Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – The One and Only Douglas Fairbanks

Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – The One and Only Douglas Fairbanks

With his endless energy, impressive athletic skills, muscular physique, and winning smile, Douglas Fairbanks was the all-American role model that the early 20th century needed. His films were good, clean, old-fashioned fun, drawing on popular stories like Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers. He and his wife Mary Pickford were key to cinema being accepted as a respectable industry, turning movie stars into a kind of American aristocracy. And Doug himself was a deeply optimistic figure, urging people to “make life worthwhile” and “laugh and live!”

Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks

When Douglas Elton Ulman was born on May 23, 1883, in Denver, Colorado, his parents probably had little idea what a phenomenon their son would be. His strong-willed mother Ella was Roman Catholic, and his father H. (Hezekiah) Charles had a German-Jewish background. The two had married after Ella’s husband John Fairbanks, a friend of Charles, died of tuberculosis. The new marriage didn’t last long, however, since Charles was an alcoholic and a secret bigamist. Ella’s subsequent marriage to the equally-alcoholic Edward Wilcox also ended in divorce. No doubt all this family drama had a deep effect on little Doug, known to be a quiet, rather solemn child. He soon found he was happiest when he was active, frequently attempting all sorts of daring feats (one family anecdote claimed he climbed to the top of a barn roof when he was only three).

And that energy served Doug well when he began showing an interest in acting. Joining Denver’s thriving theater scene at a young age, he performed in summer stock and joined a drama school by the time he was a teen. This proved far more interesting than regular school–and fortunately so. Always a practical joker, he went overboard by cutting the school’s piano wires as a St. Patrick’s Day prank found himself expelled.

Douglas Fairbanks around 1905
Doug around 1905.

This merely gave him more time to pursue acting, which he did with gusto. In 1899 he joined the Shakespearean-trained Frederick Warde’s traveling troupe, and after a couple of years had gained enough experience to hit Broadway. His comic talents and acrobatic feats delighted audiences, and he soon became a major star in productions like The New Henrietta and He Comes Up Smiling. His personal life had some excitement as well–he married Beth Sully in 1907 and the two would have a son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ( you may have heard of him).

Doug made the move to films thanks to some fortuitous timing. He and Beth were walking through Central Park one day when a cameraman asked if Doug would like to perform for the camera. He obligingly leapt over a park bench. This amusing footage of the Broadway star made its way to Harry E. Aitken, head of the Triangle Film Corporation, and he promptly offered Doug $2000 a week to move to Hollywood.

Douglas Fairbanks The Matrimaniac (1916)
The Matrimaniac (1916)

Films turned out to be the athletic actor’s destiny–no longer was he confined to the physical limits of the stage. He was a bit much for director D.W. Griffith, who told the irrepressible actor he’d be better off in Keystone comedies. His first starring vehicle, The Lamb (1915), was a big hit and convinced him cinema was the right move. A series of light comedies followed, such as His Picture in the Papers (1916), with witty title cards by Anita Loos and plenty of action. A blend of well-plotted story and fast-paced action was a winning formula for Doug, and he’d happily scale buildings, hang from cliffs and leap through drawing rooms for just the right shot. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be ranked the #2 star in America.

Fairbanks in The Matrimaniac (1916)
Fairbanks in The Matrimaniac (1916)

#1, of course, was Charlie Chaplin –who would become Doug’s closest friend. The two had a lot in common, not the least of which was extreme fame, and would screen their unreleased films for each other. Doug would also get to know another extremely popular and talented star, the great Mary Pickford. During World War I, the trio had incredible success touring the country to sell war bonds–crowds would number in the tens of thousands.

Douglas Fairbanks promoting Liberty Bonds in New York
Douglas promoting Liberty Bonds in New York

By the late 1910s, the name of Douglas Fairbanks was not only famous around the world, but he’d become an American icon of optimism and a role model for good health. He was popular with men, women, and children alike, a cultural hero of sorts (his sun-bronzed skin also apparently popularized tanning). He released a series of ghostwritten self-help books with titles like Laugh and Live, Making Life Worth While, and Whistle and Hoe – Sing as We Go, and would talk about the importance of physical fitness.

There were also big changes in Doug’s personal life. His marriage to Beth grew rocky, and it was revealed that he’d been having an affair with Pickford, who was also married. They both got divorced in order to marry each other but worried about the blow to their images. It’s a remarkable testament to their popularity that little damage was done – indeed, Doug and Mary were all but proclaimed the King and Queen of Hollywood.

Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks
Mary & Doug

In a way, they were the new American aristocracy, moving into a mansion they dubbed “Pickfair” and entertaining royalty from around the world. Perhaps more than any other stars, they legitimized the movie industry as worthy entertainment and an art form to be taken seriously. In 1919, they joined forces with Chaplin and D.W. Griffith to create United Artists, their own distribution company that allowed them to work independently.

Pickford, Douglas, Chaplin, and Griffith - United Artists
Pickford, Douglas, Chaplin, and Griffith – United Artists

After making light comedies for UA (the best being When the Clouds Roll By, 1919), Doug embarked on a new specialty: elaborate costume pictures, starting with the wildly popular The Mark of Zorro (1920). The end of WWI and the beginning of the Roaring Twenties meant audiences were hungry for escapism, and Doug delivered with other classics like The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), and the beautiful The Thief of Bagdad (1924). In his spare time, he also helped found the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, now host to the Academy Awards.

Douglas Fairbanks The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Doug’s popularity was unshakeable until the end of the silent era. He made a final silent film, The Iron Mask (1929), at a time when most studios were transitioning to sound and began to uneasily contemplate his future in talkies. His formerly ideal marriage to Pickford was now on shaky ground. They attempted to make a talkie together, The Taming of the Shrew (1930), but production was uncomfortable for all involved and the film itself received mixed reviews. The couple would separate in 1933 and divorce in 1936, and Doug would marry Sylvia Hawkes, the former Lady Ashley.

Doug’s last film would be The Private Life of Don Juan (1934). For the remainder of the 1930s, he would travel the world restlessly until succumbing to a heart attack in 1936. It was perhaps an ending he’d prefer–he disliked the idea of growing old. In 1941 his body was moved to a large, expensive marble monument at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, with its own reflecting pool. But the greatest monument of all was certainly his influence on early cinema, particularly the exhilarating joy of pure escapism.

Douglas Fairbanks Robin Hood (1922)
Robin Hood (1922)

–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 Quarterlyand has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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A Visit to the Lucy-Desi Museum, Lucille Ball Memorial Park and More: A Pictorial (Guest Post)

A Visit to the Lucy-Desi Museum and more
Special Guest Post by Lucy fan, Lucy Ortiz

When I was born, my parents decided to name me after the I Love Lucy show. As an adult, I realized I had some things in common with the Arnaz-Ball family. My birthday is exactly one week before Desi Jr’s in January, Lucille Ball and my father’s birthday are both in August, my name and Lucie Arnaz’s name sound similar, and finally Desi Sr. and my father both played the guitar.

