Tuesday January 18, 2022
Quote of the Day
“We are better off in a very big way now. Trump is not president. We don't have to react to his fucking insanity every goddamned hour of every goddamned day. That guy kicked the doors into people's brains, right and left, all around. Had a different effect on each. Some people, who never knew what the president did, and still don't, or don't have a firm understanding of how government even works, just let that guy into their brain and fucking kick it around and get them all excited. What Trump did ... through persistence, and aggravated will, and full-on narcissistic intent, was destroy people's understanding of the necessity of tolerance. Democracy can't work without tolerance. Civic duty, civic responsibility, civic structure—if this is supposed to work it's supposed to work for everybody. Now it's a fractured fucking mess. Because no one feels like they have to tolerate anything anymore. ...
”Personally, I'm fine with [President Biden]. I like not knowing what the president is doing every five fucking minutes. But this fucking monster we had for four years was so entertaining to so many craven idiots, they just got excited. They felt part of it. 'Hey, let's be part of the Big Fuck You. And now let's be part of the Big Lie. Hey, we were on board for the Big Fuck You, let's be on board for this bullshit.'"
-- Marc Maron, WTF Podcast, Jan. 6, 2022, on the one-year anniversary
Monday January 17, 2022
Movie Review: The French Dispatch (2021)
“These were his people,” the narrator (Angelica Huston) says of the writers that Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), the Editor in Chief of The French Dispatch, coddles, coaxes and ferociously protects. This was early in the film, and as she said it I thought the same. My kind of people. My kind of topic. My kind of movie.
And then … not.
Where does the movie go wrong? It's divided into three different stories that are all part of a single issue of the titular publication, a New Yorker-like weekly that hails from, of all places, Liberty, Kansas, the near-geographic center of the United States. So rather than one complete film we get three or four shorts connected through this conceit. So that's part of it.
But where writer-director Wes Anderson truly loses me is with the writers. Or the writing. It doesn’t seem very New Yorker-like. It doesn’t seem very literary.
OK, I’ll just say it: They're lousy writers.
Here’s an example of the writing of The French Dispatch writers:
What sounds will punctuate the night? And what mysteries will they foretell? Perhaps the doubtful old maxim speaks true: All grand beauties withhold their deepest secrets.
Ick. It’s annunciated by Owen Wilson, who plays Herbsaint Sazerac, a writer who keeps riding his bicycle down Metro stairs and waxing philosophic and nostalgic about the seedier side of life in Ennui-sur-Blasé (great name), the French home of The French Dispatch. His section is the first in the magazine, and thus, after intros, including the death of Arthur Howitzer Jr., the first in the movie. It’s how we learn about the town before learning about its tales.
Sazerac is supposedly based on Joseph Mitchell of “Joe Gould’s Secret” fame, who often wrote about the seedier side of life in New York: its hoboes, bars, rats. Except Mitchell was a great, great writer:
Joe Gould was an odd and penniless and unemployable little man who came to the city in 1916 and ducked and dodged and held on as hard as he could for over thirty-five years.
Is that unfair? Picking a classic opener? Here’s a less well-known lede:
Within a few blocks of virtually every large newspaper in the United States except The Christian Science Monitor there is a saloon haunted by reporters, a saloon which also functions as a bank, as a sanitarium, as a gymnasium, and sometimes as a home.
I was expecting more of that in “The French Dispatch” and we didn't come close. I suppose it’s a lot to ask of Wes Anderson: to recreate three or four great writers and their styles, or imagine three or four great writers and their styles. But it’s the one detail he doesn’t get right. And it might be the most important.
These are the three main writers and their stories:
- J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), who gives a lecture on Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a convicted murderer and celebrated modern artist, and Rosenthaler's relationship with his prison guard/muse Simone (Léa Seydoux) and the art dealer who recognizes his genius, Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody).
- Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), based on Mavis Gallant, who is the no-bullshit chronicler of young revolutionaries Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri) during a student uprising in Ennui-sur-Blasé.
- Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), apparently some combo of James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling (and Capote for his memory recall?), who recites verbatim his story about the kidnapping of the child of the police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric), as well as the haute cuisine of his chef, Nescaffier (Stephen Park), which is designed to be eaten by cops.
The first was the longest and a lot of fun. Not sure who Berensen is based on, but at the lectern Swinton gives the writer a Barbara Walters-type speech impediment.
It’s the second story where I lost energy. Mavis Gallant reported on the 1968 student uprisings in Paris, one of many such uprisings during that turbulent year, and most of the world took it all so seriously. Gallant did not. She viewed the student revolutionaries with a jaundiced eye. “Did they really think that they could destroy capitalism by setting the Bourse on fire?” she wrote, among other things. Of course, McDormand is the perfect choice for such a no-bullshit writer; the problem is the rest of it. The kids in the story are obviously just kids. They’re play acting. They’re revolutionaries in the way that Max Fischer in “Rushmore” is a playwright— Chalamet’s Zeffirelli in particular would rather play chess and smoke a pipe that storm any Bastille. Hell, their slogan is “Les enfants son grognons”: The children are grumpy. They know it. So using McDormand to pop their pretensions, such as they are, is like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. What was revelatory for Gallant’s readers is obvious to Anderson’s viewers.
The third story restores some balance. It's absurd in a way that has motion. (The second section was also too static.) There are cops and robbers and chases. And Roebuck seems a better writer than the others. Or maybe his prose sounds better coming from Jeffrey Wright.
Plus it's poignant. The standoff between kidnappers and cops ends when Chef Nescaffier is sent to cook a meal for the kidnappers, but he’s made to taste the food first. He does even though it's poisoned. Most of the bad guys die, he and his strong stomach survive, and afterwards, to Wright, he tries to describe the new and piquant flavor of the poison. I love that bit: this new and exciting taste which is deadly. And then we get the best dialogue of the movie:
Wright: I admire your bravery, lieutenant.
Nescaffier: I’m not brave. I just wasn’t in the mood to be a disappointment to everybody. [pause] I’m a foreigner, you know.
Wright: This city is full of us, isn’t it? I’m one myself.
Nescaffier: Seeking something missing. Missing something left behind.
First, I loved the line about not being in the mood to be a disappointment to everyone. Feels like it’s true of half the decisions I’ve made in my life. In fact, initially, I thought the follow-up about being a foreigner was an intrusion, since the earlier line is universal and the foreigner line is not. It muddied the waters, I thought. But that line sets up the rest of it, which is profound. And it's universal again: “Seeking something missing, missing something left behind.” That’s all of us moving through life. All of us are seeking the missing thing; all of us are missing the things we’ve left behind. Maybe it’s universal because, in a sense, in this existence, we’re all foreigners. We all just wound up here. The world is full of us, isn’t it?
I hope “The French Dispatch” is one of those movies that gets better on the second viewing. There will certainly be a lot to notice. This is just a sample from the end credits: its New Yorker-y type covers:
What fun. Anderson has a romantic view of all of it—of editors and writers and caring greatly about the written word. Most of that world has long gone away. Writing is now content, and the people who make the decisions aren’t exactly Arthur Howitzer, Jr. But The New Yorker lives. Subscribe.
Sunday January 16, 2022
Joss Whedon was trending the other day on Twitter and it turned out because of an interview Ben Affleck gave to The Los Angeles Times. This part:
In 2016, I interviewed you three times — for “Batman v Superman,” “The Accountant” and “Live by Night” — and I got the sense that you were under a lot of pressure. Shortly after that, you dropped out of directing and starring in “The Batman” and sought treatment for your drinking. Was that when your priorities changed?
Directing “Batman” is a good example. I looked at it and thought, “I'm not going to be happy doing this. The person who does this should love it.” You're supposed to always want these things, and I probably would have loved doing it at 32 or something. But it was the point where I started to realize it's not worth it. It's just a wonderful benefit of reorienting and recalibrating your priorities that once it started being more about the experience, I felt more at ease.
