Coming up in March

 

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Memorable character actors…This two-parter looks at great character actors during the golden age of Hollywood.

Along came Polly…A column about Ann Rutherford’s role as Andy Hardy’s girlfriend.

Classic economics…the Great Depression influenced notable directors.

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Recommended classics vol. 8…Some great musicals that should not be missed.

The write stuff…When plagiarism occurs in Hollywood, lawsuits happen.

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Same characters in different movies…There are characters who get brought back for new movies.

Join me in March!

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A year in Hollywood: 1947

It had been over three years since Howard Hughes had completed filming on his relatively tame western THE OUTLAW, starring Jane Russell. However, it had yet to be released to the moviegoing public. The reason for this was because the production code office refused to grant the film its stamp of approval. It wasn’t that they objected to the content of the film as much as to the provocative advertising Hughes employed to promote the picture. Determined to beat the code at its own game, Hughes filed suit against the Motion Picture Association of America, claiming the MPAA was restricting trade. He lost. And because he lost, he began to set his sights on finding a movie studio he could buy to distribute it anyway.

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Meanwhile, so-called communist elements in Hollywood found themselves purged from the movie industry. The idea of a blacklist began to formulate, though some of the more liberal studio bosses were against it. Those opposed included Zanuck at Fox, Schary at RKO and independent producer Goldwyn. However, in July 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) announced that it intended to conduct a full-scale investigation of communist links to the motion picture business.

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Soon actors, directors and writers were targeted and served subpoenas to testify in front of the committee. Official hearings would not begin until October 20th. Under pressure, ‘friendly’ witnesses began to corroborate far-fetched allegations and substantiate hurtful rumors, bigotry and other accusations lobbed at those suspected of leftist activity. Witnesses who did not cooperate with the committee were seen to be communist sympathizers and deserving of national scorn.

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While all this was going on, studios turned out motion pictures with stories that seemed analogous of the witch hunts that were being waged. At 20th Century Fox, director Henry King filmed a lively account of the Spanish Inquisition and a fugitive’s hiding out in Mexico, known as CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE. Tyrone Power played the fugitive and Jean Peters was the girl who helped him. John Sutton was cast as a villain who espoused religious fervor and sadism, not too unlike some leaders of the House Committee.

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Another noteworthy production in 1947 was RKO’s adaptation of Richard Brooks’ story about mindless bigotry, entitled CROSSFIRE. Edward Dmytryk directed the noir drama that showed a military man (Robert Ryan) to be anti-semitic and lashing out against a fellow Jewish soldier (portrayed by Sam Levene). Robert Young turned up as an investigator looking into the murder that resulted. Soon after CROSSFIRE was released, both director Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott would be called before HUAC. When they refused to cooperate, they found themselves jailed for contempt.

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Kate’s Oscars

Several actresses have received more than one Academy Award for their performances in motion pictures. Some of them have awards split between categories. For instance, Helen Hayes earned a Best Actress Oscar for THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET as well as a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her scene-stealing work in AIRPORT many years later. Ingrid Bergman was also a recipient of Oscars in both categories; overall, she had a total of three: Best Actress twice and Best Supporting Actress once; the same for Meryl Streep. Of course, Streep is still making films and could conceivably notch another Oscar or two before she’s done.

But there is one actress that currently leads the pack. Katharine Hepburn won four competitive Oscars. And in fact, this total is currently the most for any performer, male or female. That’s because Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day Lewis, who lead for the men, both only have (so far) received three Oscars. Like Streep, Nicholson and Lewis’ movie careers are not yet over, which means it is possible for any one of them to eventually tie with Kate or surpass her.

Since Kate’s achievement is still the record-holder, and since I have never met anyone who does not enjoy watching her in the four pictures that bring her this distinction, I thought it might be fun to discuss her Academy Award-winning turns. The first one, of course, was for her early role in RKO’s show biz melodrama MORNING GLORY (1933). She was fortunate to have a great cast to play off, with costars Adolphe Menjou and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. A few years later, Kate did another backstage drama at RKO with Menjou, the more well-known STAGE DOOR, but in MORNING GLORY she doesn’t have to share the spotlight with Ginger Rogers or the other girls. It’s her story all the way.

