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Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep

by Michael Schulman (Author)


Print Length: 304 pages

Publisher: Harper Collins (April 26 2016)


“Her again “is exactly what I have said when watching the Academy Awards and Meryl Streep is nominated.  Michael Schulman crafts a fast paced look at Meryl Streep –from her childhood to the role that launched her in KRAMER VS KRAMER (1979).

What I found the most entertaining were the people that Streep came in contact with; particularly from her days in theatre.  John Lithgow, Dustin Hoffman (she auditioned for a play he was directing), Al Pacino, and Sigourney Weaver from her Yale acting days.  Schulman weaves a real world of personalities filled with little bits of up and down, with backstage stories to round things out. Streep reads a great deal of books on various subjects, and memorizes whole Shakespearian plays.

Meryl Streep moved in the world with fairy tale quality based on her looks and her ability to present character on stage and later in film.  The story seems to have that Hollywood quality to it. For example, Meryl could arrive an hour late for an important Broadway audition and get the role instantly. Schulman is a Meryl Streep booster and fan which is evident in the tone and depth of the story.

The best parts delved into Steep’s  relationship with unconventional actor John Cazale, who many will know played the machine  gun carrying fellow trying to get the  sex change operation financed by Al Pacino’s character in DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975).   Those moments become an unconventional love story as the quirky looking Cazale (who apparently did everything at his own pace no matter what) and the blonde, Nordic looking blue eyed, high cheek boned Streep.  The book follows Cazale’s cancer diagnoses and Streep spending months nursing him till he passed away.   Al Pacino said years later as reported by the author that, “No matter what she wins… This will always be his memory of her and how she stood up for John.”

The book ends with a detailed narrative the making of KRAMER VS KRAMER (1979) and a look at the talent of Dustin Hoffman – whom were learn has a very abrasive style of directing and set manner – he locks   horns with Meryl Streep, who plays the wife in the landmark tale of a divorce and child custody battle. This picture is a child of the late eighties with the rise of feminism, with which Meryl seems to have taken on in her life.

It may not be a complete look into the life of Meryl Streep but it doesn’t claim to be as its subtitle of “Becoming Meryl Streep,” suggests.  Still an entertaining look at what some thing is one of greatest female actors of this generation and how she became the Meryl Streep we see on the screen.






The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane

By Patrick McGilligan

832 pages with two 16 page photo inserts

Publisher: Harper Collins

This was my second excursion into the world of Orson Welles and was by far the most comprehensive to date.  My previous experience was with Simon Callow’s first volume THE ROAD TO XANADU, a few years back; I found its tone tedious.

Do not let the size of this tome put you off:  author Patrick McGilligan takes you on a wonderfully detailed trip into Welles’ life.  One gets to follow the lives of Welles’ would- be parents before they meet. The social fabric of the time, the early industrialization of America, the schools, all add up to nostalgic sections of Welles’ parents and their lives in Kenosha Falls.

Interesting accounts of young Orson in school as he tries to and succeeds in avoiding physical education and athletics with guile unbecoming a twelve year old.  One gets to see the opportunities as they come into his life such as the Mercury Theatre and early Shakespeare productions that Welles often played in as a lead, knowing the roles almost by heart from an early age.  His love of magic and magicians became a lifelong obsession.

Patrick Gilligan gets us close to Welles’ friends, such as actor Norman Lloyd, Joseph Cotton, and John Houseman, who was instrumental in Orson’s theatre and radio work, culminating in the famous or infamous THE WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast of 1938.

The reader gets to be a fly on the wall in meetings as the genesis of CITIZEN KANE takes place with co- writer Herman Mankieweiz and Orson, plus others as they give birth in various script versions often fueled by excess and madness of creativity.

One also learns of the other side of genius, as Orson was called at a young age.  The divorce, the estranged children, the money fights, the creative fights, the battles with studios, later years of neglect and perhaps the truth of what Rosebud really meant in the film.   The barriers of belligerence Orson set up in later years to protect himself from people that hid a lonely man who wondered, “People would hire me to talk about film but no one will let me make one.”

YOUNG ORSON: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane is an excellent addition to any film lover’s or biography reader’s bookshelf as it draws from previous and new sources.  It is a glimpse of a Renaissance man at work and at play – warts and all.


In the first part of this series I took a capsule look at the Studio System with a nod to the use of drugs in order to produce and package the huge amount of product. It was not a complete look as many smaller operations such as PARAMOUNT PICTURES, RKO and the Poverty Row companies such as PRC, and REPUBLIC were not mentioned.  No doubt these studios fell into the same practice; however, having not many stars the public awareness would not have had much effect.

