Once Again, Remembering Vera-Ellen

vera three little words

Those of us who can’t resist a good MGM musical are no doubt now and again thinking about the great screen dancer Vera-Ellen, a sparkling screen presence in an number of films yet someone whose memory is overwhelmed by the passage of time and a peculiar lack of the proper respect paid to her accomplishments. On the occasion today of the 92nd anniversary of her birth on February 16, 1921, and although I wrote about her once already (way back in 2007, check out the post by clicking here), and though she’s been gone for over thirty years — she passed away from cancer on August 30, 1981 at only 60 years old – it’s a perfect time to remember again this most charming and talented actress.

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Happy 100th, Danny!

dkportrait

I haven’t been around here in a while, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wish success to TCM’s Danny Kaye 100th Birthday celebration all day this coming Sunday — tomorrow.  As I showed in several posts in the past, I’ve been a Danny Kaye connoisseur nearly all my life, since the days I used to skip junior high to watch his movies on TV during the day (this is pre-VCR and DVR, although I used to record the soundtracks on reel-to-reel tape!).  I bought my first copies of those “Movies on TV” books because of Danny, too, because I wanted to go through and find all his movies.  Little did I know then that he only made 17, but we are fortunate that TCM will be bringing us a good selection of those on Sunday, plus some rare TV goodies.

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Marriage: Hollywood Style

In a recent lecture, I mentioned the marriage of Gloria Swanson to Wallace Beery. The couple had met while working at the Essanay Manufacturing Company in Chicago during the mid-1910s when Swanson was 15 and Beery almost 30. Apparently Beery couldn’t stay away from Swanson, or the other underage girls on the set, which was one of the reasons he ended up working at Essanay’s West Coast studio. When she was barely 17, Swanson moved to Los Angeles to try her fortune in more substantial roles. Beery began courting the young actress, and the two were married in 1916. According to Swanson in her autobiography, Beery forced himself on her on their wedding night. The marriage was over before it had begun, though the couple did not divorce till 1919. Swanson would marry five more times, and her cynicism regarding marriage is evident in her quip: “I’ve given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can’t divorce a book.”

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Lucy Ricardo Was Just Like Us — She Loved Movie Stars!

This coming Saturday — tomorrow, August 6th – marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of show business’ forever and always top funny lady Lucille Ball, and also a day of Lucille Ball on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars.  It would be more than appropriate for anyone to celebrate this significant milestone, but I especially love Lucy.  My mother used to say that when I was a kid everytime she would come into a room I’d be watching I Love Lucy on TV, and I used to talk about it all the time.  Still do even today — watch and talk about it! [...MORE]

From Hollywood of old, some familiar faces

It’s summertime, and the perfect opportunity to pull out some photo albums — no groans, please — and take a look at Hollywood behind-the-scenes from my stash of old news photos.  It’s a nutty mixed bag, but that goes along with these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, right?

Here’s Jimmy “Schnozzola” Durante and the highly respected actress Ethel Barrymore together, with Jimmy supplying the hilarious ham.  They had appeared together in radio and on TV, on Durante’s show, even recorded together, and this photo shows their unlikely but delightful collaboration.

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Looking At Elizabeth Taylor

Note:  Please read fellow Morlock Kimberly’s wonderful appreciation of Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor who died today, Wednesday, March 23, 2010, at the age of 79.  Her post is beautiful!  But since Morlocks clearly think alike sometimes, I also did a post at just about the same exact moment as Kimberly, and here it is: 

Whether you thought she was a great actress or just a movie star, you have to admit she was THE movie star for a generation of moviegoers.  From her debut as a little girl of 10, through her star-making MGM years, then into the years of crazy international stardom and oodles of publicity for her colorful and passionate off-screen life, Elizabeth Taylor held a fascination for the public nearly unequalled even today.  It was a different time, of course, when Elizabeth Taylor ruled the headlines, a slightly more genteel time when beautiful movie stars maybe stole husbands from each other, but refrained from publicly exposing themselves quite the way it’s done today. 

