Exes as costars

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In 1931, two of Paramount’s top stars, William Powell and Kay Francis, were cast in LADIES’ MAN. It was a drama about a gigolo (Powell) who goes after a rich society girl but ends up with another gal (Francis) who is neither rich nor society. Third-billed in this production is a young Carole Lombard who plays the society girl. LADIES’ MAN hit theatres in May, and in late June, Powell & Lombard were wed. The marriage didn’t last, and by August 1933 they were officially divorced.

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They were cast in another Paramount Picture, MAN OF THE WORLD– this time Lombard was the female lead– and she played an American girl visiting Paris who is romanced by a blackmailer (Powell).

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After their divorce, Lombard & Powell costarred on screen once more in what is perhaps the most well-known film they did, the screwball comedy MY MAN GODFREY. When they made this picture at Universal in 1936, neither one had remarried yet. Three years later, Lombard would marry Clark Gable, and in 1940, Powell would marry actress Diana Lewis.

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Then there are the Stanwyck-Taylors. Barbara Stanwyck had already been married and divorced from Frank Fay, when she went to MGM to work on the medical drama HIS BROTHER’S WIFE in 1936. She and costar Robert Taylor began living together, and he became her official leading man when they were married in 1939.

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Also in the late thirties, they appeared in a 20th Century Fox motion picture called THIS IS MY AFFAIR, a historical crime-drama that cast Taylor as a federal agent and Stanwyck as a dance hall girl. The couple remained together until 1952, and two years later, Taylor wed actress Ursula Thiess.

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But twelve years after that, Taylor teamed up with Stanwyck again for the William Castle horror film NIGHT WALKER at Universal.

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Who says you can’t stay friends?

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Reviewing THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE

 

11164725_detNot long ago– on New Year’s Eve to be exact– I provided text from an article that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post before 20th Century Fox released the picture in late 1972. The writer had interviewed Irving Allen who made a name for himself during that decade turning out hit disaster films.

Truth be told, I had not yet seen THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE when I ran that column. I knew it was coming up on TCM and planned to watch it. I also knew there was supposedly a spectacular New Year’s Eve party scene where the ship is capsized and all the drama begins.

Well, now it is over a month later and I have finally viewed the film. What follows are my impressions of the movie. And then, after my review, I am going to quote Pauline Kael’s review, for comparison:

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is an entertaining and rather dated film. Some of the story’s flaws get in the way of totally enjoying it, though.

It’s pretty obvious in the beginning after the ship has capsized that we are going to be with these ten characters for the rest of the story, when nobody else is willing to climb up the tree to safety. I had a hard time believing that only ten people would be logical enough to realize which way to go especially if the captain and the other ship personnel were dead.

And why was Roddy McDowall the only employee who survived the capsizing? There were no other people working in the linen department with him, or in other areas on that level of the ship?

When the water started rushing into the ballroom and the crowd started to frantically climb the tree, we knew it had to topple over, so that we were left with only ten stories to follow.

As the survivors started to climb up through the ship’s levels, a great deal of the action was delayed. In other words, it seemed stretched out to accommodate a two hour running time, and also to save on sets. But in reality. I think they would have moved much more swiftly and made their way through various compartments (some of them dead ends).

The film also contained a lot of over-acting. Some of the bit players, even the extras whose death scenes were played out in the background, were done with a major dose of ham.

The top cast members, most of whom were method actors and disciples of the Actors Studio, seemed to think that if you screamed your lines, you were being dramatic and registering shock and/or panic as the plot unfolded. There was very little subtlety.

A minor complaint I have, but one that is worth mentioning, is that if this ship was en route to Europe, how come everyone spoke English? There should have been one person who spoke a different language, or spoke fractured English. And speaking of fractured, it’s hard to believe that none of the survivors wound up with broken arms, broken legs, cracked ribs, something. There were no injuries, no bad back or headache among them.

The sound effects were not as realistic as they could have been. Many times our main characters would barely escape a tide of rushing water, jumping up to the next level. But we seldom (almost never) heard water in the background. Only when the camera would cut to a quick shot of the rushing water would we hear it.

