Saturday, November 8, 2014

Who Doesn't LOVE Classic Movie Character Actors!


Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my brand new book, The Name Below The Title: 20 Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of these fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority.  Below I've posted the chapter on the first famous face, and WHAT a face; Margaret Hamilton.  Enjoy and if you'd like to check out the rest of the book and the other 19 wonderful character actors, check out the book on Amazon.

Margaret Hamilton


“I was in a need of money at the time, I had done about six pictures for MGM at the time and my agent called.  I said, 'Yes?' and he said 'Maggie, they want you to play a part on the Wizard.'  I said to myself, 'Oh Boy, The Wizard of Oz! That has been my favorite book since I was four.'  And I asked him what part, and he said 'The Witch' and I said 'The Witch?!' and he said 'What else?'”  That is how actress Margaret Hamilton described being cast in the classic fantasy The Wizard of Oz (1939).  The hatchet faced actress made the role iconic and created a character that would be ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, just behind Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates and Darth Vader, making her the highest ranking female baddie.  But as memorable as she was in Oz, she added bristling, disapproving presence to dozens of films and television appearances from the 1930s through the 1980s.

The youngest of four children, Hamilton was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and had an early interest in acting and working in local theater.  Upon her parent’s wishes, she attended Wheelock College, or as it was founded in 1888, Miss Wheelock's Kindergarten Training School, where she served as president of the senior class as well as playing Jo in a school stage production of Little Women.  Upon graduation, Margaret did indeed become a kindergarten teacher.  Her true passion, however, remained in the theater and in April 1932, at the age of 29, she made her debut on Broadway in Another Language, then on to Hollywood for the movie version at Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  She reprised yet another of her stage roles for the screen inThe Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), which also marked the movie debut of Henry Fonda.  After steady film work in a string of supporting parts, with an exceptional turn in Samuel Goldwyn’sThese Three (1936), she was cast in the role of her lifetime.  She was, however, not the first choice for the sinister and infamous Wicked Witch of the West.

Oz producer Mervyn LeRoy envisioned a slinky, glamorous witch of the West, cavorting around the haunted castle in green eye shadow and black sequins.  His conception was influenced by the wicked queen in Disney’s outrageously popular Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered in late 1937.  LeRoy wanted attractive actress Gale Sondergaard, whom he had directed in the 1936 hit, Anthony Adverse (for which Sondergaard won the very first Best Supporting Actress Academy Award), but when it was decided that the witch would be ugly and scarier than originally anticipated, Sondergaard was out and thirty-six year-old Hamilton was hired at $1,000 a week.  Seeking steady employment over the potential ups and downs of show business, Maggie Hamilton, as she was called by those who knew her best, followed a common sense approach for her personal career philosophy.  “At 1,200 or $1,500 a week, I knew I wouldn’t work much,” she stated.  “And I had my young son and I wanted to work all I could [Hamilton Meserve was born in 1936 and Margaret had just been divorced from his father before being hired for Oz].  So I never let them pay me more.  And I never went under contract.”

An incident on the Oz set in December 1938 put her out of commission for weeks and made her wary about scenes regarding fire.  During the filming of a scene in which Hamilton’s character exits Munchkinland in a burst of flame and smoke, the actress received burns on her face and hand when the fire used for the special effect rose prematurely from the trap door from which she was to disappear.  Making matters worse, the green makeup used on her skin contained potentially toxic copper-oxide and had to be removed before her burns could be treated, which was an extremely painful process.  When she returned to the set after a hospital stay, she claimed, "I won't sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again.  I will return to work on one condition - no more fire work!”

Although best-known as the scariest gal in Oz, outside that realm the actress played characters more in line with her Wicked Witch alter ego, Miss Almira Gulch; sour-faced spinsters and gossipy snoops who lived in the neighborhood.  She was at her crabby, disapproving best in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), My Little Chickadee (1940) and The Beautiful Blonde of Bashful Bend (1949) among others.  Ironically, as abrasive as her screen image was, she always carried an interest in nurturing children, even serving on the Beverly Hills Board of Education in the late forties.

