Silents are Golden: The Irrepressible Harold Loyd

Silents are Golden: The Irrepressible Harold Loyd

If we can credit a single figure for being a silent comedy legend, a gifted performer, a pioneer of the cinema, and the very personification of the can-do spirit of the 1920s, it’s comedian Harold Lloyd. While he’s perhaps not as well known today as fellow clowns Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (indeed, you can rarely keep the names of the three entertainers separate), few souls out there won’t recognize Lloyd’s signature round spectacles–or that famous still of him dangling from a clock in Safety Last! (1923).

Harold Lloyd hangs from a clock in Safety Last! (1923)
Lloyd hangs from a clock in Safety Last! (1923)

And if you take a look at Lloyd’s films, you’ll quickly discover a fresh, funny, and timeless body of work that can still delight and inspire us today. It’s not for nothing that Lloyd was one of the most popular entertainers of the entire silent era–and that’s no exaggeration.

He was born April 20, 1893, in the tiny village of Burchard, Nebraska (today, its population hovers around a mere 80 people). His father “Foxy” Lloyd and his mother Elizabeth clashed over Foxy’s failed business endeavors and they would divorce in 1910–which was unusual for the time period. Lloyd would decide to move with his father to San Diego. Family lore holds that the two Lloyds couldn’t decide whether to move to California or New York and decided to flip a coin. Fortunately for the world, California was the winner.

Harold Lloyd young
a young Harold

In 1913, the Edison Film Company was shooting in San Diego and was looking for extras. Since he always had the ambition to be an actor, Lloyd decided to give moving pictures a shot, making his first appearance in Edison’s The Old Monk’s Tale (1913). Enjoying the work, he decided to head to Los Angeles and become a part of this fascinating new business.

Always a go-getter, Lloyd was so determined to be in pictures that he figured out how to sneak onto the Universal lot. He’d later recall: “The gatekeeper was a crabby old soul who let me understand that it would be a pleasure to keep me out. As I lurked about I noticed that at noon a crowd of actors and extras drifted out in make-up to eat at a lunch counter across the way, passing the gatekeeper without question each way. The next morning I brought a make-up box. At noon I dodged behind a billboard, made up, mingled with the lunch-counter press and returned with them through the gate without challenge.” Lloyd’s daring paid off, and he would be an extra in films like Rory O’ the Bogs (1913) and The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)–working alongside fellow extra Hal Roach, who would later be pivotal to his career.

In the spring of 1915 Lloyd briefly worked at the Keystone Film Company–the mighty “Laugh Factory” itself. After this stint, Hal Roach contacted him with an offer to star in a silent comedy series as a Chaplinesque character named “Willie Work.” The series was rather tepid, so Lloyd changed his character to “Lonesome Luke,” who became more popular. By 1917, Lloyd decided he wanted to be more unique–and decided to be a normal-looking, energetic “everyman,” distinguished only by his round spectacles (he’d call his “everyman” the “Glass” character). In the sea of screen clowns in pancake makeup, ill-fitting clothes and fake mustaches, this truly did make him stand out.

Harold Lloyd
Harold as the “Glass” character

A tireless worker, Lloyd made short after short and was swiftly making a name for himself. He was only slowed down by a freak accident in 1919 when a prop bomb he was holding during a photoshoot turned out to be the real deal. The explosion caused burns, temporary blindness, and destroyed his right thumb and one of his fingers. His later recollections of the accident sum up his amazingly optimistic attitude toward life: “I thought I would surely be so disabled that I would never be able to work again. I didn’t suppose that I would have one five-hundredth of what I have now. Still, I thought, ‘Life is worthwhile. Just to be alive.’ I still think so.” He would continue with acting and even performing stunts with a special glove concealing his injured hand.

Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in Number, Please? (1920)
Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in Number, Please? (1920)

By the 1920s Lloyd made a savvy transition to comedy features, starting with A Sailor-Made Man (1921). He set high standards for his work and made sure to have a solid team of writers and gag men. His carefully-crafted features were widely acclaimed and wildly popular–some of the biggest box office hits of the 1920s. His thrill comedy Safety Last! (1923) became his most iconic film thanks to the famous clock-dangling scene, and he was critically admired for the nuanced Grandma’s Boy (1922) and inspiring The Kid Brother (1927). To the adoring public, the beaming, thrill-seeking boy-next-door Harold Lloyd could do no wrong. He was very much a national role model.

Fabulously wealthy, Lloyd would build a 44-room mansion called Greenacres that even had its own 9-hole golf course. He and his wife Mildred Davis–a former actress in his films–had two children, Gloria and Harold Jr., and also adopted a girl, Marjorie. He and Mildred would stay married until her death in 1969–and it was their only marriage, too.

Harold Lloyd in The Freshman (1925)
The Freshman (1925)

By the 1930s his star finally started to fade, although his initial talkies did well. After a few hits, a flop, and an unsuccessful homage film called The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947), Lloyd retired from his filmmaking endeavors and concentrated on hobbies and family. He became a noted photographer and was heavily involved with the Freemasons and the Shriners, frequently visiting sick children at Shriner hospitals.

Harold Lloyd Freemason
Lloyd in a traditional Freemason’s hat

The beloved Harold Lloyd would pass away in 1971 from prostate cancer. He had guarded his films zealously, not wanting subpar prints circulating with bad music. While this made his films less familiar to today’s audiences than, say, Chaplin’s, you might say that Lloyd had been right all along. In this 21st-century digital era, his films have been restored and are frequently exhibited with beautiful scores, just as he would’ve wished. And if he could see one of our modern audience enjoying his lovingly-made comedies, laughing just as much as they did back in the 1920s, he would be justly proud.

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

Posted in Posts by Lea Stans, Silents are Golden | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Noir Nook: Just the Facts on Double Indemnity

Noir Nook: Just the Facts on
Double Indemnity

Not long ago, I was interviewed on a podcast about my very favorite film noir – Double Indemnity (1944). I had an absolute ball talking about the superb writing and direction, the distinctive cinematography and music, and the first-rate performances by Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and the rest of the film’s perfect cast.

In case you don’t know the story (not The Philadelphia Story!), it focuses on a steamy affair between insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray) and L.A. housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), who team up to murder Dietrichson’s husband and collect the proceeds from his accident insurance. Also on hand is insurance claims manager and Walter’s best pal, Barton Keyes (Robinson), who tosses a monkey wrench into their best-laid plans. The film’s title refers to the insurance policy clause that pays double for certain fatal accidents that rarely occur.

Billy Wilder directs Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944)
Billy Wilder directs Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray

I’m still basking in the glow of my recent deep dive into this classic, so I’m devoting this month’s nook to sharing some of my favorite Double Indemnity trivia and fun facts. Enjoy!

