12 January 2020

I don't honestly like the feeling of the film

Today's letter enticed me to watch Love Among the Ruins (1975), a film made especially for television, directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier in their only film together. It's a charming film about an ageing actress who, after having been sued for breach of promise, hires a lawyer with whom she was romantically involved some 40 years ago; although she doesn't remember him, he has been in love with her ever since.

7 January 2020

Lucille Ball & Lela Rogers' Little Theatre

Lela Rogers, mother of Ginger Rogers, was not your typical stage mom. Apart from managing Ginger's career, Rogers had a successful career in her own right. She was a journalist, editor, screenwriter and producer, and from the mid-1930s through the early 1940s she worked as an assistant to Charles Koerner, Vice-President of Production at RKO. Put in charge of RKO's budding talent, Rogers ran her own workshop on the studio lot called the Little Theatre, where she trained promising young actresses like Betty Grable, Joan Fontaine, Ann Miller and Lucille Ball.

In her autobiography Love, Lucy (1996), Lucille Ball fondly remembered those early days at RKO with Lela Rogers"It was such a busy, happy time for me. Lela took the dungarees off us and put us into becoming dresses; she ripped off our hair bands and made us do our hair right. If we went to see a big producer in his office, she cautioned us to put on full makeup and look like somebody. She made us read good literature to improve our English and expand our understanding of character. She drummed into us how to treat agents and the bosses upstairs... " 

19 December 2019

Am all excited by the idea of "Oliver"

At one time Audrey Hepburn considered playing the role of Nancy in Oliver!, the film version of Lionel Bart's stage musical of the same name. Having enjoyed working with director George Cukor on My Fair Lady (1964), Audrey very much wanted to make another film with him. The project she had in mind for the two of them was Oliver! which enjoyed a successful run on Broadway from January 1963 until November 1964. Audrey went to see the show and wrote Cukor a letter on 6 January 1964, telling him what she thought of it.

Audrey Hepburn and George Cukor photographed on the set of My Fair Lady, 1963.

12 December 2019

Judy Garland's love letter to Frank Sinatra

Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra were not only lifelong friends but they were also romantically involved twice. The first time was in 1949 after Garland had been fired from the film Annie Get Your Gun (she was replaced by Betty Hutton) and was next admitted to a hospital suffering a nervous breakdown. Following her recovery, Garland (still married to director Vincente Minnelli) went on a secret, romantic rendezvous with Sinatra in the Hamptons. The second time was in 1955 when Garland was separated from her third husband, producer and tour manager Sidney Luft. She briefly resumed her romance with Sinatra, who at the time was also separated from his then-wife Ava Gardner.

Garland remained close friends with Sinatra until her untimely death in 1969. She was $4 million in debt when she died and it was Sinatra who reportedly paid for her funeral. 

29 November 2019

Ingrid Bergman's Fall from Grace

By the late 1940s, Swedish-born Ingrid Bergman had become one of Hollywood's biggest and most beloved stars. Brought to the United States by producer David Selznick, Bergman made her first American film Intermezzo in 1939later followed by such classics as Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944) and Notorious (1946). America adored Bergman, but this abruptly changed in 1949 when she went to Italy and fell in love with Italian director Roberto Rossellini.

Bergman had gone to Italy to make Stromboli (1950) with Rossellini and during production they began an affair which would lead to a scandal of immense proportions. At the time Bergman was married to Swedish brain surgeon Petter Lindström with whom she had a 10-year-old daughter Pia. Rossellini was also married, having recently had a public affair with actress Anna Magnani. The press was having a field day covering the Bergman-Rossellini affair, especially when word got out that Bergman was also pregnant with Rossellini's child. In February 1950 baby Robertino was born out of wedlock and the next month Bergman was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate, with senator Johnson saying that she had perpetrated "an assault on the institution of marriage" and even calling her "a powerful influence for evil". 

22 November 2019

Do I hear you muttering obscenities?

In the fall of 1936, Tallulah Bankhead began to prepare herself for landing the role of Scarlett O'Hara in David O. Selznick's production of Gone With the Wind (1939), being the first established actress to do so. A star on Broadway, Bankhead had made few films thus far (all of them unsuccessful) and was very eager to play Scarlett. Bankhead was originally from Alabama and while her Southern background was an advantage, her age was not. At 34 she was too old for the role, even though she did her best to appear younger in Scarlett's early scenes (i.e. she followed a diet, had some dental work done, underwent facial treatments and even stopped drinking). 

Tallulah Bankhead in her screentest for Gone With the Wind, late 1936.

14 November 2019

The Oscar thing has deteriorated into a sickening mess

This summer I saw My Fair Lady (1964) on the big screen for the first time which was an absolute joy. Rewatching the film, however, I still found it hard to believe that Audrey Hepburn wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for her delightful portrayal of Eliza Doolittle. The snub is one of the biggest nomination snubs of all time and I can imagine how devastated Audrey must have been.

Someone who was outraged by the Academy's failure to nominate Audrey was Deborah Kerr. Deborah was a friend of Audrey's and, according to Audrey biographer Barry Paris, one of the very few friends Audrey had in the film industry. Both women lived in Switzerland, not very far from each other. About her friendship with Audrey, Deborah said in later years: "To the world it may not have seemed that constant or deep an association, but we became very close even though we didn't see each other much. I couldn't say, 'She was my best friend in my whole life'. Yet in a way, perhaps she was.

7 November 2019

Censoring "The Great Gatsby" (1926)

In 1922, following the public outcry against immorality in Hollywood films and the scandals involving some of Hollywood's biggest stars, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was founded. The main goal of this new trade organisation, with former Postmaster General Will Hays at the helm, was to clean up the film industry's bad image. Also, the industry was worried about the increase of city and state censorship boards, fearing that federal censorship was not far away. In order to avoid outside meddling, the MPPDA eventually set up its own censorship guidelines in 1929 -- i.e. the Motion Picture Production Code, to be rigidly enforced from mid-1934 on.

Before Hollywood started censoring its own films, state and local censorship boards decided whether films were fit for screening or not. In 1907, the city of Chicago created the first censorship board in the U.S. and other city boards soon followed. State governments also began to follow suit, with the state of Virginia being the last of seven U.S. states to create its own censorship board in 1922. Because of their different censorship rules, these boards were a major headache to Hollywood -- what was acceptable in one city/state could be unacceptable in another, meaning that studios often had to issue multiple versions of the same film (costs being paid by the studios)

31 October 2019

You are one of the truly great young actors

In 1940, Laird Cregar portrayed Oscar Wilde on the stage to great acclaim, attracting the attention of 20th Century-Fox who signed him to a contract. Someone who was also enthusiastic about Cregar's stage performance was John Barrymore, an actor who had been Cregar's idol since childhood. In the fall of 1941, Cregar starred in another play, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and again Barrymore was excited about his performance. Barrymore was so impressed with the acting abilities of the young actor that he wrote Cregar a fan letter, calling him one of the most talented actors the stage had produced in years.

15 October 2019

80 Years of "Dark Victory": Spencer Tracy was born to play this part

Edmund Goulding's successful weepie Dark Victory is one of the many great films from 1939 celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. In a nutshell, the film is about a young, spoiled socialite who is terminally ill and falls in love with her doctor. Bette Davis stars as the socialite Judith Traherne, a role originally played by Tallulah Bankhead on the stage. (The original play Dark Victorywritten by George Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch, only had a short run on Broadway in 1934.)