The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: Cactus Flower

Ingrid Bergman as the ‘uptight outta sight’ Miss Dickinson…
in Cactus Flower…

Cactus Flower Film DVD CoverCactus Flower, starring Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn and the lovely Ingrid Bergman

Why do I love this film? Well, there are so many reasons… the spiraling-out-of-control plot, the witty dialog, the exquisitely funny (yet very straight) performances, the marvelous character actors, and the featured cast — among them Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn, and (drum roll please)… the incomparable Ingrid Bergman!

Okay, that said, I imagine everyone’s next question will be — why oh why — given all of Ms. Bergman’s magnificent performances and iconic roles — would you choose something as ‘silly’ as Cactus Flower for your Bergman Blogathon pick?????  Well, that’s a really good question, and here’s my relatively simple answer: because the stunningly beautiful Bergman (understatement) plays against type as an uptight spinster nurse — and I believe every minute of it!  But that’s not all… What really makes me just LOVE Bergman in this role, is that she has quite the flare for comedy… she plays her part with such sincerity and straight-forward seriousness while delivering some incredibly funny lines with impeccable comic timing and nonchalance — and quite frankly, it’s a hoot to watch! And, if that’s not enough, it’s a treat to see her character evolve over time from a stoic lovelorn spinster to… well, shall we say a ‘Frankenstein’.


The efficient Miss Dickinson, Ingrid Bergman in Cactus FlowerThe very efficient Miss Dickinson…

The Plot (for those of you who may not have seen this marvelous film yet):
Dentist Dr. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau) pretends to be married to avoid committing to girlfriend Toni Simmons (Goldie Hawn). After Toni tries to commit suicide, Julian realizes he’s been a heel (and that he does, in fact, love Toni) and proposes marriage to her. Since Julian is ‘already married,’ he recruits his loyal lovelorn nurse, Miss Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman), to play the part of his wife to convince Toni that she’s okay with the divorce. Things get a little complicated though, when Toni takes a liking to Miss Dickinson and wants to ‘help’ her — and when Miss Dickinson transforms from a ‘good wife’ into a social butterfly with her share of beaus — including Toni’s cute, young next door neighbor Igor (Rick Lenz).

And now, the fun part for me… sharing some quotes from the film!


Ingrid Bergman and Irene Hervey, Cactus FlowerWith Irene Hervey (Mrs. Durant), a patient of Dr. Winston’s

Mrs. Durant (Irene Hervey): Would you please tell the doctor I’m in a hurry. Charles is expecting me in a half an hour
Miss Dickinson: Charles?
Mrs. Durant: Mr. Charles, the hair dresser.  Today He’s taking care of me personally. I can’t keep him waiting.
Miss Dickinson: Really, Mrs Durant. Your teeth are more important than your hair.
Mrs. Durant: You really believe that, don’t you… Sad.


Ingrid Bergman and Jack Weston, Cactus FlowerWith Walter Matthau (Dr. Winston) and Jack Weston (the doctor’s friend and patient, Harvey Greenfield)

Miss Dickinson: Mr. Greenfield, please don’t handle the instruments.
Harvey Greenfield (Jack Weston): Say, I was reading the other day, that there’s a dentist in New Jersey who has topless nurses.
Miss Dickinson: I didn’t know you were interested in reading.


walter matthau and jack weston, cactus flowerA little ‘guy talk’ between friends…

Harvey Greenfield: She really turns me off. I thought all Swedish dames were sexy. I mean, I’ve seen some of those movies, but this one’s like an iceberg…

Dr. Winston (Walter Matthau): Harvey, what you don’t like about Miss Dickinson is exactly what I do like about her… She’s like a wife, good wife… devoted, competent. Takes care of everything for me… during the day… then at night she goes home to her home, and I with no problems and no cares, go to my girl. My life is arranged the way I like it.


walter matthau and ingrid bergman, cactus flower, officeJust another little favor…

Miss Dickinson: I’ve been meaning to speak to you about Mr. Greenfield’s bill.
Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson, you know he’s an old friend of mine.
Miss Dickinson: Well I think he’s taking advantage of you.
Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson, there are some things a man just can’t do. I won’t push Harvey Greenfield for money, I’ve know him too long. You do it.


ingrid bergman and jack weston, cactus flower, weston making appointment for his girlfriendOkay, one of my favorite ‘Dickinson’ comebacks from the film. :)  Go Ingrid!

Harvey Greenfield: Dr. Winston asked me to make an appointment for
a lady friend of mine.
Miss Dickinson: How about a week from Tuesday at 7AM?
Harvey Greenfield: You’re kidding? I’m asleep at 7AM.
Miss Dickinson: Oh, I thought the appointment was for a lady?
Harvey Greenfield: That’s right. We’re both asleep at 7AM. I’m sorry, I hope I haven’t shocked you?
Miss Dickinson: No, but it must be a terrible shock for her.


Ingrid Bergman and Vito Scotti in Cactus Flower, xray machineVito Scotti (Senor Sanchez) has quite the eye for beauty!

Señor Sánchez: There is something so provocative about a nurse in uniform. No frills. No adorments. Just the basic woman…
Miss Dickinson: Hold still, Señor Sánchez, or the basic woman is liable to x-ray your nose.


ingrid bergman and vito scotti, scotti asks miss dickinson out, cactus flowerAnd Senor Sanchez never gives up…

Miss Dickinson: What about next Friday at 5?
Señor SánchezWonderful, where shall we meet.
Miss Dickinson: It’s for you and Dr. Winston.
Señor Sánchez: But I would like for us to have dinner one of these nights… candlelight, soft guitars…
Miss Dickinson: Will you bring your wife?
Señor Sánchez: My wife? You will not like her… nobody likes her… Let’s make it for next Friday, after my appointment.

Miss Dickinson: Senor Sanchez, I can’t, you’re a married man…
Señor Sánchez: This I cannot understand. If I am a married man, it is my problem. What has it got to do with you? I would not be prejudiced if you were married.


ingrid bergman and walter matthau in cactus flower, are you asking me outAnd the plot thickens…

Dr. Winston: I thought maybe you’d like to come out and have a drink with me.
Miss Dickinson: Are you asking me to go out???

Miss Dickinson: I don’t understand…
Dr. Winston: It’s the most natural thing in the world for a doctor
to take his nurse out.
Miss Dickinson: Yes, but I’ve been working for you for almost ten years and this is the first time that you have ever invited me…
Dr. Winston: Well, better a little late than a little never.


ingrid bergman, walter matthau, cactus lower, out for drinks The set up…

Dr. Winston: And, I suddenly realized that I have no idea of what your life is like outside the office. Tell me about Stephanie Dickinson civilian…

Dr. Winston: What about your personal life? I mean, uh, uh…
Miss Dickinson: You mean men?
Dr. Winston: Yes.
Miss Dickinson: At the moment there are no men in my life
Dr. Winston: But there have been?
Miss Dickinson: Well doctor… I am no sex goddess, but I haven’t spent my life in a tree.

Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson, I’m glad we had this little talk. You’re a very rare person… sensitive and generous…
Miss Dickinson: I guess I’m all right.
Dr. Winston: I have the feeling that if I found myself in trouble,
I could count on you for help.
Miss Dickinson: Well you know that’s true doctor.
Dr. Winston: But sometimes a problem comes up that’s so difficult…that, ur…
Miss Dickinson: Why don’t you try me?


ingrid bergman, cactus flower, dr winston is in need of a wifeAnd the shoe drops…

Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson. You could do me a great service. You see, I’m desperately in need of a wife…
Miss Dickinson: Oh doctor!
Dr. Winston: Oh please don’t misunderstand me.
Miss Dickinson: I never expected…
Dr. Winston: I need a wife… temporarily… 15 or 20 minutes…
Miss Dickinson: 15 or 20 mins…

Dr. Winston: I’m telling all this very badly…Miss Dickinson, I want someone to play the part of my wife…
Miss Dickinson: Someone like me.
Dr. Winston: If only you would… it wouldn’t involve any, uh, I mean…All you’d have to do is tell a certain person that you want a divorce. You see, I suddenly decided to get married. I guess I didn’t tell you…


ingrid bergman and walter matthau, i need a wife for 15 or 20 minsThe despicable Dr. Winston pulls out all the stops… Will Miss Dickinson relent?

Dr. Winston: She’s so young…and she’s had a lot of unfortunate experiences. I’m the first decent man she’s ever met… Toni is a wonderful girl. She won’t get married unless she meets my wife. She’s very straightforward. She doesn’t want to be a house breaker, I mean a house wrecker. Isn’t that sweet?
Miss Dickinson: Just darling.

Miss Dickinson: Doctor, I am sorry. I hate lies.
Dr. Winston: No more than I do Miss Dickinson. No more than I. But I don’t know how to get out of this one. My happiness lies in your two hands.


ingrid bergman, cactus flower, contemptible wayLove the tears in Ingrid’s eyes as she tells Dr. Winston off…

Miss Dickinson: For years these two hands have held nothing but your instruments and your appointment book. You’ve managed to handle your happiness without any help from me. And now you want to use me in this, in this, contemptible way. You just tricked me into talking about myself so that I… What you did wasn’t very nice,
doctor, not very nice at all!

Dr. Winston (to the waiter after Miss Dickinson leaves): Just can’t get decent help these days…


goldie hawn and ingrid bergmen meet, Cactus Flower
Always the efficient nurse, Miss Dickinson decides to pose as Mrs. Julian Winston and meet Toni (Goldie Hawn)

Mrs. Julian Winston (Ingrid Bergman): Oh the doctor and I are in complete agreement about the divorce.
Toni (Goldie Hawn): Oh I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.
Mrs. Julian Winston: I really made your day.

Toni: Mrs. Winston, who’s going to tell the children?
Mrs. Julian Winston: The children?????

