Five Stars Blogathon -My Five Favorite Film Stars

Today, I am excited to be participating in the Five Stars Blogathon which is being hosted by Classic FIlm TV Cafe.

Anyone who has been following my posts will know that I absolutely love movies. This being the case, asking me to pick five, and only five favorite stars was an almost impossible task! I mean really, it would be like asking me to choose my favorite book (another impossible task) or my favorite breath for that matter. But for the sake of following the rules, I have managed to narrow it down to the requested five. Just don’t get the idea that I don’t have other favorite film stars. And since this blogathon is in honor of National Classic Movie Day, I am sharing my favorite classic film stars.

CARY GRANT

Be still my beating heart!

Any one who knows me knows of my love for Cary Grant. His film Bringing Up Baby was my first introduction to him, to classic film and to screwball comedy, all of which remain favorites to this day. Cary Grant was a versatile actor who was equally at home in both comedies and dramas. His characters tended not to take themselves or life too seriously and yet also retained a darker edge about them which was highlighted more in his dramatic roles. And while I enjoy his later dramatic films, my preference will always be for his pre-war comedies. Who else could pull of playing men of sophistication and privilege who were able to laugh and make fun at their own expense? Not only was I ruined for mortal men by his onscreen style, humor and well-cut suits, but after reading numerous books about Cary Grant I also have great admiration for the man himself. He is a man who despite being raised in a working class home and  lacking in formal education, through determination, persistence and self-education created a persona who is still known the world over for his class and artistry. It takes incredible discipline to re-create one’s self and that is just what he did, doing it so entirely that he didn’t just create a character, but actually became one who is still famous and respected today not only as a film icon, but also a fashion icon and respected man of business despite being long gone. For further details on Cary Grant and my regard for him, read my introduction to Cary Grant.

KATHARINE HEPBURN

Katharine the Great

Hepburn was the other half of my introduction to classic film when I first saw Bringing Up Baby. And despite the fact that she doesn’t fit the mold of women I usually enjoy seeing on film and which were usually featured in classic films, it is precisely for that reason that she is my favorite actress. Like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn was equally skilled in both comedic and dramatic roles including historical films, which Grant unfortunately never conquered. The women she played were generally of strong character and refused to be pigeon holed, an attribute that Hepburn also exhibited in real life. Although she appeared in some real stinker films which didn’t suit her, once she finally took full control of her career she had few misses. She could break your heart as she did in Alice Adams, The Rainmaker and Summertime, leave you trembling in shock and awe like she did in The Lion in Winter, or make you fall in love with her belief in her own worth as she does in Christopher Strong, Little Women, The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib. She was a woman ahead of her time and it is for this reason that many of her films do not appear dated and still have something to say to modern audiences. Thankfully, this acting pioneer is well-regarded for her contributions to the art of film.

CLARK GABLE

That particular devil may care smirk.

One of the reasons I am a fan of Clark Gable is that he generally plays lovable rogues, which is one of my favorite type of characters in any story. He started out in films playing villains, but his onscreen charisma soon led him into better parts. But he never really loses some of the villain attributes, often playing he-men with an edge of danger attached who are eventually tamed by the women they love. Who else but Gable could get away with onscreen physical violence and threats against women and have female viewers still panting after him like he’s a hero? He just had that certain spark, that allowed his characters to get away with despicable behavior while also making him desirable to women and men alike, if for different reasons. Of course, the fact that his characters are redeemed by the love of a good woman helps, or perhaps it’s the fact that though they fall in love, they are often bewildered by how they come to become domesticated. Of course, even when he plays very masculine men, there is also something of the little boy about him, tender and eager for approval. And even though his personal life isn’t exactly something to emulate, by most accounts he was very down to earth and modest of his great success. All this combines to explain why he was voted King of Hollywood and remained so until his death.

NORMA SHEARER

This modern woman salutes you.

I can’t remember my first exposure to a Norma Shearer film.  But somehow she remained memorable enough for me to seek out her other films. Although her career suffered at the end thanks to the enforcement of the moral Hays Code and the death of her husband and champion of her career, Shearer’s films made a tremendous impact and left quite a legacy. It is her pre-Code films which I fell in love with, watching her play women who pushed the boundaries and enjoyed it. Women who thought themselves equal to men and went out to prove it, while still dressing in sexy, slinky dresses and tempting the so-called stronger sex with her tinkling laugh. She forged a path not only for women onscreen but those who watched by playing roles which demanded women be respected, listened to and even feared for their strength, intellect and femininity. I thought I could not appreciate Shearer any more than I did, but then I started watching her earlier roles in silent films. I was mesmerized by her acting abilities which required a different set of skills than she used in her talking pictures. In any film or any role she is astounding. And even more astounding is her grit and determination to become an actress after multiple rejections and criticisms of her lazy eye and body shape. This is a woman who even challenged her husband, second in command at MGM, for a role she believed she could play. And she proved herself right while proving everyone else wrong. Despite the decades which have passed, she is still proving herself right and challenging the mistaken notions some have about classic film being outdated and boring.

WILLIAM POWELL

Mr. Debonaire

My love for William Powell just kind of crept up on me. Even after reading and hearing numerous recommendations for his most famous film The Thin Man, I had no desire to see it, partly because the leading man didn’t seem appealing. Finally, I gave it a chance because of my interest in Myrna Loy. And it was so much fun. But still, an appreciation for Powell alluded me. I gained more exposure through his other film pairings with Loy and I think it must have been Manhattan Melodrama (featuring another favorite actor, Clark Gable) which sealed the deal for me. Thus began a quest to watch as many of Powell’s films as I could. Although I have yet to see any of his silent films in which he generally plays villains, I have seen the majority of his talking films and have never been disappointed. In some ways, he plays characters similar to Cary Grant, those of sophistication and humor. Yet there is a subtle difference which I just can’t put my finger on. He is suave and charming and his ability to deliver a quip has few equals. He often comes across mischievous and yet still trustworthy. I always know what I’m getting when I watch one of his films and they are always a pleasure to view.

