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GOODBYE TO ALL OF THIS

There comes a time when one must pack up and get back to actual life. If you’re lucky, you get to continue with your love of film.   For some it is their full time job; for others, it can be an all- consuming hobby or Labour of Love.

We try to attend as much as we can, including trying some new things such as getting on the red carpet which was a thrill in itself.  STARDUST AND SHADOWS tries to cover things from a slightly different point of view than other sites and I believe we have achieved it to an extent.   The thing about festivals is that you can’t really do it all, even the stuff you want to because of crowds or sometimes venue location if you need to walk to a venue.   The 2015 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL made that all easy with most of the film venues close together, however, they had no control over the traffic lights that were required to cross the major street or the everyday crowds.  It’s all part of going to one of these things.

The Christopher Plummer concrete ceremony (which we viewed from across the road along with many others) was well- handled.  You could hear many of the anecdotes; including Ben Mankiewicz wondering if he had pronounced Montreal correctly (which he had). The Canadian in me wanted to shout out when referring to Montreal, simply to say the phrase, “Twenty four Stanley Cups,” and you would know.

Bill Shatner made an appearance.  I somehow felt he would since both he and Christopher go way back to their days at Stratford Festival and share a Quebec heritage.

This festival shines in great part because of the people you meet. I mean not only the attendees, but the volunteers who have to stay inside these theatres in wonderful weather and answer questions, and move lines of excited film goers.  They get to be strapped up on headsets, trying to coordinate audience entrances, hand out cue numbers in lines etc., all the while being calm.  I can say from what I saw it worked.

In the weeks to come I will be writing more on a couple of pictures I did see as they inspired some article ideas.  I managed to see WHY BE GOOD (1929), a silent picture staring Colleen Moore who is not that well known, and some of you will shake your head why not, but should have been.  The picture was a restoration for the first time presented with the full sound disks of the orchestration and sound effects. The story was the disks of a print had become separated, but amazingly enough this picture was thought to be lost.  WHY BE GOOD (1929) featured a wonderful performance by Neil Hamilton, who had a wonderful career as a romantic leading man in full sound films. Audiences today remember him as Commissioner Gordon from the BATMAN TV series of the 60s.

The pre- film talk was presented by Cari Beauchamp, who wrote one of my favourite books on the women from those early golden years titled Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood.  The print of WHY BE GOOD was excellent as it was digital, in the correct aspect ratio which I prefer for this style of film as it honours the original vision.

 

 

We managed to get into a screening of AIR MAIL (1932), directed by John Ford. I have a huge soft sport for airplane pictures and this did not disappoint.  A hobbled (from a twisted ankle) Leonard Maltin honestly introduced the picture by saying it was, “… a good film not a great John Ford film.”  One got to see so people like Pat O Brien as a womanizing, devil may care pilot go up against steadfast Ralph Bellamy.

I have always enjoyed the cracking dialogue of these pictures and AIR MAIL did not disappoint as Pat Obrien’s character Duke Talbot asks, “ Where do I park the body?” when asking where he was to sleep. Anne Dvorak’s real life husband Leslie Fenton was also on hand as in a small role as a disgraced flyer. AIR MAIL also had a particularly graphic sounding death by fire sequence that for me even today was disturbing but it did change the mood as the opening was light hearted.  This was a fine picture to see on the big screen in a glorious 35 mm, black and white print, which for me pretty cool.

STARDUST AND SHADOWS did many other things at the festival and they will come out as time permits. It was a wonderfully hectic time that I can say if any readers have a chance to do, they should do it at least once.  We feel lucky to be here in what TCM gave us in terms of access and other things that made things easier.  There is nothing like seeing the stuff that dreams are made of at its point of origin.

REFLECTIONS IN AMBER

The consuming of liquor has been a catalyst in Classic Hollywood since they were known as the “flickers.” The liquid has brought about the downfall of many a film character both on screen and off. I am writing this post in the TCM Club lounge during the 2015 Classic film festival with a proper glass of amber liquid before me, pondering  how the act of drink has been portrayed.

There are clips running on large screen of W. C. Fields stealing a nip from a flask. You have Henry Fonda pouring a shot for Victor Mature, Tyrone Power slamming down gin from NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and James Dean drinking from a bottle of milk from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE  because both he and his character did not touch alcohol.

Booze has been the great trigger for stories of the gangster from silent film to today. Without drink you would not have the “hood” that rises to the top during prohibition. No Cagney, no Raft, no Muni, no Eddie G. laying on the pavement clutching his chest exclaiming, “Is this the end of Rico?” in LITTLE CAESAR.

Where would Rick’s Place in CASABLANCA (1942) be without drink.  Ray Milland would not have had been on THE LOST WEEKEND (1945).

Jack Lemon and Lee Remick would not have experienced THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962). Lee Marvin’s character Kid Shellen in CAT BALLOU (1965) would not have been as interesting.  Miriam would not have lost her mountain bar in the fire during the drinking contest in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981).  Where would James Bond be without his knowledge of wines and Scotch whiskey?  Where would Nick, Nora and Asta (their dog) of the THIN MAN series be without potent potables?  The list goes on and on with the same conclusion of not being as fun to watch. Society is against drinking to excess yet we do enjoy watching the train wreck of alcohol and people.