Toni: One night when he was working late, I suddenly got jealous of Miss Dickinson. When I told him about it, he just laughed and laughed.


ingrid bergman posing as mrs. winston in cactus flowerAnd you can see the love in her eyes…

Mrs. Julian Winston: Of course I don’t love him anymore, but you can’t leave a man after so many years without feeling a little pain.. a man with whom you have shared all normal everyday things… worrying about his barber, his taylor… making sandwiches for him… oh he’s crazy about chicken and egg salad sandwiches…. buying his shirts, his pajamas, his handkerchiefs… looking after him, planning for him… a man who’s all yours — at least almost all yours… oh, I don’t know what has come over me… I’m talking nonsense… it must be that music.


goldie hawn and ingrid bergman in cactus flower in record shopToni genuinely likes Mrs. Winston… uh oh…

Toni: Mrs. Winston! What about your future? What’s going to become of you?
Mrs. Julian Winston: Oh I’ll just ride off into the sunset or something.
Toni: Well, it’s just that I want to be sure you’re all right.
Mrs. Julian Winston: I’ll write you every day.
Toni: Mrs. Winston! I want you to know I think you’re a very gracious, charming and very brave woman.


ingrid bergman and walter matthau, cactus flowerMiss Dickinson played her part so well that Toni feels guilty about breaking up the marriage. A frustrated Julian tells Toni that his wife really wants the divorce too — because she has a boyfriend… That said, Dr. Winston asks Miss Dickinson to play a ‘return engagement,’ this time with a boyfriend…

Miss Dickinson: You asked me to pose as your wife. It was preposterous but I did it, and I think I did it beautifully.
Dr. Winston: The trouble is you did it too beautifully. Toni thinks you’re still in love with me…

Dr. Winston: Now, all we have to do is to find someone to play the part of your boyfriend.

Miss Dickinson: I need a boyfriend, you find me one.
Dr. Winston: That’s not gonna be easy.
Miss Dickinson: Thanks.
Dr. Winston: I mean, we have to find someone I know I can trust.


Ingrid Bergman, Jack Weston, Cactus Flower, Idaho ChampagneAnd guess who the boyfriend is??? Lucky Miss Dickinson!

Harvey Greenfield: You know you look different when you’re all dressed up. In the office you sort of look like a large bandaid.

Harvey Greenfield: Shall we dance?
Miss Dickinson: I’d rather walk on hot coals.

Harvey Greenfield: Drink up. It’ll make me look better to you.
Miss Dickinson: There isn’t that much wine in the world.
Harvey Greenfield: To our love affair. (clinking glasses)
Miss Dickinson: God forbid.

Ingrid Bergman and Jack Weston, Cactus Flower, flirt with youDr. Winston and Toni show up…

Miss Dickinson: Oh, there they are! Quick, act natural!
Harvey Greenfield: You want me to act natural and flirt with you at the same time???


Goldie Hawn and Walter Matthau, Cactus Flower, in clubDr. Winston looks a little perturbed..

Julian (Walter Matthau): Look at them!
Toni: They act very affectionate.
Julian: Yes they do. I thought she only played Monopoly.

Julian: She dances too.
Toni: Everything about your wife seems to surprise you.


ingrid bergman, walter matthau, goldie hawn, jack weston, cactus flowerAnd they meet… will Toni approve?

Julian: Strange to see you in a night club. I didn’t realize you were such a swinger.
Mrs. Winston: Oh you never really knew me, my dear.

Toni: Mr. Greenfield, what kind of work do you do?
Harvey Greenfield: Oh I don’t work for a living honey. I’m an actor.


walter matthau and goldie hawn, cactus flower, he's a bumHarvey’s real girlfriend shows up, and well…

Toni: Well Julian… he’s a bum!

Toni: Did you get a load of that girl?…When she bent over, it looked like she had her knees up inside her dress.

Toni: We have got to save her (Mrs. Winston) from that man!


ingrid bergman and walter matthau, cactus flower, in carA none-too-happy Julian and Miss Dickinson…

Julian: Miss Dickinson, you have this hang up about men that causes you to destroy any possible relationship. That’s really what caused you to hate Harvey.
Miss Dickinson: No-one needs a reason for hating Harvey
Julian: You completely de-feminize yourself. I’ve noticed it around the office and around me.

Julian: You’re afraid Miss Dickinson, afraid of emotion, afraid of intimacy, afraid to live…
Miss Dickinson: If you call that living, the way you carry on doctor, then you’re right…
Julian: I’m only telling you this for your own good.
Miss Dickinson: Funny, how whenever people hurt your feelings, they’re always doing it for your own good… turn right at the next corner…


ingrid bergman, vito scotti, cactus flower, idaho champagneWell, well, well… Miss Dickinson decides, after all, to go out with Senor Sanchez…

Miss Dickinson: The ball was marvelous.
Señor Sánchez: Oh, no, no, no, you were marvelous! What shall we drink?
Miss Dickinson: Oh, let’s have some of that crazy Idaho champagne.


rick lenz, goldie hawn, walter matthau, cactus flowerToni and Julian just so happen to be at the club again, this time with Toni’s neighbor Igor (Rich Lenz)…

Toni: Well, it didn’t take her long to find somebody else.
Igor (Rick Lenz): Toni, would you let me in on this? Who is that woman?
Toni: Julian’s wife.
Igor: Not bad, Julian, a matter of fact she’s very attractive.


cactus flower, dancingAnd they dance…
bergman and matthau dancing, cactus flowerAnd dance…

Julian: Miss Dickinson, I strongly disapprove of you making dates with patients!
Miss Dickinson: Really? Then how come you fixed me up with Harvey?


rick lenz dancing with ingrid bergman, cactus flowerAnd dance…
rick lenz and ingrid bergman dancing in cactus flowerAnd…

Mrs. Winston: You must feel as if you are dancing with your mother.
Igor: Quiet, I’m enjoying this.
Mrs. Winston: So am I.
Igor: Relax, Let’s not get neurotic about age. You’re a very sexy lady.
Mrs. Winston: An old sexy lady.
Igor: Good, let’s run away and live on your social security.


goldie hawn and walter matthau, cactus flowerJulian and Toni look on…

Julian: I must say that Igor of yours is a pretty vulgar dancer.
Toni : What do you mean, Igor? She’s the one that’s plastering herself against him. When I think of all I’ve done for her!

Julian: Hey, did you see that? He just kissed her on the neck!
Toni: Hmph! She sure likes a lot of action.
Julian: Yes, she does, doesn’t she!

Toni: Right now, she’s surrounded by her husband, her ex-boyfriend, her current boyfriend and maybe her future boyfriend.


walter matthau and ingrid bergman, cactus flower, morning at workAnd the morning after…

Dr. Winston: That’s how you’re coming to work?!?!?
Miss Dickinson: Well, I didn’t have time to go home.
Dr. Winston: Where were you all night?
Miss Dickinson: It’s all a blur, a beautiful blurry blur…


ingrid bergman and walter matthau, cactus flower, morning after, created frankensteinMiss Dickinson, transformed…

Dr. Winston: You know what I’ve done. I’ve created a monster! That’s what.
Miss Dickinson: No, Dr. Frankenstein, this is no creation of yours! This is me. Me! Experiencing new things, things that I’ve never done before and having a hell of a good time.


ingrid bergman, walter matthau, cactus flower, spent the  night with that hippieDr. Winston thinks Miss Dickinson spent the night with Senor Sanchez (which in his mind, is bad enough), but then finds out…

Dr. Winston: You mean you spent the night with that hippie?!?!?

Dr. Winston: I must say, it’s grotesque. A woman your age, throwing yourself at a kid like that!
Miss Dickinson: And what about that eh, father-daughter thing of yours, if you don’t think that’s ridiculous…
Dr. Winston: Well, it’s different with a man. When a man is with a younger woman it looks entirely appropriate, but when it’s the other way around, it’s disg…
Miss Dickinson: Well, you go to your church and I’ll go to mine.


ingrid bergman and walter matthau, cactus flower, alka seltzerAs Miss Dickinson drinks her Alka Seltzer…

Dr. Winston: I don’t mind saying I’m disappointed in you Miss Dickinson…very disappointed.
Miss Dickinson: Doctor, you were the one who said that I was discouraging men — stiffling my femininity — for the first time an attractive young man pays a little attention to me — you go to pieces! Well, if I didn’t know you so well, I’d almost swear you’re jealous.
Dr. Winston: Jealous? Of you? Come now, Miss Dickinson. It’s just that I think it’s in very bad taste when under my eyes, and the eyes of my fiancee, my wife puts on an indecent, immoral exhibition with someone young enough to be her son!


ingrid bergman, walter matthau, bergman leaves, cactus flowerAnd the ‘marriage’ falls apart…

Miss Dickinson: I want a divorce!!! After all the years of misery that I’ve been through…
Dr. Winston: Years of misery!
Miss Dickinson: Yes. All those mornings when I came in and found hairpins on the couch, lipstick on mouthwash glasses…
Dr. Winston: You’ve been spying on me! All right, you wanna play rough! I’ll tell the whole world about your drunkenness, your wild parties, your orgies on the beach… You want a divorce! It’s I who wants a divorce!


walter matthau and ingrid bergman fight at end of Cactus FlowerMiss Dickinson leaves…

Dr. Winston: Stephanie, if you walk out now, don’t bother to come back!
Miss Dickinson: Don’t worry Dr. Winston, you won’t see me again! And that goes for the children too!!!


I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, so I leave you here with the impending divorce… but suffice it to say, the Cactus Flower has bloomed and everyone lives happily ever after!


Now for a few fun facts: 

  • The original Broadway production of Cactus Flower opened at NYC’s Royale Theater on December 8, 1965 and ran through September 7, 1968, after which it moved to the Longacre Theater from September 9, 1968 through November 23, 1968. It ran for 1234 performances. It starred Lauren Bacall as Miss Dickinson, Barry Nelson as Julian Winston, Burt Brinckerhoff as Igor, and Brenda Vaccaro as Toni.
  • The film was released on December 19, 1969 in the US.
  • Here is a link to the original NY Times Film Review which ran on December 17, 1969. which calls the teaming of Matthau and Bergman “inspirational on somebody’s part” and says that Bergman “delightful as a (now) ‘Swedish iceberg’… who flowers radiantly while running interference for the boss’s romantic bumbling.


A Big Thank You to The Wonderful World of Cinema for hosting this wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon in celebration. Please don’t forget to check out the other fabulous Blogathon entries!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub


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5 Little Facts: Happy Birthday to Gene Kelly

5 Little Facts: Happy Birthday to Gene Kelly

gene-kelly protrait

Wishing a Gene Kelly a happy 103rd birthday.


1) It wasn’t exactly Rain he was singing in…


Considering it’s Kelly’s most famous of all dance numbers, you’d think it’d be rain that the legendary song and dance man was singing in, but, in reality it was something more than that. You see, in 1952, technicolor film had a very difficult time picking up falling water on screen. To solve this problem studios would add milk to the rain water, tinting the water white and making it able to visually register on the film. Singing in the Milk…yeah. Doesn’t have the same sort of ring to it, does it?


