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!"

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.


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.

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!


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!

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

 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!

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!

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!




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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On The Fourth of July...



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'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...





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

Published December 1, 2010

Saturday, June 7, 2014

On Dean Martin and Shirley Booth


Dean Martin, the "King of Cool," was born today in 1917 (died December 25, 1995).


Forty-four years ago, on March 12, 1970, Shirley Booth made a television appearance on NBC's The Dean Martin Show. The guests on that show included Vikki Carr and Paul Lynde. Dean sang "Things" and "Always." Vikki sang "On a Clear Day" and "Esta Bien." Dean and Vicki offered a medley with “Exactly Like You,” “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” and “The Very Thought of You.” Most importantly, Shirley sang "He Don't Love Me Any More."

Dean Martin had this to say about Shirley Booth: "I believe I first met Shirley at a party in the mid-Fifties. Funny, I don’t remember for whom or what the party was for....We were introduced by Judy Garland, just mutual exchanges of admiration. Years later she guested on my show. A real cute routine in a bar. You know how much time she needed to rehearse? Zero! Which was great for me. I never cared for over rehearsal. So what can I say that really matters, other than in a town like this . . . she was a real lady! And anyone in this business long enough knows that says a lot."




For purchasing any of my books, you can visit
You can also check
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:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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

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  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'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.




For purchasing any of my books, you can visit
You can also check
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:

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)