Friday, July 1, 2022

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth by Lana Turner

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth
by Lana Turner
Dean Street Press
250 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9781914150791
Originally published 1982
New edition October 2021

This review was originally published at the Classic Film Collective Patreon in May 2022.

“Nobody put a gun to my head to get me to write this book. I did it for two reasons: to set the record straight about me, so that all the lies could be answered by the truth, and because the timing was right. “ — Lana Turner

Lana Turner was the epitome of a movie star. With her perfectly coiffed blonde hair, an enviable wardrobe of designer gowns, furs and jewels and her sultry stare, Turner's adoring fans worshipped her. Over the years she evolved with her roles from being the sweater girl in They Won't Forget (1937), the femme fatale in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and the queen of soaps in Peyton Place (1957) and Imitation of Life (1959). She wasn't always taken seriously as an actress and had to constantly prove her worth. After 5 decades of being in the business, she had over 50 movies to her name and a sole Academy Award nomination. Along with her success were also many personal troubles. She endured family tragedies, seven failed marriages and a scandal involving her daughter Cheryl and her mobster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about Lana Turner and rumors would often spread like wildfire. In 1982, Turner decided to take matters into her own hands and tell her side of the story.

"Like many of the stars contracted into the old studio system, Lana was at the mercy of public opinion, which dictated every aspect of her life—including whom she could marry and have children with. And her story was not a Hollywood dream. There were many nightmares and heartbreaking tragedies she had to endure; which were then turned into fodder for public consumption.” — TCM host Alicia Malone

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth is an emotional memoir about a woman who lived to love but fell victim to the trappings of the Hollywood studio system. Like many movie star memoirs, you have to take this one with a grain of salt because it's clear that Turner wore her heart on her sleeve. The memoir is filled with candid tales of love and loss, of triumph and failures. It's a personal memoir but was also a way for Turner to protect her image and her legacy. 

Turner had developed a reputation as a glamorous movie star who was demanding on set. Reading between the lines, I see a woman who may have been temperamental but was also a shrewd business woman who knew her worth. She was a woman driven by emotion and instinct and built a life and career by a combination of her own rules and ones that were well established in the entertainment industry.

In the memoir, Lana Turner discusses many of her films and offers a little behind-the-scenes information on most of them. She only discusses her process a couple of times and focuses more on the people she worked with rather than her craft. Every single one of her seven marriages is discussed at length. It's clear that these men were emotionally volatile and were drawn to Turner's beauty, fame and financial success. There are also devastating stories about Turner's suicide attempt, her abortions, her stillborn births, her failed love affairs with Greg Bautzer and Tyrone Power and a few hints at a drinking problem. About three chapters are devoted to Johnny Stompanato, the events leading up to her daughter Cheryl Crane killing him in self-defense and the aftermath. Turner lacks some self-awareness at certain points but then in others she recognizes her shortcomings and also the struggles of being a women in a strict patriarchal society. The biggest takeaway about her many romances is that if the expectation had not been that she marry to keep up appearances, her husbands would have remained lovers instead.

Readers will learn more about Lana Turner as a woman rather than as a working actress. But there are still plenty of interesting old Hollywood tidbits from the book:

  • Lana Turner admitted to being naturally shy. Instead of butterflies she likened her nerves to "eagles, with flapping wings and tearing claws."
  • Her image as the sweater girl got Turner her start in Hollywood. But she quickly grew to dislike it.“That image clung to me for the rest of my career. I was the sexual promise, the object of desire. And as I matured, my facade did too, to an image of coolness and glamour—the movie star in diamonds, swathed in white mink.”
  • For Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), she pleaded with producer Carey Wilson not to put her in a sweater. She wore a bathing suit instead.
  • She had a congenital condition, Rh blood factor, which prevented her from taking on roles in films like Mogambo (1953) which were shot in "exotic" locations.
  • She met husband #1 Artie Shaw and husband #5 Frederick May on the set of Dancing Co-Ed (1939).
  • She claims to have become the highest paid actress in the world in early 1945.
  • Turner had this to say about the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice "It always amazes me that when Hollywood makes a really good movie, and some producer gets the bright idea to remake it, he comes up with something inferior to the original.”
  • She refused to star in A Life of Her Own (1950) with Wendell Corey. She fought with Dore Schary to get him off the picture (not because she didn't like him but because she didn't think he'd make a good co-star). Ray Milland was cast instead.
  • Despite the still recent Stompanato scandal, producer Ross Hunter still wanted her for Imitation of Life (1959).
  • Turner was going to star in Anatomy of a Murder (1959). At that point in her career she was fastidious about her look. Every detail from her hair, makeup and clothes had to be just perfect. When she made demands about her wardrobe, director Otto Preminger called to yell at her. Turner was not having it and asked her agent to pull her from the film.