I turn now to METRO GOLDWYN MAYER and its famous studio school.  During the thirties, it was California law that every screen actor of school age was to spend four hours a day at their studies. It was not practical to have an actor leave the studio grounds during filming so a school house was built for them to attend.  Among those that attended were Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jackie Cooper, Lana Turner, Freddie Bartholomew, Suzanne Larson, Cosmo Millardi, Ronald Sinclair, Frieda Starr, Elena Quirici, and Betty Jaynes.   Lessons were given, recess was granted, and lunch was taken – all in an effort to maintain a regular routine.

Louis B. Mayer had an obsession with what he thought was the correct attitude for the films produced by MGM.  This was the studio that gave us the ANDY HARDY series of pictures, along with musicals that made millions making Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland the fresh faces of American Youth.  The ANDY HARDY series glorified the family as it was in pre-war and later wartime America with the father figure- Judge Hardy – dispensing words of wisdom to Andy, who would realize the error of his ways and come home or sort out some predicament such as having two dates with different girls on the same night.  It was light hearted fare all summed up with smiles and the comfort of home in the final reel.  The connection between this and the studio school was that both of these were enclosed worlds. The films were escapist products which is what pictures of this nature did very well. The studio school was part of the life one led on the lot of MGM if you were in pictures.  In some cases a very sheltered existence, protected by physical walls and people of the outside world preserving the sense of make believe.  This is acceptable in motion pictures as you sell dreams but in actual life being sheltered can have dire consequences.

MGM had what was called the ‘SPECIAL SERVICES’ Department, which took care of matters for stars and studio personnel.  It has been written it was this department that was involved in a potential cover up of Jean Harlow’s husband Paul Bern in 1932. Mayer and others from the studio were on the crime scene before the police had arrived to tamper with evidence and plant a ‘suicide’ note.  This department of the studio could not have done this on its own – it needed complicity with police forces. It had sweeping powers.

SPECIAL SERVICES provided a cushion from everyday life for those that worked at MGM; including those attending the studio school.  Other studios had versions of this department, often with newspaper people and the evolution of the gossip columnist, who were given exclusive stories by meeting, talking to or ferreting out stories for the public’s insatiable appetite for Hollywood stars and the studio that employed them.  These people would cover up peccadillos by providing ‘medical leave from exhaustion’ to a female star, extra, or script girl. It wouldn’t look good if the star of your latest picture about homespun American life with Mom and apple pie was seen in a drunk tank or as Johnny Weismuller was found to have lifted a starlet up so high of the ground that her footprints were found next morning on the ceiling of a living room after a night’s frolic.

The studio school took care of you had a pimple – there would be five people to rush it and eliminate it as it was not to be seen.  If you were sick or hung over you were given rest. In short, everything that people of the outside world meaning the public did for themselves if they had the resources.  It created a sheltered existence that had consequences later in life for several of the people that came into contact with it.

I speak in particular of the much publicized life and addiction troubles of Judy Garland.   The relationship troubles of Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner.  You cannot protect someone from all that life can visit upon them.  The studio school was one part of the finishing school of the MGM system, where the chosen learned to be worthy of the studio’s reputation of having, “More stars than in the heavens.” The MGM way was something without choice; often contracts were terminated or not renewed for non- compliance.


To work at MGM was to be in a controlled environment ruled by an autocratic hand, except those in New York who controlled the purse strings.   This was a price these people paid in later life. Some would not argue with results of this control as we have a legacy of brilliant performances from many MGM films. Some choose to ignore the methods used and glamourize the era. No doubt behind the tinsel and champagne is lot of hard work, sleepless nights, pressure and broken hearts. For the few there are the dreams that are fulfilled.  I choose to look at the pictures of this era with admiration for the system as a whole that produced them while still understanding that there was and still is a price for entertainment.



I recently facinated viewed gruff speaking Aldo Ray in  pseudo noir picture NIGHTFALL (1957) Directed by Jacques Tourneur . The way this fellow moved with economy of motion, stood tall, and what was so important in pictures of that day is that he wore his clothes well. Ray never actually played football but he was a Navy frogman during World War two seeing action at Okinawa.  He went along to an audition with his brother Guido for a 1951 football film  SATURDAYS HERO.  Turned out that Director  David Miller was more interested in  him than his brother because of his raspy voice.  Ray got the role of a cynical college football player opposite  John Derek and Donna Reed in the Columbia Pictures production plus a exclusive contract inspite of having no acting experience. He was to appear in several films under his birth name of  Aldo DaRe.



Aldo Ray’s career was launched as he was cast in 1952 opposite Judy holiday in the George Cukor  film THE MARRYING KIND and PAT AND MIKE  with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.  His thick neck and large frame aided his a tough, sexy roles for that time became his trademark.  Cukor once told him that he moved like a ‘football player’ and suggested  that he take ballet lessons.  He was nominated for a “Best Newcomer” award for the Golden Globe awards  that year along with Robert Wagner only to lose out to someone called Richard Burton.  Ray  made a picture with Rita Hayworth called MISS SADIE THOMPSON in 1953.  Columbia pictures boss Harry Cohen wanted Ray in the role of  Private Robert Prewitt in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY(1953) but Director Fred Zinnemann insisted on Montgomery Clift.

