Tag Archives: Golden Age Hollywood

Queen Christina: Garbo’s Triumph!

28 Apr

Queen_8 Astor

In 1933, prior to the release of Queen Christina, nobody outside of the MGM Studios executive offices knew whether Garbo, the Queen of the Silver Screen was ever going to return to film.


The year before, Garbo and Louis B. Mayer had slugged it out in contract negotiations that changed forever the power structure of the Hollywood studio system. Afterward, Garbo left for Sweden on an extended vacation, while L.B. Mayer licked his wounds. The public knew nothing of the outcome, and MGM decided to keep it that way capitalizing on the public interest of their favorite movie star and the future of her career.


Garbo left America in 1932 knowing she’d be back. She had scored a lucrative, 2-picture deal with her studio, and more important to her had creative control than ever before. Garbo could pick her next 2 projects, including the director and her co-stars. It was more power than any other star, male or female had ever had. It was either that, Garbo threatened Mayer, or her leaving Hollywood forever. The old Mogul blinked.


Garbo was at the peak of her career. She had arranged for Mayer to create her own production company within the MGM studio system. It was a stroke of genius having her own team, who would do nothing but Garbo projects. And their very first production would be the ambitious historical biopic – Queen Christina of Sweden.


Loose on historical fact, the lavish production was nonetheless a starring vehicle like none other. Garbo’s public persona was at the center of the saga about the solo Queen who abdicated her throne in order to live as a normal, average woman. Garbo embodied the role as a declaration of her own independence from the studio system. She even got to wear pants in the role, which was unheard of in 1933!


Garbo insisted that her old, silent movie co-star John Gilbert play opposite her as the Spanish Envoy and love interest to Queen Christina. L.B. Mayer all but had a heart attack. He hated John Gilbert and had tried to destroy the actors career when he stumbled into sound film several years before: Mayer had Gilbert’s voice electronically raising 2 octaves – making him sound ludicrous. But Mayer knew there would be no getting around Garbo now. His female star had all the control, and with Garbo’s star ascending around the world – he had no choice but to sign Gilbert.



Garbo got her way, and Mayer was able to capitalize on her return to the silver screen. The film was marketed as “Garbo’s Triumphant Return” to the movies. The film made back it’s money and more, grossing over $600,000 in it’s initial 1933 run. Although MGM would declare a loss by cooking their books, it would be discovered decades after Mayer’s death that the film was actually a financial success for the studio.


Regarded as one of Garbo’s greatest roles, Queen Christina was a romantic vision of the Queen who valued life, art, music and creativity over war and domination. It would propel her dominance over the world cinema for the rest of the decade – and continue Garbo’s reign in Hollywood. Mayer and MGM would go on to make millions off its mercurial star, and allowed them to dominate film in Europe as well as America as can be seen by the foreign language one sheets and movie posters advertising the film:

Later regarded as Garbo’s signature role, Queen Christina was ahead of it’s time especially for the portrayal of women in film. Garbo had a female love interest at the beginning of the film (alluding to her rumored lesbianism). Her royal court wished her to marry in order to produce an heir, though she demurred (as did the real Queen Christina). Best of all, Garbo showed her contempt for men and their penchant for making war. This would become a re-occurring theme in her career and is at the center of my upcoming debut novel, Looking For Garboavailable now for pre-order and to be released on May 7, 2019.

Lana Turner: Queen of the Noir

8 Sep


I just recently watched the original “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) and was taken by Lana’s commanding performance as Cora Smith. She said that it was the role she liked best out of a long career in front of the camera. Her chemistry with John Garfield is unmistakable and almost as explosive as the love affair with the camera. She’s one of the best femme fatales ever, in my humble opinion at a time when film noir dominated the cinematic landscape.

Lana Turner

Lana started in films when she was 17 and, contrary to Hollywood legend, was not discovered in a soda fountain. She was, however, the “sweater girl” of every man’s dream and came into her own as an actress (especially in Postman) when her private life threatened to derail her career. Lana had 7 husbands and numerous boyfriends – the most famous of which was Johnny Stompanato. Johnny was a gangster and was in the process of beating the crap out of Lana when Lana’s only daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed Johnny to death in 1958. The resulting firestorm of publicity and trial made the famous “sweater girl” infamous overnight. Cheryl, tried for murder, was acquitted (justified homicide) and wrote a tell-all about her mother in 1988.


Lana would recover her career in “Imitation of Life” (1959) and once again be at the top of her game. But her appetite for men and alcohol would eventually take it’s toll. But none of that diminishes her performance in “Postman”, if anything it enhances it. I recommend watching her eat the scenery in the original noir. It’s her film the second she shows up and you end up being riveted to her every mannerism, her suggestive outfits – her cooler than cool exterior that hides the molten lava just behind her eyes. She is an amazing actress who’s life off-screen was just as dramatic as any of her film roles.