Actors on screen- whether we like it or not- have taught us how to drink. Some watch the elegance of David Niven,  Franchot Tone, William Powell, Clifton, Webb .  Women get their due with Joan Crawford in RAIN (1932) , Susan Hayward in  SMASH UP THE STORY OF A WOMAN (1947)  plus Anne Dvorak in THREE ON A MATCH (1932).

 

Women have been portrayed as fallen or evil when booze is involved which is a double standard; witness Dvorak’s portrayal of the doomed Vivian Revere.  Women who drink and are not “good mothers” will suffer consequences from the Law or by God.

You see people at the TCM FILM FESTIVAL dressing the part of Hollywood Glamour which adds a nice touch to things.

 

Yes, the materials to do this have changed, fabrics have changed, and knowledge to do this has changed. Some has been lost or adapted to today’s audience.  Why try and recapture something as elusive as Hollywood Glamour when it means different things to different people?  You can see it in different looks at the Academy Awards red carpet.  We should move forward towards our own images of glamour be it in nightlife, eatery or stepping out in clothes.  The classic clothes or look, the drinks, the manners, are sometimes neglected by people of both sexes as it’s not a thing to do.  The audiences, the public is different now and so is society.

The Legendary watering holes of old Hollywood are gone replaced by newer places that seem slightly disposable or cookie cutter in approach. A club or an Eatery is just bricks, or in some cases prefab bits of wood  it is the atmosphere and more importantly the people that make it different or unique.  This not a lament for the old days more a “Things have changed” and that’s ok as well.

Fun the remember that there was grand nightlife in the town of Hollywood then.

 

I can say that you lose track of the time of day and even what day it is when you attend a film festival. I have found myself asking what day it is. You are not in the real world of whatever it is you do.  You have stepped into a existence of viewing film, making decisions about what you want to see, trying to sneak meals in, and lining up for the pictures you decide to attend.  It’s all great fun.

The 2015 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL has been so far a whirlwind of fun, albeit hectic sometimes.  The venues for the majority of pictures are located across Hollywood Blvd at Grauman’s Chinese theatre complex of six cinemas of various sizes or down the road at Grauman’s Egyptian theatre where last year I attended GODZILLA (1954).  The Ricardo Montoban Theatre is also used which is farther down for interviews like the ones with Sophie Loren and Norman Lloyd.

There is the social aspect of the Festival where in elevators, queue lines, buying a drink or food  or  simply waiting at a stop light: someone will see your festival pass badge and strike up a conversation as to what you are seeing etc.   This has occurred for us many times as you meet people from various cities and accents all doing the same thing you are doing.  You share your stories and sometimes things that you missed for the same reasons. The cool thing is the togetherness that a good number of attendees have as you go about what your personal itinerary for viewing is.

I love the stories away from the crowds like one when we were in a local coffee shop away from the festival and a young fellow stuck up a conversation with us after we got our beverages because he saw our TCM badges.  We found out his mother was Canadian (from Prince Edward Island). He enjoyed film and did attend the festival by purchasing individual tickets, just not this year.   In contrast we stopped for some food at one of our favourite hotdog places (the hotdog can be a thing of beauty. That’s another story) and the proprietor saw our festival badges yet had no idea what it was about even though he was about three blocks away from it all.

I try to write with my voice, which sometimes I am still trying to find regarding the impressions of what we have seen or are doing. We get the pain in the feet from walking on the pavement as other do.  We have been very privileged to have been given excellent resources from the TCM staff for vantage points, pictures, and actually being on the red carpet

I would like to give a huge salute to the TCM STAFF and volunteers that are at each event. I am sure there have been incidents as there always will be when handling huge crowds of personalities and technical troubles. It’s how one handles those and so far from our end of things, it has worked with flying colours.

Some images of Canadian Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews and the 50th Anniversary screening of THE SOUND OF MUSIC from inside Grauman’s or now its  TCL Chinese theater.  Mr Plummer’s footprints were ‘immortalized’ in special concrete along with other Hollywood legends.

Onward and outward we go

Film festival attending can be a mixture of working the crowd, finding what you want to see, and having to make decisions when items are crossed booked.  There are no bad decisions if you attend an event such is what is happening with us at the 2015 TURNER CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in Hollywood. Hence, I would like to pass on some bits and pieces of what is happening.

I was fortunate to get into the 10 p.m. screening of the Mike Curtiz directed 1940 picture THE SEA HAWK. Why is that worth mentioning? Because it was on the big screen; a 35 mm print complete with reel changes.   Organizers have respect for film of this nature and for me it was cool to see the curtains of today’s larger screens close to the smaller aspect ratio of the 1940s.  This was not a print that was blown up to fill the huge surface but the wonderfully non- claustrophobic look at what the film makers intended.  The image was clear with some obvious time worn troubles that affect us all. The sound on the print was crisp with Korngold’s magnificent score coming through.  Dialogue could be understood without the pops and crackles that show up.

This screening of THE SEA HAWK featured a talk by Errol Flynn’s daughter Rory Flynn, who imparted some insights into her late father, such as “You see the swashbuckling hero, I see my father.” She also took the opportunity to introduce her son Sean Flynn with a good deal of Mother’s pride.

