Thursday November 19, 2020
What is Shirley Jones 'Known For'?
Ask me what Shirley Jones is known for and I'd say the 1955 movie “Oklahoma!” and the 1970s TV show “The Partridge Family.” Oh right, and “Music Man.” Marian, librarian. She was so lovely in that. She also won an Oscar for “Elmer Gantry” or something. So all that.
The other day I was checking out her IMDb page because of a Cagney connection (“Never Steal Anything Small”), and it seems IMDb's algorithms disagree with my assumptions. Again. I guess it weights for Oscars? Hence “Elmer Gantry.” Also weights for movies? Hence, no “Partridge Family.” But why isn't “Oklahoma!,” suerely one of the great American musicals, mentioned?
This could be me and the world caring about different things. That describes much of my life, actually. But I still think the algorithms are off. They care too much for Oscars and too little for TV and ...
Wait, is it that with “Oklahoma!”? I bet it is. God, that's dumb.
Shirley Jones is the female lead in “Oklahoma!” but because it was her movie debut she's fifth-billed. So I bet IMDb dings her for that. Except the movie made her such a star that she was second-billed in “Carousel” the following year. Which is why, in IMDb's logic, that one trumps the other. Even though everyone knows “Oklahoma!” and less so “Carousel.”
The problem with a society run by algorithms.
Don't even get me started on “Grandma's Boy.” JFC.
Lovely in “Oklahoma!”
Friday October 09, 2020
More on Ed Woods and Louella Parsons
Backstory for the tardy: In December 1930, in her nationally syndicated column, Louella Parsons touted a “young film comer” who had just snagged the lead in the new Warner Bros. gangster pic “The Public Enemy.” His name was Edward Woods. He eventually lost the part to James Cagney, of course, who was way better suited for it, and apparently Parsons wasn't happy—less for the now-inaccurate column than for Woods, who was, at the time, engaged to her daughter, Harriet. I wrote about some of this in my review of “Mothers Cry,” Woods' first movie.
In my research for that, I came across other mentions of Woods in Parsons' columns. This is from May 1931, the month “Public Enemy” was releaased to general acclaim.
- I can't find any reference to “The Blue Moon Murder Mystery” on AFI's film site, which includes working titles of Hollywood films. So not only was it not made with Cagney and Woods, apparently it wasn't made at all.
- Cagney and Blondell do star in “Larceny Lane”/“Blonde Crazy,” but not Woods. I wouldn't even know what part he would have played. Maybe the Ray Milland role?
- In fact, Woods never made any other movie with Cagney or Blondell. I don't think he ever made another Warner Bros. picture.
I guess the big question is how true any of it ever was. Or was Parsons simply simply pimping for her daughter's fiance?
A year later, in August 1932, there was this item in Parsons' column:
- “Not Saturday”? Did she mean “Hot Saturday”? That was a movie that both Carroll and Woods were in, and it was released that fall; but while Carroll was the leading lady Woods was fourth-billed. The star was a relative unknown named Cary Grant. Woods kept getting billed down from future legends.
- Paramount told Woods to “come back home; all was forgiven”? Paramount was never his home. And forgiven for what? Was this a kind of secret message? The engagement to Parsons' daughter was broken off this year, not sure when, and probably because Harriet was gay. Is this Louella's attempt to bring hime back into the fold? Is it her telling him this?
No answers. As usual, history is a Hyrda head. Answer one question, two more pop up.
Wednesday September 02, 2020
‘Young Film Comer to Have Lead Role in Public Enemy’
No, the other one. The clip is from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 8, 1930.
A few corrections to Louella Parsons' scoop:
- It's not Kubic Glass but Kubec Glasmon, nee J.J. Glassman, a former Chicago druggist and bootlegger
- He didn't write “His Honor, Bill Thompson”; that was Bright alone
- Bright's title is actually “Hizzoner Big Bill Thompson”; it was an attack on the Chicago politician; apparently Thompson sued
- I don't know how smart these boys were but they were certainly going for their chance
- Archie Mayo may have been Zanuck's choice to direct but it went to William Wellman
The biggest change, of course, is that after initial filming, the lead role and the secondary role switched actors, and a star was born.
