Monday, 19 November 2018

The Rock Hudson Blogathon: Before Rock, There Was Roy

Rock Hudson was one of the most popular leading men in the 1950s and 1960s. Considered a classic example of the «heartthrob» of Hollywood's Golden Age, he achieved stardom in films such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Giant (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. His starring role opposite Doris Day in the hugely successful Pillow Talk (1959) made him the number-one male actor in America at that time. In a career that spanned four decades, Rock appeared in nearly 70 films and starred in several television productions, notably McMillan & Wife (1971-1977). But before Rock, there was Roy.

Rock with his aunt Evelyn while on
a visit to his grandmother's farm,
in Olney, Illinois (c. 1927)
Rock Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. on November 17, 1925 in the village of Winnetka, Illinois. His parents were Katherine «Kay» (née Wood), a homemaker and later telephone operator, and Roy Harold Scherer, Sr., an automobile mechanic. His father was of German and Swiss descent, while his mother has English and Irish ancestry. When Roy was five years old, at the height of the Great Depression, his father lost his job and the family was forced to move in with Kay's parents, James and Mary Ellen Wood.

Their new living arrangements were incredibly frustrating. Mr. and Mrs. Woods were already sharing their tiny one-room bungalow in Winnetka's Center Street with Kay's brother, his wife and their four children, who upon the Scherers' arrival were forcibly relocated to the attic. Roy Sr. put up with these conditions for over a year, before heading for California in search of work. With her husband away, Kay had to work as a housekeeper for a local dignitary to make ends meets. Eventually, she was able to save enough money to put down a bond on a two-room aparment above a local drugstore. Later in life, Rock said that the only thing worth remembering about that place what that, while living there, he learned to play the piano.

In the summer of 1932, short of money once again, Kay travelled with her son to California, where she found Roy Sr. living precariously and working as a doughnut seller. She tried to persuade her husband to return with her to Illinois, but he remained adamant. On the journey back home, Kay met a young Marine named Wallace Fitzgerald and the two soon became involved. They were married in February 1934, immediately after Kay's divorce from Roy Scherer was finalized. A few months later, Wallace left the Corps to work at a local electricity plant and Kay took a job as a waitress. But the union was doomed from the start; by 1941, the Fitzgeralds would have divorced, remarried and divorced again.

Upon his marriage to Kay, Wallace Fitzgerald legally adopted Roy and gave him his name, but showed little affection for the boy. «He took all my toys away and used to beat me regularly, saying he wanted to make a man out of me,» Rock later recalled. Apparently, his stepfather's source of disappointment centered around Roy's lack of interest in school and all matters academic. Apart from swimming, he was not too keen on sports either. All Roy ever wanted to be was an actor, as he explained in a 1983 interview: «I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was a little boy  but living in a small town in the Middle West, I didn't say so because that's sissy stuff. I once asked my stepfather if I could have drama lessons. When I said I wanted to be an actor  Crack!  and that was that!»

Rock Hudson aged 13 (1938)
His unhappy home life made Roy even more determined to achieve his goal. At the age of ten, encouraged by his mother, he took a weekend job with a local butcher to make money to pay for his own acting lessons. However, afraid that he stepfather would find out and punish him, he instead spent the money on cinema tickets and movie magazines. As he headed towards puberty, Roy's greatest inspiration was Jon Hall, the star of numerous campy adventures including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) and Cobra Woman (1944). When Roy saw Hall diving in out of the water in The Hurricane (1937), his mind was made up: «I'd always been a diver, so I had to be an actor and go to Tahiti and be like Jon Hall!»

After her marriage to Wallace Fitzgerald ended, Kay bought a run-down property in Winnetka's Ash Street and turned it into a boarding house. The business was not very successful, however, and she had to work as a part-time telephone operator to support her meagre income from the boarding house. Teenage Roy struggled a lot during this period, specially since he was forced to stay in school for an extra six months because of his abysmal grades. Instead of graduating in the summer of 1943, he did not leave high school until early in 1944.

Three weeks after graduation, Roy enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was sent on a training course as an apprentice aircraft repairman. He was then posted to Samar, in the Philippines,  on the Lew Wallace, and for two years worked for the Aviation Repair Overhaul Unit. Much of his time was spent unloading fighter planes from aircraft carriers. Reportedly, he was quite hopeless as a sailor. On one occasion, he accidentally turned on both engines of the bomber he was repairing, causing the machine to veer across the runway and crash into another stationary place. 

