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!"

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!


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 purchasing any of my books, you can visit Amazon.com
You can also check www.bookfinder.com
which offers the best prices on new & used copies.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Leslie Sodaro
Published December 1, 2010

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Joan Crawford and MILDRED PIERCE

I just viewed again (for probably the fiftieth time over my life) one of her best films, Mildred Pierce. Joan Crawford received the Best Actress Oscar for this one. The whole production is superb, from the James M. Cain novel, the perfect casting of Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson, Eve Arden, and others; a fine Max Steiner score, solid direction by Michael Curtiz, and all of the other great Warner Brothers production values...it is one of the few films that can be seen repeatedly and still be so fascinating and memorable! This film masterpiece also serves as a good warning to over-indulgent parents that try to satisfy all of their children's material desires.

Just love so many scenes... one that is played well is when Mildred (Crawford) tears up the ill-gotten $10,000 check from her daughter Veda (Blyth). The latter was nominated for Best Supporting Actress - but she should have won!

I saw a part of the "Mildred Pierce" miniseries from 2011...I didn't like it at all, especially troubling is its absolute slavery to Cain's novel. The 1945 version improved upon Cain's original by putting in the film noir crime elements, etc. Plus, the casting of Crawford and Blyth is near perfect and they bring real life to the script. Their timing is impeccable!

If you could see only one film in celebration of Joan Crawford's fine career as an actress, then please see Mildred Pierce!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

79 Years Ago: Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields & Joan Bennett Share Billing In The Problematic But Nevertheless Entertaining MISSISSIPPI (1935)


Today is also the 79th anniversary of the release of a genuine classic Paramount film, Mississippi....

I recently saw this film again (first saw it thirty years ago, and saw it on the big screen in a NYC revival about ten years ago).

Although it is problematic, Mississippi still remains one of my favorites from that period of films for a number of reasons. There's a superb score by Rodgers & Hart, good singing by Bing Crosby, the great comedy of W.C. Fields - including his' "five aces" card trick (however, at times his humor is quite racist), beautiful cinematography by Charles Lang, outstanding supporting players, intelligent storytelling which I credit to the writing and A. Edward Sutherland's direction. This film really moves and economically clocks in at around 70 minutes.

My favorite memorable Bing Crosby interpretation of a standard number comes from this film, that's the Richard Rodgers - Lorenz Hart tune "It's Easy to Remember, But So Hard To Forget."

No doubt this is Crosby's best vocals from his early film period. His beautiful and rich rendition of the melodic "Soon" is simply superb. Crosby's singing is reverent and brooding which means that the film has a reflective tone whenever he sings. However, Crosby's acting is, at times, wooden.

Briefly, Mississippi tells about the Northerner Tom Grayson (Bing Crosby) engaged to marry Southerner Elvira Rumsford (Gail Patrick). Complexity arises when Major Patterson (John Miljan) challenges Tom to a duel since he's also interested in Elvira. The Southern Code of Honor is violated when Tom refuses, and he's thus branded a coward. Elvira withdraws from the engagement because this challenge to the Code is embarrassing and disgraceful to her.

Of course, challenging any Code is "dangerous." Then the issue was of fighting for someone you love. The danger of violating a Code goes on still today as we witness the challenges to established gender norms. The issue of Tom being a pacifist in the antebellum South may seem odd - but certainly an interesting idea to play with. At a time when manners and social norms were fixed in the South, it's nice to see someone challenging those norms.

It's disappointing to see the expected restoration of obedience to the Code. Tom, by the finale, bended to those social norms. The Code of conduct wins out. Due to the accidental shooting of a tough, and W.C. Fields' bragging about it, Tom is given the reputation of being "The Singing Killer." The notoriety of this title restores his place in Southern society. The positive result of this is that he wins the heart of Lucy (the sweet sister of Elvira) when he admits the whole reputation of being "The Singing Killer" is all bogus.

His compromise to stop openly being a pacifist, and instead go along with the Code is a let-down. By agreeing to be "The Singing Killer," Tom is being overcome by social pressures.

Joan Bennett engagingly plays Lucy, the kid sister of Elvira, as a sweet ingenue. Not to be missed is the brief, but ever-so romantic and picturesque closing of Mississippi as Lucy becomes Tom's final love interest as the two embrace on the deck of the riverboat as Tom sings a part of "Soon." Indeed, they don't make endings to films like this anymore....