Who gets credit for the switch? Everyone's certainly taken it: Zanuck, Bright, Jack Warner. Dismiss Warner out of hand. My best guess is Wellman. I just wish they'd switched the kid actors, too, so the short kid who looks like Cagney, Frankie Darro, wouldn't grow up to be Woods. I guess that stuff was already in the can? Wonder when they began filming and when the switch was made. The movie was released May 15, 1931. Bright and Glasmon got an Oscar nom for best story.
I guess I'll have to see “Mother's Cry” one of these days, to see what they saw in Woods; to see if it was more than what we saw in “Public Enemy.” He only made a total of 12 pictures, the last in 1938. From IMDb:
Eventually [Woods] went into producing, directing and stage management, working with the Schubert Organization and 20th Century Fox. During WWII, he worked with Ronald Reagan making training films for the U.S Army. He retired in 1975, and moved to Salt Lake City.
For more on Parsons, see Peter Bogdanovich's “The Cat's Meow.”
Saturday August 29, 2020
Chadwick Boseman (1977-2020)
I assumed he was going to play every historical Black figure ever. In a four-year stretch, from 2013 to 2017, he played Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, and then topped it off by becoming the world's first Black superhero, T'Challa, the Black Panther. It was an African-American-written and -directed film, with a mostly African-American cast that was mostly set in Africa, and it shocked the world by blowing up at the box office. It opened with more than $200 million on opening weekend, unheard of for a February release, and kept rolling. It was seen as a prelude to the all-star “Avengers: Infinity War” but it did better than that one. It was the No. 1 box-office hit of the year and just the third film to break the $700 million domestic barrier—after “Avatar” and “Star Wars—the Force Awakens.” It broke through like nothing broke through.
That was just two years ago, believe it or not.
I got the news last night. He was trending on Twitter and at first the words didn't even make sense. There was something about Chadwick Boseman and something about someone who had died and ... Well, obviously not that Chadwick Boseman, because ... Wait, what? No. At 43? Covid-related? No. Colon cancer. After a four-year battle. He'd had it all through the Avengers/Black Panther run and still embodied that strength.
I knew so little about him. These lines from the New York Times obit:
A statement posted on his Instagram account said he learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer and that it had progressed to Stage 4. It said he died in his home with his wife and family by his side, though it did not say where he lived.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” the statement said. “From 'Marshall' to 'Da 5 Bloods,' August Wilson's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
I thought he was younger. I would've assumed early to mid 30s. I thought we were going to have 40 more years of him.
I kept underestimating him. From the trailers to “42,” he seemed too passive to play the fiery Jackie but he wound up embodying that fire. Then I assumed he was too stolid to play the outre James Brown, but he nailed it. By the time he was as Thurgood Marshall, which my wife and I saw in a nearly empty theater on a weekday night, I was like “Just do 'em all, man, do 'em all.” And what weight he must have been carrying for every one of these roles. It's as if, in a four-year stretch, an Italian-American had Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and Antonin Scalia. But no, even that, it's not close to his weight. Jackie was the first, Thurgood was the first. These were the first major biopics about them. It's not the same. Times it by four. To the power of two.
He had finished August Wilson's “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” opposite Viola Davis. He was scheduled to play the title role in “Yasuke,” about a 16th-century samurai of African origin.
Wednesday August 26, 2020
What a Mug
I found this in The New York Daily News, Nov. 8, 1925, pg. 44. The theater page.
Other news on the page:
- The longest-running Broadway play is “Abie's Irish Rose,” 1,478 performances in, which also makes it the long-running play in Broadway history up to that point. Its record (eventually more than 2,000 performances) will be usurped by “Tocacco Road” in the 1930s, which will be usurped by “Life with Father” in the '40s, which apparently won't be usurped until “Fiddler on the Roof” in the '70s. The Broadway touring show stars George Brent, who will co-star with Cagney in “The Fighting 69th” in 1940.
- Also playing is “Is Zat So?” starring James Gleason and Robert Armstrong. The latter will later star in “King Kong,” and play Cagney's truculent boss in “G-Men.”
