Classic Movie Travels: George “Spanky McFarland”

Classic Movie Travels: George “Spanky McFarland”

George "Spanky" McFarland
George “Spanky” McFarland

George “Spanky” McFarland portrayed the iconic leader of the Our Gang cast of children, beloved for his role as Spanky. He was born George Philips McFarland at Methodist Hospital on October 2, 1928, in Dallas, Texas, to Robert and Virginia McFarland. His father worked as a manager for a loan company and, later, automobile broker. He had three siblings: Tommy, Amanda, and Roderick or “Rod.”

Initially, McFarland was dubbed “Sonny” by his parents and modeled children’s clothes in department stores throughout the Dallas area. He could also be spotted in print ads and highway billboards to promote Wonder Bread. By 1930, McFarland was comfortable and recognizable before the camera.

George "Spanky" McFarland as a baby
McFarland as a baby

In 1931, Hal Roach Studios printed a trade magazine ad calling for photograph submissions of “cute kids.” In response to the ad, McFarland’s aunt sent over various pictures from McFarland’s modeling days. As a result, he was invited to partake in a screen test, which opened the door to a career as an actor. In fact, parts of his initial screen test were worked into the Our Gang short “Spanky” (1932). In later interviews McFarland shared that the nickname was given to him by a reporter. Per his studio contract, McFarland was given permission to use the “Spanky” name in all subsequent business and personal activities.

McFarland became a core member of the Our Gang cast at age three. Though extremely young, he was adorable before cameras, laughing and babbling his way through his earliest scenes. His character grew more outspoken as the series continued, eventually making him the ringleader of the group. As a contract player at Hal Roach Studios, he mingled with many other studio stars, including the likes of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Laurel taught him how to perform double-takes and many of his mannerisms were further inspired by Hardy.

Though McFarland appeared in numerous shorts, his only starring film role was in General Spanky (1936), produced by Hal Roach. While the film attempted to transition the Our Gang series into feature films, it was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, McFarland appeared in many other films beyond Hal Roach Studios. His younger brother, Tommy, could also be spotted in some of the shorts.

George "Spanky" McFarland in Good Bad Boys (1940)
Spanky in Good Bad Boys (1940)

In 1938, McFarland retired from Our Gang and participated in several personal appearances. The Our Gang unit was sold by Roach to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, rehiring McFarland to reprise his role. McFarland returned to Our Gang and carried out his Spanky character until his last appearance in the series in 1942, at fourteen years old. McFarland then attended Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Texas.

As McFarland entered into adulthood, he served in the United States Air Force. Upon his return, he found himself struggling to get roles in films because he was so closely associated with the Spanky character. As a result, he took on other careers, including working at a soft drink factory, popsicle factory, and hamburger stand. By the 1950s, the Our Gang shorts were syndicated on television and McFarland began hosting a children’s show called The Spanky Show, airing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The show aired Little Rascals shorts—as the Our Gang shorts were now named in syndication—but the station deterred McFarland from expanding his show, leading him to quit in 1960.

McFarland continued to take on a variety of odd jobs, including selling wine, appliances, electronics, and furniture. He also operated a restaurant and night club at one point. He had success selling products for the Philco-Ford Corporation, ultimate working his way up to national sales training director.

McFarland married twice—first to Paula Jeanne Wilkinson and next to Doris Taulman McFarland. He and Doris had three children: George Gregory McFarland, Verne Emmett McFarland, and Betsy McFarland.

All the while, he was still making personal and cameo appearances in films and on television—affectionately nicknamed “Spank,” by then—with his former Our Gang peers. In 1985,  also went on to help launch The Nostalgia Channel, a Texas-based channel that screened classic films.

By the 1990s, McFarland was semi-retired. He participated in numerous fundraisers and golf tournaments, including the Annual Spanky McFarland Celebrity Golf Classic, which was held for 16 years in Marion, Indiana, throughout the 1970s and 1980s. McFarland’s final television appearance would be in a walk-on role for Cheers, as himself, in the “Woody Gets an Election” episode.

George McFarland in Cheers 1993
Spanky in a 1993 Episode of Cheers “Woody Gets an Election”

McFarland passed away from a heart attack on June 30, 1993. He was 64 years old. He was cremated soon after and plans were made to place a cenotaph in his honor at Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas. While these plans were approved, they have yet to be executed at the time of writing this article.

Today, few points of interest relating to McFarland remain. In 1928, McFarland and his family lived at 836 ½ N. Madison Ave., Dallas, Texas, which no longer stands. By 1930, his family boarded at 233 Jefferson Ave., Dallas, Texas, which has also been razed. In 1940, he and his family resided at 4626 Morse Ave., Sherman Oaks, California, which stands today.

4626 Morse Ave., Sherman Oaks, California
4626 Morse Ave., Sherman Oaks, California

McFarland also lived at 1711 Lakewood Blvd., Euless, Texas, which also stands.

1711 Lakewood Blvd., Euless, Texas
1711 Lakewood Blvd., Euless, Texas

Additionally, he lived at 8500 Buckner Ln., Ft. Worth, Texas. The home listing also noted that this was McFarland’s former estate. This home still stands, as well.

8500 Buckner Ln., Ft. Worth, Texas
8500 Buckner Ln., Ft. Worth, Texas

Today, McFarland and Jackie Cooper are the only Our Gang members with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. McFarland posthumously received his star in 1994, located at 7095 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.

Spanky McFarland on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Spanky McFarland on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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Noir Nook: Oscar Omission – Edward G. Robinson

Noir Nook: Oscar Omission – Edward G. Robinson

One of my favorite times of the year is awards season. For years now, as soon as the Academy Awards are announced, I set upon a quest to see as many Oscar-nominated films and performances as possible. And I’m pleased to say that in 2022, because of streaming, I was able for the first time to see every film in each of eight major categories!

But I digress. The point of this month’s Noir Nook is not to discuss movies or performers that received Oscar accolades in the past but, instead, to shine the spotlight on Edward G. Robinson, a noir vet who was never a recipient of that golden statuette.

It’s hard to fathom, but Robinson was never even nominated for an Academy Award – this, despite a career that spanned seven decades and gave us versatile performances in such films as Little Caesar (1931), The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), Sea Wolf (1941), and Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945). Today, I’m taking a look at three of his noir performances that, in my opinion, should have been applauded by the Academy.

Barton Keyes: Double Indemnity (1944)

Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity (1944)
Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity (1944)

This feature – my all-time favorite, incidentally – centers on the deadly duo of housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray). These two team up for a little hanky-panky and a little murder, and intend to collect a big insurance payday after they do away with Phyllis’s hapless husband.

