Photo Given To Husband Bill Baker During WWII

Photo Given To Husband Bill Baker During WWII
Niece Leslie Sodaro: "Here's a stunning shot of my Aunt Shirley from 1944!"

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Gerry Orlando, coordinator of Cinefest (Syracuse, NY): "...That cover photo is the most beautiful picture of Shirley Booth I've ever seen! I did a MASSIVE double-take to make sure that it was her! WOW!"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Shirley Booth Expressing Real Emotion In "The Gals They Left Behind"

In regard to yesterday's discussion of the radio production "The Gals They Left Behind,"' (Cavalcade of America: 08.14.44), the show's finale has an emotionally pent-up Shirley Booth as character Jo speaking her love letter to her Bill who is away at war.

Interestingly, few know that reality crossed over here as the real Shirley Booth was expressing her own love for her husband Bill Baker who was off to war in France fighting the Nazis! It is so full of real emotion that it goes beyond acting.


Check Shirley's delivery for about a minute from 25:30. Go To: http://ia700509.us.archive.org/16/items/OTRR_Cavalcade_of_America_Singles/CALV_440814_396_The_Gals_They_Left_Behind.mp3

Listen to this wonderful actress close the show with: 

"So my Bill, here we'll stay. And we'll keep poking at the fire, and hoeing the garden and writing letters, common ordinary stuff. It's nothing to shout about. But when the bells ring, all the whistles blow, and your ship comes steaming up the harbor. Soon my darling, it will be Soon! We'll be there in a gay and handsome bonnet. Our arms wide open. And then I'll, I'll take you back to Hosstrough for a swing in the hammock.  And I'll feed you a bowl of raspberries yellow with Rosie's golden cream. And you'll think what a lucky girl I've been all along. And oh darling, you'll be right. I love you Bill, Jo."

For my tribute to Shirley Booth's real marriage to Bill, see my book For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On The Gals They Left Behind...70 Years Ago TODAY!

This post comes with some changes and a new look to this blogsite, now entitled Shirley Booth & More.

"The Gals They Left Behind, August 14, 1944"

Before Hazel, Shirley Booth was heard on numerous radio shows.  Seventy years ago today, back in 1944, Shirley was in a program based upon a topical  book, "The Gals They Left Behind."  The publisher was Ives Washburn, Inc. The story has apparently not been renewed for copyright protection so it appears up on The Internet Archive for free viewing or download.  

The original story is by Margaret Shea with illustrations by Bek Files, and it runs around 130 pages. The entire book is written in a diary fashion and makes for an easy read. The book was released at the same time as the radio show production. The two main characters express their day-to-day experiences in letters to their men fighting overseas in World War II. It's a quite intriguing little gem of a play, which I recommend reading.

The story tells of the struggles of two soldiers' wives, Jo Sullivan and Taffy Smith, who move from New York City to a Maine farmhouse inherited from Aunt Het. Along with the young Daphne (named Eloise in the radio version), these two lonely women learn how to cope with raising chickens, how to milk a cow, grow vegetables, among the myriad of skills that farm life entails.

The radio show developed from this story reworks the material and uses the information conveyed in the letters to tell the narrative and occasionally relies on the story's letter device ("Dear Bill").

In the radio production, Shirley Booth plays Jo Sullivan, and co-star Helen Clare plays Taffy Smith. Shirley's Jo tellingly says how she's quite lonely for her husband Corporal Bill. So too, Taffy is hysterically missing her Hank. If you listen to this radio adaptation (which is unfortunately a small portion of the story), then you will hear Shirley Booth's fine performance in conveying this character. I read the book and I can say that Shirley literally brings Jo Sullivan to life. She beautifully conveys the heart-felt tears of character Jo by the timbre and crack of her voice at the conclusion of the radio show. The wonderful sincerity and conviction is revealed throughout by Shirley's distinct voice in this radio production.

The story is simply about the Home Front during World War II. As the radio announcer summarized the story about two soldiers' wives: "It might well be called an army of occupation. They are truly occupied..with waiting, working, praying for their sons and husbands."

The calm and efficient New Englander Jo Sullivan seems to always be the stronger one in this harsh setting. Jo (Booth) seems to lean more towards a masculine gender expression in her ability and desire to do the tedious tasks of the farm and stand firm like a man. Finicky and fussy Taffy Smith is from the South and is clearly more expressing a feminine gender and stereotypically prone to emotional breakdowns.

When the Jo and Taffy spend their first night in the lumpy mattress, there's a precious moment in which a genuine attempt at some sort of closeness or bonding occurs. Taffy (played well by Helen Clare) says quite sweetly and child-like in her loneliness: "Jo....Jo, would you....would you mind if we held hands, I know it sounds childish?" 