- A 1921 comedy by A.A. Milne, “The Dover Road,” is opening. The following year, Milne will publish a children's book about a bear and his friends that will be a mild hit.
- Buster Keaton's comedy “Go West” is playing at Loew's State & Metropolitan Theater.
- An actress wearing trousers instead of a short skirt, in Ibsen's “The Master Builder,” gets prominent notice.
Cagney's partner in red-haired thatchery, Charles Bickford, also carved out a successful career in the movies, with more than 100 credits on IMDb, and three Academy Award nominations for supporting actor: “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Farmer's Daughter,” “Johnny Belinda.” I don't think he ever acted with Cagney on screen.
From Cagney By Cagney:
But there was relief the following year, and it came because of my hair. Maxwell Anderson had written a play, Outside Looking in, based on the autobiography of writer-hobo Jim Tully. One of the leading characters was “Little Red,” and because there were virtually only two actors in New York with red hair, Alan Bunce and myself, there wasn’t much competition. I assume I got the part because my hair was redder than Alan’s. The show opened at the Greenwich Village Theatre on Seventh Avenue in September 1925. One of the producers was Eugene O’Neill, and he came backstage one night, looked at me, and said nothing. I suspect that was because he had nothing to say. In any case, the play got fine notices (Charles Bickford played the lead), and from the tiny 299-seat house in the Village we moved uptown to the capacious Thirty-ninth Street Theatre, where I had no trouble projecting my voice because of my ample vaudeville experience. After the first act in the new theatre, Maxwell Anderson came backstage and said, “Gather around, boys, gather around.” We gathered. “Now I want everybody here to speak twice as loud and twice as fast. You hear?” Then, seeing me, he said, “Everybody, that is, except you.”
The play ran awhile and got good notices. In Life magaine, drama critic Robert Benchley wrote: “Wherever Mr. MacGowan found two red-heads like Charles Bickford and James Cagney, who were evidently born to play Oklahoma Red and Little Red, he was guided by the Casting God. Mr. Bickford's characterization is the first most important one of the year ... while Mr. Cagney, in a less spectacular role, makes a ten-minute silence during his mock-trial scene something that many a more established actor might watch with profit.”
Sunday August 09, 2020
James Cagney in 'Bad Boy'
Another ad from the 1932/1933 trades:
I'm interested in the one at the bottom: “Bad Boy” starring James Cagney and Carole Lombard? Yes. It got made but not under that title and not with that co-star. It's “Hard to Handle,” in which Cagney plays a PR rep/grifter, with Mary Brian as his girl and Ruth Donnelly a standout as her mother. I recall liking Brian a lot, thinking she had a Christina Applegate thing about her. Her last movie was “Dragnet” in 1947 (Scotland Yard in NYC, not Jack Webb in LA), and her last TV series was “Meet Corliss Archer” in 1954. She lived until the day before New Year's Eve, 2002.
Monday July 27, 2020
Olivia de Havilland (1916-2020)
Just as Ginger Rogers gave Fred Astaire sex, David Thomson wrote, so Olivia de Havilland gave legendary lothario Errol Flynn onscreen stability. She tamed the bad boy. She basically made a husband out of him. Neat trick. In this way, she may be every woman's wish-fulfillment fantasy. To have that kind of power. No settling for the Ashley Wilkeses of the world. Or: You get your Rhett and Ashley in one.
She survived him by a longshot. I was thinking about this recently: They starred in movies together in the 1930s, he died in 1959, and she lived for another ... wait for it ... 61 years. She lived longer past his death than he lived his entire life. That should be an AA commercial. A warning.
It's been decades since I‘ve seen “Captain Blood,” and 10 year since “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and a few years further for “Gone with the Wind,” which is the movie she’s probably best known for.* She lived long enough to see it go from the pinnacle of classic Hollywood to being so problematic that in the wake of the George Floyd killing HBO Max pulled it from its menu until they could offer it with historical context. Sure, why not? Should‘ve done that decades ago. The movie is still the biggest hit in Hollywood history if you adjust for inflation—and always will be. Adjusted, it’s at $1.89 billion. That's just domestic. Game over.