Every once in a while, I watch the show and laugh at the crazy situations Lucy gets into, even though I’ve seen the episodes before. A relative of mine, who knew I was named after the show and occasionally watches it, told me there was a Lucy-Desi Museum in Lucy’s hometown of Jamestown, NY. I looked it up online and decided this was something I’d love to see. A month later I took the 6 hour drive to Jamestown and here’s what I saw…..

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The Lucy-Desi Museum

A personal necklace of Lucille Ball
One of Lucy’s personal necklaces
I Love Lucy Emmy Awards at Lucy-Desi Museum
The actual Emmy’s the show won
Desi's Babalou record at Lucy-Desi Museum
Desi’s Babalu record
telegram announcing Desi Jr's birth at Lucy-Desi Museum
A telegram announcing Desi Jr’s birth
Painted portrait of the family Lucy-Desi Museum
Painted portrait of the family
Mame - two costumes
Two of Lucy’s Mame costumes
The Paris original Ricky & Fred outfits made for Lucy & Ethel out of potato sacks
The Paris “original” Ricky & Fred concocted for Lucy & Ethel out of potato sacks
Desi's office chair & smoking jacket at Desilu Studios.
Desi’s office chair & smoking jacket at Desilu Studios
The Ricardo's piano
The Ricardo’s piano
The Ricardo's New York apartment - living room 1
The Ricardo’s New York apartment
Ricardo's NY apartment - living room from another angle.
Ricardo’s NY apartment from another angle
Ricardo's NY apartment - living room - the right side that connects to the kitchen.
The right side that connects to the kitchen
Ricardo's kitchen
The Ricardo’s kitchen
Ricardo hotel suite in California (left side)
Ricardo hotel suite in California (left side)
Ricardo hotel suite in California (right side)
Ricardo hotel suite in California (right side)
Ricardo hotel suite in California - front view
Front view of the suite
Lucy's personal 1972 Mercedes
Lucy’s personal 1972 Mercedes
Lucy had her initials engraved on the Mercedes.The M stands for her husband Gary's last name Morton
She had her initials engraved on the Mercedes. The M stands for her husband Gary’s last name Morton.
Desi's personal suits & golf clubs
Desi’s personal suits & golf clubs
A few pieces of Lucy & Desi's personal china
A few pieces of Lucy & Desi’s personal china
Little Ricky's pants
Little Ricky’s pants
Lucy's shoes
Lucy’s shoes
Lucy & Desi's chairs on the set
Lucy & Desi’s chairs on the set
You see this little message when you first come in
The little message you see when you first come in
I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball's Queen of the Gypsy's necklace
Lucy’s “Queen of the Gypsies” necklace
Ethel wore these for the Women From Mars episode
Ethel wore these shoes for the “Women From Mars” episode
Vitameatavegamin This is my sister mimicking Lucy. They had the dialogue to the scene available and whoever you're with can make a video of you acting out the scene
This is my sister mimicking Lucy in the Vitameatavegamin scene. The scene’s dialogue is available so whoever you’re with can make a video of you acting out the scene.
Lucille Ball Vitameatavegamin
Lucy and Vitameatavegamin
Desi Sr. made this teddy bear for one of his kids. The message says Get well soon Love Daddy, The teddy bear looks just like him.
Desi Sr. made this teddy bear for one of his children. The message says “Get well soon. Love Daddy”. The teddy bear looks just like him.
This tiny bicycle was used by Pepito the Clown n the pilot episode of the series
This tiny bicycle was used by Pepito the Clown in the pilot episode of the series

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Lucy's costume for the I Love Lucy show - blue
Lucy's costume for the I Love Lucy show - silver
The above photos are two of Lucy’s costumes for the show. See if you can guess in which episodes she wore these.

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At the end of the exhibit before leaving, there is a handwritten message from Lucy and Desi’s daughter Lucie. On the opposite side of Lucie’s photo, there is a board you can sign.

At the end of the exhibit before leaving they have a handwritten message from their daughter Lucie.
Lucie’s message to Jamestown says “Thank you for honoring my family so beautifully all these years. There’s something magical here  now…laughter”.
On the opposite side of Lucie's photo they have a board you can sign
I’m sure there were other Lucys that signed the board, so I boxed my message.

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I Love Lucy Murals

The museum wasn’t the only thing that there was to see in Jamestown. As you walk around the city area, you’ll see I Love Lucy murals….

Lucy and Desi mural Jamestown
Vitameatavegamin Mural in Jamestown
Lucy and Desi driving mural Jamestown

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Lucille Ball Memorial Park

There was also the Lucille Ball Memorial Park where her bronze statue is located.

Lucille Ball Memorial Park sign Jamestown NY
Lucille Ball Memorial Park bronze statue of Lucy

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Lucy’s Childhood Home

We also saw her childhood home located at 59 Lucy Lane. The street was originally W. 8th St, but they changed the name in her honor.

Lucille Ball's childhood home childhood home located at 59 Lucy Lane Jamestown NY
Lucy’s childhood home at 59 Lucy Lane
Lucy Lane, Jamestown NY
Lucy & Desi visited the house in 1956. I get goose bumps knowing that I took the same walk they took to get to the house.
Lucille Ball home Jamestown NY doorway
Visitors aren’t allowed into the house, but I walked up to the porch and took a photo of the front door. The sign says “Welcome Lucille Ball”.

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Lake View Cemetery

Our last leg of the trip was the cemetery where Lucy’s ashes are; the ashes were originally kept in a mausoleum in California but were moved in 2003 to the Hunt-Ball family plot in Jamestown. We entered the cemetery not sure of where her family plot was located, until we saw a sign that said to follow the L’s, and then follow the hearts.

Hunt-Ball family plot in Jamestown NY follow the L's
Follow the L’s
Hunt-Ball family plot in Jamestown - pathway follow the hearts
Follow the hearts
Lucille Ball grave - underneath her name it says You've come home.
Underneath her name it says “You’ve come home”

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–Lucy Ortiz for Classic Movie Hub

A Big Thank You to Lucy for sharing these wonderful photos with us!

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Retro TV: My Christmas Eve Programming

My Christmas Eve Programming

I’m going to pretend that I’m a programmer for a Classic TV station (you know like Antenna, Me-TV and Decades) and I’ve been given the awesome assignment of planning the Christmas Eve schedule. Let’s say Christmas Eve programming starts at about 6 PM and goes until Midnight.  What would my schedule look like?  I’m glad you asked because here it is:

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6:00 PM:  Father Knows Best “The Christmas Story”
(12/19/1954)

This script was adapted from its time on radio. Father (Robert Young) thinks that the kids don’t realize the true meaning of Christmas. He decides that they will go into the hills and chop down their own Christmas tree. The further they go the more snow they get and suddenly they are stalled. They find refuge at a seemingly abandoned for the winter cabin but find that they are the “guests” of a short, stout fellow with a long white beard (played by Wallace Ford) named Nick. Yes, the kids do learn a lesson.