Rock Hudson in his Navy uniform
In May 1946, Roy returned to Winnetka and took a job as a piano mover. Two weeks later, still bent on becoming an actor, he joined his father in California. Roy Sr. has remarried and was living in Long Beach with his new wife and adopted daughter. He had set himself up in an electrical appliances business, and when young Roy was refused a place at the University of California due to his poor school grades, Scherer Sr. offered him a job as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Roy was so shy and lacking in patter that in his first he did not make a single sale, so his father had to let him go. He then started working a truck driver with a company owned by a friend of his father.

One night some time in 1947, at a bar on Ocean Boulevard, Roy met Ken Hodge, the former producer of the Lux Radio Theatre. Hodge took an immediate interest in Roy and offered to help launch his acting career. He installed him at gymnasium to improve his physique, bought him new clothes and paid for his first photographic shoot. The shots were then sent to studio executives and receptions at which these would be attending.

At one such event in Culver City, Roy was introduced to David O. Selznick's talent scout and the former agent of Lana Turner, the infamous Henry Willson. He liked Roy's photographs and agreed to take him on as a client. Willson sent Roy to Lester Luther, one of Hollywood's top voice coaches. Luther helped him get rid of his Midwestern drawl and the stammer which Roy claimed was prominent only when he was nervous. Roy received drama lessons from Florence Cunningham and was taught how to stand, sit and walk by Universal athletics coach, Frankie Van. He was also enrolled for lessons in horse-riding, fencing, tap-dancing and even ballet and deportment. But before Willson could find a suitable vehicle to showcase his protegée, he had to come up with a better name than Roy Fitzgerald. He decided on Rock Husdon. From then on, this world was his. He never liked the name, but he sure lived up to it.

This post is my contribution to The Rock Hudson Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood. To view all entries, click HERE or HERE.

Rock Hudson: The Gentle Giant by David Bret

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Remake of the «They Remade What?!» Blogathon: «A Guy Named Joe» (1943) and «Always» (1989)

In the two years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, over 60,000 American servicemen had died in combat overseas. The country was right in the middle of a costly war and thousands of families were mourning the loss of their loved ones. Taking advantage of this scenario, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer became interested in making a film that would somehow console grieving families by fueling «hope in a connection between at risk or deceased loved ones and the folks they leave behind.»

Ward Bond, Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy as
Al Yackey, Dorinda Durston and Pete Sandidge
in A Guy Named Joe
Looking to match the success of the afterlife comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), MGM chief Louis B. Mayer commissed that film's producer, Everett Riskin, to find a story with a similar premise. He came up with «Fliers Never Die», in which a couple of brothers tutored their youngest brother from the great beyond. The studio, however, was not impressed and did not greenlit the project.

Riskin then convinced Metro to let him hire prolific screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had already shown an affinity with the afterlife  his novel and screenplay The Remarkable Andrew featured the ghost of U.S. president Andrew Jackson. A well-known radical, Tumbo had endured an unproductive stint at MGM in the 1930s, before his script for RKO's Kitty Foyle (1940) earned him an Academy Award nomination. In the early 1950s his career would take a sharp downturn, as he was blacklisted due to his affiliations with the Communist Party.

Instead of writing his own material, Trumbo adapted a story by Chandler Sprague and David Boehm called «Three Guys Named Joe», later renamed A Guy Named Joe. The title was taken from a phrase used by General Claire Chennault, who commanded the First American Volunteer Group, nicknamed «The Flying Tigers», between 1941 and 1942. The group consisted of three fighter squadrons composed of pilots from the U.S. Army Air Corps, Navy and Marine Corps, whose mission was to defend China against Japanese forces. Chennault used the expression to refer to any of his pilots.

Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy in a
publicity still for A Guy Named Joe
Set during World War II, A Guy Named Joe tells the story of Pete Sandidge, the reckless pilot of a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, who is in love with a Women Airforce Service Pilot named Dorinda Durston. Before being transferred back to the U.S. to be a flight instructor, Pete goes on one last mission with his best friend, Al Yackey, to check out a German aircraft carrier. Just as they are about to reach their target, they are attacked by an enemy fighter and crash into the sea.

Pete then finds himself walking in clouds and soon realizes that he is dead. He meets «The General», who sends him back to Earth, where a year has elapsed, to pass on his experience and knowledge to Ted Randall, a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilot. The situation becomes complicated when Ted meets the still-grieving Dorinda. As the pair fall gradually in love, Ted proposes to her and she accepts, much to Pete's jealous dismay. Some time later, Dorinda learns that Ted has been assigned to destroy the largest Japanese ammunition dump in the South Pacific. She steals his aircraft and manages to complete the mission with Pete's help. Upon her return to the base to Ted's embrace, Pete accepts what must be and walks away, his job done.