2) More than a triple threat, he also was on the creative cutting edge…

anchors away

Although primarily remembered for his purely performance contributions to the medium of film, Gene Kelly was also quite the innovator when it came to the very form of film itself. His 1945 musical, Anchors Aweigh, was the first musical to mix live action and animation when he decided to dance with Jerry the Mouse in the musical number The Worry Song. About a decade later, in 1956, he would again flex his innovation muscles, directing the experimental feature film Invitation to the Dance. The film contained no dialogue or typical character interactions as the narrative was completely unfolded via dance.


3) Maybe he was too much of a perfectionist…


The screen persona of Kelly was nothing sort of joyous affability but behind the scenes was, well, different…very different. A perfectionist to the bone, Kelly developed something of a reputation of being quite a tyrant on set, working his co-stars to the bone. Singin’ in the Rain co-star Debbie Reynolds would go on to call childbirth and filming Singin’ in the Rain as the most difficult parts of her life. But, really, who can argue with results?


4) For Gene Kelly, ball was life…


An athlete since birth, Kelly excelled at a myriad of sports in his youth. He was particularly fond of  baseball and originally dreamed of the playing professionally on the dirt diamond before moving to the dance floor. His dream was to play shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.


5)  When to comes to the Academy Awards, he’s in good company

honorary oscar

Much like Alfred Hitckcock, Stanley Kubrick and the long suffering Leonardo Dicaprio, Gene Kelly never won a competitive Oscar. He was, however, awarded an Honorary Academy Award  “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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Gene Kelly: Ballet Dancer and Swaggering Tough

Gene Kelly:
Ballet Dancer and Swaggering Tough

“There is about him and his artistry the wonderment of childhood, the sad searching loneliness which seeks companionship in the fairyland of the imagination. It is an abiding, cherished faith in make-believe…”[i]

Gene Kelly, flashing his famous smileGene Kelly, flashing his famous smile

The above quote, penned in 1946 by a columnist for Photoplay magazine, seems inapplicable to a man who, according to screenwriter Adolph Green, had a “wordly, hard quality,”[ii] and had the propensity to come across as “cocky” and “jaw-jutting.”[iii] Even more alien to a land of make-believe was the man’s appearance. If judged by the hairline scar on his left cheek, his muscular, compact build, or his reedy tenor voice that bore traces of his urban Pittsburgh roots—one might assume he was wise to the streets but to nothing else. He invariably dressed in khakis, t-shirts or sweatshirts, loafers, and a baseball cap pulled over his slick black hair. Even when dressed in top hat and tails, he, in his own words, still looked “like a truck driver.”[iv] Once provoked, his brown eyes could shoot “a lethal glance that packs a wallop.”[v]

However, when in good company, “there [was] a certain gentleness about him…he’s a kind man, a sincere and honorable person. A gentleman.” He was the type who, when ladies were present in an elevator, removed his cap. The moment he grinned, his lethal glance, his worldly hardness, vanished. His teeth were perfectly white, his eyes crinkled at the corners. Suddenly, he had about him a “mischievous likeability …His eyes twinkle and you forgive him anything.” [vi] Pair his smile with the impromptu, balletic pirouettes or athletic jigs he was inclined to do at any given moment and one might be convinced this man could cross into the “fairyland of imagination.”

Gene showing off his dance movesGene showing off his dance moves

Equally adept at ballet and straight hoofing, he was also a formidable a player of nearly every American sport. Additionally, he was a master choreographer and actor, could speak several languages, and spend hours discussing politics, philosophy, and American history. He called himself an Average Joe, but he was anything but ordinary for more reasons than his remarkable intellect: he single-handedly made dance one of America’s favorite pastimes. Melding his athletic prowess with his balletic training, he altered the notion that dancing was only for women or effete males.

His name was Eugene Curran Kelly, known today simply as Gene Kelly. Dancer Peter Evans articulated that “Kelly smashed the system. He wasn’t a skinny, elegant, long legged hero.”[vii] Gene went so far as to call his brand of dancing “a man’s game.” He explained: “I knew I couldn’t stay with straight classical ballet. I had to create something of my own…I had to express manliness and strength and Cokes and hot dogs and football and basketball and jazz. You can’t do it with a port de bras.”[viii]  He perfected his art into a uniquely American style—one that combined rhythms from Harlem to Ireland— that was so broad in scope that it not only appealed to men but also to women and children. In his lifetime and in new generations, he remains one of the few stars “adored by young people and old, men and women.”[ix] Gene’s wife of fifteen years, Betsy Blair, concluded that he wanted to “democratize dance. He wanted to bring it to the whole world.”[x]

Gene dancing with himself in the Alter Ego sequence in "Cover Girl"Gene dancing with himself in the Alter Ego sequence in “Cover Girl”

From 1942 to 1956, Gene Kelly came to symbolize the American Dream and the confidence and optimism of the postwar nation. Through his films, he spread more happiness and hope than any other dancer of his time. In Cover Girl (1944), he urged audiences to “make way for tomorrow” while skipping down a Brooklyn street. In Anchors Aweigh (1945), he banished worry from a somber cartoon kingdom through song and dance. As a sailor on twenty-four hour leave, he cavorted through Manhattan in On the Town (1949). He tapped through bistros in An American in Paris (1951) and laughed at clouds while splashing through a storm in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). More than anything else, his mass appeal stemmed from his ability to transform the commonplace into the spectacular. A rain puddle, a mop, or a newspaper could all be art when utilized in dance. As well as dance with anything, Gene could dance with anyone: girl-next-door Judy Garland, femme fatale Cyd Charisse, Jerry the Mouse, a group of French children, and even himself in his double-exposure “alter ego” routine in Cover Girl (1944).

Gene was arguably the most winning screen personality of the twentieth century—a man “men wanted to be and women wanted to be with”[xi] and who immediately put children at ease. But, he was a man of unusual complexity. He shunned Hollywood society, studio politics, and glamour yet fumed at those who scorned the film industry that had made them rich. In spite of the wealth he amassed in Hollywood, he maintained a humble lifestyle and raised his children himself. He refused to hire nannies and servants and performed his own handy work around the house. Wary of any sort of regimentation, Gene questioned set religious and political beliefs but still called himself a Catholic and a Democrat. Yet, “whatever the subject, [he] supports an open mind without for a moment yielding his own convictions.”[xii]

serious gene kelly, portraitGene, the serious intellectual

Gene’s complexity only grows upon further examination. Though willing to hear all viewpoints and espousing that prejudice was akin to cowardice, he was exclusive when it came to who he did and who he did not accept into his social circle. In order to gain Gene’s acceptance, one had to possess both talent and intelligence. Gene made his home a haven for ex-New Yorkers or any creative who was in but not of Hollywood. At these parties, oftentimes he sat back and drank whiskey, only performing if others performed. Contrarily, the “cocky, jaw jutting” side of his personality emerged. He would engage in fiercely competitive games of charades or, on Sunday afternoons, volleyball. Gene, who once said that to him second best was nothing, could not abide losing. He was unafraid to show his temper when such losses occurred. Film historian Rudy Behlmer stated that “Kelly could be difficult” but reasoned that “he was not alone, good people, really good people, could be difficult on occasion.”[xiii]

Gene rarely became difficult unless he was dissatisfied with himself. His co-director Stanley Donen stated that “he was aware that he had a very special gift and that he wanted to show it in the best possible way. He drove himself very hard. He was very nervous about his singing voice though, and would get hoarse from nerves when he had to record.”[xiv] As hard as he was on himself, he was equally hard on his colleagues. He had little patience for amateurs, something that earned him the reputation as a task master. MGM musical director Johnny Green observed that “…Gene is easygoing as long as you know exactly what you are doing when you’re working with him…If you want to play on his team you better love hard work too. He isn’t cruel but he is tough.”[xv] Despite his unyielding demands, his goal was to see that those around him reach their full potentials. Debbie Reynolds and Frank Sinatra, two “amateurs” who experienced his exacting nature firsthand, later admitted that if not for his high demands, they would not have made it as far as they did in their respective careers.

Gene in his introspective "American in Paris" balletGene in his introspective “American in Paris” ballet

Though Gene’s screen presence is nearly always ebullient, his intensity could not help but come through, particularly in his solo numbers. The dances he choreographed himself possessed a dimension of introspection that numbers by other musical performers of the era lacked. For instance, at the close of his “Alter Ego” number in Cover Girl (1944), he smashes a window to rid himself of his argumentative reflection. Other notably meditative routines include a tap dance in a barn in Summer Stock (1950) and portions of the cinematic ballets he designed for On the Town (1949), An American in Paris (1951), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). During these sequences, he stands alone in darkness, suddenly separated from a merry crowd or amidst people and things he feels are unobtainable. Betsy Blair stated that he “wanted to express the simplest but also the most complex emotions”[xvi] through dance.

Gene was subject to just as much introspection off screen. Columnist John Maynard described him as “given to sudden brief lapses into depression when he will drop clean out of a conversation to stare darkly ahead…”[xvii] This being said, his eldest daughter Kerry claimed Gene was the only adult she ever knew who was never in analysis. For Gene, the process of creating was his therapy. Staging dances was essentially a way for him to make sense of both his own personal demons and the greater problems of the world. “Dancing is much more than mere exhibition. It’s a complete art in itself, both visually and emotionally,”[xviii] Gene asserted.

Gene and Vincente Minnelli behind the cameraGene and Vincente Minnelli behind the camera

Gene did succeed in making dance more than exhibition; indeed, he was a pivotal player in the creation of the integrated film musical. Because he worked at the greatest studio of Hollywood’s golden era, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and was part of the studio’s most prestigious production unit led by producer Arthur Freed, Gene had ample opportunity to innovate. He combined his talent with those of directors such as Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen, and Charles Walters and composers and screenwriters including Alan Jay Lerner, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. At the height of his success at MGM, he had become, according to composer Johnny Green, “the Neil Armstrong of MGM. He enjoyed great respect and admiration, and in [producer] Arthur Freed he had a powerful ally. It was almost a father-son relationship with the father having a near-reverence for the son.”[xix]

Freed’s career long goal was to change the formulaic stories and stage bound look of musicals. He found in Gene an enthusiastic avenue through which to do it. Interviewer Graham Fuller stated in 1994 that “Kelly’s streetwise, Everyman figure” did most “to liberate the [musical] genre from its ‘putting on a show’ tradition.”[xx] Gene brought the musical into the real world; the plots of his films took on more weight and the characters had more dimension. It was at his insistence that On the Town be the first musical to be filmed on location. Aside from adding authenticity to the settings of his pictures, Gene changed the look of musicals by creating dances that could not be replicated on the stage—a technique now known as cine-dance.