Father Knows Best Christmas
Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Robert Young and Billy Grey from the Father Knows Best Christmas episode

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6:30 PM:  The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet “Lost Christmas Gift” (12/24/1954)

Ozzie and Harriet did several excellent Christmas episodes over its 14-year run.  This is my favorite.  After the Christmas gifts have been opened, one exception is noticed: Ricky‘s catcher’s mitt. Ozzie guesses it might have been delivered to another Nelson family across town, as a package had before. They go there and find a poor, young widow with small kids. Ozzie, Harriet and the boys decide to give them a merry Christmas. If you like heartwarming Christmas stories, then this is the one for you.

ozzie and harriet Christmas
The entire Nelson family—Ozzie, David, Ricky and Harriet posing for a Christmas card

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7:00 PM:  The Honeymooners “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (12/24/1955)

Ralph sells his bowling ball to get Alice a last-minute Christmas gift. After the end of this show, Jackie Gleason and the cast wish the audience a Merry Christmas. It is the only time in the classic 39 that the fourth wall is broken.

Ed Norton: [to Ralph] Compared to you, Scrooge was a holiday playboy.

The Honeymooners Christmas
The Honeymooners cast taking a bow at the end of the Christmas episode:  Art Carney, Jane Randolph, Audrey Meadows and the great one himself, Jackie Gleason

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7:30 PM:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Back at Christmas” (3/4/1956)

Do you prefer something a little darker at Christmas? well, this black comedy directed by Hitchcock himself is perfect for you. Before leaving on a trip to America, a writer (John Williams) kills his wife (Isobel Elsom) and buries her in the basement. All their friends think his wife is also with him. While in California writing a screenplay, he gets a surprise — his wife made plans to dig up the basement to give him a wine cellar for Christmas.  What can I say we could use a little black humor at Christmas too and who better than Hitch to provide it?

alfred hitchcock Christmas
Alfred Hitchcock celebrated Christmas in his own style

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8:00 PM:  I Love Lucy Christmas Episode
(12/24/1956)

A lot of this episode is flashbacks, but the new stuff is still pretty good. For the last several years CBS has been rerunning it in prime time during the holiday season in its colorized form (though for some reason they aren’t running it this year – of all years!) along with another colorized episode of ILL. For me I would watch even if it were in B&W. I read somewhere that this is the first-ever clip / “flashback” show on television — another innovation for producer Desi Arnaz.

I Love Lucy Christmas
Four Santa’s – Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and William Frawley

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8:30 PM:  Dennis the Menace “The Christmas Story”
(12/20/1959)

Dennis the Menace made three Christmas episodes over its four-year run and my favorite of them is from their first season. It’s Christmas time and Dennis (Jay North) is going around the house looking for his presents. Henry (Herbert Anderson)and Alice think they have the perfect place to hide them, The Wilson’s house. Poor Mr. Wilson (the great Joseph Kearns). Each of the Christmas episodes ends with Dennis, his parents and the Wilson’s singing “Silent Night.” Interesting that Leave it to Beaver nor My Three Sons never did a Christmas episode during their six and twelve year runs respectively.

A Dennis the Menace holiday promotional picture featuring Joseph Kearns, Gloria Henry, Jay North and Herbert Anderson

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9:00 PM:  The Andy Griffith Show “Christmas Story”
(12/19/1960)

This may be my favorite classic Christmas episode of all-time.  It has all the ingredients:  Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney (Don Knotts) reading Christmas cards from prisoners they put away. A Christmas party with turkey and all the trimmings.  Barney(!) playing Santa Claus, Christmas carols (a charming rendition of “Away in the Manger” by Andy on guitar, and Elinor Donahue) and a Scrooge-like character (Grumpy, but lonely, storekeeper Ben Weaver, played by Will Wright).  Finally, I have to say it, but the show made a mistake by getting rid of Elinor Donahue in the middle of its first season.  She was, in my honest opinion, the best of Andy’s girlfriends and more congenial, without being a pushover than the later Helen Crump, who seemed upset most of the time.

the andy griffith show Christmas
A Andy Griffith Show promotional picture featuring Frances Bavier, Andy Griffith, Ronny Howard, Elinor Donahue and Don Knotts

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9:30 PM:  The Dick Van Dyke Show “Alan Brady Presents” (12/18/1963)

Telecast less than a month after JFK was assassinated, this episode allows the cast members to demonstrate their musical as well as comedic talents. Alan (Carl Reiner) decides to scrap the script that Rob, Sally and Buddy wrote and invites them plus Laura & Mel (and Richie) to “put on a Christmas show.” My favorite part is DVD and Mary Tyler Moore singing and dancing as rival Santa’s – is there nothing they couldn’t do? Rose Marie does a wonderful solo of “Santa Bring me a Fella.” Of course, Morey gives it to Richard Deacon’s under-appreciated Mel Cooley:

Mel Cooley: What is it that everyone says The Alan Brady Show lacks?

Buddy Sorrell: A good producer.

The Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas
Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore’s versatility on display in the Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas episode

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10:00 PM:  Bewitched “A Vision of Sugar Plums”
(12/24/1964)

Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Darrin (Dick York) bring home a boy from an orphanage (Bill Mumy) who is a “problem child” to spend the holidays. When everything seems to fail Samantha brings him to the North pole to meet Santa (Cecil Kellaway) –Darrin comes along, too. The episode also features the great Alice Pearce & George Tobias as Gladys and Abner Kravitz and Bill Daily just a year away from his role on Major Healey on I Dream of Jeannie.

bewitched Santa Clause Christmas
Meeting Santa in his workshop at the North Pole

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10:30 PM:  Hazel “Just 86 Shopping Hours Until Christmas” (12/24/64)

One of two Hazel Christmas episodes. This one is from the show’s fourth season and the final one featuring Don DeFore and Whitney Blake as the Baxters. Mr. B is tired of the commercialism of Christmas and wants a simple Christmas. Dorothy will get a practical toaster rather than a mink coat and Harold will get a coat and not some radio. Hazel (Shirley Booth) can’t stand to see the disappointment in their faces especially when a huge package arrives from their neighbor for his wife which she and Dorothy discover to be a mink coat that they are convinced Mr. B got for her. My verdict: Is Mr. B wrong? still a fun episode.

hazel Christmas
Shirley Booth and Don DeFore in a Christmas promotional photo from Hazel

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11:00 PM:  The Mary Tyler Moore Show “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid” (12/19/1970)

Mary finds out that she not only has to work Christmas Eve but also Christmas day and is unable to go home and see her parents. As Lou tells her there are no holidays in the newsroom. She’s all alone late on Christmas Eve when she hears noises that turn out to be her friends coming up to check on her and spread some holiday cheer.

mary tyler moore show Christmas
Nothing says Christmas like Mary Richards’ desk

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11:30 PM:  The Doris Day Show “It’s Christmas Time in the City” (12/21/1970)

Doris is having a Christmas Eve party and invites her less than neighborly neighbor, Mr. Jarvis, (Billy De Wolfe) to attend.  He turns her down with the warning that the party had better not be too loud or he would call the police.  The invitees (including her work friends played by Rose Marie, McLean Stevenson and Paul Smith and landlords (Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell) as well as grandpa (Denver Pyle) and the kids (Philip Brown, Todd Starke) do their best to keep the noise level down, but nothing pleases Jarvis until he hears them singing Christmas carols which seems to melt this Scrooge’s heart.  The highlight?  It must be Doris Day singing “Silver Bells” and then her Christmas greeting to viewers at the end wishing everybody a Merry Christmas.

the doris day show Christmas
Doris Day and her TV sons singing Christmas carols on The Doris Day Show.

