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FDR: President was Wannabe Screenwriter

20 Mar

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That’s right, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd President (1933-1945), wanted to be a screenwriter before he got into politics. Here’s the article from 1947 illustrating how Paramount Pictures went about letting down gently the future Leader of the free world.

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Sharon Tate: Gone But Never Forgotten

21 Nov

Sharon Tate Visiting The Set Of Rosemary's Baby

 

One of the advantages of having older brothers is being introduced to pop culture from earlier generations that you would not otherwise be exposed to. This was true for music (Blonde, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Boston), film (Apocalypse Now, Clockwork Orange, Monty Python’s Holy Grail) and, above all, iconic beautiful women. In the last category, my brothers did not discriminate: they had posters and calendars of blondes, brunettes, redheads, even a beautiful bald woman from some far off African tribe. I knew quite a few of them by name – Debbie Harry, Isabella Rosselini, Barbi Benton, Candice Bergen, Patricia Rhomberg, Nastassja Kinski…but one day I stumbled across one staring down at me from my brother’s slanted attic bedroom wall.

“Who’s the blonde?” I asked.

“”Sharon Tate.”

“Who’s that?”

“She was an actress.”

“Was?”

“Don’t bother me.”

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The answer sufficed for a couple months. But then every time I went into my older brother’s room, my eyes were drawn back up to the beautiful face staring down at me with those large, brown eyes. I was young enough that the concept of this young, luminous and vibrant woman was no longer living didn’t fully compute. I naively believed that only old people died. I asked my brother again.

“How did she die?”

“She was murdered.”

“What? Why?”

“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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The wrong place at the wrong time. It still didn’t compute. Was she caught up in some natural disaster? Another couple months passed and one day I stumbled across my brother’s paperback copy of “Helter Skelter”. Dog-eared and stained from God knows what, I opened the book and began reading about the horrible Manson Family Murders that occurred on August 9, 1969. How Sharon, married to film director Roman Polanski and 8 and a half months pregnant – begged for her unborn baby’s life, to no avail. I stared up at the woman’s face and became enraged for her. For the senseless loss of not one but two innocent lives.

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Decades later, I still remember that first great rush of indignant rage I felt when I was young. The sense of loss of what could have been for a stunning young woman who seemed to be so full of life. Sharon had had a burgeoning film and TV career (she almost played the lead in Rosemary’s Baby) but more she had a baby with a man she was wild about and a future bright with possibilities. Until, one night she had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for a bunch of murderous imbeciles being led by a frustrated, wannabe musician loser. Manson is nothing more than a garden variety sociopath and it still infuriates me that he remains above ground making news today when he should really be six feet under. But then I realize even he serves a purpose; he exists to remind us that victim’s of violent crime must have at least as many rights as their killers do under our laws. And thanks to Sharon’s late mother Doris, sisters Patti and Debra the victim’s of violent crime who cannot speak for themselves have a say through their family members, especially in parole hearings for the likes of criminals like Manson. I know while they are alive – he will never be free.

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Sharon Tate was a beautiful young woman who by all accounts was a gentle, kind and generous soul. It still doesn’t make sense to the young child I was that such a life could be snuffed out for nothing at all. But it does give the adult I now am some solace that her existence and that of her unborn child’s still has relevance to this day. She wanted to be a star in her time and I believe she would have been if fate hadn’t intervened and given her life a different role. If we lived in a perfect world she would still be with us as would her son and Manson would be long gone and forgotten. But the world is what it is and for many of my older brother’s era, the 60’s officially ended on that summer day in August, 1969. And some day soon, Manson will be gone but Sharon’s legacy will go on. Not as a victim but as a woman who died a hero and whose death gave birth to thousands of victim’s having the ability to speak from beyond the grave for what is right and just.

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One of my favorite photos of the beautiful Sharon Tate.

