Summer star Lucille Ball part 2

In the second part, CaveGirl discusses Lucille’s marriage to Desi and the tremendous success they had on television:

Desi Arnaz was born in 1917 to a wealthy family in Santiago, Cuba. His father was the mayor of the city, but he had his property confiscated during revolutionary times in 1933. As a result, the family fled to Miami and Desi began life in the United States.

Desi had musical talent, and while he was growing up in Florida, he was determined to find work in some of the more well-known bands. His first major opportunity came when he was hired by Xavier Cugat. A short time later, Desi wound up on Broadway in a stage production of George Abbott’s play ‘Too Many Girls.’ RKO bought the rights for a motion picture adaptation, and Desi was among the show’s original performers to be given a contract by the studio. After he arrived in Hollywood, he was introduced to Lucille, who was going to play the female lead in the movie. A quick courtship began, and soon they were wed. Not many gave their union much chance of succeeding.

Continuing her upward career movement, Lucille was signed by MGM in 1942 and left RKO. In the mid-40s, she appeared in films like MEET THE PEOPLE with Dick Powell; and DU BARRY WAS A LADY with Red Skelton & Gene Kelly. Her hair was colored red for the role as Madame Du Barry, and it became her trademark.

When her contract with Metro ended, Lucille started freelancing. In between movies, she appeared on the radio series My Favorite Husband with Richard Denning. Meanwhile Desi was out on the road with his band. Hoping to merge their careers, the couple worked with their agent to sell a television pilot to CBS. They performed a live version of the concept, borrowing the format developed in My Favorite Husband. Essentially, they were playing themselves– he was a bandleader, and she was the more famous wife who wanted to accompany his act. But a slight, yet important, change was made before the weekly TV series began. Lucy thought it would play better if the wife was more of a homebody– with no star status and everyday problems.


In 1950 after refining the basic idea for I Love Lucy, Lucille and Desi formed Desilu Productions so that they could retain full control of their TV show. They also decided to film it on the west coast, not in New York as the network wished. Using the writers from My Favorite Husband– Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, Jr.– the show was a hit and began its long and successful run.

Though she would become more famous for her television work, Lucille Ball is still remembered for her work in numerous films. These include classics like ROBERTA; TOP HAT; I DREAM TOO MUCH; FOLLOW THE FLEET; STAGE DOOR; ROOM SERVICE; THE BIG STREET; MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND; THE DARK CORNER; LURED; and FANCY PANTS.

 

Summer star Lucille Ball part 1

Since Lucille Ball is TCM’s Summer Under the Stars honoree on August 2nd, message board poster CaveGirl has decided to do a write-up about the actress:

She was born in upstate New York in 1911. Her father was a mining engineer and died when she was four. Her mother was a concert pianist that encouraged young Lucille in her thespian desires from day one. At the tender age of fifteen, Lucille was allowed to go to New York City to attend dramatic classes. But the instructor told Lucille she might want to consider another line of work.

As a child, she had performed local plays and staged her own one-woman version of “Charley’s Aunt.” She also spent summers selling soap, being a soda jerk and selling hot dogs at an amusement park; all these occupations aided her in later show biz routines. When she arrived in New York City, her ambition propelled her to work as a model for Hattie Carnegie. However, she was soon injured in an auto accident, which temporarily sidelined her. Eventually, she came back with a gig as the billboard model for Chesterfield Cigarettes.

In 1933 an agent for Sam Goldwyn plucked Lucille off the New York street to audition for an Eddie Cantor film called ROMAN SCANDALS. It would be produced in Hollywood, and the 22 year-old hopeful knew this was the chance of a lifetime. She travelled with friend and fellow hopeful Barbara Pepper to the west coast. In Hollywood, Lucille was personally chosen by Busby Berkeley to appear as a Goldwyn Girl.