Originally published in 1982, Dean Street Press released a new edition of Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth in October of 2021 in paperback and e-book formats. It includes an introduction by TCM host and author Alicia Malone.

Thank you to Dean Street Press for a copy of the book to review!

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Come September (1961)

In my latest YouTube video I discuss the sex comedy classic Come September (1961) starring Rock Hudson, Gina Lollobrigida, Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. Available on blu-ray from Kino Lorber!

Make sure you subscribe to my channel!

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Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy to review!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hot Saturday (1932)

Bank clerk Ruth (Nancy Carroll) is a prized date for a "hot Saturday". Fellow bank employees Archie (Grady Sutton) and Connie (Edward Woods) have their eye on Ruth. But they're about to face major competition with rich playboy Romer (Cary Grant). He's invited the bank employees and all their friends for a weekend party at his lakeside mansion. It's an opportunity for Romer to get some extra time with the beautiful Ruth who attends the party with Connie. When Ruth rejects Connie's advances, he plants a false rumor that Ruth slept overnight at Romer's mansion. Aided by Ruth's archnemesis Eva (Lilian Bond), the rumor spreads like wildfire causing chaos. Her old love interest Bill (Randolph Scott) wants Ruth to marry him, much to the delight of her parents Ida (Jane Darwell) and Harry (William Collier Sr.) but what will happen once he finds out about Romer?

Directed by William A. Seiter, Hot Saturday (1932) is a vivacious jazz age drama that explores sexual politics and how rumor and scandal had devastating effects on women in society. This is Cary Grant's first leading role. It's an unusual characterization of a wealthy playboy. Romer is a genuine guy throughout. He has no machinations and his character doesn't have to overcome any moral failings to win the girl. Romer genuinely likes Ruth. This contracts with Connie, played by Edward Woods of Public Enemy fame, who isolates Ruth and comes close to sexually assaulting her. Nancy Carroll plays into the sweetheart role as a young middle class woman who gets caught up in a bad situation. Randolph Scott's character doesn't appear until half way through the movie. Bill has the appearance of being a nice guy but he ends up being just as toxic as the rest of them. It's interesting that both the playboy and the nice guy do not meet our expectations of their roles in the story. 

This film is a pre-code but it lacks some of the spice that comes with movies from that era, especially ones that deal directly with sex and morality. Carroll does the typical undressing scene that we've all witnessed in many a pre-code (she also partially undress her teen sister Annie, played by Rose Coghlan but the camera moves away so we don't see anything). Ruth sleeping with Romer is boldly suggested a few times throughout the story. She's also put in various precarious positions where she is vulnerable to sexual assault. Otherwise, it's a very tame pre-code film.

For those who love the era, Hot Saturday (1932) is a time capsule of early 1930s frivolities. Cary Grant's character Romer is driven by a chauffeur in this car with what almost looks like a rumble seat. Romer and his date sit with their laps covered by a partial hood which the chauffeur has to lift it up to let them out. (If anyone has more details on this car please let me know!). It's fascinating to look at but seems quite dangerous. At Romer's lakeside mansion party, he has a custom made hot dog/milkshake cart which is wheeled around the party to serve the guests. Carroll wears a variety of fun outfits including cloche hats and secretary style blouses and dresses.