And finally, I thought some of the death scenes were played unevenly. Roddy McDowall’s character dies in about two seconds flat. But when Shelley Winters died, she was glimpsed motionless for nearly ten minutes.

It may sound like I am complaining. I did give this film an 8 out of 10 rating, so obviously it was an enjoyable motion picture overall. But I do think there could have been more flashes of brilliance (like the other survivors headed the wrong way) and a lot more subtlety with the performances.

***

Now, from Pauline Kael:

Expensive pop disaster epic, manufactured for the market that made AIRPORT a hit. An ocean liner turns turtle, and the logistics of getting out of an upside-down ship are fairly entertaining; the script is the true cataclysm in this waterlogged GRAND HOTEL. The writers achieve real camp only once: just before the ship capsizes, a crewman says to the captain, he never saw anything like it, an enormous wall of water coming toward him. Ronald Neame directed, with dull efficiency.”

Film by any other name

Not many people know this, but before deciding to use a fighting game series, New Line Cinema was set to film a horror movie called MORTAL TOMCAT.

After the war, soldiers returned home to crying babies. The proposed title, THE BEST TEARS OF OUR LIVES, might have caused a run on tissue.

Speaking of tearjerkers, apparently Rock Hudson was not the first choice for one of Douglas Sirk’s classic melodramas. It was Jimmy Swaggart who was supposed to appear with Jane Wyman in MAGNIFICENT CONFESSION.

In the early stages, there were no aliens in E-TEE.

Ronald Reagan almost did a film called NEWT ROCKNE, ALL-AMERICAN. But the premise was changed, and the lead salamander was replaced with a Scandinavian.

Maggie Smith was tapped to play an instructor at a culinary school in THE PRIME RIB OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. But too many vegetarians complained, and they had to rework the storyline.

Clint Eastwood directed one of the greatest westerns of the 1970s. But did you know the working title was HIGH PLAINS DRIFTWOOD?

It’s difficult to see their faces clearly, but yes, that really is Humphrey Bogart and Jose Ferrer rehearsing for THE WALKING CANE MUTINY.

Remember the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill business involving some hair and a coke? Warner Brothers considered remaking an old Jimmy Cagney film to cash in on the publicity. But test audiences were not receptive to a modern day version called THE PUBIC ENEMY.

Famous with the same name

Recently, while doing a search on actress Elizabeth Taylor to confirm whether or not she was actually 18 when she divorced Conrad Hilton (she was almost 19), I typed the name into the wikipedia search engine. Another Elizabeth Taylor came up.

Apparently, there was a painter with that name. In addition to painting, she was a journalist and extensive traveller and lived from 1856 to 1932. She died when movie Liz was not even a month old. Here is a volume published with her name on it:

There are other Richard Burtons on wikipedia, too. Serial killer Ted Bundy used the name as a pseudonym, but we won’t go there. There’s a Richard Burton who was an English explorer and lived from 1821 to 1890. There’s also a professional English golfer called Dick Burton who lived in the 20th Century, as well as a cricketer named Richard Burton– born in 1955. Here’s a photo of him playing cricket, as well as a photo of the actor Richard Burton playing cricket between takes on the set of ALEXANDER THE GREAT:

But to be fair, movie star Richard Burton’s real name was Richard Jenkins. And there happens to be an American actor named Richard Jenkins, who appeared on the television drama Six Feet Under, and was Oscar nominated for a role in THE VISITOR in 2007:

Now this woman is not famous. Her name is Liz Burton, and she’s a hypnotherapist in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

I don’t think she ever had a ring like this:

Claims to fame

Every now and then I read a user review on the IMDb, or comments posted on the various message boards there, and I find an interesting remark made by someone who has a random connection to a classic film. Someone whose name we may never have heard before, but someone who was nevertheless involved in the filming.

One such example involves DOWNHILL RACER (1969), which TCM aired recently during the Robert Redford Star of the Month tribute. A poster named bambicarle mentions that her sister Carole was picked to do a few scenes as Redford’s girlfriend (in the Idaho Springs sequence of the story):

“…she was (in my opinion) one of the luckiest people in the world, for she was cast as Redford’s ‘hometown girlfriend’ Lena, and got to do the love scene with him in the back of that Chevy.

