Mar 30, 2014

Quote of the Week

In the fifties, Dirk was a kind of Rock Hudson idol in a series of popular movies about a doctor. So crazed were his fans that he had to have the flies of his pants sewn shut for safety....Dirk himself said, "Actually, I had to wear a basket we called a 'cricket cage' when I went out to protect the family jewels."

-Liz Smith

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Mar 27, 2014

Jerry Lewis and Those Rings

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I was delighted when the special guest announcements began to roll in for TCM Classic Film Festival 2014. Each name made me think of movies I had loved. Kim Novak, Margaret O'Brien and Maureen O'Hara were all a part of many happy memories.

The announcement that Jerry Lewis was to be a guest of honor at the festival didn't have that effect on me. I remembered liking The Nutty Professor (1963) and cracking up at a couple of scenes from The Bellboy (1960), but other than that, I didn't know his work well. I didn't like what I'd seen well enough to go any further.

I know that Jerry Lewis is one of the most successful entertainers in the world though, and that and the TCM announcement were enough to inspire me to see more of his films. They had a weird effect on me. Parts of them were soul-cringingly bad, other times I'd be choking with laughter. Dick Cavett once said something to the effect that you enjoy Lewis in spite of yourself. You're sitting there thinking how corny and stupid it all is, and suddenly you're cracking up without fully realizing why.

My mixed feelings kept me working my way through Lewis' filmography. I've seen twenty of his movies so far. I have a lot to say about what I've seen, which I will share in a later post, but in watching Lewis onscreen my dominant thought has always been: what is the deal with those rings he wears?

No matter what character he played, it appears Jerry Lewis almost always wore two rings. One looks like a large gold wedding ring, which is weird, because he tended to play single characters:

The other is a pinky ring with an enormous sapphire, which can be seen in the photo at the top.

These rings almost never fit with Lewis' characters, who tend to be not only single, but not wealthy enough to afford such fancy jewelry. So you've got his Fella character in Cinderfella (1960), who has no money of his own, working like a dog for his stepmother and stepbrothers, but he's got the rings:

In Who's Minding the Store? (1963) he's struggling to make a living working at a department store, but there they are again:

I thought they were most bizarre on his Professor Julius Kelp character in The Nutty Professor. I can't picture this guy caring about jewelry:

However, they work perfectly when he becomes Buddy Love in the same movie, which is funny, because when I see Jerry Lewis in interviews, he sometimes reminds me a bit of this guy:

I'm not sure when the sapphire ring first showed up. But Lewis wore the wedding ring as early as The Stooge (1952), one of his first flicks with Dean Martin:

In fact, I don't know for sure why he had to wear either of those rings, regardless of the character he played. I can't think of any actor more determined to keep a personal piece of himself in every performance like that (He even wore them in his notoriously unavailable The Day the Clown Cried (1972), as can be seen in this footage).

I've found very little to explain the rings, though the wedding ring was acknowledged on this page and in this review of Lewis' memoir about his partnership with Dean Martin, the author claims Lewis said the pinky ring was just his way of flaunting his wealth. Is it really that simple?

Mar 23, 2014

Quote of the Week

Dancing with [Fatty Arbuckle was] like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut--really delightful.

-Louise Brooks

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Mar 19, 2014

My Movie Book Library: 500 Great Films, Where It All Began

It isn't too dramatic to say that 500 Great Films changed my life. Classic Movies would not have existed if this book had not awakened me to the nearly unfathomable variety and wonder to be found in the movies. I wouldn't have developed this deep love for film which, besides being deeply satisfying on its own, has opened up so much of the rest of the world to me.

My parents gave me the book for Christmas, when I was first starting to get interested in classic movies. It immediately became my textbook for learning about film.

The book has a straightforward format: each entry includes the title, release date, director and a paragraph or two about the movie. There are also lots of photos, enough to give it that glossy, coffee table look.

What I love about 500 Great Films is that it includes movies from so many eras, genres and countries. There's everything from art films to popcorn flicks and it all fits together so well. In their introduction, authors Daniel and Susan Cohen emphasize that while they have tried to be somewhat objective, they have compiled a very personal list. If that is the case, then these two have remarkable taste.

After watching, and loving, several of the movies in the book, I decided I had to see all of them. To keep track of what I saw, I bought a roll of metallic silver star stickers, and each time I watched a movie, I put a star next to the title.

A page of the book, with lots of stars!

Now the book is filled with stars. It thrills me to see them every time I flip through it. Though I've probably forgotten at least a third of the movies because I've watched them over several years, I still remember so many of the wonderful things I have seen and how I felt seeing them for the first time. Once I watch all of them, I may need to start all over again.

For a while my goal was to see all 500 movies by the time I turned 30. Without getting too detailed about the specifics, I will admit that I missed that deadline. At some point, I realized that racing to see all those movies would take away from the joy of seeing them. I still haven’t seen 80 of the films, and I'm planning to take my time watching them.

Authors Daniel and Susan Cohen are a husband and wife team. I always had them in my mind as these cozy film nerds who lived for the cinema, but their work is much more diverse than that. Daniel has written over 100 books, most of them about other subjects, including paranormal phenomena and lots of titles for children. Susan eventually began to help her husband when his workload became overwhelming.

I was saddened to learn that the couple is probably best known for co-authoring Pam Am 103: The Bombing, The Betrayals, and a Bereaved Family's Search for Justice, which is about the tragic 1988 death of their daughter Theodora in an airplane terrorist bombing (one year after 500 Great Films was published). They have also been advocates for the victims in the press, speaking out against the release of the bomber in 2009. Hearing about that was like learning about something awful happening to a friend. I can't imagine how it must feel to go through something like that.

So my vision of the cozy film nerds has been altered, but it hasn't changed the way I view 500 Great Films. I have absorbed every page of that book, the layout is more familiar to me than any other. This book one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I'm so grateful to my parents for supporting and encouraging my interest in the movies.

Mar 16, 2014

Quote of the Week

She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn. But it was Marilyn, plus. She found things, found things about womankind in herself.

-John Huston, about Marilyn Monroe

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Mar 12, 2014

My Movie Book Library: Bedside Books

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've got a bookcase full of movie books, but they're also stashed in places all over my house. In at least one case, this is by design. The Razzie awards a couple of weeks ago reminded me of an important pile of books on my bedside table:

I've had lots of different titles take up long-term residence in this spot. Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies lasted a while, but have you seen the size of that one? It is not a lying down book. When it comes to bedside books, content isn't the only thing to consider.

These three have had a long run because I'm crazy about pre-codes and so-called bad movies (I struggle with that last description, because if I'm entertained, how can a movie be bad?) The Thomas Doherty pre-code book should be there too, but it is temporarily living on the side table in the living room, can't remember why.

John Dileo's One Hundred Great Film Performances You Should Remember, But Probably Don't and LaSalle's other pre-code book Dangerous Men should be there too, but I'm pretty sure my little ones have taken off with them again. My books get stolen for doll fort construction all the time. I'm actually lucky the booklight is sitting up there because that disappears all the time too (apparently dolls like to read at night too).

These are the books I read all the time. I could probably recite passages from them.

One of the advantages of having the rather generic Twitter handle @classicmovieblg is that I get a lot of followers through search. I wondered if that was how Stephen Rebello, co-author of Bad Movies We Love (RIP co-author Edward Margulies) and Mick LaSalle, author of Complicated Women and Dangerous Men came to follow me. Of course I geeked out on both of them right away.

My tweet to LaSalle and his response:

My tweet to Rebello and his response:

Well, they were both gracious. I can imagine how they feel, working so diligently to put out amazing new work, and my perspective of them appears to be stuck several years in the past.

I did end up reviewing the latest LaSalle book, and the French actresses he interviewed really did remind me of pre-code stars. I'll be reading everything Rebello I can get my hands on too. Still, I hope these two know what they have accomplished with the books that drew me to them. If you create something so treasured it begins to fall apart in its owner's hands, you've done something huge--it transcends all that research, writing and marketing.

This is why I love reading so much. Books are a big business, but in the end they are all about that personal connection, made one reader at a time.

Mar 9, 2014

Quote of the Week

With Mary Astor in Red Dust (1932)

He was as masculine as any man I've ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be – it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women.

-Doris Day, about Clark Gable

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Mar 5, 2014

My Movie Book Library: Did Ginger Rogers Really Sign My Copy of Her Autobiography?

Since Ginger: My Story is on my list of books to read from my library this year, I thought I'd pull it out and add it to my stack-in-progress. I started to flip through it and was a bit startled to find this on the title page:

Is that really Rogers' signature? I kind of remembered seeing it before and assuming it wasn't real. Don't know why I didn't think of it before, but I thought I'd try to find the real deal online and make a comparison. I checked out a few dealer sites and almost all of the supposed Rogers signatures looked like this:

Similar, but not too similar. I can see how I could have the real thing. Should I bother to find out?

Do you have any books or memorabilia signed by classic stars? Have you ever had an appraisal done to determine if a signature is real? 

Mar 2, 2014

The Oscars 1989: Snow White, Rob Lowe--and Buddy Rogers, Alice Faye, Cyd Charisse...

The opening number for the 1989 Academy Awards has got to be one of the most, if not the most notorious in the ceremony's history. Lovely 22-year-old actress Eileen Bowman played Snow White in a production that required her to squeak out her lines in a high-pitched voice, flounce through a cringing audience of celebrities and sing inane lyrics to the tune of Proud Mary with Rob Lowe. Bless her for having a sense of humor about it all (what courage to get through a number you suddenly realize is bombing in front of millions of people. I admire her so much. I'm glad she ended up being a success on the stage in San Diego.)It's these things, not to mention the delightfully gaudy dancing (literal) stars and shoulder-shaking couples shimmying in evening wear, that I've always remembered.

I came upon a clip of the number in this recent Guardian article and thought watching the whole thing would be the perfect way to procrastinate until I thought of something better to do.

Imagine my surprise when a few minutes into the clip (about 3:17 if you'd rather miss the rest) Merv Griffin pops up with a mike and starts introducing loads of classic movie stars. I had totally forgotten about that. They don't really do anything expect look fabulous and maybe break into a couple of dance steps, but how wonderful to see Buddy Rogers, Alice Faye, Tony Martin, Cyd Charisse(she does the most, busting out her characteristically slinky moves), Dorothy Lamour, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Vincent Price and Coral Browne. It choked me up to see all of them together like that, near the end of their lives, but looking wonderful.

Then Rob Lowe enters and the most genuinely touching moment of the production is forgotten.

We'll never see those stars again, so I can only hope that they'll at least bring back the dancing stars:

As a consolation, that wouldn't be too bad.

Quote of the Week

I believe you can do anything in the world, if you really want to hard enough. It isn't even intelligence. Perhaps it's a sense of values.

-Ann Dvorak

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