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Emily Blunt: Delayed Crush

19 Aug

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Every ardent lover of something – art, sports, literature, film – has his or her favorites. They form an immediate affinity that lasts from first sight to years, decades…forever. But then there are some artists, sports figures, novelists and actors or actresses who remain aloof, remote. They may be beautiful and talented but for some reason they never click with a particular audience member. This was my relationship with the beautiful and talented Emily Blunt…until the film LOOPER (2012).

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I’d seen Emily several times before in movies like The Adjustment Bureau (2011) with Matt Damon, Sunshine Cleaning (2008) with Amy Adams and The Devil Wears Prada (2006). And each time I just didn’t get it. Her, I mean. What was the appeal? What was I missing that everyone else could see as plain as day? What was her appeal?

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Then I saw Looper. By any reasonable estimation, Looper is a great Sci-Fi movie, flawed but with an amazing structure and narrative that demands repeated viewings to fully-appreciate. The first time I saw it, I was just trying to keep up. Until the character of Sara appeared on screen. I was blown away by the willful, strong and lonely single mother who lives in a farmhouse with her young son. I looked into Sara’s blue eyes (which the filmmaker wisely holds in close-up several times in slow-motion) and fell into a deep trance. Who was this amazing woman portraying such a strong yet vulnerable character? At first, I didn’t recognize the actress after going into the darkened movie theater and her glowing presence caught me completely off-guard.

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Then I realized it was Emily Blunt, the actress I had heretofore never been able to form any kind of meaningful attachment to. The one actress that had gotten away suddenly became my biggest silver screen crush. She was so magnetic, so heartfelt and raw in her emotions that I could not believe it was the same young woman I had seen before, albeit in roles that left me wanting. Emily was the heart and soul of Looper, the same way every great actress, given the room and screen time to grow and embody a fully-rendered character does. I just fell for her the same way I had fallen for other actresses at first sight…a delayed crush that left me speechless and wanting to see her again as soon as humanly possible.

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I’ve seen Emily since in Looper and am still swept up in how wonderful she is in that role of Sara. I see in her eyes the soul of a woman who fears she will lose everything if she doesn’t protect herself and her son from a stranger she is attracted to. And I remember what it felt like being the stranger attracted to such a powerful performance – one in which the actress had completely lost herself in only to realize her beauty and talent for the first time. That is lightning in a bottle when it happens and something that true film-lovers appreciate about their favorite actresses in the role that was made for them. That was me with Emily as Sara.

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And now I know what everyone else was seeing in the beautiful Emily Blunt then I couldn’t. And now, like them – I’m a true believer.

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Patricia Clarkson: Ageless Beauty

12 Aug

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I rented The Station Agent (2003) the other night and forgot what a delightful character piece it was. And the best part about the entire movie was Patricia Clarkson. She was funny, sexy and utterly charming as the love interest to Peter Dinklage. A totally believable, heartbreaking portrayal of a mother who lost her son and lost her way in the process. I loved her so much in that movie that I followed it up with a much earlier, much less meaty role but the only one I had in my DVD library with Patricia: The Untouchables (1987).

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I watched Patricia play the adoring wife of Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness and was enraptured once again with her amazing on-screen presence. Then I realized what seemed pretty profound in the early-morning hours of a Saturday night: Patricia Clarkson does not age. Okay, she ages along with the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us — she gets more gorgeous and sexy as she ages oh so gracefully.

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To prove my point, I watched her online in several more films, like the more recent Easy A and Cairo Time (both 2010). She was even more luminous now, literally glowing off the screen. So, I just had to look her up and find out that Patricia was, well, well into her 50’s. Not only that, but she’s been cast more now than when she first started out – over thirty years ago and running. A true anachronism if you consider Hollywood’s attitude towards leading-ladies over 30.  Patricia just keeps getting cast when most actresses have hung it up, short of Meryl Streep.

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Maybe Patricia truly is timeless and therefore the normal rules in today’s youth-obsessed American culture don’t apply. Maybe she’s got great genes along with a youthful spirit and joy for life and her work. But in an age where teenage girls are getting plastic surgery, I believe Patricia Clarkson should be more the rule than the exception: A woman who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, no matter what her age. I know that not everyone can be so lucky – but then again maybe she knows something we don’t – that life should be celebrated every day, no matter what you do or who you are. And therein lies the secret of her timeless beauty and success.