  • An early version of the Double Indemnity screenplay contained a line in which Walter advises Phyllis to wear gloves when she handles the insurance policy. Joseph Breen, head of the Production Code Administration – to which films had to be submitted to receive a stamp of approval – objected to this sentence because he felt it would give the heads-up to would-be criminals that they could be traced through their fingerprints. The line was removed.
  • Indemnity’s director, Billy Wilder, was the first to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay for the same film – The Apartment (1960). Only eight directors have earned this honor.
Jean Heather and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)
Jean Heather and Barbara Stanwyck
  • Barbara Stanwyck was initially reluctant to take on the role of the murderous Phyllis. Up to that time, she’d never played what she termed “an out-and-out, cold-blooded killer.” According to Stanwyck, Billy Wilder asked her, “Are you a mouse or an actress?” Stanwyck responded that she was an actress and Wilder said, “Then take the part.”
  • Cinematographer John Seitz was nominated for an Oscar for Double Indemnity, although he lost to Joseph LaShelle for Laura (1944). During his career, Seitz was nominated for a total of seven Oscars, including nods for two other Billy Wilder-directed features, The Long Weekend (1945) and Sunset Boulevard (1950).
  • The luckless Mr. Dietrichson was played by Tom Powers, who started his career in silent movies and appeared in stage and radio productions for nearly 30 years. Double Indemnity was his first big-screen appearance since his last silent film in 1917. Speaking of Mr. Dietrichson, his first name is never spoken in the film.
  • Double Indemnity is set in 1938, but in the scene where Walter and Phyllis first meet, he makes a reference to The Philadelphia Story, which didn’t open on Broadway until a year later, in 1939, and was made into a film in 1940.
Tom Powers with Fred MacMurray, Jean Heather, and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)
Tom Powers with Fred MacMurray, Jean Heather, and Barbara Stanwyck
  • The film was inspired by the real-life 1927 murder of Albert Snyder, who was killed by his wife, Ruth, and a traveling corset salesman named Judd Gray. Prior to the murder, Ruth had taken out an insurance policy on her husband’s life that contained a double indemnity clause. Unlike Phyllis and Walter’s intricate, well-designed scheme, the murder plot hatched by Snyder and Gray was so inept that famed newsman Damon Runyon labeled it “the dumb-bell murder case … because it was so dumb!”
  • Phyllis’s stepdaughter in the film was played by Jean Heather, who had roles in only nine movies during her five-year Hollywood career. Ironically, one of her films was Going My Way, which beat out Double Indemnity in the Oscar race in three categories: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. (Insert massive eye-roll.)
  • James M. Cain, the author of the novel on which the film was based, was pleased with the adaptation penned by Wilder and mystery writer Raymond Chandler. He said that “it’s the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in it I wish had thought of.”

What do you think of Double Indemnity? Leave a comment and let us know!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

Posted in Noir Nook, Posts by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Silver Screen Standards: Margaret Rutherford

Silver Screen Standards: Margaret Rutherford

The 2018 documentary, Truly Miss Marple – The Curious Case of Margaret Rutherford, is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime, so this is a perfect time to learn more about the iconic character actor and revisit some of her most memorable roles. Agatha Christie fans, of course, know her as the original film incarnation of the lovable busybody Miss Marple, but Margaret Rutherford also made an impression with her portrayals of other quirky characters, eventually winning an Oscar for her performance as the Duchess of Brighton in The V.I.P.s (1963). Although Rutherford came to acting rather late in life and never possessed the glamorous beauty of traditional leading ladies, she deserves a place of honor among the many great character actors of classic cinema because she always delights and amuses with her distinctive screen presence.

Rutherford’s Miss Marple is a quirky character, seen here sticking out her tongue while riding a train in Murder, She Said.

As one might expect from the title, Truly Miss Marple focuses primarily on Rutherford’s embodiment of the spinster sleuth first introduced by Agatha Christie in a short story in 1927, a role that has since been played by Angela Lansbury, Helen Hayes, Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan, and Julia McKenzie. Rutherford, despite being quite different from Christie’s vision of the character, had the advantage of being the first actor to play Miss Marple on screen, starting with Murder, She Said in 1961. Three more Miss Marple films followed: Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy (1964). While Agatha Christie was not thrilled with the light, comical turn of the pictures, she liked Rutherford enough to dedicate one of the Miss Marple novels, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (1962), to the performer. Like the various screen versions of Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot, every Miss Marple is different and has her devotees, but Rutherford’s Marple pictures are great fun even if they stray far afield from their source material. Along as the sleuth’s sidekick in each movie is Rutherford’s real life husband, Stringer Davis, and the oddball chemistry between the two companions is part of the films’ appeal.

Madame Arcati summons the spirits during a séance in Blithe Spirit.

Rutherford, however, was much more than Miss Marple, with a career that spanned thirty years and over 50 film and television appearances, not including her extensive work in live theater. Born in 1892, Rutherford became a stage actor at 33 and was already 44 years old when she made her screen debut in 1936. She played a number of small roles in various British pictures but got her first really memorable part in the 1945 film adaptation of Noel Coward’s play, Blithe Spirit, in which Rutherford reprised her role as Madame Arcati from the stage production.

Rutherford plays the dotty Miss Prism in the 1952 film version of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Stage play adaptations continued to be fertile ground for Rutherford, who went on to play not one but two different characters in different adaptations of The Importance of Being Earnest; she appeared as the indomitable Lady Bracknell in a 1946 TV movie but really made a mark with her portrayal of the flighty Miss Prism in the 1952 film version directed by Anthony Asquith. In 1950 she also reprised her stage role from The Happiest Days of Your Life for the film adaptation co-starring Alastair Sim. Other notable film roles include Mistress Quickly in Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight (1965) and, of course, her Oscar-winning turn as the Duchess of Brighton in The V.I.P.s (1963), but I’m personally quite fond of her performance as Nurse Carey in the delightfully odd mermaid comedy, Miranda (1948), and its sequel, Mad About Men (1954).

Rutherford plays the role of Mistress Quickly in the 1965 Orson Welles film, Chimes at Midnight, seen here with costar Jeanne Moreau.

Rutherford’s real life was as unconventional as her film characters, although it was tinged with early tragedies that affected her deeply. Her father murdered his own father in a fit of insanity, her mother committed suicide while living in India, and Margaret was told that her father had died when in fact he had ended up being committed again to a psychiatric hospital. Rutherford herself suffered from depression and anxiety and eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease; her devoted husband, Stringer Davis, died within a year of her own passing. Truly Miss Marple delves into these darker elements of Rutherford’s life and provides interviews with some of Rutherford’s friends, making it a very intimate source for insights on her personal history. If you’re already familiar with the most notable of Rutherford’s film roles, the documentary is an excellent way to learn more about her, but if you haven’t actually seen Margaret Rutherford in action then start with Blithe Spirit, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Murder, She Said to get a sense of her legacy before diving into the details of her biography.

…..

–Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

Posted in Posts by Jennifer Garlen, Silver Screen Standards | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Win Tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Alien 40th Anniversary” (Giveaway runs now through Sept 28)

Win tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Alien 40th Anniversary” on the Big Screen!
In Select Cinemas Nationwide Sun Oct 13, Tues Oct 15 and Wed Oct 16

“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”

CMH continues with our 4th year of our partnership with Fathom Events – with the 12th of our 14 movie ticket giveaways for 2019, courtesy of Fathom Events!

We’ll be giving away EIGHT PAIRS of tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Alien 40th Anniversary” on the Big Screen — starring Tom Skerritt andSigourney Weaver.

In order to qualify to win a pair of movie tickets via this contest, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Sept 28 at 6pm EST.