Okay, I know I said I would follow the rules and stick to five, but I can’t talk about Norma Shearer without also mentioning my awe for her husband. So I guess, you will have to forgive me for not only breaking the rule of five, but breaking the rule of choosing film stars.

IRVING THALBERG

Film pioneer and genius

As I stated, how can I mention Shearer without also talking about her husband Irving Thalberg? Though he was not a film star onscreen, it can be argued that he was a star of film off screen. Along with Louis B Mayer, Thalberg was an instrumental and guiding force in creating MGM, the studio known as “having the most stars under Heaven” and also being the most powerful and influential of classic film studios. Thalberg was second in command as head of production answerable only to studio head Mayer. It was he who discovered and championed many of classic film’s beloved stars, including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore and future wife Norma Shearer, among others. He oversaw over four hundred films in his tenure and was a visionary and risk taker whose ideas and accomplishments are too numerable to name here. The reason I admire him so much is that he did all of this in a little over fifteen years, starting at the young age of twenty and knowing that he would die young thanks to a weak heart. How many men of such a young age would be capable enough to basically run, manage and grow a business of such size and also do it well enough to gain the respect of not only his peers and competitors, but the world at large. And to do so while battling ill health is an even greater accomplishment. Few people are able to leave behind such a legacy even when living their lives to the fullness of old age. His commitment, determination and work-ethic are to be admired as is his character, strength and presence which allowed him to stand his ground with resolve in a business inhabited by strong personalities with strong opinions. And that is why I break the rules to share my favorite off-screen film star.

Who are some of your favorite film stars?

Introducing Vivien Leigh

PERSONAL BIO

Young Vivian Hartley

Vivian Hartley was born in 1913 in India where she was raised by her parents for the first six years of her life. Her mother eventually sent her to a girls convent school in England where she met friend and fellow actress Maureen O’Sullivan. Later on as she traveled with her parents she attended various schools in Europe and became fluent in French and Italian.

Vivian married at the young age of 18 to barrister Leigh Holman, a man many years older than she. By the age of 19 she had given birth to her only child, a daughter.

While pursuing her passion for acting in the theater, she met fellow actor  Laurence Olivier with whom she began an affair. Although they were both married to others and had young children, they fell in love and eventually obtained divorces which enabled them to marry.  They remained married for over twenty years and were linked together forever in the public mind since they appeared in numerous films and plays together.

Leigh & Olivier

Vivien Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder for most of her adult life, which greatly affected both her career and personal life, occasionally undergoing shock treatments to manage the illness. She also suffered through a couple of miscarriages and contracted a recurring case of tuberculosis. It was the tuberculosis that eventually killed her at the young age of 53.

FILM BIO

Vivien Leigh always knew she wanted to be an actress, even telling friend and classmate Maureen O’Sullivan of her intent to become “a great actress”. This desire may have been fostered in her by her mother who introduced her to classic literature at a young age and who took young Vivian to her first play. After marriage and the birth of her daughter, she took the stage name Vivien Leigh and began to appear in small roles in the London theater. This is where she eventually met co-star and lover Olivier.  She also began appearing in British films.

Both Olivier and Leigh were making names for themselves in the theater and British film, but it was Olivier’s role in Wuthering Heights and Leigh’s interest in playing Scarlett of Gone With the Wind that brought them to the attention of American audiences. Against all odds Leigh landed the very coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara winning her first of two Oscars.

Vivien Leigh along with Laurence Olivier continued to hone their craft in both British and American films as well as the theater balancing their busy professional life with a personal life fraught with mental illness, unfaithfulness, financial failures and other challenges. Through it all neither one gave any hint of their personal trauma.

Leigh managed to win a second Oscar for her role of Blanche DuBois, another Southern belle with issues, in A Streetcar Named Desire. Leigh originally played the role on the West End theater before it was brought to film, She has said that it was her time spent as the broken Blanche which “tipped me over into madness”. Despite this Leigh continued to make appearances in both film and the theater up to her death.  Thanks to her talent she is an acting icon and upon news of her death, the lights of every theater in London were extinguished for an hour in her honor. And although she appeared in less than twenty films, both British and American, she left an indelible mark and is one of a handful of actresses to win the Oscar each time she was nominated.

FAMOUS CO-STARS

Laurence Olivier -Not only did Olivier and Leigh appear in several plays together, but they also co-starred in three films, Fire Over England, 21 Days Together, That Hamilton Woman.

 

 

Robert Taylor -Both Taylor and Vivien Leigh were acclaimed for their looks. Sometimes this overshadowed their individual talents. Taylor and Leigh starred in two films together, A Yank at Oxford and the melodrama Waterloo Bridge, which was a favorite film of both.

FAMOUS FILMS

Gone With the Wind (1939) -This is only one of the most famous and highest grossing films of all time. Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell, it tells the story of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction era as seen through the eyes of Scarlett O’Hara. Leigh won her first Oscar for this film.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) -Leigh co-starred with Marlon Brando in another Southern tale of a dysfunctional female who becomes involved in a destructive relationship with her brother-in-law when she goes to live with her sister. Leigh’s performance in this film won her a second Oscar.