The cinematography and lavish sets make this a top-notch Paramount production. Mississippi’s sets are more conducive and consistent to a romantic mood and style because of the natural environment settings. Too bad it was not shot in color. Mississippi also has dynamism with scenes broken down into a larger number of shots and angles than some other films from this period which entails a better involvement of the audience, especially during the songs.

The songs of Mississippi may run up against the criticism of not arising out of the plot naturally and whether they advance the story or not. Remember this is almost ten years before Meet Me In St. Louis. For instance, “It’s Easy to Remember” is simply initiated by Fields, who is running musical shows on his ‘River Queen,’ suddenly when he tells Crosby to “Go up and sing that song.” And besides the suddenness of the performance, the song may seem inappropriate. This number seems more suited to someone grieving after the death of a loved one by its melancholic musical passages. Instead, Crosby sings it after a separation from one he loves.

Anyway, songs like those in Mississippi are melodic but written in a style that may seem "dated" to some viewers.

Crosby offers his uncomplicated-by-the-world charm and good will manner. As Donald Spoto aptly stated: To Crosby “a song, good will, lighting a candle or two: these would solve our problems.” By smothering all that is no good or problematic with a sweetish ballad or a kind deed or word, Crosby methodically cleaned up any possible complication. He repeatedly indicated his belief and confidence in an essentially good world, with no real possibility of one going astray: every man could find happiness in life. More often than not, that philosophy today seems to be a very limited and "dated" way of dealing with the complexities of life.

The five Cabin Kids are truly endearing and offer great value to this production. They offer their interpretation of "Roll, Mississippi," and "Swanee River," etc. At times, I wish there were more scenes with them and less with the coarse, insensitive and misogynistic character played by W. C. Fields.

W.C. Fields' great asset is his way of making a sentence or phrase sound funny by his odd delivery of it, which adds much enjoyment, besides the comic moments that his lying or exaggerating generates. In the pre-release articles, Fields is given almost all the attention. Since then critics have argued over whether Fields steals the film from Crosby or vice-versa.

What really hurts this film is the several problematic and nasty racial slurs of riverboat captain Commodore Jackson (W.C. Fields,) and insulting words like "darkies." and "pickaninnies." Barring the repeated and inexcusable weak attempts at comedy by racist exploitation of Blacks & Native Americans, Mississippi is one of the best films from that mid-1930's era. Unfortunately, with those stereotypes Mississippi is unacceptable for greater appreciation.

Clearly Mississippi is a reflection of the 1930's society in which it was made. It was how Hollywood and society saw the period before the Civil War in the Old South.

A footnote is that Mississippi is adapted from the story by Booth Tarkington called "Magnolia." It first made its appearance on the Broadway stage in 1923 with the lead played by Leo Carillo (better known later as Pancho, the sidekick of The Cisco Kid). A silent film version called "The Fighting Coward" appeared in 1924 with a young Mary Astor as Lucy...

*****

MISSISSIPPI

Tom Grayson - Bing Crosby, Commodore Jackson - W. C. Fields, Lucy Rumford - Joan Bennett, Elvira - Gail Patrick, Alabam - Queenie Smith, Gerald - Claude Gillingwater, Major Patterson - John Miljan, Joe Patterson - Ed Pawley, Captain Blackie - Fred Kohler, Lavinia - Libby Taylor, Stage Manager - Harry Meyers, Rumbo - John Larkin, Hefty - Paul Hurst, First Gambler - King Baggott, Second Gambler - Mahlon Hamilton, Miss Markham - Theresa Conover, Colonel - Bruce Covington, Hotel Manager - Clarence Geldert, Bartender - Jules Cowles

Director - A. Edward Sutherland

Producer - Arthur Hornblow, Jr.

Screenplay - Jack Cunningham, Frances Martin

Adapted from Booth Tarkington’s story Magnolia (as noted in credits)

Adaptation - Claude Binyon, Herbert Fields, Jack Cunningham, France. Martin

Cinematography - Charles Lang Music - Richard Rogers

Lyrics - Lorenz Hart

The Cabin Kids (5 black children from radio and vaudeville)

A Paramount Picture Reviewed by New York Times critic Andre Senwald on April 18, 1935.

Running Time: various times given, longest by Leonard Maltin for 73 minutes

Musical Numbers:
“Roll, Mississippi” is sung over credits by chorus
“Way Down Upon the Swanee River” Cabin Kids, with Crosby joining in & chorus “Soon” Crosby

"Down by the River” Crosby
“It’s Easy to Remember” Crosby & background accompaniment by chorus

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****
For purchasing any of my books, you can visit Amazon.com
You can also check www.bookfinder.com
which offers the best prices on new & used copies.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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


Saturday, March 8, 2014

On Priscilla Lawson (" Princess Aura"), Born 100 Years Ago TODAY!