It was pointed out that the print was listed in the program as running time of two hours and seven minutes, yet actually the running time was be one hour forty nine minutes.  Now for some people that is an abomination, some don’t care, and I admit I was slightly irked as I had thoughts of those ‘Real Art’ reissues of Universal Studios Horror pictures.  Real Art cut the films often to sixty to sixty five minutes to get them on television. THE SEA HAWK print was cut to fit onto a 1947 double bill format along with THE SEA WOLF (1941) with Edward G. Robinson as the ship’s tyrannical captain.  The scenes with actor Donald Crisp as the Queen’s advisor, Sir John Burleson, also were victim of editorial decisions.

The audience applauded when Flynn’s and Korngold’s name appeared on the screen. Clapping exploded when Flynn makes his entrance on the deck of his ship about ten minutes in. I found it particularly interesting that there was clapping for Una O’ Conner, who made a career of playing hand maidens, ladies in waiting, and other character types.  Her Irish accent and facial expressions have been in countless pictures so it was good to see the grand person of theatre get noticed.

The SEA HAWK rollicked, swords clashed, ships fired cannons, the evil Spanish were somewhat vanquished, urbane dialogue was exchanged and unrequited love was returned all in glorious black and white.

It has been a while since I had watched the picture of the style which made the experience full of enjoyment.   The current PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN franchise is the closest audiences have today to this style while it has its merits. It is effects dependent, which is what much of today’s audiences want.   Not a bad time on the old high seas.

Hello all raw footage form me on the red carpet in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater not far from where the Academy ward are done. STARDUST AND SHADOWS make it to the red carpet in Hollywood.  Sorry for audio. turn it up

 

The Golden Age of Hollywood is filled with brilliant successes and dismal failures. The film community likes a feel good story. That continues to this day.  Fitting in this category is the tragic end of Millicent Lilian Entwistle, simply known as “Peg.”

She was born in Port Talbot, Wales and moved to New York at an early age, graduating from the New York City Theatre Guild.  Peg appeared in many Broadway productions, including a show with Humphrey Bogart in Los Angeles. Even a young Bette Davis is reported to have said she wanted to be like Entwistle after watching her in an Ibsen play.

Peg was offered a screen test with RKO that she passed and was given a one picture contract for a small role in THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932). After initial reviews of the picture, most of Peg Entwistle’s role was left on the cutting room floor.

She went to audition after audition trying to get another role – like so many people.  On the evening of Sunday Sept 1, 1932, Peg Entwistle told the uncle she was living with that she was going to visit friends. Instead, she made the climb up the hill to the HOLLYWOOD sign and using an electrician’s ladder that had been left there, climbed to the top of the letter H and stepped off.

(The HOLLYWOOD sign as it originally was advertising a housing development)

An anonymous hiker later found a shoe, then a jacket and a purse and finally her body down the slope. Her remains laid unclaimed and unidentified in the morgue until a suicide note was published and her uncle recognized the initials.

“I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”

Peg married actor Robert Keith in New York in 1927 and was granted divorce in 1929 on charges of cruelty, claiming Keith had never told her of fathering a child from a previous marriage.

(Robert Keith, Peg Entwistle’s one time husband. Rumours were Peg Entwistle ended her life due to a love affair)

The child was Brian Keith who rose to fame as an American stage and screen actor, later to kill himself via a gunshot wound in 1997 after his daughter had committed suicide.

(Brian Keith who’s step mother was Peg Entwistle)

Urban legend says she was offered a role in a major production days after her death, the role of a woman who commits suicide.

Peg Entwistle passed into history known today by some as “The Hollywood Sign Girl.” Ghost sightings of a sad woman making the trek up the mountain in thirties style clothing occurs today. When approached by hikers, she disappears. Through it all there is the lingering scent of gardenias which was Peg Entwistle’s favorite fragrance.

A musical based on the life of Peg Entwistle debuted in the UK in October 2014 called “Goodnight September,” and received positive reviews and audience feedback from its premier performances.

Today, there are reports that Peg Enwistle’s story will be getting the big screen treatment giving her the large role she wanted so much in life.

There is a Welsh woman haunting the HOLLYWOOD sign.

MAKING IT UP AS YOU GO ALONG

The look of Hollywood has always been one of the alluring aspects of what makes up the legend of the Golden Age.   Although the exact start of the Golden Age is debatable, many agree that style influences in American film making were between the years 1927 to 1963.  In broad terms, the look was defined by individual studio styles, stories and monetary resources available for people, materials and designers. This larger than life edict was a money machine involving the physical appearance of its participants; hence, the rise of “glamourous women” and “handsome men.” It also gave rise to the entire industry of cosmetics for women, started by one person who is forgotten by today’s consumers because products are not readily available.  Max Factor who coined the term “make up.”

In searching out material for this post, I came to the not-hard conclusion that the men of Hollywood at that time did not have to be concerned with the glamour look. Yes, they had to appear larger than life, with smoldering eyes, impeccably groomed with crisp shirts, and well matched ties with a press so sharp you could cut through a well standing forest as you walked. Men also had to be confident in dealing with life and its troubles- be it a gangster out to get them or an enemy from outer space.  Men’s fashion were suits, sweaters, shirts, and long pants even when playing tennis. This all changed as my father once told me when Clark Gable took his shirt off briefly in  Frank Capra’s  IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), which foreshadowed the advent of the t-shirt,  due to James Dean and later Marlon Brando yelling at “Stella” in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951).   Men had to look masculine; ready for action whatever it was with the ever present, gently cupped cigarette in one hand. Men advertised cars and cigarettes while women endorsed shampoos and beauty products.

