Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Author Matthew Kennedy to Visit the Silver Screen Oasis April 18th-April 21st

Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s (Oxford University Press) by Matthew Kennedy, the account of what happened to the big musicals made by Hollywood movie studios in that singular decade, is a story that is by turns epic, funny, puzzling, gossipy, and historically fascinating as it traces a cultural shift away from the musical at the center of American entertainment. The thread for Matthew Kennedy's Q & A is now open at the link below. Please enjoy reading the exchanges and ask your own question, if you would like:

Our next guest author, Matthew Kennedy, will visit from Friday, April 18th-Monday, April 21st to discuss how high-priced, reserved-seat, two-show-a-day runs of big budget epic movies became wildly popular among studios after the success of Mary Poppins (1964), followed by My Fair Lady (1964) and the remarkable, record-breaking success of The Sound of Music (1965).

Suddenly, producers at MGM, Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century Fox threw money at a series of musical films that followed a certain formula for movie box office success:
Lavish productions of non-controversial, family friendly topics + Julie Andrews + or, in a pinch, Rex Harrison + the notion that everyone can "sing" in the style of Harrison. On top of this, the directors who could guide such lumbering projects to success were few and far between (Vincente Minnelli's name came up...a lot).

Unfortunately, the results were often critically and financially disappointing. A phenomenal conglomeration of talents behind the camera and in front of the lens could not stem the tsunami of change that was washing over the world of entertainment, especially when the films' stories were overshadowed by the salaries of those involved. Lavishly made movies such as Doctor Dolittle (1967), Camelot (1967), Star! (1968), Paint Your Wagon (1969), and Man of La Mancha (1972) ultimately led to the demise of the roadshow, with their huge publicity campaigns, reserved seating, costumed ushers, souvenir programs and the idea of going to the movies as a special occasion becoming but a memory.

In his highly entertaining and well researched book, Matthew Kennedy brings the creative and corporate dramas surrounding this aspect of film history alive with great detail, telling anecdotes and portraits of the often all-too-human figures involved, just as he did previously when he was our guest author, discussing the impact of such diverse figures as comedic actress Marie Dressler [Marie Dressler : A Biography], director Edmund Goulding [Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy] and actress Joan Blondell [Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes].

Please join us this weekend to learn more about Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, which has been described as "a brilliant, gripping history of film musicals and their changing place in our culture."

Below are links to Matthew Kennedy online, news about the excellent critical reception to Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, and a link to his previous Q & A when he was our guest in 2008:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Virginia Lee Burton Remembered

The name Virginia Lee Burton (1908-1969) may not ring a bell, but if you were lucky enough to have grown up with books in your home, books that were written before you were born such as Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Paul Creswick's Robin Hood, both illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, may have been a part of your life, especially at bedtime when a loving adult read to you from them. Next to these on the bookshelf, stories such as "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," "Katy and the Big Snow," "The Little House," "Calico the Wonder Horse," and "The Song of Robin Hood" may be among your earliest very dear memories of reading--especially since these were often books you could read yourself as time went on.

Before dawn this morning I saw a wonderful documentary, "Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place" (2008) on PBS World celebrating the work and life of this individual, who was a driving force in the arts in the Cape Ann area of Gloucester, MA during her life there with her husband George Demetrios and their two sons, Aristides and Michael. Today her work is still read and treasured by children, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Boston MFA, and the Peabody-Essex Museum, as well as her local Cape Ann Museum.

The PBS version of this doc was only sixty rich, all too brief minutes. Fortunately, it appears that there is an 87 minute version also available and created by filmmakers Rawn Fulton and Christine Lundberg. The DVD of this film is readily available along with a book about the life of the artist, "Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art" (Houghton Mifflin) by Barbara Elleman.

A wife, a mother, an artist, a designer, and a mentor to many who longed to be designers as well, more about this artist can be seen at the link below and the PDF shown below. The film may be re-aired in your area this week. Here are links to PBS World and The Cape Ann Museum:

One of the revelations for me in the documentary cited above was the exceptional design work that was inspired by Virginia Lee Burton and the Folly Cove Designers who worked with her. There are some lovely examples of this here:

Here's an interesting, detailed story about the printing techniques of the Folly Cove Designers from Life Magazine, Nov. 26, 1945:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Guest Author Michael Hoey to Visit The Silver Screen Oasis

Roll out the red carpet with us as The Silver Screen Oasis welcomes Michael Hoey, the son of the classic character actor, Dennis Hoey, and an accomplished writer, editor, and producer in his own right. Our forthcoming guest has generously consented to join us on the weekend of Sat., March 15th & Sun., March 16th.

Unfortunately, due to illness, Michael Hoey will not be returning to visit the SSO on Sunday, March 16th. I know that each of us wishes him well and hopes that he knows that he will be welcome to return anytime. You can still see the Q & A from Saturday, March 15th with this author here.

Please take care of yourself, Michael. Thanks for visiting.
Above: Michael Hoey (center) surrounded by some of the people and films that have shaped his life and career.

Mr. Hoey grew up in Hollywood while his father was pursuing a very busy career as an actor in the studio era, memorably portraying Inspector Lestrade in the Basil Rathbone series of Sherlock Holmes films at Universal, as well as appearing in many other roles. Michael himself has worked in almost every aspect of show business as an actor, editor, writer, director and producer, gaining professional experience with legends such as John Ford on Sgt. Rutledge, George Cukor on The Chapman Report, & Martin Ritt on Sounder.

As a film editor and writer he has been recognized by the American Cinema Editors, the Writers' Guild of America, and received primetime Emmy nominations for his work on the noted television series, Fame, which Mr. Hoey wrote about in his book, Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History (McFarland). In recent years, our guest author has proven himself a gifted raconteur in several other books, chronicling his own life adventures in and out of the entertainment industry in his autobiographical memoir, Elvis, Sherlock & Me: How I Survived Growing Up in Hollywood (BearManor), as well as relating an appreciation for character actors in general through his account of Sherlock Holmes & the Fabulous Faces - The Universal Pictures Repertory Company (BearManor).