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Whatever you and yours do this Christmas I wish you a Merry one and a much happier and healthier New Year.

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–Charles Tranberg for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Charles’ Retro TV articles here.

Charles Tranberg is the author of eight books on such film and television stars as Agnes MooreheadFred MacMurrayMarie WilsonRobert TaylorFredric March and William Conrad.  He has also written books on “The Disney Films” and “The Thin Man” film series.   He is also the author of several articles for Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age.

                                   

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Monsters and Matinees: Make your Own Horror Film Festival at Home

“Have a Festival of Horror” proclaims the full-page magazine ad from 1973.

It was in the quarterly magazine called The Film Journal and it literally meant to have a film festival, as in  “hey, buy these movies on 16mm film.” The company – Universal 16 – offered five festivals including “Horror Festival #1” that unexpectedly included the sublime ghost story “The Uninvited” among its six films.

The original ad from a 1973 issue of The Film Journal.

“Karloff & Lugosi as a Team” had five movies that starred the two horror icons and “The Mummy Festival” celebrated five offerings with the ancient Universal creature.

“Festivals are great entertainment when presented all in one evening,…” the ad went on to read.

Nearly 50 years later, we call that “binging.” But instead of doing it with 16mm film, we use streaming services to binge on televisions, tablets and phones.

Stumbling across this ad touting 16mm film made me think of the nearly lost art of home video box sets and collections. The same streaming services that made binging all the rage, also dimmed the appeal of physical media for being too bulky or too expensive.

But those big sets – the original way to binge – hold a special appeal in that they are there for you any time you want without worrying that they are among the films “leaving” the next month.

The DVD sets in my collection are great for binging and making my own mini film festivals.

In the same way that designers tell us to “shop from our own home,” we can do the same with video libraries, to watch a movie or create our own festival.  So I looked to set up my own Festival of Horror by perusing my collection. With a mix of amusement and weird pride, I saw that I own the very same “Mummy Festival” promoted in that 50-year-old ad.

Here’s more on that set as well as a few of my other favorites. These aren’t “new” to DVD, but they are readily available for purchase if you don’t have them. Look at your own collection and see what you can rediscover – then be sure to share your own Festival of Horror.

Binge these five films on The Mummy in the Universal Legacy Collection that were also touted as a film festival in the 1973 ad in The Film Journal.

The Legacy Collection from Universal

In 2004, Universal released its impressive Legacy Collection on DVD that focused on four of the studio’s original monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and the Mummy. It was a tie-in with director Stephen Sommers’ film Van Helsing, released the same year and that’s OK since it gave us these fantastic sets. They are candy for Universal monster fans and an easy introduction for those who don’t know the classic creatures.

Each monster gets its own two-disc release (one disc is double-sided) that includes a wealth of movies that relate to the creature, plus documentaries, commentary and other extras. All include the original film in the Universal canon and later movies as well. For the Mummy, the films are Boris Karloff in the 1932 film, plus The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse – yes the same films from the 1973 ad.

The Dracula disc in the Universal Legacy Collection is packed with films and bonus features.

The Dracula collection is a clear binge winner. Start with the 1931 film that included the atmospheric use of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Then watch it again, this time with the score written by Philip Glass in 1998 and performed by the Kronos Quartet; then a third time while listening to the commentary by film historian David J. Skal. Oh, I’m not done – this is a film festival after all. Go to the highly regarded Spanish-language version of the movie that was filmed at night once the crew making the Bela Lugosi film was done with the set and costumes. (This was a common in Hollywood at the time.) Follow it with the direct sequel Dracula’s Daughter (1936), then Son of Dracula (1943) and House of Dracula (1945), and finally the documentary The Road to Dracula.

Yes, that’s a lot but you’ve binged at least this much at one sitting of some TV series. Some of these films are barely more than an hour so total binge time for the Dracula set, for example, would still be less than 10 hours.

The Hammer Horror Series (The Franchise Collection)

Fans of Hammer horror have plenty of sets to watch. My collection has this eight-film, two-disc set. It’s not a Hammer greatest hits collection, and that’s fine with me since most of these aren’t often shown on television.

What’s fun about this set is you can binge it in multiple ways since it includes three movies each by directors Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis, and actors Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed.

These three films directed by Terence Fisher are in the eight-film DVD set The Hammer Horror Series (The Franchise Collection).

So you can have a mini Terence Fisher film fest with Brides of Dracula (1960), Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Phantom of the Opera (1962).

Or watch three films directed by Freddie Francis in Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964) and Evil of Frankenstein (1964).

Binge the great Peter Cushing in Brides of Dracula, Night Creatures (1962) and Evil of Frankenstein.

Or Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf, Paranoiac and Night Creatures.

Also included is The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) about a honeymooning couple stranded in a small European village who are welcomed into the castle of a count, who happens to be a vampire.

Total binge time for the entire set is roughly 12 hours (each movie lasts about 90 minutes) or four to five hours for one of the mini three-film festivals.

Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection

Vincent Price fans can spend a day watching the seven films and bonus materials in this MGM Scream Legends Collection.

It should go without saying that any set of Vincent Price films should be watched from start to finish. This collection is a good mix of seven films from the 1960s and ‘70s on four discs plus a fifth disc of bonus features.

It includes the double feature The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972); entertaining anthologies of stories by two literary greats in Tales of Terror (1962, based off Edgar Allan Poe’s work) and Twice Told Tales (1963, Nathaniel Hawthorne). We also get Theater of Blood (1972) and Madhouse (1974).

Finally, there is Witchfinder General (1968) and a bonus disc of featurettes called Disc of Horrors. Witchfinder General, in which Price plays the title role of a man who travels from town to town in the Middle Ages to find, torture and kill witches, comes with an audio commentary with producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy, plus a featurette.

The Disc of Horrors has three featurettes: Vincent Price: Renaissance Man, which details his love of art and theater; The Art of Fear, an entertaining but way-too-short (5 minute) look at why we love horror; and Working with Price, in which historians basically rattle off a long list of his co-stars.

The Fly Collection

The Fly Collection includes three movies, a bonus disc and small booklet.

Most classic horror fans have a soft spot for The Fly (1958), and its iconic (and tragic) “Help me” line. But you may not know about the sequels Return of the Fly (1959) and The Curse of The Fly (1965).