We will announce the winner(s) on Twitter on Sunday, Sept 29, between 6PM EST and 7PM EST. If a winner(s) does not have a Twitter account, we will announce that winner(s) via this blog in the comment section below.

alien 40th anniversary fathom events

The film will be playing in select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day-only event on Sunday Oct 13, Tues Oct 15 and Wednesday Oct 16 at select times. Winners will be responsible for their own transportation to the Event. Only United States entries are eligible. Please click here before you enter to ensure that the Event is scheduled at a theater near you and that you are able to attend. (please note that there might be slightly different theater listings and/or screening times for each date)

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday Sept 18 at 6pm EST…

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

THE QUESTION:
Although not officially a classic-era film, what in your opinion makes “Alien” a classic? And, if you haven’t seen it, why do you want to see it on the Big Screen?

2) Then TWEET* (not DM) the following message:
I just entered to win tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics Presents: Alien 40th Anniversary” on the Big Screen courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub & @FathomEvents – you can enter too at http://ow.ly/KM9750waJre

IMPORTANT: If you don’t have a Twitter account OR if your Twitter account is private, 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 (or it is private), so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas…@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

Sigourney Weaver in Alien

About the film: Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Alien! Directed by Ridley Scott, the original sci-fi classic follows Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) investigating a suspected SOS on a remote planet and makes a terrifying discovery. This anniversary event includes exclusive insight from Turner Classic Movies. 

Please note that only United States 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).

Good Luck!

…..

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged | 14 Comments

Film Noir Review: Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

“Things have been awfully dead around here.”

I am forever indebted to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The duo were my entry point into classic film as a kid, and many of their comedies (Buck Privates, Rio Rita, Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man) still rank among my all-time favorites. Their timing was immaculate, their wordplay was first rate, and their nonstop energy made other comedy acts look stale by comparison. With these attributes in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at a rarely discussed aspect of Abbott and Costello’s career: their ties to film noir.

The lifespan of the comedy duo and classical film noir parallel each other rather neatly. Like noir, Abbott and Costello were at their commercial peak in the 1940s. They too struggled to adjust come the following decade, and by the late 1950s, they fizzled out. They also played opposite actors like Dick Powell, Thomas Gomez, William Bendix and Marie Windsor, each of whom found concurrent success in film noir. Despite these similarities, however, the wholesome appeal of Abbott and Costello rarely overlapped with a gritty crime aesthetic. In truth, the only film that qualifies as legitimate noir is the 1949 oddity Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.

The film’s original poster

I use the word “oddity” because the film is the rare Abbott and Costello vehicle that fully commits to its genre. Where previous films such as Who Done It? (1942) or The Noose Hangs High (1948) flirted with noir, … Meet the Killer is a full bore parody, with moody visuals and dead bodies scattered throughout. Abbott plays Casey Edwards, a hotel detective, and Costello plays Freddie Phillips, a bumbling bellhop. Freddie gets into a quarrel with one of the hotel guests (Nicholas Joy), but things sour when the guest turns up dead, and he’s made a prime suspect. Casey agrees to help Freddie clear his name, only to find that they’re both in over their head.

To compliment Abbott and Costello on their chemistry would be like praising Olivier for his reading of Hamlet. Certain things go without saying. The duo are sharp as ever here, playing off each other and improvising funny bits of action as only seasoned veterans can. I especially like the scene where Casey tries to console Freddie in his hotel room. He assures him that the police would need a murder weapon and DNA to link him to the scene of the crime. All the while, Freddie realizes that someone snuck a blood-soaked handkerchief into his pocket and a warm pistol under his sheets. It’s a clever little bit that shows off the duo’s combined physical and verbal talents.

Freddie has a hypnotic standoff with the Swami.

Boris Karloff is not the killer, despite the blatantly suggestive title. He’s merely a red herring for the duo to investigate. He is, however, responsible for one of the best scenes in the film. As a former client of the murder victim, Karloff’s Swami attempts to hypnotize Freddie into committing suicide. He orders the hapless bellhop to hang himself, but each time out, he’s foiled by Freddie’s inability to follow directions. Karloff doesn’t have as much screen time as one might expert, but he is superb here, ramping up the character’s frustration in ways that are increasingly funny to watch. He delivers the single best line in the film: “You’re going to commit suicide if it’s the last thing you do!”

… Meet the Killer also benefits from its textured visuals. Most Abbott and Costello comedies rely on standard, high-key lighting, but cinematographer Charles Van Enger takes advantage of the film noir aesthetic here, and the results are surprisingly moody. The black humor of the Karloff scene is punctuated by chiaroscuro lighting that casts ominous shadows on the wall. A later scene, where Casey and Freddie disguise two (!) dead bodies by sitting them up and staging a poker game, is heightened by stark, single source lighting. It’s little touches like these that sell the parody, and allow the world to feel as dangerous as the eponymous killer.

Freddie ventures into the chilling cavern.

In yet another departure from standard comedy formula, … Meet the Killer features a suspenseful climax. Freddie is lured into a bottomless cavern to confront the killer, where he nearly falls to his death. The cavern set is beautifully designed, and director Charles Barton makes us feel the dizzying heights from which Freddie is dangling. Barton made some of the duo’s sharpest comedies, including Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and the underrated Time of Their Lives (1946), but his talent for staging and pacing is best exemplified here. I won’t disclose the identity of the real killer, or how Freddie escapes the cavern, in the interest of preserving the film’s knotted mystery.

I concede that …Meet the Killer is a minor Abbott and Costello film. It lacks the airtight humor of their best work, or the memorable routines that boosted their lesser films. What it does have, however, is style, a sustained tone, and the appeal of seeing two comedy powerhouses fumble through a murder case. You won’t see … Meet the Killer on any noir lists, but I maintain that anyone with a penchant for classic noir, and a passing knowledge of Abbott and Costello, is in for a treat. B

TRIVIA: Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff is the only Hollywood film in history with three of the actors’ names in the title.

Posted in Film Noir Review, Posts by Danilo Castro | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Funny Papers: The Best of Harpo

The Funny Papers: The Best of Harpo

“If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world’s against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.” — Harpo Marx

Laughter from physical comedy has likely been around since the first cave dweller slipped on a banana. But I wager to guess the art of physical comedy was first perfected on the vaudevillian stage. All the true masters of this form of humor based their gags on these origins in vaudeville. It’s no surprise that the most famous comedy brothers of all time, the Marx Brothers, became huge successes thanks to their workings and reworkings of vaudevillian slapstick and routines, which they brought to the Broadway stage, and later to the silver screen.

Harpo Marx

The Marx brothers were a talented lot: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo. Born Milton Marx on October 23, 1893 in Manhattan, NY, Gummo was the first of the Marx boys to join their uncle on the vaudeville stage, but he disliked his brief nip at showbiz before joining WWI. After working in the raincoat business for a time, Gummo and his brother Zeppo ran a theatrical agency together. Gummo went on to represent talent in Hollywood for the duration of his career.

