Tuesday, April 18, 2023

2023 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #2 Recap


My festival experience this year was scaled back immensely due to unforeseen circumstances, both good and bad. For the rest of the festival I was able to attend two events each day while also building in some time with friends.

On the first full day of the festival, I sat down with documentarian Daniel Raim whose films Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, Image Makers: The Adventures of America's Pioneer Cinematographers and Fiddler's Journey to the Big Screen I have reviewed on here. He has some exciting projects coming up and I look forward to checking them out!

Then I got in line for Blood on the Moon (1948), Robert Wise's noir western starring Robert Mitchum. I'm a huge Robert Mitchum fan and have been disappointed to attend every year and not see a Mitchum film on the line-up. A few were shown the first year I went and I attended River of No Return (1954) which was life-changing. I looked at the schedule every year I attended and couldn't find another Mitchum film (unless I missed one!). So I was particularly thrilled for this opportunity.

Blood on the Moon was a hot ticket at TCMFF and it quickly sold out. Introducing the film was Alan K. Rode who recently wrote and published a book exclusive about the film with the University of New Mexico Press.

I had a new appreciation for this film seeing it up on the big screen with a crowd. The noir elements, Wise's direction and Mitchum's charisma really enhance what might have been just a standard Western.

After Blood on the Moon, I headed over the pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel for a special screening of Beach Party (1963). A lot of us got there early. In fact I was there two hours in advance to get a good spot to see the screen and to catch a glimpse of special guest Frankie Avalon.

Photo courtesy of TCM

TCM host Dave Karger introduced Frankie Avalon before the screening and Frankie still has that youthful spirit you see in the movies. He talked about working with Annette Funicello, how he only had to take one pie in the face, how he thinks the dancing hasn't aged well and more. There was a shooting (!!!) that happened nearby so a news helicopter was hovering over us which made it a little difficult to listen to. But we were all safely tucked away and thrilled to see Frankie Avalon and Beach Party. The true fans stayed afterwards to watch the whole movie.

During the introduction, a photographer was literally in the pool getting shots of the main stage. He got some cool ones like this photo which makes it look like Dave Karger and Frankie Avalon are hovering over an abyss!

Photo courtesy of TCM

Friday, April 14, 2023

2023 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #1 Recap


Greetings from rainy Los Angeles! The 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival kicked off on Thursday April 13th but the festivities have been going on all week.

On Tuesday I met up with some classic film friends for dinner at Smoke House, a Burbank steak house that's been operating since 1946.

Before dinner, I met up with my friends Aurora, Laura and Doug at the Forest Lawn Cemetery: Hollywood Hills. Many of our beloved classic movie stars and directors are laid to rest there. It's a huge cemetery so you have to come with a game plan and ready access to Find a Grave. We had limited time but we were able to pay our respects to some of my favorite people including Bette Davis, Telly Savalas, Sandra Dee, Ernest Borgnine, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Charles Laughton. I'm a huge fan of The Mills Brothers and I found Donald Mills in the Columbarium of Radiant Dawn. 

On Wednesday I picked up my media badge and received a book themed tote bag (But Have You Read the Book by Kristen Lopez) as well as a copy of Mark Vieira's new book Warner Bros. 100 Years of Storytelling.

 Later in the afternoon I attended the Media Welcome Event in the Blossom Room at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. TCM transforms the Blossom Room into Club TCM for the festival. The space includes a mini museum of props as well as a bar. There are events happening at Club TCM throughout the festival and it becomes the central hub for the long weekend. This year they had a really cool display of Warner Bros. memorabilia for the 100th anniversary. I was particularly taken with the three remaining intact violins from one of Busby Berkeley's numbers in the Gold Diggers of 1933. They also had Berkeley's large leather scrapbook on display too! Both were very cool to see.

There wasn't a big announcement this year at the Media Welcome Event. Last year it was announced that Pam Grier was the special guest for The Plot Thickens podcast. No such announcement this year. But we did get to mingle with the hosts. I got this Oscars-style selfie with some friends and TCM host Alicia Malone. She's as kind and gracious in person as you'd expect her to be!

The festival kicked off in earnest on Thursday afternoon. Every year I conduct interviews on the red carpet but this year I decided to scale back a bit. This allowed me the opportunity to attend So You Think You Know the Movies, Bruce Goldstein's trivia event that has opened pretty much every festival to date. The event started with a musical number from Good News (1930) which is by far my favorite musical rarity. It's based on a Broadway musical and was remade in 1947 with June Allyson and Peter Lawford. I love both versions but the 1930 has a special place in my heart especially when I get to see Dorothy McNulty's crazy dance moves (she later became known as Penny Singleton). The first question in the contest was about her and of course I had to help my team out with that one. 

