Classic Movie Star Museums: A Travel Guide

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Next month marks the grand opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, Iowa. During the last 30 years more than one million visitors have reportedly journeyed to Winterset to tour the small house where Wayne was born on May 26, 1907 but now fans of the much beloved movie star will be able to enjoy a brand new 5,000 square facility built alongside Wayne’s original home. The museum features the largest collection of John Wayne memorabilia in existence including original movie posters, film costumes, props, scripts, photos, personal letters, original artwork, sculptures, a customized automobile and a movie theater where visitors can enjoy a documentary about Wayne and watch his films. The grand opening will take place between May 22-24 and includes a ribbon cutting ceremony presented by Scott Eyman (author of John Wayne: The Life and the Legend), a rodeo show and a guest appearance from actor, rodeo competitor and politician Chris Mitchum (Robert Mitchum’s son) who appeared with Wayne in BIG JAKE (1971). Color me impressed! I think it’s encouraging to see small towns like Winterset celebrating their film history. For more information, please visit their official website: John Wayne Birthplace Museum

In light of this news, I started thinking about other smaller museums outside of Hollywood dedicated to preserving the memory of classic movie stars. I follow some of them on Twitter and occasionally try to share information about their fundraising efforts but now that spring’s arrived and many of us are starting to plan summer vacations I thought I’d put together a list of the small hometown museums that have sprung up across the U.S. honoring their local celebrities. It should be of interest to classic film fans who are planning a road trip soon or it just might surprise someone who unknowingly has a museum dedicated to a Hollywood personality in their own backyard.

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Cooking with Sophia Loren

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Next Tuesday (April 21st) TCM is celebrating the illustrious career of Sophia Loren with a tribute that includes three important TCM premieres beginning with the first U.S. television screening of HUMAN VOICE (La voce umana, 2014). This bittersweet 25-minute film is directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti, and is based on the iconic Jean Cocteau play about a woman whose final telephone conversation with her lover reflects her despair over losing him. This is followed by THE GOLD OF NAPLES (L’oro di Napoli, 1954), an anthology that gave Loren one of her first starring roles; and the saucy comedy drama MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964), made at the height of her reign as a leading screen goddess.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are the times I spent visiting with my Italian nonna or as I affectionately called her, “Nana.” Nana was my great grandmother who was born in the Piedmont region of Italy and arrived in America around 1915 when she was a young woman. Nana never learned how to speak fluid English and preferred her native tongue, which sounded like pure poetry to me. Unfortunately, this meant we couldn’t communicate very well due to my lack of Italian language skills but her warm eyes and welcoming smile spoke volumes. I can vividly remember watching Nana cook Italian meals for large family gatherings and the smells coming from her kitchen were always intoxicating. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my great grandmother was a culinary artist and she taught many of the women in my family how to cook as well, including my own mother who learned how to make some great Italian meals thanks to Nana’s expertise. My great grandmother passed away long before I became interested in cooking but I often wish she was still around to offer me some tips. Instead, I’ve had to rely on cookbooks and cooking shows to learn the ins and outs of Italian cooking and I’ve recently found myself turning to the lovely Sophia Loren for advice. Loren is one of my favorite actresses and the curvaceous Italian beauty also happens to be an accomplished cook who wrote a number of successful cookbooks.
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A Forgotten Film to Remember: Kind Lady

ethelopeningEver since reading Good Night, Sweet Prince, a biography of John Barrymore by his comrade in revelry, Gene Fowler, I have been fascinated with the Barrymore family. Handsome, tragic John has become my favorite Barrymore, because he was so flawed and yet so talented. Equally talented but not flawed was his older sister Ethel Barrymore. Next Saturday, February 28, at 9:15am, Ethel stars in Kind Lady, part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar programming.

Before noting Barrymore’s contribution, I would be remiss if I did not mention Kind Lady’s narrative pedigree. Originally a short story by Hugh Walpole titled “The Silver Casket,” it was turned into a beloved stage play by Edward Chodorov in 1935. The first film version was released in 1936 and starred Basil Rathbone as Elcott and Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Herries. The screenplay for the 1951 version, which was credited to Chodorov, Jerry Davis, and former Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett, made changes to the original material. Characters were eliminated to streamline the story, a key murder was moved toward the end of the film, and an exciting climactic sequence was added (a Hitchcockian approach). The film was aided enormously by the direction of John Sturges, who has earned a place in the history books for his widescreen, Technicolor films that exploited spectacular outdoor settings (Bad Day at Black Rock, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape). Released in 1951, Kind Lady is a black-and-white thriller with a claustrophobic set, but Sturges seemed equally adept within these perimeters. He milked the limited setting to its full advantage to create tension while adding visual interest through camera movement.

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February 21, 2015
David Kalat
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Masters of Screwball 3: Sturges After Sturges (or, The Keystone Pipeline)

Here’s where we find ourselves–the proverbial wild west. A shapely blonde dancehall singer, clutching a smoking gun. She’s trembling with residual anger, surrounded by friends and allies who are aghast at her latest escapade. She’s just shot a judge, in the buttocks, for the second time in as many hours.

That’s what’s onscreen, in the opening salvo of Preston Sturges’ first Technicolor picture. To step out of the screen, though, we must acknowledge the disappointing truth. This was a disastrous flop for all concerned. Preston Sturges had just tossed 2 million of 20th Century Fox’s money into a hole. Betty Grable had just ruined her streak of profitable hits. Darryl F. Zanuck had just alienated one of Hollywood’s true geniuses. No one came out unscathed.