Gene, Jules Munshin, and Frank Sinatra on location in New York for "On the Town."Gene, Jules Munshin, and Frank Sinatra on location in New York for “On the Town”

Today, the breadth of Gene Kelly’s work is largely unknown, overshadowed as it is by the singular image of a euphoric man “dancin’ and singin’ in the rain.” Similarly, Gene Kelly’s life and achievements, specifically after he left MGM in 1956, are all but forgotten. He was a man who wore as many hats professionally as personally. He was a choreographer, director, comedian, dramatist, singer, ballet dancer, and tap dancer. He was a father, husband, devoted son, naval lieutenant, political activist. He has been variously described as a brutally competitive sportsman and a pensive intellectual, an egotist and a shy, self-deprecating man. No matter what hat he wore, Gene’s overarching goal in whatever endeavor he undertook—personal or professional—was to make the world a place where fascination, idealism, and sincerity were not just for children.

“If you’re making musicals for a mass audience, with few exceptions your goal is to bring joy,” Gene explained. “And if you can lift the audience and make them happy for a few minutes, then the dance has done its work.”[xxi] It is telling that Gene, in spite of his social conscience, quick temper, and occasional dark moods, chose not one of his own works or a weighty, moralizing picture as the ideal musical. The picture to hold that title was Vincente Minnelli’s nostalgic work, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), a story told through the eyes of an impish five year-old child. “That is a picture that is seamless, touching, marvellous—the wedding of song and story,”[xxii] Gene told interviewer Michael Singer.

Gene and his first onscreen dance partner, Judy GarlandGene and his first onscreen dance partner, Judy Garland

Gene Kelly’s life, remarkably scandal free, was a highly private one, thus presenting a unique challenge for biographers looking to reveal his many dimensions. He never stopped believing in the fantasies of boyhood, but at the same time he was grounded in reality by a deep-seated compulsion to push himself and others to achieve a perfection he claimed never to have found. Little wonder it is, then, that his daughter Kerry noted the resolution of any story in her father’s life and work “always takes place through fantasies and dreams.”[xxiii] And yet, what made Gene Kelly a true original was his ability to take the world of imagination and make one believe it was tangible. He was a dreamer, a realist, and, as actor Stanley Tucci concluded: a “ballet dancer and swaggering tough.”[xxiv]


–Sara and Cynthia Brideson for Classic Movie Hub

Sara and Cynthia Brideson are avid classic movie fans, and twin authors of Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway’s Greatest Producer and Also Starring: Forty Biographical Essays on the Greatest Character Actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era, 1930-1965. They also are currently working on comprehensive biographies of Gene Kelly and Margaret Sullavan. You can follow them on twitter at @saraandcynthia or like them on Facebook at Cynthia and Sara Brideson.


[i] “Gene Kelly,” Photoplay (Los Angeles, CA), Jan. 1946.
[ii] Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer, DVD, Dir.: Robert Trachtenberg,, Perf.: Betsy Blair, Stanley Donen, Kerry Kelly Novick (2002; New York, NY: American Masters, 2002), Film.
[iii] “Gene Kelly,” American Film (Los Angeles, CA), Feb. 1979.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Alyce Canfield, “That Old Black Magic,” Movieland (Los Angeles, Ca), May 1948.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] “Peter Evans, Interview during the making of Hello! Dolly,” retrieved from Gene Kelly: Creative Genius, accessed Jun. 24, 2015,
[viii] “Gene Kelly,” TV Radio Mirror (New York, NY), Nov. 1962.
[ix] “Gene Kelly,” Seventeen (New York, NY), Sep. 1946.
[x] Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer, film.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] “Gene Kelly,” Picturegoer (Los Angeles, CA), Sep. 1946.
[xiii] Rudy Behlmer, America’s Favorite Movies: Behind The Scenes (New York, NY: F. Ungar Publishing Co, 1982), p. 157.
[xiv] “Stanley Donen 1996,” retrieved from Gene Kelly: Creative Genius, accessed Jun. 24, 2015,
[xv] Tony Thomas, The Films of Gene Kelly (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1974), p. 20.
[xvi] Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer, film.
[xvii] John Maynard, “This Is About Gene Kelly And That’s All It’s About,” retrieved from Gene Kelly: Creative Genius, accessed Jun. 24, 2015,
[xviii] “To Dance or Not to Dance…and Gene Kelly wants YOU to give him the answer,” Motion Picture (Los Angeles, CA), Feb. 1947.
[xix] Thomas, p. 20.
[xx] Graham Fuller, “Interview with Gene Kelly,” Interview (New York, NY), May 1994.
[xxi] David Reiss, “An Interview with Gene Kelly,” Premiere (New York, NY), Feb. 1981.
[xxii] Michael Singer, A Cut Above: 50 Film Directors Talks About Their Craft (Los Angeles, CA: Lone Eagle, 1998), p. 143.
[xxiii] Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer, film.
[xxiv] Ibid.
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Alfred Hitchcock DVD Giveaway: Rebecca, Spellbound & Notorious (Aug 16 through Sept 26)

Announcing The Great Alfred Hitchcock DVD Giveaway!
Qualifying Entry Task for TWITTER Contest

I am happy to announce our next DVD giveaway! From Sunday, August 16 through Saturday, September 26, 2015, Classic Movie Hub will be giving away a total of SIX Alfred Hitchcock DVDs!  And, this time, it’ll be winner’s choice — each winner will be able to choose their preferred Hitch DVD prize: either Rebecca, Notorious or Spellbound!

Three Alfred Hitchcock DVDs: Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious

So, now let’s get down to business…

In order to qualify to win one of the above Alfred Hitchcock DVDs via this Twitter contest giveaway, you must complete the following task by Saturday, September 26 at 8PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on six different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over. And remember, you’ll be able to pick your prize — either Rebecca, Notorious or Spellbound!

  • Saturday, August 22: One Winner
  • Saturday, August 29: One Winner
  • Saturday, September 5: One Winner
  • Saturday, September 12: One Winner
  • Saturday, September 19: One Winner
  • Saturday, September 26: One Winner

We will announce the winner(s) on Twitter, the day after each winner is picked at 8PM EST (for example, we will announce the first winner on Sunday August 23 at 8PM EST on Twitter).

Who will win??? The suspense is killing me! (sorry, I just couldn’t resist :)

Alfred Hitchcock, bang“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”


ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, September 26 at 8PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET* (not DM) the following message:
Just entered to win “The Great Alfred Hitchcock DVD Giveaway” courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub #DVDGiveaway #Hitchcock

What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock film and why? 

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.


Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

See complete contest rules here.

And if you can’t wait to win these DVDs, you can purchase them on amazon via the below links (click on images):



–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Lionel Barrymore in You Can’t Take It With You

“You can’t take it with you… So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”  

 Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff in You Can't Take It With YouLionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhoff


Anyone who knows me, knows that “You Can’t Take It With You” is one of my all-time favorite movies.  For me, it’s a profoundly moving film that’s as relevant today as it was over 75 years ago when it was first released.  And, although it features some of my favorite actors of all time (Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Edward Arnold), it is really Lionel Barrymore that steals the show for me. Why??? Well, quite simply because his performance is so ‘simple’ and honest that it seems as if he’s not acting at all… just living the life of warm and wise family patriarch Grandpa Vanderhoff…

That said, I want to share some of my favorite Barrymore scenes here, but first I want to provide a short synopsis for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet…

you can't take it with you castLionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold

Synopsis:  Stenographer Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) is in love with her boss Tony Kirby (James Stewart) who is VP of a family business run by his father, business mogul Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold). When Tony proposes marriage to Alice, the powerful and rich Kirbys must meet Alice’s family, the good-natured and eccentric Sycamores — whose patriarch is the easy-going Grandpa Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) who walked out on his job 35 years ago because he just ‘wasn’t having any fun’. The snobbish Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Mary Forbes) think that Alice and her family spell trouble and are non-too-enthused about the engagement. When the Kirbys visit the Sycamores on the wrong night (thanks to Tony who wants his parents to see the Sycamores as they really are), chaos ensues and everyone inadvertently ends up in jail. While in jail, Kirby finds out that Grandpa’s house is the last obstacle standing between him and a huge munitions deal that will make Kirby even richer and more powerful. But if Grandpa gives in and sells his home to Kirby, it will have a domino effect on the community that will be devastating to his neighbors. While the Kirbys and Sycamores stand before the judge, some ‘telling’ words are exchanged and Alice breaks her engagement with Tony. Alice flees the city, leaving Tony and her beloved family behind…  I won’t tell you how the story ends, but suffice it to say that this is a Frank Capra film after all (enough said)…

And, now for some of my favorite scenes…


An inquisitive Grandpa strikes up a conversation with nervous but dedicated worker-bee Mr. Poppins (Donald Meek)… 

You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Poppins, Donald Meeks and Lionel Barrymor

Grandpa asks Poppins a life-altering question… 

Grandpa: You like this?
Mr. Poppins: Like it?
Grandpa: This work you’re doing?
Mr. Poppins: Oh no, my goodness, no. Landsakes, what am I saying?
Grandpa: Then why do you do it?… Isn’t there something else you’d rather be doing than this? 


You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Poppins, Donald Meeks and Lionel Barrymor

Mr. Poppins likes to invent things…

Grandpa: What do you mean, fooling around with all these dull figures? Seems to me Mr. Poppins, that THIS is the kind of work
you ought to be doing (inventing things).


Special moments between Grandpa and Granddaughter… 

You Can't Take it With You, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur

Alice reveals to Grandpa that she’s in love…

Grandpa: Can’t even talk about him, can you?
Alice: Not rationally.
Grandpa: Well, who’s asking you to be rational?


You Can't Take it With You, Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur

Grandpa reminisces about Alice’s Grandmother… 

Grandpa: Listen, when I was courting your Grandmother, it took me two years to propose. You know why? The moment she’d walk into a room, my knees buckled. Blood would rush up into my head and the walls would start to dance.
Twice I keeled over in a dead faint.

Grandpa: I never got over it either. Right up to the very last, she couldn’t walk into a room without my heart going thump, thump, thump.

