Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Every blog deserves a holiday....

...and it's my turn....I'll be away for about a week.  Please stop by then, or feel free to visit the archives...THANK YOU!  Gregory

Sunday, May 8, 2011

If they were still alive...., theses notables would be celebrating their birthday:
Harry S. Truman would be 127.

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Lex Barker would be 92.

Ricky Nelson would be 71.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

If they were still alive... would be the birthday of these notable folks:
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Gary Cooper would be 110.  Gary Cooper, around 1930, would get my vote as the handsomest man to ever grace the silver screen.  But in very short order, he made a very successful transition from hubba-hubba love interest to all-American hero, mostly in Westerns, the genre he is most identified with today.  And it's a medium he was born to, having been born "on the range" in rural Montana. He remains, even today, one of the most popular American film stars of all time.

Eva PerĂ³n would be 92.  Argentina's beloved "Evita" was first lady of that country from 1946 until her untimely death of cancer in 1952, when she was only 33.  The former film, radio and stage actress has been mythicized since her death, helped in no small part by the hugely popular stage/film musical, Evita by Andew Lloyd Webber.  Though not an official government holiday, the anniversary of her death is a major day of remembrance in Argentina, where her popularity remains, if anything, greater than ever.

The lovely Anne Baxter would be 88.  Growing up, my first exposure to her was her way over-the-top portrayal of 'Nefretiri' and even as a child, I thought, "That is one bad actress!"  With time, and exposure to her many other films, I realize now, of course, that my first assessment was far from correct.  No one could have uttered those ridiculous lines! ("Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!" et. al.). Watch her in her Oscar-winning performance in The Razor's Edge; or in her "should-have-won-the-Oscar"-performance in the classic All About Eve (she famously lost the Oscar after the studio insisted on placing her in the 'Best Actress' category, rather than 'Best Supporting Actress"; thus, she and Bette Davis had to go head-to-head and common wisdom says that they cancelled each other out--the award went to Judy Holliday).  She was dead-on perfect in that film!  So, first impressions aren't always on-the-money.  Actually, it took a great actress to even deliver those ridiculous lines at all, while keeping a straight try it!  Read this one aloud--and realize how great she really was:
You are even less than a man! Listen to me, Rameses. You thought I was evil when I went to Moses. And you were right. Shall I tell you what happened, Rameses? He spurned me like a strumpet in the street. I, Nefretiri, Queen of Egypt! All that you wanted from me he would not even take! Do you hear laughter Pharaoh? Not the laughter of kings, but the laughter of slaves on the desert island!

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Friday, May 6, 2011

If they were alive today

...these three Hollywood gents would be celebrating their birthday:
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Rudolph Valentino would be 116.  It's a rather frustrating task for a film historian to try to separate the man from the myth when it's a star who's been as long-gone and equally long-shrouded in mystery, legend and just plain misinformation as Rudolph Valentino.  What does become clear is that he was a very nice young man, born in Italy and immigrated to America at age 18.  He drifted into employment as a "taxi dancer"--one step above a gigolo, paid to dance with willing female cabaret patrons.  He soon found work in films, performing small roles in small films.  His limited grasp of the English language wasn't a hindrance, as sound films were still several years in the future.  His big break came in 1921, nabbing the lead role in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse...and from there, his fate as the screen's most torrid "Latin lover" was sealed.  His death of peritonitis in 1926 was one of the most shocking in film history, and his funeral in New York nearly turned into a riotous panic, with an estimated 100,000 people lining the streets of his cortege.  With each year, his mythical image grew, and he remains today one of cinema's great icons. One wonders whether he might have been one of the many silent screen idols whose careers were dashed when the microphone was introduced in Hollywood, the very year after his death.  His thick accent may have done him in--and that being the case, perhaps his timing was good, in obtaining "screen legend" status, just in time...

Stewart Granger would be 98. The "tall, dark and handsome" British leading man of the 1940's and 50's co-starred with some of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies:  Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly and others.  He was stolid, sturdy, reliable...and if perhaps ever-so-slightly dull, he was "tall dark and handsome".  "Stewart Granger" was his stage name.  The name he was born with, "James Stewart," was already well-taken by the time he arrived in Hollywood.