Apparently the women read books on the subject before arriving. They take on the task of watching several children besides caring for the animals. But the local farmer calls some of their successes just "plain luck."

The harsh 30 and 40-degree below zero cold takes it's toll on them, particularly on Taffy. There's the cows staying in the parlor, hens under Taffy's bed, frozen well-water, etc. On the verge of a complete breakdown Taffy at one point wants to leave this rugged farm world and head back to Atlanta, Georgia...The gals' luck in seeing this thing through has run out....

Taffy says she's very sick of this. Jo calls it a "bad case of cracked morale..But it's not a fatal disease..."

"You like to see people miserable," says Taffy. 

Jo's January 16th letter to Bill explains her understanding of the complaining, scared, and stressed-out Taffy:

The world is full of Taffys, the ones who won't pay the asking price, the ones who want a band playing while they work. The novelty is gone from kerosene lamps. The novelty of playing the heroine has departed. Let her go. To the magnolia blossoms and her mother's bosom. A new world toughened by hardship and sorrow is coming up that will have no place for hothouse plants like her.

I'm all alone now. The kids are asleep. The hens too. Glum has the cow and calf, but I'll get them back when it warms up. Outside may be treacherous or friendly by morning. I don't care, for I'm here to stay. 

Yours, fairly forlorn,
Jo

Though the book covers a year on the farm starting and ending in April, the radio show wraps things up at this point (from the January 16th letter) with plans of painting the farmhouse in the spring...

"The Gals They Left Behind" is truly a fine salute to those lonely women who manage to survive their men's absence during the truly horrible wartime of 1944. It captures the essence of their troubled existence quite well! 

My only regret is that Shirley Booth did not perform the entire story, but did just this truncated version of 30 minutes length on radio. Nevertheless. "The Gals They Left Behind" certainly deserves a listen by all those who love Shirley Booth.  For Shirley Booth at her radio best (Cavalcade of America, 08/14/44, episode #396), go to the Internet Archive: http://ia700509.us.archive.org/16/items/OTRR_Cavalcade_of_America_Singles/CALV_440814_396_The_Gals_They_Left_Behind.mp3

Shirley Booth made a total of four appearances on The Cavalcade of America radio show. There's "Check Your Heart at Home," broadcast on December 13, 1943, "The Woman on Lime Rock," broadcast on January 6, 1947 (with Les Tremayne), and "The Man Who Took the Freedom Train," from April 1 2, 1948 (with Eddie Albert).

***** 

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010

Further details at: http://shirleybooth.blogspot.com

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Some Favorite Films...

For your summer viewing I offer you a partial list of some of my favorite classic films from the thousands I have seen over the years...

Ace in the Hole
Billy Wilder's tale targets the greed of newspaper reporters and the media that sometimes “create” the circuses around stories.

And Soon the Darkness

This well-made thriller is set in the beautiful French countryside with two young girls bicycling. However, the story quickly manages to chillingly show the darkness, menace, and treachery that could come to anyone in the broad-daylight.  Indeed, no one can be trusted.



Angels With Dirty Faces
James Cagney is at his best here with great support from Pat O'Brien and the Dead End Kids. The story flows so smoothly and it ends in an unforgettable manner - still gives me chills every time I see it.

The Birds
This is Alfred Hitchcock’s mesmerizing tale of seeming Armageddon.


The Bride of Frankenstein
 This film resonates beauty with its flawless art direction, cinematography, lighting, acting, script and musical score as well as the whole inversion of Christian iconography. In effect, the Frankenstein Monster rises from the dead only then to be crucified, etc. See my blog post on this title.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

I love this Thornton Wilder story although each time it has been filmed – the productions are flawed. Latest version in 2004 has its share of problems, but it has the talented Kathy Bates. Enjoyed 1944 version with Nazimova, despite story changes.

 

Brother Orchid
Edward G. Robinson & Humphrey Bogart in this enjoyable spoof of Warner Brothers' gangster films. Here Robinson joins a monastery to hide out and then comes to realize the true meaning of life.

 

Casablanca
Stellar cast, excellent writing, superb score, and the fine visuals captures so much of that anxiety-ridden era of occupied France and Morocco in World War II by wrapping a love story around the issue of isolationism and resistance fighting.

 

Christmas in Connecticut
Superb acting and witty dialogue combine in this farce about how the Christmas spirit and deception don’t blend very well!
  This film best gives us the flavor of 1940’s Christmas - at least the way filmmakers saw America at  the time.  In short, I just love the whole production from start to finish!

Citizen Kane

This Orson Welles’ masterpiece stands the test of time.

 
City Lights

Charlie Chaplin shines with pathos and comedy - perhaps his best of all time…..Unforgettable ending - a must-see film.

City of the Dead
(aka Horror Hotel)

Sinister atmosphere created by some brilliant black & white cinematography, set design and acting make this an unforgettable horror film. See my blog post on this film.

