Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
by Richard Rhodes
97807636385534383 – Hardcover
9780307742957 - Paperback
272 pages
November 2011

Barnes and Noble

“Her energy, curiosity and generosity were enormous.” – Robert Osborne on Hedy Lamarr

Louis B. Mayer dubbed her “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Hedy Lamarr dazzled audiences from all over the world with her good looks and her charm. When she was away from the studio, Lamarr spent much of her free time working on her inventions. She was a great thinker and although she didn’t have much of a formal education Lamarr proved that genius comes in all forms.

Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes explores Lamarr’s life, her hobby and her greatest contribution: the invention of spread spectrum, otherwise known as frequency hopping. Or at least that’s what you would think was the main focus of the book. The title and the cover’s arresting image of Hedy Lamarr sitting on a torpedo are misleading. This book tries to do three things:
  1.  to lure in Hedy Lamarr fans who may or may not know about her contribution to technology
  2. to tell the parallel stories of Lamarr and her co-inventor George Antheil with equal time given to each
  3. to fulfill any obligations for the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation grant which funded the research of this book. (The foundation funds research on science and technology) 
Rhodes is successful at doing all three of these things. However, the title and cover leads readers to believe this book is primarily about Lamarr. It's not. I think it’s important to know this first before you start the book. Once you know what to expect, then it proves to be an interesting read.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig “Hedy” Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, Austria. Her father encouraged her interest in technology and she picked up inventing as a hobby at an early age. By her late teens she was already an actress on stage and film and at 18 she married munitions dealer Fritz Mandl. Mandl was much older than Lamarr but she was attracted to his business savvy and intelligence. Lamarr would listen in on conversations Mandl had during business luncheons and dinners. Mandl’s lengthy discussions about advances in military technology inadvertently gave Lamarr a valuable education on bombers, torpedoes, submarines, cruisers and weapon systems.

Lamarr’s marriage to Mandl was a toxic one. He valued her opinions on business matters but that was the extent of his respect for her. Mandl was controlling and did not want Lamarr to pursue her acting career. Lamarr had gotten much notoriety for appearing nude in the film Ektase. Mandl became obsessed and would often use the notoriety of the film against her. He spent a fortune trying to buy and destroy all the prints of the film he could get his hands on. Unfortunately for him but fortunate for us, he wasn’t able to get rid of them all. The situation became too much for Lamarr. She needed her independence. There are differing accounts about how she escaped the “prison” that was their marriage but escape she did. She left for London and it was there she met Louis B. Mayer. Mayer had seen her perform on stage and was struck by her beauty. He signed Lamarr, then 22, to an MGM contract and Mayer’s wife Margaret Mayer changed her name to Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr comes from Barbara La Marr, an MGM actress, also known for her beauty but who met an early and tragic demise. With a new contract and a new name, Lamarr was headed for Hollywood.

In 1940, Lamarr was introduced to George Antheil by Hollywood costume designer Adrian and his wife actress Janet Gaynor. Antheil was a pianist and composer who worked on different music technologies including player pianos. Lamarr and Antheil were both influenced by deaths in their respective families. On the death of her father, Lamarr reflected “I had met death for the first time and death had shown me among other things, how brief life is”. Antheil was similarly affected by the death of his brother Henry. These tragic events along with the onslaught of WWII (and a couple horrifying instances of children becoming victims of torpedo attacks on ocean vessels) spurred Antheil and Lamarr’s interest in improving military technology.

Lamarr provided the ideas and Antheil the implementation. Together they worked on a few inventions but the one that showed the most promise was for remote-controlled torpedos. Their main objective was to avoid frequencies from being jammed or intercepted by enemy forces. They came up with the idea of spread spectrum or frequency hopping. Rhodes explains,

“Hedy’s original idea is simple to state: if a radio transmitter and receiver are synchronized to change their tuning simultaneously, hopping together randomly from frequency to frequency, then the radio signal passing between them cannot be jammed.”