Before A Guy Named Joe could begin production, Trumbo's script had to go through a series of revisions. The first treatment sent by MGM to the U.S. War Department, Bureau of Public Relations, was rejected. Falkner Heard, chief of the office's review branch, stated in a memorandum, «A review of this manuscript indicates that no degree of supervision could make this picture a contribution to the war effort [...] It is suggested that Hollywood be told that the War Department recommends it not be produced.» Riskin and director Victor Fleming worked together to revise the script, but that version also failed to win the approval of the War Department. Edward L. Munson, chief of the Information Branch, informed MGM that production of the script «in its present form would be unwise because of the psychological effect it [the film] would have on potential fledgling and experienced pilots as well as their parents. The presence of hovering ghosts of deceased pilots, and the unreal, fantastic, and slightly schizophrenic character of the scenario hardly combine to produce a sensible war-time film diet

Irene Dunne and Van Johnson
But the filmmakers would not give up. Trumbo, Riskin and Fleming built some flattery of the Army Air Forces into the screenplay and MGM continue to lobby for War Department support, until the film eventually passed a new review board, in November 1942. According to Lieutenant John T. Parker Jr. of the Review Branch, the final script «presents a morale-building motif for the benefit of air cadets, as well as an interpretation of air combat casualties that can be helpful and perhaps comforting to the civilian point of view

Still, the Production Code Administration (PCA) was not convinced. For the PCA's chief, Joseph Breen, the problem was the original ending, in which Dorinda, in effect, commits suicide during the climatic mission to destroy the ammunition dump. What Breen saw as the «self-destructive amorality» of Dorinda's decision, made him suggest an alteration: she would «take on a dangerous job that might result in disaster for Ted, then loses her life in the attempt.» After a subsequent reading, Breen also proposed that Japanese anti-aircraft fire shoot her down. «The point,» he wrote, «is the get away from the definite suggestion that she deliberately goes out in an heroic way to commit suicide.» Although this did not please the film's creators, they ultimately acceded to Breen's suggestions.

A Guy Named Joe finally began production in mid-February 1943. Two-time Academy Award winner Spencer Tracy was assigned to the role of Pete Sandidge. This was the third and final collaboration of Tracy and Fleming; they had previously worked together on Captains Courageous (1937), which had earned the actor his first Oscar, and Test Pilot (1938). To play Dorinda Durston, Tracy demanded that Riskin cast Katharine Hepburn, with whom he had been having an affair for the past two years. The producer reportedly told him to go «screw» himself and cast Irene Dunne instead. The part of Ted Randall was given to newcomer Van Johnson. Robert Young had been slated for the role, but studio executives eventually decided to hire Johnson to «attract a bigger teenage audience.» The supporting cast included Ward Bond as Al Yackey and Lionel Barrymore as «The General.»

Barry Nelson (Dick Rumney), Spencer Tracy,
Van Johnson, Irene Dunne and Ward Bond
in A Guy Named Joe
As Tracy was furious at Riskin's refusal to cast Hepburn, he initially proved very difficult to work with — especially to Dunne. Although she had been excited to work with Tracy, the actor «took an immediate dislike» to her, finding her «too prudish.» Both Tracy and Fleming would sometimes kid Dunne to the point of tears. Things reached such an intolerable situation that there was even talk of taking Dunne out of the picture. Near tragedy, however, would soon bring out the best in Tracy.

Two weeks into filming A Guy Named Joe, Johnson was badly injured in a car accident while driving to the MGM lot for a special screening of the Tracy-Hepburn vehicle Keeper of the Flame (1943). The crash lacerated his face, neck and forehead, and damaged his skull so severely that doctors had to insert a metal plate in his head. For a time, it seemed as though he would not survive.

Johnson did pull through and spent the next three months in recovery. Both Tracy and Dunne went to see him in hospital at least three times a week. During this time, the studio wanted to replace him with either John Hodiak or Peter Lawford, but Tracy would have none of it. The actor insisted that if Johnson was dropped from the picture, neither star would shoot another scene. Dunne and Tracy did not have the best relationship off screen, but both agreed that removing Johnson from the film was «unthinkable.» Eventually, Mayer worked out a compromise with Tracy: lighten up on Dunne and MGM would put A Guy Named Joe on hold until Johnson could return. After the deal was made, Tracy and Dunne took the extra time to re-shoot some of the scenes where their hostility was noticeable.

A Guy Named Joe finally premiered at the Astor Theatre in New York City, on December 23, 1943. Critical reaction was somewhat mixed. Writing for the New York Daily News, Kate Cameron observed, «Tracy and Miss Dunne play their parts well and director Victor Fleming has at times given the story a touch of poetic magic that lifts it above the average war film.» But then she added, the film was flawed by a «tedious attempt to be whimsical about death.» On the other hand, the Chicago Daily News called the picture «a relief from the underscored realism of most war pictures.» Despite the lukewarm critical response, A Guy Named Joe became of the top-grossing pictures of 1943-1944, with total billings of $5,363,000, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story.

Holly Hunter as Dorinda Durston and Richard
Dreyfuss as Pete Sandich in Always
In 1974, during the making of Jaws (1975), director Steven Spielberg and actor Richard Dreyfuss discussed the possibility of remaking A Guy Named Joe. They both considered it a «classic» war melodrama. Dreyfuss has seen it «at least 35 times» and for Spielberg, «it was one of the films that inspired him to become a director

The adaptation, titled Always, involved many writers and re-writes over nearly a decade. Jerry Belson, who had contributed to the screenplay of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), also starring Dreyfuss, penned the first treatment in 1981. Two years later, Diane Thomas wrote a second version. After her draft, Belson re-wrote the film in 1988, when Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter became attached to the project. Ron Bass and playwright Tom Stoppard, both uncredited, also made contributions to the script.

Always follows the same basic premise as A Guy Named Joe, but changed the setting from World War II to that of a modern aerial firefighting operation. Dreyfuss starred as Pete Sandich (altered from the original Sandidge), a reckless aerial firefighter who dies after an engine fire causes his aircraft to explode during a bombing run. Paul Newman and Robert Redford desperately wanted the part, but Dreyfuss was chosen because «he is the everyday man with whom audiences can relate.» Hunter played his girlfriend, Dorinda Durston, a pilot who doubles as a dispatcher, and John Goodman appeared as Al Yackey, Pete's best friend. The character of Ted Randall, called Ted Baker in the remake, was assigned to newcomer Brad Johnson, in his first co-starring role. Academy Award winner Audrey Hepburn made her final film appearance before her death in 1993 as Hap, Pete's guardian angel.

Richard Dreyfuss and Brad Johnson
(Ted Baker) in Always
Unlike A Guy Named Joe, production on Always went smoothly. The only major difficulty was producing forest fires for the shoot. Special effects supervisor Mike Wood and his crew solves this problem by fabricating tree that had the ability to «burn on cue.» In addition, Spielberg used footage of the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires, which burned throughout that summer and affected 63 percent of the park's total acreage. According to the U.S. National Park Service's website, this is Yellowstone's largest firefighting effort to date.

Always premiered on December 22, 1989 to a tepid critical reception. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times highlighted the film's «lack of urgency», calling it «dated» and «a curiosity: a remake that wasn't remade enoughVariety gave it a more generous review, describing it as «engagingly casual, somewhat silly, but always entertaining fantasy.» Still, the movie did fairly well financially, grossing $77 million at the box office. The commercial popularity of Always gave way to a new crop of «ghost» pictures, including Jerry Zucker's hugely successful Ghost (1990).

It is always risky to remake a film, especially one that was so successful and that spoke to so many people as A Guy Named Joe did. Always is an enjoyable film, but it pales in comparison to its predecessor. The central problem of «letting go» after a lover's sudden death and the theme of inheriting responsibility and living up to another's heroic sacrifice was crucial to the collective experience of wartime, but it lacks contemporary resonance. As Ralph Novak in People put it, «A Guy Named Joe responded to a most particular need.» During World War II, when young loves were so precarious, audiences needed comforting, something that would somehow create an emotional connection between them and their lost loved ones. Fleming's picture provided that for them, even if it was just an illusion. As such, Always comes across as a dated, easily forgotten imitation, an oddity in Spielberg's outstanding body of work.

This post is my contribution to The Remake of the «They Remade What?!» Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. To view all entries, click HERE.

Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood Rebel: A Critical Survey and Filmography by Peter Hanson (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001)
Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood by Wes D. Gehring (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006)
Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Kathi Jackson ()
Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy by Ronald L. Davis (University Press of Mississippi, 2001)
Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master by Michael Sragow (University Press of Kentucky, 2013)
A Guy Named Joe at the American Film Institute Catalog
Always at the American Film Institute Catalog
Always review by Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times

Thursday, 1 November 2018

September & October Favorites

I have always wanted to do a «monthly favorites» type of post on this blog, but I kept putting it off some reason or the other — until this year. I will be doing one of these every month (or every two months) and I will include literally everything that I have loved or that has made me happy during that time, be it a film, a song, a book, a TV show, an item of clothing or anything else. These are my September and October favorites.

Favorite film #1: Frankie and Johnny (1991)
Frankie and Johnny is the story of a middle-aged man, recently released from prison, who finds a job as a cook at a local diner and ends up falling in love with an emotionally scarred waitress. The wonderful Al Pacino plays the cook and the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer co-stars as the waitress.

This has got to be one of the best romantic comedies I have ever seen in my life — and believe you me, I have seen A LOT of them. I have never pictured Al Pacino as the romantic lead type, but he is just perfect as Johnny and his scenes with Michelle Pfeiffer are an absolute delight to watch.

Favorite film #2: A Quiet Place (2018) 
I am not a fan of horror films, but every year on Halloween I always watch a horror/psychological thriller film just to kind of celebrate the occasion. The film I chose to watch this year was A Quiet Place and I think it might have become one of favorite films of all time. Honestly, it is SO GOOD! John Krasinski wrote a brilliant script and his direction is amazing, as is the cinematography. Emily Blunt is flawless and the kids are all great, especially Millicent Simmonds. If you have not seen this film, I strongly suggest you do.

Favorite actor: Al Pacino
I have known of Al Pacino my entire life, but I have never gave two cents about him. I assumed (wrongly, I realize that now) that his personality would somehow mirror that of the characters that he usually plays, which are not very nice people, so I just thought I would not like him much. Well, in late August, I got really into 1970s films and pretty much half of the greatest movies made during that decade (I am exaggerating, but you get my point) are Al Pacino movies, so I obviously felt obliged to watch those. Anyway, before I knew it, I was madly in love with him. He is just the sweetest guy, really humble and he has absolutely no ego whatsoever. Besides, he truly is one of the greatest actors that has ever lived, and I find it COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS that he did not win the Academy Award for both The Godfather Part II (1974) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975).

Favorite TV show #1: Elite (2018-)
Being a huge fan of La Casa de Papel [Money Heist] (2017-), I was really excited when I found out that three actors from that show (Jaime Lorente, Miguel Herrán and Maria Pedraza) were put together in another Netflix show called Elite. Naturally, I watched it and I am now completely obsessed with it. For those of you who have never heard of it, Elite follows three working-class friends who are given scholarships to study at an exclusive private school in Spain after their own school is destroyed by an earthquake. At first sight, the differences between them and their new rich classmates seem obvious, but some of them might have more in common than what initially meets the eye.

If you are looking for a new show to watch, give Elite a try. It is such a brilliant show! It is incredibly well written, the cinematography and the soundtrack are beautiful, and the entire cast is flawless and they all have amazing chemistry. If you are a fan of the show and you are wondering, my favorite characters are Guzmán, Nadia, Omar and Ander. My least favorite character is Samuel.

Favorite TV show #2: Dark (2017-)
I became a fan of Louis Hoffman after I watched Land of Mine (2015), Sanctuary (2015) and Centre of My World (2016), so I was really interested to watch his Netflix show, Dark. If you have never heard of it, Dark follows four different German families who all have a dark past and are all mysteriously connected somehow. The story begins in 2019, but spreads out to include storylines from 1986 and 1953 via time travel, as some characters (including the one played by Louis Hoffman) become aware of the existence of a wormhole below the local nuclear power plant. If you like thrillers and science fiction, you will love Dark.

Favorite song #1: «Shallow» by Bradley Cooper & Lady GaGa
One of the films I am most excited to see this year is A Star is Born (2018), which everyone says is one of the greatest films ever made. When I first heard this song a month ago, I became slightly obsessed with it. I am not really a fan of Lady GaGa, but man! she can sing! And Bradley Cooper's voice (which is very good, by the way) really complements her own. I genuinely cannot wait to watch this film. I predict Oscar nominations for everyone.

Favorite song #2: «Too Much Love Will Kill You» by Queen
Another film that I am really looking forward to watching is Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), which is a biopic of Freddie Mercury starring the lovely Rami Malek. So, in antecipation to that film, I started listening to Queen's greatest hits and for some reason I fell in love with this song. It is the perfect power ballad!


Favorite song #3: «It's Not Living (If It's Not With You You» by The 1975
The 1975 are one of my favorite bands of all time and I cannot wait to listen to their new album. This song is the most recent single out of the album and I have been listening to it pretty much non-stop ever since it came out.


And there you go. These are the things that I have loved throughout September and October. What are some things that you have been loving?