Robinson played Walter’s boss, a claims adjuster who houses a “little man” inside his gut that renders him capable of detecting all manner of subterfuge and wrongdoing. As Barton Keyes, Robinson serves up a master class in acting and gives us a character who is shrewd and relentless, compassionate, funny, and admirable. By all accounts, Robinson was initially reluctant to take on this supporting role, but he turned it into one of noir’s most memorable performances. He’s a standout from his first scene, where he outsmarts a luckless truck driver trying to collect on a fraudulent claim, to his last, full of pathos as he tenderly lights the cigarette of his doomed co-worker and friend.

Christopher Cross: Scarlet Street (1945)

Edward G. Robinson in Scarlett Street (1945)
Robinson in Scarlett Street (1945)

Robinson stars here as an unassuming cashier whose life is turned upside down when he saves the alluring Kitty March (Joan Bennett) from what appears to be an attack in the street by a stranger. Turns out that the stranger is Kitty’s no-good boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea), who sees nothing but dollar signs when he and Kitty mistakenly believe that Chris is a wealthy artist. It’s an error that will ultimately lead to disaster for them all.

For my money, Chris Cross is one of Robinson’s most fascinating characters. He’s completely sympathetic, if a bit pitiable; he shows himself at the start to be an upstanding citizen, and when we meet his shrewish wife, we don’t blame him for stepping out with another woman. His primary joy in life (before meeting Kitty, that is), is putting his rather unusual point of view on canvas. And, unfortunately, once he falls for Kitty, he makes decisions that he otherwise would never have considered. Bad ones. And Robinson plays all of these facets to believable perfection.

Gino Monetti: House of Strangers (1950)

Edward G. Robinson and Luther Adler in House of Strangers (1950)
Edward G. Robinson and Luther Adler in House of Strangers (1950)

In this feature, Robinson is the strong-willed patriarch of an Italian family and the proprietor of a bank that he operates in the same way that he runs his family – with his own rules and an iron fist. Gino’s questionable banking practices land him in hot water with the law, but after years of being browbeaten by their father, three of his sons refuse to help. Only his favorite son, Max (Richard Conte), is willing to step up, but when Max bribes a jury member, he winds up serving a seven-year prison stretch – and, fueled by his father’s bitterness, emerges vowing vengeance against his siblings.

Robinson plays Gino as the despot you love to hate. We’re introduced to him as he’s taking a bubble bath, loudly belting an Italian song. When his eldest son, Joe (Luther Adler), enters, Gino commands him to scrub his back, barking out directions (“Higher! Harder! A little lower!”) before flicking suds in Joe’s face. We see further evidence of Gino’s treatment of his sons during one of the family’s weekly dinner gatherings. At Gino’s insistence, the meal is delayed in favor of the tardy Max, and when the youngest son, Pietro (Paul Valentine), eats a piece of bread, Gino orders him to spit it out, repeatedly referring to him as “Dumbhead.” Outside of the home, Gino’s king-like persona is demonstrated at the bank where each morning he hosts a throng of community residents, all seeking money from him, which he doles out in cash from a strongbox after listening to their various stories – a man who signs a note for $150 for a new horse is only given $120 (“Interest,” Gino explains. “I take it out in advance.”), while a woman who wants $62 train fare to send her sick child to Denver is given a fistful of money. When the woman tells him he has given her too much, Gino shrugs. “So I make a mistake.” In scene after scene, Robinson skillfully brings to life a character who embodies tyranny, ambition, and compassion, and – at the very end, an all-consuming resentment toward the three sons who turned against him.

I can’t think of another performer from Hollywood’s Golden Age who exhibited such talent and versatility yet was never recognized by the Academy. For my money, Edward G. Robinson should have, at the very least, been nominated for these three performances, if not received an Oscar for all three. What do you think? And can you think of any other noir performances that deserved Oscar recognition? Leave a comment and let me know!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: Harvey (1950)

Silver Screen Standards: Harvey (1950)

Adapted from a hit play that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the 1950 film Harvey celebrates gentle, odd characters whose eccentricities make life more interesting for everyone around them. If you’ve spent much time around such folks, or perhaps are one yourself, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in this classic comedy about an amiable middle-aged bachelor and his invisible pooka pal.

Harvey (1950) Charles Drake, James Stewart, Peggy Dow
Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake) and Nurse Kelly (Peggy Dow) think that Elwood has been committed by mistake before they find out about Harvey.

The movie was a particular favorite of its star, James Stewart, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Elwood P. Dowd, and it’s certainly an example of Stewart at his sweetest, a huge shift from his darker roles in films from Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock. Henry Koster directs this genial comedy, which supports Stewart with particularly memorable performances from Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, and Jesse White, but it’s the delightfully dotty Josephine Hull who steals the picture as Elwood’s scatterbrained older sister.

Stewart leads as the alcoholic but affable Elwood, whose inherited financial comfort allows him to spend his days drinking in bars with his invisible rabbit companion, the titular Harvey. Elwood’s widowed sister, Veta (Josephine Hull), and her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), live with Elwood but are frustrated by the effect he and Harvey have on their social life. Veta conspires with a family friend, Judge Gaffney (William H. Lynn), to have Elwood declared insane and committed to a local sanitarium, but the process goes awry when the doctors mistakenly think that Veta is their new patient.

Harvey (1950) Cecil Kellaway, James Stewart
Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway) begins to see things from Elwood’s point of view after a few drinks and a visit from Harvey.

Real mental illness is a serious subject, of course, but the characters in Harvey are not seriously ill. They’re kooky eccentrics of the type often seen in stage plays, screwball comedies, and sit coms. They’re also commonly found in real life, where they are referred to as “characters,” as if to suggest that they belong more to fictional space than humdrum reality. Elwood is certainly a “character” in that sense, but so are Veta, Myrtle Mae, the sanitarium attendant Martin (Jesse White), Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway), and even his wife (Nana Bryant). The sanest people in the story are the young doctor (Charles Drake) and his lovelorn nurse (Peggy Dow), and they’re also the most boring, although it’s fun to watch Nurse Kelly fume at the clueless Dr. Sanderson.

Sane as they are, even these two fall for Elwood’s benevolence and gentle charm. Only a truly brutal person could wish normalcy on Mr. Dowd, as the taxi driver (Wallace Ford) makes clear in one of the picture’s most important scenes. “After this,” he warns Veta, “he’ll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!” If being normal means being miserable, then sanity isn’t worth it, although the movie’s last few scenes prove that Elwood is less crazy than everybody thinks.

Harvey (1950) James Stewart Portrait
Although we never see Harvey in the actual movie, we do see a striking portrait of the giant rabbit with his dear friend, Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart).

