Sunday, 26 April 2015

Quote of the Week


Old age ain't no place for sissies.

(Bette Davis)


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted a 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. She had just arrived in Hollywood, after winning the first ever Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Lillian Hellman's 1946 drama Another Part of the Forest. Vidor was stunned by Patricia's looks and asked her if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). The production, written by Ayn Rand based on her novel of the same name, had already secured Gary Cooper as the male protagonist. Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck, who had urged Warner Bros. to purchase the novel in 1943, were also being considered to play Cooper's love interest.
 Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about the young actress, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, "What's that!?" He tried to convince Vidor to forget about Patricia and hire someone else, but the director was determined to cast her. He called her again the next day for a second test and this time she nailed it. Needless to say, she got the role.
Written by Ayn Rand based on her novel of the same name, The Fountainhead featured Cooper as Howard Roark, a highly individualistic and uncompromising architect who struggles to follow a new artistic path in an increasingly conformist society. Neal's character is a sensual and emotionally charged newspaper columnist and heiress named Dominique Francon, who falls madly in love with Roark and almost gets killed in the process.

In The Fountainhead
The filming of The Fountainhead began on location in Knowles, California, in the state's largest and oldest stone quarry, for what would be Roark and Dominique's first encounter in the film. During the three days they stayed there, Patricia became aware that she and Cooper shared a strong physical attraction, despite his initial impression of her. When the production unit returned to Los Angeles to resume shooting on the Warners lot, it became obvious that there was an incredible amount of sexual chemistry between them. Patricia later recalled the exact moment when she knew that she and Cooper were in love: it was during rehearsals for the scene in which Roark professes his love for Dominique. He kisses her cheeks, her nose, her eyelids and her hair, while she kneels down before him in a gentle and sensitive way and confesses that she loves him too. As filming progressed, it was like their lines began to reflect their blossoming relationship. "I loved you from the first moment I saw you," he tells her, "and you knew it." 

I looked forward to each scene we would play together with a new sense of expectation. Lines in the film became pregnant with meaning for us. Howard and Dominique said and did the things we could not yet express.
(Patricia Neal)

On the set of The Fountainhead
The dashing Gary Cooper was a notorious ladies' man. Since arriving in Hollywood in 1925, he had affairs with several of his leading ladies, including Clara Bow, Lupe Velez, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard and Tallulah Bankhead. After he married socialite Veronica "Rocky" Balfe in 1933, he somehow managed to remain faithful to his wife until 1942, when he became involved with the Swedish beauty Ingrid Bergman during the filming of Sam Wood's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). 

There was something about Patricia Neal, however, that made her different from all his other conquests. Not only was she intelligent, talented and beautiful, but she also possessed a joie de vivre and an ironic sense of humor that appealed to Cooper. Her youth (she was 25 years his junior) and freshness both flattered and inspired him and he really fell in love. For her part, Patricia was overwhelmed by his beauty and found him a deeply romantic and sensitive man, as well as a stimulating companion.

His eyes were the most fabulous shade of blue and always sparkling, and he had long eyelashes that were curled more outrageously than any girl's. His hands were long and graceful and beautiful [...] He was the most gorgeously attractive man bright too [...] I lived this secret life for years and I was so ashamed, yet there was the fact of it.
(Patricia Neal)

Neal held back from a love affair with Cooper until The Fountainhead was finished. She was afraid that the sexual tension between their characters on the film might be lost if they consummated their love. At the wrap party to celebrate the completion of the film, everyone sensed that Gary and Patricia were in love. His wife Rocky was in New York at the time, so the affair effectively began that night. To avoid scandal that could damage both of their careers, they kept the romance as discreet as possible. They would meet at friends' houses instead of public places and were careful not to display their affection at studio functions and other social settings. 

Gary and Patricia on the Warner Bros. lot
In the spring of 1949, Patricia met Gary's close friend and publicist Harvey Orkins at the home of Gene Kelly, which was a popular weekend hangout for the Hollywood crowd of that time. Orkin took a liking to her and soon invited her to accompany him and his girlfriend on a trip to Aspen, Colorado, where they were planning on attending a conference given by theologian Albert Schweitzer. Coincidentally, the Coopers were building a new house in Aspen, so Orkin, who was unaware of Gary and Patricia's affair, called the Cooper home and suggested they all go together for the event.  

When they arrived in Aspen, they went for a tour of the construction site of the new Cooper house. Gary felt awkward to have Patricia and Rocky so close together. The atmosphere was strained and he was nervous and quiet. It became obvious to Rocky that something was going on. That night, she confronted Cooper and he confessed that not only was he in fact having an affair with Patricia, but he was also in love with her. Rocky was so enraged that she told their teenage daughter Maria about his infidelity. The girl began hating Neal with a passion and both mother and daughter declared war against her. In public, however, Rocky continued to be the dedicated Mrs. Gary Cooper.

Perhaps because of the developing gossip around town, or simply because Warner Bros. wanted to generate more interest in The Fountainhead, which was currently in release, the studio decided to pair Cooper and Neal in another film, Michael Curtiz's Bright Leaf (1950). In this costume drama set in the 19th century, Gary played Brant Royle, a tenant farmer who returns to his hometown intent on restoring his family's name, after they were driven off their tobacco farm several years before. Patricia was Margaret Singleton, the daughter of the cigar magnate who ruined the Royles. Consumed with hatred and a desire for revenge after her father commits suicide, Margaret marries Royle and sets out to destroy his new empire.

Cooper and Neal in Bright Leaf
Meanwhile, Cooper and Neal continued with their affair and Rocky continued with her façade. In October 1950, a few months after Bright Leaf was released to indifferent responses, a new crisis erupted when Patricia told Gary that she was pregant. At first, both of them were happy about the news. After all, that child represented the culmination of their love and Cooper could use this to finally divorce Rocky and marry Patricia. For several days, they went on with their lives as if nothing had changed, but then reality started to sink in and they began questioning what would happen if she had that baby. Earlier that year, Ingrid Bergman had given birth to an out-of-wedlock child and the consequences had been catastrophic. Cooper then called a doctor in downtown Los Angeles and told Patricia he had set up an appointment for her. On a bright October day, she walked up to the door of a small office, handed over cash (provided by Cooper) and a few hours later, she walked out. She regreted that day for as long as she lived.

For over thirty years, alone, in the night, I cried. For years and years, I cried over that baby. And whenever I had too much to drink, I would remember that I had not allowed him to exist. I admired Ingrid Bergman for having her son. She had guts. I did not. And I regret it with all my heart. If I had only one thing to do over in my life, I would have that baby.
(Patricia Neal)

On the set of Bright Leaf
In May 1951, Rocky's patience began wearing thin. She wanted to have a loyal husband, but Gary wanted to continue his relationship with Patricia. When the Coopers were legally separated on May 16, the gossip columnists quickly began speculating about what had led to the breakup. Soon, Cooper and Neal were seen in public together, though he warned the owners of the various establishments and restaurants that they were not to be photographed while they were there, or he would sue. They were evasive in interviews too, but obviously everyone knew what was going on. By mid-1951, the strain of his situation was starting to show on Gary Cooper. He looked drawn and weary, consumed by guilt, the conflict between Neal and his family and his own maddening indecision. He wanted to marry Patricia, but not if that meant losing the respect of his daughter, who worshiped him. In addition, his health began to break down and he had a series of surgeries for ulcers and hernias. He was literally a mess.

One day in late 1951, Patricia called Gary's mother, whom she had met a few times before, and invited her to tea. Alice Cooper was outraged and rebuffed her, saying, "Why should I see you after what you have done to my son? He is sick because of you. Do you know what you are?" Stunned, Patricia hung up. She knew what she was. She knew she would always be "the other woman" and Gary would never truly commit himself to her. Hurt and humilliated, she immediately called Gary, who was in Colorado with Rocky and Maria, recuperating from one his surgeries.
Patricia: Gary, it is over. I really mean it, Gary; I can never see you again. Your mother — I called her. She insulted me. No, she told me the truth. It is over.
Gary: You want it that way? All right... if that's what you want.
Patricia: Yes. Yes, that's what I want.
And just like that, it was all over. After the breakup, both Neal and Cooper suffered deeply. She gained a lot of weight, found it difficult to concentrate on her work and came close to a mental breakdown. For a time, he too was a physical and mental wreck. According to his nephew Howard, Cooper seemed "born again" when he was with Patricia; now he looked terrible, like death. A few days before Christmas, Neal received a holiday gift from Cooper: a mink jacket with an attached note that read, "I love you, baby. Gary." Her hopes in reconciliation revived and she called him in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he was spending the season with his family. Sadly, the conversation was not exactly what she had expected. She declared her love for him, but her heart was broken once again when he told her that he was not coming to California; he was actually thinking of going to Paris. So there it was. Their three-year relationship was really, truly over. 

When Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal met by chance and for the last time in New York in October 1955, she confessed: "You broke my heart, Gary. You really did." He tried to explain and justify himself by saying: "You know, baby, I couldn't have hurt Maria for the world." In the end, his family proved to be more important than his love for Patricia.

On the set of The Fountainhead

I loved Gary Cooper, for years and years and years. And I still love him. Of course, Rocky was not very happy with me. And I don't blame. Nor was her little girl, Maria, who I guess was about 11 when we started. And I was very sorry. But Gary... I just loved Gary very much.
(Patricia Neal in a 2008 interview)

Gary Cooper: American Hero by Jeffrey Meyers (1998) | Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life by Stephen Shearer (2006)

Friday, 24 April 2015

Film Friday: "The Fountainhead" (1949)

This week on "Film Friday," I bring you a little melodrama about individual creativity, power and compromise, set in an era of communism and modernistic architecture.

Promotional release poster
Directed by King Vidor, The Fountainhead concerns the life of Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), an individualistic and uncompromising architect who chooses to work as a driller in a stone quarry rather than sell out his ideals. While working at the quarry, Roark meets the sensual and emotionally charged Dominique Fancon (Patricia Neal), a writer who works for a newspaper that opposes Roark's individualism. They never exchange names, but they are instantly drawn to each other. After a brutal sexual encounter, Roark returns to the city to accept a new architectural commision.

At a party for the opening of the new building Roark has designed, Dominique learns for the first time the identity of her mysterious lover. They proclaim their love for each other, but she tells him that she will not see him anymore because she cannot bear to see him destroyed by his struggle against a conformist society. After she leaves Roark, Dominique marries her boss, the wealthy and influential publisher Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey). Eventually, Wynand asks Roark to build a country home for him and Dominique and he becomes a frequent guest of the couple. Meanwhile, Roark discovers that his designs for a new housing complex have been severely altered. With Dominique's help, he literally blows up the building and then admits his guilt. At his much-publicized trial, public opinion is against him and even Wynand is forced to condemn him in order to save his paper. Roark's impassionate speech about individualism, however, causes the jury to acquit him. Wynand then commisions Roark to design the Wynand Building and kills himself after the contract is signed. The last scene shows Dominique, now Mrs. Roark, taking an elevator to meet her husband, who awaits her at the top of his magnificent new building.

Howard Roark: I loved you from the first moment I saw you, and you knew it. You tried to escape from it. I had to let you learn to accept me. Are you gonna leave me?

After purchasing the rights to Ayn Rand's novel in late 1943, Warner Bros. announced that Mervyn LeRoy was to direct The Fountainhead with stars Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck, who claimed to have brought the book to the attention of the studio while it was still climbing the best-seller lists. However, wartime restrictions and Rand's anti-Russian politics led to the project being put on hold for nearly four years. When production resumed in 1948, King Vidor was hired to replace LeRoy and the lead roles were offered to Gary Cooper, whose wife, Rocky, had read the book, and newcomer Patricia Neal, who beat other young actresses such as Gene Tierney, Eleanor Parker and Lauren Bacall. 

Cooper was initially hesitant to take the role of Howard Roark, fearing that the selfish personality of the character might have a bad effect on his reputation and career. Though she never interfered with her husband's decisions in choosing roles, Rocky strongly advised Cooper to accept the part, especially since Rand had already said that he was her choice for Roark. Legend goes that the 41-year-old Barbara Stanwyck was so enraged when she learned that she had been replaced by a 22-year-old actress, that she immediately terminated her contract with the studio.

Roark and Dominique's first meeting
The filming of The Fountainhead began with the drilling scene, shot on location in California's largest and oldest stone quarry in July 1948, for what would be Roark and Dominique's first meeting in the film. Shot with Neal's character looking down upon Cooper's as he relentlessly thrusts his drill hammer "into the tight hole in the unyielding rock," the sequence is extremely suggestive and sexually charged. Though the scene caused a bit of controversy due to its obvious erotic overtones, the Hollywood censors did not edit the Freudian symbolism of Dominique's encounter with Roark. They did, however, find the female character a little too sexually compliant and eventually asked that some more provocative scenes be reshot and toned down enough the pass the censors.