She was also the Curt Flood of Hollywood—but a successful Curt Flood. Again, from Thomson in his book on Warner Bros.:
Olivia de Havilland felt neglected at her own studio. On loan out to Paramount, she got a Best Actress nomination in Mitchell Leisen's Hold Back the Dawn, but she was not being offered demanding parts at Warners. So she was refusing scripts and being suspended. It was the Bette Davis story all over again, except that de Havilland took expert legal advice. Martin Gang looked at the statutes and told her that in the state of California it was illegal for any contract to extend beyond seven years, so that the studio practice of adding on suspension time was not legitimate. De Havilland went to court—if Jack Warner could find the time to attend—and she won. It was a decision that changed the contract system for all time, just as the confidence that had once reckoned on seven-year deals was coming to a close. De Havilland was not forgiven or renewed at Warners, and she had a period of two years out of work. Jack had been furious: he had brought this actress “from obscurity to prominence,” and $125,000 a picture! Bette Davis admitted that “Hollywood actors will for ever be in Olivia's debt.” Soon enough, she went over to Paramount and won the Oscar twice in four years for To Each His Own and The Heiress, with another nomination for The Snake Pit.
She just turned 104. She was born during the Great War, when cars and flight were new, and radio was still a sloppy version of the telephone. She lived to see talking pictures, a Great Depression, another world war, atomic power, man on the moon, etc.. She lived through the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. She was born two years before the last global pandemic and left us during this one. Imagine that life. The things she's seen we wouldn't believe.
(* OK, so not her best-known movies according to IMDb. Jesus, those algorithms have issues. “The Heiress”? The fuck? Do they weight Oscars that much? If so, where's “To Each His Own”?)
Thursday July 23, 2020
‘Known For’: Notorious REG
The filmed version of “Hamilton” (review up soon) made me buy a subscription to Disney+ and forced me to see this travesty when I searched out what each of the cast members have been up to. According to IMDb, this is what my Hamilton crush Renee Elise Goldsberry is “known for”:
Good god. Not sure who this indicts more: IMDb (for ranking them thus), Hollywood (for not getting this beautiful, talented woman better roles), or us (for supporting Steven Seagal more than Renee Elise Goldsberry).
Would it make sense for IMDb's algorithms to somehow include theater? Or at least Broadway? I know it's the Internet Movie Database, but it already includes not only TV and online videos. YouTube videos.
Speaking of: This is one of those #Ham4Ham things from 2016. The Notorious REG is third. She played Mimi in “Rent” in the 2000s sometime. It shows.
Some good news: Since this weekend, her “Hamilton” credit, for which she won a Tony as best featured actress in a musical, has moved past “Pistol Whipped,” a straight-to-video Seagal flick, where she is 13th-billed. Slow hand clap, IMDb.
Tuesday July 14, 2020
Kelly Preston (1962-2020)
There's a scene in the 1997 movie “Addicted to Love” that I‘ll always remember.
Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan play a pair of jilted lovers who hide out in the rundown building opposite where their former lovers have set up shop. He simply pines for his ex, played by Kelly Preston, while she wants revenge on hers (Tcheky Karyo). And I guess they do get revenge on him. They make his life miserable or something? Because he’s a snooty French restauranteur? Anyway, initially, they simply spy on the couple. She bugs the place and he sets up a camera obscura so the image from their exes' apartment is projected onto their wall. At one point, to make the image clearer, Matthew paints the wall white. Basically it looks like he's magically painting Kelly Preston onto the wall. It's a lovely scene. (You can see it here at about 3:40.)
And how lovely that Kelly Preston got to play the object of our love for once. Normally, she played the object of our lust. She shot to fame as the sexy girl—with a bit of a mean streak—who would improbably let us get to first or second base with her. Or even home? She played the point of the movie, the girl of our dreams, who would turn out to be maybe not worthy of our dreams. And by our and us I mean schleppy guys: the Doug McKeons and Matt Adlers of the world. What a scam. It was almost a relief when she was partnered with Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Twins.” Good. Quit kidding us we had a chance.