 
Come Back, Little Sheba

Shirley’s Booth’s amazing acting skill is on display here in her first film for which she received a deserved best actress Oscar.


Dark Victory
Bette Davis, George Brent and Geraldine Fitzgerald move this tearjerker to a higher level and make it one of the best films to ever deal with dying.  Max Steiner's score is superb, especially love the "Resignation" theme.

Forbidden Planet
The talents of Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Robby the Robot all make this science fiction film work. It’s an ever-so fascinating and superb story of a vastly superior civilization (“the Krell”) and the reason for their demise.

The Great Dictator

Charles Chaplin's spoof of Hitler stands the test of time!

The House of Haunted Hill

Vincent Price pulled out all the stops with this William Castle entry. 
He seems to be enjoying every second playing the host of this haunted house.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Some amazing special effects and the last five-minute soliloquy about the meaning of life makes this one a true gem.

It’s A Wonderful Life

This optimistic slice-of-life reminds one the meaningfulness of living despite the many trials and tribulations that it entails.


Larceny Inc.

This is an amazingly funny spoof of Warner Brothers’ gangster films with Edward G. Robinson in top film, along with a host of fine support from Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford, Jack Carson, Anthony Quinn and Edward Brophy.  

 One of Anthony Quinn's earliest roles was as an escaped convict in the 1940 Warner Brothers' gangster spoof Larceny, Inc. Here a group of ex-cons (Edward G. Robinson, Broderick Crawford & Edward Brophy) purchase a luggage store with the intent to tunnel under the store into the next-door bank. They hit water and oil pipes while business upstairs booms quite annoyingly. They eventually abandon their heist plans at mid-point when they realize their future is best served by staying honest.

But in walks their old pal Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn), who broke out of jail to set his pals right. Leo forces them to finish the break-in because he needs some dough. Quinn delivers a memorable line: "You guys couldn't steal a towel out of a hotel without my help!"

The actors played it really straight and serious. There’s a very young Jackie Gleason mugging it up as a soda jerk. The film has a wonderful Christmas scene of Robinson outrageously dressed as Santa Claus, smoking a cigar, and being a lookout on Christmas Eve while tunneling continues underneath the bank.

Laura
One of my favorites directed by Otto Preminger has superb cast (including beautiful Gene Tierney and a young Vincent Price before his horror films), compelling story by Vera Caspary, good score by David Raksin, and Academy Award-winning black & white cinematography by Johnny LaShelle. 
 
Little Giant
One of the only two films in which Abbott & Costello play not as a team....need I say more?


The Lost Weekend

Billy Wilder's essay on alcoholism with Ray Milland in top form!  I just love his masterful portrayal of alcoholic writer Don Birnam. Actress Jane Wyman  (1/5/17 - 9/10/07) offered a very good performance as Birnam's girlfriend Helen St. James.  Another excellent film with Milland in it is the 1962 apocalyptic Panic in the Year Zero. It's a quite disturbing but effective film directed by Milland himself.

Make Way for Tomorrow
There's a genuine sincerity that evidences itself in Leo McCarey's films - a result of his improvisational script method which draws the best from his actors. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi are superb, with an uncompromising finale, in this story that deals with aging so beautifully and truthfully - despite the tears it will release. 

March of the Wooden Soldiers
Laurel & Hardy show up in this take-off of Victor Herbert's operetta "Babes in Toyland."  A film that gets better each passing year. See my blog post on this title.

Mighty Joe Young
The 1949 film Mighty Joe Young would always be a late afternoon movie in New York on Thanksgiving Day. King Kong from 1933 always seemed to get all the attention.  Mighty Joe Young was seen as an unnecessary tale of the gorilla Joe Young using the same creators (director Ernest B. Schoedsack and producer Merian C. Cooper, with the addition of John Ford as executive producer).

However, the more detailed movements of the lovable Mighty Joe Young lend a credibility and sympathy to the character.  This is thanks to Ray Harryhausen's superb stop-motion animation. In some ways this makes the film substantially better than King Kong.

Mildred Pierce
Joan Crawford, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson & Ann Blyth really deliver in this film noir about a dysfunctional family and the American dream! Worth repeatedly viewings!


Mississippi

Though disturbingly replete with plenty of myths related to the Old South that Hollywood liked to perpetuate (the admirable Southern aristocracy, the pretty ladies and the genteel manners, the happy slaves, and so on), it's still a worth watching for its superb score by Rodgers & Hart, beautiful cinematography and a great cast.  See my review.

Modern Times
It's Charlie Chaplin's amusing take on the abuses of technology (and capitalism).....Paulette Goddard is superb. The final scene is unforgettable!