The lot of the glamour woman in Hollywood was quite different as it is today in which it is the female who feels pressure to employ cosmetics, wardrobe and constantly diet. The studios created their own aura of beauty and style for women pushing a new ideal onto the Depression weary public.  That elusive idea of looking always together- no matter what – was a major component of the Hollywood dream that brought countless people seeking fame and fortune.  If you had the look, success would follow and life would be assured. Not much has changed with the advent of social media creating ‘stars,’ literally within a few hours of posting something for us all to see only to have it disappear as fast as it appeared to be replaced by the next one. The creation of glamour started with Polish born Max Factor. He introduced a line of cosmetics to the public in the 1920s. The advertising campaign claimed that every girl could look like a movie star by using Max Factor makeup. Max Factor created a makeup specifically for movie-actors that, unlike theatrical makeup, would not crack or cake. In the early years of movie-making, greasepaint in stick form, although the accepted make-up for use on the stage, could not be applied thinly enough, or where did colors worked satisfactorily on the screen. Factor began experimenting with various compounds in an effort to develop a suitable make-up for the new film medium.  Soon, movie stars were eager to sample his “flexible greasepaint.”

(Enjoy this silent footage of Max Factor creating his glamour look on three women.)

Max Factor personally applied his products to actors and actresses. He developed a reputation for being able to customize makeup to present actors and actresses in the best possible light on screen. As a result virtually all of the major movie actresses were regular customers of the Max Factor beauty salon, located near Hollywood Boulevard. He created many appearances for these actresses, such as Clara Bow’s heart-shaped/pierrot lips. Years later, he exaggerated Joan Crawford’s naturally full lips to distinguish her from the many would-be stars copying the Clara Bow look he created. He also created shades specifically for them: Platinum (for Jean Harlow), Special Medium (for Joan Crawford), Dark (for Claudette Colbert) and Light Egyptian (for Lena Horne). For Rudolph Valentino, he created makeup which complemented his complexion, and masked the darkness of his skin on screen.

In 1920 Max Factor gave in to his son Frank’s suggestion and officially began referring to his products as “make-up,” based on the verb phrase “to make up” (one’s face). Until then the term “cosmetics” had been used; the term “make-up” was considered vulgar, to be used only by people in the theater or of dubious reputation and not something to be used in polite society. The development of Technicolor film required the company to develop a new line of products, the “Pan-Cake” series. It was sold in a solid cake form and applied with a damp sponge which offered the advantage of concealing skin imperfections under a transparent matte finish. It was an immediate hit and its advantages led to women stealing it from film sets and using it privately. This make-up was commercially released to the public, backed by a color-based national advertising campaign. It immediately became the fastest and largest selling single make-up item to date, as well as the standard make-up used in all Technicolor films. In the 1930s, Factor helped to develop a mask-like device to measure the contours of subjects’ faces. He called it the “Beauty Micrometer.” Its purpose was to detect even barely-visible structural flaws that might be magnified and more noticeable on camera.

My experience in theatre as an actor plus a university level course has given me practical experience in makeup and its application. The makeup material that I used comes from another pioneer, American Ben Nye, who after Max Factor created makeup material for non- white people when they previously had none.   Ben Nye did this out of necessity as he was assigned to GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) which employed many non -white people on screen for great lengths of time most notably Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel, who went on to win an Academy award for her role as Mammy.

Ben Nye’s system for theatre used a base makeup which was applied to a face with a sponge. Mine was TAN ROSE FIVE as I had to bring out my skin tone under lights otherwise I would appear washed out. My eyes are somewhat deep set and require that a put a small amount of ‘clown white’ called under the eye ridge and blend at the corner. The Ben Nye system that I learned used a series of colors that you mixed together to create your materials for skin blush, one needed to understand the color wheel in order to get the desired color. The system also included thin brush, thick brush and powder as the finishing touch to set the material on your face. Men do use mascara in some cases depending on the role as lashes tend to disappear. I recall in 1986 when in the role of Detective Sergeant Trotter in THE MOUSE TRAP, sitting in the men’s dressing room having a chat amongst ourselves as to what was the best mascara. I have been fortunate to have learned how to make myself up for the role of an 80 year old Russian man for THE THREE SISTERS plus my own take on THE WOLF MAN. Sadly, no photos of THE WOLF MAN were taken as it was a brief parade to the front, turn profile, then other profile, thank you very much and you wash off a few hours of work. Mostly, I spent time in what is called ‘street corrective’ makeup which covers up those imperfections you have.