Zeppo (born Herbert Manfred Marx on February 25, 1901, in Manhattan, NY) was the youngest of the Marx kids and performed in the first five of the Marx Brothers feature films (1929 – 1933). Additionally, he played a bit role in the 1925 silent film, A Kiss in the Dark, starring Adolfe Menjou. Unlike his more famous brothers, Zeppo usually played it straight and often as the love interest. A natural mechanical tinker and inventor, he left acting to become an engineer and theatrical agent. Both Gummo and Zeppo obtained patents for a few of their inventions.[

The Marx Brothers: Zeppo, Groucho, Chico, Gummo and Harpo.

Undoubtedly, the threesome of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are the most known of the five, as the trio showcased major motion pictures. Groucho is considered the leader (born Julius Henry Marx on October 2, 1890, in NY, NY) with his brilliant wordplay, where no one was safe from his quick, verbal barbs. Chico (born Leonard Joseph Marx on March 22, 1887, in NY, NY) played the street-wise, Italian-accented shyster who played the piano with a uniquely playful flair. Finally, Harpo (born Adolphe Marx on November 23, 1888, in NY, NY, who later changed his name to Arthur) stood out as the pantomime, donning a blond, curly wig and a rumpled trench coat which contained unlimited props. Like his brother Chico, Harpo also possessed musical talents with the harp and piano.

Harpo and his wonderful coat of props

Of the many contributions to the entertainment industry across this extraordinary family, I could extoll on all of their talents at great length. But for the purpose of this month’s article, I want to focus on one particular Marx- the only brother who took on the challenge of physical comedy with hilarious silence… Harpo. Without the benefit of clever dialogue, I will highlight my favorite ‘Harpo moments’ and his unforgettable ‘Harpo-isms’ from his movie characters…

…..

Chasing Dames:

-Unlike Chico and Groucho who either flirt directly with women, or flirt with an agenda of poking fun at them, Harpo acts a bit more aloof in a childish way. He often plays the mischievous, wildly unconventional man-child. He’s briefly coy and shy, then BAM! He slips in a prank. Harpo was always more interested in partnering up with Chico and sometimes Groucho in some scheming plot, rather than catching the pretty girl. If anything, he ultimately chases the ladies away.

Unlimited Pockets:

-There is no other clown that comes to mind that pulls more unexpected items from a seemingly bottomless pockets than Harpo. While magicians grow stale pulling rabbits and doves from their top hats, Harpo surprises his ‘victims’ and us audience members with absurd objects. Even lit candles and piping hot cups of coffee have managed to pop out of that miraculous trench coat.

Talking through Honks:

-Tasked with his mute communication, Harpo always rose to more creative and innovative ways to express himself. In addition to hand gestures, whistles and props, Harpo would often use his famous horn. This was handy beyond counting. It could also express like a musical instrument with just the right pitch. Two examples immediately come to mind. One, giving count of eggs when Groucho is ordering food in a very tiny, extremely crowded cabin room in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935).

Ordering Dinner and Crowded Cabin Scene

[Another funny bit can be found when Harpo pretends to be ill and his only voice comes via the squeezing Kewpie doll ‘honks’ in ROOM SERVICE (1938). [

Harpo and the Little Doll

Loud Chaos Through Silence:

-Harpo built his career on pantomime and site gags. After his first attempt on stage, the brothers agreed Arthur would do better voiceless and based on his talents as a harpist, “Harpo” stuck. It may be hard to imagine how someone so completely non-verbal can create such havoc. But that’s exactly the intent and main staple of Harpo’s gags. What makes this especially true is the almost innocent, joyous playfulness of his characters, so those caught in the cross-hairs of his destructive path are usually caught off-guard. But this is not run-of-the-mill mayhem. Take for example, the operating room scene with Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho) and his fellow quack docs Steinberg, Chico and Harpo in A DAY AT THE RACES (1937). The results are completely screwy and finishes with Chico and Harpo riding off on a horse. 

Mirroring:

-One of Harpo’s most iconic bits is a classic scene of mimicry in the ‘Mirror Scene’, expertly carried out by Groucho as Firefly, President of Fredonia and Harpo as Pinky, the spy from Sylvania, in DUCK SOUP (1933). While sneaking about, dressed in disguise as Groucho in a long nightgown and nightcap- even down to the signature Groucho eyebrows, glasses, and mustache- a full-length mirror is broken and thus the mirroring skit begins. The jig is up when the other identical imposter (Chico as Chicolini) comes along. This wasn’t the first time this routine was performed. You can see something similar in Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), with Max Linder. But the Marx Brothers perfected it. Being such a crowd pleaser, Harpo joined forces again with Lucille Ball (they were co-stars in ROOM SERVICE, 1933) in the “I Love Lucy Show” (“Lucy and Harpo Marx” season 4, episode 28, May 9, 1955) to reprise this famous skit. To this day, this remains one of the most memorable “I Love Lucy” episodes. [

Lucy and Harpo

Musical Merriment:

-Overall, the Marx Brothers comedy stylings are musical. In addition to the musical numbers and songs, even the jokes are lyrical in pace and pattern. Although completely lacking much of a formal education, not only was Arthur “Harpo” Marx very intellectual, he was self-taught in his musical skills and dabbled as a painter. While Chico played the piano in his own, wisecracking, unique style of flicking his index finger with key strokes, Harpo was considered a virtuoso on the harp and could play up to six instruments. As the Marx Brothers films became bigger and had evolved from a string of vaudevillian acts from their Broadway shows to actual plots that followed more of a typical storyline, they always made room for musical numbers from Chico and Harpo. A personal favorite of mine is watching Harpo play the piano with so much vigor, that he pounds it into pieces, and magically turns the piano wires into a harp, of sorts. He continues to play this makeshift harp, while barely skipping a comedic nor a musical beat. It’s jaw-dropping, wondrous, and madcap. Take a look:

The Marx Brothers (1937) A Day at the Races (Piano Finished)

[Those Facial Expressions:

-Another Harpoism are the whacky facial expressions he commonly made. A mainstay was what I call his ‘fish face.’ With his cheeks puffed out, his eyes cross-eyed, an open, round mouth with the tongue flat rolled to fill the edges, this is what Harpo called a “Gookie,” originally in namesake from a cigar roller.

Another funny interpretation of his Gookie expression is his “get tough” face. It’s pretty similar but he exaggerates an angry faced version while repeatedly shrugging up his shoulders with arms dangling to his side, all while making a panting, huffing sound. This scene from HORSE FEATHERS (1932) shows Harpo ‘getting tough’ with a couple of football players (including a rather fit and young-looking 37 year-old Nat Pendleton).