Simone Simon: Original Catwoman

26 Oct

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Simone Simon (pronounced “see-moan see-moan”) is one of my favorite Golden Age movie actresses. She was born Béthune, France on April 1911 and was a delightfully kittenish actress, whose triangular face and gamine figure were often called feline, an appropriate description of an actress whose most famous American film was the classic Val Lewton production Cat People (1942). The film has been sited as a major influence to many of today’s most successful filmmakers and if you’ve ever seen it you know why. The film is creepy as hell. And Simone is absolutely mesmerizing as a woman who turns into a panther when she becomes jealous. She was the original catwoman, or, “sex kitten” for her time and was a precursor of Brigitte Bardot. That said, I think she’s more glamorous and refined than Bardot, but to each his own.

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In 1934, Simone came to the attention of Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century-Fox who offered her a contract. However, as often happened with overseas leading ladies, the studio seemed unsure what to do with her. Her first American film, Girls’ Dormitory (1936), is best remembered if at all for Tyrone Power’s first speaking part. He had just one line, “Can I have this dance?”, addressed to Simone in the final scene. It provoked such a response from the public that he was propelled to instant stardom.  Simone made an impression as well, as the New York Times critic Frank Nugent suggested “that Congress cancel a substantial part of France’s war debt in consideration of its gift of her to Hollywood”. I would agree.

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She was one of four girls finding romance in Budapest in Ladies in Love (1936), which had one of the studio’s favourite themes – working girls hiring a lavish apartment to make an impression on boyfriends. A minor comedy, Love and Hisses (1937), was followed by her best role from this period, as the tragic waif of Seventh Heaven (1937), although her leading man, James Stewart, hardly made a convincing Parisian sewer worker. But just thinking of Jimmie doing his schtick in a Paris sewer should get you to rent this movie. And the fact that Simone is absolutely stunning opposite him is worth it altogether.

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Hollywood beckoned again, and Simone returned with a bewitching portrayal of an unearthly seductress in William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét’s fable about a simple farmer who sells his soul to the devil. Simon later confessed she thought the piece “too heavy-handed”. That’s relative, of course, and the portrayal stands up today as a femme fatale worth losing your eternal soul to possess – at least for a little while.

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She was then cast in the film for which she is best remembered, as the tragic heroine who turns into a cat when jealous, in Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942). One of the most intelligent and haunting of “B” movies, there were two scene that stand out for their iconic imagery.

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The best one is  set in a swimming pool (that’s Jane Randolph freaking out in the pool while being stalked by Simone). The other is in a deserted street and among one of the most eerily disturbing images ever put on film. Its become a classic, and was so popular in its day that, despite its brief running time (73 minutes), was often played as the main attraction. Simone Simon was now officially an A-list movie star.

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After the great success of Cat People, its producer Lewton was asked to do a sequel with the title The Curse of the Cat People (1944). Instead, Lewton and director Robert Wise made a gripping psychological thriller about a lonely child, with Simon (whose character had died at the end of the previous film) appearing as a friendly spirit. The film confused the hell out of audience even though the final film stands on its own today.

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Curse of the Cat People was basically a child’s tale on the perils of childhood, and this is where the confusion lies – in the title. Robert Wise, who co-directed the film, said they had screened the film for child psychologists who thought the film was terrific. He said that one of the psychologists then turned to him and said “However, what’s it doing with that horrible title?” This is how RKO ran the show back then (and not too much different than studios today trying to cash in while they can).

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Director, Guillermo Del Toro, a huge fan of the Lewton films, has attributed Curse of the Cat People as an inspiration for Pan’s Labyrinth, as both films are pretty much told to us through the eyes of a child. Lewton and Wise turned in one of the most unique and haunting non-horror movies ever. One that has influenced directors like Del Toro ever since. For me, it’s worth watching for Simone’s performance as a ghost. A feline-ghost, to be precise.

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An interesting footnote to Simone Simon’s story occurred when declassified records, which became available at the UK Public Records Office in 2002, revealed that during 1942 she was watched by the FBI because she was dating Dusko Popov, a “double agent” who worked for MI5. She gave him a loan of £10,000 late in 1942, before he left for Lisbon, and the couple broke up in 1943, with Simon never recovering the rather large loan. But a woman this beautiful needn’t worry about being alone for long. Another famous lover, George Gershwin the composer, wrote his famous tune  “Love Walked In” for Simone. Talk about making a lasting impression.

