A few years ago TV made a whole slew of docudramas about TV pop culture figures -- The Partridge Family, The Monkees, to name a few--but almost thirty years ago, when the interest in classic movies was still a mainstream concern--mainstream enough to interest broadcast television in a big way--the networks turned out a few more than decent-to-downright excellent movies about Hollywood’s good old days.  Today the most you’ll get is a clip biography (which is certainly better than nothing), but there’s something incredibly appealing, exciting and always a little silly about seeing contemporary actors and actresses making like old-time movie stars.

" /> A few years ago TV made a whole slew of docudramas about TV pop culture figures -- The Partridge Family, The Monkees, to name a few--but almost thirty years ago, when the interest in classic movies was still a mainstream concern--mainstream enough to interest broadcast television in a big way--the networks turned out a few more than decent-to-downright excellent movies about Hollywood’s good old days.  Today the most you’ll get is a clip biography (which is certainly better than nothing), but there’s something incredibly appealing, exciting and always a little silly about seeing contemporary actors and actresses making like old-time movie stars.

" /> A few years ago TV made a whole slew of docudramas about TV pop culture figures -- The Partridge Family, The Monkees, to name a few--but almost thirty years ago, when the interest in classic movies was still a mainstream concern--mainstream enough to interest broadcast television in a big way--the networks turned out a few more than decent-to-downright excellent movies about Hollywood’s good old days.  Today the most you’ll get is a clip biography (which is certainly better than nothing), but there’s something incredibly appealing, exciting and always a little silly about seeing contemporary actors and actresses making like old-time movie stars.

" />

Moviola: Three Classic TV Movies About Classic Hollywood

Actor Edward Winter as Clark Gable in MoviolaA few years ago TV made a whole slew of docudramas about TV pop culture figures — The Partridge Family, The Monkees, to name a few–but almost thirty years ago, when the interest in classic movies was still a mainstream concern–mainstream enough to interest broadcast television in a big way–the networks turned out a few more than decent-to-downright excellent movies about Hollywood’s good old days.  Today the most you’ll get is a clip biography (which is certainly better than nothing), but there’s something incredibly appealing, exciting and always a little silly about seeing contemporary actors and actresses making like old-time movie stars.

Probably the most ambitious project was producer David L. Wolper’s three part adaptation of several chapters from Garson Kanin’s fictionalized Hollywood history Moviola, published in 1979.  Wolper not only produced the TV part ofProducer David L. Wolper Moviola, but had encouraged Kanin to put some of Garson Kanin's Moviola novelhis career-long collection of fascinating Hollywood tales into a book in the first place.  Wolper (Roots) wanted to make it into a miniseries, the most sought-after, respected, and often highly-rated TV genre of that time.  The trio of two-hour movies premiered at the tail end of the May sweep ratings period in 1980, beginning on Sunday May 18th, and continuing on Monday and Tuesday.  All three of the segments were directed by John Erman (who would get an Emmy nomination for his work), a veteran TV helmer who had cut his TV teeth as production associate on the great original Outer Limits series in the early 1960s.   

First up was Moviola:  This Year’s Blonde, about Marilyn Monroe and Cast and crew of This Year's Blonde on the setespecially her complicated relationship with her agent, mentor and lover Johnny Hyde in the nascent years of her career.  Playing Marilyn was actress Constance Forslund, a twenty-five year old blonde beauty, and Hyde was played by veteran actor Lloyd Bridges.  Other real-life Hollywood figures brought to life included Jack Warner, Harry Cohn, Joseph Schenck, Sam Goldwyn, Eddie Mannix, John Huston, Darryl F. Zanuck, and Dore Schary.  Producers Wolper and Stan Margulies carefully cast and skillfully recreated a crucial time in the life of America’s iconic sex symbol. 

Next up was probably the most anticipated and star-studded (at least in terms of the characters!) of the three, Moviola:  The Scarlett O’Hara War, chronicling the fierce battle joined in by every ambitious actress in the late 1930s to star in David O’ Selznick’s adaptation of Margaret Cast and Crew of The Scarlett O' Hara WarMitchell’s best-selling Civil War novel Gone With The Wind.  The casting was superb from the top down:  Tony Curtis played Selznick (Emmy nominated role), Bill Macy (famous as Walter, Maude’s husband) played his brother Myron, and Harold Gould played Louis B. Mayer (for which he was also Emmy nominated, actually for this movie and the next one).  In addition to the bevy of contending actresses portrayed in the movie, other Hollywood characters also appeared, such as George Cukor (played by George Furth), Charlie Chaplin (by Clive Revill), columnist Walter Winchell (Joey Forman), Louella Parsons, and more. 