Stewart’s performance is thoroughly enjoyable, especially his scenes interacting with the unseen Harvey, for whom he carries a coat, pulls out chairs, holds doors, and dodges traffic. Every time Elwood meets a new person, he insists on introducing them to Harvey, which Stewart approaches with unflappable patience even as other characters talk over him or attempt to stop him. Given that the story is called Harvey, it’s crucial for us to accept that Elwood believes in the pooka even if we don’t, and Stewart sells us on the reality of the giant rabbit from the start. Stewart, however, claimed that Josephine Hull had the most difficult job in the cast because she had to believe and not believe in Harvey simultaneously. She manages the challenge brilliantly, but every scene with her is a hoot, whether she’s complaining about Harvey or trying to keep Myrtle Mae away from the amorous Martin. Having originated the role onstage, Hull knew her character intimately, and her performance won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, beating out Hope Emerson in Caged (1950), Nancy Olson in Sunset Boulevard (1950), and both Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for All About Eve (1950).

While it’s a shame that Josephine Hull didn’t appear in more movies, we have to be grateful that the few she did make include such hilarious classics as Harvey and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), another film in which Hull reprises her original stage role. As a fan of Cecil Kellaway in general, I’m sorry that he doesn’t get more screen time here, but his later scenes as Dr. Chumley, the head of the sanitarium, justify the casting choice.

Harvey (1950) William H. Lynn, Victoria Horne, Josephine Hull
Flanked by Judge Gaffney (William H. Lynn) and Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), Veta (Josephine Hull) recounts the horrors of her experience at the sanitarium.

If you enjoy Jimmy Stewart comedies, try Wife vs. Secretary (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and, of course, The Philadelphia Story (1940), for which Stewart won his only Best Actor Oscar. It’s hard to think of other movies exactly like Harvey, but a number of comedic fantasies feature some of the same cast. For more of Cecil Kellaway, see the enchanting romantic comedy, I Married a Witch (1942). Kellaway and Jesse White both appear in the talking mule sequel, Francis Goes to the Races (1951). You’ll also find White in Disney’s talking cat comedy, The Cat from Outer Space (1978); late in his career he did voice work for animation and thus actually became a talking animal himself. Look for Peggy Dow with a larger role in the very unusual animal fantasy You Never Can Tell (1951), which stars Dick Powell as a German Shepherd reincarnated as a private detective to solve his own murder. Although we never actually hear Harvey speak, I’ve shown Harvey as part of a series featuring talking animal comedies like Francis (1950) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). You could also pair it with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) if rabbits hold particular appeal.

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

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Classic Movie Travels: Tommy Bond

Classic Movie Travels: Tommy Bond

Tommy Bond Young
Thomas “Tommy” Ross Bond

Thomas Ross Bond was born on September 16, 1926, in Dallas, Texas, to Ashley Ross Bond and Margaret Bond. His father worked as a commercial artist, focusing on ceramic art work. Young “Tommy” got his start as a child actor by the age of four, when a Hal Roach Studios talent scout encountered him as he was leaving a local cinema in Dallas with his mother. In 1931, after a long trek in the car with his grandmother to Hollywood, California, and with no guarantee of a role, he was hired at the Hal Roach Studios to appear in the Our Gang series.

Initially, Bond appeared as “Tommy,” a supporting character with minimal lines. He eventually gained more screen time over a period of three years until he left the series to attend public school.

Bond still continued to fulfill minor roles in other films, including Kid Millions (1934). He also found work as a voice actor, notably voicing the speaking parts for the jazzy “Owl Jolson” character in Tex Avery’s Merrie Melodies cartoon, I Love to Singa, in 1936. Hal Roach saw Bond portraying bratty characters in films and had a new idea for a character: “Butch,” the bully. In the same year, Bond returned to Our Gang, this time as Butch. He first appeared as Butch in Glove Taps (1937), bullying the neighborhood children and—to Alfalfa’s (Carl Switzer) dismay—vying for the affections of Darla (played by Darla Hood). Bond also worked alongside other Hal Roach Studios stars, including Charley Chase, Stan Laurel, and Oliver Hardy. In 1937, Bond was also among the charter members of the Screen Actors Guild.

Tommy Bond as Butch in an Our Gang short, Party Fever (1938)
Tommy Bond as Butch in an Our Gang short, Party Fever (1938)

Bond continued with Our Gang on through its continuation at MGM studios in 1938. His last Our Gang appearance came in Building Troubles (1940) before Bond outgrew the role and transitioned out of series, appearing in other MGM films but often struggling to find roles as a young adult. In the end, Bond could be seen in 27 Our Gang shorts, appearing in 13 of them as Tommy and in the remaining 14 as Butch.

Despite his tough and troublesome on-screen image, Bond was by all accounts a kind and gentle person off-screen.  As the years went on, Bond served in the U.S. Navy, once again, returned to acting. He appeared in two Gas House Kids films alongside former Our Gang co-star Switzer. Though the two were on-screen enemies in Our Gang, they were actually good friends off-camera. Bond also appeared as young reporter Jimmy Olsen in Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950).

Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen and Noel Neill as Lois Lane in Superman (1948)
Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen and Noel Neill as Lois Lane in Superman (1948)

Bond went on to marry Pauline “Polly” Francis Goebel, otherwise known as Polly Ellis Bond and Miss California 1945. The two had one son, Tomas Robert Bond, II, and remained married until Bond’s passing.

In the early 1950s, Bond attended Los Angeles City College and earned a degree in theater arts from California State University, Los Angeles. Though he stopped acting professionally, he continued to work in the entertainment industry in television direction and production, including working as a production manager for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. He was employed at KTTV in Los Angeles, California, from the 1950s to the 1970s, and later at KFSN in Fresno, California, from the 1970s to 1991.

Bond was also dedicated to his Lutheran faith, actively involved in the Emmanuel Lutheran Church community in North Hollywood, California. He and many of his friends worked on the production and presentation of the community’s Christmas Pageant, presented on the grounds of the church’s school. This was no ordinary production—the pageant included several hundred participants, Hollywood sets and lighting, the construction of grandstands, and live animals. Horses were contributed from Spahn’s Movie Ranch, which previously supplied horses for Ben-Hur (1959). Bond was also instrumental in having the production filmed and aired on KTTV in 1965. The pageant was presented annually on the school’s grounds from 1960-1971, with a set costing more than $65,000. One videotape documenting the broadcast was found in the church storage room years later. All color copies were destroyed in a fire.

Tommy Bond Old
An older Bond

Bond retired from television in 1991 and frequently reflected upon his life and career, including his time in Our Gang. He published an autobiography in 1994, entitled Darn Right It’s Butch: Memories of Our Gang/The Little Rascals. He and Tommy R. Bond, II, worked together in their family production company, Biograph Company, as his son became a film and television producer. Bond also hosted a documentary called The Rascals, focusing on the Our Gang stars and serial. His final film role was as a neighbor in Bob’s Night Out (2004).

Bond passed away on September 24, 2005, from heart disease in Northridge, California. He was 79 years old. Bond was buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Today, various points of interest relating to Bond’s life remain. In 1926, he and his family lived at 4613 Gaston Ave., Dallas, Texas. The home stands today.