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Elizabeth Taylor in Velvet

“I want it all quickly ’cause I don’t want God to stop and think and wonder if I’m getting more than my share.” – Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944)

A blur of thousands of words and pictures began to tumble out of every medium as soon as news of Elizabeth Taylor’s death at age 79 was announced on March 23rd. I know that the most noteworthy features of this performer’s life are the many adult roles she played with skill (on screen and off), her remarkable beauty, durable, often deliciously excessive glamour, the ups and downs of her not-so-private life, and ultimately, her pioneering charity work to assist those with AIDS. People will naturally mention her two Oscars. One was awarded for her tart with a heart in the often ludicrously steamy Butterfield 8 (1960)–making up for the Academy’s neglect for her fine work in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)–and her well-deserved Best Actress Award for the harrowing and truthful characterization in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).

To me, however, Elizabeth Taylor is cherished in memory for her extraordinary work near the beginning of her career, when she gave herself completely and unselfconsciously to the role of Velvet Brown, a dreamer, whose love of horses seems to border on a pagan devotion deeper than civilized analysis can ever explain away. All of the entertaining blather surrounding this “last great star” falls away when watching National Velvet (1944), a beautifully crafted product of the studio era at its height. This role prompted the already accomplished rider (Elizabeth Taylor’s father had taught her to ride at the age of 4) to train rigorously each day and, with the guidance of her ambitious mother Sara, prompted the tiny girl to try to grow three inches to be an acceptable height for producer Pandro S. Berman (lifts in her shoes and some natural growth helped a bit).

Bewitched by the equestrian allure of the Bagnold story, Taylor plastered her room with horse-related images and paraphernalia. The slight girl also sustained a back injury during riding for this movie that would plague her for the rest of her life. Despite any of the background pressures, this film appears to be one of the last times that the then 12-year-old actress seemed so blissfully unaware of her own “rapturous beauty,” as critic James Agee acknowledged in his review of the film at the time of its first release. Perhaps the openness of Taylor‘s heartfelt performance in this movie was the result of careful tutoring or simply reflected her own well-documented love of animals, but I suspect that it may also have been because, as an outstanding part of a strong cast, she was treated for what she was rather than for how she looked, allowing her inner spirit to soar on screen. As an adult Taylor later tried to explain it, “National Velvet really was me.”

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Actress Jessica Harper — And She Can Cook, Too!

I don’t know how many of you fell in love with the winsome and talented Jessica Harper back — well, back nearly 40 years ago, longer than many of you have probably been alive — but if you were among the legions of fans she garnered when she starred in 1974′s Phantom of the Paradise, you may not realize that she has metamorphized into something quite remarkable and wonderful.  More wonderful than she was in Phantom of the Paradise?  Probably not possible, but something maybe unexpected and totally delightful.  [...MORE]

Remembering Jill Clayburgh

The passing a few days ago of actress Jill Clayburgh really strikes a blow into the hearts of women of a certain age, for whom Ms. Clayburgh was almost an avatar, living out different lives that we weren’t, but might have, in different circumstances.  Lovely to look at but not a devastating beauty, with Jill it was instead her intelligence and grace under fire that sealed the deal, making her an audience favorite for a generation.  Losing her too early — at 66 — deprived us of yet another place she could have taken us further…the aging of a classy woman in the 21st century.  Other actresses will have to step in for her now.

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Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

“I was born in and worked in a period that could be called enviable.” – Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis, who died on September 29th at age 85, never seemed to be at rest. Even in repose and in old age, he appeared to be an eternally restless spirit. Sometimes that drive got him into trouble, but it often spurred him to keep trying to be something more than he was at every stage of his existence on earth. He was a rascal, one of the last of his breed, and he became his life’s ambition since childhood: a very big movie star. He was also a good actor.

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