Sunday, November 27, 2016

Kate Hepburn: POISON?

In an issue of Classic Movies Digest, Volume One, just released on Amazon, I discuss the period in the career of the late, great Katharine Hepburn when she was labeled BOX OFFICE POISON.  It was a moniker that she shared with other Hollywood greats but would overcome.  Below I offer a short excerpt from the newly bundled CMD Volume One, Issues 1-5.  Read it, enjoy it and hopefully you will want to check out the whole book.

Katharine Hepburn:  Box-Office Poison?

Making her film debut in 1932 with the legendary John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement, Connecticut born and bred Katharine Hepburn was set on a path for screen stardom.  Within a year of her auspicious Hollywood entrĂ©e, she starred in the first of her four Academy Award winning roles (Morning Glory), as well as one of the most recognized and popular films of the decade (Little Women).  She was the darling of her home studio, RKO, and her continued success seemed inevitable.  Unlike her contemporaries, she refused to play the Tinsel Town game.  She abhorred interviews and rebuffed reporters (when asked by one newsperson if she and then husband Ludlow Ogden Smith had any children, her unorthodox reply was:  “Two white and three colored”).  Her wearing of pants and masculine attire and her disdain for makeup was seen as too independent for public taste and she was tagged by some with the moniker “Katharine of Arrogance.”  Hepburn went back to the stage on her native East coast, for the not very well received The Lake.  When she returned to Hollywood, RKO cast her in Alice Adams (1935) for which she received yet another Oscar nomination, but the accolades were short lived.
In 1936, Hepburn made Sylvia Scarlett with Cary Grant and Brian Aherne, in which the non-stereotypical actress played a woman who is disguised as a young man.  The RKO oddity cost Kate a big chunk of her reputation and the studio a big chunk of change (The film lost a whopping $363,000 in Depression-era dollars).  Her period costume dramas, of the mid-‘30s, including Mary of Scotland, A Woman Rebels (both 1936) and Quality Street (1937), were flops as well, the latter two losing almost a quarter of a million dollars each at the box office.  The public was staying away from Hepburn pictures in droves.
Despite her rapidly slipping popularity, her agent, Leland Hayward, was able to negotiate a new contract with RKO and her first project under the new deal was a screen adaption of the Edna Ferber - George S. Kauffman Broadway hit, Stage Door.  The film enjoyed modest success and there seemed to be a ray of hope for Kate’s career.  Stage Door paired the haughty Hepburn with Ginger Rogers, who, commercially, was a much more popular star at the time and lucrative commodity for the studio.  As Hepburn’s status at RKO plummeted, Rogers’ simultaneous skyrocketed.  The movie’s director, Gregory La Cava, used the stars’ studio rivalry as an asset to the film, enhancing the on-screen cattiness to great advantage.  Still, the sparkling and intelligent comedy didn’t hit the mark that RKO execs had aimed for, bringing in only $81,000 in profits.
Desperate for a Hepburn hit and with fingers crossed, the studio cast her in a comedy, based on the humble financial success of Stage Door.  Again paired with Cary Grant, who had just made a comic breakthrough of his own with The Awful Truth, the actress starred in Bringing Up Baby, the story of a man, a woman and a leopard named Baby.  As inane as it sounded, that was the stuff of screwball comedies in the 1930s.  In retrospect, Bringing Up Baby is considered by some as one of the premiere classic comedies of its time, but in 1938 it was a box-office disaster, losing $365,000, and when RKO slated Hepburn’s next film to be the standard programmer Mother Carey’s Chickens, the actress saw the writing on the wall. Mother Carey’s Chickens was made but without Hepburn.  She bought out her contract for just over $200,000 and left the studio with which she had become synonymous.

Read the rest of the chapter and the others on the Golden Age of Hollywood, including The Bette Davis/ Miriam Hopkins Feud, Life of a Starlet: Lana Turner, movie reviews and behind the scenes stories and so much more in CLASSIC MOVIES DIGEST: Volume One, Issues 1-5!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hooray for Hollywood!

CLASSIC MOVIE LOVER ALERT! I'm happy to announce that I've just released my Classic Movies Digest Volume 1 BUNDLE. It is Issues 1 through 5 of my CMD eMagazine bundled into ONE VOLUME at almost HALF the PRICE than if you purchased them separately!!

Only $4.99 compared to $8.99 bought individually. Check it out and take advantage of this AWESOME deal.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Backbone of a Classic Movie

Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my new book, The Name Below The Title, Volume 3: 20 MORE Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of even more fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority.