In 1955, Ray featured in starring roles in BATTLE CRY, THREE STRIPES IN A  SUN,  MEN IN WAR and one of his best-loved films, WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955), in which he starred with Humphrey Bogart Peter Ustinov, Basil Rathbone and Joan Bennett.  He tried his hand or rather voice as a radio personality on the hit music station WNDR New York.



In personal life Aldo Ray settled in Crockett California after military discharge  with his wife Shirley Green where he was elected as  Town Constable.They had one child, a daughter named Claire The marriage ended in divorce in 1953 as  did  second union to actress Jeff Donnell which also ended in divorce in 1956

By the dawn of the 1960s, Aldo was most often typecast as the tough guy, capitalizing on his husky good looks and gravelly voice. Another iconic role came Ray’s way as he played SGT. Muldoon along side John Wayne in THE GREEN BERETS.(1968) plus appearance in various televsion shows  such as BONANZA.  He married Johanna Bennet, who continues to work today under the name Johanna  Ray, as a respected Casting Director. They were divorced in 1967.   Aldo grew tired of the ‘macho redneck’ roles plus the quality of the stories in 60’s yet he still worked in some less then notable films as character  attitudes  changed.

In the  1980s as Ray was diagnosed with throat cancer and would take any job including non sexual roles in porngraphic films to pay for his costly health insurance. His SCREEN ACTOR GUILD card was revoked when it was found out he was working on non union productions. However ex wife Johanna Ray, a longtime collaborator with David Lynch, cast her son Eric with Aldo in Lynch’s 1990 TWIN PEEKS television series, as well as the movie FIREWALK WITH ME  released in 1992.  Ray also appeared in  1991  horror picture SHOCK’EM DEAD with Tracie Lords and Troy Donohue.

Aldo Ray retured to Crockett California with his mother, family and friends where he passed away in 1991.



Summers are wonderful times to enjoy pictures – some of which I enjoyed during the TCM SUMMER OF DARKNESS festival on Film Noir.  The rain felt warm, the dark was comforting, and dialogue was so sharp you could shave with it. There is morning even in a noir picture -however desolate.

I recently took a spin through the Michael Curtiz 1958 directed picture THE PROUD REBEL with Alan Ladd and Olivia de Havilland, who were ably supported by Dean Jagger, Cecil Kellaway, Henry Hull and a young Harry Dean Stanton among others.  I missed seeing it at the 2015 TCM festival. If you wait, the film you want to see will come around to the network. It has been called an unremarkable film, also “Saturday afternoon light fare,” which really doesn’t bother me. The formula driven story of a former Confederate soldier (Alan Ladd), who is searching for a doctor to cure his son David (David Ladd), who in the course of this meets a woman farmer Linnett Moore (de Havilland). She takes them in as a result of brushes with the law and aggressive neighbors.  What struck me after the end credits had rolled by was the simplicity of the story.  The warm feeling that it evoked came through its use of that tried and true ‘boy and his dog’ motif.

One does not need gritty drama, creatures rising from the dead, or gangsters shooting it out for a roll of money to enjoy classic film. A steady diet of the same style is like eating the same meal every day, and can leave you desensitized; inattentive to nuances of your favorite style of picture as it all blends into one.  Variety is a brilliant way to appreciate what you enjoy even more.

I am not employed by TCM so I get  nothing in boosting their network.  TCM On air host Robert Osbourne articulated some reasons why people watch classic film at a press conference I attended that never occurred to me. Amazingly these experiences were  part of me which I did not take into account. It was mentioned that the TCM network could be classed as a caregiver of sorts. Countless letters are received saying that the network gets people through periods of personal loneliness, periods of unemployment, loss of a loved one, or any number of life transitions.I for one have gone through a medical convalescence a few years ago of six weeks. I would watch one film, sometimes two, beginning very early in the morning as it was my habit to get up at that time. It was pretty cool to be able to catchup on many of the pictures I had stored on PVR. My medical troubles were short as l was fortunate to heal quickly. It is insular of me to not think of this for a person with a long term predicament.

Robert Osbourne spoke to this when he said that with our current world situation, why would people not want to see something uplifting?  The network has a tremendous loyal following that is like a family that no other network can boast. You don’t see conventions, festivals or cruises for other networks.  Some would say that networks such as this are selling your past back to you which is fine since that was what the studio system did. Movies eased people though the Depression, wars, societial transitions with larger then life faces. Momentary escape from what was going on was pretty good for a dime.



Today  some people want realism or the opposite through effects.  There will always be two ‘ camps’ for this debate which is quite alright.  A strong example of new film making with an interesting, if not violant theme is the current  MAD MAX… FURY ROAD which should still be in theatres. It would be tough to  tell this story without the mayhem that goes with it  yet is  handled very well in terms of “implied” action.  One does not need to see the the carnage to know that it is there.