This four-disc set, which I wrote about in a previous Monsters and Matinees column, includes the three films, a bonus disc with a 1997 interview with Vincent Price from the TV series Biography, featurettes and photos, plus a color booklet. I’ve binged the three films and while they don’t flow together in a cohesive manner – each has a distinct personality – they are entertaining. Clocking in at a total of about four hours, it’s well worth the time to watch the trio.

Be sure to share suggestions on more film festivals we can create at home by looking at your own film collection.

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Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Noir Nook: Five Things I Love About Martha Ivers

Noir Nook: Five Things I Love About Martha Ivers

When you think about femme fatales in film noir, who are the first dames to come to mind? Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity, certainly, and Kathie Moffat from Out of the Past? Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice? Kitty from The Killers? Definitely.

You may not automatically think of the character brought to life by Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), but for my money, she’s just as deadly (and equally as badass) as any of the aforementioned dames. This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at why I love this character and why she deserves to be mentioned any time the conversation turns to fatal femmes. (If you’ve never seen this feature, watch your step – there are spoilers ahead!)

  • Martha as a youngster

When we first meet Martha, she’s around 13 years old and has just been brought home by police after her latest attempt to run away from the home where she lives with her wealthy, imperious aunt, Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson). Fearless, forthright, and strong-minded, Martha hates her aunt, and the feeling seems to be mutual – Mrs. Ivers disparages Martha’s father, calling him a “nobody,” and positing that “the best thing he did for [Martha] was to die.” And in response, Martha repeatedly tells her elder to shut up and at one point threatens to kill her – a threat which, as it turns out, wasn’t idle.

Barbara Stanwyck & Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Barbara Stanwyck & Kirk Douglas
  • Martha as a domineering wife

We catch up with Martha years later, as the spouse of Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas), who is running for re-election as the town’s district attorney. Before we even lay eyes on Martha as an adult, we get an idea of the kind of wife and woman she is. At a local garage, we hear Martha speaking on the radio, giving a stump speech in place of her “suddenly sick” husband. The garage owner opines that O’Neil will most certainly win re-election, and then go on to become governor and even president. “Gonna be whatever his wife wants him to be.” And when we see Martha and Walter together after her radio appearance, we are even more convinced that Martha wears the proverbial pants in the family. She impales her weak-willed husband with a withering gaze and chastises him for his inebriated state: “Don’t you think you owe me an explanation?” she demands. “When did you get drunk, where did you get drunk, why did you get drunk?”

  • Martha as a businesswoman

Martha is not only a kingmaker where her husband is concerned – but she also owns the mill that employs the majority of the town, and is the area’s “best-loved civic figure.” After inheriting the mill from her (hated) aunt, Martha used her intelligence and understanding of human nature to not only increase her personal wealth, but to make much-appreciated improvements to the town, increasing the number of employees from 3,000 to 30,000, and donating thousands of dollars to build schools and hospitals. Undeniably impressive.

Lizabeth Scott, Barbara Stanwyck and Van Helfin in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Lizabeth Scott, Barbara Stanwyck and Van Helfin
  • Martha as a rival

In addition to Martha and Walter, the plot of the film encompasses two other characters: Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), a childhood chum of Martha and Walter’s who returns to the town after a freak car accident nearby, and Toni Marachek (Lizabeth Scott), a troubled young woman who meets Sam shortly after her release from jail for petty theft. Sam is plainly attracted to Toni, but Martha possesses a matchless, overpowering appeal – a fact that was made obvious during the first and only encounter between the two women. In Sam’s hotel room, Toni is playfully modeling an inexpensive outfit that she purchased – shorts and a midriff, with a removable skirt – when Martha sweeps in, all fancy and refined, informing one and all that she owns the hotel. “So this is the girl,” she says, giving Toni a dismissive glance. “The sunsuit looks very well on her, Sam – she’s got just the figure for it. She’s a very pretty girl.” Even though Sam later rebukes Martha for her contemptuous treatment of Toni, it’s plain that Martha is the victor of this round.

Barbara Stanwyck, Van Helfin and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Barbara Stanwyck, Van Helfin and Kirk Douglas
  • Martha as a femme fatale

Our first hint that Martha is more than just a scornful wife and a savvy business owner comes soon after we encounter her as an adult. In an exchange with Walter, we learn that she allowed an innocent man to be accused, convicted, and executed for the death of her aunt – the death for which Martha was solely responsible. “The man they executed was a criminal,” she tells her guilt-ridden husband without blinking an eye. “If he hadn’t hanged for that, he would have hanged for something else.” And later, she uses her feminine wiles in a flagrant attempt to get Sam to kill Walter. She first sets the stage, telling Sam that she’s fearful of her husband, who is drunk again. And then, when Walter falls down the stairs, she instructs Sam, with nary a hint of subtlety, “Now, Sam, do it now. Set me free – set us both free. Everybody knows what a heavy drinker he was. Oh, Sam, it can be so easy.” Talk about fatal femmes.

If you’ve never seen Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Ivers, do yourself a favor and check her out – you can find the film on YouTube. And if you already know all about this unforgettable femme, treat yourself to a re-watch!

You only owe it to yourself.

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: White Christmas (1954)

Silver Screen Standards: White Christmas (1954)

I’m not really a Christmas person. My overwhelming mood through the holiday season tends to be a combination of anxiety and depression that only lifts when we reach December 26, at which point I heave a sigh of relief. My father’s favorite Christmas movie when I was growing up was It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and for many decades I felt obligated to love it, too, but these days I find it hard to take, as much as I appreciate its fine cast and iconic status. Instead, I turn to the cheerful, secular charms of White Christmas (1954), one of the few seasonal classics that really puts the jolly in my holidays. Nobody needs a box of tissues or an interest in angels to watch White Christmas; it’s a musical confection as sweet and bright as a candy cane and studded with favorite stars, the perfect movie to brighten the dark nights of mid-December.

White Christmas (1954) Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen
Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen play the singing Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy, whose duet introduces them to Wallace and Davis.

If you watch Christmas movies at all you’re probably already familiar with White Christmas and its stars. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are the main attractions as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, singing stars who first forged their partnership during World War II and are reminded of their time in the Army when they find the general (Dean Jagger) who once led them now keeping an inn in Vermont. The feel-good plot about trying to help General Waverly save his inn entwines with the double romance of the boys falling for Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as the Haynes sisters, and there’s plenty of entertainment in the goofier pairing of Kaye and Vera-Ellen to balance the stormy upsets between Crosby and Clooney. The four leads are all given the chance to play to their strengths in the musical numbers, which are frequent enough to keep the various plots from getting bogged down. Thanks to this winning formula White Christmas proved to be a smash hit with audiences in 1954 and continues to be a beloved holiday tradition today, with generations of families gathering each season to watch its familiar but engaging scenes.

I love White Christmas for its good humor, its colorful musical numbers, and its gentle but touching treatment of post-war life for the Greatest Generation, all of which are delivered by a cast of beloved stars. Of the leads Danny Kaye is far and away my favorite; his performance makes me laugh every time I watch it, especially when Phil has to keep General Waverly from watching the television. His musical numbers are also high points of the picture for me; I can hear “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” in my head as I write this post, and even though it’s not Thanksgiving yet I’m tempted to put the movie on right away. Mary Wickes is also a favorite, although it’s fair to say that Wickes is a favorite in pretty much every movie in which she appears. Her busybody housekeeper causes a lot of trouble for our romantic leads but serves as a perfect match for Dean Jagger’s gruff but lovable General. I always laugh when General Waverly tells her, “I got along very well in the Army without you,” and she immediately fires back, “It took 15,000 men to take my place!” That said, the whole movie is bursting with great lines and funny exchanges, especially between Crosby and Kaye. They have a delightful rapport that shines throughout every scene and bursts into the foreground in their hilarious take on the “Sisters” routine.

White Christmas (1954) Dean Jagger as General Waverly
General Waverly (Dean Jagger) is the honoree at a Christmas reunion of the soldiers who fought with Wallace and Davis during the war.

As much as I love the movie for what it is, I also love it for what it isn’t. It isn’t a sob story laden with sadness and grief, even though General Waverly clearly has some tragedy in his life if he’s raising his granddaughter with no mention of being a widower or having lost adult children. Nobody contemplates suicide or requires divine intervention; they eat liverwurst sandwiches, they get mad and then make up, they stick their necks out to help each other, and they get on with life.

White Christmas (1954) Holiday scene
A quintessential holiday scene caps the finale of the film with the cast resplendent in crimson and white.

There’s certainly a moral in that story, but it isn’t rung like a bell every five minutes. One of the nicest things about White Christmas is that it doesn’t have a villain, just a problem with the weather and friends who need help. The forward motion of the plot is propelled by kindness and generosity, even though Bob pretends to be a bit of a cynic with his talk about angles. As generous as they are, nobody comes across as a martyr or a saint, which is especially refreshing in a season that often feels too holy by half. The treacle of Christmas can be cloying, too, but White Christmas puts enough spice in its recipe to avoid that, and it never feels stuffy or oppressive. Maybe that’s partly because the movie owes its best songs to Jewish composer Irving Berlin and many of its best scenes to Jewish actor Danny Kaye, not to mention the guiding hand of Jewish director Michael Curtiz. They help to make White Christmas a holiday movie anyone can enjoy, regardless of belief or lack thereof. Anyone can appreciate the delight of a first winter snow and the happiness of people coming together, even if some of us only ever see snow on our television screens. It’s not that other Christmas classics are bad for leaning into the angels and hymns and tearful scenes, it’s just that White Christmas is like throwing open the barn doors to let the brisk winter air into a crowded and overheated room, and for me, that feeling of relief is profoundly appreciated during the long, dark nights of the season. I hope every time a bell rings, Danny Kaye makes someone snort eggnog up their nose.

White Christmas (1954) Bing Crosby Rosemary Clooney Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen
Our lead characters anticipate snowy Vermont in a delightful musical number but are disappointed when they find the weather warm and sunny instead!

There are plenty of other fun Christmas classics to enjoy during the season, including Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), and my family’s list of must-watch holiday movies also includes A Christmas Story (1983), Scrooged (1988), and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), all of which we love and know by heart. For even less traditional holiday fare, look to Gremlins (1984), Die Hard (1988), and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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“Where Is the Music Coming From?”: Max Steiner and The Birth of Modern Movie Music (Exclusive by Author Steven C. Smith)

Max Steiner and The Birth of Modern Movie Music
Exclusive Guest Post by Author Steven C. Smith

An international crisis triggers record unemployment.

Hollywood executives panic, as movie theaters shut their doors.

And one studio faces likely closure, putting all its hopes on a would-be blockbuster.

The year is 1933. The studio is RKO. And the movie is King Kong.

Then as now, audiences made anxious by global upheaval hungered for escapist entertainment; and in March 1933, King Kong delivered the financial rescue its studio prayed for. But the movie might have failed, depriving us of later RKO classics, if not for the ninth-inning involvement of one man: RKO’s 44-year-old music director, Max Steiner.

Max Steiner portrait 1936
Max Steiner 1936

More than any other composer, the Vienna-born Steiner (1888-1971) established the ground rules of movie music in the sound era. Before Max, orchestral underscore was rare in Hollywood talkies, which officially replaced silent films in 1929.

As Kong neared completion in 1933, nervous RKO brass told Steiner not to waste additional dollars writing music for the movie, after some executives found the ape’s stop-motion movement unconvincing.

But Kong’s visionary producer, Merian C. Cooper, knew better.

As Steiner would recall, “Cooper said to me, ‘Maxie, go ahead and score the picture to the best of your ability. And don’t worry about the cost because I will pay for the orchestra.’”

Steiner’s epic score—a thrilling blend of Stravinsky-like dissonance, Wagnerian opera, and Viennese lyricism—convinced moviegoers that Kong was both terrifying and ultimately tragic. The music’s DNA is still found in the sweeping scores of John Williams and countless others. (Star Wars’ original “temp track” of music, used during editing before its score was written, included music by Steiner.)

King Kong 1933 Empire State Building
King Kong, 1933

By the mid-1930s, Max’s trademarks were widely imitated, if seldom equaled: separate, distinctive musical themes for characters, which he developed throughout a score to reflect the characters’ changing emotions; subtle use of orchestral color to create atmosphere; and a gift for soaring melody that lifted dramas like Now, Voyager and Gone with the Wind into the realm of myth.

Best known for his work at Warner Bros. from 1936 to 1965, Steiner’s 300-plus credits include Casablanca, The Searchers, Mildred Pierce, The Big Sleep, White Heat, Jezebel, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He was nominated for 24 Academy Awards and won three.

His life had the jolting plot twists typical of the biopics he often scored. During a pampered youth in late 19th century Vienna, Max was the presumed inheritor of a theatrical empire. Grandfather Maximilian launched the craze for Viennese operetta in the 1870s, after convincing waltz king Johann Strauss, Jr., composer of “The Blue Danube,” to write for the theater. Die Fledermaus, the world’s most performed operetta, was one of the triumphant results.

Max’s father Gabor was also a showman, fascinated by new technology. His productions ranged from symphony concerts to DeMille-like stage spectacles.

Papa Steiner’s most ambitious creation was the amusement park “Venice in Vienna.” Sixty years before Disneyland, this multi-acre venue offered a recreation of the Italian city, complete with canals and gondolas. Patrons could also ride rollercoasters, listen to gramophone records (then a novelty), and watch silent movies just months after cinema’s invention. Gabor also commissioned the park’s Ferris wheel, which remains one of Venna’s most iconic attractions. (It’s often appeared onscreen, in movies like The Third Man.)

