Tag Archives: Greta Garbo

Monica Bellucci: The New Bond Girl is a Woman

15 Mar

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I’ve always loved Monica for her classic yet voluptuous beauty. She is considered one of the most beautiful women in the world since she made the scene over thirty years ago now. And in keeping with her stature, Monica will soon be making her debut as the world’s oldest bond girl. At 50, Monica is by far the oldest actress to don the title, shattering the carefully constructed image of an aging James Bond while his myriad love interests stay twenty-three for eternity.

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Granted, Monica Bellucci is no ordinary 50 year old. Quite the opposite, in that she grows ever more beautiful with every passing year. In actress years, Hollywood would have put her out to pasture if it wasn’t for the fact that she is more stunning than actresses half her age. She wears her years with an incredible resiliency, to the point where her age is one of her main attractors. Not only is she comfortable in her own skin, Monica exudes confidence and mature sexuality that a twenty-two year old actress could never compete with, no matter who she is.

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Monica Bellucci’s career has spanned several decades now. She’s taken on a wide-ranging spectrum of roles, some of them better-written than others. But what is consistent about all of them is what Ms. Bellucci brings to every role: a poise, sensuousness and presence that makes the camera fall in love with her every time she steps into frame. Your eye is drawn to her face immediately. Her large brown eyes are so expressive they seem to radiate from within. Her body so statuesque and generous in curves and proportion you cannot but think of her as a classical beauty for the ages. But Monica’s greatest asset is her ability to translate a vulnerability and accessibility juxtaposing her own intense female beauty. Her beauty does not intimidate as much as exude the classical “come hither” of Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.

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The announcement by the producers of the next James Bond movie, titled SPECTRE, that Ms. Bellucci would be the next Bond Girl was applauded around the world. Finally, Bond was growing up and going to become involved with a woman his own age. It was a smart move for an aging franchise. And the best part about it was the fact that the producer’s knew they weren’t sacrificing anything in reaching out to an older actress. In fact, they scored a coup in getting Monica because not only is she gorgeous, but she has the reputation of classing-up every project she is in. And, last but not least, she is at the end of the day a seasoned, fantastic actress with a worldwide fan base. So smart, guys.

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Bringing Monica to a new generation of movie goers who may not be familiar with her is going to be a genuine treat. I have the distinct feeling that leading up to the release of SPECTRE, we’re going to see a lot of Ms. Bellucci in social media and traditional print. Because she bridges the gap between the younger generations and the ones that come before. Because her beauty is so magnetic and intoxicating. And because we need an older woman with timeless beauty to break the internet next.

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Monica is as close as we can get in today’s youth-obsessed society to a bonafide sex goddess in the vein of Greta Garbo, Marlena Dietrich and Hedy Lammarr. She is not afraid to show skin and brings a European sensibility to her nude scenes. Never vulgar or gratuitous, Monica can hold your attention without saying a word. Your eyes gaze upon her and are immediately transported to another place and time. She is, in short, a movie star in the classic sense. And one that new generations will not be able to get enough of once they discover her in the greatest mainstream movie franchise ever created, that of James Bond.

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About the greatest compliment I can extend to Ms. Bellucci is that she doesn’t need to be in James Bond. In fact, they need her more than she needs them. Her career and reputation have already ensured her place in film history as one of those rare beauties that defy stereotype and typecasting. But why I think she accepted the role playing in such a commercial venture is the opportunity to show that not all Bond Girls need to be vapid, twenty-year old after thoughts for James to dally with and dispose of like his other overpriced toys. What Monica brings is a Bond Woman who can not only carry her own – but take or leave Bond himself. And what could be more attractive than that!

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I’m very much looking forward to seeing this new iteration of Bond Woman. I can’t wait to see what Monica does with the role and how Daniel Craig’s James Bond must deal with a mature, commanding and ultimately domineering beauty with brains. It is a fascinating plot-wrinkle (no pun intended) to see him hold his own with a woman his own age. No small task for the Peter Pan of Spy Movies. But I have a feeling Craig’s Bond will grow up a little in this next outing, thanks to Monica. And have a lot of fun doing it, of course. As will the audience.

