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):