Orson Welles would be 96.  "Boy Genius"..."Enfant Terrible"...Brilliant...Difficult...Impossible.  All terms used to describe the one-man-wonder that was Orson Welles.  In so many ways, his greatest triumph, Citizen Kane, was also the film that somewhat doomed him in Hollywood.  He was never able to repeat his triumph, try as he did, almost until the day he died in 1985. When discussing Welles, all roads lead back to Citizen Kane, which was not, in fact, hugely successful when it was released in 1941.  It certainly didn't help matters that the film was a fictionalized version of the life of one of Hollywood's most powerful men, William Randolph Hearst, who did everything in his power to quash the film's legitimacy by ordering a "blackout" on coverage of the film in his huge syndicate of newspapers.  Still, the film was able to rise on its own merit (much to Hearst's disdain) and continues to be considered by many to be the greatest film in Hollywood history. 

Here's a very illuminating interview with Welles from 1960, in which he discusses the trials of Citizen Kane. (click link below...embedding not allowed):

Thursday, May 5, 2011

If they were still alive.... would be the birthday of these notables:

Nellie Bly would be 147.  The 19th century "lady adventuress" and journalist was a real trailblazer in her day:  The "first" popular newspaper-woman; set a world record for circumnavigating the globe in 72 days, and other notable achievements.  "Nellie Bly" was actually her pen name--her real name was Elizabeth Cochran.  She made her first splash in journalism by faking insanity to get an inside look at an insane asylum.  After her release, she penned a sensational account, called, Ten Days in a Mad-House, which gave her international fame.  To this day, her name is a synonym for "adventurous young women".

Tyrone Power would be 97.  He was startlingly handsome, for starters.  That may have limited his horizons as an actor, trying to be taken seriously when he was, arguably, the handsomest male actor of them all.  But he continued to fight against the "pretty boy" image and gave many skilled, moving performances--perhaps most especially in The Razor's Edge--Somerset Maugham's tale of American expatriates in France in the 1920's.  The world was shocked by his sudden death at the age of 44.

Alice Faye, Tyrone Power in Alexander's Ragtime Band
Tyrone Power's frequent co-star, Alice Faye, was born on this date as well, 96 years ago.  She was a lovely platinum blonde starlet, much in the mold of Jean Harlow, in the early 1930's.  But she slowly blossomed into a honey-voiced, lovely leading lady--in facct, one of the most popular female stars of the late 30's-early 40's.  She orchestrated the end of her own career in films in 1945, walking off the 20th Century-Fox lot and refusing to return.  She only made one more film, State Fair in 1962 and permanently retired from show business.

Tammy Wynette would be 69.  "The First Lady of Country Music," Tammy's life was filled with the dramatic ups-and-downs that gave her fodder for some of her top hit songs.  She is, of course, best-remembered today for her anthem, "Stand By Your Man"...which is hardly a sentiment that women of today could fondly embrace.  But her full-out, open-throated rendition made moot the lyrical sentiments.  It was all about the singing, and that she certainly could do.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

If they were alive today.... would be the birthday of these notables:

Audrey Hepburn would be 82.  Some proclaimed her an "off-beat" or "unconventional" beauty---a rather puzzling assessment, in that one look at her brings to mind the great beauties of classical art.  The Belgian-born Hepburn was unerringly graceful and possessed a natural poise and elegance that translated to the screen beautfully.  In 1999, she was voted the #3 Greatest American Film Legend (behind Bette Davis and Katharine relation) of all time.  Her roster of luminous performances is not particularly long, but contains some very prominent films:  Breakfast at Tiffany's, Wait Until Dark, Funny Face, Roman Holiday, Sabrina.  It seems that the "Hepburn touch" was nearly all that a film needed to raise it from mediocrity to something quite special.  The world mourned her passing (of cancer of the appendix) in 1993--she was only 63.  Here's a lovely photo tribute to her:

Keith Haring would be 53.  He was one of the first (and only) artists of his generation to truly "break out" with a recognizable style all his own.  In the 1980's, his modernistic, graffiti-art wall mural style seemed to suddenly be everywhere, from clothing to advertising to galleries.  His simple "Radiating Baby" (above) became his logo/symbol.  His was one of the most prominent celebrity deaths during the height of the AIDS epidemic, when he died at the age of 31 in 1990. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If they were still alive.... would be the birthday of the following notables:
               William Holden and Kim Novak in William Inge's torrid, Picnic.
William Inge would be 98.  He was one of the most popular playwrights of Broadway (and subsequently, of Hollywood) during the mid-20th century--and yet, today, he is quite "under-remembered," especially when compared with his contemporary (and friend), Tennessee Williams, whose works continue to be produced and re-discovered by new generations.  Inge won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1953, for his steamy Midwest drama, Picnic. And he won an Oscar, too, for Best Screenplay, for 1961's Splendor in the Grass.  Some of his other notable works:  Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Come Back, Little Sheba, and his most successful play, Bus Stop, which became a hugely successful Marilyn Monroe vehicle in 1956.  But despite all these successes, he was plagued by depression and self-doubt and sadly, took his own life at the age of 60.  Perhaps with his centenary coming up in 2013, there will be a re-examination of the works of this fine, sensitive writer and proper credit will be given him.

Beulah Bondi would be 123.  Even as a young lady, she played old ladies!  There was something about her somewhat hawkish facial features that typecast her as everyone's mother, or grandmother.  But she had a marvelously warm presence and gave many memorable, moving performances--none more so than the heartbreaking Make Way For Tomorrow, where, as 'Ma Cooper,' Depression-era circumstances force her to part with her beloved husband after many years.  Try watching that one with dry eyes!  She played James Stewart's mother in 4 different films; most memorably, in It's a Wonderful Life.  The way she switches from the warm, loveable 'Mrs. Bailey' to the bitter, snarling crone 'Ma Bailey' is truly unnerving. But remember her as warm and loveable...that's what she played best.  Here's a random clip from Make Way for Tomorrow.  She's only 49 years old here:

Mary Astor would be 105.  She was a fine, intelligent and accomplished actress who always added a "touch of class" to whatever film she appeared in.  Off-screen, the cool and somewhat imperious-seeming Miss Astor was something of a hotsy-totsy, as revealed in a shocking (at the time) 1936 divorce/custody trial.  Her very candid diaries, which were purloined by, and  constantly referred to by her ex-husband's legal team, kept the tabloid press slavering for more.  She revealed infidelities with more than one notable name--most famously, playwright George S. Kaufman.  The gossip columnists of the day predicted her career would be ruined by these revelations.  But, in fact, her career continued to flourish, achieving an Oscar (The Great Lie) and a career-best performance in The Maltese Falcon.  Here's one of the scenes that got her the Oscar:

Aline MacMahon

Aline MacMahon would be 112.  What a face she had!  She could express more with one jaded lift of an eyebrow over her huge, hooded eyes than most actresses could by pulling out every trick in the book.  She was usually cast as the wise-cracking, world-weary sidekick, most memorably in the early 1930's Warner Brothers "Gold Digger"-type films.  And she was often cast as homely and unsexy---but I've always thought she had quite a lovely face.  Very unique...and there has never been another like her.

Betty Comden would be 96.  She was one-half of perhaps the greatest comic writing team in Broadway/Hollywood history.  Their list of credits is most impressive, indeed:  On the Town, Bells are Ringing, Wonderful Town, The Bandwagon, and arguably, their finest achievement, Singin' in the Rain--perpetually voted the "Best Film Musical of All-Time" in just about every poll there is.  Everyone assumed they were a married couple, but they were only the best of friends and were, in fact, happily married to others. By all accounts, she was "one hell of a dame".  So, what better time to take another look at one of the greatest dance scenes in film history, the famous "Moses Supposes" number with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor!  Click the link below (video could not be embedded):