Mar 31, 2013

Quote of the Week

When I laugh, the laughter comes all the way from my kneecaps and when I cry, I even cry funny.

-Doris Day, recalling an assessment from Rock Hudson

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Mar 29, 2013

Classic Links

Well this is exciting! Harold Lloyd's Safety Last is going to be re-released. That is one I will definitely need to see on the big screen--Criterion Cast

I love this beautiful post about Louise Brook's iconic style in Pandora's Box (1929). The costumes in this film are so timeless that you could wear most of them today and look completely modern--Glamamor

There are some fascinating tidbits in this brief tribute to Lee Marvin. I didn't realize he spoke out for gay rights after Stonewall--The Guardian

That Marvin piece made me think of the crazy interview he had with Roger Ebert in 1970. I don't know if you could accurately call this an interview though--Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times

Hollywood's History of Putting Gay Rights on Trial--NPR

The tour of nine early Hitchcock films sounds like a

This is an interesting history of film opening sequences--Slate

Mar 24, 2013

Quote of the Week

I think I really start living the moment I step into a movie set.

-Joan Crawford

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Mar 22, 2013

Classic Links

There's going to be a Mary Astor blogathon from May 3-10. It looks like this is already going to have a great turn-out. Isn't that a great banner?--Tales of the Easily Distracted

A tribute to Francoise Dorleac, a fascinating actress and one of the biggest gone-too-soon bummers in movie history--The Lady Eve's REEL Life

A photo of Marilyn Monroe for each year of her life. So many changes over such a short period of time--Warner Archives

Forget Sound of Music sing-along screenings, this pool is hosting a "swim-along" with Jaws--The Guardian

This is an interesting idea: what movie character(s) would you marry, if any? I don't have an answer for that question myself--Vintage Film Nerd

I can't believe Anthony Perkins made an Oatmeal Crisp commercial as Norman Bates. What the heck? You can see that below, but here are a few more Bates facts--Mental Floss

Mar 20, 2013

Book Review: The World of Hollywood Extras, Bit Players and Stand-Ins

Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players, and Stand-ins
Anthony Slide
University Press of Mississippi, 2012

I find it hard to believe, and also totally plausible, that this is the first comprehensive book about Hollywood extras, bit players and stand-ins. After all, we aren't meant to really look at these people. The whole idea is that they are background for the stars and supporting players. And yet, I can think of several times that one of those faces in the crowd has caught my eye, or that I've wondered what it was like to be in a huge crowd scene like in D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), or how it felt to be an extra in a disaster flick with dangerous conditions like The Hurricane (1937). Hollywood Unknowns introduces you to these people.

There are so many different reasons the thousands of people who have signed up with Central Casting over the years pursued extra work. Some had lost fortunes, others never had them. Many hoped that they would become stars, thought that would rarely happen. Some had already been Hollywood royalty and were reluctant to leave the movies, even if their audiences had abandoned them.

Whole families would make a meager living in extra and bit parts. Injured World War I vets would return to battle again for the cameras. In the early days, there were even a few extras who had fought in the Civil War. And then there were the bored heiresses, retirees and housewives simply looking for a little action, and maybe the chance to meet a movie star.

Slide is thorough in his examination of these unsung, but crucial players. He explores their world from the early days of film, where some could scrape out a living as an extra, to the present day where many people do the same work for free.

Some of the stories are heartbreaking, like that of the elderly widower who would go nightly to the last movie in which his wife was an extra, desperate to get a glimpse of her because he didn't have a photo of his lost love. Or the husband who would always sneak to the fence when the extras were eating their standard box lunch so that he could slip food to his underfed wife on the other side.

There was also the risk of bodily harm on film sets. It is rumored that at least one extra lost his or her life during the filming of a flood scene for Noah's Ark (1928). It is certain that there were many injuries, though the studio did its best to keep the incident on the down low.

Women also found the extra business treacherous, and there have been many reports of sexual abuse. Though studios and organizations in the community would often work to keep things moral, and even Wallace Beery saved a few girls from the wolves at a studio convention party, there were plenty of victims. The most common advice for these young, vulnerable women: go home to your family. However, despite hearing it from every studio, social service agency and even Mary Pickford, many stayed, determined to be a star despite pitiful odds.

To offset bleak tales like these, Slide goes into great detail about the fascinating, precise business of supporting the stars. It was a lot more complicated than I realized. Extras didn't come in one type, there was a hierarchy. An extra who just showed up in street clothes would get the lowest rate. Those who had the means to maintain a fancier wardrobe could make nearly twice as much as dress extras. Certain skills and traits could also make a difference; there was more money for those who could ride horses or dance in a chorus line, and a having hunchback or being of short stature could also pay off. All of this was organized by a studio network that could go into action within minutes, burning up the phone lines to cast a crowd within an afternoon.

The stand-ins, doubles and bit players were all just a bit higher than extras. They'd get closer to the stars, though they were warned not to get too close, and sometimes they'd even get a line or two. Willingness to do a stunt could also increase pay exponentially.

I was fascinated by many of the facets of extra life described here, but the thing that most moved me about the book was learning the names of some of these dedicated, but unsung performers. I never thought I would care so much about who was Clark Gable's stand-in, or that I'd be so interested in the stories of specific extras who managed to distinguish themselves in a field specifically not meant to do so, but it was touching to learn more about these people, at least to read their names, and to somehow make a deeper connection with them.

In fact, after learning about so many individual extras in Hollywood Unknowns, I wondered for a moment if I'd ever look at a group of them again and see an impersonal crowd. I know that won't happen though. Maybe I'll pick out a few faces and wonder about their lives, but once the story gets into gear, I'll forget them again and they'll fade into the background, as they should. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't appreciate them, and now I always will.

Deepest thanks to University Press of Mississippi for providing a copy of the book for review.

Mar 17, 2013

Quote of the Week

You know, in my profession, when they removed the censorship from the movies, the movies just went completely overboard in language, plot, sex, and violence...which is unfortunate. Because while some of the movies technically are wonderful, they are boringly realistic.

-Vincent Price

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Mar 15, 2013

Classic Links

Weirdos, green grass, Spanish hot dogs? This spot with Joan Crawford is supposed to be a promo for Pepsi, but all the talk about meat, God and rhubarb has got me confused. Man do I love Joan--Village Voice

This is what it sounds like when you show 5-year-olds a silent movie (I know this to be true)--Sound Cloud

Confessions of an old movie weirdo. I can relate--Cinematically Insane

An interview with Michael G. Ankerich, author of the fantastic new Mae Murray biography (which I reviewed). This is an interesting glimpse of the process of researching the book. I would recommend this biography to any class film fan, whether you know Murray or not.--Immortal Ephemera

Colleen Moore's final silent flick, thought to be lost, has been restored. It sounds like a lot of fun--Warner Archives

I love the idea of a movie set museum. What films would you pick? The post suggests Casablanca, which works for me. I'm also thinking My Man Godfrey, just about any Rogers and Astaire movie and Auntie Mame's kooky apartment--Mental Floss

How they made The Blob. I didn't realize somebody was still holding on to the original version. I wonder if it smells bad?--The Criterion Collection

Mar 10, 2013

Quote of the Week

People had a certain look then. I know that in many instances the people were wrong for the parts they were playing, they weren't cast for acting. But it was accepted by the public. There was a certain fantasy, a certain imagination that is not accepted now. The world is too small.

-Ann Sheridan

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Mar 8, 2013

Classic Links

Peter Sellers made a home movie with his pregnant wife Britt Ekland and a bunch of fancy friends in 1964. If anything, watch it for the bit with Princess Margaret-- Open Culture (via @brainpicker, whom I highly recommend following, interesting stuff.)

This gallery of classic movie kisses is amazing. It must have taken so long to put together!--Once Upon a Screen…

I love this review of the beautifully devastating History is Made at Night (1937)--Pussy Goes Grrr

Are romantic comedies dead? Christopher Orr seems to think so. I haven't thought much about that (don't see many new movies anyway!), but I thought the brief social history of the rom-com after the article was interesting--The Atlantic

So Macy's is releasing a Marilyn Monroe collection--The Recessionista

Do they really mean Marilyn Monroe? Because after looking at that gallery, I'm thinking Daisy Mae, with a hint of '60s era French movie hooker, as envisioned by Hollywood, and a dab of '80s Madonna--The Fabulous Report

Mar 3, 2013

Quote of the Week

People are always talking about the old days. They say that the old movies were better, that the old actors were so great. But I don't think so. All I can say about the old days is that they have passed.

-Kirk Douglas

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Mar 1, 2013

Classic Links

I never realized how much psychology was at play in movie theater popcorn sales, or that they pretty much saved the movies. This is an interesting history--CBS News

Page's Terrorthon sounds like a lot of fun. What's the scariest classic film you've ever seen?--My Love of Old Hollywood

Audrey Hepburn's sons gave permission for this company to reanimate their mother for a chocolate bar ad. What do you think? I think she's charming, but the whole idea is so creepy--The Fabulous Audrey Hepburn

Nicole Kidman as Grace of Monaco looks like Nicole Kidman in a pretty dress. I wonder if she'll get the voice right?--The Guardian

While I do agree that 1939 was an amazing year for film, I like this theory that it is actually just the centerpoint of a few years that together formed one of the true high points of the industry--The Lady Eve's REEL Life

I didn't know whether to smile or cry while watching this rare Polish color footage from 1938. These happy people were months away from having their lives changed forever by the Nazis--Haaretz

This post about creepy movie locations simultaneously made me want to visit and completely avoid most of these places--Mental Floss

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