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One more shot of the unbelievably-gorgeous Monica Bellucci to hold you over while we wait for her appearance in SPECTRE!

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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…

Robert De Niro and Greta Garbo: A Match Made in Heaven

20 Jan

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Greta Garbo in Anna Christie by Robert De Niro, Sr.

Robert De Niro premiered a new documentary at Sundance film festival this weekend. The half-hour doc was produced by HBO and is about the Oscar-winning actor’s father, the late artist Robert De Niro, at Sun. What’s interesting about “Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro, Sr.,” is how it sheds light on the mutual fascination father and son had for another star: Greta Garbo. De Niro, Sr.’s fascination for the movie star was such that he would bring his young son to all her movies – and De Niro, Jr. became fascinated in his own right with her. While his father would paint portraits of Garbo, his son would study Garbo’s acting technique which inspired him to become an actor himself. Who knew?

Greta Garbo was the undisputed Queen of Golden Age Hollywood, or more accurately, Tinseltown from her 1927 silent film debut up to her abrupt departure from the screen in 1941. So much has been written about Garbo that there is very little new light to be shed on the luminous screen creation that was Garbo. The one thing I can add to all the biographies and hagiographies of the iconic actress, however, is why she remains more relevant today than when she was the highest paid woman in the U.S. ($5,000 a week in 1932) and the most recognizable face on the planet. Garbo remains relevant to today’s celebrity-obsessed culture simply because she started it all. She was the first star whose private life became fodder for the tabloids, literally her every move became a matter of record in every newspaper throughout the world.

The list of firsts involving the screen queen goes on and on:

The first time in history a newspaper hired a plane to fly over a celebrity’s house to capture a “candid” photo of the star sun-bathing nude.

The first time a King visited a movie set to pay homage to a movie queen (King Gustav of Sweden to MGM in Hollywood). Of course, Garbo refused to meet him.

The first time a celebrity (since Cleopatra) went by one name.

Garbo. Historians of film still talk about “the Rapture” seeing her face in close-up on screen had on theater audiences, both male and female, throughout the world. Never before had a human visage been captured in light so perfectly and so large – big enough to see every perfect pore of skin (covered in silver make-up made for her by Max Factor himself – so she would literally shine), every eyelash (all natural); ever internal thought conveyed through voluminous eyes.

Garbo, aka “The Face” was said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived. But more than that, Garbo brought about modern screen acting, making her counterparts Norma Shearer and Marion Davies by comparison, appear to be pantomiming. Screen legend Bette Davis was so obsessed with Garbo’s acting that she stole onto a movie set to see Garbo in action. She came away nonplussed. Later, she saw the footage of that days shooting and was blown away by what the camera saw. Davis said Garbo’s affect on the artificial eye was nothing less than “witchcraft.”

All Garbo’s directors and fellow actors agreed. Seeing Garbo act with the naked eye seemed like nothing special. But then, when the film emulsion was processed and negative became positive – Garbo the screen goddess in all her glory appeared as if by alchemy. Nothing less than magic. Her ability to convey emotion without uttering a word, even moving, seemed supernatural. So much so that the occultists of the day considered Garbo to be more than mortal. She became known in the press as, “The Immortal One.”
Of course, Greta Garbo was not immortal. After her final film, “Two Faced Woman” flopped in 1941, she bid the world goodbye and moved into an apartment in Manhattan, New York and aged quietly, reclusively, until her death in 1990. Yet up until virtually her dying day, Garbo was stalked relentlessly by paparazzi while other glamorous movie stars of her era like Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth and poor Norma Shearer were forgotten once their beauty and fame faded from view.

Why? The easy answer is that Garbo’s steadfast rejection of the modern day cult-of-personality she helped to foment fueled our desire to capture her image evermore in the spotlight. As if, simply by virtue of the fact a famous person wanted to be left alone – we couldn’t allow it in our new age of media obsessed, fame monsters and attention whores. But I have a sneaking feeling there was more to it than that. My sense is that Garbo was more than met the eye, even when she became a shriveled, wrinkled, white-haired old lady. I think Bette Davis was onto something when she gazed at Garbo with those big, Betty Davis blue eyes of hers. I think Garbo was a witch. The most beautiful witch who ever lived, and whose cinematic spell will continue to be cast on generation upon generation of movie lovers – for as long as there is light.