Movies have always been a product of their time as audience change. Sometimes  ‘simple’ is good.





When PVR was still the “stuff dreams are made of,” or there was a hotel chain by the name or a Steven Spielberg film with the title,  those of us that wanted to see a certain style of film had to wait for these pictures in the theatres. Read about them in various magazines which contained those studio stills. Later one would scan the TV GUIDE or equivalent publication that we would buy each week or came with the local paper for our favorite titles and stars. In between-for those lucky enough to have the resources-were companies that sold copies of films in 8 mm, 16mm and later Super 8 formats for home viewing. This was the entry point for some for which film became a serious hobby and launched careers.

Super 8 and 8 mm were available through the mail from companies such as BLACKHAWK FILMS, KEN FILMS and CASTLE FILMS.   BLACKHAWK FILMS was founded in 1927 in Galesburg, Illinois by one Ken D. Eastin who made local advertising films for businesses, shot news events for Newsreels and sold independent 35 mm prints for home projectors. When 16 mm sound happened in 1937, Eastin moved out of his parents’ house and set up shop in Davenport, Iowa.  He operated a rental business till 1957 when film slowed due to the advent of television. Eastin took on a business partner, Martin Phelan, who had a background in direct mail and management.  BLACKHAWK FILMS began producing a monthly newsprint catalogue listing its releases for purchase in 1947 and continued up to 1981.  Consumer interest grew in the products from Hal Roach studios, authorized editions of the Keystone Comedies and railroad films of the vanishing era of steam; of which Eastin was a lifelong fan.  Soon more vintage comedies, dramas, westerns, documentaries, and cartoons were added.  The staple items were always the great silent epics and stars of the day plus rare pictures made to order in the 8 mm gauge for home viewing. BLACKHAWK FILMS changed with the times when Eastin and Phelan sold to Lee Enterprises, and began selling Betamax and RCA video disk formats via mail order. The company again changed hands in 1981 to National Telefilm, and renamed REPUBLIC PICTURES. It closed completely in 1987.

I remember getting on the mailing list for the monthly newsprint catalogue for BLACKHAWK FILMS. Each month I would leaf through the paper, read the stories and look at the pictures; never daring to order as I recall it was around 200.00 dollars for a print of something like BIRTH OF A NATION in Super 8. The company I did have the most contact with since I was interested in horror films was CASTLE FILMS.  You could read the advertisements in the back of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine and wonder why they never would ship to Canada. One day they started shipping to my country of residence – opening up a whole new world.

CASTLE FILMS was founded in 1924 by Newsreel camera man Eugene Castle, who produced advertising and business films in California. In 1931 the office moved to New York City, branching out into 8mm and 16 mm films for home use. The first home movie Castle shot was the Hindenburg explosion, progressing to NEWS PARADE, followed by sports films, animal adventures and old time movies. In 1947 United World Films (which was related to UNIVERSAL STUDIOS) purchased a stake in CASTLE FILMS. This gave it access to its vault of pictures – the comedies of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO, THE HORROR FILMS, plus the products of Walter Lanz Animation studios (Woody woodpecker, Andy Panda, Oswald Rabbit and Chilly Willy Cartoons).  When MCA purchased UNIVERSAL in the 1960s, CASTLE FILMS gained access to the pre 1950 PARAMOUNT PICTURES sound pictures that were owned by MCA’S television division.  You had pictures like the Hopalong Cassidy series, Marx Brothers films and work by Cecil B De Mille.  Even NASA footage of space fights were available for the home projector.  My contact was the Horror pictures as I was able to get Super 8 mm prints running roughly 10 to 12 minutes of DRACULA (1931) and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).  I still have these prints in their original boxes in pretty good condition.

KEN FILMS had a different approach to selling film to the home consumer by actually having their product in department stores. KEN FILMS worked out of Fort Lee, New Jersey, which did not stop them from having film boxes for sale in Canada in places like Kmart. KEN released silent digests of American International Pictures horror films and cartoons, along with a number of Warner Brother’s titles.

In 1973, KEN signed a deal with Paramount to release a large number of 200’ and 50’ silent versions of some of their most popular features, starting with two parts of “The Greatest Show on Earth”, “The Ten Commandments” and “Samson & Delilah.” KEN FILMS made the big jump into color and sound in 1974 with 200’ versions of all 5 “Planet of the Apes” movies.  They also put out a large number of 200’ color/sound American International products during this period.  The highlight of the release of the 200’ color and sound was “Star Wars” while the film was still playing in theaters!

Lesser  known but no less significant was a company called AMERICOM that released super 8 and 8 mm versions of COSMIC MONSTERS, BIRTH OF FRANKENSTEIN, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA. These came with a flexi disk soundtrack that you started projector ‘on tone’ as the instructions told you.  I edited BIRTH OF FRANKENSTEIN including the creation sequence from CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, plus the remainder of film for a 37 minute sound black and white feature.  It was the first time I saw the Hammer film with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; however I had to wait a few years to see it in color for the first time on VHS.  The things we do for film.



I had a super 8 camera and projector which was used to make my imitations with of Hammer and Universal monster films in silent format. I am sure many of us did this little venture of making films with our friends. Buying film cartridges that ran three and half minutes long, sent away to be processed in a week. I entered one in a local contest at the urging of friend as they were stuck for entries and was promptly destroyed with comments.  I was a young guy learning and those plus other comments by other sources and lack of support ended my filmmaking career.  I figured why create such a hassle and argument with people. I overcame that feeling and found work in television amongst other places.

BLACKHAWK FILMS. CASTLE FILMS, AMERICOM and KEN FILMS flourished in the between years of the home video revolution and the format battles between VHS and Beta.  It may seem quaint today as one can pretty much find anything on specialty channels and your personal PVR. I am sure we all have stories of trying to see film in those days before the tech.  For many, these releases were often the first time (apart from television and film society screens) that you saw the pictures you were interested in seeing.  A whole new world.



This is a slightly different look at the Hollywood myth – mainly because we are going to take a ‘hardboiled” look at some of the ideas that nostalgic sites gloss over. Not all sites do yet this is an important part of the Hollywood story.  Gloss over, just as the major studios did when something reared its ugly head and effected the ‘moral clause’ in a star’s contract. In other parts, we will shine our opinion light on the censorship system and child stars growing up. First, we enter the world beyond the studio gates.

These gates would be any major studio – WARNER BROTHERS, UNIVERSAL, MGM, RKO and COLUMBIA to Poverty Row as in PRC, MONOGRAM, and REPUBLIC PICTURES. Let us examine the studio system idea more closely.

I once said in a presentation at a convention that we essentially buy back our childhood.  When one does that you tend to forget some of the poorer times we all had growing up or perhaps we compartmentalize them; yet they are still part of the our story.   Some of us do that when it comes to Classic Hollywood: it brings us a sense of comfort.  This Classic period took place during some of the most traumatic events of history such as The Depression and World War II. Was the studio system as a whole good for Hollywood? Mostly every star biography I have read said, “No.”  WARNER BROTHERS was a factory where actors and actresses went from picture to picture with little or no break.  Joan Blondell wrote that she and other performers often had to ride bicycles to different sound stages with scripts in hand in a basket. Why did stars like James Cagney, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn all have incidents of refusing to report for work (which resulted in suspension)?

These were people with the clout to do things. What of the performers that made their careers playing policemen, magistrates, store keepers, and dancers that were forever in the background or brief scenes?  If it was so good why rebel?  The studio moguls once thought that they had made the stars and they should be grateful.  I keep thinking as I write this of a line from the Bette Davis come back film ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) when Hugh Marlowe’s  character,  writer Lloyd Richards, says to Margo Channing, “That it’s time that the piano realizes it did not write the concerto.” Could that have been the writers speaking to the studio heads or the moguls speaking to the actors?


The studio system turned into a double edged sword. It produced some of the most endearing myths and new Gods for people to look up to in darkened theatres.  It unleased dreams and imagination that flourish today and are constantly being given life to new generations.  The film makers, and Hollywood style of that time will never be forgotten as it is often referenced (even if unknowingly) by popular culture and future film makers. It brings a sense of nostalgia and stability to those that dip into it as the work with repeated viewings becomes like a visit from an old friend. The standards for morality were less graphic in terms of images; often disguised in clever dialogue or situations that took skill and finesse to do.



The salary of Hollywood people as we all know was astronomical compared to the average working family. Men and women saw the fashions, jewelry; the lifestyle of clubs, cars, and food that were beyond their reach. Was this a bad thing?  It happens today, but audiences now have more access to fashion and nightlife as manufactured by merchandising. The difference being that we don’t hear of actors fighting studios because they have done too many films in a row, and are on the verge of collapse.  The emphasis has moved to the actors and the directors with the ever present agent or deal maker in the middle.

The side light to the studio system was the use of wake up and sleeping pills for many performers.  How could one perform at such a pace of production and remain at your peak? Some pictures required dance training, horsemanship, or fire arms training for the role, so how could this all be poured into the performers?  Many a bio I have read has mentioned the use of these pills to the point of addiction in later life.  I look no further than Judy Garland who was introduced to these items at MGM early in her career. Garland was required to dance, to sing, to perform in these very strenuous pictures without break. The contract with the studio stated that if you were unable to perform in a role for whatever reason (even refusal), a contract could be terminated or the length of time you were off was added to the contract.  This was before the Screen Actors Guild and other unions were formed. It amounted to indentured servitude.


It is important to note that the studios were not evil, drug pushing businesses because the use of these pharmaceuticals was accepted behavior. The knowledge of addiction was not as well-known as today.  Many Hollywood people would succumb to opium, morphine, cocaine and, of course, alcohol.  The military in the war years and after permitted pilots and soldiers in the field to use wake up pills for night duties or tasks requiring long hours of attentiveness.  Elvis Presley was introduced to sanctioned stimulants when serving in the military as part of guard duties. Some blame this for his later drug troubles.  One had a regime of pills to get to the studio and to rest afterward so one could get up early to be on set at your best.  Not to mention the press duties, trips, photo sessions, and loaning out to other studios for roles. I am not saying every person in Hollywood used these to do their job, but the use was rampant.

The positives that come out of the studio system are undeniable in their scope and depth.  You have an entire generation of people discovering the stories and stars every day. You have film makers who were directly influenced by the classic studio system in their career choice. The tiered studio system with A features to B movies and below created a training ground for actors, directors and technicians to learn their craft.  Not to mention the publicity departments and other industries associated with picture making at that time.

Kevin Spacey once said at an Academy Award ceremony something to the effect that, “You think this is glamourous. It’s the only time we get dressed up and are together. We get up early to be on sets, etc.” Well, a lot of other people get up early to be somewhere like work.  Classic Hollywood has a legacy of love and hate; even indifference to some people but never the public.  Everything really does have a price. We all enjoy the dreams.




Hollywood was and still is filled with types – be they on the screen or not.  In fact, it was often remarked that you can expect anything to happen on Hollywood Blvd.  I remember making an inquiry in a bookshop only to have a person dressed in a red wool suit with Elvis side burns and glasses standing to my left near the till in over 80 degree heat. There are those that have unmistakable quality of “it,” who can carry a film and enthrall the audience.  Then there are those that, for some reason, are known only to a few.  They somehow do not have that star quality, yet deliver performance after performance, never quite getting there.  I speak of the Lyle Talbots of the world, or, in this case, Mr. Jeffery Lynn.

Jeffrey Lynn was born Ragnar Lynn in 1909 in Auburn, Massachusetts.  He had a BA degree from Bates College in Maine.  The stage beckoned.   He toured in a stage stock company production of the military farce BROTHER RAT that, was a curious foreshadowing of what to come in his life of having stardom allude him. The play BROTHER RAT was brought to Hollywood to be filmed by Warner Brothers without Lynn who was given a role in another short film.

I first saw Jeffrey Lynn in the role of Lloyd Hart in the James Cagney gangster picture THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939).  Lynn played the college man soon to be lawyer who eventually woos Jean Sherman played by blonde, smiley Priscilla Lane away from James Cagney’s character Eddie Barlett, who has been waiting for her to grow older than in the film’s beginning.  Lynn’s role was good solid work for an actor who gets to play a younger version of himself as he grows from a soldier in the trenches to a polished man of the law.


The one that really showed his skill in my opinion was the 1939 Lloyd Bacon directed Warner Brothers picture ‘A CHILD IS BORN’.  I have always enjoyed pictures about occupations such as the medical profession, MEN IN WHITE (1934), NIGHT NURSE (1931), steel workers, MEN OF IRON (1935), truck drivers, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) and THE VIOLENT ROAD (1958).   Jeffrey Lynn’s role as Jed Sutton, the husband of convicted murderer Grace Sutton (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who is about to give birth is interesting to watch as he fights frustration of not being able to see his pregnant wife.  It was a role that was similar of some early Clark Gable performances, particularly in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934).     While Lynn’s Jed Sutton is on the right side of the law and Gable’s Blackie Gallagher is a grinning rogue, both show texturing and humor in their brushes with the law with different resolutions.  You could argue that it was a variation on the ‘good guy’ roles Lynn played so well and I would agree. Yet he carried it off so well. He was ably supported by Fitzgerald as his wife and the long neglected Gladys George as a show business dancer whose career in stalled because of a baby.

Lynn did go on to bigger roles in FOUR WIVES (1939)  and  FOUR MOTHERS (1941) which featured  expanded part of Felix Dietz that he had  done in the previous  FOUR  DAUGHTERS (1938).  Lynn went on to a huge career ending in 1990 with an appearance on the TV show KNOTS LANDING.  Lynn also has writing credits, music credits and hosting credits, just not the full stardom of having his name above the title which to me is a shame. The lucky actors who don’t mind playing typecast roles could make whole careers out of playing policemen, bankers, henchman, and doctors.  There are those that dislike it, fight the system for what they think are different roles; unfortunately, most do not gain that all important public acceptance.   Boris Karloff once remarked when asked later in his life if he ever tired of playing monsters and madmen to which he replied no that he was blessed to be an always working actor.

Such were the Lyle Talbots, Jeffrey Lynns and the David Manners the Golden Age. They had the looks, the voice, the stories, the directors and careers in supporting others. Some were happy about it. Others may have carried a secret bitterness that is forever silent. John Garfield’s cynical character of the chain smoking, unshaven piano playing Mickey Bordon articulated it so well in a towards the end of this clip from FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938); ironically with Jeffrey Lynn in the cast. He talks of God rolling the dice, life’s choice and in the best part not seen here remarks of “having just enough talent to make someone else look good but not yourself.”



Window dressing for people to play off of, perhaps yes, always capable of course. Whatever their feelings, we shall never know. It is still wonderful to see them on the screen. For that we thank them.

Outside the lonely foreboding mansion, thunder booms and lightning flashes in the sky. The approaching storm illuminates the large, time-worn building where inside the heroine is about to enter a secret staircase. The door slides ominously open, revealing a staircase down into the neither regions of the house. She steps forward toward the opening-only to have a hand reach out and slam the door closed. The house is not ready to reveal its secrets quite yet. Such is a moment of dread from THE BAT WHISPERS (1930), directed by Roland West, which set the stage for all the haunted house horrors to come.

Pictures made in the style of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE CONJURING, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL or THE SHINING have been a staple of the horror film since Charles Ogle first shuffled forth as the creature in FRANKENSTEIN (1910). House based ghoulish goings on have been around longer than that in the theatre. Its heyday was during the 1920’s and continued up to what some would say the zenith in the play Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring. The source material for THE BAT WHISPERS was the very successful stage play THE BAT written by Mary Roberta Rinehart, a mystery writer and Avery Hopwood, whose forte was farce. The result was a mixture of thrills, red herrings, murders, inept policemen and witty dialogue all with a dash of slapstick comedy to relieve the tension. Moments of horror punctuated with lighter scenes is still a cardinal writing rule in horror film today as you build to the next shock.

THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) was a remake of the silent version by the same director. Why would you remake a three year old film? The answer is the same today as yesterday because there is different technology and you already own the property. The main difference is that THE BAT WHISPERS was on the cutting edge of technology for its time. Roland West filmed THE BAT WHISPERS in not one but three different versions. The first was the standard 35 mm version aka flat screen. This was the dawn of talking pictures. Many directors as well as actors were finding their way through the new systems. Actors could not move around frantically as much as they could in the silent days, and directors were discovering camera movement such as ‘tracking shots’ on dollies. You no longer had to have the camera locked in one position yet the early cameras were still cumbersome. It was exciting times as experimentation was the vogue.

THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) Enjoy some silent moments as the use of sound was not fully discovered in storytelling.

The second version of THE BAT WHISPERS was photographed in widescreen 65 mm format, shot by a separate camera person, Robert Planck. The picture also featured innovative use of miniatures which may seem trite today but in 1930 they were used spectacularly; particularly the opening dive down the face of skyscraper to the street below only to pull up at the last moment to the front door of a building. Later on there is the quintessential shot of the corridors of the house featuring the wind billowing curtains, dark rooms on either side as the camera passes by, establishing what would become one of the fundamental images of the language of horror -the old house where evil deeds are done. This was essential as it was the first time the camera traveled down the corridors by itself showing the atmosphere of dread.

The third most effective piece of camera work was a moving shot from the garden to the front door of the mansion at night from the outside. The same angle can be seen in the odious Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula (which had no relation to Bram Stoker’s novel)
THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) is also landmark in that it has no opening music. In fact, there is very little music heard at all as the film makers were not yet using music as a tool. It is also a monetary consideration in that you did not have to pay someone to use their music or compose an original piece. Todd Browning’s 1931 DRACULA, with Bela Lugosi, featured a movement from SWAN LAKE as its opening theme for dramatic purposes. This piece of music was in the public domain plus the audience would recognize it.
Another landmark moment in THE BAT WHISPERS is really a non-moment in that the on screen shriek of a menaced heroine is not heard. This is not because it was deemed too frightening for a 1930s audience but that it was not part of the horror lexicon. Sound was a new tool to tell a story. The heroine in this case when menaced lets out a muffled sound and runs, pounding her fists into a door. Once again Todd Browning’s DRACULA features the famous Lugosi muffled sound as he is staked. James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931) featured an original music score plus Mae Clarke’s and other people’s shrieks. This follows the horror axiom of the 30s and some of the best examples today that the most terrifying scenes are played in silence. Interesting to note that both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN are produced one year ahead of THE BAT WHISPERS.

The third version of THE BAT WHISPERS was a special edition for the foreign market, said to be made of alternate takes of scenes. All were directed and produced by one Roland West.
The 65 mm format version is important in that it foreshadowed the coming of Cinemascope, later Cinerama and Todd O formats which were so strong in the fifties and sixties as the motion picture industry was seeking a way to combat the monster of television. THE BAT WHISPERS had limited distribution in its large format as it required special projectors and screens in a theatre which in many cases had just paid for the conversion to sound. The early John Wayne picture THE BIG TRAIL (1930) by Raoul Walsh was another example of a film made in large format and flat screen that also suffered from distribution problems.

