Tag Archives: Silver Screen

Myrna Loy: The Thin Man’s Better Half

2 Aug

Myrna_Loy_birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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Garbo’s Last Stand

20 Feb

I wrote my first novel about my favorite leading lady of all-time, Greta Garbo. It’s inspired by a shocking statement The Swedish Sphinx uttered herself at a cocktail party in the 1960’s. “Hitler was a big fan of mine. He kept writing and invited me to come to Germany. And If the war didn’t start when it did,” she went on, “I would have gone and I would have pulled a gun out of my purse and shot him, because no one would dare search me.” I created the book trailer above with the help of my brother, the extremely-talented Tom Sylvan. You can check out Tom’s other amazing work at his website, http://www.tomsylvan.com

CINEMUSES: Garbo, The Goddess of Witchcraft

12 Jan

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.

GARBO THE (REAL) SPY

11 Jan

I haven’t seen the new documentary “Garbo The Spy” about WWII double agent Juan Pujol Garcia, now in limited release. But I knew from research who Garcia was and what an amazing role he played in helping the Allies win. Less known are the espionage exploits of Greta Garbo, the movie star Garcia’s handlers saw fit to code-name him, supposedly for his “great acting” ability. Unlike Garcia, Garbo’s wartime efforts remain shrouded in mystery to this day. Nevertheless, what little is known of Garbo’s clandestine life is fascinating stuff.

IN HER OWN WORDS

At a private dinner party in the mid-1960’s, reclusive and normally taciturn movie star Greta Garbo dropped a bombshell on her friend Sam Green:

“Mr. Hitler was big on me. He kept writing and inviting me to come to Germany, and if the war hadn’t started when it did, I would have gone and I would have taken a gun out of my purse and shot him, because I’m the only person who would not have been searched.’
Stunned, Green went on to say this about Garbo’s revelation:

“That’s a direct quote. She said it to me over dinner, and it was so out of character. It wasn’t her habit to make up such a story to stop a dinner party. Or maybe not so out of character. As a child, she had had fantasies that ‘I might shorten the life of a cruel king and replace him by a romantic knight’”.

What I find fascinating and intriguing about the quote is how Garbo expressed concern over the timing of the war, yet her ability to dispose of the despot she never questioned. That got me thinking, what if Garbo had embarked on her secret mission and simply ran out of time en route? What would have happened to her trapped on the open sea? I knew I had a great premise for a book. And after extensive research, there was ample evidence to believe the movie star who once played Mata Hari was not only serious about her secret plot to pre-empt World War II, but actually volunteered to spy for the Allies in Europe and personally saved Jews in Denmark.

Garbo was shaping up to be a very real hero, not unlike the roles she had portrayed on film. The movie queen and fashion icon’s influence over pre-war Europe was turning every head of state, including Hitler, who owned a personal copy of “Camille” and obsessively watched Garbo’s courtesan die over and over onscreen. Hitler wrote her fan letters and considered Garbo his ideal Aryan Goddess. But Hitler wasn’t the only one obsessed with Garbo. She was also the first international star to be hounded by paparazzi, decades before the phrase was coined, her every movement recorded daily in the tabloids. The more Garbo sought privacy, the more insatiable the public’s desire to know about her. Garbo’s refusal to give interviews in the mid-thirties only fueled the public’s interest and the paparazzo’s efforts to catch her in candid moments. Not good when you’re a famous movie star trying to be a spy. But to this day, we don’t know to what lengths she went to save the world from evil precisely because she was so private. So, maybe the real Garbo was a better spy than anyone ever imagined.

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.