Coming up in July

Wild about Theodora…Irene Dunne is in Melvyn Douglas’ hair (and in his heart).

Titles to watch and re-watch…Films that are too good to see just once.

Post-war romance…the many splendors of a 50s love story.

Film critic James Agee…Some of Agee’s classic comments about classic films.

Anatomy of a shower scene…Someone is in Marion Crane’s bathroom.

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Join me in July!

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Checking in with ginnyfan part 2

TB: When we talked over a year ago, we discussed THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and THE WOMEN. Is it advantageous for Virginia Weidler to be associated with Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford movies? 

GF: The one thing that Virginia truly has over her contemporaries– and when I say contemporaries I mean Shirley Temple and Jane Withers since they were the same age– is that in her ‘A’ features, Virginia got to go head to head with the best. I don’t think the others can match that, at least not while still a child. Temple did perform with quite a few A-listers in the 1940s and Withers did so after her comeback in the 1950s, but Ginny had scenes with Gary Cooper when she was nine.

TB: What is her legacy? 

GF: I’d love for her real legacy to be the wonderful work she did in the three films in which she was actually the top billed performer, especially GIRL OF THE OZARKS and BAD LITTLE ANGEL, but I know her legacy comes from the big pictures in which she appeared as a supporting player. It is in those that we see Virginia was a real character actor by the time she was eight. Additionally, the many programmers she did showed she could pull the most out of very ordinary scripts.

TB: I know you’ve had a chance to speak with some former costars. I had the pleasure of working with June Lockhart on a show in the mid-90s, and she’s a great lady. What did June have to say about Virginia?

GF: June and I discussed the fact that she and Virginia were in ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO together, that they also worked on a War Bond committee in Hollywood and finally about Virginia moving to vaudeville. June stuck to legitimate theater whenever her Hollywood roles got sparse. About vaudeville June said, “She [Virginia] ruined her brand.” She explained that Hollywood would have seen the move as a step down and that it might have been hard for an actress who wanted to be seen as a future ingenue to overcome.

TB: What did you learn from Tommy Dix, her costar in BEST FOOT FORWARD?

GF: Tommy kept me near tears during most of our interview. He only knew her for a few weeks, but was so touched by her. He is so sharp in his nineties and can even still sing! He said, “We were all newcomers and weren’t sure what we were doing, but Virginia and Lucille Ball always helped us and kept us on task.” They were the leaders on set and he also mentioned that Lucy once moved him during a scene so he could be out of a shadow and seen more prominently. How many stars will do that?   He also found it remarkable that Ginny turned sixteen while the film was being shot. He assumed her to be older.

TB: Is there a Virginia Weidler screen performance you still have not seen? 

GF: I still have not seen the two RKO features that really made her known to movie audiences in the 1930s, LADDIE and FRECKLES. Neither has been on television since the 1960s. The Academy did have LADDIE restored and held a showing last year, so I still have hope. I also haven’t seen THE ROOKIE COP, but TCM is showing it in August and I’m very excited.

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TB: Looking ahead, where do you expect the search to take you and your webpage readers? 

GF: We still hope to make contact with an honest to goodness Weidler/Krisel before it is too late (I’m told that Ginny might have met Hemingway in Cuba and I’d love to know the story). I still send letters out to the few friends who survive Ginny, hoping to get more information. My biggest regret is that I didn’t become interested twenty years ago when most of her brothers and sisters were still around. I’ve been told that they were very outgoing and maybe they would have been willing to share some of the growing up stories.

TB: I want to thank ginnyfan for being a guest. Please make sure to visit the Virginia Weidler Remembrance Society on Facebook: https://www.facebook…embranceSociety

Checking in with ginnyfan part 1

Since we last chatted, ginnyfan has continued to search for all things related to Virginia Weidler.

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TB: Thanks for agreeing to do this again. I’ve been wanting to ask how the search for Virginia Weidler has changed.

