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:

 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.


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