October 3, 2015
David Kalat
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Dance, Girl, Dance

It is one of Hollywood’s most revered myths—the talented yet undiscovered starlet from some flyover backwater, desperate to make it big in the city. Forget The Voice, this stuff goes all the way back to the dawn of mass media. You could be forgiven for wondering which was more numerous: the wanna-be stars or the movies made about them.



The Power of the Pantsuit


TCM’s Star of the Month, Susan Hayward, in a publicity still for VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) airing tonight on TCM at 11:45 EST/8:45 PST

“What we have here is a dirty soap opera. It is dirty because it intends to be, but it is a soap opera only by default. It tries to raise itself to the level of sophisticated pornography, but fails.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

“Pure trash, based on a trashy book with trashy performances. . . Banal, ignorant and just plain lousy.” – Jay Robert Nash, The Motion Picture Guide

“Dull, sex-teasing, talky, sudser.” – Variety

“Bad as Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls is as a book, the movie Mark Robson has made form it is equally bad or worse. It’s an unbelievably hackneyed and mawkish mishmash of backstage plots and Peyton Place adumbrations.” – Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

As the quotes above illustrate, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) tends to generate strong reactions. Critics generally hated this soapy melodrama when it was originally released and seemed to relish finding new ways to insult the movie as well its audience. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling gossip-fueled book, the film claimed to illuminate the sleazy side of showbiz with lurid stories about the sexual appetites and drug-habits of its female protagonists who are looking for love, fame and fortune in all the wrong places. Today the uproar over the film and its source material seems rather quaint but contrary to popular belief, the sixties weren’t completely swinging in 1967. There were still plenty of conservative pockets in the country as well as bourgeois intellectuals who balked at the popularity of Susann’s book and were appalled that a Hollywood studio had decided to turn the trashy tell-all into a big budget movie. VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is now considered a cult classic. Its fans relish the over-the-top performances and ridiculous dialogue but I think it contains some genuinely great moments and one of the movie’s best scenes features Susan Hayward in a jewel-encrusted paisley pantsuit.


Alberto Vargas in Hollywood


Vargas in his Hollywood studio. The photo was taken sometime during the 1930s.

If you love vintage pin-up art as much as I do you’ll probably recognize Alberto Vargas’s name. Between 1920 and 1975 the Peruvian artist created some of the most celebrated and recognizable pin-up art in America while working for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as Esquire magazine and Playboy. His paintings of ridiculously long-legged, thin-waisted and big-busted beauties known as “Vargas Girls” (or “Varga Girls”) also graced calendars and were favorites among enlisted men during WW2. GIs hung “Vargas Girls” on their lockers and in their barracks, copied them onto the sides of bomber planes and had them tattooed on their bodies.

What classic movie fans might not know is that Alberto Vargas also had a brief but lucrative career in Hollywood painting celebrity portraits, working for film industry magazines and creating movie posters. I enjoy playing detective so I decided to dig through various archives and books in search of Vargas’s film related work and what I found surprised me. The Latin artist made a much bigger impact on Hollywood than I’d previously been led to believe.


Susan Hayward in Her Own Words


Susan Hayward is TCM’s Star of the Month. Films she appeared in will be airing every Thursday evening throughout the month of September.

I didn’t know much about TCM’s current Star of the Month so I decided to delve into her past recently and was somewhat surprised by the way Susan Hayward had been portrayed (and ignored) by the media since her death in 1975. Nicknamed the “Divine Bitch” following the release of a similarly titled biography, the four-time Academy Award nominated actress didn’t make a lot of friends in Hollywood and is rarely described in flattering terms by studio executives and costars so the general picture we have of her seems somewhat skewed. I’m a firm believer that there are usually two-sides to every story so I decided to explore newspaper and movie magazine archives in an effort to learn more about the redheaded screen siren in her own words without the opinions of her biographers and colleagues getting in the way. In the process I discovered a complex woman whose turbulent real life was often more sensational than the fictional lives of the characters she portrayed.


Closing Act: Shelley Winters


TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming ends on August 31st with a bang featuring a batch of movies starring Shelley Winters. The blond, boozy, ballsy and brash starlet is one of my favorite actresses and on Monday you can watch her ignite the small screen in a number of notable roles, including her Oscar winning turn as a bigoted and abusive mother in A PATCH OF BLUE (1965).

To celebrate Winters’s reign as Summer Under Stars closing act I thought I’d share some of the glamorous vintage advertisements she modeled for early in her career featuring the powerhouse performer selling everything from lipstick to beer. Shelley Winters may have been one of the greatest actors of her generation but much like her costar Barbara Stanwyck in EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954)also airing on TCM this coming Sunday!the streetwise dame wasn’t ashamed to pitch products to her adoring public if it put money in the bank.


Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride


FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST

The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”

Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).


The Kitten & The Cowboy: When Ann-Margret Met The Duke


THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) airs on TCM August 12 at 4PM EST/1PM PST

When I spotted Ann-Margret on the August cover of TCM’s Now Playing guide I jumped for joy and then I pulled out my treasured autographed copy of her 1994 autobiography, My Life, and did some rereading. I hadn’t looked at the book in years and thought it might inspire me to write something about the actress for the Movie Morlocks and sure enough, it did. What caught my eye was a photo of Ann-Margret with John Wayne (pictured above) accompanied by the line “Duke always had me laughing on the set of THE TRAIN ROBBERS. He was an extraordinary man.”


Classic Hollywood Actors Discuss Women, Beauty & Femininity with Arlene Dahl


You can catch Arlene Dahl in a number of films airing on TCM in July:

Arlene Dahl was a stunning redhead and a capable actress who I’ve enjoyed watching in a number of films including REIGN OF TERROR (1949), SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), WOMAN’S WORLD (1954) and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). However, her most successful career was in the multibillion-dollar beauty industry where she started as a syndicated columnist offering advice on dieting, plastic surgery, make-up, fashion and the latest hairstyling trends. By 1954 she was managing her own line of lingerie and cosmetics under the Arlene Dahl Enterprises banner and in 1965 she published her first of many books titled Always Ask a Man: The Key to Femininity. Dahl’s book capitalized on her Hollywood credentials and dished out beauty tips along with suggestions on how women could best attract and keep their men.

With the women’s movement on the rise and the sexual revolution bubbling loudly under the surface of polite society, the mid-sixties was a challenging time. Especially for women like Arlene Dahl who had accepted her place, no matter how begrudgingly, in a society that often treated her like a second-class citizen. And although she had admirably managed to create a successful business for herself at a time when American women still weren’t allowed to get an Ivy League education, Dahl makes it clear in Always Ask a Man that she was no bra burning radical. Her antiquated ideas about womanhood are supported, and in some cases weakened, by a surprising number of male actors who are quoted throughout her book. These beloved film figures, including Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Bob Hope, Richard Burton and Burt Lancaster, freely offered their thoughts on femininity and beauty to Arlene Dahl, which she undoubtedly hoped would help sell her book and boost her arguments. 50-years-later, many of the actor’s casual comments are cringe-inducing reminders of a bygone era while others are more thoughtful and enduring. As history, particularly Hollywood history, their observations on women in 1965 makes for fascinating reading so I decided to collect some of the more provocative quotes and share them here.


Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings


Maybe it was the Hollywood homes featured in my last post or the ongoing worldwide celebration of Orson Welles 100th birthday? Whatever the reason, I spent a great deal of time thinking about William Randolph Hearst and his massive estate at San Simeon last week. As any classic film fan worth their salt knows, the newspaper mogul once played host to many Hollywood stars and starlets at Hearst Castle and his life was brilliantly satirized by Welles’ in CITIZEN KANE (1941). For better or worse, the film has forever colored our view of Hearst as well as his mistress, actress Marion Davies, while his home remains a mythical Xanadu currently opened to the public as a state run museum that I once had the pleasure to visit.

I was at the impressionable age of 10 or 11-years old when I got the opportunity to explore Hearst Castle and the experience left an undeniable mark on my young mind. My late grandmother, who lived a short distance away in Goleta, California, planned the trip and I knew nothing about the place until we arrived at the entrance and I was bombarded by guide books and picture postcards that featured familiar faces from the movies I’d grown up watching. Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Clark Gable were just a few of the recognizable celebrities that had once graced these hallowed grounds while participating in private sporting events and attending extravagant parties.


May 30, 2015
David Kalat
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Katherine Hepburn vs. Herself

If you have patience for yet one more Cinderella story, I’ve got a 1935 romantic comedy with an interesting behind-the-scenes twist.

This week’s Cinderella is Alice Adams, a Katharine Hepburn vehicle by ex-Laurel & Hardy cameraman George Stevens, adapted from a Booth Tarkington novel of the same name. It garnered Academy Award nominations for both Best Picture and Best Actress, and revived the moribund career of Hepburn (or at least until the next time her popularity hit the rocks, or the next time after that) and was a breakthrough career moment for Stevens, who reinvented himself as a serious director of significant Hollywood pictures and not just that guy who used to make “Boy Friends” comedies for Hal Roach (never heard of ‘em? You’re not alone). And yet, both Hepburn and Stevens fought to prevent the film from being as successful as it came to be. And therein lies our story.


KEYWORDS: Alice Adams, George Stevens, Katherine Hepburn
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