GF: When I started in 2012, I knew so little and I didn’t even know how to really find out anything. People like yourself and others at the TCM forums were a big help. And I was lucky that one of the early members of the Society I started brought in Hollywood reporter Danny Miller; he’s been invaluable and is willing to ask people about Virginia while he’s interviewing them for his day job. The biggest change, though, is that progress is so much slower now. In 2012-13, Danny and I were posting 10 or 12 items from research daily. Now we may go weeks with nothing new. It has become more of just keeping Virginia and our efforts in the public eye now.

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TB: What are the big things you know about her, and what still seems unclear about her life? 

GF: The most surprising thing we found out was that Virginia’s father left the family in the early 1930s. Reporters and the studios always covered that fact up, they’d mention that her father was an architect working for Fox, but never mention he didn’t live with them. Virginia was truly the family’s breadwinner. A non-actor friend of Ginny’s, Pat Brown, told us that Ginny liked to go on outings with Pat and her father since she rarely saw her own.

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TB: Interesting. What about her motion picture career?

GF: I wish we had a little more information about the goings on between Virginia and MGM in 1943. The newspaper accounts of the time don’t really support the long standing claim that MGM dumped her for being awkward at age 15. It seems more likely to us that Virginia had tired of the typecasting as ‘the braided brat’ then didn’t really like the roles she was given after her teen makeover, either. She and MGM bickered back and forth with each other in the Hollywood columns while Ginny did a War Bond tour after BEST FOOT FORWARD wrapped. So the parting was a two way street, but we all know who ended up winning those in the studio era. MGM just called for the ‘next gal up’ and Ginny was done. If Hollywood saw her as complaining, that might have affected future employment as well.

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TB: She didn’t make any more films after she left MGM. I suppose that can be interpreted several ways.

GF: We know little about her post-movie career. She disappears from the news around 1954. After films, she played Broadway, vaudeville, did radio and even had her own local TV show in San Diego. In 1954, she and Constance Bennett served as acting coaches for a society theater group in Washington DC, both of their husbands were in the military there. I find that fascinating because she was in a scene with Bennett when she was only six years old. After that, the family went to Cuba and stayed there until the revolution came, as far as I can tell. Her husband, Lionel Krisel, was a Naval attache there.

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TB: Have you ever heard from Virginia Weidler’s relatives? 

GF: A couple of distant relatives have come forward, but they want to know what we know more than the other way around. Danny communicated with her grandson Jonathan Krisel briefly, but no information was obtained. He seems like a really nice guy.

TB: I wonder why they’re so quiet about her.

GF: I assume they, especially her two sons, feel they are honoring her wishes since she didn’t do any interviews after returning from Cuba around 1960. I respect that. I hope they are aware that we hold Virginia in the highest esteem and wish nothing more than to understand her life and career and to also get her some of the credit I think she has been denied.

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TB: What kinds of people visit and comment on your web pages? Besides TCM, how do they see her films?

GF: Most of the people are just regular folks, as classic film fans we tend to skew slightly older than the population and probably a little more female. Interestingly, we do have one of Ginny’s cousins, a couple of children and siblings of Hollywood actors, and even one former child actor on our rolls. Most either watch TCM, or have DVDs. One recently mentioned that she owned a colorized version of YOUNG TOM EDISON! I remember seeing it in color years ago, but I thought I had imagined it.

Next: Virginia Weidler’s legacy; and what a few former costars remember about her…

Eve Arden has class

The best performers are usually remembered for the characters they played, especially if they played those types of roles often. It doesn’t mean they were typecast necessarily, but they might have become experts or specialists at playing those parts. It happened to Eve Arden, but I sincerely doubt she minded it.

It began in the 1940s, when Eve had already established herself as a wisecracking comedienne in films at various Hollywood studios. She had steadily built a screen persona that was known for its razor sharp wit. But underneath the sardonic sense of humor was an intelligence. So she was not only funny, but she was smart, too. Those traits led to her casting as the title character in the weekly radio series Our Miss Brooks. 

From 1948 to 1957, Eve played Connie Brooks on radio, the beloved English teacher at fictional Madison High School. During four of those years, she and her fellow cast did double duty, because CBS also aired it as a television sitcom from 1952 to 1956. The program was a huge hit in both formats and brought Eve much recognition. In the spring of ’56, as the TV show was coming to an end, Warner Brothers adapted it for the big screen. Eve reprised the part of Miss Brooks in the movie and was joined by costars Gale Gordon, Richard Crenna and Nick Adams.

For the rest of the 1950s and 1960s, Eve did a variety of other parts. But Miss Brooks would remain her most identifiable role in the minds of audiences. In 1972, Universal asked her to return to her academic roots in a remake of the old Hildegarde Withers mysteries. The Withers character had been played by Edna May Oliver in several RKO whodunits of the 1930s. Other actresses took over when Oliver vacated the role, but nobody matched her uniqueness as a schoolmarm turned sleuth. That is, until Eve Arden was given the chance. Probably for viewers of the time, it was like seeing Connie Brooks again after all those years. Only now she was retired from teaching and going after killers.

The Universal telefilm was a pilot for a regular series called ‘A Very Missing Person.’ Unfortunately, the network did not pick it up, though the production and Eve’s performance were well-received by critics. Universal apparently gave up on the idea, since no follow-up movies or other attempts to re-launch the series occurred. But of course, Eve kept going. And she would return to screens once more in an educational setting.

It was 1978 when Eve was tapped to play Principal McGee in Paramount’s adaptation of the hit Broadway musical GREASE. The part of the Rydell High administrator fit the actress like a glove. There were other old-time stars in supporting parts and cameo roles, but Eve was arguably the funniest. She was invited back in 1982 to appear in the sequel. And it was clear in both pictures that while kids came and went over the years, Our Miss Arden was still there, and she still had class.

A year in Hollywood: 1969

Issues facing studios in 1968 carried over into the new year. At 20th Century Fox, a hit was sorely needed. But the latest productions were bombing at the box office, and Darryl Zanuck’s continuing disagreements with his son Richard didn’t help. By the time the next stockholders’ meeting was called, Fox would incur $47 million in debt and barely break even.

In order to make stockholders happy, the Zanucks did a few things to ensure profits. Primarily, they rented studio facilities to independent producers; continued television production; and considered something that MGM was about to do– sell off costumes and set pieces. Gradually, Hollywood’s history would begin to leave the filmmaking lots and fall into the hands of individual collectors.

But MGM had other concerns besides selling costumes. It was fighting off a takeover from real estate mogul Kirk Kerkorian, who owned a chain of hotels. The Las Vegas-based tycoon eventually succeeding in wresting control of the lion. And before the year was out, he had hired an executive from CBS named James Aubrey. Known for his extreme cost-saving measures, Aubrey took charge of MGM and reconfigured its production model.

Meanwhile, the Warners-Seven Arts partnership came to an end, when the two companies split apart. Warners was taken over by Kinney, a publishing conglomerate. Ted Ashley, who had previously run his own talent company, was placed in charge. Jack Warner, still on the board of directors as vice president, objected to the changes. One of the first films Ashley oversaw was a concert documentary about Woodstock. It would be a huge success when it was released a year later; and more hits followed under his guidance, re-establishing Warners as a major studio.

Another studio enjoying great success was Columbia Pictures. Not only did Columbia score with its recent Oscar winner OLIVER!, it had another important hit when the landmark countercultural film EASY RIDER was released. The story featured a trio of actors who would come to represent the freewheeling, drop-out philosophy of their generation. Dennis Hopper, who had built a career in westerns, directed the film and wrote its script with costar/producer Peter Fonda. They were joined by Jack Nicholson, who had previously worked with Roger Corman as an actor and writer. The road was wide open to them now.

Support group for fathers

It was around three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. A man came in and took the only remaining seat. He had never joined the group before, but there was a first time for everything. They gave him a name tag, and he quickly scribbled his name on it. The meeting was called to order, and as it began, Stanley T. Banks couldn’t help but think about his daughter. She recently married, and he had lost his little girl.

Stanley introduced himself to everyone. Then, clearing his throat, he said: “You fathers will understand. You have a little girl. She looks up to you. You’re her oracle. You’re her hero. And then the day comes when she finds someone else. I used to think getting married was a simple affair. Boy and girl meet, they fall in love, he buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say I do. I was wrong.”

Long-time member Steve Douglas added: “The bride’s parents always pay for the wedding. All I did was stand around and nod.” Steve was referring to the time his son Robbie married a girl named Katie. That was before a population explosion occurred at the Douglas home, and Steve became the grandfather of triplets.

The man next to Steve was smiling. He thought about his own son Bud, and Bud’s wife: “When a man, of his own volition and free choice, selects a girl he likes, the girl immediately claims she hooked him. Chances are she had nothing to do with it.”

Judge James K. Hardy concurred. He considered the countless trials he and Emily endured with their son Andrew. “When a boy’s stupid… he’s just stupid, that’s all.” Judge Hardy went on to say that as soon as Andy found a good job, he had less time for drama. To which Clarence Day, the founding member of the group, agreed: “Work never hurt anyone. It’s good for them. And if you’re going to work, work hard. King Solomon had the right idea about work. ‘Whatever thy hand findest to do,’ Solomon said, ‘do thy doggonedest.'”

Stanley cheered. The other fathers in the group were certainly speaking his language. He went over to shake Clarence Day’s hand. But there wasn’t time for refreshments after the meeting, because Clarence’s wife Vinnie was on the phone. She was calling to remind him he was needed at church, so he could get baptized.

 

A year in Hollywood: 1968

It was the end of an era for the production code in Hollywood. Since 1934, the American movie industry had been practicing a rigorous form of self-censorship. But since challenges to the code had succeeded over the past decade, that method now seemed out of fashion and unusable. Jack Valenti, the new chief of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), advocated the switch to a classification system, allowing audiences to choose what sorts of films it would watch according to specific ratings. The ratings ranged from G to X; with a G rating meaning the film was exhibited for general audiences, and an X indicating material for adults only. There were other ratings in between.

More takeovers and mergers occurred. An independent exhibitor named William Forman bought the Cinerama Corporation, and Joseph Levine’s Embassy Films was taken over by AVCO. Warner Brothers was still under the ownership of Seven Arts; and Paramount was operating under the auspices of Gulf+Western. One major studio managed to maintain its independence– 20th Century Fox.

But Fox was in trouble again. It had stumbled badly with Robert Wise’s biography STAR!, where Julie Andrews played a somewhat fictionalized version of Gertrude Lawrence. The studio edited it down and re-released it with a new title, but that didn’t help. Nor did Fox do as well as it hoped with its adaptation of DOCTOR DOLITTLE, featuring Rex Harrison as the title character.

Behind the scenes, there were greater issues threatening to divide the company. When Darryl Zanuck returned to power as chairman, his son Richard Zanuck had become the president of 20th Century Fox. Soon the younger Zanuck closed his father’s office in Paris and terminated a contract with his father’s latest discovery (and mistress), a French actress named Genevieve Gilles. This caused a rift between the two Zanucks, and it eventually led to Richard taking an executive post at Warners.

Despite all the problems, there were several big hits with audiences in 1968. The Warners-Seven Arts group enjoyed success with Steve McQueen’s latest action adventure film, BULLITT. And Paramount had an unexpected cult classic on its hands with Roman Polanski’s supernatural tale ROSEMARY’S BABY– it didn’t hurt that the picture was produced by a master of the horror genre, William Castle. Also, Columbia made back seven times its costs with Carol Reed’s spectacular musical OLIVER!; the film would be named the best picture of the year.