The author as the 80 year old Russian man Ferapont from ‘THE THREE SISTERS by Anton Chekov

The ghastly looking street corrective makeup as Sgt. Trotter (right side dressed in green)  in THE MOUSETRAP by AGATHA CHRISTIE This briefly touched Max Factor’s lost contribution to Hollywood, plus we touched on Ben Nye as well.  We have not mentioned special effects makeup’s modest beginning with Lon Chaney and, later the still underrated Jack Pierce who created all of the Classic Universal Monsters. Classic Hollywood had the style of not having the camera call attention to itself making it invisible to some; yet weaving a series of images in the same style put together in the same way.  Frankly, it worked, as we read out this age of film, attend conventions, collect examples, and often find ourselves wondering why it cannot be the same again. It was a different time and that is what makes it special to us all. (Thanks to Wikipedia for inspiration and sections of this article as they said it much better than I ever could.)

 

JUST BECAUSE WE CAN?

The furor that has been triggered by THE INTERVIEW has caused me to write a post concerning censorship in Hollywood.  This is not a new subject to this blog in regards to a wonderful if not very detailed book that I was reading called HOLLYWOOD CENSORED by Gregory D. Black.  Censorship goes on today – even if it does seem that it doesn’t, considering the amount of questionable moments in today’s films. What censorship in film does is to create a two edge weapon; which in itself is dangerous not only to quality of film but also to the sheer quantity of pictures produced.

Film has been censored since it first began as a kinescope show for a nickel. There has always been some group or groups of people in society that wished to control the message, the images, and the depiction of what was acceptable. This is not a history of censorship. That can easily be found from other sources.

 

 

I have included below some of the key points that were subject to scrutiny during the Golden years of Hollywood.

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Resolved, that those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:

Pointed profanity – by either title or lip – this includes the words “God,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ” (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), “hell,” “damn,” “Gawd,” and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled;

Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;

The illegal traffic in drugs;

Any inference of sex perversion;

White slavery;

Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races);

Sex hygiene and venereal diseases;

Scenes of actual childbirth – in fact or in silhouette;

Children’s sex organs;

Ridicule of the clergy;

Willful offense to any nation, race or creed;

And be it further resolved, that special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:

The use of the flag;

International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country’s religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);

Arson;

The use of firearms;

Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron);

Brutality and possible gruesomeness;

Technique of committing murder by whatever method;

Methods of smuggling;

Third-degree methods;

Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime;

Sympathy for criminals;

Attitude toward public characters and institutions;

Sedition;

Apparent cruelty to children and animals;

Branding of people or animals;

The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue;

Rape or attempted rape;

First-night scenes;

Man and woman in bed together;

Deliberate seduction of girls;

The institution of marriage;

Surgical operations;

The use of drugs;

Titles or scenes having to do with law enforcement or law-enforcing officers;

Excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a “heavy”.

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Some of these examples still stand today as not being acceptable in film and rightly so, even if some films push the boundaries.  The large studios, in spite of their power to control lives, manipulate the newspapers, and in some cases even obscure criminal facts from public eyes, knuckled under to the code controllers by editing their pictures accordingly. Many of the studios held previews in little known theatres and edited films or re-shot whole endings or added new sequences on the strength of printed reactions from the public. The famous MGM train that housed Irving Thalberg, Louis B Mayer and others comes to mind as they shifted through the audience reaction. If it was a good preview, it was a wonderful trip back, if poor then there was tension both creatively and figuratively.

The reason the studios capitulated was that they simply could not alienate a group of people such as the Catholic population. The Churches has tremendous power, lead by THE CATHOLIC LEGION OF DECENCY. When you were told not to go to a particular film, you did not go.  This brought about the slow demise of such people as Mae West plus it also made what are now called Pre-code film for the 1920s to 1934 all the more interesting to watch today.  The studios could not afford to offend people of other countries in their depictions as the European market was a huge moneymaker. Many of the studio moguls were also originally from Europe or Canada and felt an obligation to their roots.   Hollywood’s treatment of my country Canada during the Golden Age is in question as we seem to be dominated by frozen lakes, thick forests, Frenchmen named Gaston,  red uniformed, lantern jawed mounted policeman in the person of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. The late Canadian author Pierre Burton covered the movies perceptions of Canada in HOLLYWOOD’S CANADA quite well.

 

 

Today, the impact of censorship as dulled as we seem to think it is our right to see what the studios think we should see both on film and television.  The censored film THE INTERVIEW has to be released; not for merit of a message but because the studio must recoup its investment.  The danger today with the various media delivery systems that we have to homes, phones etc. can make something like that into a “must” see for people.  Audiences will want to see it simply because it is forbidden by a segment of our planet, and this can make for a cult film.

 

I have not seen the picture nor do I have the desire as this style of film does not appeal to me. It baffles me that  THE INTERVIEW is even made, given the press it has received, is going to make money in its secret underground releases when so many other projects are not done. Our adoration process today can overshadow flaws in making something marginal into something that it is not.  I also do not see why we make film that offends a section of the population.  Mind you, we still do it with persons with disabilities, women, minorities, religions in the media yet we do not criticize them well, with respect for their traditions. We have lost the ability to produce satire or humor in the media without pushing buttons, causing fear, animosity and cruelty to those we aim our salvo. If we are clever in our approach to a story it is perceived as being ‘highbrow,’ where film for some is but entertainment. The offended groups often protest in media without effect and film as an industry continues to take liberties with them.  We continue to do what film has done on many levels and that is to appeal to the lowest person in society because it’s about money. The original moguls knew that right from Hollywood’s beginning.