Alice: I wish I’d known her. What was she like?
Grandpa: Look in there (points to mirror).

Grandpa Vanderhoff: I can still hear the tinkle of her thin little voice, see her eyes laughing. That’s the reason I’ve lived in this house so many years — could never move out — would be like moving out on grandma.


Grandpa lands in jail with business mogul Anthony P. Kirby

you can't take it with you, edward arnold and lionel barrymore in jail

Grandpa tells Anthony P. Kirby a thing or two…

AP: You know what’ll happen if the newspapers get a hold of this. It’ll jeopardize the biggest deal of my career!

Grandpa Vanderhof: And what if it does fall through? What if all your deals fall through? Might be a good thing for you.
Anthony P. Kirby: Man, you’re crazy.
Grandpa Vanderhof: Well, maybe I am. I used to be just like you once. Then one morning, when I was going up in the elevator… it struck me I wasn’t having any fun. So I came right down and I never went back. Yes, sir. That was 35 years ago.
Anthony P. Kirby: Admirable. And you haven’t done anything since huh?
Grandpa Vanderhof: Oh yes, yes, yes… Oh just the things I wanted to do… collected stamps, went to the zoo when I got the notion, took up the harmonica, and even found time to notice when spring came around…


you can't take it with you, edward arnold and lionel barrymore in jail

Grandpa loses his cool…

Grandpa Vanderhof: Scum, are we? What makes you think you’re such a superior human being? Your money? If you do, you’re a dull-witted fool, Mr. Kirby. And a poor one at that. You’re poorer than any of these people you call scum, because I’ll guarantee at least they’ve got some friends. While you with your jungle and your long claws, as you call ‘em, you’ll wind up your miserable existence without anything you can call friend. You may be a high mogul to yourself, Mr. Kirby, but to me you’re a failure – failure as a man, failure as a human being, even a failure as a father. When your time comes, I doubt if a single tear will be shed over you. The world will probably cry, “Good riddance.” That’s a nice prospect, Mr. Kirby. I hope you’ll enjoy it. I hope you’ll get some comfort out of all this coin you’ve been sweating over then!


Grandpa trusts in the Almighty…

you can't take it with you, Grandpa Vanderhof saying grace

Grandpa gives thanks…

Grandpa: Well, Sir, here we are again. We’ve been getting along pretty good for quite a while now – we’re certainly much obliged. Remember all we ask is just to go along the way we are, keep our health; as far as anything else is concerned, we leave that up to you. Thank you.

And, just a few facts to wrap things up…

  • Lionel Barrymore’s birthname was Lionel Herbert Blythe.
  • Barrymore was born into the famous Barrymore/Drew theatrical family; his parents were Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew Barrymore (formerly Georgiana Emma Drew) – both actors; his mother’s parents (Louisa Lane Drew and John Drew) – were both actors; his mother’s siblings (Sidney, John Drew Jr and Louisa) – were all actors; his maternal great-grandparents (Eliza Trentner and William Haycraft Lane) – were both actors.
  • Lionel was the elder brother of John and Ethel; they were the most famous generation of the legendary thespian family.
  • He is the grand-uncle of Drew Barrymore. 
  • Barrymore suffered from arthritis. During the filming of You Can’t Take It With You, the pain of standing with crutches was so severe that Barrymore required hourly shots of painkillers. By 1938, Barrymore used a wheelchair exclusively and never walked again.


A big Thank You to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this wonderful blogathon event! There are so many more wonderful Classic Bloggers participating in this event so please be sure to check out the other entries.

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Blogathons, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Classic Movie Travels: The Great Katharine Hepburn of Fenwick, Connecticut

“I am Katharine Hepburn of Fenwick, Connecticut.”

Sharp-witted and sophisticated, Katharine Hepburn was a pivotal figure in Golden Age cinema. Her independent life and strong-willed movie characters cemented her as a role model for multiple generations of women. She maintained a distinct physical presence, boasted the exaggerated vowels of a well-bred New Englander in her often-imitated voice, and possessed a face defined by remarkably high cheekbones. Among her many achievements, she was a four-time Academy Award winner, and also popularized trousers for women. Despite her various accomplishments, and her reputation as a Hollywood icon, the opening line of her last will and testament read, simply, “I am Katharine Hepburn of Fenwick, Connecticut.”

While Hepburn identified herself as Fenwick resident, her time in Connecticut actually began in Hartford, where she was born. Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born into a tight-knit family, whose contented social status and unconventional opinions nurtured her self-confidence and individuality. Her mother was a suffrage and birth control activist, and her father was a urologist who sought to educate the public about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The Hepburns encouraged Katharine to sharpen her mind, speak her thoughts, and engage with the world as fully as possible.

Katherine Hepburn as a young child

Young Hepburn was a tomboy, and liked to call herself Jimmy. She cut her hair short, and enjoyed swimming, running, diving, riding, wrestling, and playing golf and tennis. Katharine took golf lessons each day. She loved swimming, and took ice-cold baths every morning, believing that “the bitterer the medicine, the better it is for you.” Hepburn was a fan of films from a young age, and tried to see one each Saturday night. She would orchestrate plays with her friends and siblings, and perform for neighbors at the price of fifty cents per ticket, in order to raise money for the Navajo people.

Although the Hepburn family generally maintained a happy life, tragedy struck in 1921 with the death of her brother, Tom. While visiting in New York, Katharine found Tom hanging from the attic rafters. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear. On one hand, Tom may have been experiencing his family’s history of depression, but on the other, there is the belief that he was trying to attempt a magic trick that he had heard about from his father. Eventually, Katharine came to the conclusion that he had taken his own life.

Katherine Hepburn as a young child

Regardless of the circumstances, Katharine was crushed by the death of her brother. They had often played athletic games together when growing up, and generally protected one another. After Tom’s death, Katharine became very withdrawn and depressed, leading to poor performance in school. Soon after, Katharine left high school and never returned. With Tom’s absence, Katharine seemed to fulfill the roll of both daughter and son, trying to take his place within the family, as a means of coping. She even took on Tom’s birthday, November 8th, as her own, though she was indeed born on May 12th.

Katharine was tutored at home until she went to university in Bryn Mawr in 1924. However, she found university life difficult and was often depressed. She was almost dismissed due to poor academic performance, until she decided to become an actress. This meant that she would have to improve her grades, in order to participate in the student productions. Once her marks had improved, she performed the lead role in a production of The Woman in the Moon during her senior year. The positive response to her performance further convinced Hepburn to pursue an acting career. She graduated with a degree in history and philosophy in June of 1928.

Katharine Hepburn, The Woman in the MoonThe Woman in the Moon

Hepburn’s initial attempts to break into acting were not very successful. Upon graduating, she attempted to get a role in a Baltimore stock theatre company. Although her performance was well received, she was criticized for having a shrill voice, and left Baltimore to study with a voice tutor in New York City. In her next attempt at a show, she turned up late, mixed up her lines, tripped over her feet, and spoke too quickly to be comprehensible. She was immediately fired. She was briefly married to Ludlow Ogden Smith, with plans to leave the theatre behind, but missed her work and returned to attempting to secure a part on the stage. After joining a theatre company in Massachusetts, she received the criticism of “She looks a fright, her manner is objectionable, and she has no talent.” Afterwards, she landed a spot in a Connecticut stock company, alongside Leslie Howard. Unfortunately, she was dismissed because she “wasn’t very good.”

Eventually, Katharine’s breakout performance occurred with the Broadway run of The Warrior’s Husband. She perfectly exhibited the aggressive energy and athleticism that the role required. A scout for a Hollywood agent was in the crowd during Hepburn’s performance, and asked her to test for a part in the melodrama, A Bill of Divorcement. George Cukor thought of her as an “odd creature […] unlike anybody.” He particularly liked the way she picked up a glass during the screen test. He offered her the role, and encouraged the studio to accept her demands. At 25 years old, Hepburn starred alongside John Barrymore with no sign of intimidation.

Katharine HepburnKatharine appeared in a myriad of films afterwards, namely Stage Door and Bringing Up Baby. Despite being cast in films with talented costars, her performances did not resonate well with audiences and critics. Following this decline in her career, Hepburn took action to create her own comeback vehicle. She left Hollywood to look for a stage project, and signed on to star in Philip Barry’s new play, The Philadelphia Story. It was tailored to showcase the actress, with the character of socialite Tracy Lord incorporating a mixture of humor, aggression, nervousness, and vulnerability. Howard Hughes, Hepburn’s partner at the time, sensed that the play could be her ticket back to Hollywood stardom and bought her the film rights before it even debuted on stage. The Philadelphia Story first toured the United States, to positive reviews, and then opened in New York at the Schubert Theatre on March 29, 1939. It was a big hit, critically and financially, running for 417 performances and then going on a second successful tour.

Several of the major film studios approached Hepburn to produce the film version of Barry’s play. She chose to sell the rights to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Hollywood’s number one studio, on the condition that she be the star. As part of the deal she also received the director of her choice, George Cukor, but the costars she wanted, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, were both unavailable. Louis B. Mayer promised her James Stewart and $150,000 “for anyone else you want or can get.” Hepburn chose her friend and previous costar, Cary Grant, to whom she ceded top billing.

Before filming began, Hepburn shrewdly noted, “I don’t want to make a grand entrance in this picture. Moviegoers … think I’m too la-di-da or something. A lot of people want to see me fall flat on my face.” Thus the film began with Grant knocking the actress flat on her backside. Berg describes how the character was crafted to have audiences “laugh at her enough that they would ultimately sympathize with her”, which Hepburn felt was crucial in “recreating” her public image.

The Philadelphia Story was one of the biggest hits of 1940, breaking records at Radio City Music Hall.The review in Time declared, “Come on back, Katie, all is forgiven.”

Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant,  Jimmy Stewart, The Philadelphia StoryIn between Stage Door and Bringing Up Baby, Katharine’s fondness for her family home in Fenwick continued to grow. While the Hepburn family initially maintained a residence in Hartford, Katharine’s birthplace, and then moved into a new home in Hartford, their estate in Fenwick was especially dear to Katharine. Fenwick, a tiny borough, is where the Hepburn family would summer for almost a century. Hepburn would return to Fenwick time and again to plot comebacks, escape on the weekends, or retreat to during old age. She contended, “The me I know is the person at Fenwick.”