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Simone’s other movies in the US were minor, and at the end of the Second World War she returned to Paris, where she made her stage début in Le Square du Pérou (“Peru Square”, 1945). In 1947, she journeyed to the UK to star opposite Robert Newton in Lance Comfort’s powerful Temptation Harbour (1947). Adapted from a story by Georges Simenon, it’s a downbeat tale of a railway worker and a gold-digger. A stunningly beautiful gold-digger.  Simone would continue to work on stage and in minor movie roles in the ensuing decades, her last film being La Femme en bleu (“The Woman in Blue”), in 1973. The beautiful and captivating Simone died in her beloved Paris on February 23, 2005. I’ll always remember her as the original catwoman and an actress that transcended “B” movie vehicles to become an “A” list actress and a class-act in my book.

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This cheesecake shot is not of Simone Simon. I just couldn’t help myself. Happy Halloween!

Garbo: Her Run-In with Leo the Lion

23 Oct

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In 1925, Greta Garbo signed a contract with Louis B. Mayer’s MGM studios and came to the United States from Sweden with her director/mentor Maurice Stiller. She arrived in New York City where she languished for over 8 months before Mayer sent for her to come to Hollywood. The would-be movie star was already nervous and felt like she was being kept in a cage waiting for word on when and what she would be starting work on. It didn’t help that she could barely speak a word of English.

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In Spring 1926, Mayer finally got around to his newest star and ordered a publicity shoot to create some buzz for the Swedish Sphinx. Garbo was only 19 and must have been terrified when they drove her out to the Lion Farm where they kept Jackie the Lion (aka Leo the Lion) the MGM mascot and a quite large male. The photoshoot was conducted by Don Gillum, a renowned sport photographer at the time. You can tell in the above shot that Garbo isn’t too happy to be sitting beside the lion. And Jackie doesn’t look especially happy, either. He’s staring down the starlet as if she were trying to steal the scene.

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Garbo survived and like a true pro, agreed to mug it up with some lion cubs as well as act the lioness behind a chain-link fence. Fast forward 10 years and Garbo would be the queen of the silver screen. She would have her revenge on Louis B. Mayer and Leo the Lion by imposing a $5,000 a week salary on the notoriously stingy movie Mogul. Mayer would learn that Garbo would never again have to do anything she didn’t want to do and he would have to go along with it – or lose his biggest star for good.

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Garbo would learn that breaking into sound from silent pictures meant she could afford to keep quite. But that’s a story for another day…

Sophia Loren: Dangerous Curves

21 Sep

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Sophia Loren is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen.

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Her exotic looks are all natural and she was happy to share them with the world.

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An exotic import, Sophia has a larger than life persona that she flaunted to maximum effect.

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But what I love her for is her class mixed with sex appeal, able to play one off the other.

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Even when lampooning her own public image, Sophia did it with grace.

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I especially like this shot of her. So stunning!

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And this one. How she could turn a corny glamor shoot into art I’ll never know.

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But even dressed down and wind-swept she was beautiful!

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Happy Birthday, Sophia! And many more…

Shirley Eaton: Pure Gold

14 Sep

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Fifty years ago Ian Fleming’s James Bond was a brand new franchise for MGM. Sean Connery is, in my humble opinion, the best Bond of them all and not just because he was the first. He was debonaire, cool and (true to the novels and the time period) a complete and total sexist pig. Now, I’m not advocating for sexist pigs and I’m certainly not glorifying the objectification of beautiful women. But in 1964 when GOLDFINGER was made the Mad Men sensibilities were very much in full swing and Bond personified for many men (if you had money, looks and opportunity) how a playboy conducted himself. And for Goldfinger, the producers spared no expense surrounding their star spy with a small army of beautiful females, the most memorable of which was British Actress Shirley Eaton.