Tommy Bond 4613 Gaston Ave., Dallas, Texas
4613 Gaston Ave., Dallas, Texas

In 1930, the family was living on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, Texas. Census records are unclear as to the home address but, sequentially, his family was near 4452 Mockingbird Ln., Dallas, Texas.

Tommy Bond Residence 4452 Mockingbird Ln., Dallas, Texas
4452 Mockingbird Ln., Dallas, Texas

In 1940, Bond resided at 5230 Zelzah Ave., Encino, California. The original home no longer stands.

By 1950, Bond was living at 4742 Fulton Ave., Sherman Oaks, California. The original home no longer stands.

Bond’s alma mater, Los Angeles City College is located at 855 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, California.

Tommy Bond Los Angeles City College, 855 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles City College, 855 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, California

Likewise, California State University, Los Angeles, is located at 5151 State University Dr., Los Angeles, California.

Tommy Bond California State University, 5151 State University Dr., Los Angeles, California
California State University, 5151 State University Dr., Los Angeles, California

Emmanuel Lutheran Church stands at 6020 Radford Ave., North Hollywood, California.

Tommy Bond Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 6020 Radford Ave., North Hollywood, California
Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 6020 Radford Ave., North Hollywood, California

Riverside National Cemetery is located at 22495 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside, California.

Tommy Bond Riverside National Cemetery, 22495 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside, California
Riverside National Cemetery, 22495 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside, California

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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Monsters and Matinees: Celebrating Ricou Browning

Celebrating Ricou Browning

“The Gill-Man is coming!”

That was me, giddy as a teen, just three years ago when it was announced that Ricou Browning would be appearing in my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.

The idea of being in the room with Mr. Browning was unbelievable and was surely going to be a highlight of my life since I had loved classic horror films since I was a kid.

Ricou Browning in costume for Creature From the Black Lagoon.

He was the last of the Universal monsters, playing the underwater scenes as the title character in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and its two sequels. It was hard to fathom how it was going to be possible to meet one of the original Universal monsters and I couldn’t help thinking about what I would say to him if I had the chance.

But that announcement was in January of 2020. Two months later, the Covid-19 shutdown began, canceling everything nationwide including Mr. Browning’s visit and the convention he was to appear in.

This was the announcement for Ricou Browning’s planned 2020 appearance in Buffalo, N.Y. It was canceled two months later when the pandemic shut down live events.

While we waited for events to return, Mr. Browning’s family reached out to fans in September of 2021, asking us to send him a physical card or letter because of his declining health. And we did.

Now we’ve sadly learned that Mr. Browning died of natural causes on Feb. 27 in his Southwest Ranches, Fla. home at the age of 93.

“It is with deep sorrow I post the passing of a literal legend, Ricou Browning,” wrote family member Kristin LeFeuvre in a Facebook tribute.  “The Creature from the Black Lagoon was always a treat to be around. A man of little words, but a quick wit and a flashy smile.”

As we send our sympathy to his family and loved ones, we celebrate him not only as the Gill-Man but for his lengthy career as a director, writer, producer, stuntman and underwater coordinator and innovator.

Ricou Browning in a publicity shot for Creature from the Black Lagoon.

When Hollywood needed an expert for underwater footage and stunts, they called on him as a stunt diver/double for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), the Lloyd Bridges TV show Sea Hunt (30 episodes, 1958-61) and The Aquanauts (1960-61).

That’s him doubling for Jerry Lewis in Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959) and directing the underwater sequences in Hello Down There (1967), Island of the Lost (1967) and the Bond films Thunderball (1965) with bad guys, knives, harpoons and sharks, and Never Say Never Again (1983).

He was the co-creator and the driving force behind Flipper, the 1963 movie about a pet dolphin and the TV series that followed (1964-67), writing episodes, directing 37 of them, and overseeing all the underwater photography. He worked well on land, too, directing 14 episodes of the TV series Gentle Ben (1967-69).

And he had a humorous streak, as seen in the hilarious Jaws-inspired candy bar in the pool scene of Caddyshack (1980).

That’s a wonderful career by any measure. And it’s all owed to the Gill-Man.

Ricou Browning’s film legacy

“We liked the way you swim. How would you like to be the creature of the Black Lagoon?”

Those were the words of director Jack Arnold in a phone call that changed the life of 23-year-old Florida lifeguard Ricou Browning, as Mr. Browning recalled during an interview in the fantastic David J. Skal documentary Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle (more on that later).

Ricou Browning wore a monster suit, but was still a graceful swimmer
in Creature From the Black Lagoon.

He was working at Wakulla Springs, Fla. – one of the world’s largest freshwater springs and a tourist attraction to this day – when he was asked to help scout locations for Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Wakulla Springs looked like it had not been touched by time which was perfect for the film about a creature that could have been from another time. Filmmakers immediately liked what they saw and asked if the young Ricou would swim so they could film perspective shots showing the size of things like logs, fish and people.

Just a couple of weeks later, Jack Arnold made that call and his life would never be the same.

Ricou Browning in the first sequel, Revenge of the Creature.

Mr. Browning would also play the creature for the underwater scenes in the two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). For the topside (land) scenes, filmmakers wanted a more menacing creature so other actors were used; Tom Chapman in the original film, Tom Hennesy in the second and Don Megowan in the third.

Here’s the sad part though: none of the men received film credit for their work. Even when Mr. Browning repeatedly requested credit for Revenge of the Creature (1955), the studio turned him down. Instead, he was given publicity chances like photo ops to help him “get other jobs.” (There was a time when studios didn’t like to credit an actor for a creature-type of role so as not to take away the mystery.)

In addition to his underwater creature scenes, Ricou Browning, right, made a cameo as a lab assistant in Revenge of the Creature. He is pictured with Lori Nelson and John Agar.

Despite the studio’s best efforts, we know their names today.

People unfamiliar with Creature from the Black Lagoon may wonder what’s so special about a guy in a suit since movies are full of them. But Mr. Browning’s Gill-Man was special because it had character, personality and heart.

He was eloquent under the water despite the heavy suit and massive webbed hands and difficulty seeing because he couldn’t keep the water out of his eyes. He moved with long, graceful strides and effortlessly flipped and turned like he was dancing underwater.

And that brings us to one of the most iconic scenes in all of horror: The underwater ballet between the Gill-Man and the unknowing object of his affection Kay (played by Julia Adams, later known as Julie Adams). The pas de deux between the two was menacing, yet gorgeous. It could have been a scene from an Esther Williams film, if it didn’t involve a Universal monster.

In one of the most famous scenes in classic horror, the creature (Ricou Browning) mimics the motions of Kay who has no idea he is there in Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Who can forget the gracefulness of the scene as we watched the Gill-Man swimming within inches of Kay without her knowledge. Not me.