Night and Fog (original French title: Nuit et Brouillard)
This is my only non-fiction entry in this list. This extremely disturbing indictment to ignorance and inhumanity offers brilliant editing, expressive commentary, and chilling music to make it a heartbreaking and horrific film essay.


Now, Voyager
This beautiful and endearing Olive Higgins Proust story brought faithfully to life on the screen...see my blog post on this title.


The Poseidon Adventure
Though this is a later entry out of place with the other titles mentioned here, this disaster film holds interest throughout with great performances. One of the best from the 1970's.   A star-studded cast all brought Paul Gallico's great disaster tale to life - along with Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, and Leslie Nielsen. Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine offers some good acting, particularly his vivid expressions. He played his part as Detective Mike Rogo to the hilt. There's his memorable closing line, in reference to his adversary, the preacher played by Gene Hackman: "That preacher was right. That beautiful son-of-a-bitch was right!" With rescue from the capsized ship imminent, he looks back, and offers an unforgettable face acknowledging the loss of his wife, Linda (Stevens).  Borgnine received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the final episode of ER in 2009, in which similarly he played a husband who loses his wife.


The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner & John Garfield plotting murder leads to the inevitable payback in this exciting well-done film noir!


Rashomon
Japanese director  Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece on the subjectivity of truth!


Spellbound
 Hitchcock's take on psychoanalysis...For more on this title, see my blog post on it.

Star Spangled Rhythm

Great vignettes of Paramount Studios talents at their best during World War II!


Swing Time
The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers classic is the best romance of all time. Astaire singing "The Way You Look Tonight" is unforgettable!
 
The Tingler
Another of the entertaining Vincent Price and William Castle collaborations that holds up extremely well!


The Time of Their Lives
The only other Abbott & Costello film with them not playing as a team - this ghost story is a period piece set during the American Revolution...

Tokyo Story
This is a true masterpiece from my favorite Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu.  The family story may seem primitive and unimportant, but it offers a poignancy that says much about life itself.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston & Tim Holt in this John Huston-directed tale of greed is unsurpassed!

The Trouble With Angels
Just watching Rosalind Russell superbly playing a nun is enough - but add in the comedy hi-jinks of June Harding and Hayley Mills - and you have a really fun film!

 
Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock's best film has a dreamlike mystique to it....could write a book about this one.

 
Way Out West
Laurel & Hardy at their best in the Old West!

 
White Heat
James Cagney plays a despicable character reaching for the top of the world! There's many moments of mention, especially unforgettable is the finale!

 
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap
Abbott & Costello in the Old West - a funny concept. God help us!

 
Wuthering Heights
Laurence Olivier & Merle Oberon under the direction of William Wyler bring tears home by the finale in this masterpiece!



TO BE CONTINUED...


*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010


Thursday, July 3, 2014

On The Fourth of July...

******HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY******
**********************************
HOPE YOU HAVE A GRAND DAY!!!
************************************

*****

James Cagney Takes Center Stage Fourth of July

Once again I will be enjoying a couple of those flag-waving gems.  First, there's the perfectly cast James Cagney as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. You don't want to skip this must-see Fourth of July film!

Jimmy Cagney (July 17, 1899 - March 30, 1986.) stands in a class all by himself. He has given us so many great and memorable films, including my favorites; Angels With Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy, City for Conquest, White Heat, and Man of a Thousand Faces.

I remember my father's excitement when they would run marathon evenings of Cagney's films on New York local broadcast television. Those days are long gone now...


Angels With Dirty Faces exhibits Cagney at his best with fine support from Pat O'Brien and The Dead End Kids. The story flows so smoothly and it ends in an unforgettable manner - still gives me chills every time I see it. If I had time to watch only one Cagney film I'd choose this brilliant classic! 

Even more entertaining classic for the holiday is the 1942 film Star Spangled Rhythm.  I particularly enjoy Bing Crosby's salute to the American flag in the rousing "Old Glory" finale.

There's also beautiful Dona Drake in the suggestive "Swing Shift" number. Then there's the enchanting "A Sweater, A Sarong and A Peek-A-Boo Bang" number with Dorothy Lamour, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake. Wow!!!  Particularly amusing is Sterling Holloway in drag spoofing Veronica Lake.

I almost forgot to mention "That Old Black Magic" with Vera Zorina dancing and Johnny Johnston singing (the latter starred with Shirley in the Broadway musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

The very entertaining Star Spangled Rhythm has every star associated with Paramount Studios...it's unbelievable! There's a good energy about this production. They certainly don't make movies like this anymore! But I must say that even though I enjoy watching the Hollywood stars perform the songs and skits of this era, I certainly would not want to go back to that time (December of 1942) when the horrendous World War II was raging!!! They really weren't the good old days as people like to remember them...


*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

On Celebrated Actress & Humanitarian Rosalind Russell Shined In THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS!

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:
Celebrated actress Rosalind Russell was born today.

