Thursday, December 8, 2011

From the Outside In

The first time I saw Jack Lemmon was in Grumpy Old Men.  The first time I saw Don Ameche was in Cocoon.  Love Affair for Hepburn, The list goes on with classic stars in 80s or 90s films- and growing up I never really bothered to look at the careers that preceded those and the kind of hallmarky made-for-TV movies a lot of greats ended up in in their later years.

Since I've been old enough to appreciate them, I've always wondered if working through these people's filmographies backwards makes it a different experience for me than those who saw careers play out.  Do I appreciate Philadelphia Story more after being introduced to Hepburn as a very old woman? Or would I appreciate some of them more if I'd witnessed the struggle thru bit parts and supporting roles?

It seems already knowing who made a lasting impression on our culture after the fact makes them even bigger than they were in their heyday.  The folks then couldn't have dreamed we'd still be talking about Buster Keaton almost a hundred years later, or known the credit and admiration these golden age actors would still receive in the 2010's, right?  Or about Bob Hope posthumously hosting the Oscars and being the highlight?  I can never decide if i missed something or had the advantage.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Its the 1940s in Hollywood

Josh Brolin's upcoming film "Gangster Squad" is being filmed all around town and transforming parts of it, taking us back to the 1940s. Its a neat feeling walking down a street where everything from the storefronts to the light posts have been changed.

                                         Store Front displays on Cherokee @ Hollywood Blvd

The cars, oh the cars (some bullet riddled) I asked the security guard how they got all these together and apparently the studios keep a list of who has what and has what and they roll them all out as needed, and the shot up cars are studio property.

The Cabana Makeover

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time Travel

A big reason why I love classic films is because they are so easy to escape in.  Most new films just annoy me or make me want my time back, but films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s just do something special for me that new movies can't.  I also love them because everything is in such sharp contrast to how they are now, no cell phones, no TVs, everyone works, people seem more humane, they have manners, I often find myself a little sad after watching a Fred and Ginger or Cary Grant flick because I feel like I missed out on something great.

I saw the Twilight Zone episode the other day with Buster Keaton where he's a janitor for a scientist in 1890 who has just invented a time travelling helmet, and Keaton sends himself to 1960.  He's terrified by the fast pace, the high prices, and he meets a man that helps him figure out how to go back, and the man wants to go too, thinking it would be so peaceful, he could invent something, slow down a little, but when he gets there he really misses his electric blanket and down pillows.

I wonder if I'd go crazy if there really was a way to go back, no more internet, no smart phone... but taxes were lower, the government was a more reasonable size and less intrusive, corporations hadn't consolidated and monopolized the country, I think it might be fair trade.  Im sure there's a huge downside and it was Hollywood's job to sugar coat and distract from reality, but maybe I could relearn the social skills social networking has ironically ruined . . .

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natalie Wood Drowning Re-opened

"We didn't necessarily really lie. We just didn't tell everything, and it was agreed that what we spoke about between the three of us is what we're going to tell the investigators," Davern (The Splendour's captain the night of Wood's drowning) said.

On the night of Nov. 29, 1981, Wood and her then-husband Robert Wagner went boating with Christopher Walken. The trio had dinner and drinks at Doug's Harbor Reef and then continued drinking aboard the boat, where Wagner and Walken began arguing.  Thats where the stories split ways. My whole life people around me have always assumed Wagner did it and got away with it.  Maybe with this "new information" there will finally be a definitive answer on what happened to Natalie Wood.

Walken's Theory, from a 1997 interview in Playboy Magazine:
“What happened that night only she knows, because she was alone,” he said. “She had gone to bed before us, and her room was at the back. A dinghy was bouncing against the side of the boat, and I think she went out to move it. There was a ski ramp that was partially in the water. It was slippery – I had walked on it myself. She had told me she couldn’t swim; in fact, they had to cut a swimming scene from [Brainstorm]. She was probably half asleep, and she was wearing a coat.”

What Davern says in a recent NBC interview:
"Like I said, that's going to be up to the investigators to decide," he said. Davern alleged that Wagner purposefully kept the investigation of her death low-profile and did not do everything he could to find Wood once she went missing.
Gregory then pushed the point, asking, "Was he [Wagner] responsible for her death in some way?"
"Well, like I said, I think we all made mistakes that night and --," Davern responded.
"Mr. Davern, that wasn't my question. Was he responsible for her death? I'm not asking about your story," said Gregory.
According to Davern it was Wood and Wagner arguing into the night, not Wagner and Walken.
"Yes, I would say so. Yes," Davern said.

The main areas of focus according to various reports are that analysis of her clothing could prove she was alive for several hours in the water, while Wagner stalled an investigation and told Davern not to turn on search lights or call the coast guard.  An accident with Wagner just wanting to protect his image? Or murder?  Maybe we'll know soon.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How did Thomas Ince Die?

In 1924 the media magnate William Randolph Hearst – one of the richest and most powerful men in America – hosted a glittering cruise on his luxury yacht off the coast of southern California.


On this trip film producer Thomas Ince was celebrating his 42nd birthday on board Hearst’s yacht. Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, columnist Louella Parsons, author Elinor Glyn and a few young up-and-coming actresses were among the guests. As the party continued through the night and alcohol was flowing, rumor has it that Hearst had suspected Davies of having an affair with one of the men on board. It was not until he caught Davies with Chaplin in one of the rooms, that Hearst’s jealousy threw him into a violent rage. When Hearst aimed to kill Chaplin with one of his guns, Ince may have been the one caught in the crossfire and took a bullet. Thus ending Ince's life.

After Ince’s death, the first headlines in the papers to appear read "Movie Producer Shot on Hearst's Yacht", but quickly vanished.  Then there was a story that Ince had fallen ill on Hearst's ranch, but later it was proven they were never there. Then Hearst’s newspapers reported that Ince had left the yacht complaining of bad indigestion and later died in his wive’s arms by a heart attack upset by said indigestion. Could have there been intimidation from Hearst’s power over the published word and the ability to cut down a person’s reputation with his papers if the truth got out? Or did Ince really die of a heart attack? D.W. Griffith, once stated, “All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince’s name. There’s plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big to touch.”
Hearst and Davies
Ince was immediately creamated, his widow was given a large sum of money by Hearst and left the country, the others were given high salaried jobs at some of Hearst's companies.  Foul play? A theory duly emerged that Hearst himself had shot the dead man. According to this version of events – dramatised in the film The Cat’s Meow starring Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard – the jealous tycoon had mistaken Ince for Chaplin, who had been sleeping with Davies.
Hearst’s biographer believes the real reason for the cover-up was the vast amount of drinking and drug use.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Seena Owen

Its also Louise Brooks and Veronica Lake's birthday today, but i figured plenty of people would bring them up and I'm trying to expand my knowledge of silent stars, so here is another beautiful talented starlet that you don't hear about anymore.

Born Nov 14, 1894 in Spokane, Seena pursued a job as a film extra after her family's business went under.  Starting in San Fransisco and then moving to Hollywood around 1913, an old friend from Spokane got her hired on at Kalem Company, an early studio that had recently relocated to the west coast.

Most famously known for her role in 1916's "Intolerance",  Owen was on regular rotation during the early silent years starring in movies such as "Victory" with Lon Chaney Sr and 'Queen Kelly" with Gloria Swanson.

Seena was on Heart's yacht the weekend (that incidentally took place tomorrow in 1924)Thomas Ince might have been shot by Hearst, a juicy Hollywood mystery that I'm going to write about in a day or two. Unfortunately Owen didn't have the chops to make it in talking pictures and retired from the silver screen in the early 1930's. Owen spent the rest of her years screenwriting with her sister and died in 1966 in Hollywood, Ca.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Does Hollywood Mirror Society?

For all intensive purposes in this blog I look at cinema and pop culture as a window into what was going on around the country in the years between WW1 and the Vietnam War.  While I understand the movies were dramatized, actors' images were completely fabricated and then protected by the studios, and that especially after censorship things were released to the public a little differently, I wonder if it's any kind of mirror at all.  I look at today's media and see it as all out of touch and virtually uninterested in anything happening around the US, or the world. But reading the history of the a-listers from that era, I really can't find a modern day version for most of them.  Who is the Charlie Chaplin of today?  The Cecil B Demille?  Not to say there aren't any creative forces, serious philanthropists, or risk takers,  but who is going to be this generation's legacy 50 or 100 years from now? What masterpieces will they be showing from my generation?

The difference that strikes me most is the way they spoke.  Scripts from then were eloquently worded, historically aware, and to me the subtlety of innuendo and low brow humor was more effective than coming right out with sex, drugs, and cheap shots like we do now.  I wonder if it's because we're too stupid to get the joke now?  Are we better off now that we can show nudity, cuss, and show couples sleeping in the same bed, or has it stifled us to the point where that's all we know how to do anymore to get an audience reaction?
Another difference is the things they pulled off with what they had. Are we also better off that the whole process in film making is so much easier on the creators?  Like special effects, they couldnt just click a button or search youtube for a sound effect in the 40's. They had to be creative.  They couldnt go in and CGI the background later if something wasnt lit properly or looked out of focus or needed an impressive background.  Are the people making movies today equal in talent and creativity?  Or have they lost a little of the wonder by having so many things done for them by computers?

While I believe the studio/mogul system was as dirty as any major corporation today, I can't decide which system was better.  We've had some independent  masterpieces that wouldn't have ever been made in the old system, but the lengths the studios went to preserve the reputations and quality of their stars seemed to make them more worthy of being role models than the stars today.  When society isn't being constantly fed filth, it seems we are less filthy..  I realize it was all built up, hey, thats Hollywood. But would any major star from today have had a snowball's chance in hell to make it big then?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

RIP Norman Corwin, Godfather of Theatrical Radio

Norman Corwin died yesterday at the age of 101.

Corwin was the godfather of radio dramas, and essentially soap operas, during radio's golden age in the 30s and 40s.  Born in 1910 in Boston, Corwin got his start as a journalist and then as a news anchor for WBZA in Boston.

Having worked with everyone in radio from Orson Welles to William Robson, and often cited as the inspiration for Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, among others, Corwin wrote, directed, and produced numerous radio dramas for CBS and other major networks in a career that spanned over 50 years.  Even in his 90's, his plays could be heard on NPR through 2001 and in 1993 he was inducted into the radio hall of fame.

Best known for productions such as The Plot to Overthrow Christmas, On a note of Triumph, and numerous wartime dramas, Corwin was a centerpiece in millions of family rooms every week from 1938 into the early 50's.  He wrote screenplays, books, poetry, plays and was one of the last remaining legends still with us from the greatest period in history for radio.  He was one of the first to use entertainment as a window into political and social issues and was the first person to receive the One World award for his contribution in mass communication during world war 2.

Corwin died in his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday of natural causes.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seeing Classics on the Big Screen

Im not up on copyrights so didnt try to get a screen shot - Cast, Bringing up Baby

There's something special about seeing classics on the big screen.  I love TCM but somehow being in a room full of other fans laughing and reacting to a film just makes it so much better.  Ive only seen a few in my lifetime, but I have to say the Billy Wilder Theater is my favorite so far.

Billy Wilder Theater

As soon as you walk in you hear big band music in the background.  People of all ages from 5 years old to 80  stroll in, have a seat, and then total strangers start discussing what they've been lucky enough to have seen, their favorite classic movies, stories about the stars, everyone's happy, pleasant, it's like a parallel universe almost.  Large groups, people by themselves, all for the love of a great film.

On the wall

The UCLA Film and Telivision Archive and the Hammer Museum have paid a great tribute to one of my favorite directors.  I think Wilder would be happy with what goes on here and the joy it brings. I wish I couldve gotten a pic of the Sunset Blvd. mural but it was painted in angles so I couldnt get a shot where you could tell what it was. This opened in 2006, the year he would've been 100, and was made possible by a donation from his wife, Audry.

I think the greatest kick was watching the little kids fall in love with the movie.  "Baby" is a great introduction for young people because it has two of the biggest stars of the time and is so screwball it has everyone chuckling. I thought the kid in front of me was going to fall over laughing in the scene where they are throwing rocks trying to wake up Peabody and then Hepburn belts him in the head. :)  Ive seen this movie a hundred times but have never laughed harder as I did seeing it here.  Thanks Fox, Hammer, and UCLA for a great time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Class Warfare?

We hear that phrase a lot lately, and from the strangest places, the government.

The GLOBAL problem - 10% of the Earths population holds over 90% of the wealth. The economy is collapsing because we don't have money to buy things because the morons running the companies and governments are sitting on it all, and when sales and stocks fall from the lack of revenue instead of taking a small but survivable hit to their own income, they lay off hundreds of thousands of people to compensate. Im not anti-capitalism, but there's a fine line that's been crossed between healthy revenue and obscene profit. In the 50's, Lots of people had decent salaries. The wealth was spread over a larger percentage of the population. There were more CEOs, managers, owners. Today, where there was once 50 parent companies there are now 5 and only a handful are making billions.


It reminds me of that Cagney movie, Mayor of Hell, where a crooked man runs a boys home and works them like slaves, feeds them food not fit for animals, lets them freeze in solitary, because he's too cheap to do things correctly. Cagney steps in, instates democracy, but then has to go on the lamb for a while leaving the tyrrant in charge again, and as we all know once a group of people have a taste of how good it could be, they will fight to the death to maintain it. The boys riot, and in Hollywood fashion Cagney shows up in the nick of time to keep the boys from doing something disastorous.

Who's going to intervene now, in real life?

This is the beginning—from "I" to "we". If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into "I", and cuts you off forever from the "we". - Grapes of Wrath

Monday, September 26, 2011

Griffith Observatory Photo Tour

Griffith J Griffith,  who had always wanted a public observatory in Los Angeles after visiting the free parks in Europe, sold his land in 1896 to begin his project. He donated 100,000 dollars to the city of Los Angeles and endowed the property to them, but unfortunately fell ill in 1916. Griffith left his estate upon his death to the completion of Griffith Observatory in 1919.  Completed by 1935, The observatory is still free except for special exhibits.

 Observatory Entrance

 A depression-era Federal public works program employed six sculptors to create this public sculpture. The Astronomers Monument, dedicated in November 1934, was hailed as one of the most important pieces of art to be completed by the program.


            The Ceiling above the Foucault Pendulum

A Foucault Pendulum. The ball swings back and forth and as the Earth turns the pit around it pins come into the line of contact with the ball. 

 Periodic Table with actual elements


 This is the lower level and was really neat.  it has a display for each planet and a scale you can stand on to see how much you'd weigh.
Telescopes < Lower Level 
> In the East Dome

The views from around the property
This is a really neat place and I highly recommend a stop if you are in the area.  There are 2 wings of displays of meteorites, eclipses, how seasons work, views of the sun, and not to mention the drive there takes you through a historic neighborhood with many beautiful homes, by the Greek theater, and through the park with amazing views throughout. Parking at the top is also free!