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Jodie Foster: Queen of Elysium

4 Aug

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Jody Foster is a Hollywood pro and has been for a very long time. I just rented Taxi Driver (1976) and saw Foster’s portrayal of a young street-walker for the first time in twenty-years. What floored me was how amazing she was in the role and how she’s retained the same expressions and emotional range over the ensuing decades. Jody is one of the most magnetic, compulsively watchable actors ever. She can find her humanity in almost every character you can imagine. And, she can play an evil, evil villain when the role demands it as in the upcoming Elysium; and no, not the abode of the blessed after death in classical mythology – I mean the movie with Matt Damon.

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But Foster is more than just a beautiful and talented actress. She’s also an established director and producer. She’s somehow navigated the Hollywood labyrinth between child star and adult mogul. Not an easy task to do and one that Foster and few others should be applauded for their longevity. One of her secrets is that Jodie keeps a low profile as much as possible. Staying out of the spotlight when it comes to her private life has saved her from having any foibles writ large on the tabloids and scandal sheets. She keeps the attention squarely where it should be – on her movie roles.

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That’s not to say Jodie is shy when it comes to people and causes she cares about. She follows the old-Hollywood movie star model in that regard. But what I find so amazing about actresses such as Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Ms. Foster is that the older they get – the more beautiful they are. Maybe it has something to do with the fact they have worked on their craft in virtually every film, expanded their range and taken risks even though sometimes those risks haven’t panned out. I’m hoping that Jodie’s next leap of faith (this time into space in Elysium) will be a welcome addition to her amazing career – on that continues to amaze and inspire as a true movie star only can!

Vera Farmiga: Ghost Hunter with a Soul

21 Jul

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Vera Farmiga is having a huge year in 2013. From being Norma, Norman Bate’s mother on cable to portraying the world’s most famous true life ghost-hunter in THE CONJURING – this exciting actress has come into her own after years of struggling with lesser parts.

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Vera’s mesmerizing performance in this weekend’s hit horror story comes on the heels of a seventeen-year acting career. Vera began acting in theater in 1996 with her big screen debut in Return to Paradise (1998). She starred as a working-class mother hiding her drug addiction in Down to the Bone (2004) for which she won critical acclaim and a shot at the big-time. I remember first laying eyes on beautiful Vera when she played a clinical psychologist torn romantically between the good Leo DiCaprio and the very bad Matt Damon. The role springboarded her into her Oscar-nominated performance in Up In The Air (2009) opposite George Clooney.

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Every time Vera was onscreen, my eyes were drawn to her amazingly expressive and open face. She has an animal magnetism that’s augmented by a fierce intelligence. I loved her in that role, and loved hating her at the end. But throughout, the well-rounded performance showed a range of an actress that was going places.

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Now that Vera has a hit-franchise with THE CONJURING (there are several sequels in the offing, of course) we’re going to be seeing a lot more of her. This actor/director’s star has officially ascended over Hollywood. And I hope it stays up there for a very long time.

Diana Rigg: The Original Mrs. Bond

13 Jul

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I’m told that anyone under 30 is going to have a real hard time remembering who I’m talking about. Like anyone who was a star in the 60’s might as well have walked the earth with the Neanderthals. But with ageless beauty there should always be an exception – and therefore everyone should know about dear, sexy, deadly Diana Rigg.

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The British brunette was one of the most beautiful and iconic movie and TV stars of the 60’s and 70’s. She was introduced in the British hit TV show THE AVENGERS as the original kick-ass secret agent, Emma Peel. Diana had an unbelievable body and screen presence. But more than that, she could deliver a devilishly ironic line of dialogue better than any heroine to follow in her footsteps. Iconic, because her beauty is not defined (or diminished) by the 60’s fashions of the time. Her outfits were sleek, sexy and ahead of their time…if not timeless. Diana also holds the distinction of being the one and only Mrs. Bond…James Bond. She married the world’s most famous super spy in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Alas, the marriage was not meant to last (no spoilers here) and is worth watching only for Diana’s amazing beauty at the height of her fame and power.

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So, if you still don’t know who I’m referring to after reading this blog, why not rent or stream The Avengers (original British TV version) or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and take in the breathtaking beauty of Diana for yourself. Whether in Black & White or Color, Ms. Rigg (aka Miss Peel aka Mrs. Bond) is something to behold and beheld by.