The plot of THE BAT WHISPERS in not important plus it would detract if some would like to view it on their own. The ending features an epilogue by one of the film stars Chester Morris speaking directly to the audience, asking the patrons not to reveal the ending to their friends after leaving the theatre. This is similar to the Lugosi audience speech at the end of the performance of the play Dracula (1927) and Edward Van Sloan’s prologue to James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN.

Urban Legend says that fellow named Bob Kane attended a screening of this film. Kane was thrilled with the imagery of the mysterious Bat in human form that he went on to create The Batman for Detective Comics Issue number 27.

Director Roland West made a number of pictures in a similar style such as THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927), later remade with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in 1939. THE BAT WHISPERS was remade in 1959 with Vincent Price, Agnes Moorhead, and Darla Hood (Darla from the Our Gang Comedies). West only made 13 films in total, yet his fame (infamy?) comes from being the lover of popular film comedienne, party girl Thelma Todd who was found slumped over dead in her car.

Todd had bruises, a broken nose, chipped teeth and three cracked ribs yet her death was ruled a suicide by LAPD due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The real life crime was one of Hollywood’s great mysteries. Other suspects included Todd’s ex-husband, Pat DiCicco, Charles Smith, treasurer of a restaurant co-owned by Todd and West and none other than Charles “Lucky” Luciano. West remained a prime suspect for fifty years. On his deathbed, delirious, he “confessed” to murdering Thelma Todd.

THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) set the pattern for all the coming horrors in a house. Everything has to have a beginning and with daring technical innovations, an eye to experiment, to push the envelope of the medium of film ….the language of the horror film is that much richer.

Digital power has brought motion pictures to a new audience.  The discs (or the next format) gives us all an opportunity to hold motion picture history.  The recent TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in Los Angeles may have looked at first glance like it was going backward from that. THE RETURN OF THE DREAM MACHINE, HAND CRANKED FILMS  FROM 1902-1913., brought history home.



This event was hosted by Randy HaberKamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Beautiful prints of a hand color tinted version of A TRIP TO THE MOON (1909) by George Melies, Thomas Edison’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903), and D.W. Griffith early short film, THOSE AWFUL HATS (1909) from Biograph studios were just three of the eight gems that played.   The difference is that these prints were projected through a genuine 1909 hand cranked Model 6 Cameragraph Motion Picture machine operated by Joe Rinaudo and Gary Gibson. Pre-show music was played by Galen Wilkes on a 1908 Edison Phonograph featuring cylinders of popular music that one would have heard then. There was live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla on keyboard during the showings and between features. Each of these people were dressed in period costume that their occupations wore. The concession made to modern times is that the pre-show music was amplified by a microphone. Slides such as, “No spitting in aisles,” and “Ladies, remove your hats,” punctuated the experience between reel changes.


The prints were hand cranked, much the same as the cameras were during the filming of scenes in early motion pictures. The smallest deviation of speed by the projectionist could change to look of a film and subsequent audience feeling. These showings would take place in small towns and cities, sometimes outdoors in the evening, weather permitting, or in halls.  The wonder of the images, which seem very tame to today’s people, of trains going by, people dancing, and the first hand drawn animation such as the work of 1911  N.Y Herald cartoonist brought to life in his ‘ moving comics’ left the audiences awestruck.


This was the beginning of narrative film as the new medium of motion pictures was being developed.  Hollywood was in its infancy as the real power rested back east in New York were the money was and creator Thomas Edison. Ironically, the money has always been back East, even in the Golden Years of Hollywood.  Producers found the California climate, the lushness of the orange and walnut groves, the wide open unspoiled spaces, conducive to film making.  Lighting techniques were not fully developed so even when studios were built in California they had open glass roofs and windows to allow natural light in or they shot outside. What a perfect climate to do this in with year round sun. Hence, the studio migration.

This presentation was something you could only see at a festival or revival of this nature so we were lucky to take advantage of the opportunity. To actually see these pictures in the mode they were originally presented was a treat. One could say it’s similar to the resurgence of vinyl records now as music lovers re-discover or find their roots. There is a level of purity as well as one can respect how far the medium of film has come and wonder where it can go. It is a shame that basically less than ten percent of all the silent film produced by early Hollywood has survived. Great features by many names both big and small are lost though neglect as film was simply tossed away or by numerous fires due to volatile nitrate stock.  I also find even today with history that people simply do not realize what they have sitting in front of them and basically let the ravages of time take its course due to lack of funding. Will future people look at the pictures and technical prowess today with the same nostalgia?  The rest they say is history. One hopes that this history itself is still around for all to see.