Marlene Dietrich: My Blue Angel

1 Dec

Marlene was the first to admit that her onscreen image was a creation of her own and that of director Josef von Sternberg. Imported by Paramount Pictures in 1930 (the execs wanted their own Garbo to make MGM sweat a little at the box office), Marlene had made The Blue Angel in English as well as German to capitalize on the scandalous subject matter. But it was Marlene’s androgynous appeal to women as well as men that made her a huge crossover star in America. Arguably, the German-born actress was as beautiful as goddess Garbo with one distinct difference. Marlene’s sex appeal was derived from her self-effacing sense of humor. If Garbo’s love was tragic – Dietrich’s love was sardonic.

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Marlene called herself the “ersatz-Garbo”. She didn’t like being compared to the Swedish Sphinx and her film roles reflected that fact. Plus, Marlene was more than just a movie goddess: she could sing and dance with the best of them. When she arrived in Hollywood the studio tried to make her sign a morality clause in her contract. America was coming off the hangover of Prohibition and Hollywood didn’t want their stars private lives to overshadow their on-screen creations. No doubt Marlene’s proclivity for bedding as many women as men (she traveled with her lover as well as her broad-thinking husband) gave the studio suits fits of worry and they thought they could control her with money.  Little did they know how smart and strong Marlene could be.

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Marlene may have been a creation of her favorite director/collaborator von Sternberg, but when it came to her career she took no chances. As soon as she could, she assumed control of her movies by becoming one of the first female producers in Hollywood. Now she had a say both on camera and off about the script, costumes, locations and, most importantly, what the censors cut and what she fought to keep in her films. In 1934, the tide changed in Hollywood and the code came into full effect. Only stars of Marlene and Garbo’s stature could fight for the best roles – often times their own studio bosses would try and tame them, watering down the storylines until there was little or no value left in them. Garbo would ultimately throw in the towel and retire in 1941. But Marlene’s star would rise even higher in the wasteland of World War II.

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Dietrich was as strong as she was beautiful. When Hitler commanded her to return to Germany at the outbreak of hostilities – Marlene not only told him where to get off, she did everything in her power to aide the Allies. She was a fixture of War Bond fundraisers overseas. She entertained the troops at USO shows with song and dance (her fabulous legs were insured for a million dollars) and spoke passionately about democracy and her love for America, her adopted country). Marlene truly came into her own during and after the war – and her fans loved her all the more for it. She was like a blonde Venus rising from the catastrophic aftermath of her birth countries bid to rule the world. And she was a shining example of a woman who fought for freedom as hard as any man – and won on her own terms.

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What Marlene lacked in Garbo’s perfect facial features she more than made up for in exquisite make-up effects.

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She liked to say “The Blue Angel” was her first film, even though in reality it was her sixteenth!

Garbo: Viking Goddess and Independent Woman by Jacob M. Appel

20 Oct

Swedish actress Greta Garbo accomplished in less than two decades what advocates for women’s rights had sought for centuries: she showed the American public that feminine sexuality was compatible with intelligence. During the 1920s, when liberated flappers still attracted scorn from mainstream society, Garbo’s depiction of independent yet feminine beauties helped convince millions of American women that sexual initiative was not a man’s prerogative. Garbo “was allowed the right to have amorous needs and desires,” according to biographer Karen Swenson, and her popularity with both sexes enabled her to challenge “traditional roles with few negative consequences.” At the same time, Hollywood’s highest paid female star eschewed media attention and created a mystical image around her indifference to public opinion. At the age of thirty-six, Garbo retired to a life of almost hermetic seclusion. Film critic David Thomson saliently observed that “in making the journey away from fame into privacy she established herself forever as a magical figure, a true goddess, remote and austere, but intimate and touching.”