Diane Kruger: Hot Blonde for a Hot Summer Night

29 Jun

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Diane Kruger seems to have it all: Looks, Talent, Glamor and a Hollywood fiance. What perplexes me is whether she’ll get the breaks all great actresses need to become truly great. By that I mean, luck mixed with serendipity for the right roles to come along at the right time for Diane to transcend her current “It” girl status into a serious Hollywood career with mass appeal and the resulting Box Office to make her an A-Lister.

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The answer is: I certainly hope so. She seems so well-grounded, so unassuming and approachable even though she’s drop-dead gorgeous and her looks are more befitting a bygone era of Hollywood than today’s youth-obsessed, blink and they’re gone ingenues who grace magazine covers and TMZ for what seems a fortnight – then off to oblivion. No, none of this will happen to Ms. Kruger. She’s far too intelligent, too talented and too clever to ever just poof and be gone. But at the same time, she needs a signature role that will help solidify her standing in the overcrowded Hollywood firmament. A role that will make her a household name with the likes of Bullock, Jolie and Kidman.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment DVD Launch Of "Inglourious Basterds"

Or, maybe she’ll move to Europe and be a big star where actresses are truly appreciated. I simply don’t know. What I wish for – is that someday soon I’ll see Diane in a juicy, complex and glamorous role that will translate her talent, good looks and sex-appeal into big box office. That’s the only real way to get Hollywood’s attention. And after that, she can do whatever she wants; small, personal films with great characters and storylines. Or, dark, moody indies that expand her range. And after five years, then she can move to Europe. I’ll even help her pack!

 

Jennifer Lawrence: Catching Fire All Over Again

22 Feb

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Jennifer Lawrence is the complete package. She is the “It” Grrrl of the decade. Her face is luminous as is her acting. Her off-screen personality is irreverent and sexy. She’s 22 years old and she has Hollywood and the world by the tail with a hit, Oscar-worthy performance (Silver Linings Playbook) and a global franchise (Hunger Games) to keep her afloat for the next 5 years. It’s enough to give anyone a big head but Jennifer remains grounded with friends and family. For now, you say? True. But I have faith in Miss Lawrence. Simply because she’s simultaneously fearless and self-effacing at the same time.

18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards held at Barker Hangar

I didn’t really understand how versatile Jennifer was until I saw ‘Silver Linings’.  She was that movie for me. And when you have Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro rounding out the cast, well, then she’s got what it takes times ten. To be so young, so talented and so sought-after is often a dangerous thing in tinseltown. They’d rather chew you up and spit you out as fast as they can make a buck off you rather than nuture an actress’s career for the long haul. So many actresses hit big and are seen everywhere one year – only to fade into oblivion long before their true potential is tapped. I’m hoping that Jennifer is smarter than this (I think she is) and surrounds herself with astute, centered management. Because it would be a shame to not have Jennifer be the new Meryl. Not that there is anything wrong with the old Meryl.

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So here’s to Jennifer winning gold this Sunday at the Oscars and the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the silver screen. She’s off to a great start with both Silver Linings and Hunger Games, the latter of which would never have made an impact without her singular performance. Just goes to show that once in awhile a standout actress can make oodles of money and still have the acting chops to turn in stellar character-performances like she did in Winter’s Bone. That’s range, baby. And here’s to Jennifer enjoying many more Oscar seasons in the spotlight!

Capitol Spies: Agent Cynthia

12 Jan

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Every Memorial Day is meant to honor the men and women who fought on behalf of our country, many of which paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. But what about the men and women who are part of our intelligence community who are never publicly honored or even known about? Lost to history are the exploits of individuals whose participation was so top-secret that their assignments are classified to this day. The following story is about Agent Cynthia, who was recruited by the pre-CIA, or Office of Strategic Services, the first American Intelligence Agency  FDR created during World War II. Smart, sexy and in a position to save hundreds of thousands of lives through her espionage work, Amy Thorpe Pack was the most successful female spy of her time, arguably any time – yet her story has rarely if ever been told. In fact, the following account is still officially classified until 2041 by the United States and Britain Secret Services for reasons unknown.

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June 21, 1942: The exact same moment Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were on Warner Bros. Burbank, California studio lot shooting Casablanca, a tiny band of spies entered sovereign Vichy-French territory on a secret mission to liberate the real Casablanca. Far from North Africa, the black ops team comprised of a former D.C. debutante-turned-spy, her Vichy-French lover, a safe-cracker and their OSS (pre-CIA) handler, broke the FBI’s strict law forbidding espionage within city limits and infiltrated the Vichy French Embassy in wartime Washington D.C.

Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Obtain the Vichy Naval Codes”

After Hitler invaded France in May, 1940, President Roosevelt shrewdly maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy, allowing France to retain an embassy in D.C.  This embassy received daily encrypted cables from Nazi Germany about Hitler’s plans for the French Fleet and his forces in North Africa. America and Britain already possessed the technology to intercept these communiqués, but without the embassy codebooks needed to decode them the communiqués were useless.

Breaking into a foreign embassy to steal codebooks constituted an act of war. J. Edgar Hoover’s bureau boys were ordered to protect all embassies and officers of a foreign power from espionage, even America’s own. Ironically, all Federal Agents were forbidden to enter Capitol Hill unless expressly invited. However, Foreign Agents (i.e. spies) could enter at will. So Roosevelt recruited his friend General William “Wild Bill” Donovan to form the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA. Donovan assembled a special team to infiltrate the target embassy.

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Amy Elizabeth “Betty” Thorpe (aka Agent Cynthia) was born to an affluent family.  Her father, George Cyrus Thorpe, a U.S. Marine Corps major and prominent maritime lawyer, moved the family from Minnesota to D.C. when Betty was six.  Her mother, Cora Wells Thorpe, daughter to H.H. Wells, a U.S Senator from Morris, Minnesota, became a prominent and influential Washington socialite. Once one of the capital’s most glamorous debutantes, young Betty is remembered by Shirlee C. Thorpe, her former sister-in-law and a D.C. resident, as “gorgeous” and “mischievous.”

In the cloak and dagger world of espionage, Agent Cynthia was recruited first by the British and then the American’s as a swallow – an agent who used sex as a tool to obtain the enemy’s military secrets.

Agent Cynthia moved her swallow’s nest to Wardman Park, the posh residential hotel located at 2660 Woodley Rd NW.  The Wardman, large and with multiple entrances,  would frustrate the FBI’s surveillance efforts of the OSS Agent. The hotel was also the home of Cynthia’s target – the Vichy Press Attache, Charles Brousse.

Posing as a sympathetic American journalist, Cynthia made quick work of the older married man: “He planted a long, passionate kiss on my lips and pressed my back against the door until I was limp.  Then he swung me easily off the floor and started to carry me up the stairs.  He looked at me hungrily.  “Just point out your bedroom,” he said.  “You have nothing to fear, chérie.”  As a lover, Charles Brousse was the most ardent of all those I met in my career as a spy…”

Charles, having fallen madly in love, provided Cynthia with daily copies of decrypted embassy cables, which were sent immediately to the White House. President Roosevelt, fluent in French, often didn’t wait for the cables to be translated before reading them.  Cynthia and Charles even collaborated on reports, which the president read “as a bedtime story” and called, “the most fascinating reading I have had for a long time…the best piece of comprehensive intelligence I have come across since the last war.”

When Cynthia asked Charles for the codes for decrypting themselves, her French lover balked – remarking that what she wanted was impossible. Undeterred, Agent Cynthia solicited the Chief Cipher Officer of the Embassy, Count Jean de La Grandville.  Young, ambitious and arrogant, the Count received Cynthia alone in his suite at the Shoreham Hotel while his wife was in the Virginia countryside giving birth to their second child.  Cynthia offered the Count money in return for the code books.  But De La Grandville had other ideas in mind and remarked on how a pretty woman should not concern herself with such things. Cynthia was not amused. She left him with her hotel phone number and the caveat that, if he was going to be serious, he could ring her the following night.

Cynthia was taken aback to find Count de La Grandville in the Wardman Park lobby upon her arrival home the next night.  Unsure what to do, Cynthia brought de La Grandville up to her suite.  Her control of the situation deteriorated when the Count informed her he had uncovered her true identity – that of Betty Thorpe Pack, estranged wife of a British diplomat.

Cynthia had kept her marriage a secret from everyone.  Her cover blown, the compromised secret agent then made the only major tactical mistake of her illustrious career. As she recounted in her memoirs: “He wanted to be “sure” of me.  I replied that I did not know what he meant, that I was a trustworthy American agent, and that I had made him a straightforward proposition.  He said that he appreciated all that but ‘love-making forms a bond’ and that he wanted this bond…so I closed my eyes and hoped that this, like so much else that I wanted to do, would be for (the Allies).”

