the loss of her famous voice - but she has allowed this startling change to channel her creativity in new directions, namely, the line of children's books she co-authors with daughter Emma Walton and the numerous feature films she's starred in as of late.


I had the distinct privilege of seeing Jules in person at a tribute to Edwards' work at my alma mater - I didn't meet her, just stared unabashedly - and she is absolutely the epitome of elegance one would expect; I've gotta wish her an extra happy birthday just for keeping that old Hollywood glamour alive and well.

I definitely recommend you pop in some Thoroughly Modern Millie in honor of L'Andrews. Carol Channing in a cannon, anyone?!

Happy Birthday, Dame Julie.

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