Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Quote of the Day


When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

(Jean Harlow)


The First Ever Hollywood Film

Recognized as one of the founding fathers of the American film industry, David Wark Griffith, known as D. W. Griffith, was born in Crestwood, Kentucky on January 22, 1875. He was the fourth son of Mary Perkins Oglesby, a devout Methodist who came from a prominent Southern family; and Jacob Wark Griffith, a Confederate States Army colonel who had fought in the American Civil War. When Jacob died suddenly in 1885, the Griffith family was left in debt-ridden poverty. Four years later, David moved with his mother and siblings to nearby Louisville, where they were forced to take in boarders to make ends meet. After school, David would help the family by working as a newspaper boy and selling vinegar on commission to local grocers. In 1890, he abandoned high school to seek full-employment. He briefly worked as a cash boy at the J. C. Lewis Dry Goods store, before his boss promoted him to running the elevator. In 1893, he took a job as a clerk at Flexner's Book Store, Louisville's leading book shop, as well as one of the city's centers of intellectual and artistic life. The atmosphere around the Flexner shop not only refined Griffith's literary tastes, but also encouraged his ambition for a career in art.

D. W. Griffith ca. late 1890s
Around this time, Griffith began taking advantage of Louisville's rich theatrical life, saving a few cents each week for a cheap seat at one of the city's many playhouses. After failing to establish himself as a playwright, he decided to pursue a career on the stage, making his acting debut in an amateur production of The District School. He subsequently left home and joined a travelling theatre company, performing under the name of Lawrence Griffith. The first record of Griffith the actor appeared in a few lines of small type in the New York Dramatic Mirror for May 23, 1896. It said simply that an actor named Robert Haight produced and starred in a production of Richard Edwards' 16th-century Greek fable Damon and Pythias for «a small but well-please audience» at the Opera House in New Albany, Indiana, adding that Carroll Hyde as Lucullus and Lawrence Griffith as Dyonisius «were excellent.» Griffith spent the next ten years acting whenever he could and, when he could not, toiling on a lumber schooner along the west coast, picking hops in California and working as an iron puddler in an upstate New York foundry.

During play rehearsals when he was not needed on stage, Griffith continued to write, still wishing to become a great playwright. In 1907, James K. Hackett finally agreed to produce a play he had written entitled A Fool and a Girl. Unfortunately, the show was a failure, leaving Griffith and his young actress wife, Linda Arvidson, in serious need of money. Hoping to change their precarious financial situation, the couple travelled to New York, where Griffith tried to sell a script to Edwin S. Porter, a director, producer and cinematographer with the Edison Manufacturing Company, a pioneer motion picture organization. Four years earlier, Porter had co-written, directed, produced, photographed and edited The Great Train Robbery (1903), an innovative 12-minute Western now considered a milestone in filmmaking. Porter rejected Griffith's script, but he gave him instead a starring role in Rescued from an Eagle's Nest (1908), which also marked the screen debut of Henry B. Walthall, Griffith's frequent collaborator in later years. Attracted to the idea of acting in films, Griffith decided to explore a career in the new medium.

The Biograph studio entrance at 11
East 14th Street in Manhattan
In early 1908, Griffith began working as a writer and actor for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, which would soon change its name to simply Biograph Company. The first corporation in the United States devoted entirely to motion picture production and exhibition, Biograph had been founded in 1895 by William Kennedy Dickson, an inventor at Thomas Edison's laboratory who helped develop the technology of capturing moving images on film. Biograph's first studio was located on the roof of 841 Broadway at 13th Street in Manhattan, before the company moved in 1906 to a converted brownstone mansion at 11 East 14th Street near Union Square, a building that was demolished in the 1960s.

When Biograph's most regular director, Wallace McCutcheon Sr., became ill in June 1908, studio head Henry «Harry» Marvin asked Griffith to replace him. Following a tutorial by cinematographer G. W. «Billy» Bitzer — his future favorite cameraman — and two days of nearby location shooting in New Jersey and Connecticut, Griffith delivered The Adventures of Dollie (1908), a 10-minute tale about a young girl who is abducted by vengeful gypsies (Griffith's wife played the girl's mother). Pleased with his work, Biograph decided to sign Griffith to direct or supervise all of the company's films. Before the year's end, Griffith would helm another 48 short features for Biograph.

With his privileged position at the studio, Griffith began recruiting a large and talented group of performers, including Mary Pickford and her first husband Owen Moore, Billy Quirk, Blanche Sweet, Robert Harron, Florence Auer, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, Mabel Normand and Florence Lawrence, known at the height of her fame as «The Biograph Girl.» Mack Sennett, who would later found Keystone Studios in California, also honed his craft as a comedy actor and director at Biograph. During his five years with the company, Griffith would make nearly 500 films, many of them offering nostalgic and racist visions of the Old South. He culminated his work at Biograph with his first feature-lenght picture, Judith of Bethulia (1914), an epic dramatization of the Biblical story of the Jewish heroine who saved her community from the invading Assyrians.

D. W. Griffith at his desk in the Biograph office
In January 1910, Griffith took the Biograph acting company — along with Frank Powell (as co-manager and assistant director), two cameramen (including Billy Bitzer) and a prop boy — to California to finish filming scenes for The Newlyweds (1910), a 16-minute comedy starring Mary Pickford and Arthur V. Johnson. The story, about a girl who falls in love and then runs away with a Native American boy, took place on a California ranch. The rough New York winter was not quite the atmosphere he was looking for, so Griffith chose to complete the picture in Los Angeles, where the outdoor scenery would be more authentic. He also wanted to determine the suitability of the area for a permanent Biograph studio in California. Although Broadway was the center for the American entertainment industry in 1910, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce was trying to entice the motion picture companies to come to the sunny west coast, where filming on location was possible all year round.

Once in Los Angeles, Griffith rented a vacant lot on the corner of Grand Avenue and Washington Street to be used for filming. Pickford later described their working studio: «Our stage consisted on an acre of ground, fenced in, and a large wooden platform, hung with cotton shades that were pulled on wires overhead. On a windy day our clothes and curtains on the set would flap loudly in the breeze. Studios were all on open lots — roofless and without walls, which explains the origin of the term 'on the lot.'» Without the luxury of dressing rooms, the actors were forced to put their costumes on before leaving their hotel each morning. Rehearsals took place in the loft of an old rented building on Main Street, where the company also stored its props and developed its films. In the evening, they would gather in the loft to watch the dailies and prepare for the next day's filming.

View looking southeast from Franklin Avenue toward
the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard (then
Prospect Avenue) and Orchid Avenue (1905)
In 1910, the village of Los Angeles was linked to the small suburb of Hollywood by a dirt road called Sunset Boulevard, which would inspire the iconic Billy Wilder film of the same name four decades later. The streets of Hollywood were unpaved, the gardens spilled right on the roadway and the landscape was made of sagebush, swaying palms and fields filled with tall grass and wildflowers.

After Griffith and his players finished production on The Newlyweds, they decided to travel to Hollywood, which they had heard was a rather friendly community. While there, Griffith shot In Old California (1910), the first picture to be entirely filmed in Hollywood. This 17-minute costume melodrama was photographed by Billy Bitzer and starred Marion Leonard, Frank Powell, Arthur V. Johnson and Henry B. Walthall. Apparently, it was during the making of In Old California that Griffith uttered the now famous catchphrase «Lights, camera, action!» for the first time in history.

An ad published by Biograph in the trade journal Moving Picture World in March 1910 called In Old California as «a romance of the Spanish dominion,» adding a short description of its storyline: 

The story told in this Biograph subject is of the early days of Southern California before and after Mexican independence was proclaimed. A young Mexican girl rejects her Spanish suitor in favor of a handsome young Mexican troubadour, only to rue it, for her husband proves to be a disreputable wretch. Twenty years later we find her in profound distress as to the future of her young son. The father's conduct being anything but exemplary, she intercedes with her former sweetheart, who is now Governor, and he takes him into his army. Here the blood of the father is evident in the son, for he is a born profligate. Still, the Governor keeps this from the mother, who dis believing her son a hero.

Premiering on March 10, 1910, In Old California was considered lost for many decades until it was finally found in 2004 and screened at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, marking the first time the film had been seen by the public in 94 years. On May 6, 2004, a monument built by the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to honor the film was erected at 1713 Vine Street, just north of Hollywood Boulevard, close to the site on which In Old California was shot. In April 2005, the 2.8-ton monument was stolen over night under mysterious circumstances, but it was recovered almost a year later near a garbage bin not far from where it used to stand on Vine Street. For a long time, the first film thought shot in Hollywood was Cecil B. DeMille's western drama The Squaw Man (1914), starring Dustin Farnum, which indeed holds the record of the first feature-lenght picture produced there. However, the discovery of In Old California made it the first movie of any lenght ever filmed in Hollywood.

Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men and Women Who Founded the Academy by Debra Ann Pawlak (Pegasus, 2012)
D. W. Griffith: An American Life by Richard Schickel (Limelight Editions, 1996)
D. W. Griffith: Master of Cinema by Ira H. Gallen (Friesen Press, 2015)
Mary Pickford: Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart by Peggy Dymond Leavey (Dundurn, 2011)
The Films of D. W. Griffith by Scott Simon (Cambridge University Press, 1993) 
In Old California film ad 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Quote of the Day

When people tell you how young you look, they're telling you how old you are.

(Cary Grant)


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Quote of the Day

It is impossible to get anything made or accomplished without stepping on some toes; enemies are inevitable when one is a doer.

(Norma Shearer)


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Quote of the Day

Love for the joy of loving and not for the offerings of someone else's heart.

(Marline Dietrich)


Friday, 27 March 2015

Quote of the Day

You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams.

(Gene Kelly)


Film Friday: «Singin' in the Rain» (1952)

This week on «Film Friday» I bring you a picture that had its New York City premiere exactly 63 years ago today. Incidentally, this is the film that introduced me to the wonders of classic cinema and made me fall madly in love with Gene Kelly.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, Singin' in the Rain (1952) opens at the 1927 premiere of The Royal Rascal, a swashbuckling epic starring popular silent film couple Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), whom their studio, Monumental Pictures, has publicized as lovers both on-screen and off. To escape from his fans after the premiere, Don jumps into a passing convertible driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a nightclub performer and aspiring actress. They meet again later at a party held by studio head R. F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), where Kathy performs with a group of chorus girls. A romantic relationship soon blossoms between Don and Kathy, which makes Lina jealous.

When Warner Bros. has an enormous hit with its first sound picture, The Jazz Singer (1927), R. F. decides to turn the next Lockwood and Lamont film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie. Immediately, they ran into major difficulties, the worst being Lina's grating voice and strong New York accent, which does not translate well onto sound films. After a disastrous test screening, Don's best friend, studio pianist Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), comes up with the idea to convert The Dueling Cavalier into a musical called The Dancing Cavalier. To resolve the problem of Lina's voice, Cosmo suggests that they secretly dub her voice with Kathy's, a plan R. F. approves. When Lina finds out, she threatens to sue the studio and demands that Kathy never star in a film. Moreover, she insists that Kathy's only role be as Lina's voice stand-in. At the premiere of The Dancing Cavalier, the audience clamors for a song from Lina, after which Don tells her to lip synch into the michrophone while Kathy, hidden behind the curtain, sings into a second one. While Lina is «singing,» Don, Cosmo and R. F. raise the curtain and the audience laughs histerically when they realize that Kathy is the one singing. Lina runs off screaming and an embarrassed Kathy starts to leave the theatre, until Don proudly announces to audience that she is the real star of the film. Finally, Don and Kathy kiss in front of a billboard for their new picture, Singin' in the Rain.

Don Lockwood: Now look Lina, you shouldn't believe all that banana oil Dora Bailey and the columnists dish out. Now try to get this straight: there is nothing between us. There has never been anything between us. Just air.

In the early 1950s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Arthur Freed was the head of what had come to be known as the «Freed Unit,» which had been responsible for delivering such successful musicals as Babes in Arms (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and An American in Paris (1951). In 1949, he and his songwriting partner, Nacio Herb Brown, had sold MGM their entire catalogue of songs that they had turned out over a period of twenty years for the studio, beginning with the Best Picture winner The Broadway Melody (1929). Shortly after the sale, Freed announced his intention to make a film constructed around this extensive oeuvre of musical tunes. To develop a plot, he hired the playwriting and songwriting team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who had just penned the smashing hit On the Town (1949), also produced by Freed. Upon listening to numerous songs from the Freed-Brown catalogue, the duo decided that Hollywood during the «Roaring Twenties» would be the perfect setting for the story.

Comden and Green's first thought of remaking Victor Fleming's Bombshell (1933), a satire about Hollywood starring Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy. They envisioned baritone Howard Keel, who had made his screen debut in the Freed Unit musical Annie Get Your Gun (1950), playing a second-rate western actor who becomes a singing cowboy. However, this idea was abandoned when Gene Kelly, whom Comden and Green had known since they worked together in summer stock theatre in 1939, expressed interest in the project. A trained dancer since childhood, Kelly was at the top of his career, having previously starred in On the Town and An American in Paris, which he also coreographed. To better suit Kelly's talents, the scriptwriters turned the lead character of Don Lockwood into a vaudeville actor who breaks into the motion picture industry by performing stunts in films. Kelly not only signed as the star of Singin' in the Rain, but also as co-director and coreographer along with his friend and frequent collaborator, Stanley Donen.

Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen and
Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain
The role of Lina Lamont, Don's shrill-voiced screen partner, was originally written for Judy Holliday, who has been a close friend of Comden and Green for many years. However, when Holliday won an Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in George Cukor's Born Yesterday (1950), the writers assumed that she would not be interested in playing a supporting role. Instead, the part was given to Jean Hagen, who had been Holliday's understudy on Broadway. Hagen apparently won the role on the strenght of her accurate impression of Holliday's Billie Dawn character in Born Yesterday during her audition with Freed. Reportedly, Lina Lamont was based on Norma Talmadge, a popular silent film star whose career declined with the introduction of sound in motion pictures.

The character of Cosmo Brown was originally created for pianist and songwriter Oscar Levant, who had also appeared as Kelly's sidekick in An American in Paris. However, when Kelly became involved with the project, effectively turning Singin' in the Rain from a stricly song-centered film to one that emphasized dancing, it was agreed that Donald O'Connor would be a much better choice for the role. The son of two vaudeville entertainers, O'Connor made his screen debut at the age of 12 in Sing You Sinners (1937), a musical comedy starring Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray. In 1941, he signed with Universal Pictures, where he rose to stardom in a string of low-budget musicals, usually appearing opposite Peggy Ryan and Gloria Jean. After serving in World War II, he returned to Universal to achieve popular success in a series of B-pictures with Francis the Talking Mule.

Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden
To play ingenue Kathy Selden, MGM considered a number of established actresses, including Kelly's former co-stars Judy Garland and Kathryn Grayson, as well as Jane Powell and June Allyson. However, the studio ultimately decided that they wanted a fresh face for the role and hired instead 19-year-old newcomer Debbie Reynolds. After winning a beauty contest in 1948, Reynolds signed a contract with Warner Bros., making her film debut in an uncredited role in June Bride (1948), starring Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery. She then appeared in the MGM musicals Three Little Words (1950) and Two Weeks With Love (1950), in which she and Carleton Carpenter performed the song «Aba Daba Honeymoon,» a top-five hit on the Billboard pop chart in 1951. Reynolds always stated that Kelly and Donen did not want her in the film, feeling that they were «stuck» with her. However, Donen maintained that he and Kelly wanted her from the very beginning, despite her relative inexperience in musicals. 

Singin' in the Rain was filmed between mid-June and late November 1951 at the MGM studios in Culver City. Right away, Reynolds — who was a trained gymnast rather than a dancer — had difficulty adapting to Kelly's demands and perfectionism. The «Good Morning» number, originally sang by Garland and Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms, proved especially challenging for the young star. After fourteen hours of filming the routine, she had to be carried to her dressing room because she had burst some blood vessels in her feet. Reynolds later said that she «learned a lot from [Kelly]. He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian — the most exciting director I've ever worked for. And he has a good temper. Every so often he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before. It's amazing that I could keep up with him and Donald O'Connor.» For his part, Kelly commented that Reynolds «was strong as an ox [...] also she was a great copyist, and she could pick up the most complicated routine without too much difficulty.» Despite her hard work on the «Good Morning» sequence, Kelly ultimately decided to dub her tap sounds.

Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly
in «Moses Supposes»
When Kelly decided that O'Connor needed a solo number, Comden and Green wrote the song «Make 'Em Laugh» specifically for him. As O'Connor later said in an interview, «Gene didn't have a clue as to the kind of number it was meant to be.» The two of them brainstormed ideas in the rehearsal room until they came up with a compendium of gags that O'Connor had done for years, some of which — including a trick that required him to run up a wall and complete a somersault — he had performed in vaudeville during his youth. He recalled, «Every time I got a new idea or remembered something that had worked well for me in the past, Gene wrote it down and, bit by bit, the entire number was constructed.» The routine was so physically exhausting for O'Connor, who was smoking up to four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, that he reportedly went to bed for three days after the scene was filmed. «Moses Supposes,» performed by Kelly and O'Connor, is also an original song; Comden and Green wrote the lyrics, while Roger Edens composed the music.

Another memorable musical number in Singin' in the Rain is the «Broadway Melody Ballet» dream sequence, which took a month to rehearse, two weeks to shoot and cost $600,000, almost a fifth of the overall budget. The scene — which features the songs «The Broadway Melody» from The Broadway Melody and «Broadway Rhythm» from Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) — was originally conceived for Kelly and O'Connor, but the latter was unable to film it due to a previous television commitment. To replace O'Connor as Kelly's dance partner, the studio hired Cyd Charisse, a classically trained ballerina who had made her screen debut in Columbia's Something to Shout About (1943), before Freed brought her to MGM on coreographer Robert Alton's recommendation. Since then, she had appeared only as a «dance specialty» or playing small roles in such films as The Harvey Girls (1946) and On an Island with You (1948). Freed was so impressed by her performance in Singin' in the Rain that he cast her as Fred Astaire's leading lady in The Band Wagon (1953). Charisse later co-starred with Kelly in Brigadoon (1954) and It's Always Fair Weather (1955).

Gene Kelly in «Singin' in the Rain»
The standout musical moment in the Singin' in the Rain, however, is Kelly's splash dance to the title song, which he apparently filmed while sick with a 39º C (103º F) fever. Originally, «Singin' in the Rain» was supposed to have been a showcase for the three leads, but Kelly decided to perform it all by himself as a way to demonstrate Don Lockwood's joie de vivre. Regarding his trademark routine, Kelly later commented, rather modestly, on what made the scene work so well: «The concept was so simple I shied away from explaining it to the brass at the studio in case I couldn't make it sound worth doing. The real work for this one was done by the technicians who had to pipe two city blocks on the backlot with overhead sprays, and the poor cameraman who had to shoot through all that water. All I had to do was dance.» The technicians' efforts were all the more remarkable since there was a severe water shortage in Culver City the day the sequence was shot. At one point, the rain caused Kelly's wool suit to shrink.

«Singin' in the Rain» was written by Freed and Brown for MGM's second feature-length musical, The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), which featured an all-star cast including Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, John Gilbert, Norma Shearer, Marion Davies and comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. The song was first introduced by Cliff Edwards with The Brox Sisters, before the entire cast performed it at the end of the film in a two-strip Technicolor sequence. Since then, «Singin' in the Rain» has had a long and distinguished career in cinema. For instance, it appeared as background music at the beginning of The Divorcee (1930); Jimmy Durante sang it in Speak Easily (1932); Judy Garland sang it in Little Nellie Kelly (1940); and after Kelly made it famous, Cary Grant whistled it in North by Northwest (1959). Director Stanley Kubrik also made iconic use of the song in his dystopian crime film A Clockwork Orange (1971). While shooting the scene where Malcolm McDowell rapes a woman, Kubrik asked the actor to sing. Apparently, the only song McDowell knew was «Singin' in the Rain» (Kelly's version is played over the closing credits).

Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly in «Fit as a Fiddle»
The soundtrack of Singin' in the Rain also includes «Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)» from College Coach (1933); an instrumental version of «Temptation» from Going Hollywood (1933); «All I Do Is Dream of You» from Sadie McKee (1934); a montage comprising «I've Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'» from Broadway Melody of 1936, «The Wedding of the Painted Doll» from The Broadway Melody and «Should I?» from Lord Byron of Broadway (1930); «Beautiful Girl» from Going Hollywood or Stage Mother (1933); «You Were Meant For Me» from The Broadway Melody; «You Are My Lucky Star» from Broadway Melody of 1936; and «Would You?» from San Francisco (1936).

Besides recycling a large repertoire of songs from earlier MGM musicals, Singin' in the Rain also makes use of old props, sets and vehicles. The car Reynolds drives at the beginning of the film had been previously driven by Mickey Rooney in the popular Andy Hardy series. The mansion in which Kelly lives was decorated with tables, chairs, carpets and other items from Flesh and the Devil (1926), the first screen pairing of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo. Art directors Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell and Harry McAfee actually unearthed filmmaking equipment from the past, including and «icebox» to house the sound camera from old specifications and designs. A neglected soundstage used during the silent era was also located and brought back into active service for Singin' in the Rain. Even the costumes were based on old Hollywood styles. Costume designer Walter Plunkett devises Lina Lamont's wardrobe by duplicating his own gown creations for silent film star Lilyan Tashman, who was, by his own account, «the epitome of chic at that time.» In addition, costumes and wigs in The Dueling Cavalier were from Marie Antoinette (1938).

Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen on the set
Other references to old Hollywood include Charisse's hairstyle, which resembles Louise Brooks' famous bob, and her gangster boyfriend, who flips a coin like George Raft did in Scarface (1932). Don Lockwood's laughable dialogue in the disastrous previous of The Dueling Cavalier is actually based on fact: Gilbert's career decline with the advent of sound was hastened by a similar situation in one of his early «talkies,» Redemption (1930), which features the same kind of old-fashioned script. Gilbert is mentioned again when Don depreciates Kathy's «acting» at R.F.'s house party by asking if she is going to do the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, which Gilbert had performed with Norma Shearer in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Also, the footage shown for The Royal Rascal is actually from Kelly's The Three Musketeers (1948), which was shot in Technicolor and has sound. For Singin' in the Rain, the sound and color were removed and title cards were added, along with shots of Hagen in place of The Three Musketeers leading lady, Lana Turner.

Singin' in the Rain opened at Radio City Musical Hall in New York on March 27, 1952 to positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, «Compounded generously of music, dance, color, spectacle and a riotous abundance of Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen and Donald O'Connor on the screen, all elements in this rainbow program are carefuly contrived and guaranteed to lift the dolors of winter and put you in a buttercup mood.» For their part, Variety described the film as «a fancy package of musical entertainment with wide appeal and bright grossing prospects. Concocted by Arthur Freed with showmanship know-how, it glitters with color, talent and tunes, and an infectious air that will click with ticket buyers in all types of situations.» Singin' in the Rain was also popular at the box-office, becoming the tenth highest grossing picture of year, with $3,263,000 in domestic rentals. At the 25th Academy Awards held in March 1953, Jean Hagen received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but lost Gloria Grahame for her performance in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and Beautiful (1952), a melodrama also focused on the film industry. Lennie Hayton earned a nomination for Best Musical Score, but the award was given instead to Alfred Newman for With a Song in My Heart (1952).

Although Singin' in the Rain was not the first classic film I saw — I had to see a few for my English Literature class at university and a few more for an American History and Culture class I had as an exchange student in England — it was the film that sparked my interest and passion for the Old Hollywood era and for that, it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I have only seen it twice from beginning to end, but I always go back to it to watch my favorite scenes. I must have seen the «Moses Supposes» bit a thousand times by now and it never ceases to amaze me. I love absolutely everything about the film — the script is genius, the cinematography and the settings are gorgeous and the dance numbers are of course outstanding. The thing I love the most about Singin' in the Rain, however, is Gene Kelly. While he has always considered On the Town to be his best work, I do not think it comes close to his stellar performance in Singin' in the Rain. He is absolutely mesmerizing as Don Lockwood. The way his eyes sparkle and the way he smiles during the rain scene is incredibly inspiring and never fails to make me smile. Oh Eugene, how I love you! I am going to stop writing now before this turns into a Gene Kelly love letter. I will leave the details of my steaming love affair with Gene Kelly for another day.

Hollywood Musicals Year by Year by Stanley Green (1999)
Reeling with Laughter: American Film Comedies From Anarchy to Mockumentary by Michael Tueth ()
Sentimental Journey: Intimate Portraits of America's Great Popular Songs 1920-1945 by Marvin E. Paymer (1999) 
TCMDb (Articles) 
TCMDb (Notes)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Quote of the Day

Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work.

(Bette Davis)


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Quote of the Day


Taking joy in life is a woman's best cosmetic.

(Rosalind Russell)


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Quote of the Day

Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.

(James Stewart)


Monday, 23 March 2015

Quote of the Day

.... *********
Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell.

(Joan Crawford)


Happy Birthday, Joan Crawford!

The once called "Queen of the Movies" was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1904 (although some sources cite 1905 or 1906), in San Antonio, Texas. As a child, Billie, as she liked to be called, loved to watch vaudeville acts perform and would spend hours backstage at her stepfather's opera house, mingling with the artists and dreaming of becoming a performer herself one day. After three years of dancing in the choruses of travelling revues, she was spotted by producer Jacob J. Shubert, who then offered her a spot in his latest Broadway show, Innocent Eyes. Later that year, she got a screen test with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's producer Harry Rapf and immediately secured a contract with the studio.

My future was in Hollywood, not the theater.
(Joan Crawford) 

Crawford (middle) in Sally, Irene and Mary
Credited as Lucille LeSueur, her first job in the film industry was as Norma Shearer's body-double in Monta Bell's romantic drama Lady of the Night (1925). Soon afterwards, MGM decided to change her name when the studio's publicist Pete Smith complained that her last name reminded him of a sewer. After a magazine contest, it was decided that Lucille LeSueur would be now known as "Joan Crawford".

Frustrated over the roles she was given after Lady of the Night, Crawford embarked on a campaign of self-promotion and began attending dances at various hotels in Hollywood, where she would impress everyone with her performances of the Charleston and the Black Bottom. Her strategy worked and MGM next cast her alongside Constance Bennett and Sally O'Neill as one of the title characters in Edmund Goulding's Sally, Irene and Mary (1925). The film was a hit and for the first time, the 21-year-old actress began to believe that she might actually have a future in Hollywood.

In Our Dancing Daughters
After being chosen as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926, Joan received her first top-billing role in The Taxi Dancer (1927) and for the rest of the year she was paired with some of MGM's top male stars, including John Gilbert, Tim McCoy, William Haines and Lon Chaney. The following year, she was cast opposite John Mack Brown in Harry Beaumont's drama Our Dancing Daughters (1928), which not only established her a serious actress, but also turned her into a symbol of modern 1920s-style feminity the ultimate "flapper girl".

Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smar night clubs to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.
(F. Scott Fitzgerald)

In the fall of 1927, just before she started filming Rose-Marie (1928), the first of three MGM adaptations of the Broadway operetta of the same name, Joan met 18-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the son of Hollywood "King" Douglas Fairbanks and his first wife, Beth Sully. What began as a simple friendship soon turned into a full-fledged love affair and the two young stars were married in June 1929, right after they finished filming Our Maiden Daughters (1929). The marriage, however, didn't last long and the couple divorced in 1933.

Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1929

In the late 1920s, Joan was one of the few stars lucky enough to make a successful transition to sound pictures. After a stint in MGM's star-studded musical extravaganza The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), she was cast opposite Robert Montgomery in the all-talking picture Untamed (1929), which became a box-office success.

By 1930, Crawford's flapper days were over and she began to be offered more sophisticated roles, which were able to show off her abilities as a dramatic actress. In 1931, she reunited to director Harry Beaumont to star opposite up-and-coming star Clark Gable in Dance, Fools, Dance, a story about a reporter investigating the murder of a colleague. The film was a hit among audiences and critics alike and turned Crawford and Gable into one of MGM's most profitable duos. The two would star in seven more films together between 1931 and 1940.

Publicity still for Rain
In 1932, Joan appeared in the all-star production of Grand Hotel, along with some of MGM's biggest stars at the time, including Greta Garbo and John and Lionel Barrymore. The film was a critical and commercial success and went on to win Best Picture at the 5th Academy Awards, thus becoming her biggest hit to date. After Grand Hotel, she was loaned out to United Artists to appear in the drama Rain (1932), in which she played prostitute Sadie Thompson. The film, although ambitious, was a critical and commercial flop and for the first time in her career, Crawford received hate mail.

Joan followed Rain with another flop, the WWI romance drama Today We Live (1933), which teamed her with Gary Cooper, for the first and only time, and New York stage actor Franchot Tone. Crawford and Tone hit it off right away and eventually married in 1935. However, this marriage was also doomed not to last long and the couple divorced four years later. They rekindled their relationship in the mid-1960s and Tone even proposed marriage again, but Crawford politely declined the offer.

Crawford and Tone at the Cocoanut Grove in 1933

After the failure of Rain and Today We Live, MGM decided to reshaped the path of Joan's career and featured her in a string of glossy pictures that required little of her, but ultimately cemented her position as "Queen of the Movies". Films like Dancing Lady (1933), Sadie McKee (1934), Love on the Run (1936) and The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), all of which featured Tone as well, were among the biggest box-office successes of the decade.

As Crystal Allen in The Women
However, in the late 1930s, Crawford's popularity started to decline and after she was called "Box-Office Poison", she demanded Louis B. Mayer to give her a film that would showcase her talents better. She was then cast in George Cukor's all-female comedy-drama The Women (1939), opposite Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell. The picture was a smashing hit and put Crawford's career back on track.

Though she followed The Women with other successful films, including Strange Cargo (1940), her eighth and final film with Clark Gable, and A Woman's Face (1941), co-starring Melvyn Douglas and for which she was critically acclaimed, she was becoming increasingly dissastified with the roles she was being offered. As a result, in 1943, Crawford parted ways with MGM, after 18 years of collaboration, and signed a contract with Warner Bros. soon after. Her time at Jack Warner's studio, however, did not begin very auspiciously. After refusing every role she was given and being denied the one that she actually wanted to do (a proposed 1944 film adaptation of Edith Warton's 1911 novel Ethan Frome), Crawford decided to take herself off salary until a suitable role could be found for her. 

Crawford and family in 1944
For over a year, she didn't appear on screen. Instead, she played the role of a dutiful housewife and dedicated her time to her growing family. In 1940, months after her divorce from Tone, she adopted a daughter named Christina and in 1942, she married her third husband, actor Phillip Terry. The following year, the couple adopted a son, Phillip Jr., whose name Crawford later changed to Christopher after her divorce from Terry in 1946. She would adopt two more children in 1947, twins Cindy and Cathy. During her down time, Joan also contributed to the war efforts. She hosted Sunday lunches for servicemen at her house, organized a day-care center for women who worked at the war plants and she was also one of the many celebrities who donated their services at the Hollywood Canteen, a club created by Bette Davis and John Garfield which offered food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen of all allied countries.

With Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce
After a cameo appearance in the star-studded production of Hollywood Canteen (1944), Crawford went back to the screen in the most stellar of ways when she was cast in the title role in Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce (1945), based on the James M. Cain novel about a long-suffering mother who does everything in her power to provide a better life for her amoral and ungrateful daughter. Upon its September 1945 release, Mildred Pierce was an outstanding critical and commercial success and Crawford went on to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress.

I decided that if I got it, I would feel goddam sure that I deserved it, not just for that one film, but for some other damned fine performances I'd given. Whether the Academy voters were giving it to me, sentimentally, for Mildred or for 200 years of effort, the hell with it, I deserved it.
(Joan Crawford)

Though she followed Mildred Pierce with two equally successful performances Humoresque (1946), opposite John Garfield, and Possessed (1947), co-starring Van Heflin, for which she received her second Academy Award nomination by the late 1940s, the scrips that were given to her were less than riveting. In 1952, Joan asked Warner Bros. to be released from her contract and the studio agreed. After her departure from Warners, she became an independent player and was cast alongside Jack Palance in RKO's noir Sudden Fear (1953). The film was a hit and earned both stars Academy Award nominations. Unfortunately, she followed Sudden Fear with such unenthusiastic performances as Torch Song (1953) and Johnny Guitar (1954), although the latter gained critical acclaimed in later decades.

Crawford and Steele's wedding day
On New Year's Eve 1954, Crawford met Pepsi Cola magnate Harry Steele and she was immediately taken with him and he with her. He was as accomplished and ambitious in his field as she was in hers, and the two seemed to be the perfect match. They were married in May 1955 and Joan finally found her much-needed stability in her personal life, after a string of unsatisfactory love affairs. She also became an active part of Pepsi and frequently travelled with her husband to promote the company. 

Even though she was now the "First Lady" of Pepsi-Cola, she continued to work on film, as her need for recognition as an actress and a star was still very much alive in her. Her most notable film during this period was perhaps the British drama The Story of Esther Costello (1957), for which she received considerable praise. In 1959, Steele died of a heart attack at the couple's New York apartment and Joan was left almost penniless. Short after her husband's death, she was offered a small role in Fox's romantic drama The Best of Everything (1959), starring Hope Lange. Crawford's role was very small (only seven minutes long), but she received positive reviews. Besides, it was work and that was all she needed.

Three years later, she was cast alongside Bette Davis as one of the leads in Robert Aldrich's psychological thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), about a crazed, aging film star who torments her crippled sister in a decaying Hollywood mansion. Legend goes that Crawford and Davis loathed each other, but that didn't keep the film from becoming a smashing success, both financially and critically. 

As Blanche Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane

After Baby Jane, Joan struggled to find decent work on film, so she turned to television. Though she had been appearing on TV since 1953, from the 1960s onward her appearances in the small screen became more frequent and included guest spots on several popular shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), The Lucy Show (1962-1968), The Virginian (1962-1971) and soap-opera The Secret Storm (1954-1974).

In the early 1970s, Crawford began to shy away from public life and her final public appearance was in 1974, at an event to honor former co-star Rosalind Russell. After being horrified by the unflattering press pictures of herself released the next day, she swore never to be seen in public again. During the final years of her life, she barely left her apartment, save to visit some friends and neighbors and her daughter Cathy. By mid-1977, all her connections with the outside had been shut off and when she gave away her beloved pet dog on May 8, she knew that her life was nearing the end. Two days later, on May 10, Joan Crawford died from a heart attack at the age of 73.

I have always known what I wanted, and that was beauty... in every form.
(Joan Crawford)