Having graced the stage in New York and the large screen in Hollywood, the industrious Hamilton also found work on the radio with a regular role in the Ethel and Albert series, playing Aunt Eva.  Among her many television appearances, she garnered a steady gig on the 1960s soap opera, The Secret Storm.  In the 70s, she became the popular spokesperson for Maxwell House coffee, starring in numerous television commercials as Cora, the wise New England storekeeper who recommended the name-brand brew.  Hamilton died of a heart attack in 1985.


Hamilton is just one of 20 of these great unsung stars of the silver (and small) screen.
I hope you'll read about the rest at the link below.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Scarlett" Fever: 75 Years and Going Strong



With the 75th anniversary of the mega-classic movie, Gone with the Wind, I have just released my newest eBook to celebrate.  The Search for Scarlett O'Hara:  Gone with the Wind and Hollywood's Most Famous Casting Call recounts producer David O. Selznick attempt to find the perfect Scarlett O'Hara and the actresses who were considered for the much coveted part.  The Amazon link for the book is below!

The Search for Scarlett O'Hara

It also gives a candid glimpse into Hollywood of the late 1930s and the stars of the movie colony during this golden age.  Enhanced with photos of some of the people who contributed to the overall experience, it is was fun to write and I hope (and believe) fun to read.  At $2.99, it is an excellent value and can be read even if you don't have a Kindle!!

With the FREE Kindle reading app, you can read it on your Smartphone, iPhone, iPad, Tablet and Personal Computer.  Here is the link for the FREE app!
FREE Kindle App

If you are a fan of GWTW or just love classic movies of the period, I hope you will check it out!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Want To Win a Classic Movie DVD Set???


Hi Classic Movie Folk! It's Rupert here, with an offer for you relating to my latest eBook on pre-Code classics, Sin and Vice in Black & White. I am holding a drawing to win a FREE DVD set of the "Forbidden Hollywood" Collection, Volume One!!

This set features Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Red Headed Woman, starring Jean Harlow and the original version of Waterloo Bridge, starring Mae Clark. Two of the three are in my book and are EXCELLENT films from the pre-Code era! If you are interested in entering the drawing, simply e-mail your thoughts on the pre-Code movies of the 1930's: Your favorite pre-Code movies or pre-Code stars, what you liked about them, a question about what they are, anything pre-Code. Send the e-mail to:

 classicmoviesdigest@gmail.com

 and I will randomly draw a winner on Sunday, April 13. I am excited about sharing these really cool movies and I hope you will take advantage of the contest!
   

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pre-Code Movies: Hollywood High Jinks!

Well, my first two eBooks on classic movies were so well received that I wanted to write on a subject that is near and dear to my classic movie heart: Pre-Code Hollywood. Just as film noir gained popularity (and notoriety) in the 1940s and 1950s, the early 1930s saw the period in Hollywood history known as the pre-Code era. Films weren't subject to the same kind of moral scrutiny that would be given later in the decade after the establishment of the Production Code Association and the strict enforcement of the already existing Hollywood Production Code. Stars like Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and others thrived during this period and risque and racy subject matter appeared often.

 Movies displayed a much more realistic and gritty tone in pre-Code films. Pushing the envelope meant higher ticket sales in Depression era America. It also meant an interesting take by Hollywood on the sometimes unpleasant, sometimes naughty world that it tried to reflect. Sin and Vice in Black & White: 15 Classic Pre-Code Movies explains what a pre-Code movie is and essays a sampling of the kind of movies that were produced and exhibited during this brief but powerful time in American cinema.

 The movies I chose to review and discuss were across the board. Warren William in the unique The Mind Reader, Busby Berkeley's fun and folly with Footlight Parade and Crawford, Harlow and Francis in almost anything! If you like classic movies and pre-Codes specifically, check out Sin and Vice in Black in White. It's a super deal at only $2.99 and it is FREE to borrow for members of Amazon Prime. Also, even if you don't own a Kindle, you can download a FREE Kindle app and read the book on your Smartphone, iPhone, iPad, tablet or personal computer! You can get the FREE app HERE!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

That Certain Woman (1937): Bette is “Fonda” Henry


That Certain Woman
 is a quintessential 1930’s Warner Brothers soap opera. It is a definitive example of what was called in the day, a “woman’s picture.” Finally, it is a “Bette Davis” movie in the early stage of her career. Bette was just on the cusp of real stardom when this movie was made in 1937. She already had a couple of real dramatic winners under her belt with Of Human Bondage (1934) and The Petrified Forest (1936) and an actual winner with Dangerous (1935), for which she gained her first Academy Award. With this film and Marked Woman, made the same year, Davis was rapidly rising the ranks in Hollywood.