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Hollywood’s Viking beauty began life as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905. She grew up in an impoverished Stockholm household and went to work as a lather girl in a barber shop at age fourteen. By sixteen, the aspiring actress had garnered admission to Sweden’s exclusive Royal Dramatic Theater Academy. She soon impressed Scandinavia’s foremost director, Mauritz Stiller, with her perfect instincts and dignified beauty. He gave her the stage name Garbo and cast her as Countess Elizabeth Dohna in the silent screen masterpiece The Story of Gosta Berling.

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A leading role in G. W. Pabst’s Joyless Street (1925) soon followed. The part, that of a struggling Viennese women on the verge of prostitution, permitted Garbo to explore sexuality on screen for the first time. The film itself shattered box office records and became an enduring masterpiece of realistic cinema. Garbo’s great break occurred when Louis Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recruited Stiller for his Hollywood studios. The established director insisted that his relatively obscure nineteen-year-old starlet accompany him to the United States. Stiller was soon exported back to Stockholm while Garbo became a box office sensation.

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The eleven silent movies that Garbo filmed between 1925 and 1929 earned her critical claim as Hollywood’s most talented female actress. Starring across from leading man John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil (1927) and Love (1927) she awed audiences and shocked censors with her forthright sexuality. Garbo displayed her wide range playing a Spanish opera singer in The Torrent (1926), a Russian spy in The Mysterious Lady (1928), an English aristocrat in A Women of Affairs (1928) and a southern belle in Wild Orchids (1929). The star’s appearance influenced an entire generation as millions of female fans copied her tastes in clothing and hair styles. Crazes for artificial eye lashes and cloche hats swept the nation. Meanwhile Garbo, whom Claire Booth Luce described as “a deer in the body of a woman living resentfully in the Hollywood zoo,” distanced herself from both the public and the Los Angeles social scene.

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Garbo may have been one of the leading box office draws of the silent era but few critics expected her to make the transition to talkies. The advent of sound ended the careers of most silent stars and the Swede’s deep voice and heavy accent were expected to turn off audiences. Instead, the twenty-five-year-old actress gave her most compelling performance in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie (1930). She played a waterfront streetwalker searching for her barge-captain father. Her opening words, at that time the longest sound sequence ever heard in a film, are cinematic legend: “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side … and don’t be stingy, baby!” Other hits followed. Mata Hari (1932), Queen Christina (1935), Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936) confirmed her reputation as the leading lady of the early sound era. Garbo’s greatest role, that of the suicidal Russian dancer Grusinskaya in Grand Hotel (1932), ranks among the best female leads ever seen on the large screen. It is here that she declares her haunting wish: “But I want to be alone.” After surprising success as the comic lead in Ninotchka (1939), Garbo filmed the lackluster Two-Face Woman (1941) and then retired from the public eye. She was thirty-six years old.

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During the last five decades of Garbo’s life, “The Scandinavian Sphinx” established herself as cinema’s leading enigma. She travelled extensively but turned down all requests for public appearances. Instead, she entertained such close friends as Winston Churchill and Martha Graham in her posh New York City apartment. As one of the grande dames of American cinema, her intimates included William Paley, Anthony Eden, Jean Cocteau, Irwin Shaw, Dag Hammarsjokld, Cole Porter, and Jacqueline Kennedy. She also devoted herself to amassing an internationally renowned art collection which boasted masterpieces by Renoir and Bonnard. Garbo received an Honorary Academy Award in 1954 for “unforgettable screen performances.” She died in New York City on April 15, 1990.

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Greta Garbo entered the American consciousness during the mid-1920s at an historical moment when gender roles were in flux. The young actress came to represent a palatable form of female liberation and brought the icon of the independent woman home to Middle America. As biographer Karen Swenson described the star, “Her intimate posture and kisses suggested a woman—not a vamp—who was secure in her sexuality.” Garbo’s influence endured long after she became film’s most celebrated recluse. Throughout her life, she remained private, elusive, and conspicuously unmarried. “There is no one who would have me. I can’t cook,” she once joked—displaying the combination of independence and feminine intelligence which made her famous.

Source: St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (2002) Gale Group

Greta Garbo: Screen Goddess Found in the Men’s Room

19 Oct

Screen Goddess Greta’s Garbo’s personal belongings are on sale at Julien’s Auction in Beverly Hills this weekend. Many, many glamorous 30’s and 40’s hats, clothes, shoes and personal effects are being sold for 10 times what the auction house  set as their market value.  People not only remember Garbo, but consider her the most glamorous screen goddess from the golden age of Hollywood.  Garbo was the glamor queen of Hollywood, from a time in movie history when fans considered their stars gods.  Made famous by mogul Louis B. Mayer and MGM studios, Garbo was as big as they got.  Her appeal was her mystery, but in reality she was the most private of movie stars.

Seth Moseley was a  reporter during that same most glamorous time – the late 1930’s in New York City. A paparazzo 40 years before the term was coined, Seth worked for The Journal, the big-city newspaper to Manhattan, home to some of the world’s biggest stars. And he had his fair share of run-ins with Hollywood stars. But his favorite to tell was finding Garbo, the thirty-one year movie queen of the world, aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in the Port of New York:

“In those days, when a celebrity came in from Europe, half a dozen or sometimes a dozen newspapermen go down and meet these celebrities coming in from Europe. This means getting up early in the morning and going down to lower bay of Manhattan and meeting these ships coming up the narrows to interview celebrities. Garbo was on one of these ships. This was in 1937 and she’d become famous in the movies and had left Hollywood to go back to Sweden for vacation. She was purported to be in love with Leopold Stokowski, the conductor. We were (sent) down to the ship to find out.

Garbo came out and fifteen of us reporters and photographers held a mass interview. She was distinctly uncomfortable. Garbo was a very quiet, shy human being. She had made a fortune out of being shy and quiet and alone and she posed for pictures and they pursued her on the romance. I didn’t mention it. I don’t like mass interviews. I don’t think you stand a chance.

After everybody else had left, I stayed on the ship. I went to find her hoping I could get an interview. I went to her state room. I went to the Captain of the ship. I went everywhere for two-hours, and I couldn’t find Garbo. Finally, I had to go to the men’s room and that’s where I found her. She was in the men’s room hiding. I didn’t show any alarm, I just said that I’d love to see her for a couple minutes and could we take a walk on the deck. She said certainly.

We went out on the ship’s deck and talked. Then she told me something I thought was pretty important:

“You know,” I said. “you’ve said that you always wanted to be alone.”

“I’m glad you asked me that,” she said.“Because it’s not true. What I said was, I want to be left alone.”

I knew I had a good story. We talked, she was charming. She simply didn’t want to be overcome by a lot of people. Well, I jumped off the ship and got back to the newspaper and wrote the story about how Garbo had never said this remark about being alone, that she was not a recluse – she wanted to be left alone. Every newspaper in the United States picked it up.”

Seth had a special twinkle in his eye every time he told me the story of his and Garbo’s chance meeting, all because he wouldn’t give up on getting an exclusive. He said he even received a thank you note from the charming movie star, hoping that they would meet again someday. But they never did.

Greta Garbo, movie goddess and Seth Moseley’s favorite interview, passed away on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990 in New York City. She was 85. Seth H. Moseley died Saturday, August 11, 2000 in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 92. Their fateful meeting in the men’s room aboard an ocean liner would forever set the record straight. Garbo never wanted to be alone, only to be left alone. Never to be forgotten.

Jean Harlow: Original Blonde Bombshell

8 Oct

The story of Jean Harlow is inescapably intermingled with Hollywood legend.  The story goes like this: Harlean (her real first name) was accompanying a friend to central casting when studio executives became interested in her instead. She put them off, only to return to central casting several days later on a friendly bet and was hired to play bit parts for Hal Roach, then Howard Hughes and finally Irving Thalberg at MGM where she became an “overnight” sensation and massive superstar at the tender age of 20.

