Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Welcome to Sherwood! More Than Just Men in Tights

When Warner Brothers started to make plans for a version of the legendary story of Robin Hood they planned to feature their main headliner, James Cagney as the man in green.  Yep, it's true.  They even marketed the upcoming movie with Cagney's name in a leading trade paper at the time.

However, it didn't work out and Flynn was in! And boy, aren't we, the classic movie viewer glad.  He was... IS Robin Hood. Olivia de Havilland IS Lady Marian Fitzwalter, though she too wasn't the only actress considered for the part.

All the backstory of this tantalizing tale is in the new book, Errol, Olivia & The Merry Men of Sherwood: The Making of The Adventures of Robin Hood, on sale now at Amazon! A fantastic price for some fantastic information about one of Hollywood's most-loved films.
Check it out at the link below!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Jane Eyre (1944) Textbook Gothic Romance

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries there have been many, many, many versions of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel, Jane Eyre, both on the big and small screens and produced on both sides of the Atlantic.  Arguably the best-known (and in this blogger's opinion the best) is the 1944 installment from 20th Century-Fox, which starred Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  One of the first things to note when watching Hollywood's retelling of the beloved book is that while acting out the story, the film also attempts to rewrite it... literally!  "Text" from the book, shown on screen and emphasized with highlights, have nothing in common with the actual words of Bronte's novel.  Still, artistic license abounds in Tinsel Town, as it always has.

The basic premise is, of course, the same in Fox's version as it is in Charlotte's.  Published in 1847, Jane Eyre tells the story of the title character, a ten-year-old orphan in Yorkshire, England, who lives with and is mistreated by her aunt, Mrs. Reed.  To escape the oppression of her relatives home, Jane goes to Lowood Institution, a dark and dank asylum for orphaned girls.  She finds harsh treatment at Lowood and spends a decade there before coming of age and leaving to take a position as governess at Thronfield Hall.  She meets the brooding master of Thornfield, Edward Rochester, and discovers romance, intrigue and heinous mystery within the estate's walls.

Unbeknownst to many who enjoy this film, the initial idea for this version was taken on by none other than David O. Selznick.  The movie impresario who produced Gone with the Wind and Rebecca, set about organizing the production, only to sell the package (along with two other projects, Claudia and The Keys to the Kingdom) to Fox.  Part of the package deal was Selznick contract actress, Joan Fontaine.

Ironically, when discussing the film in her autobiography, No Bed of Roses, Fontaine's focus is on the pomposity and arrogance of her co-star, Orson Welles.  Her entire reminiscence of the picture revolves around Welles and his bad behavior during production.  Wrote the actress:  "Orson Welles was a huge man in 1943.  Everything about him was oversized, including his ego.  Unlike Charles Boyer or Fred Astaire, Orson's concern was entirely for Orson:  Jane Eyre was simply a medium to show off his talents."  That point aside, Welles used the $100,000 he made from the movie to support his other personal film projects, specifically It's All True, a documentary-style film which remains unfinished to this day. (Completed footage from the film, as well as documentary about its production was compiled for a DVD in 2004).

Another interesting bit of potential casting was Selznick's idea to hire Suzanne Farrington, daughter of Vivien Leigh and her first husband, Leigh Holman, as young Jane.  The idea was nixed by Holman, however, who didn't want his daughter to follow in her mother's professional footsteps.  Peggy Ann Garner played the part (with young Elizabeth Taylor taking on the role of her fragile friend, Helen, in an unbilled part).  The picture is filled with other, well-seasoned supporting players, including, Agnes Moorehead as Aunt Reed, Sara Allgood as the kind-hearted Bessie, and Margaret O'Brien as Rochester's precocious ward, Adele (did O'Brien ever play anything but precocious?).

Good movie.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Key Largo (1948): The Hurricane Cometh

At the height of hurricane season, my cinematic thoughts drifted to movies from the golden age in which a hurricane played a major role.  Key Largo was the immediate film that came to mind.  Bogart was a major star by the time the picture hit the screens, and Bacall was no shrinking violet in the realm of celebrity herself.  It was the last of their screen pairings, all of which formed their iconic '40s on-screen bond.