It was really “Justice League” that was the nadir for me. That was a bad experience because of a confluence of things: my own life, my divorce, being away too much, the competing agendas and then [director] Zack [Snyder]'s personal tragedy [Snyder's daughter Autumn died by suicide in 2017] and the reshooting. It just was the worst experience. It was awful. It was everything that I didn't like about this. That became the moment where I said, “I'm not doing this anymore.” It's not even about, like, “Justice League” was so bad. Because it could have been anything.
Don't see why Joss Whedon should trend for that? Right, because there's not much to see. Affleck talks about a lot of personal circumstances surrounding the filming of “Justice League,” plus “the competing agendas” without taking sides, and so fans of Zack Snyder, the Snyderbabies who keep talking about “releasing the Snyderverse,” and who despise Whedon for talking over from Snyder, posited all this as Affleck attacking Whedon. He didn't, but you know fanboys. You know social media. They're another reason why we can't have anything nice.
If the Snyderbabies want to go after the true culprit, they should probably figure out who the hell screwed up the previous film, “Batman v. Superman.” And if it's Warners, blame Warners. And if it's a combo of Warners and Snyder, blame them both. But if it's just Zack Snyder? Then shut the fuck up and leave us all the fuck alone.
Saturday January 15, 2022
Movie Review: The Secret 6 (1931)
The requisite gangster poster of the era. Whither Harlow?
This was MGM’s foray into the world of gangster movies after the sudden success of “Little Caesar” and the adjacent anticipation of “The Public Enemy,” which was being made concurrently. (Filming Jan-Feb. 1931, release in April-May.)
It’s another Al Capone knockoff. Louis Scorpio (Wallace Beery) is nicknamed “Slaughterhouse” because of where he works and what he does. He’s in the Chicago stockyards and he’s good at killing things. That’s not a bad idea: translate the killing of one kind of meat (cattle) into another (human beings). But the filmmakers, including the husband-wife team of director George W. Hill and screenwriter Frances Marion, don’t do enough with it. And there are tons of missed opportunities.
Let’s just say it’s not exactly Warner Bros.
Like Georges Méliès
One day after work, Slaughterhouse meets his friend Johnny Franks (Ralph Bellamy, in his film debut) for dinner. Franks is a low-level gangster in the Centro district (read: Cicero); and while Scorpio is impressed with himself for his $35 weekly take, Johnny rolls out the $150 he made while hardly breaking a sweat. Plus he’s got Peaches (Marjorie Rambeau) hanging around making nice with him—and decidedly not with Scorpio, whom she refers to as a “missing link.”
At this point Scorpio is an affable, milk-drinking dude, with disheveled hair, a short tie and a rumpled suit. Then he spends a night with Johnny. It’s not a huge success. Johnny threatens Delano (Fletcher Norton) for selling bootleg liquor to rival gangster Joe Colimo (John Miljan) when the cops burst in. Our guys lam it and wind up at the law offices of Richard Newton (Lewis Stone, Andy Hardy’s dad), who’s drunk behind his desk, but who assures them everything is under control. Eventually we realize Newton isn’t consigliere; he’s the gangleader. It’s hard to tell because of poor filmmaking, but his his law office is above Frank’s Steakhouse, a gang hangout, which will matter later.
Again, hardly a successful night, but Slaughterhouse is hooked. So after a montage of generic booze-making and selling, we see him cleaned up, in bowler hat, trim moustache and three-piece suit. He’s still a milk drinker (that doesn’t change) but he’s no longer affable. He’s impatient, irritable, and butting heads with Johnny, who now sees him as his main rival. So when Newton’s plot to take over Colimo’s territory goes awry, resulting in the death of Colimo’s perpetually smiling kid brother, Slaughterhouse is set up. Instead they just wing him, and when he returns to Newton’s office he finds his milk bottle metaphorically dropped in the wastebasket. “Didn’t you … expect me back?” he asks, before plugging Johnny from behind.