Larry "Buster" Crabbe's greatest success on screen was his Buck Rogers serial in 1939 and three Flash Gordon serials (1936, 1938, and 1940). He also played "Tarzan," "Billy the Kid" (thirteen films?), and nearly twice as many "Billy  Carson" films (twenty-three?) in the 1940's.

I wrote to Buster back in the 1970's with an Arizona address given to me by The Big Reel editor Don Key. As you can see, Buster responded with an autographed still that I still treasure...

As for entertainment value, his serials hold up quite well. I still watch them from time to time - and enjoy them immensely. Of course, a fine cast made the serial a success, including Jean Rogers as the blonde Dale Arden, Charles Middleton as the ruthless Ming the Merciless, Frank Shannon as soft-spoken scientist Dr. Zarkov, Richard Alexander as Prince Barin.

Though all of the primary cast and crew can be credited with making the production a success, there's some quite impressive moments that the camera catches in the expressions and amazing sincerity of the raven-haired actress Priscilla Lawson (March 8, 1914 - August 27, 1958). It was Lawson who played Ming's daughter Princess Aura. She played her role as the temptress to the hilt - hoping to distract and win Flash Gordon away from his love of Dale Arden.

Priscilla Lawson

I always wondered why Priscilla never did much after that serial. She had the potential to be a really great actress. It had been reported that Priscilla apparently lost one of her legs in a car accident. If that is not bad enough, Priscilla's life was cut short in 1958 at the age of 44 due to a bleeding ulcer. . . .


Larry "Buster" Crabbe (February 7, 1908 - April 23, 1983) as FLASH GORDON

*****


I have memories of meeting another Tarzan actor and stuntman, Jock Mahoney. He appeared as a substitute for the famed MGM Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, (June 2, 1904 – January 20, 1984). Mahoney came to a 1977 Nostalgia Convention in New York City run by Paul Saryian. Weissmuller had suffered a stroke apparently right before the convention - and so he could not appear. I was surprised (along with a number of rather angry admission-paying attendees) when the billboard in the hotel lobby still indicated that Weissmuller was to appear. We all learned after paying for admission that Mahoney was substituting for Weissmuller. What made the situation worse is when unhappy attendees had to argue for refunds.

Nevertheless, Mahoney turned out to be an interesting replacement, and he spoke about the difficulties of being a stuntman, working with the Tarzan actors, and the health problems he was suffering (in particular regarding serious blood sugar abnormalities). He was quite gracious to the audience - posing for photographs and signing autographs. I have to publish the autographed still he gave me in a future blog posting. Interestingly, Jock Mahoney was actress Sally Fields' step-father (after her mother, actress Margaret Field, divorced Sally's father Richard). Later, I learned that Sally's relationship to her step-father Mahoney was reportedly "difficult" (to put it lightly).

*****

I'm enjoying some of the discussions about Shirley Booth found on IMDB Classic Movies message board. As indicated by my SiteMeter, here's one old posting  that brings many fans to my blog (from HarlowMGM, Mon Sep 14 2009 20:49:59): 

Alas, the special "Tv dramas" of 50's and 60's have been pretty much unseen since initial airing, mostly I believe because many of them are somewhat closer to filmed plays rather than "TV movies". Besides The Glass Menagerie (1966), Shirley also received raves for her TV dramas The Hostess with the Mostess (1957) and Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (1968); I'd imagine one would have to go to one of those museum/archives in New York or California to view these, if they even have them. Here's an excellent website on Shirley run by one of her biographers http://shirleyboothstory.blogspot.com/

*****

The answer to this matter of the availability of shows mentioned is that New York's The Paley Center (formerly Museum of Television & Radio) does have Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, besides some episodes of Hazel, and her Emmy & Tony Award ceremonies. When I did my research for this biography they did not own The Glass Menagerie nor The Hostess with the Mostess' (yes, the correct spelling does have the quote mark at end). However, they do have Shirley Booth in the live production of Welcome Home, an episode of The U.S. Steel Hour (broadcast 3/22/61). 

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN TOMORROW!

*****
For purchasing any of my books, you can visit Amazon.com
You can also check www.bookfinder.com
which offers the best prices on new & used copies.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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