The real shame is film which is a world media is  wonderful for telling stories with that comes  a certain amount of responsibility.  It can criticize, illuminate parts of the human condition and our world in ways we have not thought of or used. The real danger today is that we elevate so rapidly what we like or perceive that we should like, to heights undreamed. I cannot help but wonder if it is deserved.  Word of mouth, perceptions of the public are massive force in film just think of the fate of THE LONE RANGER (2013).  The controversy for THE INTERVIEW will continue on and on in the media that fosters notoriety.  Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.  Caveat emptor.

 

WARREN WILLIAM WHO?

One of the pleasures I get from writing about Hollywood as it was it is finding out more about some of the actors that don’t get mentioned yet give some startling performances. Warren William, most likely the personification of cad, scoundrel, swindler and non-repentant womanizer in Pre-code cinema, falls into that category. William was billed – even by his home studio of WARNER BROTHERS – as Williams because it was considered easier to remember; was often compared to John Barrymore in profile and diction. He steadfastly refused to change his name, and this was the hallmark of a man who was true to his ideas, even when they contributed to his downfall and subsequent obscurity in film history.

Warren William was born Warren William Krech in Aitkin, Minnesota to well to do German parents. He became interested in things as diverse as mechanics, nautical engineering, and the sea, which became a lifelong passion and source of relaxation. There was pressure to go into journalism from his family, however, he showed promise enough to pass an audition at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1915.  Next was a lucrative Broadway career as a leading man.William, or Warren Krech as he was known, spent time in the Army during WWI as a soldier and trainer. He never saw combat, but was transferred to embarkation bases in the UK and got to France just before the armistice was signed.  He described seeing the effects of war in the shape of the wounded, the scarred, and the shell shocked.

William was an inveterate inventor of gadgets. A mobile kitchen/dinner facility, for example, long before trailers were invented. He bought an old truck chassis, and proceeded to build a long table and kitchen facilities on the chassis base so he could drive to any part of his vast ranch to serve a meal to hungry guests.  William also built a telephone that would drop on a pole with a system of counter weights to the height of a vehicle entering his estate so the occupant could contact him for admittance. The gate would open by remote control power switch. While these and many other inventions seem quaint today, these were fabricated in the late thirties when much of technology was not available to people.  It was the Depression, and people had concerns like work and feeding families on their minds. William was an intelligent man with impeccable manners and taste in dress from his privileged upbringing and opportunities yet he maintained a humanity and a warmth for all people.  These factors were welcomed by Hollywood, as it was looking for actors with stage experience was the sound era dawned.

Warren William went to work for Warner Brothers studio in earnest in 1931  after  a ‘false start’ in 1922 in which he appeared in a movie serial PLUNDER with the ‘serial queen’ at that time Pearl White, and a small role in THE TOWN THAT FORGOT GOD.  The studio didn’t know what roles to use Warren William for as he dropped the name Krech by then so he returned briefly to Broadway.Warner Brothers then found out that they had a virtual goldmine when they cast William in what would become classics of Pre-code Hollywood.  Amongst these first defining roles was ‘EXPENSIVE WOMEN (1931), UNDER EIGHTEEN (1931), which concerns a wealthy Broadway producer who (Williams) tries to take advantage of a poor young seamstress who needs money to help her sister divorce her worthless husband.  The picture also contains the very suggestive line by William to Marian Marsh, “Why don’t you take your clothes off and stay a while?”  Heady stuff for 1931 audiences.

This was followed by BEAUTY AND THE BOSS and the role of the corrupt, unscrupulous lawyer Vincent Day that launched him in THE MOUTHPIECE.

Vincent Day (Warren William) is a prosecutor who is on the fast track to success. When a man he zealously prosecuted all the way to the electric chair is found innocent, he becomes distressed and quits his job. At the suggestion of a friendly bartender, he decides to switch teams and become a defense attorney specializing in the representation of gangsters and other unsavory people. He will use any tactic to get his clients acquitted, up to and including drinking a slow-acting poison from a bottle of evidence to prove that the substance isn’t lethal. The jury acquits the man not knowing that immediately after, Day rushes into a Mob doctor’s office for a pre-arranged stomach pump. I will not reveal the end of the picture as you should view it yourself as it is fun to do and to get full impact.

I recently finished reading practically the only book bio on the actor titled, WARREN WILLIAM, THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDREL OF PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD by John Stangeland.  I had known about Warren William before and actively sought to views his films when they became available. I even asked for the book at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood when I was there only to find that it had been sold out – it’s good to know there are people interested in this man.   Stangeland writes with an easy flowing style on the subject that brings what facts there are together in a fascinating, sad testimony of a forgotten actor.

 

I disagreed with Strangeland when he said that there are”…no defining roles that the public can identify with in Warren William’s career,” which contributed to his obscurity today.THE MOUTH PIECE more that fulfilled the defining role criteria as it shows the actor as his deadly, conniving, near-evil character with the perfect diction and profile of a patrician senator. The picture also shows the depth of acting as Vincent Day realizes the terrible pain he has caused with his powers of persuasion and the rule of Law that he so eloquently argues to the jury.   The depth and the twist in a person’s soul that can change someone when one of the pillars of a life, in this case the belief in the legal system, are shattered, leaving one without direction are well shown.  The loss of faith and descent into become perhaps something worse then the people that were defended by the system that was once held high is there for everyone to see.  If you have to pick one defining role for people to experience Warren William then I say it is this picture by far.