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Shirley was a beautiful actress with a stunning face and physique. She personified what would become universally-known at a Bond Girl: a surefire ticket to Hollywood stardom if there ever was one. However, fifty-years ago being a Bond Girl didn’t necessarily hold the weight it does today. Ursula Andres will always hold a place in Bond lore as the first Bond Girl. But it wasn’t ’til Shirley that “Bond Girl” became ubiquitous with sex symbol akin to the “It Girl” moniker bestowed the original Vamp, Theda Bara (other film historians would later wrongly attribute the first-occurrence of the term to Clara Bow).

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Both Ursula and Shirley were beautiful, Nordic-looking blondes who weren’t shy about showing off their svelte, athletic bodies. But only one of them was to cement her iconic status as a Bond Girl by being covered (literally) in gold paint. Yes, that’s right, folks. Anybody who hasn’t seen Goldfinger can’t truly appreciate what painting an already beautiful woman from head to toe in metallic gold paint will do to overload a man’s senses. The visual effect was so mesmerizing that Shirley Eaton quickly became the single most iconic image of a goddess captured on film since Greta Garbo. Ironically, MGM had covered Garbo  in Silver Make-Up #1 (a formula specifically created for her by Max Factor) to make her ultra-luminous in her silent era movies. So much so that Garbo became the technical center of her movies; everything was lit to look dim in comparison to her glowing face.

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For Goldfinger, the producers took every precaution to ensure that Shirley would not asphyxiate under the heavy coat of body-paint. If you look closely at the production shot above, you’ll see that the actress’s stomach was not covered in paint because she would be lying face down when Bond finds her in the big reveal shot (below). You see, in the movie the evil Goldfinger dipped poor Shirley in real gold as a fun, inventive way to off her. Sure to piss off Bond and lead to a climactic, final battle to avenge Bond lovely sex object. The resulting effect was movie magic of the tallest order and images from the scene were splattered in magazines and newspapers throughout the world – making Shirley a star overnight.

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In 1964, the American censors were having heart palpitations over the naked body covered in nothing but body paint. That’s when it was decided that Shirley’s bum needed to be covered. The British censors had no such puritanical queasiness. They were much more upset over the exceedingly violent storyline. That said, the English did take exception to the name of another female character in the film – the one played by actress Honor Blackman called “Pussy Galore”. They were adamant that the character be renamed “Kitty Galore” except for one fortuitous day when none other than Prince Philip visiting the British-based set and had a photo op with the young actress. When the photo hit the English newspapers the caption read “Puss and Prince”. After that, the name stuck and the censors backed down.

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Shirley’s star rose quickly after the release of Goldfinger but for the most part her movie roles were relegated to the sexpot, cheesecake variety that is typical of the time period. But so what? Her role as the Golden Girl of the Movies was secured and even though watching Goldfinger today is by most accounts a quaint affair – seeing beautiful Shirley lying on a white silk bed covered in gold still has the visual punch to wake the most tired libido. She evokes the stirrings one would imagine the goddesses down through the ages have done in oil paint, marble and stone. Maybe the makers of Bond were just reducing Shirley to a sex symbol, one that appealed to even the lowest common denominator. But I like to think that the result, whether intended or not, subconscious or conscious – was for a brief second raised to object d’art; a living, breathing, life-size work of art. One that is held in the mind long after the original context has fallen away.

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Then again, maybe it is mostly about sex and objectifying a beautiful woman by spraying her with body-paint. Either way, I’ll never forget the first time I saw Shirley Eaton on my family’s 12-inch Sony Color TV. I think I was about 8-years old when Goldfinger was replayed as the Saturday Night Movie and my three brothers and I fought for position in front of the tiny screen. And then there she was in all her golden-goddess glory, beamed into our little suburban home and imprinted on my frontal lobes forever. Long before I knew what sex even meant, I knew what I saw was beautiful and that I liked it…a lot. Miss Eaton left an impression alright – one that remains vivid to this day as a movie moment so iconic as to be pure gold.