Afterward, Cynthia surmised she was duped. De La Grandville had no intention of producing the codebooks.  What’s more, the duplicitous Frenchman planned to turn her in to the French Ambassador come first light.  The seductress had allowed herself to be sexually blackmailed by a novice.

As if matters couldn’t get worse, Charles Brousse rang her from his suite inside the hotel to say he would be over momentarily.  Agent Cynthia could not get de La Grandville out of the hotel fast enough, and the Vichy officials passed one another in the hallway outside her suite.  In an instant, Charles knew Cynthia had been unfaithful.  He exploded in a jealous rage and became physically abusive. “It was a very thorough thrashing, and from his point of view, one that I richly deserved.”

Badly bruised and bleeding, Cynthia fled the hotel and stumbled across the famous William Taft Bridge, more commonly known as Connecticut Ave. Bridge.  It was only by sheer luck that an FBI surveillance team was not in the area to witness the distraught agent enter her mother’s deserted apartment at 2139 Wyoming Ave. – three doors down from the Vichy Embassy itself. Cynthia fell into a fitful sleep: “I drifted off into a half-sleep and a dream of “penetrating” the French Embassy again through a window, obtaining the ciphers and dispatching them to my Chiefs with the improbable aid of a well-trained B.S.C. flock of carrier-pigeons!”

The next morning, an apologetic Charles arrived at Cynthia’s mother’s doorstep.  He was surprised to find the female spy more emboldened than ever.  She told Charles, “While I was dozing at Mother’s I had a dream and am going to work out something around it.  I am far from lost as far as the project is concerned, but it would be catastrophic if I were “burnt”.  Everything depends on you to get me out of the mess that I really feel I am going to be in.” 

Sure enough, at that very moment across town, Count de La Grandville arrived at the home of Gaston Henry-Haye, the Vichy Ambassador, to tell him about the beautiful agent and her botched spy mission.  What the young Count didn’t know, however, was that Charles possessed incriminating evidence on the Ambassador himself, thanks to surveillance the OSS provided Cynthia.  Charles used this information to paint the Count as the real security risk and told Henri-Haye of rumors de La Grandville had been spreading about the Vichy Ambassador’s own illicit affairs.

Charles played his hand well, so well that de La Grandville was removed from the code room. Cynthia’s cover and the mission were spared.  However, they were still no closer to acquiring the codes, and time was running short.  Hitler’s grip on North Africa and the remaining French Fleet was tightening. The Vichy codes were now needed more than ever.

A Dangerous Solution

Cynthia appealed to her OSS handler, Agent Hunter, that there was only one remaining alternative – a black bag job; espionage parlance for an illegal break-in.  But a black bag job of a foreign Embassy was fraught with risk and very real danger. If they were caught, it would constitute a state of war between Vichy-France and the US.   Besides the FBI, who suspected Cynthia of being a spy and surveilled her night and day, there was also the notorious Vichy Secret Police to consider. Operating within the US and Canada, their duty was to report on anyone of French descent aiding the Allied cause.  Should Charles be caught, torture and death would surely follow and even his relatives in France would not be spared.

But Cynthia needed his help if she was to have any chance of gaining entrance to the heavily-guarded code room.  Charles agreed to help, risking his own life. And to pull off the risky heist, they would need a professional safecracker who could gain access to the Embassy’s safe where the Nazi codebooks were kept.

Enter the Georgia Cracker

One of the greatest secrets still surrounding World War II was the number of criminals who were recruited into secret service directly out of jail, for the same skills that put them there. One such colorful con was a safecracker known only as the “Georgia Cracker.”  He was released from prison in return for work on dangerous missions.

The Georgia Cracker joined Cynthia, Charles and Hunter, and the black-bag plan was finalized. By early June the date was set for the break-in. But first each had to swear an oath that if caught none would implicate the OSS or its British equivalent, the BSC.  To be safe, both General Donovan and Intrepid (William Stephenson, head of the British Security Coordination operating in the US) left the country.