Kate’s second Oscar-awarded role did not occur until over three decades later. It was 1967 when she was named Best Actress for her sterling performance alongside Spencer Tracy in the social message drama GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. Was it a sympathy victory, because Spence died soon after the picture’s completion? Perhaps. But Kate’s performance is just as strong, if not stronger, than anything else offered up by women in film that year.

The late 1960s proved to be a creative period for Kate. The following year, she earned her next Best Actress Oscar. This time she played opposite Peter O’Toole in the lavish historical drama THE LION IN WINTER. In a rare situation, Kate tied (with Barbra Streisand) for the top honor. She had given a truly magnificent performance as the troubled royal matriarch, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and deservedly earned kudos for it.

The fourth and final Oscar for Best Actress that Katharine Hepburn was awarded came in the early 1980s. Her film career was winding down, though she would still do occasional telefilms. For the legendary actress, playing Ethel in the adaptation of the stage hit ON GOLDEN POND was certainly a part Kate could sink her teeth into…and wow, did she! All of the performances in the film are golden, but Kate’s is especially so.

A year in Hollywood: 1946

Audiences, eager to put the past few years of war behind them, flocked to the movies. There were splashy Technicolor musicals to enjoy, and gritty crime dramas which would come to be known as film noir. Soon studios were reporting record profits, due to ticket sales in excess of 80 million per week. It was an optimistic time for Hollywood.

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But it would not last long. Federal government lawsuits were being revived, in order to break the monopolies the studios had on film exhibition. The big movie companies were in the habit of dictating prices and how long certain motion pictures were scheduled to run in theaters. But exhibitors were now refusing to abide by those terms.

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Meanwhile, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) decided to strike again. Only a year earlier, the group which controlled studio technicians, had gone on strike for 34 weeks. At stake was a policy being enacted by studio bosses to restrict their salaries. The issues had not been fully resolved, bringing about the second strike. Ultimately, a new salary plan and fringe-benefits had to be implemented across all studios to satisfy the IATSE.

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While these business problems were sorted out, studios continued to make motion pictures that demonstrated excellence. The year’s top films included GILDA, a sizzling crime yarn produced by Columbia Pictures with Rita Hayworth; and MGM’s production of THE YEARLING, which was based on Marjorie Rawlings’ heartwarming bestseller from 1938. Metro had several false starts with the picture but persistence paid off; with the finished product doing quite well with audiences. It made young Claude Jarman Jr. a star, and his performance earned a special Academy Juvenile Award.

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Meanwhile, Sam Goldwyn’s postwar masterpiece, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, hit screens and resonated with moviegoers. The independent producer had hired William Wyler to direct the adaptation of MacKinlay Kantor’s novella. It was a huge success commercially and artistically; it swept the Oscars for 1946, winning in all categories nominated except one. Harold Russell, a war veteran who had lost both his hands, earned two awards for his participation in the film.

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Nominated twice in the same year

The idea that one person might have two or more chances to earn an Oscar in the same year is an interesting one. The rules of the Academy have changed since the early days, and now an individual cannot be nominated, and potentially win, in multiple categories for the same work. But that wasn’t always the case.

In the mid-1940s, Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a priest in GOING MY WAY. He didn’t take the trophy home for Best Actor; that honor went to costar Bing Crosby. But Fitzgerald did nab the award in the supporting category. It probably would have seemed strange if Fitzgerald had won for both categories.

A few years earlier, actress Fay Bainter had been nominated twice. But she was nominated for two different performances in the same year, which is still allowed by the Academy. Like Fitzgerald, Bainter won in the supporting category, for the swell job she did in JEZEBEL. But she might also have won for her lead role in WHITE BANNERS. She was equally successful as a lead actress and supporting player, impressing audiences as well as critics and industry peers.

In 1994, Emma Thompson also competed in two categories. She was nominated for her leading role in THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, and she was also recognized for her superb supporting performance in the courtroom drama IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER. However, Thompson did not win in either of those categories that year. But she was back, picking up another statuette in 1995– not as an actress, but as the screenwriter for her adaptation of Jane Austin’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.

One performer, however, did earn two Oscars in the same year– though he was only nominated once– and it was for the same role. In 1946, Harold Russell had played a returning veteran in the postwar drama THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. He was awarded an honorary Oscar as a courageous role model for all vets, and he was named Best Supporting Actor of the year against Claude Rains, Clifton Webb, Charles Coburn and William Demarest.

