Monday, September 24, 2012

Alternate #TCM Party sources this week:

Disclaimer:  no one related to TCM is involved in these posts, my anti-virus approved these sites, the link worked at posting, the sites have their own disclaimers regarding copyrights, and some of these sites are pop-up supported and may contain mature content, always before the movie starts, so load the flick BEFORE curling up with the popcorn and kiddos. Happy viewing (and tweeting).

Safe sites will NEVER ask you to download anything. 

Please see for full schedules.
TCMParty schedule for the week of September 24:

Tues. 9/25   A Tree Grows In Brooklyn     7pm CST
Wed. 9/26           The Gift of Love                7pm CST

None available

Thur. 9/27   An Evening with Mack Sennett  

Fiddlesticks:  10pm CST

Fri. 9/28  Support Your Local Sheriff!         7pm CST (the 4th video on the page is working)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

You. You Know. You Know My Name ...

There are literally thousands of people that we see in the background of film history in dozens of movies but never really hear about. So many character actors and bit-players whose faces we recognize instantly, who make or break so many movies, that we struggle with when trying to recall their name. The What a Character blogathon is dedicated to these folks who made the movies feel whole.

One of my favorite character actors is Victor Moore.  He worked with everyone from George Cohan, Bob Hope , and Mae West,  to Fred and Ginger and Marilyn Monroe.  Co-starring in over 50 films and 21 broadway productions, Moore had more background in stage acting than half his peers by the age of 30.

Born in New Jersey in 1876, Moore made his major stage debut in the presence of Barrymores (Ethel, to be exact) with 1896's Rosemary. A vaudeville actor from the late 1800's through the late 1920's with his first wife, Moore had always had a comedic slant in his performances. Even around major broadway productions he kept the stage act he'd nurtured since his teens.  Arthur Hopkins recalled, “The timid Moore, who even in those days, was mostly hips, would waddle to the footlights and beseech the spotlight man in the gallery, as though reluctant to remind him, ‘Mister, hey, mister, spotlight, you know, mister, you know like we rehearsed—spotlight.’”

He was "discovered" and cast by George Cohan in 1906's 45 Minutes From Broadway and it's sequel The Talk of New York. Even though he'd already been on the stage for almost 30 years, these productions are considered his breakout performances. Just a few years later, he began his career in film, where 2 of his first 3 silent movies were directed by a little known up-and-comer, Cecil B Demille.

Cohan, Moore, and Miller

Moore, often typecast as the bumbling but well-meaning comedic relief, had numerous standouts in his 60 year career.  On stage he is best known for Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing, and you can find his face in numerous classics like Swingtime, Ziegfeld Follies, and We're Not Married. 

 His major standout on film was 1937's Make way for Tomorrow, a really sad movie, where he was cast against type as the straight man, about an elderly couple and their self-absorbed children. Moore received overwhelmingly positive reviews, even winning over one of his greatest critics:  Orson Welles once said he hated Victor Moore, calling him "A professional Irishman", but that in that film, he was "absolutely wonderful".  Leo McCarey directed Make Way, and that year won an academy award for his other film The Awful Truth. When he accepted the best director trophy, he said "thank you, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture."  Many critics feel Moore was also robbed of the best actor academy award that year (he wasn't even nominated); It went to Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous, which many felt was a supporting role.

 His oddest film appearance was as an animated cartoon character in the 1945 Daffy Duck short Aint That Ducky. It is said that Moore was so happy with the animated version of himself he offered to do the voice overs for free, provided that the animators gave him a little more hair.

Clip from "Tomorrow"

The film that brought Moore to my attention was Swingtime. His buffoonery paired with Astaire's charm is a match made in heaven in my book. The scene where he and Helen Broderick try to mimic Fred and Ginger makes me laugh so hard, Im not sure if there's a greater comedic moment in the whole film for him. But then there's the sandwich stealing. And packing Astaire's suitcase.  Okay, I take it back,  most of his scenes in Swingtime were pretty stellar.

Victor Moore and Helen Broderick - Swingtime

Moore's final film appearance was a cameo as the plumber in Seven Year Itch, and his final stage appearances were as Gramps in a 1953 revival of On Borrowed Time and as the Starkeeper in a 1957 revival of Carousel. He passed at the age of 86.

