May 20, 2008

Quote of the Week

"If Bess and I had a son, we'd want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart." - President Harry S Truman after viewing 'It's A Wonderful Life', 1947

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May 18, 2008

Did You Know?

In the wild and wacky world of Hollywood marriages, most matches come with an expiration date - and this was true even, or especially, decades ago, when the pretty and privileged denizens of Tinseltown first began to intermingle romantically. Perhaps the oddest example of Movieland amore, though, was the 32-day nuptials of brassy Broadway star Ethel Merman and Oscar-winning actor Ernest Borgnine, who garnered Academy gold for his portrayal of lonely, titular bachelor in the 1955 film Marty, whom the character himself deems a 'fat, ugly man'.

Despite her brief foray into film in the 1940s, her immense status on the stage, and a strong fan following, Merman's celebrity was more or less restricted to American audiences, while Borgnine's film career and his role in the popular television series "McHale's Navy" afforded him a much broader geographic appeal. According to a 2007 interview with Borgnine, it was this disparity that soured Merman to the marriage after just a few short weeks. The couple divorced in July, 1964, after barely a month of marriage.

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May 10, 2008

That Astounding Astaire

  When Fred Astaire, a man who came to epitomize a kind of homespun, effortless, comically-endearing glamour so appealing in grand escapist films in the 1930's and 40's - and who elevated dance to a veritable art form to be devoured by enthralled moviegoers of that time - was viewed in his first screen test, studio executives decided, "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

  And so began the post-vaudeville chapter of the Nebraska-born hoofer who became known and loved as Fred Astaire. Born on this day in Omaha in 1899, Astaire, nee Frederic Austerlitz, entered show business with sister Adele at the tender age of 5, and the duo was well-received on Broadway and the vaudeville circuit. It wasn't until Adele's 1932 marriage that the act split up, and Astaire's star status began to rise as the film industry took off. His film career spanned an impressive four decades, linked him inextricably to numerous Porter- and Gershwin-penned American Standards songs, and paired him, as the perfectionist half of the duo, with the effervescent Ginger Rogers, though he also took the lovely likes of Eleanor Powell, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, and Cyd Charisse for a spin on the dance floor, as well.

  As popular as Astaire became, though - he was one of only two male lead dancers in major motion pictures of his day, so assumed dozens of prime roles that called for his nearly exclusive talents - he never seemed to grasp the enormity of his contributions to movies, to pop culture, to the lives of those who were enchanted with his lithe and joyful movement on the silver screen. Upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1981 at the age of 71, Astaire, gray-haired and awed, professed shock at seeing a montage of his dancing work, proclaiming, 'My gosh, I didn't know it was that good. It really looked good to me.'

Oh, to us, too, Mr. Astaire. To us, too.

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May 4, 2008


Amazingly enough, finding the perfect photo of Audrey Hepburn to commemorate this - what would have been her 79th birthday - was difficult, and was certainly not owed to the volumes and volumes of pictures of her available online, but to the fact that the sage, gentle actress was purportedly more comfortable in her casual, day-to-day life than in the savvy trappings of a coiffed, bejeweled screen icon, no matter how natural she looked dressed so decadently.

It's amazing to me that this goddess of couture had little or no interest in the material gains that her position in Hollywood could have garnered her, considering that she revolutionized the fashion world several times, often with only an Edith Head gown and an updo. Somehow she fully absorbed the delicate and long-lasting fads that took hold during her fifteen or so years as a box office contender, but she always managed to maintain the definitive elements of Audrey: the sad, passionate eyes, the lithe, spare figure, and the dark tresses, cropped Caesar-short in Roman Holiday, left long in the ill-fated Green Mansions, or teased into a chic chignon as the epitome of elegance, Holly Golightly.

Even fifteen years after her untimely death of cancer at the age of 63, Audrey remains an inarguable enigma of sartorial savoir-faire; she is still the benchmark of beauty that defies mere makeup but instead incorporates more emotive elements of femininity: intelligence, kindness, confidence, generosity, dignity.

And why do I rhapsodize at length about the exterior of this fascinating woman, when she has so many worthy attributes to admire? Because her beauty was owed as much to her giving spirit, her unpretentious attitude (a rarity in her profession), and the humanitarian efforts she wholeheartedly embraced late in her life as it was to the doe eyes and gamine figure. Selfless and self-effacing, affectionate but unaffected, owing her life to luck and not looks - that was Audrey. Watching her even now, that is Audrey, still.

Happy birthday, Miss Hepburn.

image source

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