Harpo Gets Tough

Whistling Charades:

-One of the other ways that Harpo would creatively pantomime in order to communicate would be via whistling. Luckily for Harpo, he was one of those rare birds who can two-finger whistle like a whiz. Chico was often his sidekick pal and best interpreter in most of these films. I can think of no better example of this than in a whistling charades scene from A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946). Here’s a clip:

Harpo and Chico Charades, A Night In Casablanca

Unusual Appetites:

-Lastly, a hilarious running gag that Harpo pitched so well was an insatiable appetite. One cannot forget the time Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Frank Albertson as Leo order ROOM SERVICE (1938), with Harpo swiftly shoveling tiny morsels of food into his mouth like a well-oiled assembly line. Considering Lucille Ball was a co-star in this film, perhaps this was inspiration for her famous “Job Switching” episode in “I Love Lucy” made 14 years later, where she utilizes the same speedy method with chocolate candies. But Harpo’s zany appetite was not always limited to food. In A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946), Harpo offers up his “human guinea pig” services to test Groucho’s lunch by eating everything from a burning candle and a tea cup to a phone! [

The Marx Brothers, A Night in Casablanca

In real life, Harpo was a fascinating man with natural-born talents and was considered likely the happiest and most well-adjusted of the brothers. In 1936, he married Susan Fleming. They had 4 children and a happy home life. Not only was he a painter, but he collected art, too. His collections included works from famed artists such as his friend, Salvador Dali. Although self-taught in his own method, he took his harp skills quite seriously, often practicing up to 3 hours a day. He even had a harp in his bathroom, to practice on the toilet. In addition to performing the harp with world-class musicians like singer Mahalia Jackson, he composed his own music. He cut 3 albums in the 1950s- Harp By Harpo (1952), Harpo In Hi-Fi (1957), and Harpo At Work! (1958). Despite his lack of a formal education, he also authored a book, “Harpo Speaks!” (1961).

Like his siblings, he was naturally athletic, which proved essential for the physicality of his comedy. He enjoyed sports like golf and croquet. He even had a ‘cold room’ built to store his mallet at the perfect temperature and zero humidity, and he was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Croquet Hall of Fame. Harpo died at the age of 75 years old on September 28, 1964. His ashes were sprinkled at his favorite spot at the 7th hole sand trap at the Rancho Mirage golf course.

Words of wisdom from a man known for his silence…. 

“I don’t know whether my life has been a success or a failure. But not having any anxiety about becoming one instead of the other, and just taking things as they come along, I’ve had a lot of extra time to enjoy life.” — Harpo Marx   

…..

–Kellee Pratt for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Kellee’s Funny Paper articles here.

When not performing marketing as her day gig, Kellee Pratt teaches classic film courses in her college town in Kansas (Film Noir, Screwball Comedy, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and more). She’s worked for Turner Classic Movies as a Social Producer and TCM Ambassador (2019). Unapologetic social butterfly, she’s an active tweetaholic/original alum for #TCMParty, member of the CMBA, and busy mom of four kids and 3 fur babies. You can follow Kellee on twitter at @IrishJayhawk66 or her own blog, Outspoken & Freckled (kelleepratt.com). 

Posted in Posts by Kellee Pratt, The Funny Papers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Classic Movie Travels: Adriana Caselotti

Classic Movie Travels: Adriana Caselotti – Los Angeles and Burbank

Adriana Caselotti Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) headshot
Adriana Caselotti

When one reflects upon voice actors and the many animated features in which they have worked, some individuals and their characters are iconic or inseparable from one another. Some vocal actors are publicly known for offering their voiceover talents and giving certain characters the change to speak. In other cases, some of these individuals and their talents went on rather unsung.

Adriana Caselotti seems to be one of those individuals who may not be remembered by name. Nonetheless, her voice is a revelation. A talented singer and performer, Caselotti gave Walt Disney’s first animated princess the gift of her voice. While this is noteworthy for her career, this move also proved to be restrictive in terms of the chance for her to grow as a professional in the entertainment industry.

Caselotti was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Guido and Maria Caselotti. Her family was Italian, with her father working as a piano teacher and vocal coach, while her mother was a singer for the Royal Opera Theatre of Rome. Her sister, Louise, was also a reputable opera singer and vocal coach.

Adriana Caselotti young headshot
A young Caselotti

Once Caselotti turned seven, her family returned to Italy to follow her mother as she toured with the opera. During this time, Caselotti went to school at an Italian convent named San Getuli near Rome.

Three years later, the Caselotti family returned to the United States and took up residence in New York. There, Caselotti worked on re-learning English and studied voice with her father.

By the 1930s, Caselotti was living in California and working in films. She briefly worked as a chorus girl and singer at MGM, appearing in uncredited roles as the Dancing Doll in Naughty Marietta (1935) and as the First Peasant Girl in The Bride Wore Red (1937).

By age 18, she was hired by Disney to voice the heroine of his first full-length animated feature, Snow White for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Disney had just decided against Deanna Durbin for the role; he felt that her voice was too mature, despite being 14 years of age—the same age as Snow White. After auditioning over 150 singers for the role, Disney’s representative phoned Caselotti’s father to see if any of his students would be right for the role. Caselotti listened in on the phone conversation and showcased her singing talents and childlike voice over the phone and auditioned for the part.

Adriana Caselotti Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) voice actor
Adriana as the voice of Disney’s iconic Snow White

At the studio, Caselotti sang along with only a piano for her recordings, as the film’s soundtrack would be orchestrated later. “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” were essentially recorded a cappella. Caselotti was paid a total of $970 for her work on the film albeit going uncredited.

At the film’s premiere in 1937, Caselotti was surprised to learn that it was feature-length. After recording her dialogue independently, without any other vocal actors there for a more natural exchange, she initially thought that the film would be an animated short.

Unfortunately, Disney wanted to keep Caselotti’s voice special by having it be linked to Snow White and nothing else. As a result, he kept Caselotti to a strict contract. Aside from a fleeting moment in The Wizard of Oz (“Wherefore art thou, Romeo” during the “If I Only Had a Heart”) and in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) (singing in Martini’s bar as Jimmy Stewart’s character is praying), she never had a real singing part in a movie again, even though she was classically trained. Her appearances on the radio were also prevented by Disney. When Jack Benny asked permission from Disney to have her appear on his radio show, he was told that he would not be able to do so because Disney “did not want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.”

As the years went on, Caselotti continued singing and invested in stocks and real estate. She attempted a career in opera but did not match the success of her iconic Snow White role. She married four times (divorced twice and widowed twice) and all the while remained active in the promotion and publicity of Snow White. In fact, she lived in a home that was themed to the film, complete with a wishing well and film memorabilia from fans. Her answering machine greeting featured her singing “I’m Wishing,” and she would often greet the children of visitors by singing in her Snow White voice. Years after the release of Snow White, she tried to sue Disney for a larger portion of the film’s profits but lost.

Thirty years after the initial recording sessions for Snow White, Caselotti returned to Disney Studios to record once again. This time, she offered her voice for an exhibit at the Telephone Association of Canada in Montreal, which offered children to dial a phone and have a “conversation” with their favorite Disney character. In the 1990s, she would work with the Disney Company again, re-recording “I’m Wishing” for Disneyland’s Snow White Wishing Well at the age of 75. She was named a Disney Legend in 1994.

Caselotti passed away at the age of 80 from lung cancer in her Los Angeles home.

Today, there are very few tributes to Caselotti, with far more recognition being given to the character she voiced than for herself. Her family’s 1930 home at 1340 N Douglas St in Los Angeles no longer stands. In 1940, she lived at 6864 Alta Loma Terrace in Los Angeles. Here is the property today:

Caselotti residence at 6864 Alta Loma Terrace in Los Angeles, CA
Caselotti residence at 6864 Alta Loma Terrace in Los Angeles, CA

Her themed to her iconic role stands at 201 S. Larchmont Blvd. in Los Angeles. Here it is today:

Adriana Caselotti 201 S. Larchmont Blvd. in Los Angeles, California
A house fit for Snow White herself!