And not director Guillermo del Toro who saw Creature from the Black Lagoon when he was only 6. He is on the record saying that that he was charmed by the scene, as so many were, but was shocked when the creature and his human lady love didn’t get together. He vowed to fix that someday and he’s a man of word giving us his love letter to the creature in his Oscar winning film The Shape of Water (2007).

That film is how del Toro celebrated Mr. Browning. While, I could never make such a grand gesture, nor did I ever meet him, I finally realized what I wanted to say to Mr. Browning. I put it in a card for him that I can sum up in two words: Thank you.

Ricou Browning as Creature From the Black Lagoon.

To learn more

To learn more about Ricou Browning and Creature from the Black Lagoon and its sequels, I highly recommend the documentary Back to the Black Lagoon: A Creature Chronicle,” written, directed and produced by horror expert and author David J. Skal.

The documentary dives into all three films and we get to hear Ricou Browning discussing his work in them. You can find the documentary on multiple home video releases of the movie and rent it through various streaming platforms.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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Western RoundUp: Rancho Notorious (1952)

Western RoundUp: Rancho Notorious (1952)

Rancho Notorious (1952) Movie Poster
Rancho Notorious (1952) Movie Poster

Over the past few months I’ve written about catching up with a trio of Barbara Stanwyck‘s ’50s Westerns, most recently The Furies (1950), which I covered in my column in early January.

This month I’ve caught up with another new-to-me ’50s Western featuring a notable actress, Marlene Dietrich. The movie is Rancho Notorious (1952), which was just released on a beautiful Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

Rancho Notorious was an RKO film directed by Fritz Lang, filmed in Technicolor by Hal Mohr.

It features an interesting mix of actors in the cast including Arthur Kennedy and Mel Ferrer.

Rancho Notorious (1952) Arthur Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and Mel Ferrer
Arthur Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, and Mel Ferrer

As the film begins, cowboy Vern Haskell (Kennedy) is romancing his sweetheart Beth (Gloria Henry), who will be his bride is a little over a week.

Shortly after Vern leaves to return to his job Beth is cruelly assaulted and killed in a robbery of her father’s store. Vern makes it his mission to find the man who murdered his love. The only clue he has is the word “Chuck-a-Luck,” which was the dying utterance of the killer’s ill-fated partner (John Doucette).

The winding trail eventually leads Vern to the Chuck-a-Luck ranch owned by Altar Keane (Dietrich). The ranch serves as a hideout for robbers, including Altar’s longtime boyfriend Frenchy (Ferrer). Altar gets a 10% cut for providing sanctuary and not asking questions.

Rancho Notorious (1952) Mel Ferrer, Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Kennedy
Ferrer, Dietrich, and Kennedy

Vern believes Beth’s killer is at the ranch… but which man is it? One evening Altar wears a brooch which had been his gift to Beth, and Vern realizes she may hold the answer he’s looking for…

Like The FuriesRancho Notorious called to mind the later Johnny Guitar (1954), though I think in this case the comparison is even more apt. Like Vienna in the later movie, Dietrich’s Altar presides as queen over a bunch of rowdy men at a “palace” she owns in the middle of nowhere.

Instead of the “Johnny Guitar” theme song sung by Peggy Lee, in this film we have the “Legend of Chuck-a-Luck,” sung by a different Lee, Bill – no relation to Peggy. Bill Lee’s impressive screen dubbing credits included Matt Mattox in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), John Kerr in South Pacific (1958), Rod Taylor in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music (1965).

I was particularly amused to see Frank Ferguson as one of the crooks hiding at Altar’s ranch, dressed all in black and looking rather as he did in Johnny Guitar two years later.

Rancho Notorious (1952) Arthur Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and Mel Ferrer
Kennedy, Dietrich, and Ferrer

While Rancho Notorious lacks Johnny Guitar‘s notable location filming in Sedona – it seems to have been filmed on a backlot ranch, with perhaps some shooting at Iverson Ranch – it does share having some fake, almost surreal exteriors. It’s also interesting to note that despite the film’s vivid colors, this is quite a dark story.

The movie also features a curious throwback to Dietrich’s earlier Western, Destry Rides Again (1939), in which she played a character named Frenchy; the unusual name appears again here, but this time used by Ferrer’s character.

The same year Rancho Notorious was released Kennedy would play a morally ambiguous character in one of my all-time favorite Westerns, Bend of the River (1952), which I wrote about here in my very first column back in 2018. Here his Vern is equally troubled yet more admirable, and I really appreciated his character’s journey, from lighthearted romantic to bitter avenger to a spent man who completes his mission and, as the movie ends, must now face what to do with the rest of his life.

Some reviewers have complained Kennedy seems awkward romancing Dietrich late in the movie, but I think that was deliberate, and entirely the point – Vern didn’t love Altar as he did Beth, but was pursuing her to gain information. His discomfort as well as the falsity of his attraction comes through loud and clear. Kennedy is quite good throughout as the vengeful cowboy. As an aside, a couple times the thought crossed my mind that this was a part which also would have suited Van Heflin.

Dietrich’s Altar is a woman who’s essentially had an empty life, save perhaps her relationship with Frenchy, and she’s just facing up to that fact near movie’s end. One of the most vivid scenes is of a somewhat raunchy saloon “race,” told in flashback, but while the character is ostensibly having a great time, the sequence struck me as very sad, illustrating Altar’s lack of self-respect or restraint.

Ferrer’s Frenchy is something of an anti-hero: He’s clearly a bad guy, yet he is devoted to Altar and, compared to some of the creeps who hang out at Chuck-a-Luck, he seems almost noble. The relationship which develops between Frenchy and Vern is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie — one good, one bad, seemingly in competition for Altar, but ultimately they have each other’s back.  And by movie’s end, Vern has gone to such a dark place that perhaps there’s no longer a great deal of difference between the two men.

Gloria Henry is onscreen only briefly, early in the film, yet her shadow hangs over the rest of the film, rather as Coleen Gray does as John Wayne‘s lost love in Red River (1948). Henry was in a number of “B” Westerns during her film career, including a couple with Gene Autry. She was best known for starring in TV’s Dennis the Menace (1959-63). Henry passed away fairly recently, in April 2021.

Rancho Notorious (1952) Arthur Kennedy and Gloria Henry
Arthur Kennedy and Gloria Henry

Rancho Notorious has a huge cast, with a remarkable assemblage of great character “faces” playing roles of various sizes, including George Reeves, Jack Elam, William Frawley, Harry Woods, Lane Chandler, Fuzzy Knight, I. Stanford Jolley, Dan Seymour, Russell Johnson, Kermit Maynard, Pierce Lyden, Harry Lauter, Dick Elliott, Lloyd Gough, and Emory Parnell.  It’s great fun for a Western fan to mentally name each actor in turn as he appears on screen.