I'm not terribly good at trivia but I was able to help with another question about the Nicholas Brothers. The question was about the youngest brother and which silent film star he was named after. I knew it was Harold Lloyd from having read Donald Bogle's biography on Dorothy Dandridge who was briefly married to Harold Nicholas. It's funny because Donald Bogle was standing right behind me during the trivia game. What a delight! Things like this only happen at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Later that evening I met up with my friend Jessica and my editor at DVD Netflix Annie for dinner at Musso and Frank's Grill. I've always wanted to go especially because of the restaurants history of famous classic movie stars and writers dining there over decades. Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin. Marilyn Monroe, the Rat Pack, were all regulars there. 

After dinner we headed over to the Chinese Multiplex to line-up for the Doris Day and Cary Grant sex comedy That Touch of Mink (1962). Alicia Malone gave a great introduction before the film and it was so much fun to see this film with an audience. I've seen this film several times before but have a new appreciation for the film including the supporting players Audrey Meadows and John Astin. 

Stay tuned for more updates from the TCM Classic Film Festival!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Classic Film Collective: The Lady from the Black Lagoon

 This was originally published in the former The Classic Film Collective Patreon.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon
Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick
by Mallory O'Meara
Paperback ISBN: 9781335010131
Hanover Square Press
336 pages

If you're looking for a good read for October, look no further than Mallory O'Meara's book on Milicent Patrick, the artist who designed the creature in the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). For many years Bud Westmore, one of the famous Westmore brothers who dominated the makeup scene in Hollywood, took credit for designing the creature. However, movie monsters were often the work of several artists including makeup designers, makeup artists, sculptors, etc. With Creature from the Black Lagoon, Universal was dipping a toe into the world of science fiction and the creature had to be just right. Westmore, impressed with Patrick's artistic eye, hired her as part of his team. And when it came time to promote the final film, Universal sent Milicent Patrick on a nationwide tour. Westmore was furious that she was getting all of the attention. Wielding the power he had in Hollywood thanks to his name and the deeply entrenched patriarchy, he fired Milicent Patrick upon her return, essentially ending her special effects career. O'Meara takes the charge to undo this terrible wrong with her excellent book, revealing Westmore's pettiness and Milicent Patrick's genius while shedding light on an industry that has thrived on suppressing female talent behind the scenes.

“What matters is that Milicent was bringing art and monsters to life on-screen and that she was one of the first women to do so. She was blazing trails in a male-dominated industry, an industry that is still dominated by men.” — Mallory O'Meara

O'Meara's book is part biography, part memoir and part feminist manifesto. Not only are we taken on a journey through Milicent Patrick's life and career but we also see the lengths O'Meara had to go to uncover information about this little known artist from Hollywood history and what her research revealed about what women have to deal with while working in genre film. Patrick, who was born Mildred Rossi, was the daughter of an architect who helped design Hearst Castle and the surrounding estate. In fact, she later changed her name to Milicent as a nod to one of her earliest inspirations, Milicent Hearst. Patrick inherited her father's artistic eye and attended art school to hone her craft. She was one of the first female animators working at Disney. There she animated sequences in Dumbo and Fantasia, specializing in color techniques, before moving on to a long but relatively unsuccessful career as an actress. As a proud card carrying SAG member, Milicent Patrick was a background actress in many B-movies. She would often draw on set, catching the eye of fellow actors and of Bud Westmore. When Westmore hired her as a makeup designer (different from a makeup artists), she created looks for the pirate film Against All Flags (1952) and the barbarian makeup for Sign of the Pagan (1954). Working in genre film, she helped design the Xenomorph from It Came from Outer Space (1953), the Metaluna Mutant in This Island Earth (1955), and masks for Abbott and Costello spoofs. Her greatest and best known work would be the design for the Creature from the Black Lagoon which is still considered one of the best monster movies of all time.

As the reader learns about Milicent Patrick's extraordinary yet short lived career as a makeup designer and monster creator, O'Meara offers a rightfully scathing look at an industry that continues to mistreat women. The narrative shifts back and forth between Milicent Patrick's story, the author's own journey as a producer in the horror film industry and her work researching for the book. O'Meara's a fantastic storyteller but sometimes great moments are revealed a bit too early before they can really pack a punch. Yet O'Meara's voice is still strong. She's not afraid to tell you what she thinks, to question the research and to really dig for the truth. It's a powerful read.

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