MY FAVORITE FILMS

Storm in a Teacup (1937) -A rarely seen romantic comedy set in Scotland which also stars Rex Harrison (of My Fair Lady fame).

 

 

Gone With the Wind (1939) -Listen, this film is a famous classic for a reason and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this film. Besides who wouldn’t watch Clark Gable play Rhett Butler over and over again?

 

Waterloo Bridge (1940) -This is a remake of an earlier film about a doomed love affair between a soldier and a ballerina. It was both Robert Taylor’s and Vivien Leigh’s favorite film and is tragically beautiful.

QUOTES

“I’m not a film star; I am an actress. Being a film star is such a false life, lived for fake values and for publicity.”

“Comedy is much more difficult than tragedy – and a much better training, I think. It’s much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh.”

“All day long you’re really leading up to the evening’s performance. To time everything correctly, you have to take care of yourself – which is a very difficult thing to do, because it’s highly emotional.”

“Some critics saw fit to say that I was a great actress. I thought that was a foolish, wicked thing to say because it put such an onus and such a responsibility onto me, which I simply wasn’t able to carry.”

Introducing Cary Grant

Cary Grant is my all time favorite actor as well as being both a film and style icon. I’m a bit embarrassed that as an obsessive fan, he was not the first actor in my Introduction Series. So, this one may be a quite a bit longer than my usual actor introductions.

PERSONAL BIO
Young Archie Leach

Archibald Leach was born in 1904 in Bristol England to an alcoholic father and an over-protective but emotionally detached mother. He was an only child whose parents were working class, but his mother nurtured his fascination for theater and performance while his father impressed on him the value of quality apparel. At nine years old, his mother just disappeared from his life with no explanation. His father finally told Archie that she had died. Only years later in his middle age, did he learn that his mother had been committed to a mental institution.

As a young teenager he dropped out of school and joined an acrobatic travelling team which toured around England. Eventually he went with the troupe to tour in America where he took many odd jobs, but continued to hone his performance skills. It was during this time, that he began to craft the persona of Cary Grant for which he would later become famous.

Still Archie Leach, he began studying the mannerisms, speech, posture and other attributes of the cultured, educated crowd he wanted to mimic. He also began to practice his speech, dropping the English accent he was born with and developing what would be come known as a transatlantic accent which was cultured, but untraceable to any particular place. After ten years of this type of work, he moved into films in 1932 where he changed his name to Cary Grant and ultimately had a very successful career until his retirement in 1966.

Grant was married five times. His second wife was incredibly wealthy and an heiress of the Woolworth fortune. Three of his wives were actresses. His longest marriage was to his third wife Betsy Drake, an actress, who introduced him to the use of LSD as a way to deal with emotional issues and as an alternative of sorts to psychotherapy. Grant’s only child and daughter was born to during his fourth marriage to actress Dyan Cannon. Grant had other relationships, but the only significant love affair outside of his marriages was with actress and Italian bombshell Sophia Loren. They carried on a passionate affair, he fell in love with her and continued to pursue her even after she chose another man.

Grant was not only popular in films, but also in his personal life. He was well-respected and had many good friends from a wide spectrum not limited to the film industry. Counted among his friends were business associates, journalists, fashion designers, musicians and others. Some of his close friends throughout his life were names like Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. He was known and admired by people like Howard Hughes, Merv Griffin, Ralph Lauren, Kirk Kerkorian (one-time owner of MGM) George Barrrie (founder of Faberge), William Randolph Hearst Jr., Quincy Jones and others. It is said that he was a very generous actor and person. Grant was thoughtful to write down things about people he noticed or that they had done for him and send a note of thanks or appreciation later. When he finally learned the truth about his mother’s whereabouts, he took care of her for the rest of her life and made an effort to travel to England to visit her regularly.

Even without his earnings from his film career Cary Grant was one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood and an astute business man.

“Before computers went into general release, Cary had one in his brain” -David Niven

With daughter Jennifer

After retiring from film, he enjoyed time with his daughter Jennifer. He also took a position on the board of directors at Faberge, as well as MGM and a few other companies. He continued to be offered numerous film roles, but never returned to the big screen. He finally passed away at the age of 82 from a stroke, but still remains a well-loved and popular figure.

FILM BIO

After his early years working in various live performance outlets, Cary Grant was offered work and a contract with Paramount Pictures. His early pictures show the making of his Cary Grant persona, but still lack that depth he would later develop. Many of these early roles were in dramatic films, but still showcased him as a sophisticated, wealthy man, often playboy, with few responsibilities.  Actress and queen of the double entendre,  Mae West claimed to have discovered Cary Grant and featured him in two of her films. They were so successful that they saved Paramount from bankruptcy After over twenty films in a period of four years his contract ended and he became one of the first freelance actors of the studio period. This is a pretty amazing accomplishment in an era where the studios owned everything from their talent (actors, directors, writers etc.) to the movie theaters themselves. If you weren’t under contract and promoted by a studio, you didn’t make it in Hollywood.

Cary Grant eventually segued into romantic and screwball comedies where he really found his niche and excelled. Even though, he was a popular actor many of his films were not financially successful, yet he continued to grow in demand. His transition to comedy genres greatly helped with this growth and he continued to make mainly comedies up until WWII. After the war, Grant made more drama films than comedies and he was a rare actor who excelled at both. Grant was so popular that he often got first choice of new scripts before they were offered to anyone else. He voluntarily turned down many excellent roles which lead to the success of the actors who did end up playing those parts .