Lamarr and Antheil worked on getting their idea, submitted it to the National Inventors Council and eventually received a patent. The technology was rejected by the Navy but was kept on file for many years. Even though the technology could have been very useful during WWII but it proved to difficult to implement. The technology was rediscovered in the 1950s and evolved over the years. In the late 1970s, spread spectrum technology became public and in the 1980s there was a push to use this in non-government capacities. This led to the development of microwave technology, cell phones, LANs, wireless cash registers, bar-code scanners, bluetooth and WiFi among other technologies. Rhodes describes “the advent of the cellular phone: allowing many different phones to talk at once by arranging for them to hop in many different sequences thus staying out of each other’s way.” It’s amazing to think how Hedy’s idea and Antheil’s technological detail contributed to our Information Age!

This book has its flaws. It tends to be rather simplistic and repetitive especially in the first half of the book. It’s difficult to get over how that title and cover misleads you into thinking this book is something it’s not. However, it’s well-researched and Rhodes does a great job explaining all of the technology without overwhelming the reader. I got confused a few times but there was enough explanation for me to grasp the basic concepts of the technologies. It was interesting to see how Lamarr and Antheil’s work developed over time into other ideas and devices. Hedy Lamarr was aware of the importance of the Kiesler-Antheil patent, as it was called, and was frustrated by the lack of recognition. She did receive some recognition before her death but this book serves as a great tribute to the fine work accomplished by Lamarr and Antheil.

Disclaimer: I purchased this book from Random House (Doubleday).

Update: Listen to author Richard Rhodes' interview with NPR here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Wrap-Up

Hobbies of the Stars (Source)

September is coming to a close and that means it's time to wrap up my Stars & Their Hobbies series. I hope you've enjoyed this series as much as I have! It's been a lot of work. Even though the posts are relatively short, some of them required up to 2-3 hours of research. My goal for each post was to include the following: a photo of the star doing their hobby, a quote from them about their hobby and some fun trivia. This ideal scenario wasn't possible for every post but gosh darn it I tried! Below are some interesting (and some strange) hobbies that didn't make it into the mix.

Anne Shirley enjoyed sand skiing.
Lew Ayres was an amateur astronomer.
Billie Dove collected rare perfumes.
George Montgomery made furniture.
Lila Lee flew airplanes.
Gary Cooper was an amateur taxidermist.
Mel Torme had so many hobbies that it led to a divorce.
Dorothy Lee collected toy dogs.
Lyle Talbot and Ann Dvorak studied bacteriology.
Robert Mitchum wrote poems, songs and jokes.

Jerry Lewis played the drums.

Vincent Prince loved cooking and wrote cookbooks.

Tony Curtis had a collection of pipes.

Lewis Stone's hobby was cabinet-making.
Rock Hudson had a vast collection of films.

In addition to Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Garner were both race car enthusiasts.

A big thank you to Laura, Jessica, Terry, Kate Gabrielle, Neil, Jonas, and Sebina for all of the tips! They helped make this series possible.

If I find more ideas for posts in the future, I'll make sure to revive this series.

Now I leave you with an MGM short from 1939 entitled Hollywood Hobbies. It features two young tourists exploring Hollywood on a tour and spot some MGM stars along the way.

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here  to view a complete list of entries.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr, inventions

"Heddy invented as a hobby. Since she made two or three movies a year, each one taking about a month to shoot, she had spare time to fill. She didn't drink and she didn't like to party, so she took up inventing. When she was a girl, her father, a Viennese banker, had encouraged her interest in how the world worked, taking walks with her and explaining the mechanics of the machinery they encountered. As a young woman, before she emigrated from Austria to the United States, se married a munitions manufacturer and listened in on the technical discussions he head with his Austrian and German military clients. She also had a keen sense of the world's large and small failings, some of which she decided she could fix. In hollywood she set up an inventor's corner in the drawing room of her house, complete with a drafting table and lamp and all the necessary drafting tools." -- Richard Rhodes, Hedy's Folly

Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil's Patent

Stay tuned for more on this coming up!

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Greer Garson

Greer Garson, racehorses

“All of a sudden I found myself in a race to get the sports pages in the morning.” – Greer Garson

In 1948 Greer Garson met Buddy Fogelson, a man of many trades including horse and cattle breeding. They married in 1949 and were together until Fogelson’s death in 1987. They operated Forked Lightning Ranch where they bred thoroughbred racehorses. They purchased Ack Ack, a champion thoroughbred, for $500k. Ack Ack was in many races including Withers Stakes, Hollywood Gold Cup and Arlington Classic, won several awards and was recognized as an American Thoroughbred Hall of Fame racehorse.