The tragedy of Fox player Carole Landis (pictured above), the unique life of Dame Margaret Rutherford, best-known for her sprightly Miss Marple in the 1960s, the suicide of Clara Blandick, who played Judy Garland's Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz, the struggle for stardom and extreme weight loss by Laird Cregar.  These and so many others are featured in The Name Below The Title, Volume 3.  Click on the links for Amazon and read the first couple of chapters for FREE in the Amazon preview!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's May!

And Redgrave and the whole Camelot gang want to celebrate!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

You Like Classic Hollywood? SURE you do!

If you have followed this blog for the years it has been written or read any of my books on classic movies and the golden age of Hollywood, you know that I try to cover all aspects of that glorious age.  I have just released my newest issue of the e-magazine named after this blog:  Classic Movies Digest.  The latest, Volume 1, Issue 4, features some great films and an insightful piece on the scandal caused by Mary Astor's diary, which was a focus in her nasty divorce in the mid-1930s, plus more.

If you're a fan of classic movie lore click on the link below and check out the latest and if you enjoy it, I hope you will leave a positive review!
And say, thanks very much.
Classic Movies Digest, Volume 1, Issue 4

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fine Character Reference

 Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my newest book, The Name Below The Title, Volume 2: 20 MORE Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of even more fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority. Below I've posted an excerpt from the chapter on superb player, Elsa Lanchester. Enjoy and if you'd like to check out the rest of the book and the other 19 wonderful character actors, check out the book on Amazon.

In 1924 Lanchester and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a nightclub on Charlotte Street called the Cave of Harmony, a haven for London Bohemia.  Although the main focus was midnight performances of one-act plays and cabaret songs, Lanchester also included revivals of aged Victorian ballads and bawdy Cockney songs, including odd ditties such as “Rat Catcher’s Daughter.”  The Cave of Harmony became a popular haunt for toney artists and intellectuals, including writers H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and future film director James Whale, who would play an important part in Elsa’s life during the next decade.  Her work at the Cave of Harmony was a labor of love, reaping little in financial gain and she participated in stage work elsewhere while continuing her tenure at her own establishment.

 In 1927, the colorful actress made her professional film debut in a supporting role in One of the Best, a silent costume drama produced by prestigious Gainsborough Pictures (Her first actual film appearance was in an amateur motion picture by her friend and author Evelyn Waugh called The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama in 1925). Yet, even more memorable for her personally, if not professionally, was her participation, that same year, in a play by Arnold Bennett called Mr. Prohack, in which she was cast opposite a young character actor named Charles Laughton. The two actors reportedly were paid the same salaries, though Laughton played the title role and Elsa was cast in the smaller part of his secretary. They acted together in a set of short films the following year and in February 1929 were married. They continued to act together on occasion including in Payment Deferred on the London stage in May 1931, then traveling to the United States to debut the show on Broadway in September, where it ran for 70 performances in the autumn of ‘31. Laughton was cast in the movie version, released in 1932, though Lanchester was not.

 It was during this period that Laughton confessed to his wife of his homosexual tendencies. In her 1983 autobiography, Elsa Lanchester, Herself, she recounted the night he disclosed his secret. The actor arrived home late one evening in 1931 with Jeffrey Dell, who was adapting Payment Deferred for the stage, a policeman and a boy who apparently wanted money from Laughton, all in tow. According to Lanchester:

   “I was in bed when Charles came upstairs. ‘Something awful has happened,’ he said to me. ‘I have something to confess.’ He said that he had picked up the boy, and it wasn’t the first time he had done it; that he was homosexual partly, and he cried. I said, ‘It’s perfectly all right, it doesn’t matter. I understand it. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s why he cried. When I told him it didn’t matter. […]

 Later on, I would ask Charles what really happened, and once he told me that he had had a fellow on our sofa. The only thing I said was, “Fine, okay, but get rid of the sofa.” We did. We sold it.”

 When Laughton appeared in court concerning the incident, the judge called the money given to the boy “misguided generosity,” and a tiny paragraph at the bottom of a local newspaper read: “Actor warned about misguided generosity.” Only the boy’s name was listed.

 Lanchester is just one of the great character stars featured in the fun and informative book. If you love classic Hollywood, as I do, I hope you will give it a read. Check it out at the link below!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Private Worlds (1935): Have You Seen It?

Mental illness wasn’t exactly the kind of subject matter that had audiences flocking to darkened theaters during Hollywood’s golden age.  It was on rare occasions that a studio would delve into the complicated world of psychosis but when it did, it was usually interesting and respected if not extremely popular.  The Snake Pit, produced by 20th Century-Fox in 1948, was one of the best-known and finest examples of the sensitive subject matter on celluloid.  Thirteen years earlier, however, Paramount had made Private Worlds, which starred Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea and examined the administrative aspect of a mental hospital with romantic elements thrown in to add spice.