Im really kind of dissapointed in the internet on this one.  I'm used to having to dig a little to find info on the not-so-huge folks from my favorite films, but it's as if Victor hardly existed out there.  The man has a seriously impressive filmography, literally worked with everyone of note "before they were huge", he's got a star on the Blvd, and yet, after days of looking, the info in this post is all I could really find asides from mundane stuff, there's a building named for him in New York, had 3 kids, 2 wives - first one until her death, second was 40 yrs his junior until his death, yadda yadda.  I learned a few things, which is the main reason I do this, but it feels kind of half-assed, or like an afterthought, which this guy (and so many others) shouldn't be!  I might have to make a trip to the Heritage Museum to learn more (the folks that work there live and breathe classic hollywood, and they seem to have film history on lock) because now I'm even more curious about the guy. Thank you for the laughs, Mr. Moore!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

An Unguided History of Universal's Backlot

Front Gate, Circa 1915

Can I start this off by saying I really wanted to take the damn tour before I wrote this to have more than just what peers, books, and the internet have to go on? I hop on Universal's web site and am shocked.  EIGHTY DOLLARS!?! I even tried to land a press pass through work but there's a huge waiting list, so I guess when I get in there sometime in Febuary Ill add a part 2 for a first-hand account. I was pretty saddened by the cost. I live literally less than 2 miles from the front gate.  Are there no allowances for the people that have to finagle through the tourist traffic and live under the constant hum of sight seeing helicopters every single day? But I digress . .  I know it's LA, I know it's a huge tourist stop, but not being able to take just the studio tour without paying full admission was a huge bummer.  Seriously, 90% of the population here would have to choose between driving for a month or taking this tour, alone, in 100 degree weather. Pass.

In 1915, it was an apparently totally different scene.  For a mere 5 cents (with inflation that about $1.20 today. sheesh) Carl Laemmle would invite you to walk around the studio, sit on bleachers and learn about the history, see all the stars, bask in the awe that was being on a live set, and the 5 cents included a chicken boxed dinner. Oh, to have lived here in the early 20th century . . . You could even buy fresh fruit on the lot, since the vast majority of Los Angeles was orchards, and the studio itself was still fully operational farmland. Laemmle took great pride in showing off his pride and joy to the public, dubbing it "The World's Only Movie City!", making it an unforgettable and entertaining experience everyone could come and enjoy. This incarnation of the tour lasted until silents got the boot, officially ending in the early 1930s, as the background noise from passerby would have made filming talkies impossible.  

Universal Studios, Circa 1915

One of my favorite stories about the backlots is a ghost story (it wouldn't be Hollywood without a good ghost story!) that supposedly came to be on Universal's opening weekend. It spans decades -Many claim to have seen a man near Hitchcock's Psycho house, in  full aviator gear, stumbling around, giggling like a mad man, that just vanishes. Security guards, Studio staff, event staff, tourists, actors, all walks of life claim to have witnessed the "unnamed" pilot over the years.

Nicknamed "Uncle Carl" due to the number of family and friends he had on staff at the studio, Laemmle had apparently planned quite a party for the first public opening to the studios. Beautiful girls sprinkled guests in flower petals, cowboys and indians rode around the guests on horseback firing pistols into the air, Directors, actors and crew set up demonstrations of how movie-making worked behind the scenes... I wish I could have witnessed it then, it sounds like a serious party that only early Hollywood was capable of throwing.   The first day went off without a hitch, even a reconstruction of a flood that washed 50,000 gallons of water over the backlot worked flawlessly. Three of the main events, a wild west show, the flood, and a bridge demolition are still features in the tour to this day.

Second day, not so much.  Uncle Carl had hired famed Los Angeles pilot Frank Stites to re-enact a battle in the air for the public. High winds in the area had already postponed the show, and tensions were high as a stunt pilot had been killed earlier in the day in San Fransisco. Stites, assuming the title of "greatest aviator in the world" after the death of the man in San Fran, was supposed to detonate explosives by dropping payloads to the ground to blow up while performing arial dives and other stunts.  Unfortunately, after an explosion, Stites lost control of the craft and either by jumping or being expelled from his plane, fell from the sky to land at the feet of observers, dead on impact.  There is to this day a memorial on the lot for Stites, as it's a common held belief this is their giggling aviator.

While I am not sure where I stand on their recent attempt to have their neighbors pay for a makeover or what their hitting up the notoriously not-Beverly-Hills-earners means for their financial security in the future - the studio sent out mail to all of us that live in the vicinity asking for donations for a studio expansion/revitalization plan, touting the history of the studio, why it needs our donations and support, and how it intends to utilize dead space on their property and slowly devour Universal City, all while promising to provide "rich" job opportunities (that you'll have to know someone on the inside to acquire) and better entertainment (higher admission?-hope that means they'll finally be removing the Waterworld exhibit) - I hope they eventually learn to embrace more of their history in regards to the parks and tours they offer. 