On the night of June 19, 1942, the same night British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s flying boat put down on the Anacostia River to attend the Second Washington Conference at the White House – Agent Cynthia crossed Connecticut Ave. Bridge with Charles. The two continued up Connecticut Ave. and made the familiar right turn onto Wyoming Ave. The reconciled lovers walked up the steps of the Embassy like they had done for several nights prior and greeted Andre Chevalier, the night guard.  Cynthia tried not to show it, but she was wary of his dog – a large Alsatian that had been written up in a local newspaper for excessive barking at night.

The couple brought with them several bottles of champagne, on the pretense that tonight was the anniversary of their first meeting.  Cynthia playfully coaxed the guard into joining them for a toast. When he wasn’t looking, she introduced a generous dose of Nembutal (a sleeping agent) into his glass.   Twenty minutes later the guard was sound asleep, and Cynthia then dosed the dog as well.  Given the all clear, the Georgia Cracker entered through the front door, stepped over the sleeping dog, and headed down the hallway to pick the lock to the code room.  Within moments, the three of them stood in front of the safe containing the codebooks.  Cynthia checked her watch; it wasn’t yet midnight.

Cynthia and Charles sat down on the divan in the private hallway outside his office and smoked, waiting nervously for the Georgia Cracker.  Minutes turned into hours. The Mosler-brand safe was old, its four tumblers rusty.  By the time the Georgia Cracker cracked the combination and turned the handle to open the safe door, it was perilously close to dawn, too late to copy the ciphers and have them back before the Embassy staff began their workday.

Cynthia watched helplessly as the convict closed and relocked the safe, careful to remove his fingerprints with a cloth.  Within the hour, she and Charles were back in her nest. She telephoned her handler to give him the bad news. Charles showered and returned to the Embassy to begin his day.  Fortunately, aside from a brutal hangover, the guard and his dog were unharmed and none the wiser.

Running Out of Time

Agent Cynthia was given the go ahead to make another attempt the following night, but now there were two serious complications.  The first was that they couldn’t attempt to drug the guard again, for fear they would arouse his suspicion.  The second was that, incredibly, the Georgia Cracker was sent off on another mission and temporarily unavailable.   Cynthia would have to open the safe by herself, using the combination the Georgia Cracker had written down for her.   Another agent would be outside the code room window, ready to receive the codebooks and take them to be copied.

Night came slowly on June 21st. Charles and his spy mistress once again set out for the Embassy.  Once again, the guard was waiting for them and let them in.  Once again, the handsome couple smoked and made friendly conversation with him before retiring to the divan.  They waited for over half an hour for the guard to finish his rounds. As Cynthia began to pick the code room lock, a nervous Charles asked her what to say should the guard appear and inquire about her whereabouts. “Tell him I’ve gone to the toilet,” she said.

Cynthia picked the lock and entered the code room with remarkable ease.  She took out the piece of paper on which the Georgia Cracker had written the safe combination and set about turning the dial: 4 left 5; 3 right 20; 2 left 95; 1 right 2; stop.  She then tried the handle on the safe, but it wouldn’t budge. Cynthia began to sweat: “The damned thing won’t open.”  She tried the combination again and again, but the safe refused to open.  She joined an exasperated Charles back at the divan. They left the Embassy empty-handed, forced to abort the mission.

Nerves were wearing thin for everyone.  Cynthia was ordered by her handlers to travel to New York: “I arrived at my Chief’s flat at about eight o’clock and from there set out in a cab for the long ride downtown.  I had no idea where we were going nor was I much enlightened when we drew up at an intersection of Broadway and he said: “Hop into that black car standing by the curb, and come back to the flat before returning to Washington.” 

Cynthia did as she was told and was greatly relieved to find the Georgia Cracker waiting for her in the next car. “I have never, repeat never, been so glad to see anyone in my life, I told him.”

            The two set out for a remote stretch of Jones Beach and stopped the car. The Georgia Cracker ordered Cynthia into the back seat.  There, under the seat, was an exact replica of the Vichy safe.  Teacher and student spent the next several hours ‘cracking’ it.  Once the Georgia Cracker was satisfied Cynthia could open the safe, they returned to the city.  But once back, Cynthia was adamant that the Georgia Cracker accompany her on the next attempt on the Embassy.  True to form, Cynthia was impossible to resist. Both she and the Georgia Cracker returned to Washington.

One Final Attempt

A first-quarter moon hung over the Capitol the night of June 23rd as Cynthia and Charles made their last trek across the familiar bridge. “But as we turned the corner from the main avenue to the smaller one leading to the Chancery, I noticed two FBI cars parked at a discreet distance from our destination.  They were half-hidden in the shadows of the trees, and their lights were dimmed.”

Cynthia grabbed Charles by the arm and led him away from the streetlamps.  They made their way to the Embassy doors and scurried up the stairs, only to find the Embassy guard missing from his post.  Charles used his own key to enter the Embassy.  They waited anxiously on the divan, wondering whether the night guard might be an informant for the FBI.  Was this a trap?

To Charles’s astonishment, Cynthia made a sudden radical decision. “I left the divan and took off my dress, tossing it onto the floor in the middle of the hall.  Then I took off my slip and threw it in the same direction.  It was followed by my brassiere, my panties, along with my garter belt and stockings; I was now quite naked except for a string of pearls and my high-heeled shoes.” 

Her timing was perfect. Just then the door behind her opened and her body was bathed in the beam from the night guard’s flashlight.   Embarrassed, the guard muttered a quick apology and withdrew, leaving Charles and his Lady Godiva to resume their work.

Cynthia remained au naturel as she signaled to the Georgia Cracker to enter through the window of Charles’s office.  The second-story man got an eyeful as the naked agent led him to the code room where he quickly picked the lock.  She held his flashlight on the dial of the safe as he worked the combination.  Within moments the safe was open, the codebooks theirs for the taking.  Cynthia pressed them to her naked bosom and walked over to the window, where an OSS agent was waiting to spirit them away.

Cynthia turned back to the Georgia Cracker, and with sincere gratitude, embraced him.  She bid the lovable con man goodbye, then returned to Charles at the divan.  Cynthia dressed, and the two settled in for a long night of waiting.

Cynthia chain-smoked Capstan cigarettes, her favorite brand, as her imagination considered every contingency.  What if the guard became suspicious and forced them to leave?  Who would put the codebooks back in the safe?  They could knock the guard out and kidnap him.  But then the Embassy personnel would know the codes were compromised.  What of the G-men outside?  At any moment, they could storm in and take her away for interrogation.  After all, the Embassy was in their jurisdiction. They already suspected her of being a spy.

She tiptoed to the window and peeked out from behind the shade.  Sure enough, there they were, hidden in the shadows across the street. “I went back to the divan and sat down in an attempt to persuade myself that “sweating it out” wasn’t so bad really, and that surely the boys at the front were having a worse time than I. Anyhow, there was now only another half hour until I would take up my post at the door.”

            At five minutes to four, while the night guard was off making his last rounds, Cynthia was at the door and saw the OSS agent approach the Embassy.  She reached out and grabbed the books from him, then turned and cautiously ran for the code room.  She purposely did not wear lipstick, in order to kiss each codebook for luck before she returned it to the safe. Then she was careful to wipe away all trace of her presence as the Georgia Cracker had taught her.  Moments later, she and Charles walked hand in hand down the Embassy steps.  Even if the Bureau boys saw them now, they could prove nothing.

Back at her swallow’s nest later that morning, Cynthia heard a knock at her door.  She opened it to find Agent Hunter, smiling and smartly dressed in a U.S. Army summer uniform. Cynthia followed Hunter to the other end of the hotel.  He led her into a room full of military personnel, surrounded by photographic equipment and hundreds of papers covering the furniture. They were photostats of the Vichy codebooks.  This was where they had brought the books to be copied – down the hall from her very own nest. Cynthia looked at the crystal clear prints of the secret ciphers and smiled to herself.

            “Altogether, it was the proudest moment of my life.”

November 8, 1942, Washington, D.C.: Agent Cynthia was boarding a train bound for New York when she saw the morning paper carrying the headline “Allies Storm North Africa!”  She then looked up to see a handsome, uniformed man admiring her.  She smiled instantly, having recognized her old spy handler. Agent Hunter stood at attention and saluted her.  Then he approached and whispered in her ear:

“We have reached a turning point in the war.  The allied troops have landed in North Africa, with practically no enemy resistance.  The reason that there was no resistance is a military secret, but I think you should know that it is due to your ciphers.  They have changed the whole course of the war.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Operation Torch, and 107,000 Anglo-American troops landed on the shores of North Africa in a surprise attack.  The battle that had begun on a tiny piece of sovereign Vichy soil located in Washington D.C. less than five months prior, concluded in the liberation of Casablanca, Oran and Algiers in less than three days.  The decisive victory put an end to Hitler’s dominance on the continent, deprived Germany of the French fleet and shortened the war itself.

Back in Los Angeles, Jack Warner and producer Hal Wallis rushed the opening of Casablanca to capitalize on the headlines. The movie premiered November 26, 1942 and went into full-release the following year. Bogart and Bergman are immortalized as Rick and Ilsa. Meanwhile, Agent Cynthia has been all but forgotten. But the World War II Mata Hari didn’t seduce the enemy for fame or fortune.  Hers was a much higher calling:

“I did my duty as I saw it.  It involved me in situations in which respectable women draw back.  But wars are not won by ‘respectable’ methods…I hope and believe I was a patriot.”

Donna Reed: It’s A Wonderful Actress

3 Dec

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This is the time of year I’m reminded of how wonderful Donna Reed is. You know, the romantic lead opposite Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s seminal IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The black & white film is always playing on some channel virtually night and day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It’s a classic to be sure, but that’s not the real reason it oversaturates the airwaves during the holiday season – or at least used to. That’s because the movie fell into the public domain for several decades when some studio nincompoop didn’t renew the copyright. Networks and cable stations could therefore play the film without having to pay residuals and royalties – and the movie and it’s classic characters became as commonplace if not more nourishing than fruit cake. However, the real feast for the eyes will forever be Donna…Donna Reed.

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Donna Reed had that all-American sweetheart look that everyone but George Bailey seemed to see, until it was too late for him to escape Bedford Falls. But really, how could anyone NOT fall in love with Donna – especially when she had been on the hunt for good ole’ George since High School (remember the famous dance scene where the floor divides and people start falling into the gymnasium pool?! Donna was George’s destiny and she would stick with him for better or worse, through thick and thin until the very end when Zuzu’s petals would magically reappear in his vest pocket. Talk about bygone days. If Frank Capra were alive today – the movie might not have ended so happily. But what makes the film so timeless is the love story itself. Because if Donna weren’t the amazing actress she was – it would not nearly be so believable that Jimmy Stewart would feel like he lost everything worth living and dying for when she doesn’t recognize after Clarence the Angel is so good to show George what it would be like if he’d never been born. Then again, Donna Reed as an old maid is a stretch. Probably the hottest old maid ever portrayed on film IMHO.

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Donna Reed went on to have a respectable career on film and her very own TV show, THE DONNA REED SHOW, on on of television’s very first episodic shows. But that’s not why she will forever be remembered. In my house, I’ll always sit down and take time out to watch Donna say, “He’s making violent love to me, Mother!” from her living room when George inevitably visits one night to find that he has been hopelessly in love with her every since he first laid eyes on her, naked in a bush in front of her house. Me too!

Happy Holidays!

Who is this Famous Movie/TV Star?

10 Sep

Any ideas? Why, of course it’s the one and only Donna Reed! Many of you probably didn’t recognize her by this early glamor shot. Still more because, well, you don’t remember this beauty like I do. Her best remembered role is as Jimmy Stewart’s sweetheart-cum-wife from It’s A Wonderful Life. This holiday classic is one of my favorite films and has one of the best all-time movie lines in it – uttered by Miss Reed herself:

“He’s making violent love to me, Mother!”

Awesome. It doesn’t get better than that. You bet it does with Donna Reed scamping around in the bushes of Bedford Falls naked and Jimmy S. lassoing the moon for her. I hope you know what I’m talking about because this is really a phenomenal movie that no one should miss. Donna was a big star after this and several other movie roles that I can’t remember. She even got her own TV show – The Donna Reed Show.

Donna is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. Wholesome, bright and not above being a serious flirt – she was an amazing talent who never really got a chance to shine the way I think she could of. Maybe the movie roles just never came. Maybe her friendly, approachable good looks were more conducive to the silver screen (ironically, how most everyone of later generations would come to know her – from a gazillion It’s A Wonderful Life reruns – I wonder, is that movie public domain?).

Check out Donna’s work on Netflix when you get a chance. She’ll make you smile and remind you of that girl next door that you had a crush on, then moved away. Or, the cheerleader in High School that was always so popular yet still deigned to talk to you. Most of all, she was the older sister of your best friend that you could rip your eyes off of every time you went over to his house on Mac and Cheese night.

I wish.

Is it too soon to watch It’s A Wonderful Life again?