Soon after The Fountainhead entered production, Cooper and Neal embarked in their own complicated love affair. Since he was married and scandal could damage or even ruin their careers and public image, they tried to keep their relationship as discreet as possible and were careful not to be seen in public outside of studio functions and other social events. However, in time, everyone found out about the affair and the two broke up in late December 1951, after three years of romance. Though their relationship had a bittersweet ending, Neal would always remember Gary Cooper as the love of her life. To learn more about Cooper and Neal's relationship, click here.

Problems with The Fountainhead began as soon as the company return to Los Angeles to resume shooting on the Warners lot, the great majority prompted by Rand's domineering attitude on the set. She was so consumed with her efforts to put forward her virtues of individualism, idealism, integrity and power, both artistic and sexual, that she simply could not write for the so-called "common man." As a result, Rand kept having extensive conferences with the production staff and heated arguments with King Vidor over ideological and stylistic issues.

King Vidor, Ayn Rand and Gary Cooper on the set

The most problematic situation occurred during the filming of Roark's trial. Arriving on the set one day, Rand was shocked to learn that Vidor had shortened her hero's speech, the very thing that in her view gave meaning to both the book and the film. The studio had considered it dramatically overlong and rambling and Cooper had had a hard time understanding it. Rand also found out that the Hollywood censors, as well as Cooper's lawyer, were concerned about the uncompromising principles of Roark's individualism and demanded that she lighten her central philosophical theme of the morality of selfishness. Since neither were able to justify their objections, their questions only resulted in Rand lenghtening the speech for clarity. When the writer threatned to take her name off the film and publish ads telling her millions of readers not to see it, Jack Warner finally allowed the speech to be shot as written. With a running time of six and a half minutes, Roark's speech was the longest in film history at that point.

Roark presenting one of his designs
Rand's screenplay also instructed that Howard Roark's buildings must be modelled in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright and only of Frank Lloyd Wright. When The Fountainhead began production, Jack Warner sent art director Edward Carrere to negotiate Wright's involvement in the film, but the architect refused the offer to work on the picture. Wright enjoyed Rand's portrayal of architecture in the novel, but disliked Roark the person and didn't believe in Rand's fictively formulated thesis of individual integrity and freedom. Furthermore, he wasn't interested in being a part of a film in which architecture served as a "background theme for sexual rape". Not even Rand's begging was able to convice him to take the job.

Ultimately, Roark's designs in the film were created by Carrere himself, who had trained as an architect, inspired by the corporate "International Style" of the East Coast in the late 1940s rather than Wright's architecture of the mid-West in the 1920s, when the book is set. Rand disliked Carrere's designs, judging them as "embarrassingly bad", but she couldn't do anything to change them. Despite all the troubles during production, filming on The Fountainhead finished one day ahead of schedule and everyone seemed to be happy with what they had done. Even Rand herself seemed to be satisfied with the film.

Upon its June 1949 premiere, however, The Fountainhead was a financial and critical failure. Critics called it scrambled, pretentious and embarrassing, "a story fit for the tabloids and the trash basket." Neal, who was escorted to the premiere by Kirk Douglas, felt humiliated when no one said a word to her about her performance. Finally, Virginia Mayo approached her and exclaimed, "My, weren't you bad!" (Why would she say such a thing?) Cooper's performance was considered to be wooden and pathetic and when he saw the film as a whole, he agreed with the critics, feeling that he had not delivered the final speech as he should have. He would often say in interviews about The Fountainhead: "Boy, did I louse that one up!"

Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper after the premiere

Personally, I really enjoyed the film, but maybe that's because I interpreted it differently. Though it does makes a strong point about the struggle between individualism and collectivism, a lot of those themes completely passed me by. To me, The Fountainhead is simply a love story; a rather complex and aggressive love story, but a love story nevertheless. Besides, Cooper and Neal's sex appeal and fiery chemistry is enough to distract anyone from the more serious political and philosophical overtones of the film.