“There are actors in this town who made important careers for a long, long period just by taking the parts that Cary Grant turned down.” -Louis Jordan

Altogether Cary Grant made a total of 72 feature films, in various genres. He was successful in most, except for his two roles in historical dramas. He  became a leading man early in his career and remained one until the end , despite continuing to age. He never played a villain on film, although in Suspicion, one of his films with Alfred Hitchock, Hitch wanted his character to be revealed as one. But upon playing the film for test audiences, the ending had to be changed, because they would not accept Grant as anything other than a romantic leading man and hero.

Grant was twice nominated for an Oscar, both times for dramatic parts. He lost both times and was greatly disappointed. However, the Academy did eventually give him an honorary Oscar towards the end of his life which was presented to him by good friend Frank Sinatra.

Cary Grant is widely believed by many in the film industry to be one of the greatest actors ever to appear on screen. He regularly graces the top of many favorites lists. The American Film Institute has him and his films at the top of many of their lists, including, naming him as the second  greatest male star of classic film after Humphrey Bogart. Grant also leads all actors in their list of the top 100 U. S. love stories with six romantic films.

FAMOUS CO-STARS

Grant’s own words – “Mostly, we have manufactured ladies— with the exception of Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn.”

“Grace Kelly is possibly the finest actress I’ve ever worked with” even though they only made one film together.

Katharine Hepburn -Grant and this Hepburn made four total films together, several of which are considered comedy classics, but were unsuccessful at the time.  Over five years they appeared together in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story.  Grant on Katharine Hepburn -“She was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic woman I’d ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her; there was no escaping her.”

Irene Dunne -Another beloved co-star pairing, Dunne and Grant made three films together, The Awful Truth,  My Favorite Wife and Penny Serenade. The Awful Truth is considered an excellent and favorite example of screwball comedy. Penny Serenade is a drama for which Grant was nominated and lost an Academy Award. Grant on Dunne – “Her timing was marvelous. She was so good that she made comedy look easy. If she’d made it look as difficult as it really is, she would have won her Oscar. ”

Deborah Kerr -Kerr is most well known for her role opposite Grant in An Affair to Remember. But they also made two other films together including, Dream Wife and The Grass is Greener.

 

Ingrid Bergman -Another popular co-star, Bergman and Grant made two films together, including famous Hitchcock film Notorious and Grant’s personal favorite, Indiscreet. Bergman was basically exiled from Hollywood and the U.S. after a very public affair which ended her marriage. Grant remained her loyal friend and always spoke in her defense. When she won an Oscar for her role in the film Anastasia, Grant accepted it on her behalf.

FAMOUS FILMS

The Philadelphia Story (1940) -originally a stage play specifically written for and starring Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn is a young heiress on the cusp of marriage with three suitors, including her fiance, her ex-husband and a tabloid reporter. Nominated for six Oscars, it won two, including a supporting actor win for James Stewart.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) -this popular holiday classic stars Grant as an angel who appears as an answer to the prayer of a bishop who needs both personal and professional help. It was the basis for the remake The Preacher’s Wife which starred Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.

To Catch a Thief (1955) -an Alfred Hitchcock film and Grant’s only collaboration with Grace Kelly. Set in Monte Carlo, Grant is a retired jewel thief under suspicion thanks to a copycat thief. Kelly is an heiress wise to his identity who pursues him relentlessly. Grant had announced his retirement from film due to the belief that he was getting too old to play romantic leads.  Hitchcock lured him back and he continued acting for many more years.

An Affair to Remember (1957) – who hasn’t heard of this love story about two people who meet, separate and agree to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months? It’s referenced in many films, including Sleepless in Seattle. Affair was almost and exact remake of an earlier film called Love Affair. It was then remade again in the nineties with the title Love Affair and starred Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

North by Northwest (1959) -another popular Hitchcock and Grant film, this one features the iconic image of Grant in a grey suit being chased by a crop duster in an empty field. Grant plays a man mistaken for a double agent.

MY FAVORITE FILMS

Having seen all but three of his 72 films, it’s hard to narrow down my favorites, but I generally prefer his comedies since that has always been my favorite genre. I have kept this as short as possible and it is in no way a full list.

Topper (1937) -No matter how many times I watch this, it always makes me giggle. Grant is one half of a ghost couple who must perform a good deed to get to Heaven. His wife picks their former uptight banker and they end up completely disrupting his life.  This one had some pretty good special effects for its’ time. It was one of Grant’s big comedic breakthrough films.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) -my very first introduction to classic film which gave me a lifelong love of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and screwball comedies. Hepburn is a wacky heiress who railroads Grant’s shy, nerdy character into helping her deliver a tame pet leopard to her grandmother.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) – another favorite, thanks to the pairing of Grant and Hepburn and the addition of James Stewart. What’s not to love. There is a great scene between Grant and Stewart where the latter is drunk. It was completely ad-libbed and just brilliant.

 

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) –another hilarious Grant comedy about potential insanity. He plays a character who discovers that his beloved aunts are killing lonely old men and burying them in the basement. Meanwhile his uncle believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and his criminal brother has returned unexpectedly with a face transplant.

Charade (1963)  -Grant co-stars with Audrey Hepburn about a woman whose husband is murdered and then finds herself being followed by several of his former colleagues who are looking for the fortune he stole from them. Set in Paris, Audrey is gorgeously dressed by Givenchy. It’s just fun and charming.

EXTRAs -I have read numerous books about Cary Grant. These are my favorites and give a good picture of who Cary Grant was not just in his career but also in his personal life; Good Stuff by daughter Jennifer Grant, Evenings with Cary Grant -Recollections in His Own Words by Those Who Knew Him Best and Cary Grant – A Celebration of Style -literally an entire book on why and how Grant is a style icon. Giorgio Armani is a co-author.