All in all, I found Rancho Notorious a very worthwhile 89 minutes. I’d go so far as to say it’s essential ’50s Western viewing, which should be seen alongside Anthony Mann‘s The Furies and Nicholas Ray‘s Johnny Guitar for an appreciation of notable women’s Western roles in what might be called the “stylized Western melodrama” subgenre.

Rancho Notorious (1952) Blu-ray DVD
Rancho Notorious (1952) on Blu-ray DVD

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a lovely print which online sources say is a new 4K master from the original nitrate Technicolor negative. The soundtrack is strong and clear. The disc contains optional English subtitles, but there are no extras.  

I recommend both the film and this Blu-ray release.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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Exclusive Excerpt from “The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”

Exclusive Excerpt from The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”

A Big Thank You to author Tom Santopietro for hand-picking this excerpt for us to share with you from his latest book “The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”.

the way we were the making of a romantic classic book by tom santopiertro

What Laurents’s screenplay smartly does is to take its time in showing exactly how Hubbell begins to fall for Katie. Audiences know that with these two big stars front and center a love story will inevitably ensue, but they don’t know how and when it’s going to occur. Hubbell does not immediately tumble to Katie’s inner beauty, but instead, he is  first intrigued by her at the moment of her greatest humiliation: the rally for peace at which she wins over the crowd until pranksters wave signs behind her that collectively read “Any peace by Katie’s piece.” Katie’s angry knee jerk response is to brand the students fascists, but as the crowd laughs, Hubbell does not join in. Pollack, in fact, felt that Hubbell was “disturbed when she is humiliated.” Hubbell is responding to her intensity and passion, and he silently appraises her – interested but non-committal. Said Barbra: “I liked that scene. I felt like I used to feel a lot, an outcast, people laughing at me. It felt natural.”

It’s a beautifully acted scene which  plants the seeds for Hubbell’s growing interest in Katie.  At the same time, the two characters seem to live at an overwhelming distance from each other, she with the masses, he with the detached elite who stand aside and observe. Indeed, the way Pollack shoots the peace rally further enhances their dissimilarities on a subliminal level: Katie is the speaker, dominant in the frame, while Hubbell, as spectator, stands lower in the frame, distanced from the speaker’s stage. Opposites in every way, Katie and Hubbell have still not held a direct conversation, a situation changed by the film’s cut to the restaurant where Katie works as a waitress. As Hubbell and gang enter, Katie, in a nice bit of sharp Laurents dialogue that keeps any sentimentality at bay, mutters to ever faithful boyfriend Frankie (James Woods) “Look who’s here – America the beautiful.”

Intrigued by Katie, Hubbell tries without success to make her laugh while he orders hamburgers and cokes:  


Hubbell: “In the Coke.”

For his troubles Hubbell receives nothing but a sour look from Katie. They continue to verbally spar: 

Hubbell: “We weren’t making fun of you”-  

Katie: “You make fun of everyone.”

The rhythm between Streisand and Redford, their different styles and pace of speech as actors, all work to heighten the characters’ differences, even while establishing the glimmer of attraction. Streisand thrusts, Redford effortlessly parries, both actors slipping into the rat-a-tat-tat rhythm of the dialogue with ease. Said Pollack: “You couldn’t do much improvisation here- the scenes were carefully written- one beat led to another. It was all headed in a very certain direction.”  James Woods watched both stars carefully, saying of Redford:He’s such a great film actor. Bob slid into that character very well, and make no mistake, he may not have wanted to rehearse as much as Barbra, but he worked very hard on his approach.”   

Audiences have sensed that underneath her surface disdain, Katie has remained fascinated with Hubbell, and when the film cuts to a nighttime scene in the library, she openly and repeatedly glances at him, even as loyal Frankie McVeigh sits right next to her. (The first part of the scripted scene was cut, a loss because of its delineation of character: when Hubbell temporarily left his seat, Katie slid over to steal a look at his notebook, one filled with drawings and the nicely prescient words: “And in the end, would it be worth it?”). Katie simply can’t help but stare at Hubbell, and it’s no wonder: as romantic music plays on the soundtrack, thanks to the lighting by Stradling, Redford’s Hubbell actually seems to glow. Staring at his pencil and oblivious to Katie, his thoughts are a million miles away, while Katie’s are all but palpable.   

The scene is granted extra texture by the presence of James Woods’s Frankie, an outcast who jealously watches Katie eye Hubbell. Woods’s presence in the scene was not planned, but was cleverly engineered by Woods himself: “I was thinking about how I could be a part of the scene and realized I could be a part of it by being an obstacle. So- I said to Sydney: ‘I have a great idea.’ Sydney instantly said: ‘You’re not a part of the scene. We don’t need you in there with the two biggest stars in the world.’ Then I said to Barbra: ‘Let’s talk about acting for a minute- the library scene.’ Barbra looked at me and kept her reply short: ‘The scene is with Bob and me.’ I kept going- I told her ‘But isn’t it more interesting if Frankie is there in the library, looking at Katie while she’s looking at Hubbell. Now the scene wouldn’t be so simple- it’s more interesting.’ Barbra took a beat, thought about it, and then said: ‘Sydney- the kid is in the scene!’” Such chutzpah came readily to the Utah born Woods, who in 1970 had snagged a part in the award winning Broadway play Borstal Boy by pretending he was British. 

Woods appreciated Pollack’s openness to change: “He was open to last minute improvisation. The great directors are because they know you can often get things you wouldn’t otherwise. Yes, I was happy to have more screen time, but I wasn’t hogging the camera- it was furthering my character as well as Barbra’s. Having me in the library added to Katie’s emotional confusion about Hubbell. She’s so committed to politics yet infatuated with Hubbell even while she has this dorky but devoted boyfriend. It makes audiences wonder ‘What’s she going to do?’”  

Thanks to his own unbridled ambition, James Woods was in the scene, side by side with superstars Streisand and Redford and a presence to be noticed. Said Woods of the experience of filming with the two stars: “I loved working with both of them. They were so open to discussion. Barbra was great. We talked and she said ‘Are you afraid of me?’ I said: ‘No. I can act- it’s every man for himself.’ She wasn’t offended- she really laughed.  

“Redford was terrific as well. He would sometimes come by my trailer, which was, needless to say, a lot smaller than his! We’d talk about acting- at that point I wanted to be a stage actor. I had just won a Theatre World Award, but he’s such a great film actor I knew I could learn from him. I proudly call myself a character actor, so it’s interesting to me that I think Bob and Brad Pitt, two classically handsome leading men,  are at their best when they are being character actors. 

“Having him stop by was a terrific opportunity to talk to this big star. Redford was and is a great underactor- he conveys so much with so little. I was, at that point, an overactor. He talked about how to convey emotion on film. If you look in a mirror and your eyes change focus as you start thinking about a problem, you should think the thought, don’t act it. You see the eyes change.  