When she was honored as a Disney legend, Caselotti had a handprint ceremony. The prints would be made into a bronze cast, which is now on display at the Disney Legends Plaza at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

Adriana Caselotti Disney Legends prints
Caselotti is forever immortalized as a Disney Legend!

While not often recognized by her name, Caselotti’s memorable voice continues to enchant audiences to this day. 

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

Posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Cooking With the Stars: Claudette Colbert’s Cheese and Olive Puffs

Cooking With the Stars: Claudette Colbert’s
Cheese and Olive Puffs

A scene from "The Palm Beach Story," with Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert.
A scene from The Palm Beach Story, with Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert.

If you’re a Cooking with the Stars devotee, you might have noticed that I attempt to curate the recipes and honorees with a specific theme or date in mind each month. As summer is reaching its end, we find a break in the notable days and holidays. While there are a ton of significant classic movie star birthdays throughout the month of September, I thought it would be fitting to honor one specific star during Cooking with the Stars’ inaugural year: Claudette Colbert, who shares a birthday with yours truly on September 13th!

Claudette is an actress who has perhaps slid under the radar compared to other ladies in Tinseltown despite the array of incredible films that she left behind for the world to appreciate. Even I’ll admit that I’ve been severely lacking in my Claudette knowledge, aside from hearing about her recipe for this savory hors d’oeuvre and watching a few of her movies here and there, so I thought now would be the perfect opportunity to put Claudette on a well-deserved pedestal and show my readers what an instrumental part of Hollywood she truly was.

Claudette Colbert as a child
Claudette Colbert as a child, photo was taken from a vintage magazine article about Colbert’s early life.

Claudette Colbert was born Émilie Claudette Chauchoin on September 13, 1903 in Saint-Mandé, France. Her association with the theater came early in her life as she was given the nickname of ‘Lily’ after actress Lily Langtry. Due to the fact that many of Claudette’s relatives were born on the Channel Islands between England and France, the Chauchoins spoke both French and English. This proved helpful when the family emigrated to the United States in order to find work when Claudette was only three years old. They settled in a New York City apartment on the fifth floor, and Colbert later stated that climbing multiple flights of stairs to her home every day made her legs beautiful.

Once in America, Claudette’s legal name was changed to Lily Claudette Chauchoin, but despite her theatrical namesake, her dream as a youth was to become a painter. She studied at Washington Irving High School, which was known at the time for its arts program, and while there she was encouraged to audition for a play that her speech teacher had written. Colbert made her stage debut at the Provincetown Playhouse in The Widow’s Veil in 1919 at the age of 15, though this opportunity didn’t move the teenager away from her true aspirations.

Claudette Colbert in an early publicity shot, c. the 1920's.
Claudette Colbert in an early publicity shot, c. the 1920’s.

She enrolled at the Art Students League of New York with the intention of becoming a fashion designer, paying for her education by working in a dress shop. While attending a party with writer Anne Morrison, Colbert was offered a part as an extra in Morrison’s Broadway production of The Wild Westcotts in 1923, using a combination of her middle name, Claudette, and her maternal grandmother’s maiden name, Colbert, as her stage name. After her first Broadway appearance, her stage offers only multiplied, so Claudette decided to make a go of it as an actress and signed a five-year contract with producer Al Woods in 1925.

Woods was keen on promoting Colbert as his newest discovery, but the actress was disappointed by the stereotypical French parts she was given. As she later remarked, “In the very beginning, they wanted to give me French roles. That’s why I used to say my name ‘Col-bert‘ just as it is spelled instead of ‘Col-baire‘. I did not want to be typed as ‘that French girl.'” She was noticed by legendary producer Leland Hayward while starring as a snake charmer in the critically acclaimed play The Barker in 1927. He gave Claudette her first film role in For the Love of Mike (1927), which unfortunately failed at the box office and is now considered lost. It wasn’t long before Colbert was offered a contract with Paramount Pictures, which was largely due to her lovely speaking voice during a time when Hollywood was clamoring for actors who were able to deliver dialogue.

Claudette Colbert Cleopatra (1934)
Claudette Colbert featured front and center in a publicity still for her 1934 version of Cleopatra.

At first Colbert was hesitant to dive into the motion picture business, attempting to find work on the stage in the evenings while she worked in front of a camera in the mornings, but as the Great Depression hit the nation, theater after theater closed their doors and she quickly found out which medium would be more lucrative in the long run. The coming decade seemingly made Claudette a star overnight. Some of her first speaking roles were in first-rate productions opposite some of the most sought-after leading men of her era, in works such as The Big Pond (1930) with Maurice Chevalier, Manslaughter (1930) opposite Fredric March, and His Woman (1931) with Gary Cooper.

Her career reached even greater heights when visionary Cecil B. DeMille saw potential in the up-and-coming star and cast her in one of the most iconic and provocative films of the pre-code era, The Sign of the Cross (1932), which is still considered notable today for her scandalous nude bathing scene. She reteamed with DeMille only two years later in the titanic role of Cleopatra (1934), and by this time she was ranked as the 13th highest-grossing star in the business. In addition, she was fortunate to star in a variety of leading roles that tested her acting talents and had the power to make some of her own decisions regarding her career, so when she was offered the lead in It Happened One Night (1934), she initially turned it down.

Shirley Temple presenting Claudette Colbert with her Best Acress Academy Award for It Happened One Night on February 27, 1935.
Shirley Temple presenting Claudette Colbert with her Best Acress Academy Award for It Happened One Night on February 27, 1935.

After Columbia sweetened the pot by offering the actress more money and a quick shooting schedule that allowed her to take a vacation, she reluctantly agreed to star in her first feature opposite Clark Gable. Despite the fact that both leads wanted to walk away from this picture, it ended up being a resounding success and was the first film to sweep the Academy Awards, netting a Best Actress Oscar for Colbert as well as awards for Best Picture, Best Actor for Gable, Best Director for Frank Capra, and Best Screenplay for Robert Riskin.

The film is still regarded one of the finest romantic comedies of all time, making it a tough act to follow, but Colbert delivered in spades by starring in the original version of Imitation of Life (1934). If that wasn’t enough, Claudette Colbert climbed to the rank of sixth and eighth in the annual Top Ten Money-Making Stars Polls of 1935 and 1936 respectively and received her second Academy Award nomination for her role in the hospital drama Private Worlds (1935). The following year, she signed a new contract with Paramount which made her Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, only to renew her contract once again in 1938 for another salary increase. This made her the highest-paid star in Hollywood, man or woman, with a salary of $150,000 a film.

Claudette Colbert featured alongside Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young in a scene from I Met Him in Paris.
Claudette Colbert featured alongside Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young in a scene from my favorite film of hers, I Met Him in Paris.

The remainder of the 1930s were kind to Colbert as she continued to play the leading lady in a steady stream of successful films, such as my personal favorite picture of hers, I Met Him in Paris (1937) with Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), which paired her once again with Gary Cooper and is known for perhaps being the best example of the “meet-cute”, and It’s a Wonderful World (1939) with Colbert starring opposite James Stewart.