William did go onto to do roles of this type with variations in what are now acknowledged as Pre code classics like EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE (1932), in which his character who runs a department store will do anything to drive to success including bedding the staff, one of whom was played by Loretta Young. THREE ON A MATCH (1932), with Humphrey Bogart and Ann Dvorak graphically showed for then the ravages of drug addiction and the party life upon a family.  THE MATCH KING (1932), in which Warren William’s character rules the business world to heights of being able to loan money to bankrupt countries on an empire built on selling matches. The story was based on true life Swedish entrepreneur and swindler Ivar Kreugar who controlled two thirds of worldwide match production between two World Wars. He is said to have been involved in Ponzi schemes long before people like Bernie Madoff, etc. were born. Kreugar committed suicide in Paris in 1932.  SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932) depicts the life of people of the Seacoast National Bank Building – Warren’s character David Dwight womanizes and swindles his way to control.

THE MIND READER (1932) with Warren as Chandra the Magnificent who tells fortunes and uses other schemes to make money.Warren William went on to do many pictures including the first films as Perry Mason, and The Lone Wolf series as expert thief in ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS (1938). William was cast as Julius Caesar to Claudette Colbert’s CLEOPATRA in 1934; directed with great flourish, budget and costumes or lack of depending on how you look at it, by Cecil B.  De Mille.

This was an actor with good looks, brilliant diction, commanding stage manner, an impeccable dress so strong that he supplied his own suits, ties and shoes. He had an inquiring mind that invented things like a portable trailer dressing room before they were invented so he could get an extra one hour sleep, be driven to the studio by a driver while he prepared himself in the trailer for his day’s shooting while on the way. William would deliver himself onto the set, no matter where it was, ready for work.  Why is this person forgotten by a good number of people in Hollywood? Even in his home town of Aitkin, Minnesota – a stop-over to Judy Garland on her way to her home town.

I believe that Warren William was a victim of studio neglect and the star system. He was accused in various sources of not advocating for himself for better roles, money, and scripts as some of the others such as James Cagney, Bette Davis, Paul Muni, and Joan Crawford did. William did not seem to take an interest in his career and this seemed to vex his wife.  He would spend little time with the Hollywood parties, preferring the company of his ranch and his work shop where he could build things. Joan Blondell said that, “Warren William was old before he really was old.”  This attitude could have come from his privileged up-bringing while he did work and was charitable to friends, causes, animals, etc. he didn’t have that drive within himself that a fear of poverty can bring. The studios knew they could shuffle him from starring roles to supporting roles, sometimes with great success as in LADY FOR A DAY, without having him complain. He was paid very well and was comfortable enough to indulge his sailing and inventing during the Depression. I had no idea that he had a bit role as a medical doctor on the moors in the 1941 Universal classic THE WOLF MAN with Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains.

 

I don’t entirely agree that he didn’t advocate for himself, as he did demand that his contract be renegotiated after Warner Brothers took him out of the running for the role of Peter Blood in CAPTAIN BLOOD. They broke Warren as it was a chance to combine his love of the sea and play something different for the public in an historical context. Warner Brothers instead went with an unknown actor called Errol Flynn and, as they say, the rest is history.Warren William was also one of the original 14 actors that became involved in the formation of what became the Screen Actors Guild so he was keenly aware of the rights of the performer.

Today Warren William is not known to many which is a shame. His huge film, radio and stage performances have disappeared as he is lumped in with the likes of Lyle Talbot and others who had the looks but were missing something that would make them a star. Warren was also thought to have played too many roles subservient to women in pictures which made him not respected in the audience’s eyes.  Pre-code Hollywood films have not been available for years and many still are not. They were not part of the original packages sold to television stations when the studios discovered the great use for their back archives. Pre-code films of that time are available now more as a curiosities in box sets. Many have been lost due to neglect and simple destruction by studios who were afraid of controversy as in the case of Joan Blondell’s CONVENTION CITY (1933). Warren’s fate of not being better known today is more akin to Mary Pickford who simply controlled all her films when she retired refusing to have them played in revival houses, released to television or now even put to BluRay. This practice is a double edged sword: while you have control of your material, you have an entire generation of the public that have never seen your work.  Pickford should be as known worldwide as Charlie Chaplin.

Warren William passed away in 1948 from many health problems as studios would not take a chance on him for fear of his not being able to complete the project.  Bone cancer from his work with the pesticide DDT in his gardens, sawdust and other farm chemicals not known to be harmful from his work shop claimed him with his wife at his bedside.  The scene is his last picture THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BELLE AMI (1947) sums up his career ending as he puts on a wry smile while looking at a raconteur character that he played so well years before and backs away into the background fog.  Find him if you can

 

The Horror pictures of the Golden age are like “Diner food’ to  some’ serious film goers or Movie gourmets. If that is so then side dishes you get with a diner meal add to the being filled up. If the lead actors and central story are the ‘meat ‘ of the picture then those that circulate in and around that make it stronger. Dwight Frye and J. Carol Naish were two of the very best not only in the Horrors but also as actors outside that.


J. CAROL NAISH


DWIGHT FRYE

Two actors with similar career paths – J Carol Naish and Dwight Frye – make for an interesting yet divergent story. Both actors played hunchbacks in the Universal Monster cycle of films. Naish’s work as Daniel in the 1944 monster rally HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a sympathetic, loving, seeking- a- cure fellow. Dwight Frye Fritz was the sadistic torturer of the Karloff Frankenstein Monster in 1931. Naish and Frye were bound together not only by that but by type casting throughout their careers.

A house is not a home without a few friends. This is exactly what Universal Studios did when they gave us the HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

In HOUSE OF FRANKESTEIN there is a sequence when we head to the Village of Frankenstein where Daniel rescues a Gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), and where the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange) and Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.)are both revived. Each is promised a cure as they head to Nieman’s lab in Vasaria. Daniel falls in love with the Gypsy girl only to find later that she had eyes for the tormented Talbot, who wants to die. Whips fly, the Wolf Man rampages, and love rears its ugly head in the form of a silver bullet along with the skull of the revived stumbling monster in a climax that has that old sinking feeling.

Well worth a look for Boris Karloff, leering with his voice (Daniel’s death scream is actually Karloff from Son of Frankenstein) and J. Carol Naish’s sensitive, if limited, work as Daniel.

Naish had tremendous dramatic stage experience from Paris and New York in a variety of roles. Limited screen time and playing such nefarious characters as the ‘evil foreigner’ in low budget serials and the CHRALIE CHAN film series due to his exotic looks put him in limited company. He was employed yes, someone you would see in many films, but not know his name. Naish also had a rich speaking voice and narrated many pictures without screen credit. Last role that I saw him in was as the wheel chaired Doctor Frankenstein aka Doctor Duryea in the cheapie FRANKENSTEIN VS DRACULA in 1971.

Limited work seems to be the order of the day with the career of the one and only Dwight Frye. We all know him as Fritz, the perfectly demented hunchbacked assistant in James Whale’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, and Renfield in DRACULA from the same year. Still some will know him from the Alice Cooper song simply called THE BALLAD OF DWIGHT FRY from the early release ‘LOVE IT TO DEATH.’ Even more so then Naish, Dwight Frye has become a cult figure of the Universal horror films playing crazy, unstable individuals often on the verge of cracking as personified by Frye’s unique high pitched delivery.

Naish had a longer and more varied career then Frye as the latter found himself pigeon holed in roles that he detested. Boris Karloff once said that he didn’t mind being typecast as it kept him working when others had faded. Frye yearned for the success and the versatility he showed in Broadway productions; beginning as a juvenile lead progressing to larger and varied roles including originating the role of The Son in Luigi Piradello’s 1922 production SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR for director Brock Pemberton, with whom he became a favourite. I remember this play as it is one of the staples one studies if one is in a theatre history or drama class. All these roles Frye did went unnoticed by Hollywood. His roles were either viciously chopped as in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), when the production was switched from Technicolour to black and white to being truncated as in the subplot of Karl in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).

If you are a actor in a genre or have a certain look is what happens when that look or genre goes out of style – which happened to Frye. He was not a versatile as Karloff was in terms of comedy, nor did he have a voice which lent itself to the narration of mystery stories and childrens’ books. It is not fair to say he was not as good as Karloff as Frye was never given a chance. This lack of chance doomed him like Lugosi, who was reported to have never taken the time to learn English but to have learned lines phonetically in the beginning. Dwight Frye, like Lugosi, came from the stage where they played a great variety of characters yet were trapped in the public persona’s of Boogeymen.

Frye played a succession of bit roles often uncredited in gangster pictures, mystery thrillers and of course, horror pictures of the B variety. This forced him to work outside of film as an aircraft drafts person for Lockheed. Frye was quoted as saying”

“If God is good, I will be able to play comedy, in which I was featured on Broadway for eight seasons and in which no producer of motion pictures will give me a chance! And please God, may it be before I go screwy playing idiots, half-wits and lunatics on the talking screen!

Dwight Frye was a Christian Scientist and concealed a heart condition that claimed his life while on a crowded bus returning home from seeing a film with his son. Ironically, Frye had just been cast in a big budget picture ‘WILSON’ about the life of Woodrow Wilson, to be directed by Henry King in the role of Secretary of War Newton Taylor due to his physical resemblance. It could have been a role that finally broke Dwight Frye out of the horror mold.

J Carol Naish and Dwight Frye both played hunchbacked characters in the Universal Horror films and both lived with missed opportunities. One wonders how many other actors were given the same treatment. There are people that made entire careers out of playing policeman, bar tenders, storekeepers, judges, reporters and, in this case, lunatics.

Naish’s and Frye’s roles in film were inherited later on up to the 1970’s by Elisha Cook Jr, who became the eternal “fall guy.” Cook was either killed off early, supplied the red herring in a mystery, or was simply the stooge in a bigger plot.

The pictures these and other actors often uncredited made are richer by their contributions. I discovered Dwight Frye’s life story in an unexpected extensive article in a magazine called FOR MONSTERS ONLY which was put out by ‘CRACKED MAGAZINE.

Both of you Take a well deserved bow.

I do enjoy well done ‘Diner Food’.