Did you Know? Ian Fleming modeled his famous James Bond character on Cary Grant and Christopher Reeve used him as the inspiration for his portrayal of Clark Kent in Superman.

QUOTES

“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

“My screen persona is a combination of Jack Buchanan, Noël Coward and Rex Harrison. I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, and, finally, I became that person. Or he became me.”

“I’ve often been accused by critics of being myself on-screen. But being oneself is more difficult than you’d suppose.”

“Actors today try to avoid comedy because if you write a comedy that’s not a success, the lack of success is immediately apparent because the audience is not laughing. A comedy is a big risk.”

“The secret of comedy is doing it naturally under the most difficult circumstances. And film comedy is the most difficult of all.”

Introducing Gene Tierney

PERSONAL BIO
Young Gene Tierney

Gene Tierney was born in 1920 into a close, privileged family in Connecticut. She had a happy childhood. During a family trip to Hollywood, she was given a screen test and offered a contract, but her parents refused. She then headed off to a private boarding school in Switzerland where she became fluent in French. Upon returning home, she begged her parents to allow her to pursue her dream of acting. They agreed, provided that she audition for theater roles in nearby New York. Gene had favor and quick success. This led to a a contract with 20th Century Fox studios.

 

Tierney with husband Cassini

She married twice. Her first husband was Oleg Cassini, an immigrant from a noble family. (Cassini eventually became famous in his own right as a costume designer and later as owner of a fashion empire.) They had two daughters, her only children. While pregnant with her first child, Tierney contracted the German measles from a fan who was ill, but who had broken a health quarantine in order to meet her favorite movie star. This affected her unborn child who was later born prematurely, partially deaf and with severe mental deficiencies. Tierney was forced to institutionalize her daughter for most of her life.

Tierney had another serious personal blow related to her beloved father. He managed the money she earned as an actress. When he ran into personal difficulties of his own, he used her funds to cover his losses and she was forced to take him to court. In the end, although she won her case, she was left with very little. This event along with her father’s affair and abandonment of their family left Tierney estranged from him for the remainder of her life.

She also had a couple of high-profile love affairs. One with Jack Kennedy prior to his entry in politics. She was in love with him, but he would not marry her, so she called it off. Tierney was also good friends with mogul Howard Hughes, who helped her out financially throughout her life.

The personal tragedies in her life led her to a mental breakdown. Over a period of several years she was in and out of mental hospitals as she sought treatment. Tierney was subjected to numerous shock treatments and lost small chunks of her memory. At one point, she considered suicide. Eventually, she was successfully treated by the Menninger Clinic. After her recovery she returned to films briefly, but eventually retired. She married a second time, moved to Houston and lived out her remaining days happily out of the spotlight. She died at 70 of emphysema shortly before her birthday.

FILM BIO

Although Tierney began her career in theater as many classic film actors did in those days, she quickly moved to Hollywood to work for 20th Century Fox. She made the majority of her films with this studio. The bulk of her pictures were filmed in the 1940’s and 1950’s with a few small parts in the 1960’s. Altogether she had a total of 41 films to her credit, the majority of which were dramatic roles.

Gene Tierney was considered one of the most beautiful actresses of her time. Ironically, this was a hindrance to her at times in landing good roles. Her acting skill has generally been underrated because she was assigned to many mediocre films which did not showcase her talent. Daryl Zanuck, her boss at Fox stated, “Gene must be a better actress than some people think. How else could she survive so many awful pictures?”  Despite this, Tierney did win an Oscar for her role as a murderously jealous wife in the film Leave Her to Heaven.

During her years wrestling with her mental health, she fell out of demand as an actress. Eventually, she returned to film, but the roles were much smaller and less prestigious, so Tierney decided to retire. In her mind, her career had always been of secondary priority to her personal life anyway.

FAMOUS CO-STARS

Dana Andrews -Andrews appeared in four films with Tierney, more than any other actor. Their most famous collaboration is Laura. Their other three films, Tobacco Road, The Iron Curtain and Where the Sidewalk Ends are also dramas. Her beautiful elegance was a nice contrast to his brooding, quiet manner.

Tyrone Power -Tierney made three films with Tyrone Power, Son of Fury,  The Razor’s Edge and That Wonderful Urge. They were two of the most gorgeous people in Hollywood and their combined beauty is almost too much for the screen.

 

Henry Fonda -Fonda co-starred in two films The Return of Frank James and Rings on Her Fingers. Frank James was Tierney’s debut film. Rings is one of Tierney’s few comedies.

WELL KNOWN FILMS

Laura (1944) – She plays an object of obsession who is supposedly murdered. Arguably her most well-known film. Tierney was identified by this role for the rest of her life.

 

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)-The film for which she won her only Academy Award. She is chilling as a jealous wife determined to have her husband all to herself.

 

 

The Razor’s Edge (1946) -Based on a story by Somerset Maugham (who had many of his books adapted for film). Tierney plays a supporting role as the love interest of Tyrone Power. He ultimately sacrifices their relationship in his search for a deeper meaning to life.

MY FAVORITE FILMS

The Shanghai Gesture (1941) -A tragic drama, I love Tierney’s portrayal of a doomed heiress who is ruined by her addiction to gambling and drugs.

 

 

Dragonwyck (1946) -I’m a fan of gothic romances, whether in books or film and this one about a woman married to a wealthy landowner who is slowly losing his mind kept me enthralled.