Playing the cadre of Hollywood’s top female stars was an assortment of both known and lesser-known actresses, including the exceptionally talented Carrie Nye as Tallulah Bankhead, a role for which she also received an Emmy nomination.  Sharon Gless, a few years pre-Cagney & Lacey, played Carole Lombard.  Other actresses played Scarlett Morgan Brittany as Vivien Leighcontenders Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, Miriam Hopkins, and Jean Arthur; the big gimmick of the TV movie was holding back, much as in real life, the unveiling of the Edward Winter does Clark Gable in Moviolaultimate choice for Scarlett until the end, when the incomparably lovely Morgan Brittany (who had been a child star under the name Suzanne Cupito) was revealed as Vivien Leigh, a role Morgan had also played in the big-screen feature Gable and Lombard a few years earlier.  Around for the duration of the backstage tale was actor Ed Winters (probably best known for his role as Col. Flagg in the series M*A*S*H) as Clark Gable, looking suitably bemused and handsome. (Photos available on Ebay!) 

The final entry in the trio was Moviola: The Silent Lovers, documenting the doomed romance between Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.  Kanin’s bookBostwick & Wayborn as Gilbert & Garbo presented the story that Gilbert, a huge star in silent films, had gotten on Mayer’s bad side and the studio head had sabotaged his first talking film, making his voice high and shrill on the soundtrack and thereby destroying his career.  While the truth was probably that the decline was due to Gilbert’s severe drinking problem, it was up to co-star Barry Bostwick (five years after Rocky Horror Picture Show) to try to capture the undeniable charm of John Gilbert, and to Kristina Wayborn, playing Garbo, to emulate the cool glamour of the enigmatic Swedish star.  Actor Brian Keith played Brian Keith as Mauritz Stiller in MoviolaGarbo’s mentor, director Mauritz Stiller, and other actual Hollywood notables portrayed included Irving Thalberg (played by John Rubenstein), Victor Seastrom (James Olson), director Clarence Brown, actor Robert Taylor, Lillian Gish (played by One Day at a Time’s Mackenzie Phillips), King Vidor and Norma Shearer. 

The story goes that Kristina Wayborn campaigned for the part of Garbo by pretending to be extremely Swedish and handing Wolper a letter from Ingmar Bergman singing her praises.  Once she had secured the role, Wayborn Wayborn & Bostwick as The Silent Loverskept up the ruse by adopting some Garbo-like mysterious habits and by being driving to work in a limousine every day.  After filmed was completed she confessed that she while she was from Sweden, and in fact had been named Miss Sweden in 1970, she had a perfectly fine American accent and the Bergman letter was phony.  She received good notices for her impersonation of Garbo, at least, and went on three years later to play Magda in the James Bond adventure Octopussy

It’s a pity these three movies don’t play on TV much (if ever) anymore.  They are examples of the heyday of the big miniseries, when a network could reasonably expect the audience to give up three or more nights to follow a grandly produced television epic like Moviola.  We can only hope that these will be resurrected one of these days–on DVD at least–so that we can again get a look at the way TV paid homage to classic Hollywood a generation ago.

(I'll continue this topic next time with a look at two near-flop theatrical movies from Universal about classic Hollywood from the mid-70s, as well as a couple of other good TV movies.)

14 Responses Moviola: Three Classic TV Movies About Classic Hollywood
Posted By Brent : December 7, 2007 11:40 pm

Loved "The Scarlett O'Hara War". One question. They showed all the actresses who auditioned for the role playing opposite a stand-in for Leslie Howard, and doing the famous "I Hate You!" speech where Scarlett slaps Ashley in the face. Each and every actress in the movie REALLY slaps the poor sod, until he's holding his throbbing jaw in his hand. Did this really happen, or is it fictional (I hope for the guys face that it was!). I also remember Carole Lombard freaking when she finds out she lost the part. She goes to Chaplins room – DO NOT DISTURB is written on the door. Lombard – scream. Chaplin – "I'm working!" Lombard – scream. Chaplin- 'I'M WORKING!!!" Exit Lombard - and Chaplin goes back to playing with the giant world globe he's going to use in"The Great Dictator"! Classic stuff!  