 The park’s astonishing blend of “high” and “low” culture proved a perfect training ground for Max, who would spend his life writing sophisticated but accessible music for the masses.

But in 1908, his promising composing career was dealt a blow, when Gabor—whose grand visions were topped only by his spending–declared bankruptcy. Max was forced to reinvent himself twice: first as a wandering conductor of musical revues in London and Paris; then, in the wake of World War One, a new life in America, where Austrians were not considered the enemy.

Europe’s loss was Broadway’s gain. During the 1920s, the tireless, gregarious Max thrived as a conductor of shows by Gershwin, Kern, Hammerstein, and Ziegfeld. Conducting theater orchestras in a time before microphones, Steiner learned how to make sure music didn’t overwhelm a performer’s speech. It was invaluable training for what came next.

Max Steiner conducts 1939
Max Steiner conducts, 1939

In December 1929, Steiner accepted an invite to head west from recently-formed RKO, to join its fledgling music department. By mid-1930, as its films flopped and staff shrank, Max was RKO’s musical director. But his bold attempts to blend underscoring and onscreen dialogue were usually thwarted, by literal-minded producers who asked: where is the music coming from?

Watch almost any Hollywood feature made in 1930 or 1931 and you’ll hear the result: movies whose soundtracks are filled with dead pauses, interrupted only by the hiss and crackle of early film emulsion.

Enter 29-year-old David O. Selznick, RKO’s new production chief, who in 1932 encouraged Max to write full orchestral scores supporting the dialogue and action. Within months, thanks to hits like Symphony of Six Million and The Most Dangerous Game, Steiner proved that audiences would accept the unreality of an unseen orchestra accompanying the drama.

Max’s hastily written score pages ran into the hundreds for a single film. Above his musical notes are handwritten quotes of the screen dialogue being spoken at that moment (“It was beauty killed the beast!”). Despite constantly looming deadlines, Max also found time to scribble notes in the margins sharing studio gossip, lamentations about his love life (he married four times), and sardonic comments on less-than-thrilling screen action.

His audience for those notations was a private one: the orchestrators who, like Steiner, slogged through days with little sleep to turn his pencil scores into final instrumental parts—with the result due in days or even hours.

His jokes in these pages often served a serious purpose: to keep his cohorts alert, and to communicate his dramatic intention. A favorite shorthand was to compare what he wanted to the style of a beloved concert work: “A la Ravel’s Bolero—only better!”

Among the many astonishments of Steiner’s career is his ability to compose full orchestral scores in as little as a week if necessary, while indulging in a life of romantic pursuit, all-night gambling, and alcohol-fueled revelry (W.C. Fields was a drinking pal since 1902, when Max was 14).

That passion for life was reflected in Steiner’s scores–music of intense emotion, reflecting decades of study. (Mahler and Richard Strauss were among his mentors in Vienna.) His music did not simply illustrate what audiences saw: it often reached deep inside the psychology of characters, making their suffering and joys our own.

Scores like King Kong, and its successors at RKO like Little Women, Of Human Bondage and The Informer, heralded an exciting new era in film music. But for Steiner, it was only the beginning.

He would soon achieve even greater success, at the studio whose sound he would define for three decades: Warner Bros.

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— Steven C. Smith for Classic Movie Hub

Steven C. Smith is an Emmy-nominated documentary producer, writer, and speaker who specializes in Hollywood history. He is the author of two biographies: Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer (Oxford University Press), and A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (University of California Press; winner, ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award).

Steven has produced over 200 documentaries for television and other media. They include The Sound of a City: Julie Andrews Returns to SalzburgA Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy; and Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. He can be reached at www.mediasteven.com

Images courtesy of Steven C. Smith.

You can purchase Steven’s book on amazon by clicking on the below images:

               
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Classic Movie Travels: George Murphy

Classic Movie Travels: George Murphy – NY, NJ and CA

George Murphy Headshot
George Murphy

Hollywood musicals feature a wide array of performers who excelled in singing and dancing. George Murphy was one of many actors who excelled as a popular musical star, appearing in various Hollywood musicals with other top musical peers of his day. Later, he would enter into a political career as a U.S. Senator representing California, making him the first U.S. actor to be elected into statewide office, in addition to being the sole U.S. Senator with a star on the Walk of Fame.

George Lloyd Murphy was born on July 4, 1902, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Michael and Nora Murphy. His father worked as an athletic coach. Murphy was raised in the Irish Catholic tradition while attending Trinity-Pawling School, Peddie School, and later, Yale University.

During his educational career, Murphy took on several odd jobs. He secured work making tools for Ford Motor Company, and also had experience in real estate, mining, and dancing in local night clubs.

By 1926, Murphy had left Yale to pursue a career in entertainment. He married Juliet Henkel in 1926, and the two partnered together as a song-and-dance act on Broadway, residing at the Algonquin Hotel. In 1934, Juliet retired from the business to raise their family, prompting Murphy to explore a career in films. The couple would have two children, Dennis and Melissa, and remained together until Juliet’s passing in 1973.

George Murphy & Juliet Henkel
George Murphy & Juliet Henkel

In Hollywood, Murphy appeared in many popular musicals, including Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), and For Me and My Gal (1942). In addition to musicals, he also appeared in comedies, such as Kid Millions (1934), The Public Menace (1935), and Hold That Co-ed (1938). During World War II, he dedicated time to organizing entertainment events for U.S. troops.

Murphy served as president of the Screen Actors guild from 1944-1946, in addition to serving as Vice President of Desilu Productions and Technicolor. By the 1950s, Murphy retired from the film industry and received an honorary Academy Award.

Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy in Broadway Melody of 1940
Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy in Broadway Melody of 1940

Murphy transitioned to a political career in 1953 when he became the director of entertainment for the Eisenhower-Nixon inauguration. He would reprise his role as director of entertainment in 1957 and 1961 before being elected as a Republican Senator in 1964. Murphy represented the state of California from 1965 to 1971. During his term, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, leading to the removal of a portion of his larynx. As a result of the procedure, he could only speak just above a whisper. Though Murphy ran for reelection, he lost to Democratic Senator John V. Tunney.

Murphy as California State Senator
Murphy as California State Senator

After his time as a Senator, Murphy moved to Palm Beach, Florida. He passed away on May 3, 1992, from leukemia. Murphy was 89 years old and was survived by his second wife, Bette.

Today, several locations of relevance to Murphy remain.

The Trinity-Pawling School stands 700 NY-22 in Pawling, New York.

Trinity-Pawling School, 700 NY-22, Pawling, New York
Trinity-Pawling School, 700 NY-22, Pawling, New York

The Peddie School also remains a boarding school at 201 S. Main St. in Highstown, New Jersey.

The Peddie School, New Jersey
The Peddie School

Of course, Yale University also continues as a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut.

Yale University
Yale University

In 1928, Murphy and Juliet were residing at the Algonquin Hotel. Today, it remains a historic hotel at 59 W 44th St. in New York.