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And I’m glad to say Shirley is still with us to this day! You can visit her on her fan website at http://www.shirleyeaton.net

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Don’t forget to drop her a line and tell her what her most famous movie role meant to you!

 

 

 

Carole Lombard: Way Before Her Time

10 Aug

This is my favorite photograph of the amazingly luminous Carole Lombard. Carole died in a plane crash in January 1942 after appearing in a USO show to sell War bond during World War II. She was a brilliant and beautiful actress with a bawdy sense of humor and loved men almost as much as they loved her.

Only 33 when she died, Carole lived the high-life in Hollywood, was known for hosting some of Hollywood’s legendary parties and attracted some of the most handsome leading men both on and off the screen. Clark Gable would ultimately take the role of Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind because he needed enough money to divorce his previous wife and marry Carole. They were married in 1939 and by all accounts the love of one another’s lives. That’s saying something even for golden age Hollywood where marriages lasted almost as long as the Santa Ana winds.

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I encourage any film lover to check out Carole Lombard’s screwball comedies of the 30’s. She was the highest paid actress (next to Garbo) and made five-times what the U.S. President made in a year. Carole was accompanied by her mother and publicist on the flight that would ultimately take all their lives, including 19 other people (mostly servicemen). She wanted so much to get back to Gable, her husband that she chose to fly rather than take the train. Her colleagues, both afraid of flying, begged her not to go. So Carole flipped a coin – heads by train, tails by plane – and the rest was sad Hollywood history.

I’ll always love Carole for her bawdy sense of humor, the way the light caught her eyes and that lovely blonde hair. She was as smart as they get, and I like to think that, if she lived, she would have been one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Even though her life was cut short at the top of her game, Carole lives on with a gay spirit and infectious laugh in the movies that capture her essence for all-time. And death can’t even tarnish such a pure, luminous light as Carole Lombard.

Myrna Loy: The Thin Man’s Better Half

2 Aug

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What can I say about the legendary Myrna, one of the most beautiful, smart, sophisticated and versatile actresses ever to grace the silver screen. Myrna Loy was truly timeless. Her appeal is not restricted to fads or fashion, trends or a time-specific ideal. Myrna would have been famous no matter what era in history she was born into. We’re just lucky she was born late enough to be immortalized in light and sound for all the generations that came after her to share in the fun.  The thoroughly modern Myrna was born August 2, 1905.

Myrna is best known for The Thin Man series of movies with William Powell and that little dog. The interesting thing about watching Myrna play straight man to Powell is similar to watching a rift in the time/space continuum occur right before your eyes. Myrna is modern, from her acting (understated) to her make-up (again, understated) to the way she effortlessly walks through the film like she is taking a stroll through the park. By contrast, Powell is a contrivance of his time; a drunkard vaudevillian yellowing around the edges as if you discovered a dusty, faded photo of a long lost relative in your attic along with moth balls, an old bag of your grandfathers golf-clubs and wooden tennis racket. Now, before you think I’m hating on Powell (I really enjoy the guy) watch the first Thin Man and you’ll immediately get what a mean. The poor sod just can’t keep up with Myrna no matter how hard he tries. And trying hard is the worst thing you can do opposite a natural.

A lot of the leading ladies in this series rise effortlessly above the material they were cast in simply because everything but the leading lady (and possibly hair and make-up) was run by men. Very few women, if any, were behind the camera and so everything was filtered through a forced-perspective of male wish fulfillment. What was in control by a woman, the actress herself, was her acting ability and her wits in front and behind the camera. Myrna was a force to be reckoned with even before she became famous. She knew her appeal, knew how to look good, sound good and, most importantly, not let the schmuck playing opposite her ever get the upper-hand. But there was something even more special about Myrna Loy. As if she was in on the joke. That all-knowing look only a woman can give the world, letting us know they know we’re full of it – but it’s all right.

I had a friend down in Los Angeles who adored Myrna. He judged all other woman by her impossible standard. Inevitably, the schmuck would always end up leaving wonderful women simply because they were human, fallible and, god forbid – burped, belched or farted in his presence. Any imperfection and he was done with them. The irony is, Myrna was as human as any of these women. She definitely had a great sense of humor (which this guy did not, but thought he did) and would have given my friend the time of day in real life.