As in real life. She and George Clooney were an item. Her engagement to Charlie Sheen was short and marred by violence. Her marriage to John Travolta was long and marred by Scientology. Also tragedy: Her oldest child, Jett, was born with “Kawasaki's Syndrome,” resulting in severe allergies and asthma attacks; he died at age 16 of a seizure. Apparently she did a lot of work for CHEC, the Children's Health Environmental Coalition, a nonprofit focused on educating parents about environmental toxins adversely affecting the health of children.
I kept waiting for her to break bigger but she kept getting cast as the other girl, the one the lead needed to break free from—whether bitchy in “Jerry Maguire” or sweet in “Addicted to Love.” In my MSNBC days, about 2005, I was asked to put together a click-bait list of the top 10 sexiest actresses. She was the first one I thought of; I placed her fourth. But by then Hollywood was already casting her as the mom: “Cat in the Hat”; “Sky High.” When did I last see her? “Casino Jack” maybe? From 2010?
She died Sunday after a two-year battle with breast cancer. Same age as me: 57. Too soon. Too soon.
Monday June 29, 2020
A Plague on Both Our Condos
Did everyone else know that Anthony Lane got Covid? In the May 25 New Yorker, he has a good piece on the history of plague movies (“Our Fever for Plague Movies”), which is the kind of thing I would‘ve done—not as well—back in my MSNBC days.
Near the end of Lane’s piece, he drops this bomb:
Cronenberg would be amused and gratified, no doubt, to learn that, while embarking on a private retrospective of his work, I succumbed to the coronavirus. Pretty soon, I couldn't decide whether I was watching the films or the films were watching me. Perhaps they smelled fresh meat. To see “Shivers” while having the shivers is quite a ride. Other side effects of the virus include splintered sleep, drumming headaches, and special corona dreams, which are like Hieronymus Bosch without the playfulness; would Cronenberg be interested, do you think, in buying the rights to my nights?
Cronenberg, Lane concludes, is high art for the genre; so is Murnau. He also goes through the schlock. It's a fun read during a pandemic. Put it this way: I'd certainly rather read Lane on the subject than, as a germaphobe, watch them myself. Hell, I never even watched “Contagion,” and that one has Marion Cotillard in it. In the early days of the crisis, mid-March, yes, Patricia and I did have our upstairs neighbor over for a viewing of “The Andreomeda Strain.” I liked all the ‘70s TV guest stars in it. It also felt vaguely intellectual and (despite the topic) un-sensationalistic. But that was the last night we’ve had our neighbor over. We talked about watching another virus movie, but I was wary and put the kibosh on it. I erred on the side of caution. Maybe someday we‘ll have people over again. But it’s been more than three months and things are getting worse. At least in Donald Trump's America. That's the real plague.
Monday June 08, 2020
From The New Yorker, 1956 or ‘57.
Not sure when The New Yorker began doing film reviews but I doubt it was during Cagney’s heyday since there isn't much mention of him during those decades. Just a few Talk of the Towns and this.
Sunday May 17, 2020
Lynn Shelton (1965-2020)
Shelton with partner Marc Maron last year at SIFF.
A year ago this week Patricia and I got dressed up and drove down to Seattle Center/McCaw Hall for the Opening Night of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival, where they premiered local filmmaker Lynn Shelton's “Sword of Trust.”
Thursday was supposed to be Opening Night of SIFF 2020. It was canceled months ago, as we knew it would be.
Yesterday I read Lynn Shelton died from a rare blood disorder. She was 54. She was stunning and talented and apparently a lovely person and way, way too young. She directed “Humpday,” “Your Sister's Sister,” “Laggies” and various episodes of great TV, including “Mad Men,” “The Mindy Project,” “Master of None,” “The Good Place,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and “GLOW.”
I heard about her death about an hour after hearing about the death of Fred Willard and about an hour before hearing about the death of Phyllis George.
There's that recurring line in the song “Wait for It” from “Hamilton”: “It takes and it takes and it takes.” That's 2020 to me: It takes and it takes and it takes.