Here’s how cheaply or on-the-fly this movie was made. After the plugging, and after Newton talks Slaughterhouse down, there’s suddenly a third man in the room: Delano. It’s almost like a magic act—like something from Georges Méliès. Not there. Poof! There. Either the filmmakers forgot they needed a fall guy and added him without reshoots, or they cut the scene where he arrives. Either way, it’s odd.
After that, Slaughterhouse is all-powerful. He taps a flunky gangster to be the next mayor of Centro, then makes inroads into Chicago. And that’s when we see our titular group.
Who are the Secret 6? They’re powerful Chicago businessmen who fight back against mugs like Slaughterhouse. How do they do it? They gather in rooms wearing masks like Robin the Boy Wonder. And? And that’s about it. To be honest, they reminded me of something out of a Republic movie serial—those ineffective businessmen gathering in the same room for 12 chapters. They don’t do anything—until, with eight minutes left, they suddenly get their act together and announce the following:
- The feds will charge Slaughterhouse and his gang with fraudulent income tax returns
- Also arson
- Also, they’ve got deportation warrants for half of them
- Also, Newton will be disbarred
Nick of time.
Here’s an odd chronological tidbit: According to AFI, the movie was filmed in January and February 1931, and according to Wiki, the arrest of Al Capone on income tax evasion charges occurred on March 13, 1931. So did they anticipate the arrest of Capone on income tax charges? Was it already being bandied about in the press?
Half of our titular heroes.
Throughout the film, we also follow two reporters who jaw good-naturedly with each other and come to regret giving Slaughterhouse so much copy: Hank Rogers (Johnny Mack Brown) and Carl Luckner (Clark Gable). Both men vie for the attentions of Anne Courtland (Jean Harlow), the girl who works the cash register at Frank’s Steakhouse.
This is apparently the movie that got Gable his MGM contract. AFI again:
According to a biography of Irving Thalberg, the producer initially cast Clark Gable in a small role, but as filming progressed new scenes were added to bolster his part. The result was a screen presence three times longer than that called for in the original script.
You get why, too. He just pops. He seems real, natural and sexy. Here he is talking to the new girl behind the cash register at Frank’s:
Carl: Hello honey, where did you come from?
Girl: The stork brought me.
Carl: Oh yeah? (pause, smile) Wish he’d bring me one.
Gable, lighting up the screen, about to play a Mills Two Bits Dewey Jackpot slot machine.
It’s the first screen pairing of Gable and Harlow, who would heat up the pre-code era, but it’s Hank who wins Anne. Then Hank runs into trouble with the gang and is shot dead on the subway—an apparent nod to the gangland shooting of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle in 1930.
For that, Slaughterhouse goes on trial, but it’s a fiasco and Newton gets him off. MGM was a real rah-rah America studio but at this point they don’t seem to have much faith in the judicial system. A year later, in “The Beast of the City,” the exact same thing happens—right down to the judge chastising the jury. There, the judge tells them their hearts are made of water. Here, he intones: “In all my experience on the bench, I have never seen a more outrageous miscarriage of justice! Your verdict must remain as a blot upon the courts of this state!” Then all of a sudden the people are fed up, they crowd the gangsters and talk of lynching, but the bad guys get away. Which is when the Secret 6 get their act together.
Like Chief Bromden
Pursed by the cops again, Newton tries to take off with the dough but Slaughterhouse kills him. Then he tries to hide out with Johnny’s old moll, Peaches, who locks him in a closet and laughs until the cops arrive. Another missed opportunity. Peaches kind of disappears after Johnny’s death. A scene where she becomes moll to the repugnant Slaughterhouse, and where you see her helplessness, would’ve made this scene pop.
I almost get the feeling “Secret 6” was re-released in the post-code era, and scenes were cut and lost forever. Take Murray Kinnell (Putty Nose from “The Public Enemy”) as Metz, a man who pretends to be deaf and dumb. When did Slaughterhouse figure out Metz could hear and talk? It’s just suddenly there—like Delano in Newton’s law office. We do get a great shot of Slaughterhouse, in prison, watching the cops sweat Metz, and then the door closing on him. It’s very final shot of “The Godfather.”
The Secret 6 really did exist, by the way—sans Robin masks, one assumes. They organized to take on Al Capone and were dubbed “Secret 6” by the press in homage to the group that bankrolled John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid in 1859. Now there’s another Secret 6: a DC Comics superhero group, begun in 1968 and still around. Does that speak to the age or what? 19th century: Let’s end slavery. 20th century: Let’s stop Capone. Today: Let’s play with superheroes while the world burns.
Sweating Metz, one of the movie's most effective scenes but an underutilized character—not to mention character actor.
Thursday January 13, 2022
Comparing Shots: 'The Secret Six' and 'The Godfather'
I was watching the 1931 MGM gangster film “The Secret Six” the other day when we got the following scene. The Al-Capone-like figure Louis “Slaughterhouse” Scorpio (Wallace Beery) has finally been picked up by the cops, and from behind bars he sees them sweating Metz (Murray Kinnell, Putty Nose from “The Public Enemy”), an operative who has long pretended to be a deaf-mute even though he's neither. And as Slaughterhouse realizes what's going on, the danger he's in, the door between him and Metz closes.
What did it remind me of? The great end shot of the first “Godfather” movie, of course: Kay's realization of what's going on, what her husband has become, and the danger she's in.
If “The Secret Six” sounds interesting to you, well, let's just say it's full of missed opportunities. Or the version I saw on Amazon Prime is one of those pre-code flicks that got re-released post-code and got chopped up and never put back together. Plus the version I saw on Amazon is soft and blurry. Fucking shame, really. We know who the crooks are now.
Wednesday January 12, 2022
What Is Peter Bogdanovich 'Known For'?
Peter Bogdanovich died last week at age 82. Here are some of the headlines:
- CNN: Peter Bogdanovich, the Oscar-nominated director of 'The Last Picture Show,' dead at 82
- The New York Times: Peter Bogdanovich, 82, Director Whose Career Was a Hollywood Drama, Dies
- Variety: Ellen Burstyn Remembers 'Last Picture Show' Director Peter Bogdanovich: 'He Loved and Understood Film Better Than Anyone'
Director, director, director. And here's what he's “known for” according to the algorithms of IMDb:
One out of four. Given IMDb's known-for history, I suppose we'll take it.
Tech geeks are kind of screwing up the knowledge of the world, aren't they? “Since Peter Bogdanovich has more acting credits, he's mostly an actor. Since Steven Spielberg has more producing credits, he's mostly a producer. That's what they're known for.”
Monday January 10, 2022
Movie Review: I Cover the Waterfront (1933)
This is a helluva find, a recently restored, pre-code Universal Studios flick that reminded me of Thomas Hobbes’s quote about life: nasty, brutish and short. In 72 minutes, it gives us murder, death by shark, over-the-top racism, and Claudette Colbert tied to a torture rack and forced to kiss the male lead. Don’t worry, she’s charmed by it.
It’s obviously drafting off of other movies, too. The title recalls Warners’ hit from the previous year, “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” and we get elements of “The Front Page,” with reporter and editor forever bickering. But it’s its own thing.
Joe Miller (Ben Lyon) is a carping reporter who hates his beat, the San Diego waterfront, but as long as he’s there he’s pushing to do a big story on a Chinese smuggling ring. Sadly, his editor, John Phelps (Purnell Pratt), waves him off to go after titillating stories like a girl who swims in the nude. Hey, turns out the girl, Julie Kirk (Claudette Colbert), is the daughter of the guy Miller thinks is behind the Chinese smuggling ring, Eli Kirk (Ernest Torrence). Nice coincidence. One of many.
When I first heard about the Chinese smuggling ring, I assumed it was the Chinese doing the smuggling but they’re the ones being smuggled. It’s 50 years into the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), and illegal immigration is their only way into the country. Oh, and Miller is right: Kirk, a weatherworn fisherman, is the smuggler. “When you can’t make a living off tuna,” he says to his deckhand, Ortegus (Maurice Black), “you just as well might fish for yellowtail,” then nods toward a trussed-up Chinese guy on deck. He adds, philosophically, “You know, they ain’t bad folks. And somebody’s got to do the washing.”
Brace yourself. It gets worse.
I was trying to figure out why the Chinese guy was trussed up when the Coast Guard, with Miller on deck, steams toward them to search the vessel. Ah, so maybe they hang him off the side so he can’t be found? Nope. Kirk just puts chains on him and sinks him. Afterwards, he feels kinda bad about it but he still keeps the dude’s $700 and the beautiful Chinese robe it came wrapped in. Julie gets the robe.
Miller exchanges words with Kirk and shortly afterwards we get our nice big coincidence. Miller's next story is about an old trawler—a guy in a rowboat who dredges treasure from the harbor. And guess what he brings up?
Trawler: Well, son, this here chink didn’t put them there chains around his feet his self. … Looks like he was dunked. Seeing as he’s used to it, I’ll dunk him again.
Miller: Oh no, you don’t! This poor chink tried pretty hard to get in the United States. I’m taking him in. … Sell me this chink. He’s news!
Even with the dead body, the editor still thinks it isn’t a story. He thinks Kirk needs to be charged before it’s a story. So Miller decides to woo Julie to get inside info.
Now for our third coincidence. Miller and his pal, the perpetually drunk, perpetually grabby One-Punch McCoy (Hobart Cavanaugh, a kind of ur-Walter Brennan), are coming out of a speakeasy when they hear Kirk playing piano and singing in the speakeasy next door. Miller figures a drunk Kirk might spill the beans so in they go. Oddly, they never approach him. Instead:
- Kirk goes upstairs with a call girl
- Julie shows up
- Miller dances with Julie
- Julie sees her father has been rolled
- Julie beats up the call girl to get the money back
She might look like Claudette Colbert but she spent time on the mean streets of Singapore, baby.
As Miller tries to woo her, we get the best lines of the movie:
He: C’mon, let’s play a love scene.
She (dryly): Let’s fall in love first.
He: You wouldn’t go for that kiss now, would ya?
She: Say, I thought you came down here to work.
He: If you don’t think it’s work getting a kiss out of you, you’re nuts.
At that point, they’re on a tourist attraction, the prison ship Santa Madre, 25 cents. Which is how she gets tied up for the kissing scene. He even puts a belt around her neck so she can’t move her head. “Enough torture?” he asks after several go rounds. A big smile from Julie. “Mm-mm. I could take it.”
And that’s how she falls. Afterwards, we get lovey beach scenes and a pre-code evening together (his place, fadeout, breakfast). But they argue about the future. She loves San Diego, he talks up Vermont. So there’s a problem. Besides the fact that he’s pumping her for information to convict her father.
He finally gets the info: He’s told the old man is returning that evening to a Chinatown port after a shark-hunting expedition. But he wonders: Why hunt shark when the tuna are plentiful? Because you’re not really hunting shark! You’re really picking up Chinese in the south! So he alerts the Coast Guard.
Except Kirk was hunting shark, and those scenes, while primitive, are fascinating. Kirk’s boat seems a forerunner to Quint’s in “Jaws”; and when he and Ortegus go out on a rowboat and harpoon a big guy, they’re dragged along—again like in “Jaws”—and the rowboat goes under. Ortegus is attacked, loses a leg, dies. Did Steven Spielberg ever see this? Definitely feels like it.