Real life. I wonder sometimes if I was ever lucky enough to meet my leading ladies in the flesh, in living color, if they would resemble the image in my mind’s eye after watching their shimmering image on the silver screen. Of course, I’d be in shock initially. But I mean after, when the shock wore off and we got to know each other human to human. That’s where I think Myrna Loy would rise to the very top of the list for me. Funny, direct, accessible – these are the qualities most appealing and desirable in a woman for me. And these are the very same qualities that make Myrna Loy timeless. As bright a star today as 60 years ago when she strolled across a sound stage and became immortalized in light. May that light never fade on my beloved Myrna Loy.

Eva Marie Saint: Oscar Royalty

20 Jul

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It’s amazing that actresses today who strike Oscar gold with their first foray into film are immediately subject to the Oscar curse. This should not to be confused with the Oscar Love Curse – in which actresses from Vivian Leigh to Julia Roberts to Sandra Bullock win the little gold man of their cinematic dreams, only to lose their significant others in real life immediately after. No, I mean the Oscar curse where an actress hits paydirt her first time out and is relegated to terrible roles forever after. One classic beauty who defied this particular tinseltown superstition is the legendary Eva Marie Saint.

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Eva Marie was a little known though already incredibly talented actress on Broadway and television when Elia Kazan cast her as Edie Doyle,  Marlon Brando’s love interest in On The Waterfront (1954). The film was a tremendous hit – sending Brando into the stratosphere and taking Saint with him. The breakout role for the beautiful blonde resulted in an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Eva Marie was crowned the latest Hollywood princess of cinema – with every director circling her for their film. But Eva Marie was smart and, in a town that eats their own on a regular basis, chose her directors and her roles wisely.

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On the Waterfront showed the diminutive blonde as a naive though curious young woman who had little experience with men – let alone the domineering and larger than life presence of Brando. Maybe that’s what was so refreshing about her – she was able to keep her head amidst the carnage of Kazan’s black & white world. Saint’s performance was the perfect contrast to the rest of the film’s cynical world view. She stood out as pure and unaffected. It was a performance that deserved the Oscar, so the pressure was on for Eva Marie to find roles that would not typecast her – even at a time when so many actresses were interchangeable.

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To understand the role is to understand how acting as an art was changing in Hollywood. Eva Marie was part of a new breed of realism. She was able to convey a vulnerability without being weak at a time when women were still constrained in the “50’s mentality” of what a woman’s role was. That’s why I loved her next huge hit and the one that introduced me to her. Of course, I’m talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). In choosing Saint, Hitch was to transform Eva Marie from her trademark sweet, naive blonde persona into a femme fatale. Always the obsessive-compulsive auteur, Hitchcock literally took the scissors and cut Saint’s locks. It was a gamble that turned Saint into a sophisticated, world-weary spy who is able to control men in the dangerous world of espionage.

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Playing opposite the dapper and always glamorous Cary Grant, Eva Marie more than held her own in Hitchcock’s suspense classic. The performance was controlled and masterful. It was sophisticated and modern to have a woman so capable of holding her own – a realism that was rare for film of the day and set a tone that would be as influential to the spy genre as On The Waterfront had been for crime dramas. And all the while, Saint captivated audiences with that beautiful face that only let you see what she wanted you to see – until the end.

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Eva Marie’s role in North was a revelation to many who had remembered her as the diminutive blonde in Waterfront. She had matured as an actress between 1954 and ’59 and audiences knew it was no accident she had received the Oscar nearly a decade before. But to her credit, Eva Marie was more interested in spending time with her family than being in the Hollywood limelight. Her marriage to Jeffrey Hayden (1951) is one of the most enduring in Hollywood, largely because Eva Marie put her marriage and her two children first before her career. So, in a way she eluded both the Oscar curse of work and marriage falling apart, post winning her gold statuette.