 

Best pictures on radio

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Some stories are so good they not only earn Academy Awards for best picture, they are re-enacted on radio. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, the Oscar darling of 1934, had still retained its popularity six years later when Orson Welles decided to use it for an episode of his hit radio series, The Campbell Playhouse.

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Each week, Welles and his Mercury players delighted audiences with adaptations of all types of material. With their unique talents and professionalism, they brought classic literature and folk stories to listeners, as well as adapted film scripts. The January 28, 1940 broadcast featured a condensed version of Frank Capra’s movie. But instead of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in the lead roles, Welles had two other well-known performers.

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In the place of Colbert’s madcap heiress was Miriam Hopkins, and playing the newspaper reporter was William Powell. Welles performed the role of the flustered father. Of course, if this casting isn’t your cup of tea, there is a radio production of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT that was broadcast almost a year earlier on the Lux Radio Theatre which aired on March 20th, 1939. That time Colbert & Gable reprised their Oscar-winning roles.

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Speaking of the Lux Radio Theatre, there is another radio adaptation of a Best Picture winner worth checking out. It’s Frank Capra’s YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, which received the Oscar for Best Picture in 1938. On October 2nd, 1939 Edward Arnold recreated his part from the movie for a special radio broadcast. Substituting for stars Jean Arthur and James Stewart in the lead roles were Fay Wray and Robert Cummings.

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And going back to Orson Welles’ Campbell Playhouse for a moment, the Mercury company did a radio version of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic story REBECCA on December 9th, 1938. This was over a year before Alfred Hitchcock’s film version. Welles essayed the part of Maximilian De Winter (portrayed by Laurence Olivier on screen); and Margaret Sullavan was the second Mrs. De Winter. Interestingly, Sullavan would screen test for producer David Selznick, but lost the part to Joan Fontaine. Rounding out the cast of the early radio version is Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Danvers, which Judith Anderson played so well in the movie.

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On November 6th, 1950, Laurence Olivier repeated his role of Max De Winter on the air. He was joined by wife Vivien Leigh for the Lux Radio Theatre production. Leigh, like Margaret Sullavan, had also screen tested for David Selznick, but was not considered ‘right.’ Though she did a fine job on radio.

A year in Hollywood: 1945

A memorable motion picture arrived in the form of MILDRED PIERCE from Warner Brothers. Joan Crawford had found a perfect role as the title character. She played the middle-aged owner of a chic eatery who was determined to protect the welfare of a selfish daughter (Ann Blyth). Michael Curtiz directed, and he made great use of Crawford’s mask-like face as well as the low-life atmosphere of a beachfront where a sensational murder occurs. Crawford earned an Oscar for her performance.

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Another memorable story, this one about an incorrigible alcoholic, was produced by Paramount. Director Billy Wilder fashioned THE LOST WEEKEND as a social message drama about a boozer on a bender during an extended period alone. Ray Milland starred as the drunk and earned an Oscar. But as earnest as the story may seem at the surface, one finds that Wilder also allowed satirical flourishes. In some ways, the production mocks the situation it depicts with Milland in on the joke about a man with seemingly no real willpower.

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The year offered up other hits, too. An important one was John Ford’s passionate war film THEY WERE EXPENDABLE for MGM. The cast included frequent Ford collaborator John Wayne, Donna Reed and Robert Montgomery playing a character based on commander John Bulkeley. For those who don’t know, Bulkeley was in charge of the torpedo boat squadron that smuggled General MacArthur away from Corregidor. The film’s themes focus on devotion to Navy rituals and discipline during a time of great adversity.

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Of course, 1945 was a time when half the year was still spent at war. After the war officially ended, directors like Ford returned to feature films in Hollywood after they had been making propaganda and training pictures. Meanwhile, other directors who made features during the war, such as Alfred Hitchcock, continued on without missing a beat.

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But post-war movie business in Britain was another matter. The British government had passed a new law that affected Hollywood studios greatly. From this point forward, 75% of the profits on films made in Britain by non-British companies had to remain in the country. As a result, the budgets of Hollywood movies filmed in Britain were quickly limited in order to make sure they could retain profitability. This also happened with Hollywood companies that filmed in Australia after the war.