None of which is to imply that The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend is a waste of your time. Far from it. In fact, set aside that even lesser Sturges is still imminently watchable fun, let’s approach this more coldly. Not as a movie to be enjoyed, but as an archeological artifact to help us better understand Sturges’ genius, and its limitations.

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KEYWORDS: Betty Grable, Preston Sturges, The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend
COMMENTS: 4
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February 7, 2015
David Kalat
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Masters of Screwball Part 1: Sturges before Sturges

Jean Arthur is a writer for the Boy’s Constant Companion.

No, Jean Arthur is an actress, and in the movie Easy Living she plays a writer for the Boy’s Constant Companion, but let’s not get bogged down in such hairsplitting. In any event, she barely holds that job and is fired early in the film. It wasn’t much of a job anyway–the harridan spinsters who policed that magazine must have been insufferable coworkers.

But it paid the rent. Well, no it didn’t–she’s behind in her $7 a week rent when we first meet her, and has only a single dime for her bus fare, so it’s not like the job was some fabulous boondoggle. But things are tough all over–haven’t you heard there’s a Depression on? Of course, if times are so tough, how to explain the fur coat that just dropped out of the sky onto her head?

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KEYWORDS: Easy Living, Jean Arthur, Mitchell Leisen, Preston Sturges
COMMENTS: 6
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December 20, 2014
David Kalat
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If we took a holiday / Took some time to celebrate

There’s nothing on the books that says that a “classic” has to have been liked much when it first came out. In fact, enormous swaths of what we now revere as America’s film heritage are comprised of what were flops on their first outing.

Take, for example, the Cary Grant- Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy Holiday by George Cukor (TCM is running it in the middle of the night this coming Monday–set your DVRs!). Right there, in that one sentence, I’ve probably already sold you on the merits of this picture.

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KEYWORDS: Cary Grant, George Cukor, Holiday, Katharine Hepburn
COMMENTS: 6
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“Discover a savage world whose only law was lust!”

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Today TCM is airing a batch of great fantasy and adventure films produced by Hammer starring some of the studio’s most memorable leading ladies including the exotic brunette beauty Martine Beswick in PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967), blond bombshell, Ursula Andress in SHE (1965) and the ravishing redhead, Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966). ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is undoubtedly the most popular and widely seen film of the bunch thanks to a lucrative distribution deal with 20th Century Fox and financing from Seven Arts Productions that allowed Hammer to hire the up-and-coming Welch and procure the services of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen. The bigger budget for ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. also allowed Hammer to shoot the film on the exotic Canary Islands where the rocky volcanic landscape and lush beachfronts made for a surprisingly believable primordial setting. The plot was based on the similarly titled 1940 Hal Roach film starring Victor Mature, Lon Chaney Jr. and Carole Landis that was nominated for a number of Academy Awards. The Hammer remake didn’t receive any award nominations but it did become the studio’s most commercially successful film and it made Raquel Welch an international star.

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November 29, 2014
David Kalat
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Don’t Bother To Knock Marilyn Monroe, She Knocks For Thee (Or Something Like That)

Sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time—a misfit in your own life. Perhaps, for example, you’ve got it in you to be a fine hotel manager, but all you are is the elevator boy. Maybe you’re a lounge singer paid to sing love songs, while your own heart is breaking. Or maybe you’ve been hired to be a babysitter, when your own psychological demons are so extreme that you are palpably a danger to yourself and others.

This is the setup of Roy Ward Baker’s Don’t Bother To Knock, a trim 1952 film noir that plays to almost every parent’s worst nightmare… But behind the scenes, the making of this thriller was marked by something else—a sense that the makers of this film, far from being misfits, were finally finding their place in the world.

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KEYWORDS: Anne Bancroft, Don't Bother to Knock, Elisha Cook Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Roy Ward Baker
COMMENTS: 8
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A Thanksgiving Feast… of Photos!

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Alfred Hitchcock hopes you’ll tune into TCM Friday afternoon when they’ll be airing a batch of his films that you can enjoy with your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving! Like many Americans, I’ve been busy this week planning and preparing a holiday feast for my family. With this in mind, I thought I’d share an abundance of Thanksgiving themed publicity photos featuring classic Hollywood stars. Some are sexy pin-up style pictures or imaginative publicity stills while others showcase beloved and admired actors cooking at home or just enjoying their own holiday feast. Enjoy!

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November 1, 2014
David Kalat
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Elevator to the Eyes of Jeanne Moreau

I had intended to post this back during TCM’s tribute to Jeanne Moreau but I got distracted and ran something else that week instead.  Then I happened to re-watch Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows recently.  I’d seen it a long time ago, but it had commingled in my memory with some other films noir to the extent that it was almost like watching it for the first time, my memory of it was so scrambled and mistaken.  For a while, I was fixated on the clockwork precision of the plot, and how its narrative tricks reminded me of Steven Moffat or Christopher Nolan, but before long I realized that the real magic of this thriller isn’t its bleak vision or its ruthlessly cutting storytelling–it was the way these attributes set the stage for a particularly soulful pair of eyes. [...MORE]


KEYWORDS: Elevator to the Gallows, Film Noir, French Film, Jeanne Moreau, Louis Malle
COMMENTS: 6
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