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Now, at age 90, Eva Marie is still very active in Hollywood. While her roles have been sporadic over the intervening decades since North By Northwest, Saint has been nominated for Emmy’s in standout television roles. And as Oscar royalty, she’s been active in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Eva Marie is a judge in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting – the single-biggest amateur screenwriting award that gives aspiring scribes the opportunity to break into show business with their cinematic dream projects. Many a newbie screenwriter has been blessed with meeting Eva Marie at the annual Finalist dinner and Awards in early November. What a treat it would be to meet the legend in person!

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Eva Marie Saint is one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. She is one of the few that has TWO Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – both for her film and television work. Makes you wish more actors were as down to earth, generous and inspirational as her. And it makes you wonder if Hollywood’s biggest stars of the day will still be around – and still so inspirational – when they’re in their 90’s. Seems like the industry has changed too much for that to be possible. Then again, Eva Marie called her own shots back when it really was an old-boy’s club.

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Here’s to Eva Marie, one of the most gorgeous and talented actresses of Hollywood. Oscar royalty who never looked down on anybody, but instead used her talent and compassion to lift them up. If you haven’t seen On The Waterfront and North By Northwest then rent them as soon as you can. And for a different film experience altogether, watch Eva Marie in Raintree Country (1957), 36 Hours (1965), and the formidable A Hatful of Rain (1957) one of the first Hollywood movies to tackle drug addiction.

Jennifer O’Neill: Summer Lover

4 Jul

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For most of us there are images that stick in the mind long after their context fades away. That was this image of Jennifer O’Neill in SUMMER OF ’42 (1971). Actually, it was this nearly identical image in black & white below:

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Taken a few seconds apart, they are virtually identical except for Jennifer’s hand placement. The Black & White version of this photograph is famous (available as a poster, it remains a seminal image from the early 70’s) while the color-version is not. What makes the difference is the virtually subliminal image the second image conveys. In the movie, Jennifer plays a wife who’s husband is engaged in WWII. She is lonely, waiting for word from her husband while living in a beach house over the summer during one of the worst chapters in the war’s history. Her wedding ring in the second photograph is visible wherein the first image it is not. And it makes all the difference in the photograph, the character in the story and in the classic film.

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Summer of ’42 is a novel by Herman Raucher which the film was based. It was shot in 1969-70 and released in 1971. The film catapulted Jennifer into stardom, as much for her wholesome looks (the hope of a generation of Americans some have called the greatest) as for her action – which my opinion is superb. In fact, Jennifer would go on to act in almost 30 films throughout the 70’s and early 80’s but never again attain the starry heights of Summer of ’42.

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Jennifer is a contemporary of Katherine Ross, Charlotte Rampling and several other actresses I’ve covered in this blog. What sets her apart is that Summer of ’42 was her movie, a star-making vehicle if there ever was one because the audience felt her pain and sense of loss while at the same time taking solace in the arms of a very young paramour during a summer infamous for death. She is so young, so alive and so beautiful that she embodies the hopes and ideals of what that generation of Americans stood for. At the same time, the subject matter was highly controversial because it portrayed an affair between a married woman (albeit war widow) and an under-age boy. By today’s standards the film’s so-called love scenes are chaste, but back in ’71 it was hot-stuff. And even today, no man can deny watching the movie that having an affair with Jennifer O’Neill in a summer house would be an affair to remember – under any circumstances.

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Summer of ’42 is a beautifully-shot movie with an absolutely gorgeous actress in the prime of her youth and career. It is one of those rare cinematic occasions where you literally can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Sure, it has been remade in various incarnations since then – but none were able to replicate the magic. I think this is in large part to Jennifer’s ability to captivate with her performance as much as her looks. Even more, it is saturated in the hues and values of summer – that special time we all slow down, enjoy the sun and beach and invariably reflect on our lives; what’s been, what is and what will be. And for me, that’s the magic spell summer and Summer of ’42 cast no matter what the generation is watching it.

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One more shot of gorgeous Jennifer and Happy July 4th!