Even though she was a formidable moneymaker at Paramount, in 1940 Colbert made the courageous move to not renew her own contract with the studio after realizing that she could make more per film as a freelance actress than she could make per year at the studio that made her a star. Boom Town (1940) with MGM, her first picture away from Paramount, paired her with Clark Gable once again and added the attraction of Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr, proving how successful Colbert could be on her own.

Colbert shown with Ann Blyth in a publicity photo for Thunder on the Hill (1951)
Colbert is shown with Ann Blyth in a publicity photo for Thunder on the Hill,
one of Colbert’s last successful films.

She soon added another iconic comedy to her belt, The Palm Beach Story (1942), and held steady through the wartime period as well with hit features like So Proudly We Hail! (1943) and Since You Went Away (1944), picking up her third and final Best Actress nod for the latter work.

Colbert went on to maintain her reputation as a gifted star opposite Fred MacMurray in the comedy The Egg and I (1947), which became the 12th-most profitable American film of the 1940s and was still drawing in the masses as the 22nd-highest box-office star of 1949. Colbert was even set to play the role of Margo Channing in the iconic All About Eve (1950) until she was forced to leave the production due to a back injury, later stating: “I just never had the luck to play b*tches.” After a couple more film successes in movies such as Thunder on the Hill (1951) and Let’s Make it Legal (1951), Colbert worked mostly on television for the rest of the decade, effectively retiring thereafter and living between her Manhattan home and her summer plantation in Barbados for the rest of her life. She passed away after a series of strokes on July 30, 1996, at the age of 92.

Claudette Colbert’s Cheese and Olive Puffs

  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 (10-ounce) jars of pimento-stuffed green olives, drained and blotted dry

  1. Add cheese and butter to the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Add flour, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to form the dough.
  3. Wrap each olive in a small amount of dough, completely covering the olive and forming a ball.
  4. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and freeze (should take two hours at most).
  5. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400˚ F for 12 minutes, or until crust is golden. Serve hot.
Claudette Colbert’s Cheese and Olive Puffs
My version of Claudette Colbert’s Cheese and Olive Puffs.

Despite this recipe having few ingredients and steps, Claudette’s Cheese and Olive Puffs are certainly time-consuming to make. I was gifted a food processor a couple of Christmases ago, which I’m afraid to admit that I’ve barely used due to its massive size and many, many parts. I usually whip it out during the Thanksgiving season for Lucille Ball‘s Cranberry Sauce recipe and I can’t recall using it since then, but lo and behold, this was an occasion that required it. If you’re a food processor whiz, forming the cheesy dough probably wouldn’t take as long for you as it did me, but I basically had to re-learn how to assemble and use the appliance in order to recreate Claudette’s appetizers.

The dough ended up being very promising once it was finished, almost having a fancy Cheez-It sort of taste and consistency, so I had very high hopes for the final result. After struggling to open the jar of Spanish green olives for the better part of ten minutes, I finally was able to start covering each individual olive with the dough, which proved to be the most tedious part. Even though I only ended up using about three-quarters of one ten-ounce jar of olives before running out of dough, which was much less than the two full jars of olives the recipe calls for, I still feel like I faced enough hors d’oeuvres to feed an army.

These puffs need very little time to freeze, only about an hour and a half, before they’re ready for the oven. The dough was already a lovely golden color, so it was a little difficult to tell when the puffs were done, but after fifteen minutes I had some piping hot appetizers that really looked delicious. These little cheesy balls, however, were something entirely different than I expected. Believe me when I say that these puffs are INTENSE. I mean barely edible, enough to make you gag intensely. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor wasn’t objectionable, but the strongest-tasting olive wrapped in the strongest-tasting cheese was just too much for the human palate to handle. I tried to mellow the flavors out by dipping the puffs in ranch dressing, which helped some, but I couldn’t come anywhere near eating all of the appetizers I made.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend barely ate a single puff before stating that they’re “just too much” and refused to eat anymore. I became so captivated by Claudette through the process of writing about her and discovering her work, but disappointingly I can only give her recipe for Cheese and Olive Puffs two out of five Vincents as it is. These puffs could very possibly be saved if the more mellow black olive is used with a milder cheese, and I would strongly suggest that my readers give these a try with those modifications! No matter what, I feel so grateful and honored to share a birthday with this incredible and accomplished actress, and I urge everyone to watch more of her films and fall in love with her as I did!

Vincent Price Rating two
Claudette Colbert’s Cheese and Olive Puffs get two-out-of-five Vincents!

–Samantha Ellis for Classic Movie Hub

Samantha resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the author of Musings of a Classic Film Addict, a blog that sheds light on Hollywood films and filmmakers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her favorite column that she pens for her blog is Cooking with the Stars, for which she tests and reviews the personal recipes of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Samantha also lends her voice and classic film knowledge as cohost of the Ticklish Business podcast alongside Kristen Lopez and Drea Clark, and proudly serves as President of TCM Backlot’s Philadelphia Chapter. You can catch up with her work by following her @classicfilmgeek on Twitter.

Posted in Cooking with the Stars, Posts by Samantha Ellis | Tagged , | 3 Comments

DVD Giveaway – Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache

Celebrating Women Pioneer Filmmakers!
We’re Giving Away 5 Alice Guy-Blache Documentary DVDs this Month!

A scrupulously well-researched documentary about one of early cinema’s greatest pioneers and the world’s first woman filmmakerThe Hollywood Reporter

This month we kick off our Women Pioneers Filmmaker Celebration with a very special giveaway! We are happy to say that we’re giving away FIVE COPIES of the Classic Movie Documentary “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache”, courtesy of our friends at Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films!

Alice Guy-Blaché, pioneer woman filmmaker, wrote, directed, and/or produced about 1,000 films…

In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Oct 5 at 9PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick our winners on five 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.

  • September 7: One Winner
  • September 14: One Winner
  • September 21: One Winner
  • September 28: One Winner
  • October 5: One Winner

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub (or this blog, depending how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 9PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner on Sunday September 8 at 9PM EST.

…..

About the DVD. Alice Guy-Blaché was a true pioneer who got into the movie business at the very beginning — in 1894, at the age of 21. Two years later, she was made head of production at Gaumont and started directing films. She and her husband moved to the United States, and she founded her own company, Solax, in 1910 — they started in Flushing and moved to a bigger facility in Fort Lee, New Jersey. But by 1919, Guy-Blaché’s career came to an abrupt end, and she and the 1000 films that bore her name were largely forgotten. Pamela B. Green’s energetic film is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation. Narration by Jodie Foster. Directed by Pamela B. Green.

…..

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, October 5 at 9PM 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 “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache” #DVDGiveaway courtesy of @KinoLorber and @zeitgeistfilms #CMHContest Link: http://ow.ly/MQeC50vU4BY

THE QUESTION:
Why would you like to win a copy of this Alice Guy-Blache documentary?

*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.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

…..

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).

And if you can’t wait to win this DVD, you can click on the images below to purchase on amazon:

…..

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Western RoundUp: “B” Western Actresses, Part 2

Western RoundUp: “B” Western Actresses, Part 2 – Marjorie Reynolds, Lola Lane, and Anne Jeffreys

Earlier this year I celebrated my love for “B” Westerns with a column focusing on the work of three favorite actresses who worked in the “B’s” early in their career.