 

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) -Not just one of my favorite Tierney films, this is also a favorite classic of mine. Tierney is a young widow with a daughter who purchases a remote seaside cottage whose previous owner was a foul mouthed sea captain (played by Rex Harrison who also played Henry Higgins in the musical film My Fair Lady). She quickly discovers that although he is dead, he acts very much alive, haunting his home and trying to scare her away. But they soon come to a truce and she finds herself falling for a ghost.

Extra: I have read Tierney’s autobiography and can personally recommend it. It is an interesting journey through her life, both public and personal. She writes with awareness and without self-pity. Having read about her in her own words, she only grew in my esteem. Gene Tierney was truly a classy, elegant woman unencumbered with self-absorption, despite her beauty, fame, wealth and connections.

Also, check out this website dedicated to Gene Tierney.

PERSONAL QUOTES

Jealousy is, I think, the worst of all faults because it makes a victim of both parties.

The word actress has always seemed less a job description to me than a title.

Wealth, beauty and fame are transient. When those are gone, little is left except the need to be useful.

I have gone through such a times, and more, and survived. I traveled in a world that once was -Hollywood of the war and immediate postwar years. And I existed in a world that never is-the prison of the mind. If what I have learned can be summed up in one sentence, it would be this: life is not a movie.

 

 

Introducing Buster Keaton

Personal Bio: Born Joseph Frank Keaton in  1895 to a pair of vaudeville  actors who owned their own travelling show, he was supposedly given the nickname Buster, by his parents’ partner, Harry Houdini (yes, that Houdini), who after seeing him emerge unscathed after a tumble down some stairs proclaimed, “That was a real buster!” He had an unconventional childhood, incorporated early on as a child actor in his parent’s act and received no formal schooling, his only education that which his mother could give him on the road.

Young Buster with parents

After the Keaton’s show finally ended due to his father’s alcoholism, Buster spent a short stint serving in the army during WWI where he was stationed in France. Upon his return he traveled to New York where through a mutual acquaintance he met famous comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle who became a close friend and mentor in the film industry. Buster was a quick learner and soon was writing, directing, producing and starring in his own films, beginning with silent comedy shorts and eventually transitioning into feature films where he had great success.

During this time he married his first wife who was part of a well-known and well-respected acting family and had two sons with her. Eventually due to  career issues as well as personal issues, the marriage disintegrated and she took their home, the bulk of his wealth and his sons and refused to allow Buster any contact with his children. He quickly descended into full blown alcoholism and poverty and completely lost the professional respect and the career which he had painstakingly built.

With first wife and son

He spent several years in and out of hospitals and married again two more times, crediting his third and final wife with helping him get control of his alcoholism and  back on his feet. He went back to work in the film industry in uncredited roles as a gag writer and in small cameos and acting roles. He eventually regained the respect he was due in his profession, but never again reached the zenith of his earlier fame. He died of lung cancer in 1970.  

Film Bio: Thanks to his early years working in vaudeville theater, Buster Keaton had gained quite a bit of knowledge and experience which served him well when he moved into film. Being mentored by and working with Fatty Arbuckle only added to his experience and natural aptitude for comedy.

Arbuckle and Keaton

His films are noted for their sight gags and extremely physical comedy, both of which required careful precision and attention to detail. He was also famous for doing his own stunts which were often very dangerous. He was nicknamed The Great Stone Face, because regardless of what hilarious chaos and mayhem swirled around his film characters, he never cracked a smile.

Considered one of his greatest masterpieces, his silent film The General filmed in 1926 inadvertently led to the beginning of the end of his most productive and succesful period of work. The expense and mixed reviews of the film led to the loss of his productive control and eventually led him to sign with MGM. The studio forced him to give up his independence in the film making process which ultimately proved to be disastrous for him. It was during this time that he began drinking and his first marriage fell apart and he eventually lost everything.

After his third marriage and recovery from alcoholism, Keaton began working in the film industry again and regained respect for his talents, working with comedians such as Red Skelton and Lucille Ball.

He is credited as an actor in 148 films, a writer in 41 of those films, a director of 39 and producer of 15. Although the majority of those credits are for sound films, it is his silent comedy shorts and feature films for which he still remains the most famous and appreciated. Near the end of his life, Keaton was finally awarded an honorary Oscar which he so richly deserved and thanks to a resurgence in classic and silent films in recent decades his name and talent are becoming as well known as another famous contemporary of his, Charlie Chaplin.

Buster Keaton was my first introduction to silent film. Despite my longtime love and fascination with movies, I had no interest in silent film. Thank goodness, that I decided to give it a chance and that the film I chose was Keaton’s, because there really is no one else quite like him. His talent was immense and yet appeared effortless, and the impact he had on films and future comedians is impossible to measure.

Famous Films:

      • One Week (1920) – a short film which runs 19 minutes, it depicts the struggle of newlyweds, who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding present, to assemble their new home. Thanks to the vindictive actions of the wife’s former suitor the boxes of building materials are numbered incorrectly which leads to a very strange looking home.
    • Seven Chances (1925) -Keaton stars as a man who learns he must marry by the end of the day in order to inherit a fortune left to him by his grandfather.  This hour long film has him chased through town by a mob of wannabe brides as well as trying to outrun a rock slide. This is listed among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (along with several other Keaton films).
    • The General (1926) arguably Keaton’s most acclaimed film, it spelled the end of his artistic freedom. Due to the great cost involved in producing this, Keaton was forced to sign with MGM. It features on of his great loves trains, with The General being the name of the beloved locomotive belonging to Keaton’s Confederate engineer. It is stolen by Union spies and Keaton must cross enemy lines in pursuit of it’s recovery.
    • The Cameraman (1928) – Keaton’s first film with MGM still shows Keaton in top form and in control, although for the last time. He falls in love with a secretary who works for MGM and trades in his portrait camera for an old film camera in order to win her attention and her heart. The only problem is his camera is out of date and he lacks the experience for the job.