My favorite quote of Lana’s was about happiness: “The thing about happiness is that it doesn’t help you to grow; only unhappiness does that. So I’m grateful that my bed of roses was made up equally of blossoms and thorns. I’ve had a privileged, creative, exciting life, and I think that the parts that were less joyous were preparing me, testing me, strengthening me.” What an astoundingly insightful, thoughtful and intelligent woman! She didn’t suffer fools lightly – maybe that’s why she had so many husbands!


I’ll always remember Lana not as the “sweater girl” but as the self-assured, confident yet fatalistic Cora in “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” It’s no wonder the role was her personal favorite out of a long, long film career. In some way, Lana channeled her own personal turmoil into the film noir thriller and made her role all the more magnetic. She went through hell and came out the other side several times. She knew Hollywood was no bed of roses – and grew stronger for the thorns. So many actresses have followed in her footsteps but I think she was an absolute original in a town that is full of copycats – both then and now.

Hedy Lamarr: Beauty and Brains

4 Mar

By now the story of Hedy Lamarr having invented the technology that would become the basis for all cellular phones, smart phones and defense department guided weapons systems should be common knowledge. What? You say you didn’t know that the Hollywood Goddess was also an inventor? That’s right, Hedy was pure and simple, a genius. Not only that, but she knew a thing or two about science and military weaponry. That’s because before she came to Hollywood and shined on the silver screen, she was married to a wealthy arms merchant who sold weapons to anyone who could afford them. And the highest-selling weaponry, then or now, was the latest, greatest bomb, bullet or torpedo that could not be stopped! Enter, Hedy Lamarr’s invention.

Put plainly, Hedy had the idea of creating a guidance system based on a broad-spectrum technology, one in which the frequency of the signal for said bomb, bullet or torpedo would change in sync with the system guiding it. So, if both the gun and the bullet having shot it are in sync, the signal sent and received changing frequency every second or so – it would be impossible for an outside force to disrupt that signal. Now think that a movie star invented this technology in the early 1940’s and you’ll begin to understand the importance of Hedy Lamarr’s discovery.

Now here’s the sad part of the story. Hedy patented her cellular technology but it lapsed before the military application fully took hold – after World War II. Even more distressing was the commercial application of the technology, found in every cellular and smart phone walking around today. By rights, Hedy should have been a billionaire several times over by the late ’90s. Instead she was broke, and no one cared that the woman who once was one of the world’s most beautiful and sought after movie stars had been ripped off for an invention that would change the world and make telecommunication companies the monsters they are today.

Dear Hedy is gone now, and the story I just told you is yet to become common knowledge. She was recognized for her invention late in her life by a field of appreciative scientists, if not the corporate honchos who made billions of her invention – and still do today. But what I’d like to remember Hedy for was the beauty and brains who dared to think outside the box and, in her own way, help democracy and freedom spread throughout the entire world. See, it’s not always the one invention that changes the world, but all the applications, ideas and subsequent inventions that come after it. Hedy’s revolution in cellular technology paved the way for a lot of the gadgets we rely upon in our daily lives today. And while we may still admire her beauty in movies such as ALGIERS and WHITE CARGO, the Hedy I really admire is the little bit of her that fits into the palm of my hand. The one who dared to use her brains in addition to her beauty and changed the world forever.

Norma Shearer – The Anti-Garbo

17 Feb

I can’t help but love Norma Shearer. She was so beautiful, ballsy and, in her day, the reigning queen of Hollywood. That is, if Garbo hadn’t been. Fascinating how someone who would otherwise be number one in the world, exists opposite another who is their match and then some. Just like John McEnroe had Bjorn Borg and Tom Brady has Eli Manning to contend with – Norma had the almighty Garbo raining on her Hollywood parade.

Not that we should feel too bad for Norma. After all, she was married to Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind at MGM who made silver screen art and tinseltown magic while Louis B. Mayer made money. But even though he was married to Norma and gave her all the choice parts, even Irving knew Garbo transcended her time. As accessible Norma was to the masses, Garbo was inaccessible like a true star in the sky. As likeable and glamorous in an earthly way as Norma was portrayed, Garbo was the goddess who touched down on terra firma long enough to steal our hearts – then quickly ascend back into the heavens. But this wasn’t the biggest reason Garbo has endured and been remembered while Norma Shearer has largely been forgotten. No, the biggest reason is how the two stars fates were constructed on-screen.