When the Cantor picture ended, Lucille picked up small jobs at Columbia Pictures. She received fifty dollars each week as a stock player and worked with various stars, including the Three Stooges. After those jobs were finished, Lucille became an extra at RKO, starting with ROBERTA. She was signed to a seven-year contract and went on to costar with people like Jack Oakie and the Marx Brothers, reaching a salary peak of $1,500 a week by 1940. She enjoyed lead roles in FIVE CAME BACK and DANCE, GIRL DANCE. And it was around this time that she met someone who would play an important part in the rest of her life– a guy named Desi.

Tomorrow: married life with Desi Arnaz, and a successful television series…

 

Coming up in August

In August, columns will focus on:

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Summer star Lucille Ball…TCM message board poster CaveGirl drops by for a two-parter about Lucy.

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Summer star Tim Holt…RKO’s western hero.

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Summer star Anne Baxter…All about Eve Anne.

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Summer star Ruby Keeler…She danced her way into the hearts of audiences.

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Summer star Van Johnson…Happy 100th birthday!

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Join me in August!

Essential: THE DIVORCE OF LADY X (1938)

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THE DIVORCE OF LADY X was released in North America by United Artists and was made by Alexander Korda’s London Films company. It boasts impressive Technicolor as well as elegant costuming and sets. It’s safe to say many films in 1938 were not this technically advanced. It had an American director, so its humor seems to translate well. Plus the cast was already becoming known in Hollywood productions– a group which includes Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and Binnie Barnes.

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Olivier and Oberon would soon pair up again for a completely different type of film– Samuel Goldwyn’s adaptation of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. But in this picture, they are playing characters and a scenario that is about as far from Bronte as you can possibly imagine.

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It’s a shame Oberon wasn’t photographed more often in color during the 1930s and 1940s, when she was at her peak. Her complexion is absolutely flawless. And despite excessive dialogue, the scenes do move quick enough, thanks to the actress’s spirited line deliveries and her obvious chemistry with Olivier.

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Originally, third-billed Binnie Barnes played Oberon’s role in the first screen version of this story. It was called COUNSEL’S OPINION and hit screens five years earlier. Barnes proves how versatile a performer she is, relinquishing the lead and taking a supporting character part in this remake. In addition to Barnes’ presence in the two films, Korda makes sure both versions were given big budgets.

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As for Olivier, he’s quite charming in THE DIVORCE OF LADY X. He plays a divorce attorney who meets a lovely costume ball attendee (Oberon). They innocently share a room for one evening; but the next morning, things do not seem so innocent when he is led to believe she’s married to his client. The client has a supposedly unfaithful wife (in reality, the woman played by Barnes). So what develops is a romantic intrigue taken to farcical extremes. It’s all played to a tee by the film’s delightful stars.

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THE DIVORCE OF LADY X was directed by Tim Whelan. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

Anatomy of a shower scene

Marion Crane is in the bathroom. She is showering, and her attacker enters.

*****

The knife slashes down for the very first time. Then, it is raised again, shining in the light. Marion’s body has water splashing down it, partially obscured by the intruder’s shadowy arm. Marion realizes she is being attacked; instinctively, she begins to fend off the intruder. There’s a close-up of the knife striking her three more times.

As the knife slices towards her, Marion turns away. She is recoiling and confused. The intruder’s hand and the knife come into clear focus. Water bounces off the metal blade.

Marion’s body is shown again. There is no blood, but it is implied that she is receiving the fatal wound. Marion looks entranced, as if she is dreaming. But she knows she’s really dying. There’s a reverse angle of the door, and the knife slashing. Then, we see Marion’s face. She is in agony. Blood drips down her legs, and Marion turns herself away. There’s a slightly wider shot of Marion with the knife reappearing. Causing a greater flow of blood.

Then a flash of the bare tile wall. Marion’s bloody hand is seen. She is still turned away.

A shot of the intruder exiting. It looks like a woman wearing a long dress. Marion is still pressed against the white tile. She manages to turn herself back around. She begins to slide down slowly with outstretched arm, as she loses her grip on life.

Her body is still sliding down the shower wall. She’s alive and conscious but her eyes are now glazed. She looks forward and her arm remains outstretched. Her hand grasps the curtain. Marion holds on to the curtain for dear life. But she begins to pull the curtain down with her. It’s her dying fall.

The curtain is unable to bear her weight and it rips away from the supporting bar. The hooks are popping, one at a time. Then Marion’s arm falls, followed by her head and torso.

*****

 

Essential: MY LOVE FOR YOURS (1939)

MY LOVE FOR YOURS is another charming romantic comedy from the late 1930s that people don’t know much about. It was originally released by Paramount under the title HONEYMOON IN BALI. It was one of five films that paired the studio’s leading man Fred MacMurray with British actress Madeleine Carroll.

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The theme of the film is one which might have resonated with a growing number of women at the time it was made. Carroll plays a single female executive at a big city department store. She begins to ask herself if a husband and a child are necessary for her to be happy. She turns to a window washer, a gal pal and a psychic for the answers. Helen Broderick is the wisecracking best friend; she has the best and funniest lines.

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The dialogue exposes sexist attitudes, but it seems to reinforce them, too. Allan Jones plays a rival suitor, someone who supports wives that work. But of course, we know she won’t pick him. She will pick macho MacMurray who expects his wife to be the stay-at-home type. As a direct contrast to this, there’s Osa Massen as a shallow debutante MacMurray knew back in Bali. She’s followed him to New York City. But is she serious competition for working woman Carroll?

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Carroll does an excellent job playing an icy businesswoman. She begins to thaw when she meets an orphaned girl named Rosie. There are pleasant diversions along the way– such as a musical scene performed by MacMurray; and an operatic selection by Jones. But the main focus is on the romance developing between the main characters, and how the little girl brings them closer together.

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The film’s story is bookended by two sequences involving the window washer (fourth-billed Akim Tamiroff), who serves as a Greek chorus of sorts. Near the end, Carroll has a heart-to-heart talk with him, and it causes her to make a life-altering decision. She does an honest-to-goodness reappraisal of her situation and realizes she has to go to Bali. For a honeymoon that will never end.

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MY LOVE FOR YOURS was directed by Edward H. Griffith. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

Film critic James Agee

Much of Agee’s film commentary is in the public domain and included in a published volume. What follows are some of his classic opinions about a few classic films.

MR. SKEFFINGTON (1944)

From Agee on June 3, 1944:

It is another of those pictures in which Bette Davis demonstrates the horrors of egocentricity on a marathonic scale; it takes her just short of thirty years’ living and two and a half hours’ playing time to learn, from her patient husband (Claude Rains) that “a woman is beautiful only when she is loved” and to prove this to an audience which, I fear, will be made up mainly of unloved and not easily lovable women.

Miss Davis, Director Vincent Sherman, and several others put a great deal of hard work and some that is good into this show, and there are some expert bits of middle-teens and 1920s New York atmosphere. But essentially MR. SKEFFINGTON is just a super soap opera, or an endless woman’s-page meditation on What to Do When Beauty Fades. The implied advice is dismaying: hang on to your husband, who alone will stand by you then, and count yourself blessed if, like Mr. Rains in his old age, he is blinded.

*****

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947)

From Agee on November 8, 1947:

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is the story of a cold young criminal (Tyrone Power) who starts as a carnival mentalist, moves on to a Chicago night club, and is on the verge of the big time when two of the women he has used gum up his act.

The picture goes careful just short of all that might have made it very interesting. Even so, two or three sharply comic and cynical scenes make it worth seeing, most especially Power’s wrangle over God with his wonderfully stupid but not-that-stupid wife (Coleen Gray).

*****

BODY AND SOUL (1947)

From Agee on November 8, 1947:

BODY AND SOUL gets very bitter and discreetly leftish about commercialism in prize fighting. It is really nothing much, I suppose, when you get right down to it. But it was almost continuously interesting and exhilarating while I watched it, mainly because everyone had clearly decided to do every scene to a finish and because, barring a few letdowns, scene after scene came off that way.

It was never as nervy as the best of NIGHTMARE ALLEY, but of its own kind it is more solidly made. I like both pictures because in both there is quick satirical observation, a sense of meanness to match the meanness of the worlds they are showing.