In 1938, a hurricane devastated the beloved Hepburn estate in Fenwick. As the story goes, Katharine Hepburn was out playing golf in Fenwick as the monster storm was approaching. Hepburn and many others rode out the storm in Fenwick. There was no radar, satellite, or buoys. Nobody had any idea about what was about to roar ashore. Many experts today believe it would be likened to what we now know as a category 4 Hurricane. Nearly 700 died in the storm. Along coastal New England 9,000 homes were destroyed, including the Hepburn home in Fenwick.

As far as the Hepburn home in Connecticut, the only fixture that survived was the bath tub. So vast was Katharine’s love of Fenwick, that she would rebuild the home within one year. She raised it several feet to try and keep any more storms at bay and stronger, out of brick, not wood. Nearly 60 years later, that brick has held up just fine.

Katharine Hepburn, Connecticut Historical SocietyConnecticut Historical Society

Hepburn enjoyed a successful career in films, but developed a somewhat cold and withdrawn reputation. She would avoid or offer rude comments to the press, and dismiss autograph requests. However, this attitude thawed over the years as she got older and became increasingly more open with the public. Despite a zeal for privacy, she did enjoy fame, and began to respond to the many fan letters and autograph requests that persisted well into her later years.

Hepburn spent years flying from coast to coast or abroad, as her career demanded. Yet, she always came back to Fenwick and Old Saybrook. It was a haven for her, a retreat, a place she called “paradise” and it was to this paradise that she retired in 1997, sixty-five years after her screen debut.  Fittingly, she would also die there, in 2003.

Katharine Hepburn, Please Go Away SignToday, echoes of Hepburn’s life in Connecticut are still evident in both Hartford and Fenwick.


The Hepburn family’s first home was at 22 Hudson Street, just across the street from the Hartford Hospital. The house on Hudson Street has been demolished and taken over by the hospital. As Katharine put it, “The street no longer exists. The hospital grew over it.”

Katharine Hepburn, Hartford HospitalThe Hepburn family then moved to 133 Hawthorne Street. It was in this residence that Hepburn’s mother worked on most of her campaigning. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, occasionally stopped by the home for tea. The 133 Hawthorne Street home no longer exists.

Katharine Hepburn, Hawthorne Street HomeHawthorne Street Home

The final Hartford residence for the Hepburn family was actually in West Hartford, at 201 Bloomfield Street, opposite the University of Hartford. It was in this home that Katharine married her first and only husband. Upon her father’s death, Hepburn donated the home to the neighboring University, which uses it to this day. 

Katharine Hepburn, 201 Bloomfield Street Home201 Bloomfield Street Home


Katharine’s Fenwick home still stands in the borough of Fenwick and has been completely remodeled by a New York Developer. Saybrook was her love and she was well known in the town. While the interior has been redone, the exterior remains in the way that Katharine had rebuilt it.

Katharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home Interior, BedroomKatharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home Interior, BedroomKatharine Hepburn's Home Interior, BathroomKatharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home Interior, KitchenKatharine Hepburn's Home InteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home Interior, Dining AreaKatharine Hepburn's Home Interior, Living AreaKHep18Katharine Hepburn's Home ExteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home ExteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home ExteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home ExteriorKatharine Hepburn's Home ExteriorKatharine Hepburn at home in kitchenKatharine Hepburn Living Room

Katharine was well loved in her community, while living in her Fenwick home during her later years. If you’d like to follow in her footsteps, I do know that she used to shop at Walt’s Food Market.

Katharine Hepburn shopping at Walt’s Food Market Katharine Hepburn - Correspondence between Katharine Hepburn and Skip, the man who would deliver her groceries. From my personal collection.Correspondence between Katharine Hepburn and Skip, the man who would deliver her groceries. From my personal collection.

The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center is also in town, holding exhibits about its namesake.

 Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts CenterUpon Hepburn’s death, the town of Hartford hosted a play in honor of Kate, entitled Tea at Five.

Katharine Hepburn, Tea at Five Playbill, Playbill from my personal collectionPlaybill from my personal collection

Katharine Hepburn, Tea at Five Playbill, Playbill from my personal collectionPlaybill from my personal collection

When Tom Hepburn died in 1921, the family took a piece of his favorite climbing rock from Fenwick, and engraved his name on the stone in the family plot. Katharine and Tom are now buried beside each other in the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.

Katharine Hepburn gravesite, Cedar Hill Cemetery in HartfordKatharine Hepburn gravesite, Cedar Hill Cemetery in HartfordIf you find yourself in Connecticut, chances are you will also find traces of Kate the Great!


–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek is an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age and Travel Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can read more about Annette’s Classic Movie Travels at Hometowns to Hollywood







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Bengals on the Big Screen – Bringing the Zoo to the Silent Screen

Bengals on the Big Screen – Bringing the Zoo to the Silent Screen

Founded in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, and remains a special place for Chicagoans. Its history and urban setting continues to make it a unique draw, but in the early 20th century, its setting also made it a prime location for local silent film studios.

royal and kitty

Royal and Kitty, the Bengal Tigers, enjoy their time in the movie spotlight

Chicago-based Essanay Studios was founded in 1907, and focused mostly on making one-reel comedies, dramas and, as the company moved west, westerns. The studio crew also knew how to create non-scripted films that served a more educational and documentary-esque role. The nearby Lincoln Park Zoo, which was one of the largest zoos in the country during the late 19th and early 20th century, provided plenty of interesting subjects to film.  In spring of 1911, the Essanay team partnered with the zookeepers to film a variety of zoo activities over the span of a couple of weeks. Among the activities filmed  for the final one-reel version of the film were an operation on a 3-month-old Siberian camel, the extraction of a fang from a python, a nail trimming for Prince Roland the lion, Duchess the elephant reluctantly receiving her bath, and shots of the various zoo animals themselves, including moose, elk, bison, elephants, monkeys, reptiles, and a variety of birds. The preparation of the animals’ meals was also documented, as was the python’s meal.


The Zoo’s pride and joy, the bison herd.

The film was released on May 16, 1911 under the title “Wild Animals in Captivity” and won praise from exhibitors and critics not just from its novelty, but also from its educational content. The Moving Picture World declared that children would undoubtedly love it, but so would moviegoers and schools “in all parts of the country removed from zoological centers,” going on to say, “[I]t fills a large place in the study of natural history and will be welcomed.”

Of course, Essanay wasn’t the only film company to take advantage of the zoo and create animal pictures. Colonel Selig of the Selig Polyscope Company created an entire genre based around it, and even highlighted zoo happenings, like Kewpie the elephant eating breakfast, in the Selig-Tribune co-branded newsreels. Even Vitagraph featured the Zoo’s polar bears getting their spring shower in its Hearst-Vitagraph News Pictorial. Although the various local (and not-so-local) studios maintained a special relationship with the Lincoln Park Zoo – so much so that Selig starlet Kathlyn Williams reportedly gave her pet monkey Doc to the Zoo in 1911 – that relationship and focus on educational film soon began to diminish.

selig zoo 2

As the film industry moved west, and the smaller film companies began to be overtaken by the studio system of the ‘20s, the studios turned away from established zoos and began to create studio zoos whose sole function was to house and train animals for films. Colonel Selig himself began the trend with the establishment of the Selig Zoo in Los Angeles in the mid 1910’s, followed soon by the Universal City Zoo. The Selig Zoo even pulled Cy DeVry, the first director of the Lincoln Park Zoo, away from Chicago to train animals for films on the west coast. Although smaller studios remained who focused on industrial and educational film, the larger studios focused on entertainment and spectacle.

zoo parade

“Zoo Parade” host and Zoo Director Marlin Perkins, with a co-host

With the advent of TV, however, came the chance to shift focus back to the Zoo. In 1949, Lincoln Park Zoo director Marlin Perkins began “Zoo Parade,” a weekly show broadcast across America that highlighted activities and animals at the Zoo. Colonel Selig had died the previous year, and both of Essanay’s founders, George K. Spoor and G.M. Anderson, were largely out of the film industry by this point, but their early work in creating educational entertainment that could reach the masses definitely paved the way for the Lincoln Park Zoo’s own television program, and countless animal-focused TV programs and nature films to come, including “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures,” “Wild Kingdom,” and Disneynature’s films. Like “Chimpanzee,” “Bears,” and “Wings of Life.

–Janelle Vreeland for Classic Movie Hub

Janelle Vreeland is a Silent Film Fan and Contributing Writer for Classic Movie Hub.  You can read more of Janelle’s articles about Silent Film and Chicago history-related topics at Chicago Nitrate or Curtains, or you can follow Janelle on Twitter at  @SpookyJanelle .

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Classic TV and the Golden Age of Hollywood (Part One): I Love Lucy and the Birth of Sitcoms (1950s)

 Lucille Ball, TV’s First Sitcom Star…

Even in its early days, movie stars were no strangers to television. Many made guest appearances on various shows in the Fifties and Sixties. Bette Davis guest starred on Wagon Train (three episodes, nonetheless), The Virginian, and Perry Mason. Joan Crawford guest starred on G.E. Theatre and Route 66. It should come as no surprise then, that many movie stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood even received their own shows. The Loretta Young Show debuted in 1953 as Letter to Loretta. Ronald Reagan was the host of G.E. Theatre from 1954 to 1962. Judy Garland received her own ill-fated variety show in 1963. Henry Fonda had a recurring role as Marshal Simon Fry in the Western The Deputy and also narrated the show.

lucille ballLucille Ball

Of course, given the popularity of the genre on radio, it was inevitable that classic movie stars would star in their own situation comedies. Indeed, the first truly successful television sitcom starred a movie star – I Love Lucy with Lucille Ball. Given the success of I Love Lucy, many other sitcoms starring former movie idols would follow in the Fifties. Most lasted only briefly. Hey, Mulligan (also known as The Mickey Rooney Show), The Halls of Ivy (starring Ronald Colman), Honestly Celeste (starring Celeste Holm), and The Betty Hutton Show all lasted a season or less. That having been said however, others would prove to be hits and some are still seen today. Private Secretary (starring Ann Sothern), The Bob Cummings Show (also known as Love That Bob), The Gale Storm Show, The Donna Reed Show, and My Three Sons (starring Fred MacMurray) all proved rather successful.