Quotes:

Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.

A comedian does funny things. A good comedian does things funny.

I have simply been brought up by being knocked down.

Introducing…Myrna Loy

Since most of my friends and family are not classic film fans, I thought I would start a new series in which I introduce actors and actresses from this era, in the hope that it will familiarize you with famous names and perhaps whet your appetite for their films.

Personal Bio:Myrna Williams was born in Helena, Montana in 1905. Her father was a successful businessman and state congressman. After his death in 1918 her mother permanently moved the family to southern California where Myrna attended high school in Venice. She was the model for a sculpture which was displayed outside of the high school for many decades. Her portrait caught the eye of famous silent film star Rudolph Valentino which eventually led to her gaining work in silent films, changing her last name to Loy.

Myrna was not only an actress but was a lifelong Democrat who was actively involved in political issues through out her life. She put her career on hold in WWII to work with the Red Cross and was so vehemently outspoken against Hitler that she was placed on his blacklist. She was an early supporter of civil rights not only fighting for their rights to be depicted with dignity on film but also serving as a co-chairman on a committee which fought against housing discrimination. She was one of the first celebrities to work with the U.N.

Contrary to her film image as the perfect wife, Myrna was married and divorced four times and joked about how her screen image was very different than her personal life. Due to an abortion early in her life she was never able to have children of her own. Loy identified as a Methodist throughout her life.

Film Bio: Myrna Loy appeared in over 130 films in various genres over the course of six decades. She began in silent films and is one of a few actresses who successfully transitioned into talking pictures. At the beginning of her career she was typecast as an exotic femme fatale, usually playing women of Asian or Eurasian descent as well as questionable morals. In the mid 1930’s, she transitioned into more respectable roles as the “perfect” wife, society woman or glamorous career gal. At one point in the thirties she was voted along with Clark Gable as the king and queen of Hollywood. She was one of the most popular and well-liked actresses prior to WWII.

After the war, Myrna returned to films while also continuing with her political work. Although she was a prolific and well-respected actress, sadly she was never nominated for an Academy Award.  This egregious oversight was corrected in 1991 when she was awarded an honorary Oscar for “career achievement.”

Famous Co-stars

  • William Powell -Without question Powell is Loy’s most well-known co-star. They appeared in fourteen films together and their pairing in the The Thin Man series catapulted both their names and careers into Hollywood history.

 

  • Clark Gable – Another actor with numerous co-star credits. They appeared in seven films together, some good, some not so good. Initially, they did not get on well together, but eventually became good friends. Despite the quality of some of their films, they have wonderful chemistry.
  • Cary Grant -Loy appeared in three films with Grant. Although Cary Grant is my favorite actor and I am also a fan of Loy, I feel that they were ultimately better matched with other co-stars. Still, you can’t take your eyes off either one of them.

 

Famous Films:

  • The Thin Man (1934) – Arguably, this is the film that made Myrna Loy. It was her second pairing with William Powell and not only was the first of six Thin Man films, but also helped launch many similarly styled mystery films.

 

  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) -One of the best post-war dramas made about the impact of the war on returning service men and their families. This stars Loy as the wife of one of those men and many believe she should have been nominated for her role in this film.

 

My Favorite Films:

  • Penthouse (1933) -I love this film which allows Loy to play somewhere in between a femme fatale and the upstanding lady she would play later in her career. She is a classy call-girl who helps an attorney bring down a gangster.

 

 

 

 

  • Test Pilot (1938) -My favorite of her pairings with Clark Gable (and Spencer Tracy). She is the devoted wife to Gable’s fearless aviation test pilot.

 

 

  • The Rains Came (1939) -A bit of an unusual role for Loy, she plays a married English aristocrat in love with a forbidden Indian doctor (played by the gorgeous, yet very Caucasian Tyrone Power).

 

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  • So Goes My Love (1946) -A rarely seen semi-biographical film about American inventor Hiram Maxim. Loy again plays the wife to Don Ameche‘s Maxim. They are so charming together I can overlook the film’s few flaws.

 

 

Quotes:

Why does every black person in the movies have to play a servant? How about a black person walking up the steps of a courthouse carrying a briefcase?

Some perfect wife I am. I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg.

Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.

 

Steve McQueen Mini-Reviews

As I mentioned in a prior post, Steve McQueen is an anomaly for me. As most would agree, he is the epitome of cool, so I want to love his films and yet the few pictures of his I had seen left me underwhelmed. This year, that changed.

Originally, I was planning on writing longer individual reviews of each of the following films. But as it has been several months since I’ve watched a few of them, some of the details have faded and left me more with my overall impressions.

The Honeymoon Machine -1961  

Lieutenant Ferguson (McQueen) and his civilian scientist friend decide to exploit a navy computer called Max in a get rich quick scheme involving a Venice casino, while trying to avoid their Admiral who is staying in the same hotel and romancing two women, one of whom is the Admiral’s daughter.

This is a breezy ninety minute caper comedy which may not be one of McQueen’s best films technically but sure is entertaining. McQueen played so many dramatic roles that it is nice to see him in lighter fare. The funniest scenes are of Signalman Burford Taylor who becomes an unwitting and very drunk co-conspirator.

The War Lover -1962 

McQueen plays WWII pilot Buzz Rickson, the title character. He is a man with very little moral character, who is mostly disliked, but greatly admired and respected by the men who fly with him, thanks to his nerves of steel and pristine safety record. But that starts to change as he begins to take more risks in the air and challenges the men on the ground.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this movie, but it is one that has definitely stuck with me. It is a great character study of a man who seems cold and remote, who seems to thrive on danger and has no interest in any type of relationship, not even taking part in the camaraderie among his fellow squad members. It’s not until the end of the film that you understand the man behind the name.

Soldier in the Rain -1963

This is listed as a comedy, drama, romance, and although it has some comedy and romance I would call it a drama. Goofy but crafty supply Sergeant Eustis Clay (McQueen) idolizes his superior Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter played by Jackie Gleason. Slaughter uses his position to both protect and to mentor the younger, more oblivious Clay. However with Slaughter due to retire shortly from the Army, change is on the horizon for both men and they begin to realize the depth of their friendship.

This movie is a bittersweet tear-jerker, which I didn’t fully appreciate until I realized I was still thinking about the story weeks and months later.  I will go so far as to say that this is my favorite Steve McQueen movie and maybe also one of my top ten favorite classic films. It does a great job depicting the daily mundane of army life on base, as well as the depth of the friendship between two men who don’t have much in common apart from the army. I loved seeing the growth of McQueen’s character as he realizes the impact and influence that Sgt. Slaughter has on him and the way that he chooses to honor that is deeply moving.

Bullitt -1968

A well-known crime drama which follows McQueen as the title character Detective Frank Bullitt who is assigned to protect a witness and then determinedly hunts down the assassin who kills his witness while also searching for the truth. He is assisted by his captain and hindered by the Senator who originally requested him for the protection detail.

This film is most famous for its’ car chase scene which is almost eleven minutes long and considered one of the best in film.  It is also well- known for its extensive use of real locations in San Francisco and for its’ realistic portrayal of police procedures. The first half of the movie seems to drag a little bit, but it really picks up after the car chase begins. The last half kept me completely engrossed in the mystery and action as McQueen narrows in on the real criminal. I can’t say I loved it, but I can see how this is one of McQueen’s best known roles.

Film Year 2016 in Review

I’m almost ashamed to admit that by my count I watched over one hundred films in the past year. That is not including made for television movies (I’m looking at you Hallmark.) Most of those were classic films, but I did manage to see a few new releases.

Here is a rundown on my film year.

In 2016 I saw the following new releases:

Of these films, the only one I didn’t enjoy was Hail Caesar. I was very disappointed as this was a movie I was eagerly awaiting due to its story about classic Hollywood. I’m a fan of series or sequels as long as the story is entertaining so I enjoyed Greek Wedding 2, Civil War and Jason Bourne.  It was great to be introduced to a new Jane Austen story in Love and Friendship and I thought the new Ben-Hur was interesting. I actually liked it better than the Charlton Heston version even though I’m sure I’m in the minority with that opinion. And I thought the chariot race in the newer version was just as good if not slightly better.  Of course, there are few Nicholas Sparks based movies that I don’t like and The Choice was no exception. I didn’t read the book Me Before You, but other than the ending, I was charmed by the story. Tom Hanks playing Sully as usual did an amazing job portraying an ordinary hero.

I also saw several classic films in the theater this year including:

There is nothing like seeing a favorite classic movie up on the big screen. I catch so much more of the film, including little details, which I don’t notice when watching it on television or dvd. Mad World is a favorite comedy of mine and my mom’s and has just about every famous comedian of the time in it. No matter how often we see it we always find ourselves laughing. The King and I is a famous musical. It’s not necessarily my favorite, but it is one I enjoy. Pillow Talk is my favorite of Doris Day and Rock Hudson’s comedies together. If you haven’t heard of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn or The Ten Commandments then you’ve probably been living under a rock.

The majority of the films I watched this year as usual were classic films. I filled in the filmography gaps of stars like Norma Shearer, Merle Oberon, Robert Donat, Miriam Hopkins, Olivia deHavilland, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and my obssession, Cary Grant. I am trying to watch all seventy two of Grant’s films and after this year am very close to reaching that goal. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are two silent comedians whom I have fallen in love with (preferring them over famous silent comedian Charlie Chaplin.)I have found that no matter the era, comedy is my favorite genre and the silent films showcase some of the best talent of any decade. Norma Shearer was the queen of pre-code films, but this year I discovered her silent films as well and am even more impressed with her acting abilities. Olivia deHavilland (Melanie of Gone with the Wind fame) is one of the very few living classic film actresses and celebrated her 100th birthday this past year.

I watched and liked several of Steve McQueen‘s films this year. McQueen is an anomaly for me because he is just so darn cool that you want to love his movies. However, I’ve found some of them not to my liking, in particular the long and boring Papillon and the depressing, Baby The Rain Must Fall. But this is the year that changed for me thanks to Soldier in the Rain, The Honeymoon Machine, Love with the Proper Stranger and The War Lover (reviews to come later).

I also filled in some gaps in watching some famous and critically well-regarded films like Sabrina, Ben-Hur, and Sunset Boulevard. Unlike some raved about classics which after watching I find over rated (I’m not naming names, Citizen Kane), Sabrina and Sunset Boulevard deserve the accolades they receive. I found Ben-Hur over dramatic and too long for my tastes unfortunately.

Of the many classics I watched this year a few of my favorites were: The Shanghai Gesture, No More Orchids, The Green Years, A Bill of Divorcement (Katharine Hepburn’s film debut that I’ve been wanting to see for years), She Couldn’t Say No ( a comedy with Robert Mitchum), Lucky Star (a well-made silent film), and A Millionaire for Christy (a new favorite screwball comedy discovery). All in all it was a busy and productive year of entertainment for me.