All this time, though, we’re wondering, along with Miller, why Kirk is hunting shark, and back in port the Coast Guard find nothing—just the dead shark. Then One-Punch McCoy literally stumbles upon a fish in which Kirk has hidden a bottle of booze—we’d seen that in the first act—which makes the lightbulb go on above Miller’s head. And on the dock, Miller cuts open the shark and out spills a Chinese immigrant. Fleeing the cops, Kirk catches a bullet but escapes; Miller gets the headlines but feels awful for betraying Julie.
All that’s left are the final confrontations and reconciliations. Kirk finds a snooping Miller, shoots him, admits he’s a tough kid. Miller admits he gave Julie a raw deal while Julie admits to her father that she loves Miller. Being the good father, he helps save Miller’s life, then dies. And upon returning from the hospital, Miller finds his dingy room spruced up and Julie emerges from the bedroom all smiles.
As for the Chinese? 沒有了。
“I Cover the Waterfront” was based upon a book of the same name by Max Miller, a San Diego reporter, which was apparently so popular it led to a song of the same name, covered by everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra.
The billing is interesting. Ben Lyon had been the star of Howard Hughes’ highly touted “Hell’s Angels” in 1930, even flying his own plane in the stunt scenes, and he was still a big-enough star to get top billing here; but he’s on the way down. Colbert, on the other hand, is about to shoot into superstardom with “It Happened One Night” and “Cleopatra” and remains a legend to this day. They’re movie stars passing in the night. You get why it happens, too. She’s effortlessly charming while he’s kind of brittle. She’s attractive while he’s OK. But what a fascinating life. In 1930, he married actress Bebe Daniels, the original Ruth Wonderly in 1931’s “The Maltese Falcon,” and the original Dorothy Gale in 1914’s “The Wizard of Oz”—she was also cousin to DeForest Kelley—and during World War II they lived in England, where they hosted a radio show, “Hi, Gang!” After the war, he became a casting director for 20th Century Fox and apparently suggested that a young actress named Norma Jean Baker change her name. Maybe to something alliterative. With MMs in it.
Third-billed Ernest Torrence was a 6’4” Scotsman who made his name as a silent-movie villain, playing, among others, Capt. Hook and Prof. Moriarity. He was the tough “Steamboat Bill” to Buster Keaton’s “Jr.” as well as King of the Beggars in Lon Chaney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” He’s great, but this is his last movie. Four days after its premiere, he died—of gall stones, of all things. It feels like there was a lot of sudden deaths in Hollywood in the early 1930s.
Motion Picture Herald ad using the praise of waterfront reporters rather than critics.
Sunday January 09, 2022
Dreaming of Mark Hamill
A dream from the other night.
I had just finished a writing project, needed to do more, but wanted to clear my head so I went for a bike ride. Mid-ride I thought I’d pop in over to Mark Hamill’s house. We were friends—kind of. We’d just done something together earlier that day. Even as I was riding over there, though, I was thinking, “Does this pop-in make sense? Who does pop-ins anymore? And I don’t really know him that well.” But my momentum kept me going. I knew it was a bad idea but I kept moving forward. His house was a big house like the Ollermans near Lake Harriet, I rang the doorbell and came inside. There was a distinguished older man wearing a suit and standing just off the doorway in a book-lined den. He asked me what I wanted and I asked if Mark was home. He hesitated, and—figuring Mark had a lot of fans showing up unbidden and unwanted—I said, “We’re friends. I’m Erik. We just went to …” and then mentioned the place we’d been to earlier that day. He nodded and called for Mark.
Mark and I were in our twenties. He wasn’t happy to see me.
Me: Hey, sorry for popping in like this.
He: Uh huh.
Me: I was just writing and needed a break.
He: Uh huh.
Me: Probably wasn’t a good idea.
He: Uh huh.
Me: I … should probably just go, right?
He: Uh huh.
Then I was outside, walking down the stairs to my bike, chastising myself. I had known it was a bad idea. Why had I kept going? I picked up my bike and tried to find the bike path again. There was a public bike path that wound through their backyard but it seemed one way. Everyone was going around the big house and that wasn’t the way I wanted to go. But it’s the way I wound up going.