The world’s first “platinum blonde” couldn’t get a break, either from real life or the critics that panned her acting ability in the early years of her career. Jean (she borrowed her mother’s name for the silver screen) seemed always ill regardless of the radiant presence she had on film. She was married three times, most notoriously to Paul Bern, an MGM producer who was found shot-dead in their Hollywood home when Jean was only 21. The resulting scandal (his death was officially a suicide) made Jean even more popular with her adoring fans. Her true love was fellow movie star William Powell but the two never married.

On screen, Jean was glamorous, sexy and most of all funny. Her comedic timing and attitude were a goldmine to MGM and she single-handedly kept the studio out of bankruptcy in the early 1930’s. Jean played opposite Clarke Gable six times. My favorites are Red-Headed Woman and Hold Your Man. She played opposite a fetus-young Jimmy Stewart in Wife Vs. Secretary, whose concept is so dated that it’s impossible to like the movie even though it features one of my all-time favorite actresses – the imitable Myrna Loy.

Jean was only 26 when she became dreadfully ill on the set of Saratoga. A victim of medical malpractice, Jean was misdiagnosed several times and suffered horribly before succumbing to kidney failure. Her grieving fans were outraged when MGM studios tried to replace her with another actress to complete her last film Saratoga. Instead, they hired several body doubles to be shot from behind and even an actress to mimic Jean’s voice to complete the film “starring” Jean Harlow. Ironically, the critics have labeled it her finest work.

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Jean was supposed to be MGM’s next Greta Garbo but she didn’t live long enough to inherit Garbo’s throne. She was a funny, spirited personality more than an actress. Her legacy is her films opposite Gable and the indelible impression she made on depression-era America. She never took herself or the industry that made her famous too seriously. She died way too young, which made her a Hollywood legend and a legacy that wouldn’t be seen again until another tragic blonde came along to fill her shoes…her names was Jean, too. Norma Jean aka Marilyn Monroe.

Grace Kelly: Grace in 3 Dimensions

29 Jul

Beautiful. Graceful. Classy. Elegant. Brilliant. Grace was a glamour girl of the highest order. Her style was evergreen, never fading into trends of the past but excelling into tomorrow’s classic looks. She was a dream come true for haute couture and Hollywood. Leading men swooned when they first met her. Director fell in love. Even good old Alfred Hitchcock who couldn’t get enough of watching the star on the set of Rear Window, a movie about voyeurism.

Grace’s timing was impeccable. She came onto the silver screen scene when there was a changing of the guard. When cinematic lions such as Gary Cooper and Clark Gable were in the twilight of their careers. Both easily twice Grace’s age, they nevertheless rallied for her affections both on-screen and off. Cooper was the sheriff in High Noon who young wife (Grace) doesn’t want to see him die. Clark Gable, however, was Grace’s true-life crush on the set of Mogambo set in the jungle. Gable was a gentleman, however, and let the rising star down as easy as he could. Grace would have to console herself with future leading men – such as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and Cary Grant in How to Catch a Thief.

On screen, my favorite pairing was Grant and Grace. They were magical to watch, both gorgeous and on top of their game. The rapport between these two goddess made you feel like you were a voyeur. The two of them together were so much chemistry-fueled lust created when two massive stars collide. I still get shivers when I watch Grace on film. She is as glamorous in color that most stars were in black & white. I can’t imagine what she must have been like to meet in person. Maybe that’s what Hitchcock was thinking when he released Dial M for Murder in 3D when it was first released. The prospect of seeing Grace in 3 Dimensions must have driven every man, woman and child to the theaters. Hitchcock always knew how to market a movie and with Grace as his star – his job got exponentially easier.

When Grace exited the silver screen to become a true life princess, many were devastated. The world lost her to Monaco and the feeling was that Grace left in her prime. I always wonder about the movies she would have made if she’d stayed. So many more chances to bask in the glow of the most beautiful blonde the silver screen had ever seen in color. Grace was an amazing actress, even more than a fashion icon. She straddled both worlds so well and would utilize both her talents when transitioning to the private, luxurious world of royalty. But I fear she did it too soon. Realizing too late there was more that she could have accomplished had she not stepped into a guilded cage.  At least that’s my take on her, especially in light of her later years and the horrible car crash that would take her life.

But that’s much too much reality for this blog. Here I like to dream and remember my leading ladies as I first found them. The goddesses of light that illuminated my early life and defined for me what beauty, intelligence and passion all wrapped up in the visage of a gorgeous woman could do to a mortal man. Especially upon repeat viewings. And for me, Grace was the accessible goddess – the one who would listen to you, make you smile and laugh – and if you were very, very lucky give you a memory that would last you forever. In 3D!

Greta Garbo in the Men’s Room

14 Apr

In 1995, I met Seth H. Moseley while working on a cable documentary about the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping. I interviewed the legendary newspaperman about 1932, when he was a twenty-three year old cub reporter driving out to Hopewell, New Jersey right after the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped. Because Seth had gone to Amherst College with Dwight Morrow, Anne Morrow-Lindbergh’s brother, his editor at The New York Journal thought Seth had an inside advantage over the 150 reporters on the scene. The editor was right and Seth obtained an exclusive interview with Charles A. Lindbergh hours after the world-famous aviator’s infant son was abducted. Seth Moseley had scooped the story of the twentieth century. But as I got to know and became friends with the intrepid former Associated Press reporter, I discovered Lindbergh was by no means Seth’s last exclusive.

In 1934, Seth covered the S.S. Morro Castle ocean liner fire. The disaster that resulted in dead bodies washing up on the New Jersey shore would make headlines around the world. Then there was the Hindenburg disaster, this time in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937. Once again, Seth was on the scene and described the horrific carnage created by the hydrogen dirigible exploding and being totally consumed in just 33 seconds. The image of people jumping to their deaths and being burned alive, 36 victims in all, left its mark on the 28-year old reporter. But it was an entirely different and much more light-hearted exclusive that same year which would stick in Seth’s memory for the rest of his life.

In his own words, Seth described to me his rather unique run-in with a thirty-one year old Greta Garbo, reigning queen of Hollywood, aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in the Port of New York:

“In those days, when a celebrity came in from Europe, half a dozen or sometimes a dozen newspapermen go down and meet these celebrities coming in from Europe. This means getting up early in the morning and going down to lower bay of Manhattan and meeting these ships coming up the narrows to interview celebrities. Garbo was on one of these ships. This was in 1937 and she’d become famous in the movies and had left Hollywood to go back to Sweden for vacation. She was purported to be in love with Leopold Stokowski, the conductor. We were (sent) down to the ship to find out.

Garbo came out and fifteen of us reporters and photographers held a mass interview. She was distinctly uncomfortable. Garbo was a very quiet, shy human being. She had made a fortune out of being shy and quiet and alone and she posed for pictures and they pursued her on the romance. I didn’t mention it. I don’t like mass interviews. I don’t think you stand a chance.

After everybody else had left, I stayed on the ship. I went to find her hoping I could get an interview. I went to her state room. I went to the Captain of the ship. I went everywhere for two-hours, and I couldn’t find Garbo. Finally, I had to go to the men’s room and that’s where I found her. She was in the men’s room hiding. I didn’t show any alarm, I just said that I’d love to see her for a couple minutes and could we take a walk on the deck. She said certainly.

We went out on the ship’s deck and talked. Then she told me something I thought was pretty important:

“You know,” I said. “you’ve said that you always wanted to be alone.”

“I’m glad you asked me that,” she said.“Because it’s not true. What I said was, I want to be left alone.”

I knew I had a good story. We talked, she was charming. She simply didn’t want to be overcome by a lot of people. Well, I jumped off the ship and got back to the newspaper and wrote the story about how Garbo had never said this remark about being alone, that she was not a recluse – she wanted to be left alone. Every newspaper in the United States picked it up.”

Seth had a special twinkle in his eye every time he told me the story of his and Garbo’s chance meeting, all because he wouldn’t give up on getting an exclusive. He said he even received a thank you note from the charming movie star, hoping that they would meet again someday. But they never did.

Greta Garbo, movie goddess and Seth Moseley’s favorite interview, passed away on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990 in New York City. She was 85. Seth H. Moseley died Saturday, August 11, 2000 in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 92. Their fateful meeting in the men’s room aboard an ocean liner would forever set the record straight. Garbo never wanted to be alone, only to be left alone. Never to be forgotten.

Who Is This Famous Movie Star?

9 Mar

Do you recognize this beauty from Hollywood’s Golden Age? She is one of the biggest stars tinseltown ever produced and won her fair share of Oscars. She was able to survive in a man’s business and become as successful in the high-stakes world of business even after her movie star began to fade.

She is none other than Joan Crawford.

Joan was a force of movie-nature for decades. She permeated the silver screen with indelible performances as a strong, often-wronged but always able to take a punch movie heroines. Coming into prominence in the early talkies, Joan had a smoldering screen persona, often pursued by leading men who thought they were up to the challenge but more often unable to hold a candle to this femme fatale’s blow-torch performances.

Joan started out as so many other movie goddesses did – as a vamp. That seductress who got whatever she wanted from men for free, only to pay a huge price in the end. But Joan carved a unique “vamp” performance, first as a dancer, then a home-wrecker, a pioneer businesswoman, then finally and grimly as a foil to her on-and-off screen diva nemesis – Bette Davis. But let’s start at her coronation: the black and white classic Grand Hotel.

Grand Hotel (1932) is an important movie because it was the first to feature numerous super-stars from several studios (back when studios owned their talent) in one story. The reaction to having Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John and Lionel Barrymore co-existing in one story was cinematic gold and Joan was the gold-digger that came out on top. Then came The Women (1939), where Joan was joined by the likes of Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard and a young and gorgeous Joan Fontaine. Of course, Joan is the homewrecker, stealing dear Norma’s husband away only to lose him to Norma in the end – with much hijinks and hilarity in-between. The in-joke was that Joan didn’t play well with others and it comes out in spades in this movie where her co-stars show open-contempt for her (her movie role if not herself) in a film that was a send-up to women’s pictures that dominated the twenties and much of the thirties, until World War II came in and everything changed. Of course, Joan changed with it.

Mildred Pierce (1945) is one of my favorite Crawford vehicles. In this one, Joan’s cheating husband nearly destroys her, only for Joan to come back and prove success is the best form of revenge – only to then have her spoiled brat of a daughter destroy her. Wow, what a tour de force for our heroine. But the real acting was yet to come, when Joan feigned sickness and diva-like, didn’t attend the Academy Awards. Instead, she listened to them at home, and when she won – invited the press into her immaculately clean bedroom to accept the golden one. How fitting, because Oscar was the man she had always dreamed of possessing and now she finally had him.

The last Joan movie I’ll mention is the intensely dark Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Joan plays a movie queen forced into retirement after a crippling accident opposite her completely-insane, former-child-star sister, played by a terrifying Bette Davis. The movie worked to generate sympathy for Joan because she was cast against-type as a victim opposite the only actress with big enough balls to pull such a role reversal off – good ole’ scarier than hell Bette Davis. What raises the material above exploitation flick, D-grade fluff is the performances of both, former heavyweight Hollywood royalty. Seeing Joan and Bette beat the shit out of each other is about as entertaining as you can get – short of Garbo and Marlene Dietrich making out – which I believe was never caught on film but I’d still like to see. This would return Joan (and Bette) to the screen in a black and white decaying mansion a la Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. The sheer guts of showing their faces in less than glamorous light is something I’ve always admired about these actresses – Joan in particular. She wasn’t just a sex-symbol, Joan was a damn good actress – so the transition into her later roles was a turning point for all women who fight to remain relevant in Hollywood past their 30th birthday, or 40th or 50th for that matter.

Joan was a hottie in my book. Not least because she could hold her own, gave as good as she got and then some. Luckily, I can admire such a strong and forceful woman from afar – preferably on my couch with a bucket of popcorn and junior mints. And that’s the way it should be with some stars, especially the ones who can do you bodily harm with just a look – like lovely, don’t mess-with-me Joan Crawford.