Norma always got her man. And, like in hugely successful THE WOMEN, she wasn’t above groveling to get him the lecherous ass back. In stark black & white contrast – Garbo was the vamp who found redemption through love, then died for it. She found truelove just before they shot her, like in MATA HARI, or, before she kicked the bucket in CAMILLE. These roles, inherently dramatic and romantic visions, couple with Garbo’s unbelievably gorgeous face – made her the queen of the silver screen without equal. Norma, beautiful and comedic – could never pull off such high drama even if she wanted to.

But this blog is about Norma Shearer. Taken by herself, she was an often wonderful actress opposite stars like Clark Gable in FREE SOUL. She was exuberant and shimmered an inner-glow that I believe she possessed in real life. Most attractive, however, was how she stuck by her man Irving in real life. Thalberg was a very sick man and died young. Norma truly loved him and protected his image long after he passed. Tragically, in her own life after Hollywood, Norma sought out seclusion (not unlike her arch-screen nemesis Garbo) and appeared frightened by the aging process we are all subjected to. It saddens me that we glorify our leading ladies at the height of their beauty, then toss them aside so easily once they hit 30, or younger. Are they not the same women we fell in love with at first sight in their 20’s?

Norma will always be remembered. Maybe not like Garbo. But even Garbo, while most know the name, has been relegated to a bygone era. Lost in the sea of technology, special effects and irrelevant, male-oriented storylines that disgrace our cinema screens today. I’m hoping for a resurgence of interest in golden age Hollywood stars as a result of this year’s silent screen Oscar-contender “The Artist”. The storyline of which was lifted from the very-real life love story between Garbo and John Gilbert. But that’s for another blog. Today I want to celebrate Norma. May she be remembered as a classy dame who knew how to have fun and hold her man.

CINEMUSES: Mary Astor, The Ultimate Femme Fatale

9 Jan

There is something so deliciously bad-ass about Mary Astor. She was the ultimate femme fatale, Brigette O’Shaunessy, from The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. The first and arguably best Film Noir, Falcon is as perfect in its structure and form as Casablanca. And as perfectly beautiful and virtuous as Ingrid Bergman was as Ilsa, Mary Astor is as the beautiful, deadly and duplicitous Brigette.
Now, the very definition of a femme fatale is a woman so beautiful and beguiling that a man would willing walk into his own open grave to please her. She must be so intoxicating that a man would off-himself if only to have her one-time. Mary Astor was smoking-hot in Falcon, but she was also smart, brassy, quick-talking and utterly shameless in manipulating men. Sparks flew between her and Sam Spade. They only grew more intense when she killed his partner, Archer. And by the end, she’s so messed up Bogart’s insides that he almost considers doing time for her. Almost.

To be honest, I haven’t seen many Astor movies. They’re hard to find and many of them were lackluster, never talking full advantage of Astor’s formidable talents. She was a force to be reckoned with, on and off the screen. One of her earliest appearances was opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust, with Jean Harlow. I’ve got to tell you that Jean, though I love her, couldn’t hold a candle to Astor’s sexual attraction with hair slicked back and an animal stare than threatened to vanquish everyone in her sights.

Off-screen, Astor was a free-spirit and got into trouble with the powers that be and press for her sexual escapades. She wrote a sordid autobiography and was open about her sex life when such things were considered tawdry and unbecoming a lady. Mary was quick to call bullshit when she saw it and stood her ground. She had to. She made several movies opposite Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre – a tough crowd by any measure. But that’s what I love about Mary – she gave as good as she got.

Mary Astor should have been a much bigger star in my estimation. She had the beauty, brains and balls to take on any comers, and I only wish that I had met her – only to be vanquished immediately. of course!

CINEMUSES – Lovely Rita Hayworth

8 Jan

Rita Hayworth was unquestionably one of the most beautiful and glamorous movie stars to ever grace the silver screen. She was also very traumatized throughout her career and died a tragic death. The still above is from the famous “The Lady From Shanghai,” co-starring and directed by Orson Welles, Rita’s husband at the time. The story goes that Welles owed the studio a film and manufactured a cockamamie storyline in so many days before filming began. I don’t particularly care whether this is true or not, because Rita Hayworth was at her most luminous in the film. It also has one of the most ingenious and sinister visual sequences captured on film – the “hall of mirrors” scene above. Rita wasn’t known then or since as being a particularly talented actress – but I think she’s amazing in this movie as well as “Gilda.”

Rita Hayworth was an absolute knockout and appeared lit from within on screen. Her trials and tribulations in real life are mercifully over and largely forgotten. What remains is the essence of the woman in her physical and intellectual prime. Her movies are worth watching because she appeals to contemporary audiences as much as she did back in the 40′s and 50′s. And she makes an amazing ‘cameo’ appearance in one of my favorite movies ever – “The Shawshank Redemption.” There’s not many actresses today whose legend will surpass their lifetime like lovely Rita…Rita Hayworth.