Also in the mix is the legendary Edward G. Robinson, playing a character he had perfected almost 20 years earlier: a gangster (ie: a hood, thug, underworld male-diva). Oh, and there's a Barrymore on hand, Lionel.  It's always good to have a Barrymore on hand if you can get one. Rounding out the star power of this film noir classic is Claire Trevor, giving a no-holds-barred performance as Robinson's boozy, anxiety-ridden moll.

Director John Huston, who excelled at this type of taut, dark, dangerous Warner Brothers picture, knew how to get what he wanted from Trevor's performance.  In one of the film's memorable scenes, Claire is forced to sing by sadistic Robinson. Huston informed Trevor that they were to film her song that very day.  Not a trained singer, and not having rehearsed the song yet, she felt very ill-at-ease and intimidated by the A-list actors seated directly in front of her. The result was a hesitant, nervous, uncomfortable rendition, exactly what Huston was hoping for.  It also resulted in Trevor garnering a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

If you're in the path of a hurricane, stay safe.  If you are just having rainy day blues, catch this impressive, totally watchable classic.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Yet ANOTHER Classic Movie Paperback!

Variety is the spice of life (so they say), and with a great response for the paperback edition of GIRL NEXT DOOR, my biography of Jeanne Crain, I've now released THE NAME BELOW THE TITLE in a paperback format as well.  This edition includes all THREE volumes of the eBooks in ONE!

Check it out by clicking HERE!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

NOW in Paperback!

It's been more than 10 months since GIRL NEXT DOOR:  The Life and Career of Jeanne Crain was published in digital format for Kindle.  Since then I have received truly hundreds of requests for a "real" version.  Well, you asked for it, so here it is!  The book (which has been very well-received I'm happy to report) has just been published in a trade paperback format!  You can check it out on Amazon across the globe at any of the links below:

United States: https://amzn.to/2OIzB8u
United Kingdom: https://amzn.to/2KqyEyf
Canada: https://amzn.to/2nf6QE0
Germany: https://amzn.to/2KugwU1
Mexico: https://amzn.to/2Kus1ei
Italy: https://amzn.to/2LS5C02

I hope you get a chance to read it and also that you thoroughly enjoy it!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Birthday Remembrance....

...for beautiful Jeanne Crain, here on her wedding day in 1945, with new hubby Paul Brinkman.  Born on May 25, 1925, the actress would have been 93 had she lived.

My biography of the star, GIRL NEXT DOOR:  The Life and Career of Jeanne Crain, has had a wonderful reception and includes a treasure trove of intimate and fascinating photos from the Crain / Brinkman family archives.

If you like Jeanne, or just Hollywood during the 1940s and '50s, check it out at one of the Amazon links below.

United States

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Clint Walker - Death of a TV (and Movie) Cowboy

He was best known as the tall, barrel-chested cowboy, Cheyenne Bodie on the ABC TV western, Cheyenne in the '50s and early '60s, but his earliest work on screen was in feature films.  This past Monday, May 21, Clint Walker died, just nine days shy of his ninety-first birthday.

Born in Illinois, Walker joined the US Merchant Marine at the age of 17, in the final days of World War II.  One of his earliest acting jobs was for Cecil B. DeMille in the gargantuan Bible epic, The Ten Commandments, but before the movie premiered, Clint had landed what would be his signature role, Cheyenne.  For eight years, Walker's good looks and impressive 6' 6" frame made him a favorite with television audiences.

He appeared in other big screen releases including None But the Brave with Frank Sinatra, The Dirty Dozen, with a multitude of macho heavyweights like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Jim Brown, and a leading role in The Night of the Grizzly.

Walker is survived by his third wife, Susan Cavallari and a daughter.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Last Weekend at the Debut Price!