I promised then that I’d be looking at additional leading ladies of “B” Westerns in the future, so here’s a sequel to that column. This time around we’ll take a look at Marjorie Reynolds, Lola Lane, and Anne Jeffreys.

The Overland Express (1938) Marjorie Reynolds, Carlyle Moore
Marjorie Reynolds and Carlyle Moore in The Overland Express (Drew Eberson, 1938)

Marjorie Reynolds was born in Idaho in 1917. Like Virginia Grey, one of the actresses I wrote about earlier this year, Reynolds started out in the movies working as a child actress before moving into bit parts as an adult.

Reynolds’ first opportunities as a leading lady were in “B” Westerns opposite Western stars such as Buck Jones, Tex Ritter, George O’Brien, and Ken Maynard. Marjorie was 20 when she appeared opposite Jones in The Overland Express (1938) for Columbia Pictures. It was one of her first couple of credited leading roles, just after she made Tex Rides with the Boy Scouts (1937) with Ritter.

Overland Express is the story of a Pony Express line started in Sacramento, California, by Buck Dawson (Buck Jones). Californians have grown weary of delays receiving mail from the East, especially after they only belatedly learned of the start of the Civil War.

Marjorie plays tomboyish Jean Greeley, who alternates wearing pants and cowboy hats with pretty dresses and bonnets. Jean has a crush on Pony Express rider Tommy (Carlyle Moore Jr.), but Tommy’s life will soon be in danger due to the machinations of the owners of a stage line who want the mail contract for themselves.

The Overland Express (1938)
Still from The Overland Express (1938)

The movie is somewhat interesting, depicting the establishment of Pony Express stops in real locations such as Friday’s Station, California, and Genoa, Nevada, but the combination of “just the facts” story with lots of stock footage of riders and Indian battles doesn’t leave a great deal of room for character development or emotion. The latter is supplied only due to Marjorie’s performance, when about halfway through the film Jean witnesses Tommy’s limp body return to town slung across a horse; her ensuing scenes are moving and provide the film’s only real emotional pull. Without Marjorie’s performance, this lesser Buck Jones Western would have been dull fare indeed.

The Overland Express (1938) Movie Poster, Buck Jones, Marjorie Reynolds, and Carlyle Moore
“Smashing Saga of The Pony Express!”

After appearing in numerous Westerns, Marjorie hit it big dancing with Fred Astaire and introducing “White Christmas” (albeit dubbed by Martha Mears) with Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942). While many of her films after that point would continue to be relatively minor, she also had notable roles in a few additional films, including the classic Fritz Lang thriller Ministry of Fear (1944) and the Abbott and Costello comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946). She also starred with William Bendix in the TV series The Life of Riley from 1953 to 1958.

William Boyd and Lola Lane in Lost Canyon (Lesley Selander, 1942)
Lola Lane in Lost Canyon (Lesley Selander, 1942)

You never know who will turn up in a Hopalong Cassidy Western, and in this case, it’s lovely Lola Lane of the Lane Sisters. Lane was born in Indiana in 1906; while she started in films in 1929, she was perhaps best known for starring with her younger sisters Priscilla and Rosemary in Four Daughters (1938) and its sequels. Lola continued to work in roles large and small in a variety of films, including a couple of Westerns, before retiring from the screen in 1946.

Here she stars with William Boyd in the Paramount Pictures release Lost Canyon (1942), a remake of an earlier Hoppy film, Rustlers’ Valley (1937). Lola plays Laura Clark, who is engaged to Jeff Burton (Douglas Fowley, remembered by many as the director in Singin’ in the Rain).

Jeff doesn’t want Laura to be friendly with her old family friend Hoppy, which perplexes her; Laura is unaware Jeff and Hoppy had come to blows when Jeff made a crack about the death of Hoppy’s sidekick Johnny (Jay Kirby). Johnny is believed to have robbed a bank, but naturally, no friend of Hoppy’s would be a bank robber, and thankfully he’s not really dead, either.

Jeff has been up to no good and becomes increasingly obnoxious every time he happens to see Laura being friendly with Hoppy. Jeff isn’t very smart, as it doesn’t seem to register with him that driving his fiancee away will spoil his plan to acquire her father’s ranch along with their marriage. As Hoppy sets out to clear Johnny’s name, things are unlikely to end well for Jeff.

Lane is a very pleasant addition to this film, and although Laura and Hoppy aren’t romantically involved, it was rather nice to see Boyd play opposite an actress who was much closer to his age than many of the actresses who appeared in the series. Boyd and Lane convey a comfortable and appealing friendship in their scenes together. I especially enjoyed a couple of scenes where they listen to The Sportsmen Quartette — including future “Tony the Tiger”/Disney voice Thurl Ravenscroft — singing “I Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle.” The only thing that would have been nicer would have been if Lane had the opportunity to sing as well!

I wish Lane had made additional Westerns, but she only appeared in one more, Buckskin Frontier (1943), with Richard Dix and Jane Wyatt.

Anne Jeffreys in Calling Wild Bill Elliott (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1943)
Anne Jeffreys in Calling Wild Bill Elliott (Spencer Gordon Bennet, 1943)

Anne Jeffreys, born in North Carolina in 1923, had just started making films in 1942, yet the 1943 release Calling Wild Bill Elliott was her 12th film! It was the first of eight Westerns she made at Republic opposite Bill Elliott. She then moved on to RKO in 1944, where one of her first roles was starring opposite Robert Mitchum in the “B” Western Nevada (1944).

Calling Wild Bill Elliot Theatre Card, George Hayes, Anne Jeffreys, Wild Bill Elliot
Calling Wild Bill Elliot Theatre Card

Anne doesn’t enter Calling Wild Bill Elliott until around halfway through the 55-minute running time, but she quickly has a very nice scene where she sings while “Wild Bill” is listening outside a window.

The plot concerns a greedy governor (Herbert Hayes) driving ranchers off their land, and Wild Bill Elliott comes to the help of his friends. Spunky Edith (Jeffreys), newly arrived in town, initially has the wrong impression of Bill, especially when she believes he’s murdered her father (Forbes Murray), but when shown she’s wrong she quickly takes action to set things right.

Calling Wild Bill Elliot movie poster
Calling Wild Bill Elliot movie poster

While I would have loved for Anne to have more screen time, she does a nice job in this fast-paced and enjoyable film, showing the same forthright confidence the actress radiated in her later movies.

Anne was interviewed by Michael G. Fitzerald and Boyd Magers for their book Ladies of the Western, where she remembered her frequent costar Bill Elliott as “a very nice gentleman.” She said, “He had it all planned what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. And he accomplished it. He became a big Western star practically overnight. He was always sort of reserved and quiet, but fun…had a nice sense of humor.”

Anne would later appear in a pair of Randolph Scott “A” Westerns, Trail Street (1947) and Return of the Bad Men (1948). After the latter film, Anne only appeared in a handful of additional movies, but she went on to very successful careers in both musical theater and television, where her credits included starring with her husband, Robert Sterling, in Topper from 1953 to 1955.

Watch for looks at additional leading ladies of the “B’s” here in the future!

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

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

Posted in Posts by Laura Grieve, Western RoundUp | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments