Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows by Ken LaZebnik

Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows
by Ken LaZebnik
Kelly's Cove Press
ISBN: 9780989166447
March 2014

Hollywood Digs seeks to do what an archaeologist does when excavating a site: dig up material and put it into the context of human history. Film and television writer Ken LaZebnik unearths stories of old Hollywood through the discovery of materials, most of which are photographs. He chronicles lesser known tales of notable Hollywood figures including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dick Powell, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Samuel Goldwyn, Farley Granger, Micky Moore and other figures including the real life Gidget and painter Thomas Kinkade.

There are thirteen different chapters, each serves as its own excavation. I read this book from cover to cover, however, each chapter stands on its own and you could easily read them out of order if you wish. There is an introduction at the beginning explaining the books' purpose. The chapters don't flow together and read more like a hodge podge of stories. The whole concept of a "Hollywood Dig" works to put some semblance of cohesiveness to this book. Like with a real archaeology dig, you never know what you'll find.

My favorite of all the chapters was a lengthy one entitled "Samuel Goldwyn's Birthday: A Contact Sheet by Leigh Weiner." It chronicles the story of producer and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn from his inauspicious beginnings as an orphan in Warsaw up until the grand eightieth birthday party thrown for him by Hollywood elite in 1962. It also tells the stories of the various figures whose images appear on the photographer's contact sheet including Harpo Marx, Eddie Fisher, George Jessel, Jimmy Stewart, Milton Berle, Shirley Jones and Frank Sinatra. I've always loved stories derived from objects and photographs. This chapter was a delight and I had fun going through the contact sheet one image at a time.

"On August 26, 1962, Goldwyn's eightieth birthday, the royalty of Hollywood gathered for a dinner in his honor. The tables were filled with carnations, as if the guests were attending a memorial service for someone who didn't want to pay for lilies. This created a floating could of flowers that bordered the faces of all the stars. The men smoked cigars; the smaller their current stature in the business, the larger the cigar. George Jessel sported an enormous stogie; Frank Sinatra had none." - Ken LaZebnik

Because all of the chapters are so different from one other, the collection as a whole is kind of a mixed bag. There were some sections I didn't care for, including one called Providence which began as an intriguing observation on Hollywood's reluctance to accept failure or to even use the term but I quickly lost interest as it developed into something else. There were a couple chapters that on first glance were not for me but I found something interesting in them. For example, the anecdotes on Peter O'Toole as found in the chapter on painter Thomas Kinkade.

I would recommend this book to a classic film and TV expert who is looking for a non-traditional book with unique and obscure stories. This book is not for a newbie; it's for a seasoned veteran looking to dig up different material.

Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows is published by Kelly's Cove Press, a small publisher with a list that focused on California art and literature. You can only purchase this book and other Kelly's Cove Press titles from their website or from a select group of California bookstores. Traditional outlets like Barnes & Noble, Amazon or independent book stores across the country won't carry it, unless it's a used copy for reselling.

Many thanks to Kelly's Cove Press and Julia Drake PR for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Summer Reading Challenge ~ Share Your Reading List

It's not too late to sign up for my 2014 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge! You have until July 15th to sign-up and until September 1st to read and write all of your reviews.

If you did sign up, please share your reading list! It doesn't have to be final and can include a variety of titles you are considering. Here is mine.

Back Street by Fannie Hurst
Dangerous Rhythym: Why Movie Musicals Matter by Richard Barrios
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Grandaughter by Sidney Poitier
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson
Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme
Stella! Mother of Modern Acting by Sheana Ochoa
Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed by Frederic Brun

Here are a few books that I'll be reviewing soon but won't be part of my summer reading challenge because I started/finished them much earlier.

Ann Dvorak: Forgotten Rebel by Christina Rice
Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast by Patrick McGilligan
Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows by Ken LaZebnik

Share your list with me by commenting below! You can post your summer reading list on your blog or create a Goodreads bookshelf. I'll add your links to this post and to the main page for the book challenge.

Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge

I'm very excited to announce the second summer reading challenge!

2014 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge

Read a classic film book
Write a review and post it on your blog or Goodreads profile
Submit your review link here.
Repeat until you have read and reviewed 6 books!
Review 6 and be automatically entered to win a prize.