“I was in junior high at the time, and this was her first film. She got some great reviews, and said that he was a really nice man. When our father saw the movie, he saw her bra strap coming down, and had to excuse himself from the theater.”

***

Then, there’s the MGM film MOKEY (1942). It features a very young Robert Blake as an incorrigible boy who gets in trouble breaking the law. As I looked at user reviews, I found this, written by a guy named Jim Gallaher:

“Mokey was my father. His aunt was a writer during the thirties and wrote a book called ‘Mokey’ that was also published in installment form in Colliers Magazine…

“I agree that the movie was not that good, but I enjoyed it because of my father’s legacy. His name was Dennis Gallaher…my father told me some of the stories as I grew up before I saw the movie (which was in 2003) or read the book. He was a problem kid and the family ended up sending him to military school.”

***

And here’s a comment by someone named buffalogal-3. She posted a message on the board for the Universal miniseries Centennial:

“I cannot believe it has been 30 years since I worked on Centennial in Ohio and Colorado. It was one of the highlights of my life thus far.

“My name is Leslie. I’m still a cowgirl, too. I owned and hired out the old black standardbred mare for the scenes at the orphanage where Levi rescued Ellie. Al Yanks was the head livestock director. I remember giving Greg Harrison a crash course in driving without upsetting the buggy…

“Duke Calahan and I had great conversations about Paul Bond Boots. Christina Raines and I had a belching contest. Jim Jones ticked me off several times and probably me him but he can’t deny I could ride the hair off of anything with four legs!

“I’ve been working as a nurse for the last 20 years. I miss those good old days!  Leslie Stivason.”

The ‘Great’ John Barrymore

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It is no secret that John Barrymore was wildly out of control the last few years of his life due to excessive drinking. In fact, he had become so volatile, that despite his immeasurable acting talent, several studios and producers refused to hire him.

Carole Lombard was a tried-and-true friend who had worked alongside Barrymore to great effect in the raucous screwball comedy TWENTIETH CENTURY. A few years later, she had considerably more power at Paramount and had what’s called ‘casting approval’ over her films. For TRUE CONFESSION, she picked favorite leading man Fred MacMurray and for a key comic relief part, she insisted the studio hire John Barrymore. It was a tough sell, but Lombard did get Barrymore for the role, and while he was third-billed, it was a much-needed boost in his then faltering career. Appropriately, he plays a mostly intoxicated scoundrel, but it’s a good performance and the film fires on all cylinders.

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About two years later, director Garson Kanin was working at RKO and was casting a comedy called THE GREAT MAN VOTES. RKO’s Pandro S. Berman did not think Kanin should hire John Barrymore for the lead. The fear was that if Barrymore became erratic and the production had to be shut down, it would put them behind schedule and cost plenty. But Kanin really felt Barrymore should play the lead in this film, and Berman reluctantly consented.

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Production seemed to be going fine, and Kanin was getting exactly the right performance from Barrymore and the young actors that had been hired for the supporting roles. Again, Barrymore was playing a broken man (for laughs) and this time he had considerable scenes with child star Virginia Weidler who had actually done smaller parts in two other productions with him. Barrymore and Weidler were striking the right father-daughter notes, until one fateful day when Barrymore blew up and literally threw Weidler across the set.

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Barrymore’s reason for body-slamming Weidler was because, in a paranoid rage, he felt that she was upstaging him. He pulled her off his lap in the middle of a take and hurled her at one of the technicians, all because she had been doing some hammy business with a necktie he was wearing while he was delivering a monologue.

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Obviously, there were stage hands that tended to Weidler at once, while Kanin had to take Barrymore outside to cool down. The film was shut down for the rest of the afternoon, and when production resumed the next day, Barrymore was more relaxed and able to redo the scene. This time, Weidler was instructed not to touch his tie.

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THE GREAT MAN VOTES was released by RKO in 1939, and it was a hit. Barrymore would continue to do occasional lead roles as a freelancer until 1941.  Weidler would go on to give what is probably her most memorable screen performance as the kid sister of Katharine Hepburn in MGM’s THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  Barrymore and Weidler never worked together again.