“I learned from him and even though I was a complete unknown, both Barbra and Bob were good to me. It’s actually hard to explain the level of stardom they held at that time because it just doesn’t exist today. They were larger than life stars. The public’s fascination with them was extraordinary. That very short sequence at the beginning of the film where Hubbell throws the javelin? Women were standing around all day just to get a glimpse of him!”  

Hope you enjoyed this excerpt!

And don’t forget to check out our interview with author Tom Santopietro about the book here.

the way we were the making of a romantic classic book by tom santopiertro

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Remembering Ted Donaldson

Remembering Classic Movie Child Star, Ted Donaldson

I am so sad to report that Ted Donaldson passed away a few days ago, on March 1st. I typically don’t publish blog posts when someone passes, but this time I felt I must — as I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Ted a few years ago, and it is something that I will never forget. He was such a charming gentleman, and it was such a pleasure to be able to sit down and chat with him, and hear so many wonderful stories.

Here is a wonderful Hollywood Reporter article that was published yesterday, chronicling Ted’s career through Broadway, radio and film, including his big screen debut in Once Upon a Time with Cary Grant and, of course, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

As mentioned in the Hollywood Reporter article, Ted’s friends, Thomas and Heidi Bruno, have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for Ted’s burial expenses, as Ted passed with very little cash and few possessions. I am sure that any donation, no matter how small, would be greatly appreciated by Thomas and Heidi — as they would like to provide Ted with a proper burial in Hollywood Forever Cemetery near many of his co-stars.

You can visit the Ted Donaldson Go Fund Me Page by clicking on this image

Again, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Ted. That was indeed a special moment for me.

Lastly, if you’d like to see my video interview with Ted, here is a link to it on YouTube.


–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic – Exclusive Interview with Author Tom Santopietro

“The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic”
Exclusive Interview with author Tom Santopietro

I am happy to say that a new book about the film, The Way We Were was released in January — AND I am even happier to say that author Tom Santopietro has honored CMH with an exclusive interview about it!

the way we were the making of a romantic classic book by tom santopiertro

Hard to believe, but the film was released 50 years ago, in Oct 1973. Wow. So, what better way to celebrate, than with The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic, a book that tells the story behind the film — the challenges, disputes and creative passions of those involved — complete with location anecdotes and first-hand accounts.

A big Thank You to Tom Santopietro for taking the time to do this interview!

CMH: Why did you decide to write a book about The Way We Were?

Tom Santopietro:I started thinking about The Way We Were as the subject of a possible book when I happened to hear two women quoting the entire last scene of the film by heart, re-enacting Barbra Streisand’s Katie Morosky murmuring “Hubbell, your girl is lovely” to the aging but still golden Robert Redford. This behavior wasn’t just liking the film- this was quasi-obsession. When I then happened to catch a re-run of “Sex and the City” where the four best friends decide that the entire world is divided into “Katie girls” and others, followed by Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw re-enacting The Way We Were’s finale in front of the Plaza Hotel, I was intrigued. Hooked. Why does this decidedly flawed film carry such romantic heft? After all, if the best movies form parts of our world views and shape our dreams, what did this hyper fandom for a fifty year old film say about the way we are today?

My first book, The Importance of Being Barbra, was published seventeen years ago and I thought it would be interesting to look at Barbra again, through the lens of what is arguably her most popular film. As I started to research the history of the film, my “possibly writing” became a definite “yes”; accelerating the decision was realizing that by writing about The Way We Were I was actually, if unconsciously completing my trilogy of books centering on films that people don’t just like, but actually obsess over: The Godfather Effect– drama, The Sound of Music Story musical, and now The Way We Were- romance.

CMH: Did you interview Barbra Streisand? Any others?

Tom Santopietro: I had a number of great interviews for the book – Lois Chiles, lyricist Alan Bergman- still going strong at age 97. James Woods – it was his first movie and he told me great stories about his interactions with both Barbra and Redford. He liked both of them a great deal.

The most fascinating interview was my written exchange with Barbra. I thought a long time about what questions to ask – I didn’t want this to be ‘Did you like Robert Redford”… I submitted them in writing and weeks later I received a lengthy email response to each question – a paragraph long answer to every question. The film is very important to her, she possessed total recall of the events, and it gave me a real sense of who she is – every word matters to her. No wonder she has been one of Sondheim’s foremost interpreters – she’s the embodiment of his dictum: “God is in the details.”

The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic -- Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand
Redford and Streisand (Hubbell and Katie)

CMH: What most surprised you in your research?

Tom Santopietro: I spent several days at the Library of Congress reading through screenwriter Arthur Laurents’s papers, including a scorching eight page memo to producer Ray Stark that he wrote after seeing a rough cut – a memo in which he enumerated the film’s perceived  flaws, flaws which he felt – and I’m translating politely here – were so egregious that they made him feel sick. Eleven different screenwriters had a hand in the script – no wonder Laurents was perpetually angry. His own life had inspired several key incidents in the screenplay and his life was now being re-written by eleven other people.

I was also intrigued by the fact that in the early going this now iconic film’s success was far from assured; as one studio executive only half kiddingly said to director Sydney Pollack: “Barbra Streisand doesn’t sing and she plays a communist — are you trying to kill me?!” The fact that no one expected a romantic classic made its now half century of success all the more intriguing. The film had received decidedly mixed reviews upon its initial release, although the stars were highly praised, and Streisand received an Academy Award nomination. (She lost to Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class, and when was the last time anyone decided that they just had to watch A Touch of Class again…)

CMH: Why does the film have such a romantic pull that we’re still talking about it 50 years later?

Tom Santopietro: I think that there are four reasons for the film’s extraordinary 50 year hold on audiences around the world:

  • Star chemistry in spades. Redford and Streisand at their early 70s peak, looking great and throwing off sparks together, proving that opposites really do attract. Everything about them reads as a contrast – looks, acting styles, manner of speech – and it all blends beautifully.
  • Ill fated love affairs are universal. Like Katie and Hubbell, everyone in the viewing audience has loved the wrong person at one time. Or at several times. Everyone has loved passionately if not wisely. As film historian Jeanine Basinger put it: “Yes- everyone really has loved the wrong person at one point or another. Except for maybe 10 people- and who wants to know them…”
  • The uber romantic score by the then unknown Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the title song on spec, in hopes of scoring the entire movie. His reward? Two Oscars.
  • That killer ending in front of the Plaza Hotel. For the three people over 50 in the United States who haven’t seen the film, I won’t describe it- except to say that even critics who didn’t like the film fell for the ending – it’s an all time keeper.
  • It seems like critics had a hard time acknowledging the appeal of The Way We Were and other films like it. Why is that?