Michael's most recent book, Elvis' Favorite Director: The Amazing 52-Year Career of Norman Taurog (BearManor) traces the remarkable and largely unsung story of the youngest individual to win an Academy Award (for 1931's Skippy with Jackie Cooper in the title role). Taurog, who also directed Spencer Tracy in his Oscar-winning role as Father Flanagan in Boys' Town (1938), wound up his career helming nine of Elvis Presley's popular films. The author's background as the screenwriter of Stay Away, Joe (1968) and Live A Little, Love A Little (1968), and as a contributing writer to four other Elvis films gave Michael a unique perspective on the star and a greater appreciation for the achievements of filmmaker Norman Taurog (1898-1981), which began decades before Elvis Presley was born.

Please click on the image below to view more about Michael Hoey's books:

Please accept this invitation to participate in our March Guest Author's visit. All are welcome!

Below are links to Online References to Our Guest's Background

Michael Hoey on IMDb

Michael Hoey Website

Upcoming Dennis Hoey Films on TCM

Dennis Hoey: A Son's Remembrance by Michael A. Hoey as told to Tom Weaver @Films of the Golden Age

Elvis, Sherlock & Me: Memoir

Elvis' Favorite Director: The Amazing 52-Year Career of Norman Taurog: A Biography

Sherlock Holmes & the Fabulous Faces - The Universal Pictures Repertory Company

Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History

~Our Thanks to Scott Allen Nollen for Helping Arrange Michael Hoey's Visit to the SSO.~ 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Budd Boetticher directed Behind Locked Doors (1948) when he still went by the moniker of Oscar Boetticher, cranking out a terse little bit of suspense for distribution by Eagle-Lion Films that clocks in at barely 62 minutes. Like several films in the period, such as Val Lewton's Bedlam (1946), the Vincent Price potboiler Shock (1946), Curtis Bernhardt's High Wall (1947), and the big mommy of the genre, The Snake Pit (1948), this B film ducks behind the walls of a mental institution where the mad confusion, cruelty and injustices of the outside world are magnified and sometimes unchecked by cumbersome things like ethics and empathy. Written by Eugene Ling (whose noir credits include Shock, Between Midnight and Dawn, and Scandal Sheet) and Malvin Wald (The Naked City), the movie saw Boetticher exploring the clash of two disparate groups jockeying for power in a contrived but suspenseful situation, as he would later do much more powerfully in such films as The Tall T (1957).

Above: Herbert Heyes as a  sourpuss judge on the lam, Douglas Fowley as the muscle in the aslyum, and Tom Brown Henry as the sweaty Doctor running the laughing academy scheme to hide the fugitive judge.

The screenwriters seem to have been inspired by the New York tabloid stories of the very real, quite corrupt Judge Crater, who disappeared in 1930, and his showgirl girlfriend "Ritzi". In the film, an unscrupulous judge has absconded before he could be taken into custody by the police for some vague crimes against jurisprudence. A San Francisco newspaper reporter, played by the beautiful dancer Lucille Bremer, who looks more likely to be writing about garden parties for the paper, seeks out a freshly minted private investigator (Richard Carlson) to help her track down the fugitive magistrate. It seems that the reporter has traced the movements of the Judge's girlfriend Madge (Gwen Donovan), leading right to the door of the private sanitarium, La Siesta.

The eager lady scrivener proposes to the p.i. that the pair of them split the $10k reward that has been placed on the head of the judge. "All" that is needed is for Lucille and Richard to pose as husband and wife. Carlson wisely declines this kind (and lop-sided) offer, but is so taken with his beautiful visitor that he seeks her out after she none too discreetly leaves behind a clue to her whereabouts. Banding together, Carlson soon imitates a sulking depressive hubby so effectively that his faux frau is able to commit him to the private loony bin for treatment, allowing him to investigate the presence of the crooked judge at his leisure. The [s]prison[/s] sanitarium is run a bit like the prison in Brute Force: there's a weak head medico beholden to the judge (Thomas Browne Henry, who usually plays flustered bureaucrats) an observant but resigned aide (Ralf Harolde, who had effectively played a creepy doc in another insane asylum in Murder, My Sweet), and a sadistic orderly (Douglas Fowley, who steals every one of his scenes with his avid leers and officious manner--even those shared with Tor Johnson).

Above: In Behind Locked Doors, there was no scene when Lucille Bremer swooned in the arms of Tor Johnson, but this lurid image may have given the producers the inspiration to rename the film, "The Human Gorilla" when it was re-released some time after its initial unveiling.

The gargantuan Johnson appears to be a psychotic former wrestler of some sort kept in a padded cell and reserved for pummeling any inmates who ask too many questions. Mr. Johnson's character, dubbed "The Champ" by his keepers, has episodes of explosive belligerence triggered by the clicking of a key on a fire extinguisher just outside his cell, mimicking the sound of a gong at ringside in his foggy memory. As with most of the characters, the inmates, including a mute (and uncredited) Dickie Moore who is treated like a whipped puppy, and an arsonist (Trevor Bardette), exist merely to give the protagonist a chance to look caring or canny in using the firebug's predilection to create a needed distraction (never mind the mortal danger he puts the rest of the inmates in during this ploy).

Best of all, there is the glimpse we have of the judge's meager digs in the loony bin. Understandably, the crooked court officer seems to be getting cabin fever pacing around his chintz-curtained room with bars on the windows. The place looks a bit like a cross between a bomb shelter with a lousy wine cellar and a basement apartment (known far and wide as "the rat hole") where I "lived" during my college days.

Above: Richard Carlson as the undercover gumshoe, captured through bars in an asylum of his own choosing. The excellent (and heavy) use of chiaroscuro by cinematographer Guy Roe gives this film more drama than the script, though sometimes it is difficult to tell who's who in the darker scenes.

As the ineptly prepared sleuth turned inpatient, Richard Carlson once again proves himself charismatically challenged throughout this movie (my apologies to Carlson fans everywhere, but has he ever been anyone's fave?). Given the number of people deliberately allowing themselves to be committed to hospitals in late '40s movies strictly for research purposes, one wonders if Carlson's bloodhound might have learned his trade via The Edmund O'Brien Academy of Undercover Work for Latent Masochists as a correspondence school. Sadly, this is the last movie in the CV of the lovely Lucille Bremer, who soon married Abalardo Louis Rodriguez, the son of a former interim president of Mexico, and retired from film forever.

Above: Douglas Fowley (right, with the specs) looks on with disgust as Richard Carlson pitches woo to Lucille Bremer, though there are no indications of this baseless relationship existing between the love birds until the last quarter of the movie. Prior to this, Bremer's character treats the awkwardly lecherous Carlson as a schoolboy to be manipulated.

This movie is available on Amazon as a streaming video.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Scott Allen Nollen, Author of "Three Bad Men..." @ The Silver Screen Oasis on 2-8 & 2-9


If you love American film, do you think you know John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond? This coming weekend at The Silver Screen Oasis we can all learn more about these men, asking our guest author to illuminate the long shadows cast by his three figures during a Q & A with registered members All are welcome to participate.

The Scott Allen Nollen Q & A thread at the SSO is now open. Please visit the link below to post a question and read the exchanges. Thank you, pilgrim!

Scott Allen Nollen, the author of Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne & Ward Bond (McFarland), will be the guest author on Sat., Feb. 8th & Sun., Feb. 9th. Nollen, a historian, archivist, author of many books, including one exploring the screen incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and another examining Laurel & Hardy, has distilled thirty years of fascination with John Ford films into this wide-ranging biographical take on the trio of flawed, "good bad men" whose careers intertwined with their mentor. The biographer brings his skills as an engaging raconteur to this chronicle of the adventures, glory and foibles of three of cinema's best remembered figures, revealing their complexity, contradictions and artistry in a way that has rarely been explored.

Ward Bond, (unidentified) John Ford, & John Wayne on a fishing trip (circa 1940)

The difficult, poetic and gifted Ford was the axis, father figure, bete noire, inspiration, and conscience of John Wayne and Ward Bond, the two actors who appeared in so many Ford classics as well as hundreds of other directors' films in the studio era. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Nollen's work is that we see how profoundly being under Ford's lifelong influence helped and hampered the growth of John Wayne and Ward Bond as men and as actors. The vulnerability and strength of each of the three friends is part of the narrative, but most intriguingly for classic film aficionados, the author's exploration of the sometimes troubled life and wonderful career of Ward Bond is documented in an unprecedented way for the first time.
Ward Bond as "John Dodge" & John Wayne as "'Spig' Wead" in The Wings of Eagles (1957)

The book includes dozens of rare stories and photos, a complete filmography for each individual as well as numerous letters, studio files, and personal reactions of the writer to his subjects' larger-than-life adventures, missteps and moments of grace. While Ford and Wayne have received considerable attention in print prior to Nollen's book, the book shifts a reader's perspective on them from the iconic to a much more human level, bringing them to life through the author's detailed account of their everyday lives and struggles.
A very young John Wayne & Ward Bond in Salute (1929) directed by John Ford

Please accept this invitation to be a part of the discussion on Sat., Feb. 8th and Sun., Feb. 9th.

Upcoming Films on TCM in February related to the careers of John Ford, John Wayne or Ward Bond:

Sat., Feb. 8th:
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
How The West Was Won (1962)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Mister Roberts (1955)

Wed., Feb. 19th:
The Hurricane (1937)

Tue., Feb. 25th:
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

For more information about Scott Allen Nollen, his book, and this weekend's planned event, please see the links below:

The Three Bad Men Facebook page 

Scott Nollen at McFarland Books

The Silver Screen Oasis Guest Authors

Directed by John Ford: 
A blog devoted to all things Ford-related by SSO member Miss Goddess

An Interview with Scott Nollen:
by Cliff Alperti@Immortal Ephemera

'Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond' is the Story of Hollywood: 
by Carla Ives@The Examiner

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Noah Isenberg, Author of "Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins" to Visit The Silver Screen Oasis in January

The Silver Screen Oasis is pleased to welcome Noah Isenberg, the author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (Univ. of California Press) on Thursday, Jan. 30th & Friday, Jan. 31st.

Mr. Isenberg, whose book is the TCM selection for the month of January's book corner, will discuss his newly published study of the creative man behind many films, including the slice-of-life documentary style movie, People on Sunday (1929) (made with Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Siodmak, et al in Berlin), the stylish horror classic The Black Cat (1934), an interesting twist on the artist as madman with Bluebeard (1944), the peerless film noir Detour (1945), and a very Freudian retelling of Hamlet--Strange Illusion (1945)--as well as a trio of affecting stories of Jewish life, especially The Light Ahead (1939). 

While his Berlin contemporaries went on to legendary success in Hollywood, the peripatetic odyssey of Edgar Ulmer (1904-1972) took him from the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian empire to the post-modern age, making films in America and abroad throughout his career. Coping with smaller budgets and sometimes paltry material, Ulmer's artistic and technical skills were often sharpened as an independent filmmaker, encompassing everything from writing to art direction to producing as well as directing. While often overlooked in the past, Edgar Ulmer's work has only truly begun to be more fully explored in recent decades as the best of them are rediscovered. Ulmer's reputation is fortunate to have Noah Isenberg as his newest biographer. Noah's engaging writing style, worldwide research, numerous interviews, and the examination of previously neglected private correspondence have enabled him to capture a more nuanced, human portrait of the filmmaker--acknowledging Ulmer's frustrations, insights, sometimes funny and occasionally poignant experiences and contradictions.

Our upcoming guest author is the Director of Screen Studies and Professor of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College-The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City has recently participated in an event at NYC's Lincoln Center celebrating Ulmer's work and attended by SSO member CineMaven (Theresa) and discussed in some detail here

Previous books published by our upcoming guest include Detour (British Film Institute, 2008) and he edited a collection of essays, Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era (Columbia, 2009). In addition to these accomplishments, our guest currently serves the book review editor of Film Quarterly magazine, and is writing a new book, Everybody Comes to Rick’s: How ‘Casablanca’ Taught the World to Love Movies, to be published by W.W. Norton in the US and by Faber & Faber in the UK. (Here’s hoping we can touch on this latter topic during his visit too). 

Please join us in learning more about this filmmaker next week for two days on 1/30 and 1/31. This visit promises to be an especially enlightening exchange. 

The following are resources related to our guest Noah Isenberg and the topic of Edgar Ulmer

The Silver Screen Oasis

Sources for Edgar Ulmer: A Filmmaker on the Margins

Noah Isenberg's website:

Follow Noah on Twitter: @NoahIsenberg

Online Press Links for Edgar Ulmer: Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins

A Playlist of Edgar Ulmer Films on Youtube

Edgar Ulmer films on The Internet Archive

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TCM Remembers

Due to the sad number of deaths this month, I've revised this post to include the updated TCM Remembers 2013 memorial interstitial, as well as those honoring Eleanor ParkerPeter O'Toole, and Joan Fontaine. If a video tribute to Audrey Totter is added, I will update that as well, though Ms. Totter, Tom Laughlin and Jean Kent have also been included in the new TCM Remembers below. Here's hoping that the rest of this month will be less eventful and more peaceful. I am so grateful to all the individuals who left us in the last year who have given us such a rich legacy with their work.

The Revised TCM Remembers 2013:
(Please note: The music is "In the Embers," by Sleeping At Last)

TCM Remembers Eleanor Parker:

Peter O'Toole, TCM Remembers:

Joan Fontaine, TCM Remembers:

Turner Classic Movies puts together one of their very best features each December in honor of those filmmakers in front of and behind the camera who have passed away in the previous twelve months. 2013 includes many visually eloquent moments in tribute to all those who have died, leaving a legacy for us on screen and off. As often occurs when those who pass on are familiar, and sometimes beloved, such as contemporary actors such as James Gandolfini as well as studio era artists such as Eleanor Parker have gone to their rest, it feels as though some endearing "friends of the family" have gone away.

Since many readers have asked me how they can see certain years, I thought it might be helpful to compile those that are currently available online via the TCM website, Youtube and other sources. I have tried to put these videos in one posting here on this blog for those who enjoy them. Below are the video tributes from 2000 and from 2003-2013 with the identification of what is, optimistically, the correct music and performer for the music used in each year, whenever available to me. I have not been able to find any other years for posting here.

Many of the beautifully done separate TCM Remembers spots broadcast just after the death of an individual film notable are available for viewing on youtube  here

Of interest to those connoisseurs of these gems:
Many, though not all, of the spots seen on TCM over the years have been created by Raygun, a media marketing firm whose work for Turner Classic Movies (and others) can be seen here. There are, of course, other ad firms which have contributed to the collection of exceptionally interesting, touching and entertaining interstitials seen on TCM over the years. Some examples of their work can be seen here. If TCM ever decides to market a DVD collection of these TCM Remembers memorials or any of their best spots, I think they might be pleasantly surprised to realize how many people would welcome such an idea. 

  Requiescat in Pace to all of those included and especially those who may have been overlooked.

TCM Remembers 2012:
(Please note: The music is "Wait" by M83)

TCM Remembers 2011:
The song that plays throughout this video is "Before You Go" by OK Sweetheart, with the lilting voice of Erin Austin evoking so much yearning and affection for those who have gone before us.  

Earlier TCM Remembers Tributes Below...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Christmas Album: Marian Marsh

Our second day of browsing through classic Hollywood holiday cheer reveals a not-so-casually posed Marian Marsh (1913-2006), an actress whose angelic face might have been a model for the celestial messenger found at the top of a Christmas tree. Here, however, the gamine film star seems to be dwelling on more worldly matters, perhaps suggesting that these toiletries she is displaying might be an ideal gift for m'lady--especially if one were lucky enough to have someone as lovely as Miss Marsh gazing at you so bewitchingly.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Christmas Album: Noel Coward

Let's kick off this entry in The Christmas Album in the company of one of the least domestic of creatures: "The Master," as Noel Coward (1899-1973) was known by those who loved, were bemused, or were in awe of him. Actor, playwright, composer, headliner extraordinaire, he was hardly a man who brings to mind an entertainment geared to the kiddies. Late in life, an interviewer pressed Noel Coward about his religious beliefs. At first he tried to put him off, but when he insisted on knowing his attitude toward God, the legendary wit commented, "We've never been intimate, but maybe we have a few things in common." Finally, growing slightly impatient with the journalist, the man blurted out, "I have no religion, but I believe in courage." Perhaps, in that same playful yet incisive spirit of noblesse oblige, "the master" discovered an opportunity to share a bit of his belief in courage with a non-paying audience sorely in need of it--with what originally was believed to have been a temporary circumstance in 1934.

We all think we know Noel Coward, a legendary figure in theater and films, as well as a latter-day gay icon whose discretion nimbly avoided hypocrisy.  He is easy to picture rubbing elbows with a Lord Montbatten, a Gladys Cooper, an Ivor Novello, or a Gertrude Lawrence while supping at the Café Royal in the heart of London or hosting a long weekend at his Goldenhurst Farm near the cliffs of Dover. In some years, he might be weekending with Viv and Larry at Notley Abbey, jetting off to Switzerland to his snowy chalet at Les Avants for drinks with Liz and Dick, or dashing down to his seaside home at Firefly, to paint with Winston Churchill or share a cocktail with the Queen Mother at his pied-à-terre in Jamaica. This social swirl was all in service to his desire to maintain a position in society and to exercise his fabled "talent to amuse."

Yet, for years this creative and dynamic individual would often forego such heady company to share something of himself with individuals who knew little of his protean gifts, but responded to something real in the often overlooked, nurturing side of his temperament.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Christmas Album Redux: The 2013 Version


The Christmas Album of holidays past is gearing up for a return this year. As you make your way rushing through the holiday crowds or simply basking in the quiet glow of the hope and goodwill that still shines gently through the tinsel, watch this blog for upcoming glimpses of the shadowy figures of cinema past in mid-revel.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Black Bird Arises Like a Phoenix...Once Again

So, they think that the bird flew the coop for a cool $4 million the other day at Bonhams Auction House, do they?

How times have changed. The legendary object of desire slips from the anointed hands of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, his mother Queen Joanna of Castile, and through the fingers of Kasper Gutman to those of an unnamed buyer. Ah, well, someone thinks a couple of mill is chicken feed, even though that bird has a bent tail feather,allegedly thanks to the secretary of Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) who  appeared to be most nimbly played by Lee "Butterfingers" Patrick. Well, that gal probably never got a raise, so you can hardly fault her for an occasional slip.

Even the intriguing The Maltese Falcon Society seems to have let the bird fly away in the last few years. Nice work by Turner Classic Movies as curators and a tip of the hat to all involved for sending a portion of the money to The Film Foundation's fine work.

I wonder how Dashiell Hammett would feel about it all?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Charles Tranberg to Visit The Silver Screen Oasis on Sat., 11/23 & Sun., 11/24

"Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Cary Grant...even Bogart...all played themselves. I always played the character." - Fredric March
Fredric March was a leading figure on stage and screen for half a century, yet only recently has author Charles Tranberg  produced the kind of biography that this actor deserved. On Sat., Nov 23 & Sun. Nov. 24, The Silver Screen Oasis will have the pleasure of discussing his book, Fredric March: A Consummate Actor (BearManor) with the author.
Remarkably versatile, and able to play both drama and comedy with style and skill, March was a leading man whose career began on film at the end of the silent era with The Dummy in 1929 and ended with his appearance in The Iceman Cometh in 1973.  In between those appearances, March's best remembered films include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Death Takes a Holiday, Design For Living, Les Miserables, A Star is Born, Nothing Sacred, One Foot in Heaven, The Adventures of Mark Twain, The Best Years of Our Lives, Death of a Salesman and Inherit the Wind.  Along the way he was nominated five times for an Academy Award and won the coveted statuette twice. On stage, he earned two Tony Awards, for his work in The Skin of Our Teeth and for the role of his lifetime in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day’s Journey Into Night—winning two Tony Awards and earning another nomination for his role in Gideon.

Despite a working schedule that never seemed to ease, March also found time to be an active American citizen, eventually facing criticism from those who felt that his early work against Fascism was ill-advised and later he and his wife Florence Eldridge fought against unfounded accusations in Red Channels during the HUAC years. A remarkably full life, and an intriguing individual whose own personality seems to have eluded detection thanks to his many varied roles.

Charles Tranberg's six well-researched previous books spotlighted little-known corners of entertainment figures' lives in I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead, Not so Dumb:  The Life and Career of Marie Wilson, Fred MacMurray: A Biography, The Thin Man Films:  Murder over Cocktails, Robert Taylor: A Biography and Walt Disney & Recollections of the Disney Studios 1955-1980.  I had the pleasure of interviewing this author previously here about Fred MacMurray and here about Agnes Moorehead.

For those of us who feel we "know" Fredric March and especially those who have only recently discovered this actor, please accept this invitation to join us to discuss this gifted actor with the author at the SSO, found here.

After all, as Fredric March once said,
"Keep interested in others; keep interested in the wide and wonderful world. Then in a spiritual sense you will always be young."

Below are links to websites related to the life and career of Fredric March:

Fredric March: A Consummate Actor online

The Facebook Page for Fredric March: A Consummate Actor 

The Fredric March Film Society

Fredric March Blog Round-up

Fredric March Playlist on Youtube

Upcoming Fredric March Films on TCM

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ann Dvorak Biographer Christina Rice to Visit The Silver Screen Oasis on 11/17 & 11/18

Christina Rice, the author of the much anticipated forthcoming biography, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel (Univ. Press of KY), has kindly agreed to visit The Silver Screen Oasis on Sunday, Nov. 17th and Monday, Nov. 18th.

Dvorak's first major acting role seared through the screen in Scarface (1932), marking an overwhelmingly masculine genre with an unforgettable feminine power. An inexplicable discontent portrayed in Three on a Match (1932) gave her self-destructive character a deeper poignancy. When real life rebellion against the studio system was frustrated, the B films that came her way, such as Blind Alley (1939) and Girls of the Road (1940), came to life with her unexpectedly fresh portrayals of  intelligent women in distress.

The actress, recalled most often recalled for her early talkies, had an unusual beauty and talent that still seems modern and compelling when viewed today.  A captivated Christina Rice, who first began her research into the actress in the nineties, has written an account of this spirited woman's life that encompasses her silent era roots, the studio era, and the lasting impression that this woman continued to make on audiences only familiar with her from her later, smaller roles in such films as The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, A Life of Her Own and Our Very Own. The well-written book is handsomely illustrated with rare images of the subject throughout her life on and off screen.

"Rice’s articulate and compelling writing sets the story straight about an almost Hollywood icon’s story that needs to be, yet hasn’t yet been, told to the world. There is an immense responsibility that a biographical author has to their subject. Cinephiles like Rice, in particular, inherently know and respect it." - Tony Pinizzotto,

Please join us next Sunday, 11/17 and Monday, 11/18 at The Silver Screen Oasis. All are welcome and registered members can post their own questions about this fascinating actress.

Ann Dvorak Links:

Christina Rice's website - Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel @ The University Press of Kentucky

Online Resources for Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel

An Ann Dvorak Playlist on Youtube

Ann Dvorak movies on the TCM Schedule

Ann Dvorak clips in the TCM Media Room

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Margaret Talbot to Be Guest Author at The Silver Screen Oasis on 11/4 & 11/5

With considerable delight, The Silver Screen Oasis is pleased to announce that our next Guest Author will be Margaret Talbot on Monday, Nov. 4th and Tuesday, Nov. 5th. Her delightful and thoughtful book about her father Lyle Talbot and his times, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century (Riverhead Press), is just becoming available in paperback.

The complete discussion with our guest author can be seen here: 
 Welcome to Margaret Talbot, Our Guest on 11/4 and 11/5

In her own words, the youngest daughter of the actor Lyle Talbot explains that her father 'led a resolutely unexamined life,' but perhaps that was to his disadvantage, considering some of the vicissitudes he endured. Most of us think we know Lyle Talbot, having seen him at least once among the hundreds of movies and television shows from 1931 to 1987 in which he appeared as an actor. Rarely a week goes by without his presence in upcoming films on Turner Classic Films or Youtube.

Capturing the feel of each period that her father lived through, Margaret traces his rambling path from the lonely Midwest, to life on the road as a magician's assistant, traveling with a carnival as a barker, a brief stint as a hypnotist's assistant, eventual acting jobs, life in stock companies and eventually the movies, Broadway, radio and television. At the height of his popular success in the 1930s, he was a promising Warner Bros. contract player who often played an appealingly jaunty fellow--even if his characters were sometimes rather unreliable screen partners. In these years he appeared with the likes of Carole Lombard, Shirley Temple, Humphrey Bogart, Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Dvorak, and Kay Francis. His film credits in that decade include precodes such as Three On a Match, No More Orchids, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, Mary Stevens, MD, Mandalay, Heat Lightning, and many more. As his career went on, his position in the Hollywood firmament shifted, and his personal life sometimes took a chaotic turn, but Talbot's appearances in leading roles in B movies have also endured, including notoriously bad (but enjoyable) movies he made with filmmaker Ed Wood and others.

What makes this biography so different from most is the gifted Margaret Talbot's skill in evoking each of the periods that helped to shape her father and his films. She brings to life the raucous, insecure and rather romantic atmosphere of early Hollywood, as well as the impact of these and other transient institutions on the lives of the players and audiences. At the center of the book, however, is the dapper, "something-will-always-come-along" spirit of her father that informs every page so beautifully, as well as the realization that Margaret's mother, the actor's fourth wife, and the family that they created may have been his greatest bit of luck and finest achievement. Writing about her father, she describes him as a man who was "not especially good with money, respectful of fleeting joys, tenderly susceptible to beauty."

While The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century is her first book, Margaret Talbot has contributed her writing talents for analysis and insight to The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Salon, and The New Republic, among others. Please join us at the SSO next Monday and Tuesday to share in exploring the honesty, humor and romance that Margaret evokes through this story of her father's life and times.

Below are links related to Margaret Talbot's writing:

Reviews of The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century

An Interview with Margaret Talbot on NPR's "Fresh Air"

Margaret Talbot Articles in The New Yorker

The Talbot Family Players

Lyle Talbot Upcoming Movies on TCM

Lyle Talbot on Youtube

The Silver Screen Oasis Guest Authors

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Too Much Johnson: Becoming Orson Welles

I went to my first movie premiere! Thank you, Steve Taravella....and Orson Welles!

A young Joseph Cotten hangs from a fire escape in Too Much Johnson

A missing piece of the puzzle in Orson Welles’ career could be found at The George Eastman House in Rochester, NY last Wednesday evening. Hundreds of fortunate film lovers witnessed a bit of cinematic history at the North American premiere of the recently restored work print that comprises Too Much Johnson in The Dryden Theatre there on October 16th. Never completed by the wondrously ambitious, over-scheduled, and often under-financed young Welles, the real beginnings of the prodigy’s love affair with movies can be glimpsed in these three chaotic, often funny and engaging silent scenes, alive with the raw curiosity of Welles with a new toy and the high spirits of his talented company of players. Too Much Johnson doesn’t have the astonishing verve, bite or visual polish of Citizen Kane or the depth of The Magnificent Ambersons, but the existence of this film confirms the remarkable creativity pouring from Welles during his early career.

Welles had made a surreal, striking eight minute film, The Hearts of Age (1934) while still in his teens, experimenting with makeup, technical effects and symbolism, but his eye and enchantment with the medium’s real possibilities jumps off the screen when viewing the disparate images in Too Much Johnson, even today. Long believed lost, the last copy of this unfinished film was thought to have been consumed (“rosebud”-like) in a fire in 1970 at the Welles home in Madrid, Spain until it was found five years ago in Italy. How these films wound up moldering away, neglected and unknown in a warehouse in Italy is still a mystery.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mary Mallory To Be the Guest of The Silver Screen Oasis 10/26 & 10/27

Mary Mallory will be the Guest Author at The Silver Screen Oasis this upcoming weekend, Oct. 26th and 27th. Mary is a film historian, photograph archivist, and researcher, focusing on Los Angeles and early film history.

UPDATE: The Q & A for Mary Mallory is now open HERE

 She writes theatre reviews for "The Tolucan Times" and blogs for the "LA Daily Mirror." Mallory serves on Hollywood Heritage, Inc.'s Board of Directors, and acts as a docent for the Hollywood Heritage Museum. As a member of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, she produced the event, "Mack Sennett and the Birth of Studio City," and helped produce the 75th Anniversary Celebration of Republic Pictures.

Through her work with Hollywood Heritage, she works to preserve not only the history but the buildings and signage connected with Tinseltown such as Grauman’s Chinese theater, the Cinerama Dome and the El Capitan.

She has an in-knowledge of Los Angeles history with an emphasis on the early history of Hollywood as well as the famous DeMille/Lasky Barn from DeMille’s production of The Squaw Man, the first film to be shot in Hollywood and Hollywood Heritage’s long struggle to preserve the barn that is now a museum and headquarters for Hollywood Heritage.

Her books on early Hollywood history include:


Hollywoodland was one of the first hillside developments built in Hollywood. Touting its class and sophistication, the neighborhood promoted a European influence, featuring such unique elements as stone retaining walls and stairways, along with elegant Spanish, Mediterranean, French Normandy, and English Tudor-styled homes thoughtfully placed onto the hillsides. The community contains one of the world's most recognizable landmarks, the Hollywood sign, originally constructed as a giant billboard for the development and reading "Hollywoodland." The book illustrates the development of the upper section of Beachwood Canyon known as Hollywoodland with historical photographs from Hollywood Heritage's S. H. Woodruff Collection as well as from other archives, institutions, and individuals.

Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found (E-book edition)

On Mt. Lee, in Hollywood’s storied hills, sits one of the world's most recognizable landmarks, the Hollywood sign, originally constructed as a giant billboard for a housing development. The sign originally read “Hollywoodland” and--minus the last four letters--is an indelible image representing Hollywood and the film industry to the world. This book is a collection of historical essays on Hollywood’s Tales Lost and Found, documenting the forgotten personalities, events, art, architecture, music, and films of the early twentieth century.

Los Angeles Daily Mirror:

Mary is regular contributor to this site dedicated to the stories and history of Los Angeles and Hollywood. Please join us for the Q and A with Mary this weekend at the link below:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Kendra Bean, the Author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait To Visit The Silver Screen Oasis 10/18 & 10/21

The Silver Screen Oasis will be welcoming Kendra Bean, the author of the forthcoming book, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait (Running Press) on Friday, Oct. 18th and Monday, Oct. 21st for a discussion of this new biography of the actress whose talent blazed on film for thirty years.

The Kendra Bean Q & A can be seen HERE

A willful Southern Belle. A Lovelorn Middle-Aged woman seeking escape. A kittenish Queen of Ancient Egypt. A Russian Adulteress losing hope.  A Coquette in a Bicycle Shop. A Faded Beauty with a sordid past. A Courtesan making her own luck during the Napoleonic era. A Street Performer with a gamine charm. A Fashion Designer playing a dangerous game of espionage. An Elizabethan Lady with a fervent heart.

These are a few of the memorable female archetypes brought to unique life by Vivien Leigh on screen. The toll of attempting these artistic portrayals on the actress? A devotion to perfectionism on screen and stage as well as off, enormous, sometimes invasive acclaim, disdain from some of the elite, a turbulent life with her beloved partners, an altered psychological well-being, a need to guard her equilibrium, and, one hopes, some professional satisfaction, despite everything. It was a crowded fifty-six years on earth for this remarkable woman.

While Vivien Leigh is best remembered for the unparalleled worldwide success of Gone With the Wind (1939), her life beyond the lights of fame was equally dramatic. As a film historian and writer with an affinity for her subject, Kendra Bean has created a detailed picture of this complex woman's life, struggles, and triumphs. Significantly, she is the first Leigh biographer who has had access to the private records and transcripts found in the Laurence Olivier Archives.

Many of us familiar with, the website that the author has developed since 2007,  have long been intrigued by the care with which she has gathered detailed material about the intertwined lives of "the golden couple" who rose to prominence between the wars. Their romance, later marriage, collaboration and eventual separation became public knowledge as they built a life of glamour, hard work, and sometimes deep sorrow together. Many of us might simply compile facts, images and anecdotes chronicling the ephemera of fame, yet Ms. Bean has carefully placed these private and professional lives in the context of the period's artistic spirit and historical events, as well as attempting to understand their personal feelings.

With the publication of this book in October, Kendra Bean's research and immersion in the life and times of this particularly touching and original actress has yielded an account of Vivien Leigh that is close to "holding a moonbeam in your hand" for the reader. Enhanced by numerous, rarely seen pictures of the intelligent, beautiful and fragile actress (including several by the noted, highly imaginative photographer Angus McBean), this promises to be a particularly welcome addition to bookshelves--and it is a pleasure to welcome Kendra as another of our distinguished guests at the SSO.

Please consider joining us at The Silver Screen Oasis for this Q & A with the author about this figure. You would be most welcome. Below are links to various sites where more about this book, its subject, and the author can be reviewed:

Kendra's personal website: 

Twitter feed:

The TCM Book Corner for October, 2013:

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

Kendra Bean's Website devoted to Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier:

An Interview with Kendra Bean on the Movie Morlocks for TCM: 

A Talk with Kendra Bean, Author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Greg Ferrara

More online news about this book:

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait Online

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Legendary Stunt Woman Martha Crawford Cantarini To Be a Guest at the Silver Screen Oasis 10/5 & 10/6

This month, The Silver Screen Oasis is pleased to announce the visit of guest author Martha Crawford Cantarini to discuss her wonderful book, Fall Girl: My Life as a Western Stunt Double (McFarland 2010) with us on Sat., Oct. 5th and Sun. Oct. 6th.

The discussion with Martha Crawford Cantarini can be found HERE.

The memoir was written by the veteran horse trainer and stunt rider with co-author Chrystopher J. Spicer and was described by several reviewers as:

"Moving...this book has much to offer fans of the Golden Age...valuable...soulful magic...I'm thankful for this book in which she and her co-writer tell her story so beautifully" --Classic Images
          "Fascinating...captivating...not to be missed" -Western Clippings

"I knew when I was asked to do The Big Country that I needed a good stunt double. Well, I got her. I got the best...Martha Crawford." --Jean Simmons, Academy Award-nominated actress. 
Martha (whose screen name on the SSO is rerun), has been honored with a Golden Boot Award for her contributions behind the scenes in Hollywood Westerns and has been inducted into the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame. Yet that is only part of this remarkable woman’s story.

Above: Martha awarding actor Jack Holt an equestrian award in Hollywood, (c. 1936)

This film veteran quite literally grew up in Hollywood, riding horses with Spencer Tracy's children, rubbing elbows with Hollywood stars, and learning about what was real and what was tinsel in the movie capital....

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Postscript to Come Fill the Cup (1951)

Above: The cover of the original novel. 
Since writing about Come Fill the Cup (1951) on this blog last week, the "Abend status" of this film has been confirmed for me by Turner Classic Movies Senior Researcher Alexa Foreman, who verified that the network has never aired this film in their two decades of existence due to its legal standing.

In a delightful turn of events, I have also been in contact with Ciji Ware, the daughter of Harlan Ware (1902-1967), the author of the story behind the film. Ms. Ware, a noted journalist, novelist, speaker, and producer, has shared generous details about this film's journey over the years and its present state in legal limbo.
Ms. Ware has given me permission to quote from her account of circumstances surrounding the transition of Come Fill the Cup from the page to the screen. As clarified by the author's daughter, "her recollection [comes out of her memories] as a youngster...overhearing conversations between Jim Cagney and his brother [William] and my dad."

As explained by Ciji, "Warner Brothers cannot air the movie without paying my father's literary estate royalties, which they never seemed to want to do. About 15 years ago we [the Ware family] learned that the movie had been shown on TV 'bundled' with a few other Warner films and sold...we threatened suit and were paid what was owed, but I believe the film is not shown on TV." I confirmed for Ms. Ware, as others may also, that many of us who remember this memorable film from our childhood recall it being shown on broadcast television more than once in the '60s and '70s, which may be when this movie was still controlled by Warner Brothers.

Ciji explained that the story, which is out-of-print, was initially shepherded through Warner Brothers by the Cagney brother's production arm, run by Jim's brother, William Cagney. Working with his brother, William Cagney Productions was the independent corporate affiliation that had backed the filming of such James Cagney vehicles as Blood on the Sun (1945), The Time of Your Life (1948), and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) prior to Come Fill the Cup.
Above: Former actor and Associate Producer William Cagney and James Cagney signing the incorporation papers creating their own production company in 1942.
Since the studio and the star were engaged in several disputes over the years, not surprisingly, the eventual production of Come Fill the Cup was part of the "negotiations [that] had taken place to lure [Cagney] back into the Warner Bros. fold" after the actor had allowed his previous contract to lapse. Harlan Ware's daughter pointed out that, as a result of this settlement with Cagney, "the studio had the last word and yes, declined to have a black actor play the part as written in the book. [The character of Charley Dolan was ultimately portrayed by James Gleason]. My father was not happy about this. He and Jim remained good friends throughout his life, so I imagine Cagney wasn't very happy about the change either, but by then, Warners won out."

"Jim and my father became friends as a result of their association in this film--a friendship that lasted until my father died in the late 1960s, and the families remain friends to this day..." Ciji went on to recall that her family's friendship with the actor extended to the whole family. "Jim's brother Bill headed up Cagney [Productions] and was the financial whiz in the Cagney clan.  Brothers Harry and Ed were both physicians; Sister Jeannie and I picked each other as Godmother and God-daughter and were close until she died of lung cancer. At one point Jeanne and Bill asked me to write a joint memoir with them THE CAGNEY CLAN," a project which went dormant after the siblings became ill and passed away. It would be wonderful if Ms. Ware could eventually craft this into the long-planned chronicle, working with the Cagney descendants.

Ciji explained that the exploration of alcoholism and sobriety in the movie was drawn in part from her father's own life. Her father had been "a member of AA before I was born and I think that Come Fill the Cup was filled with his own experience and was [also] inspired by the life that Jim Richardson led as a hard-boiled city editor who 'knew where all the bodies were buried in City Hall.'" Ms. Ware confirmed that her father and Richardson were longtime friends with newspaper backgrounds and experience in vaulting some of life's more personal hurdles. "Jim Richardson," she wrote me, "was among my father's best friends, along with Jim Cagney and another actor, Ralph Bellamy. In fact, you may have noticed that the book [which I found in the library in researching this work] is dedicated to JR as "The Last of the Terrible Men." The Richardsons and the Wares lived a few blocks apart from each other in the late '30s, '40s, until 1954 when we moved to Carmel, CA. I grew up with these wonderful gents telling wonderful stories and howling with laughter."
Above: Author Harlan Ware (left) and his friend editor Jim Richardson (right). [Used with permission of Ciji Ware]
Perusing the IMDb entry for Harlan Ware, his work as a screenwriter was confirmed, but as my research and his daughter verified, his work included plays as well as "some 45 short stories published...[in] The Saturday Evening Post, ColliersCollege Humor magazines." For fourteen years, Ware had also written the radio show classic "One Man's Family," the longest-running serial drama in American radio history. Ciji explained that the writing gene extended to her father's "two brothers, Darrell Ware (nominated once for an Oscar [for his co-authorship with Karl Tunberg of the original screenplay for Tall, Dark and Handsome in 1941] and Leon, [who is also credited with some screen work]." Growing up in this literary household, Ciji recalled her father's "wonderful work ethic" demonstrating that "[w]riting consists of writing" as he "pounded his typewriter all day, nearly every day...alternating between his own work and writing scripts for 'One Man's Family,'" sometimes taking his daughter "to the studio on occasion." Eventually, the budding writer in the household received "the best kind of legacy from a parent: faith in my ability as a creative person," when he finally told her when she was in the 7th grade, 'Ciji, my girl, you can WRITE!"

Ms. Ware's work, including seven novels and nonfiction books, have earned her a Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence, and includes a novel, "A Cottage By the Sea," incorporating elements of her family's story. Copies of her work can be readily purchased on the internet, including here.

As Ciji Ware carries the literary banner of her family forward, perhaps the knot of issues surrounding the film of Come Fill the Cup will eventually be unraveled and more people will be able to discover what is of lasting value in this movie.  As TCM has proven so successfully in the past by their efforts to unlock similarly disputed properties such as The Constant Nymph (1943), it is sometimes possible for long-archived work to be circulated again. Considering the level of talent involved in this movie, (which even won an Oscar nomination for Gig Young's anguished supporting performance) and the continued pertinence of the themes of the story, perhaps there may be a time in the near future when it will once again be readily accessible to the public, enriching the viewers as well as the creators of this resonant story once again.

The original post about this movie is found here.


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