 Mary Donnell is the widow of a notorious gangster who was killed in the famed St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. She married her hoodlum at a very young age and when the picture begins, has avoided the press for years in an attempt to have a normal life. She finds some solace as the secretary of a very successful attorney, Lloyd Rogers (the always dependable Ian Hunter). The married Rogers has it bad for the dependable, soft-spoken Mary but she falls for the wealthy, young Jack Merrick (Henry Fonda).



When she and Jack marry, his snotty, upper-crust father (also always dependable Donald Crisp) follows them on their honeymoon and demands the marriage be annulled. While the two men thrash it out, Mary leaves, hoping Jack will follow. He does not, and when she has his son, she keeps the secret of who its father is, as not to hold Jack by that connection. Jack marries a pretty socialite named Flip (lovely Anita Louise) but a car accident leaves her wheel-chair bound. When it is discovered that little Jack is his father’s namesake, wealthy control-freak, Grandpa Merrick tries to take the child from Mary. It’s a big mess with lawyer Lloyd playing a big part as well.

That Certain Woman
has the flavor of Stella Dallas, Madame X and other “mother love” soapers of the era. Some might call it schmaltzy or melodramatic and it is, but in the best possible way. Don’t get me wrong. Key points in the story don’t make realistic sense or aren’t explained as to why they are there. For instance, the character of Amy (played by Mary Philips) is conveniently interjected into the story, I assume, as a sounding board for Davis’ thoughts and as nanny/babysitter for little Jack while Bette is out wringing her hands and sacrificing all she has in the most noble way. When times are lean, in the earlier part of the movie, how does she support herself? How does Bette’s Mary support them both? It is like Imitation of Life without the racial theme. Still, Amy’s presence is pleasant and almost essential for Mary’s mental and emotional well-being.

 Another point: WHY Mary and Flip would want Fonda’s Jack Merrick. Spineless he was against his father, against his loving crippled wife. Oh, he attempted a crack at a spine but half-heartedly and when the slightest wind of aggression came up, POOF!, gone spine. Yet, both these women, whom he had emotionally wronged, want his happiness at all cost. Thirties Hollywood tearjerker… go figure.

That Certain Woman
has all the elements to make it a great rainy day picture, real couch-potato and hot coffee material. Music by Max Steiner, direction by Edmund Goulding (who would also direct Davis in other Warners weepies, including The Old Maid), dress design by Orry-Kelly and a supporting cast of WB regulars. Though both Davis and Fonda weren’t quite at that superstar stage yet, it would only be a matter of months, when both re-teamed for the ante-bellum Southern sashay called Jezebel.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

MORE Classic Movie Gems for the New Year!



I want to thank all who read my debut eBook, CLASSIC MOVIES:  14 Films You May Not Have Seen, But Should and this month its follow-up, CLASSIC MOVIE GEMS:  16 MORE Films You May Not Have Seen, But Should was published!  It is my take on even more of my favorite movie gems from Hollywood's golden age.

It is available on Amazon's Kindle but can be easily accessed even if you don't own the eReader.  Just download the FREE Kindle app to your Smartphone, iPhone, iPad, tablet or personal computer!  Here is the link for the free app:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

If you haven't had a chance to read the book, it is less than the price of a Happy Meal or a coffee shop latte ($2.99) and if you are a member of Amazon Prime you can borrow it for free!  From pre-code classics like the odd but enjoyable THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932) starring Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy (pictured above) to the colorful charm of CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946), many genres are covered.

CHECK IT OUT!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Have You Read CLASSIC MOVIES? If so, THANKS!!!