I think the best answer to that came from Robert Redford himself: “Critics had trouble with The Way We Were because they won’t own up to their own emotions. They figure that it’s got to be off center or bold before they can accept it… Intellectually you know Katie and Hubbell shouldn’t be together, but on a gut level you want them to make it because you like them and because they like each other. That’s a fair emotion.”

CMH: Why wasn’t there a sequel?

As audiences clamored to know if Katie and Hubbell would ever get back together, the clamor for a sequel grew in volume. Talks were held. Screenplays were written. So what happened?

Well, to find that out you have to read the book. Besides, I have my own idea for a sequel!


Thanks again to Tom Santopietro for this fascinating book and interview.

About Tom Santopietro:  Tom Santopietro is the author of eight books: The Way We Were: The Making of a Romantic Classic, Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters, Barbara Cook: Then and Now, the bestselling The Sound of Music Story, The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America, and Me, Sinatra in Hollywood, Considering Doris Day (New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice) and The Importance of Being Barbra. A frequent media commentator and interviewer, he lectures on classic films, and over the past thirty years has managed more than two dozen Broadway shows.


–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Film Noir Review: Unfaithfully Yours (1948)

“Russian Roulette’s a very different amusement which I can only wish your father had played continuously before he had you!”

Preston Sturges’ career ran in conjunction with classic film noir. Both made their presence known in the early 1940s, and would go on to dominate the decade with their blend of acid-tongued banter and confusing stories. The big difference, of course, was tone. While film noir shined a light on human nature’s dark side, Sturges comedies like The Lady Eve (1941) and The Palm Beach Story (1942) were charming and upbeat. It would be difficult to imagine tones that were further apart, and yet, they crashed, spectacularly, into one another with Unfaithfully Yours (1948).

Sturges had actually penned the script for Unfaithfully Yours in 1932, but struggled to get it financed and eventually shelved it for more accessible material. By the late 40s, though, bleak stories were all the rage, and he saw an opportunity to make a full-fledged parody of the film noir while maintaining the absurdity of his original vision.

Unfaithfully Yours poster
The film’s original lobby poster.

Unfaithfully Yours, for the uninitiated, is about a symphony conductor named Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison). He has it all: fame, fortune, and a doting wife named Daphne (Linda Darnell). Or so he thinks. Through a series of misunderstandings, Alfred comes to suspect that Daphne may be having an affair with his assistant, Anthony (Kurt Krueger). His paranoia reaches a fever pitch the night of an important concert, and he spends most of it contemplating the different ways he can confront Daphne. The film then plays out these different ways to disastrous effect.

The first scenario is the darkest, and arguably the best. Alfred returns home, masterminds a plan, then proceeds to slash his wife’s throat with a straight razor and frame his assistant for the murder. There’s a perverse glee in watching every single aspect of the plan go accordingly, and Sturges knows it too. He hits each beat as though we were watching a hero achieve a worthwhile goal, and the incongruity of the execution with the actions depicted make it just as shocking now as it was seven decades ago. The shock is elevated further when you consider that the film presents these actions as reality. The whole scenario is edited as though it occurs after the concert, therefore making the viewer think Alfred really did get away with murder.

Linda Darnell and Rex Harrison, Unfaithfully Yours
Alfred (Rex Harrison) ponders his next move…

The dissolve back to the concert is both reassuring and structurally limiting. We’re shown that Alfred is still conducting and no such murder has taken place, which means there’s still time for him to change his mind. It also means the element of surprise has been removed. Part of what makes the first scenario such a mind-boggler is the aforementioned leap of faith the viewer had to take in believing it was legit. Once the gambit of a multiple choice outcome is introduced, “Unfaithfully Yours” settles into a safer, albeit entertaining groove.

The other scenarios are similarly macabre, though they take on more of the broad comedy appeal that Sturges is known for. The second one sees Alfred confront Daphne and Anthony by challenging them to a game of Russian Roulette. He proudly goes first, and promptly shoots himself in the head. The third one is longer and packed with more laughs, with Alfred looking for a recorder to fabricate his wife’s “last words.” The seemingly easy task becomes a tall order, as Alfred falls over, breaks furniture, and pesters phone operators in an attempt to be covert. What scenario does Alfred ultimately choose in the end? In an effort to draw more eyes to the film, that is the one thing I won’t spoil.

The slapstick is top of the line, which anyone familiar with Sturges can attest to. The dialogue is sharp as Alfred’s straight razor, with so many puns, references, and double meanings baked in that a single viewing won’t do them justice. A private detective crosses paths with Alfred at one point, and his musical fandom results in gems like “You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel. And your Delius – delirious!”

Linda Darnell and Rex Harrison, Unfaithfully Yours, sense a shift in behavior
Daphne (Linda Darnell) sense a shift in behavior.

Of course, the manipulation that Unfaithfully Yours attempts would fail were it not for the talent of the cast. Rex Harrison is refinement personified in so many of his famous roles, but here, he drops the niceties and delivers a blisteringly funny performance. He does some absolutely heinous things in the film, as was previously stated, and yet, we feel for him and the predicament that he’s imagined for himself. A less charismatic actor would have crumbled. The supporting cast has less to do, but Rudy Vallee, Edgar Kennedy and Barbara Lawrence all serve as credible foils. Linda Darnell is given a particularly tricky assignment here, as she has to convince the audience she could be a saint and an adulterer at the same time. She nails it in every scenario, proving she had more range than she was often given the chance to explore.

Unfaithfully Yours was released to positive reviews and nonexistent box office in 1948. The subject matter was always going to be a tough sell, but the timing could not have been worse due to the personal life of its star. Harrison was reportedly having an affair with actress Carole Landis at the time, and her suicide was believed by many to be a result of his refusing to get a divorce. Harrison discovered Landis’ body, which made the notion of him as a snickering wife killer a little too grim for the general public. The failure of Unfaithfully Yours also signaled the end of Sturges’ career; he made only one more film in Hollywood before retreating to Europe.

Unfaithfully Yours Alfred’s entourage fawn over his seemingly perfect romance
Alfred’s entourage fawn over his seemingly perfect romance.

While not as famous as, say, Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Unfaithfully Yours has become something of a cult favorite among Sturges fans. It’s a deep cut, but those who have seen it can attest to its bold narrative shifts and how forward-thinking it was in terms of noir comedy. Quentin Tarantino has cited it as one of his favorite films, and given his penchant for genre fusion, I can’t think of a better endorsement.

TRIVIA: Carole Landis was briefly considered for the role of Daphne. Her volatile relationship with Harrison led Sturges to go with Linda Darnell instead.


You can find all of Danilo’s Film Noir Review articles here.

Danilo Castro is the managing editor of NOIR CITY Magazine and a Contributing Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can follow Danilo on Twitter @DaniloSCastro.

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