Jayne Mansfield’s success

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Jayne Mansfield had already demonstrated her flair for comedy on Broadway when 20th Century Fox signed her to a long-term contract.  The studio was keen on promoting her as a second Marilyn Monroe.  Other Marilyn knock-offs would crowd the cinematic landscape of the mid-to-late 50s, but Mansfield was the most popular.

Her inimitable talent is evident in WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (1957).  The actress’ trademark voice with its punctuated squeals may seem overdone at times, but she’s a riot in many of her scenes, including one hysterical bit involving a phone call to a Hollywood boyfriend.  There is also a funny press conference outside the home of an advertising executive.

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The film combines witty jabs at the world of advertising with a biting satire about the cult of Hollywood celebrity, as exemplified by Mansfield’s character, Rita Marlowe.  Tony Randall is cast as an ad man and an unlikely love interest.

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Joan Blondell is on hand as Mansfield’s chaperone.  And Cary Grant’s wife– actress Betsy Drake— is cast as Randall’s long-suffering girl Friday.  In fact, Cary Grant is mentioned when the Rita Marlowe character says she (meaning Mansfield herself) will soon be appearing with him in her next film. It’s a reference to the upcoming Fox release, KISS THEM FOR ME.

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Does SUCCESS have any pitfalls?  Not if you’re a fan of these stars.  The picture is thoroughly enjoyable, if dated– but part of its appeal seems to be its commentary about getting ahead.  The film has excellent production values, even if the sets have a familiar look to them– Randall’s office here looks exactly like Joan Crawford‘s office in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING.

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Ultimately, none of the characters are spoiled by success.  We’re the ones that are spoiled, because we are treated to such a fun movie that when the final fade out occurs, we may think we were cheated out of a sequel.

Hollywood nicknames

Movie stars often had pet names, as did some producers and directors. Here are a few well-known terms of affection in Hollywood:

Baby: Jean Harlow
Peaches: Mae West
Butch: Cesar Romero

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Jumbo: Wallace Beery
One-Take Van Dyke: W.S. Van Dyke (the fastest director)
Speedy: Harold Lloyd (He made a film with this title.)
The Baron: Errol Flynn (Jack Warner’s name for Flynn.)
Whitey: W.C. Fields (He used many aliases.)
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Missy: Barbara Stanwyck (Robert Taylor called her this.)
Junior: Robert Taylor (Stanwyck’s nickname for him.)
The Iron Butterfly: Jeanette MacDonald
Dody: Ann Harding (Her given name was Dorothy.)
Eethel: Ethel Barrymore (Her brother John spoofed her name with a long ‘e’ pronunciation.)

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Daisy: Marion Davies
Poppy: William Randolph Hearst (Davies’ pet name for him.)

Slug: Spencer Tracy
Redtop: Katharine Hepburn
Gretch: Loretta Young (Given name was Gretchen.)
Black Bull: Harry Cohn

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Queenie: Merle Oberon (Her nephew, Michael Korda, wrote a novel about her using this nickname. It was turned into an ABC-TV miniseries.)
Minnie: Myrna Loy
Mr. Pooh: William Powell (how Loy referred to him)
Bart: Herbert Marshall

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Spike: Ray Milland
Mims: Miriam Hopkins
Duke: John Wayne
Coach: John Ford (What Duke called his frequent director.)
Amigo: Gilbert Roland
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Presh: Shirley Temple (Her mother called her this, short for ‘precious.’)
Pinwheel: Lauren Bacall
Young Fellow: Gloria Swanson (Given to her by Cecil B. DeMille.)
Jayar: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Meaning J.R., to differentiate him from his equally famous father.)

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Ma & Pa: Carole Lombard & Clark Gable

Memories of Audie Murphy

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During the last year of his life, war hero turned movie star Audie Murphy was experiencing some rough times. He had lost much of the fortune he’d made in Hollywood, and in October 1970, he appeared in court after having been charged with assault against a kennel owner and dog trainer. The incident occurred in Burbank the previous May, and details about Audie’s fall from grace were featured in many articles during the next few months.

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A friend of mine followed the stories in the media, and she decided to reach out to him while his trial was going on in Los Angeles. Here in Carla’s own words are some of her recollections of the experience:

I know you have told me bits and pieces about this, but it’s good to get it written down. So start at the beginning and describe how your meeting with Audie occurred.

I wrote to Universal Studios to find his fan club. I did not hear back from them, but from HIM! He called my house and we talked for awhile. To be honest, I don’t remember much of that conversation, I was too enthralled.

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Anyway, we chatted, he gave me his office number, his office address and encouraged us staying in touch. He said he did not have a fan club but if I wanted to start one, I had his okay. He encouraged me staying in touch with his secretary, Bobbi Jo, and I did.

He had been charged in May, and it came to trial in October. That’s around the time you met him, right?
Yes. I went to L.A. to attend his trial for assault on the dog trainer. I got up there, got frisked, etc., then found out too late that he’d taken a plea. I was invited back up a month later for lunch with him and B.J. At this point, he spent more time with her than Pam. (Note: Pamela Archer Murphy was Audie’s second wife, whom he married back in 1951.)

Did he talk about his military service or his motion picture career? I believe by 1970, he had gone into producing independent movies.
He spoke of his acting career and producing. He picked my brain for ideas on future projects. I picked his about his career and learned ahead of time from B.J. not to ask too many questions about the war. He knew a lot of people in Hollywood, but made few friends. Most people who did him favors did so for the war hero, which disturbed him but he went along with it anyway. The couple who co-produced and wrote most episodes of the TV series were friends and remained so for life. (Note: Carla is referring to the television version of Whispering Smith, which Audie did in 1961, taking the role Alan Ladd played in the movie.)

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What was the first Audie Murphy movie you ever watched? And what is your most favorite/least favorite of his films?
The first movie I saw was GUNS OF FORT PETTICOAT. It is not my favorite, which is a little known western called TUMBLEWEEDS. The worst movie he ever made was his only “spaghetti western,” THE TEXICAN.

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How do you think Audie is best remembered now?
I think, much to his chagrin, for his medals. He would have preferred to have it be for his movies. The Whispering Smith series was good, well written, had great guest stars, and good acting; it would be great if he were remembered for that. I miss him and our conversations, but I am able to enjoy his movies, and his legacy.

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Thanks, Carla. I’ve enjoyed our chat today.

Home sweet Hollywood

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Marion Davies had the most lavish home of any star. It was an opulent Santa Monica beach home with 100 rooms.  One room was done entirely in gold leaf.  Outside there was an enormous marble pool with a marble bridge.  Plus, there were 2,000 lockers for guests who swam in the pool or nearby ocean.  She and paramour W.R. Hearst actually spent more time here than they did at his ranch in San Simeon.

This area, along Pacific Coast Highway, was very popular among stars.  Davies’ home was the center of what was called Millionaires Row.  Her neighbors included Cary Grant & Randolph Scott who shared a beach house nearby.

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Meanwhile, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s home was referred to as Pickfair.  It was built on 56 acres and located in the San Ysidro Canyon in Beverly Hills.  It had the usual amenities: stables, tennis courts and a swimming pool.  The press dubbed it a “place only slightly less important than the White House.”

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John Barrymore’s place was called Bella Vista.  It had 16 buildings, two swimming pools, a pond stocked with trout, a nearby skeet shooting range, an aviary with exotic birds, an English tavern, a frontier bar shipped down from Alaska and quarters for a dozen servants.  Interestingly, Barrymore often ate meals outside near one of the pools on a rickety card table.

William Powell was known for installing the most modern electrical gadgets in his large home.  With the press of a button, panels would slide back and walls would open to reveal private bars.  In one room, a grill came up from the floor.  The house had 32 rooms.  Jean Harlow lovingly decorated each one.

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Meanwhile, Powell’s ex-wife Carole Lombard hired William Haines to design a new home for her in Santa Monica.  This was before she married Clark Gable and moved to a ranch in the San Fernando Valley next door to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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John Gilbert built a special bedroom in his home for Greta Garbo.  It had all Venetian furniture and the adjoining bathroom was done in black marble with gold fixtures.  When she didn’t marry him, he ripped it all out and redid it in pink marble.

When Edward G. Robinson bought a new home, it came with a badminton court.  But he didn’t like that, so he had it taken out. In its place, he installed his very own art gallery.