Just an update on my debut book on classic movies, CLASSIC MOVIES: 14 Films You May Not Have Seen, But Should, which features some hidden gems that classic movie lovers may or may not have seen.  As of this writing, it has consistently been in the top 3 (often in the #1 slot) in its sales category and had a very positive reception among classic movie fans.

It is available on Amazon's Kindle but can be accessed even if you don't own the eReader.  Just download the free Kindle app to your smartphone (both Android or iPhone), iPad, tablet or personal computer.  Here is the link for the free app download: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

If you haven't had the chance to check it out it is less than the price of a Happy Meal or a coffee shop latte ($2.99) and if you are a member of Amazon Prime you can borrow it for FREE!  From Pre-Codes like The Story of Temple Drake (1933) with Miriam Hopkins (pictured above) to the colorful charm of Margie (1946), many genres are covered and enjoyed.

CHECK IT OUT!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dangerous Crossing (1953): Jeanne Crain Goes Crazy.... Or Does She?


Folks who follow this blog and its corresponding page on Facebook know what a fan I am of 1940's/50's cutie Jeanne Crain.  She never made it into the really big time but she had quite a run at 20th Century-Fox while it lasted.  Well, in 1953 that run ended and one of her last vehicles at the studio which had been her cinematic home for a decade, was Dangerous Crossing, a low(er) budget mystery-suspenser that did little to furthur her career or the careers of anyone associated with it.  However, it was the very first Jeanne Crain film I ever saw as a youngster and, though not very plausible at times, it really is a fun and suspenseful potboiler.

Based on a 1943 radio play called "B-13" by noted mystery writer John Dixon Carr, Dangerous Crossing follows the they're-crazy-as-a-bat, they-claim-their-relative-vanished-but-they-were-never-there-in-the-first-place plotline.  This style of mystery had been filmed several times before and would be afterward.  Besides Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, one notable version of the theme was So Long at the Fair (1950), a British historical mystery with Jean Simmons.  Dangerous Crossing was actually remade as a TV movie in the 90's called Treacherous Crossing with Lindsay Wagner.

Ruth Bowman (maiden name Stanton) is a wealthy and beautiful yet emotionally unstable (or so it would appear) young bride (or so she says).  Okay, okay, I know I'm being vague here so I'll just get to it.  Ruth is on a passenger ship bound for England on her honeymoon.  We see her.  We see her groom, John.  The thing is, no one else sees them together on the ship and he up and disappears, making beautiful, confused Ruth seem off her rocker.  It's no wonder, as she is listed on the passenger list as Ruth Stanton and there is no Bowman listed.  To make matters worse when her past is looked into, she seems to have had some emotional issues regarding her father's death.

She interacts with various passengers and crew members as the puzzle just gets more and more tangled.  Among those trying to help her, either solve her mystery or just keep her sedated, is the handsome ship's doctor, Paul Manning (Michael Rennie; you knew he wouldn't be a troll, didn't you?).  As frustrated as she is with her situation, she can't help but be attracted to the tall doctor who is genuinely trying to help her.  So where's her husband?  Or did he even really exist?

As stated above, I love Jeanne Crain.  Her beauty and elegance are top notch in my book and she brought some fine performances to the table when challenged.  This, however, wasn't one of the most challenging ones.  She races around the ship with wide eyes expecting to see Frankenstein's monster at every turn.  When she's happy she's ecstatic and when she's stressed (which is often here) she takes the wide-eyed approach.  She's still lovely though and the movie is still fun.

Besides Crain and Rennie, the cast is scattered with various character actors of the day.  Longtime supporting actress Mary Anderson is on board (couldn't help the pun) as a stewardess who seems to know more than she should.  Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter), a Fox regular, oogles, respectfully of course, Crain as the ships Second Officer, and as the long lost hubby is Carl Betz, betz...uh, er best known as Dr. Alex Stone on the 1950's television comedy "The Donna Reed Show."  Also notable is a friendly and attractive passenger who befriends Ruth, Kay Prentiss, played by Marjorie Hoshelle, who just happened to be Mrs. Jeff Chandler in real life.

When she decided to leave 20th Century-Fox after ten years there, Crain said:  "Fox was wonderful to me but I wasn't happy for the last few years.  I wasn't permitted to go to other studios on loan-outs, and lost the leads in Quo Vadis and Carrie.  Other girls were signed for the roles I wantedat my own studio.  I asked for singing and dancing roles, but the answer was always 'no.'  Now, after ten years, maybe I'll get my big chance."  She didn't.  Nonetheless, she DID get to try a few different characterizations, as with Man Without a Star as a redheaded tough, yet glamorous, ranch owner, out to tame Kirk Douglas and The Joker is Wild (1957) with Frank Sinatra.  When she and Betty Grable, who left Fox shortly after, ended their tenure at the studio, their portraits in the Fox commissary were replaced by images of Terry Moore and Jean Peters.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Debut Classic Movie Book!


Friends and Blog Followers, I'd like to announce the debut of my very first book! Of course it's about classic movies and as a matter of fact, called, Classic Movies: 14 Films You May Not Have Seen, But Should. Just as the title says, I discuss some often overlooked gems, movies that I've enjoyed and wanted to share with others who MAY not have heard of or had the opportunity to see. It's on Kindle or Kindle app for android or iPhone. If you like classic movies, check it out!
 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Character Actors: Three of the Best!


I've written a couple of posts on this blog about classic movie character actors or supporting players.  Whatever you choose to call them, they help form the foundation of a solid classic film.  Where would Rebecca be without Florence Bates, Nigel Bruce or the terrific Gladys Cooper?  How about Lost Horizon without Isabel Jewel or Thomas Mitchell?  These actors and actresses add a certain nuance with their characterizations that give zing where there might not be any and act as a foil for the main stars of a movie.  Here are a few excellent examples of these tried and true who made their mark on the silver screen.

Eve Arden
 "Personally, Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young." That quote from 1945's Mildred Pierce is a great example of the kind of lines tossed off so easily and deliciously by Eve Arden (pictured above), who spoke it and others just as biting in Pierce and several dozen more classic movies.  Glamorous and chic, Arden was eternally the best friend of the star or the personal assistant to the main character instead of the lead herself.

Making her film debut in 1929, she took to the stage and then back to movies in the late 30's, breaking through with a supporting role in RKO's Stage Door.  From then on the size of her parts increased and her persona as a seasoned career woman, spouting sardonic wit and rarely getting the man blossomed.


Besides Mildred Pierce (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actress category), she appeared in Cover Girl (1944), The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) and Tea for Two (1950).  She found her largest audience on television in the 1950's comedy Our Miss Brooks.




Franklin Pangborn
Flustered, fussy, sometimes prissy, always funny are just some of the descriptives of the characters played by the undeniably entertaining Franklin Pangborn.  This native of New Jersey most memorably played sales clerks, department store floor walkers or efficient headwaiters and always added character to any scene he was in.


Like Thelma Ritter, Pangborn got his start on the stage in the first quarter of the 20th Century entering films in the mid 1920's. Coming into his own in the late 30's and thoughout the 40's, his film resume reads like a veritable "Best of" list from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Among the dozens of films in which he appeared some of the best are My Man Godfrey (1936), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Sullivan's Travels (1941) and Now, Voyager (1942).






Thelma Ritter
Wise-cracking, working class, world weary characters were Thelma Ritter's specialty.  Whenever she was on the screen there was never a dull moment and, though she was lucky to be provided with some of the brightest dialogue written in Hollywood, it was her razor sharp delivery that lingers in the memory.

Ritter made her film debut at the age of 45 in a small but very memorable role as the Christmas shopping weary mother in Miracle on 34th Street (1947).  In A Letter to Three Wives (1949), she was again unbilled as tart tongued maid Sadie Duggan, but left her mark so impressively that she was cast as Birdie in All About Eve (1950).  For Eve she received her first of six Academy Award nominations, four consecutively.  Along with Eve, she was nominated for The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), all in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Developing her acting roots on the stage, Ritter was also on Broadway, winning a Tony Award in 1958 as Best Actress (Musical) for New Girl in Town.


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