(June 4, 1907 – November 28, 1976).

*****

I just loved Rosalind in so many films, especially her best known film Auntie Mame, but my favorite has to be (and this may be surprising to some readers - but hold your breath) - it's when she played Reverend Mother in The Trouble With Angels (1966), and Where Angels Go Trouble Follows (1968).

I remember watching this film many times (first in the theatre as a youngster), and I wondered about the picturesque castle settings. I learned that the exteriors were shot in Ambler, Pennsylvania at what is St. Mary's Villa, a home for troubled children... It was once known as Lindenwold Castle www.dupontcastle.com/castles/lindenwo.htm  and was built by the executive of the company (Dr. Mattison) known for manufacturing asbestos (Keasbey and Mattison Company). This amazing picturesque setting overlooked his company factory. 

The story of The Trouble With Angels is adapted from the book by Jane Trahey called Life with Mother Superior. Trahey based her book on the real-life experiences she had while attending a Catholic school in the 1930's. It's a fun story about the chaos that occurs when teenage girls and nuns mix. There's obviously minor changes, though I think the film improves on the original story. The book tells the story from Jane's point of view (in the film this is the character played by June Harding - namely, Rachel Devery).

Rosalind Russell superbly mastered the part of Reverend Mother. I just love her way of making it so believable and genuine by her look and voice. Her knowing glances, her compassion, her frustration are all so real and palpable. This is a testament to her great acting skill. Russell exhibits all the traits and emotions that go with the Catholic nuns of memory. She can be firm and bossy, but have a heart of gold and emotional vulnerability. 

Almost everyone in the supporting cast does a good job with the understandable limitations imposed by the stock parts, particularly Marge Redmond as Sister Liguori (Reverend Mother's assistant and confidante), Mary Wickes as Sister Clarissa, Camilla Sparv as Sister Constance, and so on. Gypsy Rose Lee even makes an appearance here, playing dance instructor Mrs. Mabel Dowling Phipps. 

Although the film has been criticized as episodic, this is apparently done purposefully, as in the original story. That is, both Reverend Mother and the misbehaving adolescents Mary Clancy (Hayley Mills) and Rachel Devery (June Harding's first film) must come to terms. There's some real growing up to do in this coming-of-age story, so various showdowns allow a maturing and a true understanding to be achieved by all three characters. 

The episodes of misbehavior all have a basic repetitive pattern of wrongdoing, getting caught, and suffering the consequences. Thanks to both Mills and Harding for giving it their all to make the story work - but I think Russell must be given most of the credit as far as making the story most believable. 

In the story Mary wants attention and acceptance. She apparently admires Reverend Mother's strength and kindness. Oftentimes Mary's means of getting what she wants is by acting out "a most scathingly brilliant idea." Reverend Mother likewise sees the strong-willed characteristics of herself in Mary, and so acknowledges how the Church was tolerant of her own such temperament. Both Mary and Reverend Mother are inextricably linked and drawn to each other. It's seeing how it's worked out that makes this film most interesting. 

There's a few very brief, though beautiful, reflective moments in The Trouble With Angels wherein the action slows or almost pauses. Reverend Mother and Mary look at each other with a sense that they want to influence and be in the other's thoughts. Those such moments make nice scene transitions. In the hands of another director, perhaps a male director, those moments would have been replaced with dialogue and/or more action. The film benefits most from these wonderful pauses wisely incorporated by the television screenwriter Blanche Hanalis (famed for developing the TV series Little House on the Prairie). The superb screenplay is under the fitting direction of Ida Lupino. 

The Trouble With Angels offers some laughs as well as serious moments. The comedy is quite light but amusing nonetheless. One memorable scene is when Sister Rose Marie (Dolores Sutton) is put in charge of taking the girls to do some undergarment shopping, she's distressed. It's funny because she's uncomfortable naming the item she will be buying. She says to Reverend Mother. "I have no experience with binders." Reverend Mother unabashedly responds by saying: "It's brassieres Sister, brassieres!" The scene in the store continues the hilarity. There are other such moments sprinkled throughout the film. 

The somber moments include when one of the dear nuns dies, and with a crying senior citizen at a Christmas party. 

I give much credit to Ida Lupino for even pursuing a career as a director in a very sexist Hollywood field of endeavour, especially back in the 1940's to 1960's. The industry (including critics) would find any reason to degrade a "woman director." I think if a man directed this film, the critics would probably call it "brilliant." But Lupino suffered the secondary status accorded her as a result of working in a male-dominated film industry. In just trying to be a good director I think she did make strides. 

The story material allowed Lupino to work the original story, injecting a favorable women's point of view. The men are highly insignificant and given a somewhat limited influence as far as the narrative goes - they are mostly "the Outsiders" in the story and credits.

Of course, I will not spoil the ending here, but I will say that it's not so surprising, as it is strangely satisfying. Overall, the production (from opening cartoon credits to the finale) is quite admirable and worthwhile viewing, including Jerry Goldsmith's playful score. Certainly it can be faulted - but if anything, Rosalind Russell definitely shines. She is quite convincing and likable as a nun. I would suggest that The Trouble With Angels is a good movie to watch on a rainy afternoon. 

From her autobiography .....Life is a Banquet (by Rosalind Russell & Chris Chase, Random House, 1977), Russell observed: Hayley Mills "...was a demon. She used to stick out her tongue whenever I passed (she couldn't stand me) and she was bursting at the seams with repressed sexuality." I would love to hear what Hayley has to say about that comment... 

I came across the video of Frank Sinatra announcing Rosalind Russell when she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1972 at the Oscars. Russell got involved in this work early on in her career. She did so much...there's her work with the Jewish Home for the Aged, she founded the League for Crippled Children for the Orthopedic Hospital in Los Angeles, fund raised for her friend Sister Kenny, chaired the Lighthouse for the Blind, got involved with the National Arthritis Foundation, Catholic Charities in New York, Children's Services in Connecticut, Tornado Victims in Kansas, Motion Picture & Television Relief Fund, and was one of the founders of USO in Los Angeles, and so on... 

But I believe her acceptance speech tells you much about the humility of Rosalind Russell...it's worth repeating: 

Russell said: "Someone out there would think I was kind of special...far from it....You know the people of this nation have a golden tradition of taking care of each other, and across America right now, there are men & women, countless numbers of them - young and old - who are giving of themselves to hospitals, to orphanages, to drug clinics, to youth, and even possibly watching a little child take her first steps after being crippled as I have watched." 

Russell continued: "So the only unique thing about me tonight is that I am here with this, knowing that it belongs to so many others. I would also like to tell you that I have been the victim of this kindness, and want to thank each and every one of them, and all the letters that were sent to me over the years for all they did for me when I was not quite well. Thank you very much!"

*****

June Harding, one of the rebellious teens in The Trouble with Angels, lives in Maine and has created some beautiful paintings. I printed her note as one of the comments below.



*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010



Thursday, May 8, 2014

On A Wish That Could Never Come True...

One of my favorite episodes of the 1952 Abbott & Costello Show is "Lou's Birthday Party." At the conclusion of the episode, Lou receives a surprise from Mr. Bacciagalupe (superbly played by Lou's brother-in-law Joe Kirk) when he says the line: "Get Me Some Coffee, I'll Eat It HERE!"

The great Lou Costello, one of my favorites, who ranks up there with Charles Chaplin died on March 3, 1959, just three days short of his 53rd birthday.  Many of his films still hold up quite well.

At 54 years old, my cousin shared one thing with Lou Costello in that he also met an early demise.  My readers will know that I dedicated my first book (Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story) to my cousin, Joseph Nizzari. 

I always will cherish that one afternoon when he visited while that particular episode was on Channel 11. He explained to me what Mr. Bacciagalupe was saying with his fractured Italian.  Joseph had learned some Italian from his father.

Joseph loved watching and recreating routines of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and all the other great comedians.

One time he drove me to an all-day Harold Lloyd film festival that was held at The New School in New York City back in the 1980's.  Best of all, he gave up his entire day and stayed with me so that we he could enjoy every bit of the festival as well!

One wish I have that I know can never come true, but I wish anyway, is that my cousin was still here to enjoy Abbott & Costello with me... 


*****

I share with you the importance that he has meant to me by reprinting what I said about him in my book's introduction....

Shirley Booth once said, "I feel sorry for people that don’t have the pleasure of acting because I think it’s a great release." I experienced that pleasure whenever my cousin Joseph Nizzari would visit my family in Richmond Hill, New York. He encouraged and indulged my interest in acting and cinematography by recreating Abbott & Costello routines, gangster movie skits, and so forth. I wish he could have lived to see this book in print. With much sadness, I dedicate this book in memory of him.

from Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story, by Jim Manago
BearManor Media, 2008.

Though I know this will always be a very sad week for many members in my family, I feel it best to remember all the fun that my cousin offered to all who had the privilege of his friendship. My cousin had a fantastic humor and a knack for making you feel good. Yes, he had many talents; among them his wonderful skill as a baker. But more than any one achievement he managed to help others find enjoyment in the moment - despite the daily slings and arrows that life has a way of delivering us all. 

 
Unfortunately, I lost touch with him for a number of years. But sadder still is to know that the last few years of his short life were obviously harrowing and painful for him and for anyone that watched him battle cancer.

Yes, I will always miss his selflessness - so few people I have met in my entire life have been so sacrificial as he was. I will always remember his love for his family, for his good kindly nature, and for so much happiness that he brought to all our lives!


*****


Joseph Nizzari
(May 3, 1953 - February 2, 2008)

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On "Here Comes the Sun" and Easter Films!


Here Comes The Sun (The Beatles):

I have not found any way to make real sense out of the loss of my cousin a few months before he reached his fifty-fifth birthday in 2008...But I know a great pick-me-up song when I'm feeling down. It is undoubtedly The Beatles best and most upbeat song ever. That's the George Harrison composition "Here Comes The Sun," from 1969. Though it's forty-four years ago since I first bought and played this record, I can never tire of it's melody, it's perfect-fitting groove drumming by Ringo Starr, and the beautiful sound created when Harrison placed the capo on his guitar's seventh fret (which raised the pitch).

What has been erroneously called the Moog synthesizer by one blogger as causing the "wobbly" sound in the chorus (bridge) is intentionally the result of  Harrison writing this masterpiece in an unusual time signature combination (11/8, 4/4 & 7/8). See wikipedia's article on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_in_irregular_time_signatures.

Besides Ringo's catchy drumming and Harrison's acoustic guitar, there's the harmonizing of Paul McCartney & George, the hand claps of George, Paul & Ringo, and the overlaid instrumentation (double bass, cellos, clarinets, flutes, alto flutes, piccolos
, and violas). John Lennon did not work on this song at all due to a car accident at the time.

"Here Comes The Sun" offers an amazing beauty.  From the opening to the final notes, it's three minutes of pure magic.  Yes, it's simply a song that will live on forever!  It's remains one of my favorite songs of all time. "Here Comes The Sun" is ear candy, indeed!

***** 

EASTER...

Some readers have asked about Shirley Booth's religious beliefs. Yes, Shirley did believe in God. As I quoted in my first book, Shirley noted: "I’ve not always been a dutiful Christian but I’ve always been a believing Christian!"

My opinion on the best depiction of the life of Christ - from birth to resurrection - is still the monumental television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth directed by Franco Zeffirelli (born February 12, 1923). As can be expected with any film biography, the film does take some liberties with the Gospel stories. Nevertheless, the essence of Christ is preserved quite honestly.

The miniseries has a great cast - of special mention is Robert Powell as Jesus. In short, Powell is unsurpassed in this 1977 masterpiece. He deserved an Emmy for his intense depiction.

The production comes together on many levels, including the acting, cinematography, etc. There's some fine acting by Anne Bancroft, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Christopher Plummer, Peter Ustinov, Rod Steiger, Fernando Rey, Olivia Hussey, Valentina Cortese, and a host of others. It's still true what I said in a 1985 video column review... "Just find a comfortable chair and enjoy the best film on Christ. It's a powerful, moving production."

The one thing that brings the whole production together is that
 absolutely beautiful and bravura musical score by the late award-winning French composer Maurice-Alexis Jarre (September 13, 1924 - March 28, 2009). At times, it is quite moving and adds to the overall spiritual experience of the production.  Listen closely to Jarre's remarkable score. He's composed so many others as well, including three for which he won the Academy Award: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984).

Also of interest is the superb Renaissance painting-like compositions of many shots (besides the others throughout the production).  

Among my favorite film moments is the last five minutes which makes Zeffirelli's six-hour plus miniseries well worth sitting through. It poignantly captures the resurrected Jesus with his apostles. Here's the last few lines of dialogue which work so well thanks to Powell's flawless delivery:

Jesus: "...It was written the Son of Man will suffer and on the third day will rise again from the dead to enter his glory. You are my witnesses to this. Now my Father in heaven has reconciled to the world. And as he sent me so I am sending you. Receive the holy spirit. Go like lambs among wolves. Make disciples of all nations - baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teach them the Gospels and the commandments I gave you. Now I am leaving the world, and going to Father."

Peter: "Oh Lord stay with us, for the night is fallen and the day is almost over."

Jesus: "Don't be afraid. I am with you every day 'til the end of time."

The late James Farentino (
February 24, 1938 – January 24, 2012) gave us a very good portrayal of Simon Peter. He certainly deserved an Emmy for his acting, but the miniseries Holocaust grabbed all the awards that year. Farentino's personal life seemed problematic, but I'll always cherish his marvelous contribution to Jesus of Nazareth

Another actor that gave an inspiring depiction of Christ is H. B. Warner (1875 -  1958). His rendering is found in the silent Cecil B. DeMille production, The King of Kings. Interesting that Warner is now only remembered for playing the cranky pharmacist Mr. Gower in It's A Wonderful Life. Yet it is Warner's work in silent movies, particularly in his portrayal of Christ that made him immensely popular at his peak.

While on the subject of silent movies (which I enjoy immensely), and Biblical epics (which I am not too fond of, especially because of the story distortions made necessary by the Hollywood profit machine), I still think the parting of the Red Sea is better and so much more convincing in Cecil B. DeMille's original 1923 silent version of The Ten Commandments, compared to his 1956 version. Theodore Roberts (1923 film) is a much more convincing Moses than Charlton Heston (1956 film). However, I did not like the preachy modern story aspect which makes up more than half of the 1923 version. It seemed very puritanical of Mr. DeMille to combine that modern story to a Bible story.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) and Godspell (1973) are among my recommendations for seasonal film musicals.

Finally, I must not forget to mention that perennial favorite, the 1948 Fred Astaire-Judy Garland musical Easter Parade.  There's not much here as far as a story goes, but it is still holds up quite well with many memorable moments.  Indeed Easter Parade offers so many good song and dance numbers performed by two entertainment giants.  In addition, there's Ann Miller tap-dancing, and even Peter Lawford redeemed (from his clumsy acting) with his plainly sung "A Fella with An Umbrella." Lawford's average guy voice rings true. Of course, adorable Judy finishes the song.  This endearing production is always enjoyable to watch around this time.

HAPPY EASTER!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010



Thursday, April 3, 2014

On Bette Davis, and Birthday Greetings to Elizabeth Wilson

Some Anniversaries:

April 4, 1913: Singer/radio performer Frances Langford was born on this day She died on July 11, 2005. She recorded one of the best duets with Bing Crosby: "I'm Fallin' In Love With Someone."  

April 4, 1921: Actress Elizabeth Wilson was born. Liz has been in countless stage, film and television productions; my favorites include the small but memorable roles in The Birds, The Graduate, Nine to Five, and so on.  More important to me is that she offered fascinating information on Shirley Booth in my conversations with her.   A very special Happy Birthday to her!

April 5, 1908: Actress  Bette Davis was born.  She died October 6, 1989.

*****

Bette Davis' Handlers Kept Us From Getting That Autograph!



Shirley Booth's career crossed paths with Bette Davis several times. I described in my biography of Shirley Booth of how Bette Davis turned down the part of Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba. Movie co-star Burt Lancaster revealed that, "Bette told me years later, around 1964 or so, that no matter what story I'd heard (and there had been many) that she felt strongly that only Shirley could do the role justice. She would have accepted only if Shirley had declined, so that she felt Wallis might give the role to Barbara Stanwyck. Davis wouldn't have liked that at all..."
 


Shirley had her turn at refusing a part that Bette Davis got. In the 1961 remake of Pocketful of Miracles, Shirley allowed Bette to play the part that was offered to her because she felt that she could not top May Robson from the original 1933 version Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.

Bette Davis stands on her own unique level of achievement and greatness for her inimitable style of taking a part and making it her own. Her success came from staying in movies with her talent, just as Shirley Booth stayed on the stage, avoiding the movies as much as she could. Both ladies excelled at what they did, and were probably among the 20th century's finest actresses....


I found most interesting a brief note that Bette sent Shirley that I quoted in my biography of Shirley. That note Shirley saved in her scrapbook. It revealed Bette's appreciation and respect for Shirley's considerable talent. She signed it "Bette D." 



Back in 1978 I had the pleasure of meeting Bette at a fashion show inside New York's Bloomingdale's store promoting the release of Death on the Nile. My mother brought along a song sheet featuring Bette on the cover. Before this show began, the store was darkened. Bette was carefully escorted in and sat about ten feet opposite from where we were.



As my mother went over to greet Bette Davis in the shadowy store, her two "handlers" interrupted and quickly turned down the autograph request. One of them advised her, saying "No Miss Davis, no autographs please!" We were both obviously disappointed as Miss Davis had already taken the sheet in her lap and greeted us, and took the pen to sign. She seemed delighted to be appreciated and indicated no displeasure at signing it. Immediately we were thereby moved away from her presence since the show was to begin...



This was my first contact with the upper-crust of New York City. Afterward, without Miss Davis being present, guests to the event had the opportunity of refreshments. For me, this involved mingling with the well-dressed snobs and watching them rave over the caviar! Their shallowness, including their over-concern with appearances made it clear to me then that having plenty of money and fame does not necessarily make people smarter or classy!

 The one souvenir I have from that evening is a picture of Bette Davis & my mother which I quickly snapped in those darkened seconds. We also got to meet and take a photo of Broadway musical Annie star Andrea McArdle with her mother.

I will always treasure that moment of seeing Bette Davis in the flesh and shaking her hand. She was indeed a small-framed woman of 5'3."

Finally, I will always love watching Bette Davis in so many memorable classics, including Now, Voyager, Dark Victory, Of Human Bondage, The Letter, A Stolen Life, Jezebel, and so forth! She remains always one of my favorite actresses!



*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!



 *****

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Leslie Sodaro
Published December 1, 2010