Posted By Brent : December 7, 2007 11:40 pm

Loved "The Scarlett O'Hara War". One question. They showed all the actresses who auditioned for the role playing opposite a stand-in for Leslie Howard, and doing the famous "I Hate You!" speech where Scarlett slaps Ashley in the face. Each and every actress in the movie REALLY slaps the poor sod, until he's holding his throbbing jaw in his hand. Did this really happen, or is it fictional (I hope for the guys face that it was!). I also remember Carole Lombard freaking when she finds out she lost the part. She goes to Chaplins room – DO NOT DISTURB is written on the door. Lombard – scream. Chaplin – "I'm working!" Lombard – scream. Chaplin- 'I'M WORKING!!!" Exit Lombard - and Chaplin goes back to playing with the giant world globe he's going to use in"The Great Dictator"! Classic stuff!  

Posted By Brent : December 8, 2007 7:26 am

Awright, awright, it was Paulette Godard,not Carole Lombard. (Lombard probably tried out for the part. One guy even suggested Joan Blondell…) 

Posted By Brent : December 8, 2007 7:26 am

Awright, awright, it was Paulette Godard,not Carole Lombard. (Lombard probably tried out for the part. One guy even suggested Joan Blondell…) 

Posted By Medusa : December 8, 2007 10:06 am

Hi Brent! Maybe one of our GWTW experts out there knows whether Leslie Howard was really he who gets slapped…and slapped…and slapped!Wish we could see these movies again!  Would be perfect for TCM, of course!  These weren't cheesy TVMs but top-notch Wolper productions, making them all the more important to be revisited.  Thanks for the comments! 

Posted By Medusa : December 8, 2007 10:06 am

Hi Brent! Maybe one of our GWTW experts out there knows whether Leslie Howard was really he who gets slapped…and slapped…and slapped!Wish we could see these movies again!  Would be perfect for TCM, of course!  These weren't cheesy TVMs but top-notch Wolper productions, making them all the more important to be revisited.  Thanks for the comments! 

Posted By Larry : December 10, 2007 6:46 pm

These films used to be played every so often on the Encore True Stories channel.  As recent as a couple of years ago. I haven't looked for them recently so you may want to check their schedules from time to time.

Posted By Larry : December 10, 2007 6:46 pm

These films used to be played every so often on the Encore True Stories channel.  As recent as a couple of years ago. I haven't looked for them recently so you may want to check their schedules from time to time.

Posted By Medusa : December 10, 2007 6:59 pm

Hi Larry!I don't know why I missed them, as I have always watched lots of Encore.  Unfortunately Encore doesn't even call one of their channels True Stories anymore — changed it to Drama — and maybe that's why I haven't seen these on there anymore.  Too bad, but I will keep looking!  I've actually seen more 1970s vintage movies turning up on pay channels recently…might be coming out of syndication or something and in circulation again.  These old movies travel in packs, ya know! :-)Thanks for the tip!

Posted By Medusa : December 10, 2007 6:59 pm

Hi Larry!I don't know why I missed them, as I have always watched lots of Encore.  Unfortunately Encore doesn't even call one of their channels True Stories anymore — changed it to Drama — and maybe that's why I haven't seen these on there anymore.  Too bad, but I will keep looking!  I've actually seen more 1970s vintage movies turning up on pay channels recently…might be coming out of syndication or something and in circulation again.  These old movies travel in packs, ya know! :-)Thanks for the tip!

Posted By Barbara Toombs : July 27, 2009 1:22 pm

Am in the midst of co-writing a biography on Bill Travilla, who did the costumes for the Moviola series, and would LOVE to see these.

Any word on when/if they’ll be available on DVD, or at least aired on TCM???

Posted By Barbara Toombs : July 27, 2009 1:22 pm

Am in the midst of co-writing a biography on Bill Travilla, who did the costumes for the Moviola series, and would LOVE to see these.

Any word on when/if they’ll be available on DVD, or at least aired on TCM???

Posted By michael Reed : May 31, 2010 8:37 am

The film is AVALIBLE on DVD of you want to fork over the money for the 6 disc 2009 70th anniversary of GONE WITH THE WIND..if you look you can find it cheap on AMAZON or EBAY it was on of the RXTRAS ib rge DVD set.I bought it just for that reason…I adore GWEN HUMBLE who played PAULETTE FODDARD and sge is srill Acrinf!!

Posted By michael Reed : May 31, 2010 8:37 am

The film is AVALIBLE on DVD of you want to fork over the money for the 6 disc 2009 70th anniversary of GONE WITH THE WIND..if you look you can find it cheap on AMAZON or EBAY it was on of the RXTRAS ib rge DVD set.I bought it just for that reason…I adore GWEN HUMBLE who played PAULETTE FODDARD and sge is srill Acrinf!!

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