I think The Fountainhead is one of those films that people will either love it or absolutely hate it. If you haven't seen it yet, give it a go. And if you don't like, you can blame me for stealing 114 minutes of your life.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller (2005) | Gary Cooper: American Hero by Jeffrey Meyers (1998) | Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life by Stephen Shearer (2006) | The Fountainheads: Wright, Rand, the FBI and Hollywood by Donald Leslie Johnson (1998) | TCMDb (Articles)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Golden Couples: Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall

In 1943, Nancy Hawks spotted a 19-year-old model named Betty Bacall on the cover of the March edition of Harper's Bazaar. Fascinated by her sultry looks and "scrubbed clean, healthy, shining and golden" appearance, Nancy urged her husband, director Howard Hawks, to screen test Betty for the new picture he was working on, To Have and Have Not (1944), loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway 1937 novel of the same name. Hawks, too, was impressed with what he saw  so much so that he immediately brought Betty to Hollywood, where he began managing her career. Thereafter, he changed her name to the sexier-sounding "Lauren" and asked Nancy to advise her on clothing, shoes and general demeanor. Hawks also sent Betty to a voice coach to lower her naturally high-pitched, nasal voice to a deeper, sultrier tone. When both Hawkses were satisfied with their new protégée, Howard took Lauren to the set of To Have and Have Not and introduced her to the star of the picture, Humphrey Bogart. The meeting was pleasant enough, but contrary to popular belief nothing particularly steamy happened. "The first three, four weeks that we were working on the film, were were just working on the film, just having a good time," Lauren later recalled. "But certainly there was no romance of any kind. That just accidentally just kind of happened, much to my amazement and, I suppose, his as well."

Bogie and Bacall in To Have and Have Not
In To Have and Have Not, loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway 1937 novel of the same name, Bogart played Harry "Steve" Morgan, a fisherman and American expatriate living in the French colony of Martinique during the summer of 1940. One night at the hotel bar, he meets an attractive young American wanderer named Marie "Slim" Browning and quickly becomes smitten with her and she with him. They begin a whirlwind courtship, but their romance is complicated when Steve gets deeply involved with the French Resistance.

The affair between Bogart and Bacall began before anyone noticed, including the two of them. She would often write to her mother about him how he would tell jokes to put her at ease during filming  and how "very fond" he was of her. Fond was all he was until about three weeks into production. At the end of shooting one day, he went by her dressing room, leaned over, put his hand under her chin and kissed her. Then he took a book of matches out of his pocket and asked her to write her phone number on the back. And she did. After that, Bogie and Bacall began to see each other and grew closer and closer each day. They tried to be as discreet as they possibly could, but their electrifying body language and the way they delivered their dialogue immediately gave them away. Lauren was a safe haven for Bogie, who was terribly unhappy in his marriage to the actress Mayo Methot, whose unbalanced and violent nature would often put him in difficult situations. In contrast, Bacall, whom he called "Baby", was loving and caring, always ready to go to him whenever he called.

In The Big Sleep
I wanted to give Bogie so much that he hadn't had, all the love that had been stored inside of me, all my life for in invisible father, for a man. I could finally think of allowing it to pour over this man and fill his life with laughter, warmth, joy things he hadn't had for such a long time, if ever.
(Lauren Bacall)

After To Have and Have Not opened to great critical and financial success, Warner Bros. quickly capitalized on Bogart's pairing with Bacall by teaming them up again for the noir The Big Sleep (1946), which also reunited them with director Howard Hawks. Based on Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name, The Big Sleep stars Bogart as Philip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private detective investigating the involvement of a society girl, Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), in the murder of a pornographer. Shorty before filming began, Bogart put an end to the affair in hopes to salvage his marriage, or at least get Mayo to stop drinking, but the separation lasted only one month. Bogie and Bacall were too far gone on each other to stay apart. They were truly in love and the fact he was married, and even the variance in age (he was 25 years her senior), made absolutely no difference.

Bogie and Bacall on their wedding day
The end of filming on The Big Sleep coincided with the conclusion of Bogart's marriage to Mayo Methot. On May 21, 1945, eleven days after the divorce was granted, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall got married in the great hallway of the Malabar Farm in Lucas, Ohio, the country home of author and Bogie's close friend Louis Bromfield. Several days later, the Bogarts returned to California and settled in a furnished house in Beverly Hills.

Original planned for a 1945 release, the premiere of The Big Sleep was pushed back to capitalize on the "Bogie and Bacall" phenomenon, which had grown after their marriage. Also, Bacall's agent had asked that several portions of the film be reshot to enhance their chemistry and counteract the negative press she had received for her performance in Confidential Agent (1945). Upon its August 1946 release, The Big Sleep was a smash hit among audiences and critics alike, although some found its plot somewhat confusing and difficult to follow. But that did matter, because they felt that the electrifiying chemistry between Bogie and Bacall was more important than a well-told story.

Publicity still for Dark Passage
Bogart and Bacall's next pairing was Delmer Daves' suspenseful noir Dark Passage (1947). Bogie plays Vincent Parry, a innocent man framed for murdering his wife, who escapes prison to find the real killer. Along the way, Parry meets painter Irene Jansen (Bacall), who believes in his innocence and offers to help him. Despite its use of innovative cinematography and filming techniques, Dark Passage was released to disappointing reviews and box-office results.

The following year, the couple was cast in yet another film noir, Key Largo, their last picture together. In this John Huston production, Bogart plays ex-Major Frank McCloud, who travels to a hotel in Key Largo, Florida, to visit the family of a friend from the Army killed during the war. There, he meets his friend's widow, Nora Temple (Bacall), who runs the hotel with her father-in-law. When a hurricane hits the island, the hotel gets taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and confrontations soon ensure. Key Largo was another hit for Bogie and Bacall and went on to become one of the most iconic and celebrated gangster films of all time.

As Nora and Frank in Key Largo

In between films, Bogart and Bacall savored their marriage in the best of ways, with extensive travels through Europe and sailing trips in their 54-foot yacht, Santana

He'd never had kind of a real marriage life, and the first few years we had the most wonderful time. It was a real three-year honeymoon.
(Lauren Bacall)

The Bogart family
However, by the time Key Largo was made, the excitement seemed to have dulled a little. Until the day Lauren told him she was pregnant. Bogart was terrified of becoming a father. After all, he was 49 years old. How would he relate to a newborn at that age? When Stephen Humphrey Bogart (named after his father character in To Have and Have Not) was born in January 1949, all those doubts went away and Bogie wholeheartedly embraced his new role as a father. Three years later, the Bogart family welcomed a new member: a baby girl named Leslie Howard Bogart, in honor of Bogie's friend and mentor, Leslie Howard. 

In the mid-1950s, Bogart develop a racking cough and started to find it painful to swallow, which led a considerable drop in weight. In January 1956, after much insistence from his friends and family, he finally agreed to see a doctor. The diagnosis came several weeks later and crushed everyone: Humphrey Bogart had esophageal cancer. An extensive surgery to remove his entire esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib followed, but by then it was too late so stop the disease, even with chemoteraphy. With time, Bogie grew too weak to even walk up and down the stairs, but he fought the pain valiantly, with Lauren always at his side, making sure that he was comfortable and always refusing to accept the inevitable.

On January 13, 1957, after a visit from close friends Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Bogie fell into a coma and died the next day, at age 57. He was buried with a small, gold whistle once part of a charm bracelet he had given to Lauren before their marriage, on which was inscribed an allusion to an iconic line from their first film together. It read: "If you want anything, just whistle".

On August 12, 2014, he finally whistled.

What it felt like to be so wanted, so adored! No one had ever felt like that about me. It was all so dramatic, too. Always in the wee small hours when it seemed to Bogie and me that the world was ours that we were the world. At those times, we were.
(Lauren Bacall)

My tribute to Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall:

Tough Guy With a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer (2011) | Bogart: The Untold Story (1996)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Quote of the Week

A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.

(Ingrid Bergman)


Friday, 17 April 2015

Film Friday: "Random Harvest" (1942)

This week on "Film Friday", I bring one of the most romantic films of all time and a personal favorite of mine. It's a proper tearjerker this one.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Random Harvest tells the story of Charles Rainier (Ronald Colman), a British officer confined to an asylum in the English countryside under the name of "John Smith", following a gas attack in the trenches during the First World War, which left him shell shocked and amnesiac. With the jubilation of Armistice Day, the asylum is left unguarded and he is able to escape. When he arrives in town, he meets a vivacious showgirl called Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson), who nicknames him "Smithy" and nurses him back to health. The two soon fall in love and marry, settling in a cozy little cottage in the country where they live in blissful happiness for a few years.

On a business trip to Liverpool, Smithy is hit by a taxicab and his early memory is restored, but his happy years with Paula are forgotten. Although confused, Charles returns to his estate in London and begins managing the family business. He thrives as the "industrial prince of England", but he is haunted by his missing past and a naggish loneliness he does not understand. Hoping to extinguish that feeling, he decides to marry young Kitty Chilcet (Susan Peters), a close friend. However, when she realizes Charles is still in love with someone else, she breaks off the engagement. Meanwhile, Paula has been relentlessly looking for her Smithy. After seeing a picture of Charles in the newspaper, she manages to become his secretary, and later his wife, hoping that her presence will somehow make him remember her. After many lonely and frustating years, her dream is finally realized at their former cottage, surrounded by beautiful flowering cherry trees.

Paula: I've run after from the very beginning, you know I have. I've never let you out of my sight ever since I first saw you in that little shop.
Smithy: Never do it, Paula. Never leave me out of your sight. Never again.

Following the success of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), also based in a novel by James Hilton, MGM producer Sidney Franklin jumped at the chance to buy the rights to Random Harvest as soon as it came out. Hoping to recreate the success they had had with Waterloo Bridge (1940), Franklin immediately assigned Mervyn LeRoy to the director's chair and production began in early 1942.

Garson and LeRoy (center) behind the scenes
For the role of the leading lady, Franklin and LeRoy had no doubts as to who they should cast: the lovely "Mrs. Miniver" herself, Greer Garson. She was overjoyed with this new screen assignment, especially since the film would reunite her with the author that had made her a star and team her with Ronald Colman, the screen idol of her youth.

One reason I found Paula so interesting to play was that I believed in her. She was as muti-faceted as most human beings are [...] But more important even than the variety that gave color to the role was the fact that it was a sensitively written study of a woman's heart. Fidelity to human nature in such a story is more important to any thoughtful player than oportunities for showmanship.
(Greer Garson)
Garson and Colman in a publicity still
The role of Charles Rainier/Smithy was initially planned for Spencer Tracy, but when Franklin and LeRoy found out that Ronald Colman was available, they didn't waste the chance to cast him in the film. Besides, he too had previously appeared in another screen classic based on a James Hilton novel, Lost Horizon (1937), directed by Frank Capra.

Colman's own life and career remarkably paralelled the one of his character in Random Harvest. Like Charles, Colman too was a World War I veteran. He enlisted in London Scottish Regiment in 1909 and served in the Western Front, where he survived the bloody Battle of Ypres, only to have his ankle shattered by a shell explosion at Messines. The injury left him with a limp he would try to hide for the rest of his life and, like Charles, he felt lost and bitter after the war ended. Also like his character in the film, Colman escaped his melancholia through work and achieved great recognition with it.

When Random Harvest came along, Ronnie and Greer were the first choice for the role. It could have been written for them. Between the two of them, the English language was never spoken more beautifully on film.
(Mervyn LeRoy)

For the role of Kitty, Mervyn LeRoy cast 21-year-old newcomer Susan Peters, hoping to mentor her to stardom as he had previously done with Loretta Young, Ginger Rogers and Lana Turner. Though her performance was greatly acclaimed and earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, her success was shattered a few years later when she was permanently paralyzed from the waist down during a hunting accident on New Year's Day in 1945. Although she continued to make films and later worked on television, her condition left her in a state of severe depression, which ultimately contributed to her premature death in 1952, at the age of 31.

Mervyn LeRoy and Susan Peters on the set

Upon its December 17 premiere, Random Harvest became an instant success and was among the top five highest grossing pictures of 1942. Made during the first full year in which the United States were involved in the Second World War, the film's success was partly due to its depiction of the effects of war in the home front and its affirmation of the importance of love and family life. Both Ronald Colman and Greer Garson, actually, were actively involved in the war efforts, taking part in whirlwind bond-selling tours and lending their voices to goverment radio broadcasts.

Random Harvest truly is an affirmation of love; the proof that if love is real and true and unconditional, it can survive anything. This was one of the first classic films I saw and it has stayed with me this whole time. And it just warms my heart to know that the people involved in it loved making it as much as I loved watch it. 

We all got on so well, it was a wonderful picture to make. When he did the last scene at the cottage gate, which was also the last scene we filmed, Ronnie said to me, "This is one picture I hate to finish!"
(Mervyn LeRoy)

A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan (1999) | TCMDb (Articles)