“Ack Ack was a national treasure” – Greer Garson

It’s very clear that Garson’s love of racehorses was influenced by her husband Fogelson. She said,

“living with Buddy has broadened my life… I’ve shared the excitement of sitting up with him all night waiting for a gusher to come in answering fan mail for a horse.” (Source )

Garson enjoyed betting on races. She'd pick the horse with the longest tail and bet on it. This never proved to be an effective tactic.

Buddy Fogelson and Greer Garson receiving the 1971 Eclipse Award
for Outstanding Older Horse (Ack Ack) from Mervyn LeRoy
My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart aboard his yacht "Santana" circa 1945.
Source: LIFE Magazine
Humphrey Bogart, Sailing

“Unless you really understand the water and understand the reason for being on it and understand the love of sailing and the feeling of quietness and solitude, you don't really belond on a boat anyway.” – Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart loved sailing especially on his beloved yacht the “Santana”. He and his wife Lauren Bacall owned and sailed the yacht from 1945 until his death in 1957. Other notable stars who owned the Santana include Eva Gabor, George Brent, Ray Milland, Dick Powell and June Allyson.  Guests on the Bogart’s yacht included Ingrid Bergman, Richard Burton, David Niven and Frank Sinatra (Source).

Sailing was an important part of Bogart’s life. He developed a passion for sailing as a child when his family would summer on Lake Canandaigua in New York. He was a member of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and Los Angeles Yacht Club and participated in races including the San Clemente Island and Channel Islands races.

"An actor needs something to stabilize his personality, something to nail down what he really is, not what he is currently pretending to be." - Humphrey Bogart

You could say the Santana was the love of Bogart’s life, besides Lauren Bacall. Bogart had a minuature model of the Santana in his home. The boat in his film Key Largo was named the Santan. In 1947, Bogart started his own production company Santana Productions which produced films such as Knock on Any Door (1949), Tokyo Joe (1949), In a Lonely Place (1950), Sirocco (1951) and Beat the Devil (1953) among others.

There are many wonderful photos of Bogart on his yacht including a series shot by noted photographer Peter Stackpole in 1945 for LIFE magazine. Below is a home movie of Bogart and Bacall on board the Santana. Enjoy!

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Artists

Many actors and actresses from the golden age of Hollywood found solace in painting, sculpting, drawing and other art forms. It was away to express themselves creatively but in a much more private space than in front of a camera.

So far in the series I've devoted each post to one hobby and one star. In this instance, I felt I couldn't pick just one star so I decided to include as many as I could.
Frank Sinatra's art studio
Frank Sinatra at his art studio

Frank Sinatra painting

Art by Celebrities Sponsored by the Urban League [Linda Darnell with her painting.]
Linda Darnell and her painting, circa 1948 - Source

Linda Darnell and her sculpture - Source 

Kim Novak in front of one of her paintings
Dirk Bogarde - Source
Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers painting - Source

Tony Curtis - Source
Lionel Barrymore's etching of himself in the Grand Hotel
Claire Trevor

Claire Trevor's painting of Tyrone Power circa 1958

Mae Marsh Painting, circa 1932 - Source

Thank you to Kate Gabrielle of Scathingly Brilliant, Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, Sebina and Neil for the tips. And thanks to Kate who gave me the photos for Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak!

Note: This post is a work in progress. I'll be adding more stars and their artwork so stay tuned!

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Arrowsmith (1931)

Arrowsmith (1931) Title Card
Arrowsmith (1931)

With the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus dominating the news this Pre-Code film is timelier than ever. Independently produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by John Ford, Arrowsmith (1931) stars Ronald Colman as Dr. Martin Arrowsmith, a young doctor whose talents in the field of medical research lead him to discover the cure for bubonic plague.

Hayes and Colman in Arrowsmith (1931)
Helen Hayes and Ronald Colman

Arrowsmith is taken under the wing of Professor Max Gottlieb (A.E. Anson) who becomes his mentor and a major influence in his education as well as his ethics. He starts off as a doctor in a New York City hospital. It’s here that he meets nurse Leora (Helen Hayes). They have a whirlwind romance, elope – much to the distress of her parents – and relocate to South Dakota. Arrowsmith supports his growing family with a job as a small-town doctor. They're happy for a while but things soon change. Arrowsmith’s talents bring him back to the big city when his cure for a cattle disease demonstrates that his skills are needed for the greater advancement of medical science.