I Love LucyLucille Ball starred as Lucy Ricardo on “I Love Lucy” which aired from 1951 through 1957

Despite the success of such shows as The Bob Cummings Show, The Donna Reed Show, and My Three Sons, shows starring movie idols from the Golden Age of Hollywood began to peter out with the beginning of the Sixties. The early Sixties would only see a few such shows, none of which were successful. My Living Doll (starring Bob Cummings and Julie Newmar), The Bing Crosby Show, and Mickey (starring Mickey Rooney) all only lasted a season. The mid-Sixties would prove no better for movie star sitcoms on television. The Jean Arthur Show only lasted half as season. Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats might have proven more successful had its star, Ann Sheridan, not died during its single season on the air. Exceptions to these failures were the shows starring Lucille Ball. Both The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy proved to be hits.

The Lucy ShowLucille Ball starred as Lucy Carmichael on “The Lucy Show,” 1962-1968
Here's LucyLucille Ball starred as Lucy Carter on Here’s Lucy, 1968-1974

Given the failure rate of situation comedies starring former, big name movie stars in the Sixties, it is perhaps surprising that there emerged an entire cycle of such shows in the late Sixties. Not counting The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy, from 1961 to 67 only five sitcoms featuring classic movie stars debuted on the broadcast networks, and none of them lasted more than a season. In stark contrast, from 1968 to 1971 no less than eight sitcoms starring classic movie stars debuted on the broadcast networks, some of which would run for literally years. As to the show that suddenly made sitcoms starring movie stars fashionable again, it starred one of the biggest movie stars of the Fifties and Sixties: Doris Day.

And that will be the subject of my next blog post… so please stay tuned…


–Terence Towles Canote for Classic Movie Hub

Terence Towles Canote runs the pop culture blog A Shroud of Thoughts and tweets ‘classic’ information daily via @Mercurie80. Terry’s interests and expertise span a wide spectrum, from classic movies and classic television to classic rock, pulp magazines, comic books and more.  He is the author of  Television: Rare & Well Done – a collection of essays about the 70-year history of broadcast TV from America’s Golden Age of Television through the reality shows of today.

You can buy Terry’s book at amazon by clicking on the below image:



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“Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway’s Greatest Producer” – Exclusive Interview with Authors Cynthia and Sara Brideson


“Ziegfeld and His Follies”
CMH Exclusive Interview with Authors Cynthia & Sara Brideson 

Cynthia and Sara Brideson’s latest book, “Ziegfeld and His Follies,” offers a comprehensive look at both the life and legacy of legendary impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. Meticulously researched and lavishly illustrated with over 75 images, the book presents an intimate and in-depth portrait of the man who profoundly changed American entertainment.

And now, CMH is happy to present an Exclusive Interview with authors Cynthia and Sara about this fascinating and informative book.  A big Thank You to Cynthia and Sara for their time, and for supplying CMH with exclusive photos to use in this blog post!


Ziegfeld and his Follies by Sara and Cynthia Brideson

CMH: Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourselves?

Cynthia and Sara: We’re identical twin sisters, born and still living in Sacramento, California. We’ve been writing ever since we could hold a pen! We began collaboratively writing when we were in high school, at which time we also took more of an interest in doing nonfiction work rather than novels.

Dorothy and Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz," the inspirations behind "Ziegfeld and His Follies"Dorothy and Glinda in “The Wizard of Oz,” the inspirations behind “Ziegfeld and His Follies”

CMH: How did you become interested in Classic Movies?

Cynthia and Sara: Our interest in classic movies really began because we became enamored with The Wizard of Oz as children. We especially took an interest in Dorothy and Glinda, who we found out were really Judy Garland and Billie Burke. We began to seek out any movie the actresses were in, and in those searches we came across dozens of other classic movies that sealed our obsession with all things old Hollywood. Meet Me in St. Louis, Dinner at Eight, Doubting Thomas, Easter Parade….all those movies were so well-made and appealing to kids as well as adults. Even the side characters in these films caught our interest! Our classmates had crushes on stars like Justin Timberlake and brought teen magazines to look at during silent reading time in the classroom while we idolized Jimmy Stewart and Gene Kelly and brought in old Hollywood memoirs with black and white photos. The other kids thought we were quite strange!

Florenz Ziegfeld in 1927Ziegfeld in 1927

CMH: I have to chuckle at your answer to the last question because I think that many classic movie fans, including myself, can relate to that!  But, that said… can you tell us… What inspired you to write about The Great Ziegfeld?

Cynthia and Sara: After reading Billie Burke’s memoirs, we wanted to know more about the larger-than-life figure to whom she was married. We found a beautiful book called The Ziegfeld Touch (by Richard and Paulette Ziegfeld, distant cousins of Florenz) and were entranced with the photos of the decadent shows Ziegfeld produced as well as his lavish home. His and Billie’s home, Burkeley Crest, seemed like an amusement park—complete with a menagerie of wild animals, a pool big enough to accommodate a canoe, a home movie theater, and a playhouse for their daughter with a complete working kitchen and guest room. Finally, the era in which Ziegfeld was most active (we call it the Titanic era through the Jazz Age, roughly 1912 to 1930), has always been the most fascinating time in American history to us. So much changed in popular culture and society; music, women’s place in the world, film, literature—everything was being reshaped and revolutionized. There was so much creativity; innovation seemed boundless. Ziegfeld, as one critic once said, created “musical mirrors of his time” that truly harnessed all that was going on in his era in a manner that both the masses and the elites could appreciate.

 Billie Burke and daughter Patricia. Billie Burke and daughter Patricia

CMH: I can only imagine how difficult it would be to write such an extensive biography. How did you approach compiling and organizing the research for this book, and how long did it ultimately take to write?

Cynthia and Sara: Compiling research for the book was a very lengthy process. We first read Billie’s memoir seventeen years ago, followed by Patricia Ziegfeld’s candid account of growing up with Ziegfeld as a dad, The Ziegfeld’s Girl. So, that was about a year’s worth of research. We took a break for about ten years just to get through elementary school and high school. Then, five years ago, we found Grant Hayter-Menzies’s biography, Mrs. Ziegfeld, and it reignited our ambition to write a book about Ziegfeld. We wrote a rough draft, which took a year. In 2012, we really began the hard work. We found the Anna Held Papers (Held was Ziegfeld’s first wife, common law that is) in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library. The papers included lengthy, unpublished correspondence between Billie and Ziegfeld as well as Ziegfeld and Patricia. We spent hours deciphering Billie’s rather sloppy handwriting, but it was worth the effort. We also found tons of primary sources including memoirs by Eddie Cantor, Ziegfeld girls Marcelle Earl and Doris Eaton Travis, and Will Rogers. Overall, with edits included, the entire project took almost four years. We were so thankful to the University Press of Kentucky for accepting our book and for helping us with the crucial editing process.

Billie Burke and Judy Garland in "Everybody Sing" (1938)Billie Burke and Judy Garland in “Everybody Sing” (1938)

CMH: You clearly have great knowledge and appreciation for Ziegfeld and his work, but was there anything you learned while researching the book that truly surprised you about Ziegfeld? 

Cynthia and Sara: What most surprised us was learning about Ziegfeld’s sensitive, warm side. He is stereotyped as a ruthless, publicity mad womanizer, but in truth that was not the real Ziegfeld. He was a devoted father and husband despite his periodic indiscretions. The most interesting part of our research was finding the unpublished letters between him and Patricia, written when she was a very young girl. Ziegfeld was a doting father and though many colleagues called him “Mr. Ice Water” because of his poker face, his letters to Patricia reveal that he did indeed have a sense of humor. His humor also came through in his correspondence with his best friend Will Rogers—the only comedian he said did not make him feel like hiding in his office. We were also surprised to learn of his benevolence to his employees. He was a father figure, but not a “Sugar Daddy”! For instance, he would give showgirls money when he knew they could not make ends meet to feed their families. He gave even the washer women at his theatre bags of gold coins as bonuses. One girl with whom he did have an affair, Lillian Lorraine, he supported throughout her life after she became somewhat crippled by a spinal injury.

A group of Ziegfeld's greatest stars, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Lillian LorraineA group of Ziegfeld’s greatest stars, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Lillian Lorraine, Eddie Cantor

CMH: Your book provides a comprehensive look at the life and legacy of Florenz Ziegfeld, but it is also, in a sense, a biography of his greatest stars. Can you elaborate on that a little for us?

Cynthia and Sara: The stars who we talk about the most are Anna Held, Lillian Lorraine, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Marilyn Miller, W.C. Fields, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke (for whom he did produce several shows), and Bert Williams. We talk also of his first star, body builder Eugen Sandow, as well as the Eaton Sisters, the Dolly Sisters, and Nora Bayes (who co-wrote “Shine on Harvest Moon”). Of course we devote the most time to Billie Burke and Anna Held, since they were his spouses. Marilyn Miller fills considerable page space as well; Billie Burke stated that Ziegfeld loved her as “the perfect actress.” We spend much time discussing their tumultuous professional and personal relationship and debunk the unfounded assumption that Marilyn and Ziegfeld had an affair. Because Eddie Cantor wrote so extensively of Ziegfeld, we were able to put in more about him. Ziegfeld and Eddie had a sort of father/son relationship, complete with squabbles! We mention in passing a plethora of other famous people including Louise Brooks, Paulette Goddard, and Ruby Keeler—all of whom got their starts in Ziegfeld shows.

Fanny BriceFanny Brice

CMH: Ziegfeld was known as the “glorifier of the American girl”. Can you explain what this means?

Cynthia and Sara: When Ziegfeld began his theatrical career at the turn of the nineteenth century, the girls glorified on stage were often copycats of popular French and English actresses. Their wardrobe, acting and singing style — everything — bore European influence. Once Ziegfeld began his series of revues and separated from Anna Held (who was French), he sought to shine a spotlight on American beauties. He wanted to create a new definition of beauty unique to America. Surprisingly, he preferred chorines to wear little make-up, which was a far cry from the heavy make-up worn in European-inspired shows. He made women look less like porcelain dolls and more like the girl next door dressed in a fantastic costume. As well as conveying their natural beauty, Ziegfeld gave the women in his shows more powerful positions. They dominated his shows; men in Ziegfeld productions were afterthoughts. Ziegfeld glorified the American Girl at the time that American women won the right to vote and took on more position outside the home. He was not an exploiter of women but a champion of them. Through his showgirls, he helped set trends and showcase modern dance and music crazes—ragtime, jazz, and the like. This being said, he still did pamper his female stars — he did not expect them to be so liberated that they would reject a bit of spoiling. He employed the best photographers, (i.e. Alfred Cheney Johnson), the best costumers (i.e. Lucile Duff Gordon), and the best lighting technicians to ensure that his girls looked and felt that they were the best in the business. Eddie Cantor once stated that if someone saw a Ziegfeld Girl on the street, he would never guess she was an actress. But with the right clothes, lighting, and attention, she blossomed into one of Ziegfeld’s Glorified Girls.

Movie posters produced by Ziegfeld and/or adapted from his showsMovie posters produced by Ziegfeld and/or adapted from his shows

CMH: Ziegfeld was most famously known for his theatrical revues and musicals, but can you tell us a little about how he influenced classic movies?

Cynthia and Sara: Virtually any musical you watch bears some influence from Ziegfeld shows. For instance, the famed storyline of poor girl making good has its roots in Ziegfeld’s phenomenally popular musical comedy Sally and later Betsy and Show Girl. Also, the oft used “living mannequin” style of musical number you see in sequences like “The Girl I Love Is on a Magazine Cover” (Easter Parade) and “Beautiful Girl” (Singin’ in the Rain) originated in Lucile Duff Gordon’s fashion shows, which Ziegfeld adopted for his own revues. Finally, there is a plethora of movies depicting the Follies or telling the stories of those who worked in the revues. Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Easter Parade (1948) show girls working in the Follies and make reference to Ziegfeld in name only—as a sort of omnipresent but unseen figure. Then there are all the biopics of Ziegfeld stars: Funny Girl, The Helen Morgan Story, The Eddie Cantor Story, The Will Rogers Story, The Dolly Sisters….the list becomes rather lengthy. There are also adaptations of his shows such as Show Boat and Rio Rita. In our book, we give a complete list of Ziegfeld-inspired films as well as two pictures he co-produced himself, Whoopee! And Glorifying the American Girl. The former stars Eddie Cantor and the latter Mary Eaton (with a cameo by Cantor). Also notable is that Whoopee! was choreographed by Busby Berkeley, whose later films like 42nd Street adopted the “poor girl makes good” story used in several Ziegfeld shows.

"Beautiful Girl" from "Singin' in the Rain" and "The girl I Love is on a Magazine Cover" from "Easter Parade," sequences inspired by "Ziegfeld Follies" numbers“Beautiful Girl” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The girl I Love is on a Magazine Cover” from “Easter Parade,” sequences inspired by “Ziegfeld Follies” numbers

CMH: Can you tell us a little about how Billie Burke influenced Ziegfeld and his work?

Cynthia and Sara: Fashion became even more dominant in Ziegfeld’s shows after he and Billie married in 1914. Billie was a fashion trendsetter; she actually introduced him to Lucile Duff Gordon, who gave the Follies their signature style from 1915 to the early 1920s. Billie also “tamed” Ziegfeld to an extent. Once Patricia was born in 1916, his shows were more family-friendly. Billie also suggested that he give Marilyn Miller a part in the Follies; given her tremendous impact on his shows, particularly his musical comedies, this is perhaps the largest contribution Billie made to his work.

The Christmas scene in "the Great Ziegfeld," the only moment Billie Burke deemed genuine in the film.The Christmas scene in “the Great Ziegfeld,” the only moment Billie Burke deemed genuine in the film.

CMH: How does the real Florenz Ziegfeld compare to William Powell’s portrayal of him in the 1936 film, The Great Ziegfeld?  

Cynthia and Sara: The real Ziegfeld was not the polished and extraverted socialite William Powell played onscreen. He was actually rather shy and awkward around people and had few close friends. He was more of an outdoorsman than William Powell’s portrayal. He was in his element when camping and fishing. What Powell and Ziegfeld share was an impeccable style of dress, extravagant showmanship, and an eye for beautiful women and/or potential stars.

A comparison of the real Billie Burke, Florenz Ziegfeld, and Anna Held with their cinematic counterparts, Myna Loy, William Powell, and Luise Rainier, in "the Great Ziegfeld" (1936). A comparison of the real Billie Burke, Florenz Ziegfeld, and Anna Held with their cinematic counterparts, Myna Loy, William Powell, and Luise Rainier, in “the Great Ziegfeld” (1936).

CMH: And, to continue along those lines, how did the real Billie Burke compare to Myrna Loy’s portrayal of her in that film?

Cynthia and Sara: Billie Burke was much more strong-willed than Myrna Loy’s portrayal. She was known to have a fiery temper and admitted to hitting Ziegfeld over the head with a soup bowl when his gambling or suspected affairs became too much for her. Billie stated that the most accurate scene in the film is the Christmas scene in which Ziegfeld is shown lavishing gifts upon his family, enjoying the act of giving far more than receiving. Billie also admitted that she would rather have had Miriam Hopkins portray her in the picture. Given Hopkins’ more temperamental characters she played onscreen, we can see Billie’s reasoning.

Ziegfeld and showgirls, circa 1931.Ziegfeld and showgirls, circa 1931

CMH: What made the Great Ziegfeld so great?

Cynthia and Sara: What made Ziegfeld “The Great Ziegfeld” was in one word: taste. He defined his touch as “splendor and intelligence,” which when put together equal taste. He had an eye for color and spectacle that other producers did not. He never stooped to broad comedy or bawdy burlesque; rather, he produced witty comedy, timely satires, and even shows with weighty dramatic elements like Show Boat. He also was a star maker. Virtually all the great musical and comedy stars of the 1910s and 1920s were either discovered by or made famous by Ziegfeld. The same could be said for songwriters. Ziegfeld gave George Gershwin his start and helped popularize Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, and, most notably, Irving Berlin. Tunes from Ziegfeld shows have lasted while tunes from other producers’ revues were not so immortal. Everyone still knows “Ol’ Man River,” “Look for the Silver Lining,” “Mandy,” and “Shine on Harvest Moon.” Finally, what made Ziegfeld so great was that the word impossible was not in his vocabulary. Even when he was broke, he still insisted that everything in his shows be the finest quality. Costumes used real pearls and gems and ostrich feathers. Money was no object. Ziegfeld stated near the end of his life at a time when movies were threatening to displace legitimate theatre: “Beauty in the flesh will continue to rule the word.” Ziegfeld did indeed give audiences visions that would be difficult to replicate onscreen. Seeing splendor before one’s eyes is something a recording of the same image cannot duplicate perfectly. It is like comparing a photo with a painting. A painting shows the dream while a photo shows the reality. Ziegfeld made dreams realities for audiences, for his family, and for his employees.

Character actors spotlighted in "Also Starring":Frank Morgan, Edna May Oliver, Charles Winninger, Shelley Winters, Claude Rains, Joan BlondellCharacter actors spotlighted in “Also Starring”:Frank Morgan, Edna May Oliver, Charles Winninger, Shelley Winters, Claude Rains, Joan Blondell

CMH: One last question… “Ziegfeld and His Follies” is actually the second book that you’ve written. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your first book?

Cynthia and Sara: Our first book was published in 2012 by BearManor Media and is titled: Also Starring: Forty Biographical Essays on the Greatest Character Actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era, 1930-1965. The idea for the book came about the same way as the idea for the Ziegfeld book. When we watched all the films we could find of Billie Burke and Judy Garland, we could not help but notice that several supporting actors seemed to show up again and again. We would say: “It’s that one guy!” And then we’d wonder, who is that person? We chose forty of the most memorable character actors (Billie Burke included) and wrote substantial sketches on each one. We found material about the actors through newspaper archives and rare memoirs (who knew S.Z. Cuddles Sakall wrote a book?) that allowed us to give more than just career overviews. A few people we spotlighted were actually Ziegfeld veterans including Charles Winninger, Edna May Oliver, and Frank Morgan. We also included a few stars that began as leading ladies/men but became character actors as they aged such as Shelley Winters, Joan Blondell, and Claude Rains. We also included people almost forgotten by history such as Jules Munshin and Virginia O’Brien. No star is too little, in our opinion, to receive the same attention as a box office draw.

Thanks again to Cynthia and Sara Brideson for this fascinating book and interview. For those of you who’d like to purchase their books, you can buy them on amazon by clicking below.


Sara and Cynthia Brideson are avid classic movie fans, and twin authors of Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway’s Greatest Producer and Also Starring: Forty Biographical Essays on the Greatest Character Actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era, 1930-1965. They also are currently working on comprehensive biographies of Gene Kelly and Margaret Sullavan. You can follow them on twitter at @saraandcynthia or like them on Facebook at Cynthia and Sara Brideson.


–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub


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The “Forgotten Hollywood” Book Giveaway (July Facebook and Blog Contest)

The “Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History” and “Son of Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History” Book Giveaway
Qualifying Entry Task for Facebook/Blog Contest

Okay, now it’s time for the Facebook/Blog version of our Forgotten Hollywood contest! This time we’ll be giving away ONE COPY EACH of Manny Pacheco’s  “Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History” and “Son of Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History”  courtesy of the author!  And don’t forget, we’re also giving away FOUR MORE of Manny’s books (two of each title) via Twitter this month as well, so please feel free to enter that contest too if you’re on Twitter…

And, now for the contest details…

In order to qualify to win a copy of  “Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History” or “Son of Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History” via this Facebook/Blog contest giveaway, you must complete the following task by Saturday, August 1 at 8PM ESTTWO WINNERS (one winner for each book) will be picked at random and announced on Facebook and this Blog on Sunday, August 2nd.

If you’re also on Twitter and want more chances to win, visit us at @ClassicMovieHub for additional giveaways — because we’ll be giving away FOUR more Books there as well! 



ENTRY TASK to be completed by Saturday, August 1 at 8PM EST — 

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

What is one of your favorite performances by a Character Actor? 


Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) and Canada residents are eligible to enter this giveaway contest. (see contest rules for further information)

BlogHub members ARE also eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

You can follow Manny Pacheco at @raideoman1

About the books:

“Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History”Nothing grabs the mind like a finely crafted film. Memorable lines strike an instant impression, and imagery provides celluloid art to enjoy time and again. Bypassing the legendary stars from the Studio Era’s Golden Age, Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History focuses on the character actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Claude Rains, Walter Brennan, Thelma Ritter, Thomas Mitchell, and Basil Rathbone.

“Son of Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History”: The long anticipated sequel to the award-winning Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History shares American stories through the eyes of character actors of Hollywood s Golden Age, such as Frank Morgan, Cesar Romero, Andy Devine, Peter Lorre, Majorie Main, Leo Gorcey, Jack Carson, Alan Hale Sr., Sydney Greenstreet, and Lon Chaney Jr. 

If you can’t wait to win the books, you can purchase them on amazon via the below link (click on images):



–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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