For all fans of classic 20th Century-Fox star, Jeanne Crain, my new biography of her, Girl Next Door:  The Life and Career of Jeanne Crain, will be available on Amazon at the special debut price through this weekend.  Classic movie fans know Jeanne as America's sweetheart during the late '40s and 1950s.  The book includes many intimate family photos, made available through the Jeanne Crain Brinkman Family Trust.  Read the first two chapters for FREE here.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fox's Favorite Girl Next Door: Jeanne Crain

After a year of painstaking research, and interesting and informative contact with three of her children, my biography of classic Fox beauty, Jeanne Crain, has been released on Amazon. GIRL NEXT DOOR: The Life and Career of Jeanne Crain includes a treasure trove of intimate and fascinating photos from the Crain/Brinkman family archives, including original proofs of unique poses (and example below) from the William Mortensen collection, when Crain was a young model.  For a LIMITED time, the price of the book is available for a special debut price!

Crain before she signed with Fox, by William Mortensen, 1942

In 1949, Jeanne Crain was the number one box-office draw in Hollywood.  Her controversial film, Pinky, was a top money-maker and it garnered Crain an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.  The beautiful star had a blossoming career, loving husband and, eventually, seven children.

But along with the accomplishments and money were disappointments; her lack of career growth at her studio, 20th Century-Fox, a contentious relationship between her mother and her husband, and marital betrayal.  Through the glorious times, as well as the darker ones, Jeanne Crain moved forward with beauty, grace and dignity.  During the 1940s and '50s, she was everyone's favorite, Girl Next Door.  Click on the link below and you can read the first two chapters for FREE on the "Look Inside" feature by clicking on the cover.  It's also available in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany and other international Amazon outlets.  I hope you will check it out!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Welcome to Sherwood!: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

When we see a really famous movie from the golden age, it is hard to see it through the prism of the time in which it was produced.  Stars earned iconic status when they became associated with a certain role.  William Powell did it as Nick Charles in the Thin Man series, Clark Gable will forever be known as the only Rhett Butler, and his Gone with the Wind costar Vivien Leigh is firmly established as Scarlett O’Hara.  In 1938, Warner Brothers released The Adventures of Robin Hood and its leading action star, Errol Flynn became the most famous incantation of that fabled legend.  In the classic age of Hollywood, no film was more colorful (both literally and figuratively) and fun than Warner Brothers’ The Adventures of Robin Hood, and though Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. could buckle the best swash during the silent era, Errol Flynn was the master of such films in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  The legendary nobleman, who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, has been portrayed by many actors for many decades but above them all, Flynn is the definitive Robin Hood (Although Daffy Duck gave a great animated rendition in the 1958 cartoon short, Robin Hood Daffy).

The Robin Hood legend has been oft-told, but never so colorfully full of pomp and pageantry.  Flynn plays Robin, Earl of Locksley, a Saxon noble in 12th century England, and protector of the poor Saxons from the villainous and utterly corrupt Norman nobles, who have taken power in the nation during the absence of the king, Richard the Lionhearted (Ian Hunter).  Worst of these is Richard's brother, the treacherous Prince John (Claude Rains), who plans to take over England’s throne with the help of the equally despicable Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), while King Richard is away fighting in the Crusades. The film is a great romantic adventure with the romance provided by Lady Marian Fitzwater, aka Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), Norman noblewoman and orphaned ward of King Richard.  At first disdainful to the pompous yet charismatic Robin, she falls in love with him when he reveals his true intentions of helping his suffering countrymen and becomes his own personal “Norman conquest.”

In all, Flynn and de Havilland made nine films together with their romp in Sherwood Forest being their third and most famous.  But even as these iconic images are ingrained into the national psyche for this film, alas, like so many other infamous roles in Hollywood, they were not the original choices.  On July 19, 1935, period authority Dwight Franklin, who at the time was working as special visual consultant on Warner Brothers’ Captain Blood, sent a memo to the studio’s head Jack Warner suggesting that [James] Cagney “would make a swell Robin Hood.”  His memo found its way to Warner’s desk as Franklin’s idea for a follow-up to the studio’s big prestige picture of 1935, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which starred Cagney in Shakespearean costume as the whimsical Nick Bottom.  Along with the resident tough-guy gangster, Franklin suggested the same Warners’ roster of contract players who appeared in Dream would be cast as Robin’s Merry Men, including Guy Kibbee as Friar Tuck.  Jack Warner agreed and the following month English screenwriter Rowland Leigh was assigned the task of developing a film treatment of the Robin Hood legend.  However, when Cagney and Warner butted heads in a contract dispute, the project was postponed until a later date.

Newcomer Flynn proved himself a magnetic adventure lead in Captain Blood (1935) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and the Robin Hood project was put back into production.  Beautiful blond Anita Louise, also a veteran of A Midsummer Night's Dream (as Titania), was first considered for the role of Lady Marian but with so much riding on the picture financially (it was Warner Brothers’ most expensive and elaborate production to that date and the final cost was $2 million), the studio wanted to ensure a proven film team with Flynn and de Havilland.  Other parts were recast for one reason or another.  First choice for Friar Tuck, Guy Kibee was replaced by the gravel-voiced and corpulent Eugene Pallette and Robin's sidekick, Will Scarlett, though originally slated for David Niven, eventually went to handsome contract player, Patric Knowles.

Chosen by the movie’s director William Keighley to serve as Sherwood Forest, Bidwell Park in Chico, California, was a twenty-four hundred acre tract, lush with giant oak and sycamore trees.  Due to local fire codes, Bidwell was cleared of grass and brush so that artificial grass, as well as numerous ferns, flowers and various bushes could to be transplanted to create the magical English woodland.  For the production, tents were set up near the park’s entrance for makeup and hairdressing.

Filming began at Bidwell Park in September of 1937, and the first scene to be shot was the meeting of Robin and Little John, played by Warners’ veteran Alan Hale (the actor had the distinction of playing the same part in the earlier Fairbanks version and would play it again in the 1950s).  Shooting was well underway by the time Olivia de Havilland was able to start work on it.  The actress was finishing up a role in Gold is Where You Find It with George Brent, and after making wardrobe tests on the studio lot, de Havilland travelled north to Bidwell Park.  Although she was thrilled to be working with the handsome and virile Flynn for a third time, her attitude was somewhat soured by the presence of his wife, French-born actress Lili Damita, who was there, hawkishly watching her husband and de Havilland.  The days were long and began at 5 a.m. when Olivia would arrive at Bidwell from the local inn where she stayed during the film’s shooting.

Producer Hal Wallis was not happy with the slow pace that director Keighley was taking on the picture, as well as the lack of machismo that the scenes required for the lusty, action film he wanted to create.  When production reached a period of over two weeks behind schedule and more than a hundred thousand dollars over budget, Keighley was out.  Michael Curtiz, Warners’ top action director was brought in to replace Keighley, who had been popular with both Flynn and de Havilland.  With the new director’s tight command of the picture, the final product was superb, from the archery tournament to the final duel between Robin and Sir Guy, the one-two punch of excitement never lets up.

As the evil duo of Prince John and Sir Guy, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone cannot be beat, with Rains, sly and cunning and Rathbone vicious and sadistic in his attack of the hero, both verbally and physically.  An excellent swordsman off-screen, Rathbone is marvelous fencing against a very agile and able Flynn.  Equally magnificent is the film's opulent musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  The talented Korngold did not want to undertake the task, claiming he was “not a musical illustrator for a 90% action picture,” but was persuaded by the studio brass to take on the challenge and his brilliant score won an Academy Award.  Also winning Oscars for the film were Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing.

The movie, shot in the richest Technicolor, cemented Errol Flynn's status as an action superstar.  What he began with Captain Blood, three years earlier, he extended with Robin Hood.  Both Curtiz and William Keighley were given screen credit for their directing contributions.  More successful than the popular Fairbanks’ version, The Adventures of Robin Hood was Warner Brothers’ biggest moneymaker of the year and would continue to be one of its most remembered classics.

Higham, Charles.  Errol Flynn:  The Untold Story.  Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1980
Higham, Charles.  Sisters:  The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.  Dell Publishing Company, 1986


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