Algonquin Hotel, 59 W 44th St., New York, NY
Algonquin Hotel, 59 W 44th St., New York, NY

By 1940, he and Juliet were living at 615 N Oakhurst Dr. in Beverly Hills, California. The original home still stands and is a private residence.

615 N Oakhurst Dr., Beverly Hills, California
615 N Oakhurst Dr., Beverly Hills, California

Murphy also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located on the the West side of the 1600 Vine St. block.

George Murphy's Walk of Fame Star
George Murphy’s Walk of Fame Star

Interestingly, a fun tradition that Murphy started as a Senator does live on in Washington, D.C. Murphy created the “candy desk” by placing a box of confections atop his Senate desk. Once his term came to an end, the candy desk duties were passed on to a variety of successors in the Senate. Currently, Senator Pat Toomey continues the candy desk tradition.

Murphy's "Candy Desk" tradition
Murphy’s “Candy Desk” tradition still stands today

Today, Murphy continues to be celebrated through his filmography and skills as a dancer.

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–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Five Unmissable Marlene Dietrich Films

Five Unmissable Marlene Dietrich Films

The joy of programming a season of Marlene Dietrich films is that she’s wonderful in everything – she had such electric charisma. But I had to whittle my list of favorite Dietrich performances down to just a few key films for the season. Because while you’ll never go wrong with a Dietrich movie, some of her roles are simply unmissable. Here are a few highlights from the BFI Southbank season, Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love Again, which opens in December 2020.

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1) The Blue Angel (1930)

The Blue Angel Marlene Dietrich

This is the film that made Marlene Dietrich an international star, an early talkie directed by the man who would become her most important collaborator, Josef von Sternberg. Dietrich plays Lola Lola, the captivating cabaret singer with legs to die for, who enthralls Emil Jannings’ weak schoolteacher. It’s a compelling story of sex, obsession and life’s cruelty, adapted from the novel Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann. Almost every character Dietrich ever played has a touch of Lola.

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2) Shanghai Express (1932)

Shanghai Express Marlene Dietrich Clive Brook

Dietrich’s fourth film with Von Sternberg and their third in Hollywood. She plays the notorious Shanghai Lily (“The notorious white flower of China. You heard of me, and you always believed what you heard”), who boards a train across China with her companion Hui Fei, played by Anna May Wong. Clive Brook plays the handsome face from her past who stirs up a lake of romantic regret. Dietrich is perfectly lit by Von Sternberg and cinematographer Lee Garmes, and decadently dressed by Travis Banton – every image of her in this film is indecently sublime.

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3) Destry Rides Again (1939)

Destry Rides Again James Stewart Marlene Dietrich

In which the divine love goddess reveals her human side. Playing saloon singer Frenchy in this boisterous comedy western opposite James Stewart (as the fastidious Destry) gave Dietrich the comeback role she needed after being labelled “box-office poison” in the late 1930s. She sings (‘See What the Boys in the Back Room Will have’), she flirts, and she even indulges in an epic bar-room brawl. In doing so, Dietrich unlocked an ability to gently spoof her own carefully constructed persona, while still retaining the glamorous allure her fans adored. 

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4) A Foreign Affair (1948)

Foreign Affair Jean Arthur John Lund Marlene Dietrich

Dietrich had spent the war years raising funds for the US war effort by selling war bonds, raising the morale of Allied troops in her USO tours and dishing out hot dinners in the Hollywood Canteen. In this bittersweet comedy by Billy Wilder, she returns to her native Berlin to play a cabaret singer suspected of having Nazi connections. The film is a kind of Ninotchka in reverse, as Dietrich’s imperious Erika loosens the collar of Jean Arthur’s uptight US Congresswoman. And don’t miss Dietrich’s spine-tingling performance of the song ‘Illusions’.

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5) Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Witness for the Prosecution Marlene Dietrich Charles Laughton

The first time I saw Dietrich on screen must have been watching this Agatha Christie adaptation on TV as a child, and it’s a role that is impossible to forget. This film was Christie’s favorite screen adaptation of her work, and director Wilder kept the surprise ending a secret even from most of the cast. A challenge, certainly for a star whose face and voice were her fortune, but Dietrich rose to it. So much so that she was devastated not to receive as Oscar nomination for this magnificent performance.

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— Pamela Hutchinson for Classic Movie Hub

An Exclusive Offer especially for Classic Movie Hub fans in the UK – when ordering movie tickets for the Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love Again event, use coupon code DIETRICH to purchase your movie ticket for just £8.20.

The BFI is the UK’s lead organization for film, television and the moving image. This December, BFI Southbank celebrates one of the screen’s most enduring icons with a new season Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love Again, programmed by film critic and writer Pamela Hutchinson. You can follow British Film Institute on twitter at @BFI.

Photos courtesy of BFI.

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What’s Streaming in Dec on the CMH Channel at Best Classics Ever? Penny Serenade, My Favorite Brunette and Holiday Fun.

Our December Picks on the Classic Movie Hub Channel
December Birthdays and Holiday Cheer!

It’s that time again… We have our monthly free streaming picks for our Classic Movie Hub Channel at Best Classics Ever (BCE) – the mega streaming channel for classic movies and TV shows!

That said, here are some of our December picks available for FREE STREAMING all month long on the CMH Channel. All you need to do is click on the movie/show of your choice, then click ‘play’ — you do not have to opt for a 7-day trial.

In celebration of December Birthdays, we’re featuring Ava Gardner (born Dec 24, 1922) with two picks: the 1946 film noir Whistle Stop co-starring starring George Raft, and the 1952 adventure/romance The Snows of Kilimanjaro opposite Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. We’re also celebrating George Stevens’ (born Dec 18, 1904) birthday with the classic 1941 romance Penny Serenade starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Plus more movies from birthday girls Irene Dunne (Dec 20, 1898) and Dorothy Lamour (Dec 10, 1914), and birthday boys Edward G. Robinson (Dec 12, 1893) and Frank Sinatra (Dec 12, 1915) — and more!

penny serenade movie poster
whistle stop poster

We’re also celebrating the Holidays this month with some fun TV shows including The Jack Benny Show’s “Christmas Shopping Show”, Ozzie and Harriet’s “Fruitcake” and The Bob Cummings Show’s “Grandpa’s Christmas List”! And more…

jack benny show Christmas Shopping show

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the service, Best Classics Ever is a new mega streaming channel built especially for classic movie and TV lovers. The idea of the channel is to make lots of classic titles accessible and affordable for all. That said, Classic Movie Hub is curating titles each month that our fans can stream for free on the Classic Movie Hub Channelat Best Classics Ever. If you’d like access to the entire selection of Best Classics Ever titles, you can subscribe to everything for $4.99/month(Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever, Best Mysteries Ever, Best TV Ever) or for an individual channel for $1.99/month.

You can read more about Best Classics Ever and our partnership here.

Hope you enjoy!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Best Classics Ever BCE, Classic Movie Hub Channel, Posts by Annmarie Gatti, Streaming Movies & TV Shows | Leave a comment