Ronald Colman & Helen Hayes - Arrowsmith (1931)
Arrowsmith at his lab

He returns to McGuirk, a major lab made up of scientists including Prof. Gottlieb, and discovers the cure for bubonic plague. Scientist Gustav Sondelius (Richard Bennett) sees the effects of the bubonic plague and encourages Arrowsmith to the West Indies where the plague is prevalent. Leora, unable to give Arrowsmith a child after her miscarriage, devotes herself to Arrowsmith. He often neglects her but relies on her unyielding devotion. They travel together to the West Indies for Arrowsmith’s experiment.

Microscope - Arrowsmith (1931)
Arrowsmith's trusty Microscope

To prove his serum can cure bubonic plague, Arrowsmith plans to use it on half of the infected people and compare the results with the other half. While beneficial for the advancement of medical research, this brings up ethical and moral issues. Who is to be saved and who is not?

Ronald Colman - Arrowsmith (1931)
Arrowsmith presents his plan to doctors in the West Indies

Things get more complicated when scientist Sondelius gets sick, Leora becomes a victim of circumstance and the beautiful Joyce (Myrna Loy) catches Arrowsmith’s eye.

Myrna Loy - Arrowsmith (1931)
Myrna Loy as Mrs. Joyce Lanyon

The screen play was adapted by Sidney Howard and based on the 1925 novel by Sinclair Lewis.  For accuracy in his depictions of science and medical research, Lewis relied on his adviser Dr. Paul de Kruif . Lewis was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize the following year but refused to accept the honor.

The film is choppy. The first 30 minutes are dreadfully slow and linger far too long on the small-town portion of the story. As soon as the Sondelius character enters the story the pace of the plot quickens. He moves the story out of New York City and into the West Indies where the true drama takes hold. Director John Ford as been pinpointed as the source of the film's unevenness. According to Joseph McBride, author of Searching For John Ford: A Life:
“At Sam Goldwyn’s request, Ford made a written pledge not to drink during the shooting of Arrowsmith. It was a telling sign of Ford’s malaise in this period that a studio chief had to enforce a discipline Ford normally was able to impose on himself. Ford’s unhappiness and distraction while making Arrowsmith was reflected in its extreme stylistic unevenness, its highly episodic nature, and its schizoid variations in mood.”

Ford also had issues with actress Helen Hayes. They had a love-hate relationship and some of her scenes were put on the back burner or were hastily put together. Ford was loaned out from Fox by independent producer Samuel Goldwyn who fired him for not keeping his sobriety contract. He was then fired from Fox. Fortunately, Ford was re-hired by Fox a couple years later.

Clarence Brooks - Arrowsmith (1931)
Clarence Brooks as Dr. Oliver Marchand
Even with its flaws Arrowsmith (1931) is a glorious Pre-Code film. It tackles a difficult subject, isn’t afraid to experiment and there is a refreshing lack of racism. Actor Clarence Brooks’ portrayal of West Indies doctor Oliver Marchand is very progressive for the time. Marchand is a well-spoken, college-educated doctor and lacks many of the racist stereotypes that were often applied to black characters during that time.

At first the wealthy patriarch of the island is reluctant to allow his mansion to be used as a makeshift hospital. However, he and his family, including his guest Joyce (Myrna Loy), befriend Dr. Arrowsmith and help him in his efforts to eradicate the bubonic plague. In one telling scene, the family lines up with the natives to receive their serum. They don’t cut the line or use their status to get any special treatment.

Arrowsmith (1931)

Myrna Loy’s character Joyce was mostly edited out of the film to appease code regulations. Although this is a Pre-Code, filmmakers still had to be cautious. It’s only suggested that Joyce and Arrowsmith have an extra-marital affair. It’s clear that Joyce lusts for him but they are careful to portray Arrowsmith as only mildly interested. Morality and ethics play a key role in the film. The administration at the McGuirk lab demonstrate greed for fame and recognition when they are quick to publicize Arrowsmith’s work even before it’s put to the test. Characters struggle with the dilemma between what is good for humanity versus what is good for science.

The lighting and cinematography in this film are absolutely stunning. I love the use of light and shadow.
Helen Hayes - Arrowsmith (1931)
Leora (Helen Hayes) and the unfortunate cigarette
Doors are very symbolic in this film. The opening and closing of doors represent passage of time, opportunity waiting on the other side and the advancement of Arrowsmith’s career. Doors separate the sick from the healthy. They separate chaos from calm. 

I would be remiss not to point out the lovely Art Deco sets used for the McGuirk lab. Art Deco is used to represent opulence and coldness which mirror the qualities of the McGuirk enterprise.

Arrowsmith (1931)

Arrowsmith (1931)

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Writing, Adaptation (Sidney Howard), Best Cinematography (Ray June) and Best Art Direction (Richard Day).

Arrowsmith (1931) is available from Warner Archive on DVD-MOD. You can also purchase it from the TCM Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Arrowsmith (1931) from Warner Archive for review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Colleen Moore

Colleen Moore, Doll Houses

Thank you to my good friend Jonas of All Talking! All Dancing! All Singing!  for letting me know about this! Silent film star Colleen Moore was obsessed with creating the doll house of her dreams. The financial freedom of being a Hollywood star gave her the opportunity to invest in her passion. Or as Jonas delicately puts it “when the money started rolling in she went completely bonkers in dollhouse mania de luxe.”

Moore started on the Fairy Castle project in 1928 and it was completed in 1935. Some of the people involved in the project include architect Horace Jackson (floor plan), Harold Grieve (interior design), Walt Disney (original art), artist George Townsend Cole (mural) and actor Rudolph Valentino (figurines). Around 100 people worked on the project and the final cost was substantial. The castle includes antiques and materials from all over the world!

Moore could have kept her hobby to herself but instead she shared the happiness with others. During the Great Depression, Moore took her doll house on tour. Kids all across the country got to see the Fairy Castle up close and the tour also served to raise money for different children’s charities. In 1949, the Fairy Castle made it’s final stop at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. You can see the Fairy Castle today at the museum’s special exhibit or take a virtual tour online.

Below is a video from British Pathé of Colleen Moore introducing the completed Fairy Castle in 1935. She refers to it as an Enchanted Castle but it's been known as the Fairy Castle for many years.

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here  to view a complete list of entries.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Roddy McDowall

Roddy McDowall, Home Movies

Roddy McDowall was a trustworthy kind of a guy and he made many close friends in Hollywood. Every Sunday he would have an open house at his Malibu Beach home. This was a time when the Hollywood elite could come over relax and be themselves. They let their guard down when they were with McDowall. Guests at his open houses would include Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Kirk Douglas and more.

We all know McDowall had skills when it came to cameras. Besides being an actor he was also a film director and photographer. A few years ago we learned that one of his hobbies was shooting home movies. Several silent home movies from 1965 emerged and were put on the internet for us to enjoy. They're an intimate look at Hollywood in front of a very different type of camera.

This is a YouTube playlist of 22 of McDowall's silent home movies.

Thank you to Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings for the idea for this entry!

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Jill St. John

Jill St. John, Model Trains
Singer Grace Slick on visiting Jill St. John - "Her house included an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, a vast array of tropical fish and a basement filled with miniature trains." (Source)

While doing research for my Stars & Their Hobbies series, I stumbled upon a New York Times bio listing Jill St. John's hobbies as collecting model trains and dating high-profile men. I've encountered the dating-men-as-a-hobby thing multiple times in my research. It's something that frustrated me because it's such a double-standard. 

I was intrigued by the idea of Jill St. John collecting model trains so I did some research. I discovered that both her real hobby of model trains and her "hobby" of dating men are somewhat linked.

On her childhood – “I was always working… I missed a lot of things kids do. Maybe that’s I collected and put together electric trains from Germany for a while. I made the little trees and houses and everything. But then I gave it all to a boys’ home because my dates were paying more attention to the trains than to me.” - Jill St. John (Source)

St. John's hobby was a way to recapture some of her lost childhood and it seems the men in her life intruded of her private interest. One source claimed a Walter Robin (either a hotel magnate or toy tycoon, I couldn't tell which one) sold her $2,000 worth of model trains and track in 1963. Another source said that her ex-husband Lance Reventlow gifted her 200 feet of model trains and tracks valued at $10,000. 

I wonder if Jill St. John picked up the hobby again after she ditched her collection in 1971? Over the years she's had other hobbies including collecting Faberge jewelry and teddy bears, playing chess and doing yoga.

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Ann-Margret

Ann-Margret, Motorcycles
"There are two types of motorcycle riders: ones who have had an accident and ones who will." - Ann-Margret 

Ann-Margret looks damn good on a motorcycle. A lifelong enthusiast, she was introduced to motorcycles by her Uncle Carl in her home country of Sweden. Once she got that first thrill for speed she was hooked. You can watch Ann-Margret's amazing motorcycle skills in Viva Las Vegas (1964) and The Swinger (1966).

Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas
During the 1960s, Ann-Margret would often be found riding a Triumph motorcycle and she even appeared in advertisements for the company. At one time she owned a custom Harley that was painted lavender with daisies on it.

Ann-Margret with her custom Harley (Photo Source)
In 2000, Ann-Margret got into a serious accident while riding in Minnesota as Grand Marshal for an NHRA event. She veered off into a sandy patch, hit a rock and was thrown from her motorcycle. She suffered a fractured shoulder and three broken ribs. However, that didn't stop her and Ann-Margret continues to be a badass on a motorcycle.

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Norman Lloyd

Norman Lloyd, Tennis - Photo Source

“You've got to stay active as you get older. And tennis is a great way to do that. It helps to take away all the aches and pains.” – Norman Lloyd 

Norman Lloyd turns 100 this November. The secret to his longevity: tennis!

I had the pleasure of seeing Lloyd at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. Leonard Maltin introduced him and joked with the audience that Lloyd’s appearance was getting in the way of his daily tennis match. I was very intrigued by the fact that the then 98 year old Norman Lloyd played tennis daily! Recently he’s had to reduce his matches to twice a week but I truly believe that the tennis he’s been playing for decades is what has kept him sound in body and mind for such a long time.

Lloyd has played tennis against many film stars including Joseph Cotten and Spencer Tracy and he's also participated in celebrity tournaments. His most well-known partner was Charlie Chaplin. About their regular matches he said:

“I played tennis with Chaplin about four times a week. We played in the late afternoon, five o’clock in summer after the heat had lessened, earlier in winter. After the game, we stayed in the tennis house for a while to chat, and Charlie would often invite me to the house for a drink – scotch old-fashioned, his favorite.” (Source)

Lloyd plans a big tennis tournament for his 100th birthday.

Sources (1 and 2

Norman Lloyd on the court with Charlie Chaplin - Photo Source

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Eli Wallach

"Let me tell you a little about myself. As an actor I've played more bandits, thieves, killers, war lords, molesters and mafiose that you can shake a stick at... As a civilian I collect antique clocks, tell endless stories of my days as a medic in World War II, watch every tennis match, live for my family, daily mail, run the dishwasher, take pictures of faces in the bark of trees..." - Eli Wallach, 2010 Governors Awards Acceptance Speech

If Eli Wallach wasn't already the subject of my adoration now I have a new reason to fawn over him. He collected antique clocks! It's been said that the ticking of the clocks helped him think. When asked what he would do if he wasn't an actor, Wallach said, “I’d open a little clock shop somewhere... I collect little clocks. Don’t ask me why. My wife has no concept of time. I get to places twenty minutes before and she’s always late.” (Source)

Watch A.O. Scott's video of his visit with is uncle Eli Wallach in 2010 on the New York Times website. You can catch a glimpse in the background of a few antique clocks adorning Wallach's shelves in his Manhattan apartment. God speed Eli Wallach!

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Sport Parade (1932)

The Sport Parade (1932) was directed by Dudley Murphy and produced by David O. Selznick for RKO.  It stars Joel McCrea, Marian Marsh, William Gargan and Robert Benchley. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Jerry Corwin and depending on the source Corey Ford, Francis Cockrell and Robert Benchley are all credited in some form for the adaptation. I love films from this era that either have a collegiate theme or a sports theme and since this one had both it was natural selection for my next Warner Archive Wednesday.

Brown and Baker, the best of pals

Athletes behaving badly; that’s a hot topic these days. The machinations of Sandy Brown (Joel McCrea) and Johnny Baker (William Gargan), Dartmouth University football stars, are tame in comparison but still make for interesting drama. Brown and Baker have just finished their University careers and are considered sport legends. They are close friends but their lives and careers split as soon as they leave Dartmouth. Brown is dazzled by the prospects of fame and fortune promised to him by Shifty Morrison (Walter Catlett), a promoter whose appearance is reminiscent of Harold Lloyd and whose visions of millions are equally as laughable. Baker is more sensible. He starts a career in sports writing, a good segue from his hey-days as an athlete. Baker helps Brown when Shifty’s promises don’t pan out by offering him a job at the paper. Baker has the clever idea of tapping into their fame as a pair of top college athletes and they co-write a column entitled “Baker to Brown.” Things are going swell until Brown makes eyes at the newspaper illustrator Irene (Marian Marsh). Trouble is that Baker has his eyes set on her too and he was there first! 

This film could have been so good but in the end it just fell flat. The two main characters are only in college for the first few minutes of the film so the focus is primarily on their post-collegiate careers. This makes for an interesting look at what happens after the limelight has dimmed. However, in The Sport Parade the careers of the two college sports heroes is muddled by a romantic triangle. And the lady in the middle of the triangle isn't all that dazzling.

Joel McCrea and Marian Marsh

Joel McCrea and William Gargan. Best buds at the beginning of their troubles.

Marian Marsh, Joel McCrea and Walter Catlett
I found Joel McCrea's character Sandy Brown a bit confusing. We're led to believe that he excels at many sports. In college he and Baker are the top football stars. Brown also plays hockey and baseball, does some road racing and at the end of the film he becomes a professional wrestler. While there are some athletes who have been able to excel at two sports, it's pretty rare. To be really good at a sport you need determined practicing and lots of it. While incorporating some other sports and exercises will help an athlete succeed, the focus should always be on the one sport. Also, the window of time an athlete has to excel at the sport is limited to incorporating other sports doesn't make any sense. It's nice to think that Sandy Brown can do it all with the magic of Hollywood. I also think they just crammed as many sports as possible into the film to give credence to the title The Sport Parade.

Robert Benchley and his good ole Waltham Watch
It's not a complete wash though! There are several things I really liked about the film including Robert Benchley. He plays a befuddled radio announcer who is having a difficult time keeping track of all the plays in the game. He's also even sure where he is. Benchley appears a few times in the film and I wished he was a more substantial character. However, he's one of a trio of ne'er-do-wells along with Dizzy the drunk sports photographer (Richard 'Skeets' Gallagher) and Shifty the unreliable promoter.

The opening scenes take place in Allston, MA at Harvard Stadium (in the film Benchley says they are in Cambridge but the stadium is on the other side of the Charles River and technically in Allston). Dartmouth is playing Harvard and the film has real footage from the stadium and a college football game. By the time I was 3-1/2 minutes into the movie I froze on this shot and proceeded to freak out for about an hour.

Real life shot of Harvard Stadium and Harvard University in the background.
This was very exciting! Real shots of the Boston area don't appear in many films from this era. It wasn't until Mystery Street (1950) that the area was used as an actual filming location. I know this is just sports footage but it made me happy nonetheless. Did you know that the Harvard Stadium is one of four sports arenas to be registered as a National Historic Landmark? It was built in 1903 and is America's oldest stadium. The photo above is a shot of the steel stands. They were removed in the 1950s and now the stadium is U-shaped.

Harvard Stadium - Source

The following is NSFW-ish but my other favorite thing about this movie is seeing Pre-Code Butt. Oh yes, I went there. Pre-Code Butt. Say it with me! "Pre-Code Butt." Pre-Code Butt is elusive and rare. You can only catch a glimpse of it. A glimpse that goes by so quickly you're not quite sure you of what you saw until you play the scene over and over and over again.

You can see the Pre-Code Butt if you look closely enough.

The good folks at Warner Archive have shared a preview clip of the movie which contains some of the shots of Harvard Stadium and the Pre-Code Butt. Here it is for your viewing pleasure!

The Sports Parade (1932) is available from Warner Bros. and the TCM shop

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I rented The Sport Parade (1932) from ClassicFlix.

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