Drs. Jane Everest and Alex MacGregor (Colbert and McCrea) are psychiatrists; colleagues who work very closely together at the Brentwood clinic, a facility for those with mental illness.  Although they are close, there is no hanky-panky between the two professionals, just mutual respect and camaraderie.  Alex is married to Sally (Joan Bennett), an innocent, young woman who loves her husband deeply and is emotionally dependent on him.  Jane has no romantic entanglements, instead carrying a burning torch for her love, lost years ago during World War I.  When a new superintendent arrives at Brentwood, he finds bitterness and animosity from MacGregor, who had hoped to gain the position himself.  The new head honcho, Dr. Charles Monet (Charles Boyer), is of the belief that women should not hold such lofty positions in the medical field, as Dr. Jane has for some time, and reassigns her to lesser responsibilities at the hospital.

The problems really begin when Monet’s flighty and flirtatious sister, who has a shady past, sets her sights on the handsome MacGregor.  While the young doctor begins to see this piece of work “socially,” his emotionally fragile wife slowly begins to sink into a mental decline.  Jane also finds drama when she begins to be drawn to Monet and vice versa.

Joan Bennett and Claudette Colbert

Claudette Colbert was riding a career high in the mid-Thirties.  While filming Private Worlds, Colbert won an Academy Award for the famed screwball comedy It Happened One Night, released the previous year.  1934 also saw her star turns in the original version of Imitation of Life and the exotic lead in Cecil B. De Mille’s Cleopatra.  Fresh off this win she was nominated for her work in Private Worlds.  As Dr. Monet, Charles Boyer gives an interesting performance, though not definitive.  New to Hollywood, Boyer had a heavy, very distinctive French accent, which would be an extreme liability for most actors but for Boyer it became his trademark (the same could be said of fellow Frenchman Maurice Chevalier) and would be imitated by celebrity impersonators often.

Private Worlds was based on a novel by authoress Phyllis Bottom, who had a number of her books translated to the screen, the most famous being The Mortal Storm at MGM in 1940.  According to Joan Bennett, her future husband Walter Wanger, who produced the movie, was offered the film rights to the Phyllis Bottom book, after he had read it, while in England.  Although initially refusing, the producer changed his mind when he realized the book was a bestseller.  When Paramount obtained the rights to Bottom’s story, Gregory La Cava was chosen to direct what was basically uncharted film territory.  La Cava got his start in the early days of motion pictures in charge of an animation unit for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and creating animated shorts with famed cartoonist Walter Lantz.  When he made Private Worlds, his best-known films, My Man Godfrey and Stage Door, had yet to be made.

In her supporting role, Joan Bennett was able to stretch her acting wings more than she ever had before, bringing in one of her most dramatic parts to that date.  In her memoir, The Bennett Playbill, the actress called her part as Sally “the first really challenging and the most dramatic role I’d played up to that time.”  She named Private Worlds as one of six films out of her entire career of seventy movies that she felt was “acceptable.”

As part of the MCA/Universal library, which houses the Paramount collection of movies from this era, Private Worlds is a rarity for modern classic movie lovers.  It is, however, worth the view if ever you get the chance to catch it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

He Said, She Said....

Classic Hollywood stars were colorful to say the least, and through the years, they spoke colorful and fun quips that can be fun to look back on today.  Here are a few from some of Tinseltown's biggest and brightest stars.

The public has always expected me to be a playboy,
and a decent chap never lets his public down.
  ~ Errol Flynn

Wrinkles are hereditary. Parents get them from their children.
  ~ Doris Day

I just put my feet in the air and move them around.
  ~ Fred Astaire

If I had to live my life again,
I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.
  ~ Tallulah Bankhead

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Classic Movies Digest is Now an E-Magazine!

Have you checked out the new Classic Movies Digest electronic magazine on Amazon?
Two issues have been published since early December and the reception has been fantastic!
In depth features of stars and films from Hollywood's grand golden age.
At only 99¢, it is a super value and also gives those who are interested in this fabulous time in movie history a peek into my selection of e-books available on Amazon.

The Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine Sister Rivalry and the Ronald Reagan / Jane Wyman Divorce are just two features which delves into what was happening with these great stars of the Silver Screen.  Check them out, along with my other classic movie tomes at the links below and thanks for all the great support and encouragement.

Classic Movies Digest, Volume 1, Issue 1

Classic Movies Digest, Volume 1, Issue 2

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Who Doesn't LOVE Classic Movie Character Actors!

Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my brand new book, The Name Below The Title: 20 Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of these fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority.  Below I've posted the chapter on the first famous face, and WHAT a face; Margaret Hamilton.  Enjoy and if you'd like to check out the rest of the book and the other 19 wonderful character actors, check out the book on Amazon.

Margaret Hamilton

“I was in a need of money at the time, I had done about six pictures for MGM at the time and my agent called.  I said, 'Yes?' and he said 'Maggie, they want you to play a part on the Wizard.'  I said to myself, 'Oh Boy, The Wizard of Oz! That has been my favorite book since I was four.'  And I asked him what part, and he said 'The Witch' and I said 'The Witch?!' and he said 'What else?'”  That is how actress Margaret Hamilton described being cast in the classic fantasy The Wizard of Oz (1939).  The hatchet faced actress made the role iconic and created a character that would be ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, just behind Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates and Darth Vader, making her the highest ranking female baddie.  But as memorable as she was in Oz, she added bristling, disapproving presence to dozens of films and television appearances from the 1930s through the 1980s.

The youngest of four children, Hamilton was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and had an early interest in acting and working in local theater.  Upon her parent’s wishes, she attended Wheelock College, or as it was founded in 1888, Miss Wheelock's Kindergarten Training School, where she served as president of the senior class as well as playing Jo in a school stage production of Little Women.  Upon graduation, Margaret did indeed become a kindergarten teacher.  Her true passion, however, remained in the theater and in April 1932, at the age of 29, she made her debut on Broadway in Another Language, then on to Hollywood for the movie version at Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  She reprised yet another of her stage roles for the screen inThe Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), which also marked the movie debut of Henry Fonda.  After steady film work in a string of supporting parts, with an exceptional turn in Samuel Goldwyn’sThese Three (1936), she was cast in the role of her lifetime.  She was, however, not the first choice for the sinister and infamous Wicked Witch of the West.

Oz producer Mervyn LeRoy envisioned a slinky, glamorous witch of the West, cavorting around the haunted castle in green eye shadow and black sequins.  His conception was influenced by the wicked queen in Disney’s outrageously popular Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered in late 1937.  LeRoy wanted attractive actress Gale Sondergaard, whom he had directed in the 1936 hit, Anthony Adverse (for which Sondergaard won the very first Best Supporting Actress Academy Award), but when it was decided that the witch would be ugly and scarier than originally anticipated, Sondergaard was out and thirty-six year-old Hamilton was hired at $1,000 a week.  Seeking steady employment over the potential ups and downs of show business, Maggie Hamilton, as she was called by those who knew her best, followed a common sense approach for her personal career philosophy.  “At 1,200 or $1,500 a week, I knew I wouldn’t work much,” she stated.  “And I had my young son and I wanted to work all I could [Hamilton Meserve was born in 1936 and Margaret had just been divorced from his father before being hired for Oz].  So I never let them pay me more.  And I never went under contract.”

An incident on the Oz set in December 1938 put her out of commission for weeks and made her wary about scenes regarding fire.  During the filming of a scene in which Hamilton’s character exits Munchkinland in a burst of flame and smoke, the actress received burns on her face and hand when the fire used for the special effect rose prematurely from the trap door from which she was to disappear.  Making matters worse, the green makeup used on her skin contained potentially toxic copper-oxide and had to be removed before her burns could be treated, which was an extremely painful process.  When she returned to the set after a hospital stay, she claimed, "I won't sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again.  I will return to work on one condition - no more fire work!”

Although best-known as the scariest gal in Oz, outside that realm the actress played characters more in line with her Wicked Witch alter ego, Miss Almira Gulch; sour-faced spinsters and gossipy snoops who lived in the neighborhood.  She was at her crabby, disapproving best in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), My Little Chickadee (1940) and The Beautiful Blonde of Bashful Bend (1949) among others.  Ironically, as abrasive as her screen image was, she always carried an interest in nurturing children, even serving on the Beverly Hills Board of Education in the late forties.

Having graced the stage in New York and the large screen in Hollywood, the industrious Hamilton also found work on the radio with a regular role in the Ethel and Albert series, playing Aunt Eva.  Among her many television appearances, she garnered a steady gig on the 1960s soap opera, The Secret Storm.  In the 70s, she became the popular spokesperson for Maxwell House coffee, starring in numerous television commercials as Cora, the wise New England storekeeper who recommended the name-brand brew.  Hamilton died of a heart attack in 1985.

Hamilton is just one of 20 of these great unsung stars of the silver (and small) screen.
I hope you'll read about the rest at the link below.


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