See details below. I included all of the details on a primary page on my blog header. Please use that as an easy-to-find reference point.

What counts as a classic film book?
  • Biography/Interviews/Letters/Autobiography/Memoir of an Actor/Actress/Director/Other Cast or Crew Member
  • Book about films – specific film(s), genre, film-making process, etc.
  • A photography or art book related to classic films, fashion, style or an Actor/Actress/Director/Other Cast or Crew Member
  • Film criticism or analysis
  • 20th Century Novel that was adapted into a Classic Film
  • Novel that is about a Classic film or an actor/actress from Old Hollywood

How many books should you read?

You can read one book in each category, 6 books in one category or mix it up. Read a book you’ve never read before or re-read an old favorite. The book can be brand new or long out-of-print. I'm flexible about what constitutes "classic film" and I'll accept anything up until the 1970s. Beyond that, please check with me before submitting your review.

Complete all 6 reviews by September 1st, you’ll be eligible to win the following prize pack: a set of four Vintage Movie Classics paperbacks courtesy of Vintage Books (a division of Penguin Random House). Learn more about these books here.

Books include: Cimarron and Show Boat by Edna Ferber, Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington and Back Street by Fannie Hurst.

How should you post the reviews?

You must review each book online and you can do this one of two ways. Post reviews on your blog or post reviews on Goodreads. Your review must be public somehow! Reviews on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other general social media forums do not count.

You also must submit your review to the form here. If you don't submit your review, it won't count towards the challenge.

If you have a blog, feel free to use this button!

Grab button for the 2014 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge
<div class="2014 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge" style="width: 250px; margin: 0 auto;"> <a href="http://www.outofthepastblog.com/p/2014-summer-reading-classic-film-book_19.html" rel="nofollow"> <img src="https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhjD1v4HmGwRJUQq-4s2An4InlopGKa_ej2R6JNnnIUJI_JPOAJ9cwmOSPOeqVWRzqMNbR3wVVCtTJ9wkBe-CuKgZ-HW8nLBsSipapZpLO75RD8N5T7M1EBQtzzioEqkmL9b_YHWIvr0tI/s1600/SummerReading.jpg" alt="2014 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge" width="150" height="150" /> </a> </div>

How do you sign up?
You have until July 15th, 2014 to sign-up! Fill out the form below with a link to your blog or Goodreads profile.

Many thanks to TCM! They called out the challenge on Twitter and they're encouraging participants to tweet links to their book reviews!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bachelor Mother (1939) at TCMFF and My Thoughts

Seeing Bachelor Mother (1939) on the big screen has been a dream of mine for a long time and I'm so grateful to TCM for making that dream happen at their classic film festival. I cherished every moment of this experience and I'm so grateful to have seen my beloved film on the big screen in Hollywood.

Comedian Greg Proops introduced the film at the Chinese Multiplex. He was hilarious and had us all in stitches. TCM posted part of Proops presentation:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bachelor Mother (1939) let me summarize the plot for you. Ginger Rogers plays Polly Parrish. She’s a sales clerk in the toy department of Merlin & Son Department store. Christmas is approaching and the store lays off some of their temporary help, including Polly. Despondent, she goes out for a walk and sees an old lady leaving a baby at the door step of a foundling home. Polly picks up the baby and the foundling home staff mistake her for its mother. They track her down and convince the son of Merlin & Son, David Merlin (David Niven), to give her back her job. But to her surprise the much needed job also comes with the foundling baby. David and Polly develop an unlikely romance and hilarity ensues when other characters including John Merlin (Charles Coburn) and Freddie (Frank Albertson) get involved. It’s a sweet film with lots of hilarious and heart-warming moments. 

 I remember the first time I watched Bachelor Mother (1939) was years ago on a VHS tape. I had recorded a block of “Bachelor” themed films on TCM. The line-up included BachelorApartment (1931), The Bachelor Father (1931) and Bachelor Bait (1934) among others. While I enjoyed the other films in that line-up, I remember being particularly enamored with Bachelor Mother. It was the start of a love affair that would only grow over time with multiple repeat viewings. I re-recorded the film on another tape when I temporarily lost my original. Then Warner Archive came out with Bachelor Mother on DVD-MOD and I bought it the instant it went on sale. Ever since then I’ve watched this film many times (I estimate around 30-40 viewings) and would watch it at least twice before New Year’s.

You might not know this about me but when I was growing up my family did not celebrate any holidays. It was partly because my parents are from other countries and didn't understand American traditions and partly because of my mother's personal beliefs. As an adult holidays often confuse me and I don't tend to celebrate them with the exception of New Year's. It's the only holiday I can get my head around and thanks to Bachelor Mother it's become my favorite holiday. I love that it's one big celebration of living through the year and starting fresh with a new year right around the corner. It's basically everyone's birthday. New Year's is a time for us to reflect on the events of the past year and to make plans for the future. Bachelor Mother influenced me greatly in this respect. For Polly, New Year's Eve is a pivotal point in her life. The coming year will bring with it lots of new challenges but also great hope for love, family and overall happiness. 

Carlos and I celebrating 2013 and ringing in the New Year!
I also really love the New Year's Eve scenes in Bachelor Mother. David uses his influence to get Polly all dolled up so they can go out to a fancy dinner in Times Square and ring in the New Year. Their class differences are set aside and they come together to celebrate and have fun. My husband and I dress up every year for New Year's and I always strive to recreate the glamor and the fun of those scenes from the film (sans the fake Swedish. Svell!).

I'm very grateful that I got to share the experience of watching Bachelor Mother on the big screen with my husband Carlos. He knows how much this film means to me and he even waited in the standby line so he could get in to the screening. I'm so glad he did and that we could share this moment together.

Carlos and I at the Bachelor Mother screening (with Trevor photo bombing!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jerry Lewis Hand and Footprint Ceremony

Press Photo
On April 12, 2014, Jerry Lewis' hand and footprints made their permanent mark in cement at the historic Grauman's Chinese courtyard (now known as TCL Chinese). It was a moment in Hollywood history that I was very happy to witness in person. Below is my account of the event as well as a mix of press photos (labeled as such) and my own photos.

TCM's Robert Osborne gave a speech to kick off the ceremony. According to Osborne, Jerry Lewis first went on stage at the age of 5 and at the age of 20 he was partnering with Dean Martin in "one of the great duo acts in show business." He likens Lewis to Chaplin; two famous comedians who did it all: act, direct, produce and write. Lewis' performance in The King of Comedy (1983) received high praise from Osborne who thought Lewis deserved the Oscar for "one of the greatest performances ever on film". Osborne also shared with us his memory of seeing Jerry Lewis on Broadway in a production of Damn Yankees and says of Lewis' performance: "it was so disciplined, so funny, so right." Osborne calls Jerry Lewis "an incredible, incredible man… [who] is also a very dedicated and tireless philanthropist."

Osborne introduced director Quentin Tarantino, who happens to be a very close friend of Jerry Lewis. Tarantino gave a short and very personal speech. He turns 50 this year and spent some time thinking about his childhood. When Tarantino was in elementary school a mom's favorite movie star might be Barbra Streisand or Clint Eastwood and a dad's favorite might be Jeff Chandler (?) or Burt Lancaster. But for every girl and boy in his elementary school they "only had one favorite movie star… Jerry Lewis." Tarantino proclaimed, "he was the children's movie star… kids really responded to Jerry Lewis." He made a really interesting point about Lewis' influence on an audience of children that spans six or seven generations. These children grew up watching Jerry Lewis. His films would be on TV at times they were home (Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons). Kids would try to recreate Lewis' antics and grew up to have happy memories of being entertained by the great comedian. Tarantino called Lewis "a real treasure" and "one of the great actor/directors in the history of cinema."

And then came Jerry Lewis!

Lewis came out to hoots and hollers and a roaring applause. He thanked the audience then said, 

"It's so nice though that you're all here. It's so wonderful. After this we're going to my house for coffee." 

If only! Lewis didn't give a speech but spent a little time entertaining the crowd with his jokes, his "grumpiness" and his antics. He playfully gave the crowd the middle finger on a couple of occasions. Lewis said to one of the staff members who was working the event "are you going to stand there? You're blocking all of my friends?" Of the crowd he said, "what a motley looking group my God!". He even flirted with someone asking "are you going right to the hotel?"

It was very touching when Jerry Lewis took a moment to mention his daughter Danielle Lewis who was in the audience with her mother, Lewis' second wife SanDee Pitnick. "This is an incredible time for me. I have never had an experience like this have my daughter present. It's the first time I ever asked her to join me." Danielle is Lewis' only daughter. He has six sons from a previous marriage. 

Press Photo

Press Photo

Press Photo

Press Photo
After signing his name in the cement and making his hand and footprints, Jerry Lewis had some fun hamming it up for the crowd. He grabbed a camera and started taking photos of all the press photographs.

Jerry Lewis then posed for pictures with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, Illeana Douglas, comedians Richard Lewis and Dane Cook and his wife and daughter. At one point he even bit Quentin Tarantino's hand.

Here is a short video I took of Jerry Lewis making his footprints in cement. Keep the volume low because there is plenty of hollering and applause!

I asked one of the security guards if I could take a picture of the hand and footprints. And here they are, freshly made! It was such an honor to be at this amazing ceremony and to celebrate Jerry Lewis.

Press Photo (Getty)
Quentin Tarantino graciously came to greet the crowd. He didn't want to take pictures with fans or sign autographs but was willing to shake hands. I shook Tarantino's hand and by sheer luck the Getty Images photographer snapped a photo of this exact moment!

Press Photo
If you squint you can see me in the far left hand side. 

This was an event I will never forget! I'm glad I was able to share it with my husband Carlos and with friends Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood, K.C. of A Classic Movie Blog and Dan of Celebrity Cafe.

Friday, May 9, 2014

TCM at 20: Inspired by the Classics at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

Press Photo

The TCM at 20: Inspired by the Classics panel kicked off the opening of Club TCM for the first night of the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. TCM's Pola Chagnon interviewed four of the ten artists including actress Kim Novak, actor/playwright Charles Busch, actress Jane Seymour and artist/producer Bruce Eric Kaplan.

Unfortunately I lost my audio recording of this event so I'll do my best to share what I remember. I'm getting a little help from the TCM at 20 Custom Designed Cards that I received in my media welcome bag. The set includes the 10 works along with a note from the artist on the back of each card.

It was a short interview and each of the four artists discussed their pieces including the symbolism and inspiration behind each of the different works. Kim Novak explained that it was a chance for her to revisit the film Vertigo, to take ownership of her image, Hitchcock was very much control on set but in this piece she was in control. Also the swirl of blond hair becomes a "Vortex of Delusion" which is the title of the piece. Jane Seymour's piece is from Gone With the Wind and the tree represents strength and the sunset represents new beginnings.

I really enjoyed Charles Busch's description of his piece. His includes a line of chorus girls auditioning for a part. All of them look the same and are looking in the same direction except for one who looks straight at the camera. Busch says that she's the one who is destined to be a star. He likens that chorus girl to Betty Grable and Lucille Ball. Bruce Eric Kaplan's piece is an illustrated homage to Hitchcock. He gives the director his own street which includes famous landmarks, both real and imaginary, including Bates Motel, Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the school and playground in the Birds, etc.

TCM at 20: Inspired by the Classics panel discussion
TCM was having some technical issues in Club TCM. I think they were going to show the pieces on the screen behind the panel. I think it would have helped to have each piece of artwork up on the screen as the artist was talking about it. I pulled out my cards to look at each one and it helped follow along.

TCM at 20: Inspired by the Classics display at Club TCM
The original pieces were on display at Club TCM and below is a short video promo TCM did for the series.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The World of Henry Orient (1964) screening at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

The line to get into The World of Henry Orient (1964) screening at the TCM Classic Film Festival was a bit hectic but well worth the temporary chaos. I knew nothing about the film except that Paula Prentiss was in it and that she would be at the screening. It was an added bonus that actress Merrie Spaeth was there too and that this film would become a new favorite.

Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood, interviewed actresses Merrie Spaeth and Paula Prentiss before the screening. This was the first time Spaeth and Prentiss had been together in 50 years.Beauchamp calls this film one of the great female buddy movies, the other one being Where the Boys (1960) Are which also features Paula Prentiss. Beauchamp shared a story about seeing Where the Boys Are for the first time. She had always been the tallest of her female friends so when she saw Paula Prentiss and noticed how tall she was Beauchamp wore her height proudly after that. Being tall myself (wishing I was even taller), I've always admired Prentiss' stature and beauty and dreamed of growing an extra inch and a half so I could be as tall as her.

The movie was shot in July and August of 1963. It was director George Roy Hill's third movie and the screenplay was adapted from a novel by Nora Johnson, director/writer Nunnally Johnson's daughter.

Prentiss was doing Shakespeare in the Park when George Roy Hill approached her about the part. She wasn't sure she could do both but she liked the idea of being in a film about a pianist. Prentiss also said that she could identify with the parts of the two teen leads. 

The film follows two fourteen year old girls, Gil (Merrie Spaeth) and Val (Tippy Walker), as they stalk an eccentric pianist, Henry Orient (Peter Sellers) around NYC. Paula Prentiss plays Stella, a married woman who is having an affair with Orient. The plot makes it all sound rather creepy but the film itself is funny, charming and quirky.

George Roy Hill was looking for two girls who weren't professionals for the parts of Gil and Val. Spaeth's only acting experience was in an 8th grade production of Alice in Wonderland where she played the White Knight and a second part as Tweedle Dee. Needless to say she didn't have a professional acting background and after a long casting process she got the part of Marian Gilbert (aka Gil). She was 14 years old at the time and Spaeth remembers that the pigtails she wears in the film were her idea.

There are only a couple of scenes in which Spaeth and Prentiss are together. Spaeth remembers being on set with Tippy Walker and watching Paula Prentiss film her scenes. Spaeth says they were in awe of Prentiss' beauty and compliments Prentiss by saying "she's just as beautiful inside as she is outside."

The film takes place in the Fall but was shot during the summer. Prentiss remembers filming a scene in Central Park and they painted leaves of the surrounding trees so they'd give the background an Autumnal look.

Spaeth told the audience to watch carefully at the Central Park scenes. She wears a very heavy double breasted wool coat, over a sweater, with a wool kilt and wool knee-high socks which proved to be very hot in the summertime.

There is a scene when Spaeth and Walker yell a made up word "splitzing" (you can watch it here). It's from Nora Johnson's novel and it means to jump high over objects which is what they do in the scene. After The World of Henry Orient, Spaeth did some TV but realized that being actress wasn't for her. Today Spaeth has a successful career in finance. She graduated summa cum laude from Smith and went to Columbia Business School. Members of her team were in the audience. And Prentiss' husband actor Richard Benjamin was in the audience too!

In the video below, Beauchamp, Prentiss and Spaeth discuss Angela Lansbury (who plays Val's mother) and Peter Sellers. Beauchamp briefly mentions Tippy Walker's affair with the director George Roy Hill (controversial considering their age difference and the fact that Hill was married). I really love Spaeth's tip about Peter Seller's accent changing from Bulgarian, Spanish, Italian and then to a Brooklyn accent. I watched for this in the movie and it made it even more enjoyable!

This was a wonderful screening! I thoroughly enjoyed the interview, loved seeing my beloved Paula Prentiss in person, I became a new fan of Merrie Spaeth and then was treated to a very entertaining movie.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

USPS and TCM's Charlton Heston Stamp Dedication Ceremony

On April 11th I attended the USPS/TCM Charlton Heston Stamp Dedication Ceremony. I thought it was going to be a small ceremony but much to my surprise it was an epic event! Held during the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival this ceremony was free and open to the public. It took place at the TCL Chinese Theatre (Grauman's Chinese) and the house was packed with festival goers, Heston fans and avid stamp collectors.

TCM's Ben Mankiewicz was the emcee and he delivered the opening speech. In his speech he discussed Heston's career as well as the directors that he worked with. Mankiewicz also shared some personal memories of seeing Heston's films when he was younger. He joked that he learned two things from watching Heston in the film Earthquake (1974): "nobody was manlier than Charlton Heston and nobody should live in Los Angeles because we're all going to die." He also pointed out that Heston's line "Get your stinkin' paws off me you damn dirty apes" is #66 on AFI's list of the greatest movie quotes.

After Mankiewicz's speech there was a military presentation with flags as well as a performance of the national anthem.

Following that was a screening of a fantastic video tribute to Heston's career. The tribute was breath taking and it even gave me goosebumps. I keep asking TCM via social media to post it online so I can share it. It's so well done. The tribute was a wonderful combination of powerful images as well as excellent narration. The video followed the span of Heston's career and explored his growth as an actor, his influence on the business, his work with directors like Cecil B. DeMille, William Wyler and Orson Welles, his big films like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. The tribute also explored his offscreen life with his family, his civil rights efforts and his Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

There were lots of great lines from the video tribute but this one is my favorite:

Throughout his life, Charlton Heston embodied a multitude of mavericks and heroes; great leaders of boundless strength, largely from a distant past or future. When asked about his penchant for playing figures of other eras he simply replied, 'I don't seem to have a 20th century face.

After the tribute, actress Gabrielle Carteris delivered a speech on behalf of SAG-AFTRA's President Ken Howard who couldn't make it to the ceremony because he was unwell. Carteris is best known for her role in the hit TV show Beverly Hills, 90210. She's also the Executive Vice President of SAG-AFTRA. There was a big SAG-AFTRA presence at the ceremony. Charlton Heston was president of SAG (which has recently merged with AFTRA) from 1965 until 1971. Carteris' read Howard's speech which included some of his memories of Heston's time at the SAG. Heston felt strongly that his position at SAG was both an honor and a job and something to take very seriously.

Up next was actor and SAG-AFTRA Founding Executive VP Ned Vaughn. (FYI, he was on one episode of Mad Men!). Vaughn's speech was very eloquent and thoughtful but it also had a bit of a political agenda. Vaughn noted that Heston was the third SAG president to honored with a USPS stamp. He praises Heston who joined the SAG at the height of his career and with an already very busy schedule. I wasn't aware of Heston's civil rights activism so I was pleased to learn that in 1961 Heston traveled to the South to picket against whites only restaurants. He wore a sign that read "all men are created equal."

In 1963, Heston attended the March on Washington with fellow actors Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando. Vaughn quotes him as saying, "I could no longer pay only lip service to a cause that was so urgently right in a time that is so urgently now."

Vaughn repeated the phrase "he fought for what he valued" numerous times in his speech. He also said, “it didn’t matter whether it was hard, incovenient or unpopular. Charlton Heston always followed his true moral star, his passionate belief that all men are created equal, that our liberty is precious and our God given rights are worth defending.” Vaughn brought up Heston's Republican politics, his endorsement of Ronald Reagan and his association with the NRA.

This stamp has been controversial because Charlton Heston's very public association with NRA, which has come under a lot of scrutiny. While I don't agree with Heston's politics, I do admire him for standing up for his values. I thought it was very interesting that Heston's NRA association was brought up several times throughout the ceremony. Sometimes it's difficult to separate an actor or actress's career from their politics. It's something I try to do but it's not always easy.

Following Ned Vaughn was Jean Picker-Firstenberg, AFI President Emerita. She is also the former Chair of USPS Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee which decides who should be honored with stamps. Picker-Firstenberg shared some fond memories of Heston and showed her admiration for his diligence and work ethic. She said, "the truth was that Chuck was bigger than life, bigger than his roles and most people were in awe of him." Apparently Ted Turner was star struck when he met Heston for the first time! She finished her speech by reading us a very moving statement Charlton Heston wrote when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Heston said, "I lived my whole life on stage and screen before you. I found purpose and meaning in response. For an actor there is no greater loss than the loss of the mind..." You can read the whole statement here.

Following Picker-Firstenberg was Mickey Barnett, the USPS Board of Governors chairman. Barnett's speech was short and he mostly complimented Heston as a performer, civil rights activist and a family man. He also promoted the USPS Legends of Hollywood series which includes Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper among others and now includes Charlton Heston. Barnett said, "The US Postal Service hopes everyone will use the Charlton Heston stamp. When your correspondence is sent around your community and around the country, let it serve as a small reminder of one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known.”

Then came the unveiling of the stamp. I shot a little video of the unveiling which you can watch below.

The final speech was delivered by Charlton Heston's son, director Fraser Heston. Fraser Heston shared stories about his dad and called him a great husband, father and grandfather who had a great sense of civil duty. He also gave us a background on his father's early life and noted that he had received many awards in his lifetime including lifetime achievement awards, Golden Globes, an Oscar, Kennedy Center Honors, etc.

He went on to liken sending a stamped letter in the mail to "A deeply personal expression of who you are as a person, a window into your character...” He also reflected that if you look at all the figures who have been profiled on USPS stamps you’d get a pretty good idea of who we are as a country, our ideals, what we stand for and the kind of men and women we honor.”

Heston's widow Lydia Clarke Heston posed for photos by a large image of the stamp. Fraser Heston told us that the image on the stamp came from a black and white photograph his mother had taken of his father. The image was colorized and turned into an illustrated portrait by artist Drew Struzan.

This was a wonderful event and I'm so glad I attended. I learned a lot about Charlton Heston and it was a very touching tribute to his life and work. Afterwards, they sold first day issue stamps. They also had a signing which I'm very sorry I missed!

I just wanted to take a moment to talk about Max. We quickly became friends while we were waiting in line to get into the ceremony. One of the wonderful things about the TCM Classic Film Festival is making new friends. Meeting Max was a highlight for me. We attended this ceremony together as well as the screening of How Green Was My Valley. I had a lot of fun chatting with him about festivals, movie memorabilia, film clubs (he ran one for 17 years!), and more. If you go to the festival, chat with fellow festival goers while you wait in line. You never know, you might make a new friend!

You can learn more about this ceremony and about the Charlton Heston stamp here.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Margaret O'Brien at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

I had the pleasure of attending a very special screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). It took place in the TCL Chinese Theatre (Grauman's Chinese) and actress Margaret O'Brien was in attendance. Seeing O'Brien at the TCM Classic Film Festival was an experience I'll never forget. In fact, I saw her on three separate occasions, once at this screening and twice at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. She was probably the most approachable of all the special guests because she was very comfortable taking photos with fans, giving them autographs or even chatting with them. I get so star struck whenever I see any of the special guests. I clam up and have no clue what to do or say and I usually forget crucial information like my name and where I am. I saw O'Brien twice before I had the courage of saying something to her. I complimented her on her outfit, she has a very funky and hip style, and that was the first time I had ever spoken to a classic film star. After that experience I hope I'll be more brave and a lot more calm on my next encounter with someone famous.

Richard Corliss, author of Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love to Hate), interviewed Margaret O'Brien at this festival screening.

Corliss introduced Margaret O'Brien calling her "the greatest child actress the screen has ever seen." He  pointed out that Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney were child performers but O'Brien is different because she was a child actress. He went on to note her ability to live inside her characters.

Press Photo 
O'Brien was so sweet. The first thing she did when she sat down for the interview was ask the audience how they were doing and if they were having a good time at the festival. O'Brien had nothing but nice things to say about Mickey Rooney and Meet Me in St. Louis star Judy Garland.

Margaret O'Brien's first ever screen appearance was at the age of two in Babes on Broadway (1941) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. It was the first time she worked with Mickey Rooney. Many years later they would work together again for one last time on the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2014) . In fact, they had just wrapped up filming three weeks before the festival and shortly before Rooney passed away. O'Brien says that Rooney loved being on the set and was very happy to be working again. She was impressed that he knew all his lines at the age of 93. 

Journey for Margaret (1942) was O'Brien's first credited screen role. O'Brien says that she loved the character in that movie so much she willingly had her stage name changed to Margaret. She had a dog named Maggie who appeared with her in some of her early roles and even credits her dog for helping her get her start in Hollywood.

O'Brien's mother was a famous flamenco dancer and part of Rita Hayworth's father's company. Her mother was having some photos taken and because she didn't have a sitter she brought along Margaret (Angela at the time) and her dog Maggie. When they all walked into the shoot, the photographer exclaimed "what a beautiful face!". O'Brien's mother thought he meant her but the photographer was referring to the dog. Because of O'Brien's name change she could have easily been referred to as "Maggie" but refused to let anyone call her that with the notable exception of Mickey Rooney.

O'Brien's next story revealed a lot about studio era machinations and manipulation. Her mother had asked Louis B. Mayer to raise her salary to $5k a week unless they could guarantee that little Margaret would be protected. Otherwise she wanted to be on the set with her daughter. $5k was a lot during that time and Mayer refused. O'Brien's mother told him they would be moving to New York to find work elsewhere. In those days studios had look-a-likes on hand to fill in for roles that were intended for other actors or actresses. For example James Craig was Clark Gable's look-a-like.

James Craig

Without naming names, O'Brien told us that MGM had a look-a-like for her under contract. The studio gave that young actress the role of Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis much to the excitement of the actress and her family. But as we all know that didn't happen. The salary negotiations for O'Brien finally went in her favor and she got her $5k a week plus the role in the movie. The rejected actress' father worked on lighting for the film and O'Brien remembers that he had a nervous breakdown on the set and almost dropped a light on her. O'Brien was very sympathetic and doesn't speak negatively of the other actress' father. If you look at sources elsewhere it says that he intentionally tried to drop the light on her and was admitted to a mental institution shortly afterwards. O'Brien felt terrible about what happened to that family and believes that studio bait-and-switch practice was stopped after that incident. 

Press Photo
Here is what O'Brien had to say about Judy Garland, crying on screen and the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

This was my favorite interview of the festival. O'Brien was so generous with her stories and her praise for those she worked with. I always get irked when interviews consist of more questions about who the person has worked with than about the actual person being interviewed. I understand that we all want to hear stories about the people who have passed on from the people who remember them but I think we should appreciate who we have left too! Corliss's interview with O'Brien had a great balance of stories about O'Brien as well as details about other stars including Judy Garland.

After the interview we were all treated to a screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). I sat very close to the screen, which in Grauman's Chinese theatre is enormous. I felt enveloped in the film and transported to another time and era. I have seen the film several times before but this viewing was so special. My hands hurt from all the clapping. And there was a lot of clapping before, during and after the interview and with every screen credit, first appearance of a star and every musical number. The audience was really appreciative of the film and it showed in how much we all applauded. You don't get this kind of positive response anywhere other than at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Here is a photo of O'Brien posing for pictures at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. To be only a few feet away from her was a true delight!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Maureen O'Hara: The Biography by Aubrey Malone

Maureen O'Hara: The Biography
by Aubrey Malone
Hardcover - ISBN: 9780813142388
October 2013
304 pages
University Press of Kentucky

Barnes and Noble

I had received a copy of Aubrey Malone's biography of Maureen O'Hara from the publisher a while ago. In preparation for the TCM Classic Film Festival and seeing the actress in person, I picked it up to read because I didn't know very much about O'Hara's life and I was excited to learn more.

Malone's book is a practical biography of the legendary Irish actress. It's a no frills kind of book that doesn't seek out to reveal anything extraordinary but serves to tell the story of O'Hara's life with a firm focus on her career and her relationships with her husbands and with important figures in her life such as director John Ford and actors Charles Laughton, John Wayne and Brian Keith. If you are looking for juicy gossip, look elsewhere. If you want a basic primer on O'Hara, then this is a basic and readily available choice.

Besides a few attempts at being creative with language, the book is written in a very approachable style. O'Hara's life is fascinating and that coupled with very clear language made this book quite readable. The first few chapters felt a little awkward but the author gets into a good rhythm and the book progresses quite well. It follows O'Hara's life and career from her early days in Ireland up to 2013.

Reading the book you learn about the influence of several male figures in O'Hara's life. For example, actor Charles Laughton helped her get her start in Hollywood, she had a troubled relationship with director John Ford and she developed a close friendship with John Wayne and became a big support for him when he was dying. Her third husband Charles Blair was one of the most important person in O'Hara's life and his tragic death was a major loss for her.

I really enjoyed reading O'Hara's reflections on old age. There were several quotes in the book and they were from when she was younger and looking ahead to the future.

"Me? All I want is to live to be a hundred."
"I can't wait to grow old. I'm going to be the nastiest old lady you ever saw."

In fact, there were lots of great quotes from O'Hara but most of them are from her autobiography.

This book was a good starting point for someone like me who wanted to learn more about O'Hara and was pressed for time. But when I finished reading it I didn't feel satisfied. The backmatter reveals that much of the information in the book comes from archives, libraries, O'Hara's autobiography and various printed sources. O'Hara was not interviewed for the book and neither were her relatives or friends. A lot of research went into this biography but I felt like it could have been a lot richer if it were made longer with the addition of some interviews. What results from all of this is an informative yet mediocre book. After reading this, I immediately put O'Hara's autobiography Tis Herself, published in 2004, on my wishlist because I still felt there was still much more to learn about O'Hara as a person and an actress.

Maureen O'Hara: The Biography is part of the University Press of Kentucky's Screen Classics series. The publisher has a fantastic Newsletter and Blog both of which have regular classic film related articles.

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