Hot Saturday (1932) is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. It includes subtitles in English, a reversible cover (see both sides below) and commentary from film historian Lee Gambin. The commentary was really fascinating. There is a lot of cultural context given and some really interesting insights into how the film portrays the societal mores and gender politics of the time. There were times I didn't agree with Gambin's perspective. He notes that Edward Woods comes off as a good guy in the role of Connie and then he takes an unexpectedly dark turn. As a woman I knew from the very first scene that Connie was up to no good so his character's story arc was no surprise. This is definitely a movie that women and men will interpret differently.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me Hot Saturday (1932) for review!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Camera Man: Buster Keaton by Dana Stevens

Camera Man
Buster Keaton, The Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the 20th Century 
By Dana Stevens
Atria Books
Hardcover ISBN: 9781501134197
432 pages
January 2022

“I think I have had the happiest and luckiest of lives. It would be ridiculous of me to complain… I count the years of defeat and grief and disappointment, and their percentage is so minute that it continually surprises and delights me.” — Buster Keaton

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beloved figure from film history than Buster Keaton. He's wowed generations of moviegoers, some born several decades after his death in 1966, with his physical comedy and incredible stunt work. And he did it all with a straight face. Who can forget the house frame falling over Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), the death-defying stunts in The General (1926), Keaton running over train cars and onto a water tower in Sherlock Jr. (1924) or the epic chase scenes in Seven Chances (1925)? He did it all himself, no stuntman needed and made it look effortless. Keaton was also a pioneer in filmmaking. He thrived in the era before studios took over Hollywood. With his years of vaudeville training, he knew what audiences liked and developed that on a bigger scale for moviegoers. With the birth of cinema, he learned as he went, preferring to work independently and often writing, "choreographing" and directing his own feature films and shorts. Today Keaton's work is appreciated by many, even those who are new to classic movies. You'll hear those who are normally adamantly against watching black-and-white movies from the past being open and willing to watching Keaton perform his magic on screen.

Film critic Dana Stevens offers a look at Keaton's life and career in her book Camera Man: Buster Keaton, The Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the 20th Century. This is a life-and-times style book rather than a traditional biography. And what I mean by that is the book offers the reader equal parts biography and cultural history which places its subject, in this case Buster Keaton, in context with the eras they lived through. You won't get a play-by-play on everything that happened in Keaton's life and career. Instead, Stevens offers a look at Keaton through a cultural history lens and readers with reap the rewards from all the historical context.

The chapters are thematic essays that follow the course of Keaton's life chronologically but each focus on a particular subject with a couple of context points. Some of these include women filmmakers, child cruelty regulations, the birth of radio, film and television, movie magazines, collegiate culture, racism, indie filmmaking vs. Hollywood studios, etc. There is also in-depth biographical information on key figures from Keaton's life and career including Keaton's three wives, Roscoe Arbuckle, Robert Sherwood, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Charlie Chaplin and more. These context points make for some illuminating reading and really help readers understand Keaton's world.

Stevens is a fantastic writer and I kept stopping to write down a quote I liked. Here are a few:

“For Keaton, every potential home is a space of danger and transformation; no facade stays standing for long… The ephemerality of the built world reveals the foundational homelessness of Buster’s character, whose defining trait is his ability to move through chaos while remaining miraculously unperturbed.”

“The Hollywood economy was large enough that Wall Street, another institution that rose to new heights of power and cultural influence in the 1920s, had started to play a key role in the financial and creative decisions of the top movie moguls…the big banks of the East Coast, where the money side of the business was still based, got skittish about lending large sums to small studios with spotty box-office records. To get back their investment, they needed a reliable flow of commercial hits.”

“Buster Keaton was ahead of his time in many ways but when it came to the ambient cultural racism of the Jim Crow era, he was unfortunately very much a product of it.” 
"Some accounts of Keaton’s late life—the ones that want to frame him as a tragic figure permanently destroyed by Hollywood—present his time performing with the circus as some sort of comedown… in fact, he held the prize second-act slot at one of Europe’s most prestigious and innovative circuses…”

If you're a fan of Buster Keaton and love cultural history, then Camera Man is a must read. 

Note: For those who will want a more traditional biography, author James Curtis' book Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life also came out this year.

This is my first review for the 2022 Classic Film Reading Challenge. 

Thank you to Atria Books for sending me Camera Man for review!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

2022 Classic Film Reading Challenge

2022 #ClassicFilmReading Challenge

May 25th to September 15 2022

Today I'm thrilled to announce the 2022 #ClassicFilmReading Challenge! Every year I host this challenge to encourage you to read and review six classic film books this summer/winter (depending on where you live. 

If you don't think you could read and review six books but could review one or two, I encourage you to still join! It's fun to participate even if you don't complete the challenge. 

If you do finish all six books then you 1) get bragging rights and 2) are automatically entered into a giveaway to win a Kino Lorber Blu-ray or DVD of your choice. Open internationally!

Throughout the challenge I'll be sharing review round-ups here on the blog and sharing reviews on Twitter (@RaquelStecher). Make sure you use the official hashtag #classicfilmreading when sharing your reviews. And feel free to share your #classicfilmreading stack to showcase what you plan to you plan to read this summer/winter.

Here is how the challenge works.

  • Sign up for the challenge 
  • Read a classic film book
  • Write a review and post it on your Blog, Podcast, YouTube, Instagram, LibraryThing or Goodreads. Must be a public post. 
  • Use hashtag #classicfilmreading on social media.
  • Submit your review link (see form on the official page)
  • Repeat until you have read and reviewed 6 books!
  • Review 6 and be automatically entered to win a prize.

Challenge runs from May 25th until September 15th, 2022. Sign-up before July 15th.

All of the details of the challenge are on the official page including the sign up form, the book review submission form, rules, deadlines and what counts as a classic film book. 

I hope you'll join me this year!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Dervish Dust: The Life and Words of James Coburn by Robyn L. Coburn

The Life and Words of James Coburn
by Robyn L. Coburn
Potomac Books
Hardcover ISBN: 9781640124059
424 pages
December 2021

“I take in all the impressions and information [about the character]. And when the time comes for action, I just let it go. It’s jazz acting. It’s like when Sarah Vaughan sings a song. She sings the lyrics, but she doesn’t sing it exactly the way it was written. It bears her style. That’s the way it is with roles. Each character has a style. Once you find out the character’s style it becomes really simple.. You don’t think about it. You just let it flow.” — James Coburn

James Coburn was one of the coolest actors to ever grace the silver screen. With his tall, lanky frame, wide grin, distinctive deep voice and personable nature, you can't help but be drawn to him. He just seemed like the sort of guy that you could hang out with and come away with a really cool story or two to share. Coburn made some great movies, and some not so great ones, and he elevated each of them with his magnetic screen presence. His career was bookended with some fantastic roles as either supporting player or the central star in films like The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), A Fistful of Dollars (1971), The Last of Sheila (1973) and The Affliction (1997), the latter of which earned him an Academy Award. Beyond acting, Coburn dabbled in screenwriting, producing and directing. He was skeptical of television but the medium brought him great exposure and an opportunity to appear in numerous shows and made-for-tv movies. Here was a man who was devoted to his craft, eager to take on new challenges and beloved by his fellow cast members. At the end of his life, he still worked tirelessly as an actor, enjoying a new wave of enthusiasm for his work after earning his Oscar. He and his second wife Paula created the James and Paula Coburn Foundation (JPCF) "with the aim of supporting several arts and medical charities" which is still active to this day. The world lost James Coburn two decades ago but what remains is a joyful legacy.

“Coburn’s intense desire to control his own career and not be part of projects that were subject to the misapplied priorities, as he saw them, of the studio bigwigs... When possible he liked being hired early so he could influence the development of the script and characters.” — Robyn L. Coburn

Dervish Dust: The Life and Words of James Coburn by Robyn L. Coburn is an excellent biography that really captures the spirit of its subject. The author is Coburn's daughter-in-law, who is married to Coburn's son James H. Coburn IV.  The book avoids the trappings of a familial biography with its straightforward approach and honest look at Coburn's life. The focus is primarily on his acting career but there are also plenty of stories about his childhood during the Great Depression, his education, his marriage to his first wife Beverly, their two children, the subsequent bitter divorce, his many romances, his second wife Paula and his debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Among Coburn's hobbies were studying Eastern culture and medicinal practices, collecting art, smoking marijuana, training in martial arts with his friend Bruce Lee and riding his beloved Ferraris. The Coburn portrayed in the book is a complicated man who was both good natured and highly driven.

Jennifer O'Neill and James Coburn in The Carey Treatment (1972)

James Coburn with one of his Ferraris.

According to the author, Nancy Mehagian was recording conversations with Coburn in 2002 for a potential memoir. Unfortunately, Coburn died that same year. Dervish Dust is the Coburn memoir we never got to read. The author adeptly uses those recordings to channel Coburn's voice throughout the book. It gives the biography a more intimate feel. Overall, this was a compelling and informative biography. There was lots to glean from it. My only small complaint is that I wish they had used an image of James Coburn wearing his signature grin on the cover.

If you love James Coburn as much as I do, make sure you check out Dervish Dust and let me know what you think!

A big thank you to Potomac Books for sending me a copy of Dervish Dust to review.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Undercrank Productions: Little Old New York (1923)

What would you do for a million dollars? For Patricia O'Day (Marion Davies), she would go as far as live her life as a boy so that her family could inherit what was rightfully theirs. When Patricia's rich American uncle passes away, she and her father John (J.M. Kerrigan) are visited in Ireland by the uncle's proprietor. The uncle's will stipulates that the sole heir of the $1 million fortune is Patrick O'Day (Stephen Carr), Patricia's brother. Patrick has two months to travel to New York to claim the inheritance or lose it forever. However, Patrick is gravely ill and won't survive the treacherous journey over the Atlantic. 

Upon arrival, Patricia plays the part of her brother by donning a page boy haircut and boys clothes. She meets Larry Delavan (Harrison Ford, the other one!) whom everyone, including Larry himself, thought would inherit his step-father's fortune. The story follows Patricia as she plays the part of Patrick, enters high society, invests in steamboat technology, gets caught up in the world of sports gambling, faces an identity crisis and falls in love.

Little Old New York (1923) was a box office hit for star Marion Davies. The film was so popular that it beat box office sales for the previous record holder Robin Hood (1922). Based on the play by Rida Johnson Young, the film adaptation was produced by William Randolph Hearst's company Cosmopolitan Corporation and filmed at his studio on 127th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York City. A fire broke out at the studio while filming was still underway. The negatives for the film, which at that point was two-thirds complete, were miraculously salvaged. However, costumes and sets had to be recreated. 

A big marketing push for the film included a press conference with Davies, an invitation for the public to be extras in one of the scenes and having theater usherettes dress like characters in the movie (not sure if they were made to mimic Marion Davies' boy look or the other female characters wearing 19th century garb). The film premiered at Hearst's Majestic theatre in Columbus Circle and a couple months later premiered in London. Little Old New York was remade in 1940 with Alice Faye in the lead role.

Marion Davies is absolutely charming as the lead character. She uses her feminine wiles and masculine energy to adeptly play this binary role. I'm really drawn to stories about gender representation especially when they spotlight stereotypes in a way that criticizes them (whether intentional or not). I would recommend this film to fans of silents, Marion Davies and period pieces.

At 1 hour and 47 minutes, Little Old New York feels a bit too long. A natural resolution to the story could have happened much earlier in the film. Overall, the movie watched more like chapters in story of Patricia/Patrick O'Day's adventures rather than one cohesive feature film. 

Little Old New York (1923) is available on DVD from Undercrank Productions, in association with Edward Lorusso, and features a lively original score by accompanist Ben Model. According to Undercrank's website, the film is presented from a 2k digital scan made from the Library of Congress's 35mm nitrate print. The DVD is a result of a Kickstarter campaign and also includes an excerpt from Hold Fast (1916).

Shop Little Old New York (1923) DVD at the following retailers.

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Thank you to Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #4 Recap


Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Bright and early on the final day of the festival, I headed over to the Chinese Multiplex for a special screening of Waterloo Bridge (1940). 

The film was introduced by author Sloan De Forest. I'm a big fan of her books and it was great to finally see her in person (had a great chat with her afterwards!). Waterloo Bridge (1940) stars Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor as two lovers from completely different social sets who get separated during WWI only to have a devastating reunion sometime later. It's based on a 1930 play and was adapted to screen as a pre-code in 1931. Unbeknownst to us and even to De Forest, the print being screened was the British censored version which cut out the more suggestive scenes in relation to Vivien Leigh's character.

Club TCM

A brief visit to Club TCM helped me rest and recharge for the final hours of the festival. On display were costumes from a few notable classic films. It was difficult to take pictures so I did my best to snap one of these costumes Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid wore in Casablanca (1942)

Live Read: I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

I've never been to a live read before so I jumped at the chance to attend this one. Led by Dana Gould, a group of comedians reenacted the cheesy sci-fi movie I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). The script was read by actors David Koechner, Laraine Newman, Jonah Ray, Janet Varney and Baron Vaughn. Musician Eban Schletter performed live music and sound effects for the event. 

I wasn't sure what to expect but I did think they would show the actual movie, or at least clips of it, during the live read. Instead, it was just the actors taking turns at the mic to read the dialogue with a static background on the screen behind them.

The live read was a helluva lot of fun. I was in the second row with some friends and we had the best view in the house.

Coffy (1973)

The closing night movie was one of my top selections for the festival. There was a massive line to get in and I'm glad I made it. The event started with an interview by TCM host Prof. Jacqueline Stewart and Coffy star Pam Grier. I think Stewart only got two questions in because Grier had much to say and a lot of love to share. And what better way to enjoy this blaxploitation classic for the first time with the film's star and a lively crowd in attendance.

Closing Night Party

The closing night party is always bitter sweet. It's an opportunity to catch up with anyone you may have missed and to say goodbyes. I didn't stay long because the poolside party was quite crowded. I did get an opportunity to chat with former child star Gordon Gebert. (A big thanks to Laura who helped get his attention for me!). This was a real joy. I was able to tell him how much Holiday Affair (1949) means to me. He must have heard that a million times that evening. He was so gracious and told me stories about working with Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Burt Lancaster and Norman Lloyd.

So you may be asking, what was the best part of the TCM Classic Film Festival? The people of course! I got to spend so much quality time with good friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. The festival is like a big reunion for me and I cherish all the moments I get to spend with all of my far away friends. I didn't share much about my friends in these posts. However, I shared plenty on my social media. Make sure to head over to Twitter and look up #TCMFF @raquelstecher to see all the fun we had during the festival. I appreciate the TCM staff as well as all my amazing friends for making this a festival to remember.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #3 Recap

 The Flame and the Arrow (1950)

My day started with an impossible time block. There were so many good events happening at the same time and it was difficult to chose. It came down to one person: Gordon Gebert, the child star of one of my all-time favorite movies of all time, Holiday Affair (1949). It was imperative that I see him in person! And he was going to be at the special screening of The Flame and the Arrow (1950). 

This swashbuckler starring Burt Lancaster, Virginia Mayo, Nick Cravat, Norman Lloyd and of course Gordon Gebert, was being screened at the Hollywood Legion Theatre. Ahead of the film there was a special presentation by visual effects artist Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt in which they discussed the film's use of color, forced perspective and painted backgrounds and the various sound effects. They also shared the story of Lancaster and Cravat's working relationship as acrobats turned actors and their lifelong friendship and we were treated to some rare home video clips of the two palling around.

The presentation was followed by an interview with Gordon Gebert who delighted us with all sorts of stories about being a child actor working for Warner Bros. and RKO, being on set of The Flame and the Arrow, his stunts in the film and learning archery and ballet for certain key scenes. After the presentation and interview we were treated with a 1960s Technicolor print of the film. It was a fun movie made better by the amazing cast and Jacques Tourneur's direction. 

The French Way (1940)

The next block was a difficult one too. I had to choose between several amazing options, including seeing The Hustler (1961) with Piper Laurie in attendance. But I opted for the Josephine Baker film The French Way which was made in 1940 but released in 1945 due to the war. Film historian Donald Bogle gave a presentation which included lots of background information about Josephine Baker herself. We were also treated with an archival interview of Baker on a cruise ship and a beautiful restoration of the film by Jeff Joseph of SabuCat Productions. International films are few and far between at the festival and I'm always delighted to catch at least one during my festival experience. 

Donald Bogle

The French Way was a beautiful little film. Baker shines despite the fact she's given limited screen time and no love interest. Micheline Presle is also in the film playing a young French woman debating whether to elope with her beau. Filmed during the French occupation, the story includes the characters preparing for air raids including a scene where Josephine Baker of hobo Leon (Lucien Baroux) to help tape up her windows and several scenes in bomb shelters.

Blue Hawaii (1961)

My goal at this year's festival was to attend all three of the poolside screenings, even if I didn't stay for the whole movie. The third and final screening was the Elvis movie Blue Hawaii (1961) which is quite perfect for the poolside setting. Attendees dressed up Hawaiian shirts, wore leis and sipped on Blue Hawaiian cocktails. I was planning on leaving early to attend to attend the special screening of Drunken Master II (1994) but alas after having a few of those cocktails I was quite literally too drunk to go see the other film. After a couple of really tough years, this was just the sort of evening I needed.

Stay tuned for more TCMFF coverage!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #2 Recap


Lily Tomlin Hand and Footprint Ceremony

Festivities on the second day of the TCM Classic Film Festival kicked off with a hand and footprint ceremony honoring actress Lily Tomlin. Hosted by TCM and held on the courtyard of the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's Chinese Theatre), the event began with introductions by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and actress Jane Fonda as well as a speech by Lily Tomlin herself. Special guests included producer George Schlatter, actress Rita Moreno and fellow Grace and Frankie star June Diane Raphael. In addition to her hand and footprints, Lily Tomlin added small footprints and signature commemorating her character Edith Ann from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

Check out my YouTube video of the ceremony below (and make sure to subscribe to my channel!). 

Ben Mankiewicz, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda

Lily Tomlin, George Schlatter and Jolene Brand

Rita Moreno and Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin, June Diane Raphael and Paul Scheer

A Little Song, A Little Dance

Afterwards I headed over to the Chinese Multiplex to attend A Little Song, A Little Dance, a one-hour presentation hosted by Paramount archivist Andrea Kalas. We were treated to a selection of musical numbers from a variety of Paramount feature films and shorts. The highlights for me were seeing a clip of the Will Mastin Trio, including a young Sammy Davis Jr., and a sing-a-long to Dinah performed by my personal fave, The Mills Brothers!

A Conversation with Bruce Dern

I wasn't able to stay for the whole thing but I did enjoy the first half hour of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz conversation with actor Bruce Dern. The event was held at Club TCM, which is the Blossom Ballroom of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Dern spoke at length about working with Elia Kazan and Alfred Hitchcock, his early career as a track athlete and his training as an actor. The biggest takeaway for me was that Dern equates acting to the ability to be "publicly private" something he learned during his early days in The Actor's Studio.

Soylent Green (1973)

My friend Pam and I at the poolside screening of Soylent Green.

I headed over the Tropicana Bar for a special poolside screening of Soylent Green (1973). April 22nd was Earth Day so it was fitting to screen this dystopian film especially with its powerful environmental message. Guests were treated to Soylent Green cookies (don't worry they didn't contain actual people!). Actress Leigh Taylor-Young, who stars in the film as Shirl, was interviewed by William Joyce about her experience making the film, working with actors Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson and Joseph Cotten and the film's ecological message and its bizarre misogyny. 

Cooley High (1975) Reunion

Left to Right: TCM host Prof. Jacqueline Stewart, actors Cynthia Davis, Garrett Morris, Steven Williams, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Glynn Turman and director Michael Schultz

I took the complimentary shuttle to the Hollywood Legion theatre to catch a very special screening of Cooley High (1975), one of the most influential black films of the 20th century. This coming-of-age story is one of my personal favorites and it was such a thrill to see the majority of the cast reunited for this screening.

TCM host Prof. Jacqueline Stewart sat down with director Michael Schultz and the cast to discuss the making of the film and its representation of black youth and its setting Chicago. This reunion was extra special because it was the first time since the making of the film that anyone had seen Cynthia Davis, who plays Brenda in the film. It was a lively conversation and I could tell there was a lot of love and respect between everyone involved. And an added bonus, Garrett Morris and Glynn Turman briefly reenacted one of the pivotal scenes from the film. What a joy! I was the most excited for this event and it did not disappoint.

Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Glynn Turman and Michael Schultz

Cynthia Davis, Garrett Morris and Steven Williams

Stay tuned for more TCMFF coverage!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #1 Recap

The festivities kicked off on Wednesday, the day before the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival began. First up:

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

We trekked over to the Academy Museum for a pre-festival visit. I was very excited to visit as I'd heard great things since it officially opened in September of 2021. And unfortunately, it was a disappointment. I was hoping to see a rich array of artifacts from Oscar history on display. Instead the museum offers an immersive experience that is visually interesting but ultimately superficial. It focused more on the experience of the Academy Awards and also spotlighted a handful of filmmakers, both old and new. There was little by way of context and anyone not familiar with the history of the Academy Awards would leave not that much wiser. There were some elements I enjoyed including Pedro Almodovar's curated gallery, the display of Oscar statuettes (including Sidney Poitier's for Lilies of the Field), getting to see Rosebud from Citizen Kane up close and the overall focus on diversity. While the museum allows for photographs in all galleries except for one, the installations are difficult to photograph, especially since so many are active screens, so I didn't end up taking that many. There are several levels that lead to an observatory with fantastic views. And next to the museum is a dedicated theater. On the day we visited, they were preparing for the season premiere of the hit tv show Euphoria.

I have a phobia of oversized murals and installations and museums like this are incredibly triggering. While, I couldn't enter some of the rooms and I did my best to at least peak into the ones that I couldn't access and lingered in the ones that I could spend some time in. If you're sensitive to flashing lights, dark spaces and oversized installations, you may want to skip the museum.

Hollywood Boulevard

Before heading back to the Hollywood Roosevelt, the headquarters of the festival, we took a trip down the boulevard. It's gone through many changes during the pandemic, hardly any of them good. The Egyptian was closed for remodeling after Netflix acquired the property. The Pig & Whistle is no more but from what I understand the new owners plan to maintain the historic elements of the building.

While walking down the boulevard, we took a short detour to pay our respect to the late great Robert Osborne at his star.

Then we made it over to Larry Edmunds Bookshop which is a must for every TCMFF trip. They were hosting a book signing, had movie posters on displays and shelves stocked with all sorts of classic film books. I purchased a copy of Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter's Love Story in Black and White by Kitt Shapiro with Patricia Levy.

TCM Classic Film Festival Media Reception

After the bookshop, I headed over to the media room at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel to pick up my press badge and swag bag. The clear plastic tote came with a bottle of TCM merlot in a special carrier bag, a small tumbler, a copy of Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema's Greatest Stunts and an issue of Movie Maker magazine. Due to COVID protocols, I also had to submit health information in order to get a wristband for entry into any and all TCMFF events. I had to wear this through the four days of the festival.

Members of the media were treated to a reception where we heard the big announcement that actress Pam Grier will be the subject of TCM's next season of The Plot Thickens podcast.

After we mingled with media and the TCM hosts, Pam Grier made a surprise entrance towards the end of the event. The video below offers a couple of clips of her appearance and chat. It's NSFW due to the subject matter discussed so put on those headphones!

Opening Night Red Carpet

On the first official day of the festival, I spent all day preparing for the opening night red carpet. Make sure you check out my previous post where I share photos of all the special guests I got to interview or photograph. Videos coming soon!

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) Poolside Screening

I wasn't able to get to the screening of The Slender Thread in time. So after the red carpet, I headed over to the pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel for the 40th anniversary screening of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Dave Karger interviewed Topher Grace who is not only a huge fan of the movie but also was inspired by it to make his own film Take Me Home Tonight (2011). Karger and Grace's conversation was interrupted by a pizza delivery! 

Stay tuned for more coverage of the festival!

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