Numbers vary but it's estimated the studio averaged about 500 visitors a day every weekend for the 15 years it was open to the public in it's original vision. Everyone from Valentino to Lon Chaney worked on these lots and glimpses of them could often be seen by fans in attendance.

Winter scene on the backlot

From Universal's first major production in 1913 (Traffic in Souls) to the full on theme park it's become today, it's one of the most visited sites in town and still holds a little air of movie magic, even today.  It's one of only two studios that even bothers with a backlot, as computer imaging and filming on location has become more popular, so it really is a must see if you are on vacation and have the funds to do it.  Guess I'll start a change jar and see what gets here first, admission for me and a friend, or my press pass date after the holidays. Either way, Universal is a really neat chunk of history nestled in the north hills.

You can learn more about the films and history of Universal right here at Journeys in Classic Film's blogathon all week long!  Hooray for Hollywood!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

7x7 Awards

I was tagged by Classic Movie Man (thank you!) for what seems to be a "tag-you're-it" sort of blog event where we nominate 7 blogs, then form a sort of an ice cream social with links to others so we can all get to know each other a little better.  I'd never heard of this before, but it sounds like a neat idea, so here goes:

1.Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you. 
I will eat anything but seafood (its a texture thing). You remember that Life commercial "Give it to Mikey, he'll eat anything"?  Thats me. It's to the point where my family asks if I'm pregnant just about any time we eat together.  I can pack it away, and Im not very picky. I think it stems from my mom forcing me to try a variety of different things when I was young, and then life forcing me to get creative with ramen for a good chunk of my adult life. Im just hoping the high metabolism doesn't really hit a wall when you turn 30, or I'm in trouble. But seriously,  are you gonna finish that?

2. Link to one of the posts that I think best fits the following categories: 
a. Most beautiful piece: 
 I didn't really know which to choose for this category since politically leaning classic film blogs aren't something I think of as "pretty", but decided on a piece that was out of love and admiration.  I had a tough time choosing between the first blog entry I ever did about Chaplin, or this one about Peter Lorre, but figured Chaplin gets a ton of attention already, and Lorre deserves it every bit as much.

b. Most helpful piece: 
The Best 7 Bucks You'll Spend in Hollywood pretty much describes what it says.  Seriously, if you ever come to Hollywood, you can skip a good 75% of the over-priced tourist stuff (unless you just want the experience, then by all means) and go straight to the Hollywood Heritage Museum.  Its in the actual Laskey-Demille barn and has more history packed into it's little frame than the 10 top film studios, museums, and tours put together. And you should really witness anything with a 7 dollar admission in LA first hand, it's gotta be one of the world wonders or something.

c. Most popular piece: 
I should've expected this one, of course our most famous landmark is going to get the most hits. Im a small blog with a few devoted followers (that I love dearly), but this piece still gets monthly hits from all over the world. Which I just think is neat to be able to track with today's technology. Im enamored by the whole process.

d. Most controversial piece:
Admitting you aren't the biggest Monroe fan is close to suicide in the classic film world, apparently. I surprisingly got some not-so-nice personal messages on FB about this one, "how dare you call your self a film fan" and "you obviously know nothing about movies", etc. I wasn't even as smarmy as I could've been, I tried to be polite as Im well aware she's the high priestess of Hollywood, but, no pleasing everyone I suppose. And no one answered my question, either (why is she so special?).

e. Surprisingly successful piece:
The reaction to the piece about seeing old movies in theaters  was kind of surprising to me, as outside of Los Angeles I hadn't met too many people interested in attending.  It's my 3rd most popular entry according to blogspot's stats, Im thinking it could be the content and not the topic though, It was about when I saw Bringing Up Baby at the Billy Wilder Theater. Suggestion for blogsot - maybe get a keyword tracker so we can know if its our wit and writing skill or just interest in a really good movie that has nothing to do with the writer's opinion.

f. Most underrated piece: 
I started this out to be semi-political and try to discover where we went so horribly wrong in society, using movies as a clue to how we used to act and what we used to value.  But it seems the movie fans would rather not dampen the mood by turning classics political (even though a ton of them had serious messages to pass on), and the political junkies would rather not mix entertainment with their migraines. To each their own.  But this piece, about how Venice Ca has been screwed repeatedly by the powers that be here in LA, I think, is kind of important.

g. Most pride-worthy piece:
This entry is my personal favorite just because it took a while to research the info and compines my 3 favorite things, history, music, and politics. Its probably not the best written but I think it's the most informative, so, quantity over quality, I suppose. 

3. Pass this award on to seven other blogs/bloggers:
These are in no particular order and if I've forgotten someone I am so very sorry. 7 is not very many and I hate having to choose as there are tons of great blogs, but these are the folks I currently frequent and learn from the most: