Personal photo from Come Back, Little Sheba shoot. Photo courtesy Leslie Sodaro.

MY LATEST BOOK!

MY LATEST BOOK!
NOW AVAILABLE!

Joe Franklin Enjoying Jim Manago's Biography of Shirley Booth

Joe Franklin Enjoying Jim Manago's Biography of Shirley Booth
"We Can Never Forget The Wonderful Memories of This Dear Friend" Photo Courtesy Steve Friedman

As Sach of the Bowery Boys would say: "Ohp! Ohp! Ohp!"

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story, by Jim Manago (BearManor Media), is my latest book. It is now available from Amazon and elsewhere. Yes, we did get to bring a copy to Joe Franklin. He asked if his name was in it. I showed him the line in the acknowledgements that read:

Special thanks to Joe Franklin for inspiring my life-long study of movies.

Our time was brief as he was hurriedly leaving his office to appear at a local club, Don't Tell Mama. We walked over to the club with Joe and his associates. Just before he entered he gave us a glance, a last memorable smile. Sadly, we just sensed on our way home that it would be the last time we would see him alive. A little over a month later, on January 24th, 2015, he died. His 89th birthday would have been this past March 9th.

I am the author of two books on Shirley Booth. My first one, Love is the Reason for It All: The Shirley Booth Story by Jim Manago (BearManor Media), is the story of her life from 1898 to 1994, available in paperback and Kindle. Pictured above is Joe Franklin reading it in 2009 (photo courtesy of Steve Friedman).

My second book, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story by Jim Manago, tells the story of Shirley's second marriage from 1943 to 1951, with several never-before-published family photos. That's when she lived on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. As of August 26, 2014, For Bill, His Pinup Girl is no longer in print. A limited number of paperback copies remain, signed by the author, for $50.00 postpaid (U.S.) if you send your name, address, and email address by clicking on the pencil pictured at the end of each post.

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
My 1st Book on Shirley Booth

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

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
My 2nd Book on Shirley Booth

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

All content on this site, unless otherwise noted, is the property of Jim and Donna Manago. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Nothing may be reproduced without prior written permission.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Thursday, June 4, 2015

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 below in What People Have Said About This Blog.



*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

We Have Lost A Superb Actress & Wonderful Person, Liz Wilson. . .

Elizabeth Wilson
  (April 4, 1921 – May 9, 2015)

Elizabeth Wilson gave my first book high praises and a definite thumbs up for a compelling story about her dear friend Shirley Booth!  She had been close friends with Shirley during the Broadway production of The Desk Set until a rift severed the ties.  The story is intriguing and found in my book Love is the Reason for It All: The Shirley Booth Story (BearManor Media, 2008). 

"Liz Wilson," as she referred to herself whenever she called me, offered some really valuable help in understanding the late Shirley Booth. In fact, I am indebted to Liz for the wonderful conversations we shared back in 2007 thru 2009.  It was especially nice to have such a successful actress find time in her busy schedule to call me frequently to check on how the manuscript was coming along, and offering answers to the many questions I had.

Of course, Shirley Booth worked with Liz during the 1955-56 Broadway season in The Desk Set. She also appeared in a 1961 live television production of N. Richard Nash's "Welcome Home." 

Here's one of her letters, this one she sent after my first book on Shirley Booth was published....

November 13, 2009

Dear Jim and Donna,

Thank you, thank you for sending me the Shirley Booth book. I can't wait to read it, and will call you when I do. I am feeling better - (things are moving along). And I thank you for asking.

Warmly (and we'll talk soon),

Liz
 *****

On "Welcome Home":

Shirley Booth appeared in a live television production of The United States Steel Hour, called "Welcome Home."  The production aired on March 22nd, 1961.  The first Hazel episode aired in September of that year.

I did have the pleasure of viewing "Welcome Home" at the Research Library of The Paley Center in New York City several years back.  Hopefully, it will become available on DVD someday.

A brief and incomplete synopsis is as follows: Housekeeper Jenny is being terminated from her position after serving a family for thirty-five years.  She applied to adopt a girl named Amelia.  Upon the arrival of Mrs. Watson (Elizabeth Wilson) from "The Welcome Home for Foundling Children," the truth of the false application comes out since the orphanage does not allow single people to adopt.

She manages a dramatic tour de force and the story turns from melancholic to upbeat by the finale.  I enjoyed Shirley in this role which foreshadowed Hazel somewhat.  The difference is that here the housekeeper was portrayed in a more dramatic and sullen fashion, reminiscent of Come Back, Little Sheba.

I wish this show was available for the general public to see.  It shows the depth to Shirley's talent, and how minute movements and subtle things brings a reality and credibility to the characters she plays.
 
Unfortunately, when I asked her about her part in this TV drama, Liz Wilson could not recall anything about this particular appearance with Shirley.  Perhaps she had forgotten it because it was for a one-hour show done live one time only....

Of course, you will recall Liz Wilson in many movies.  Recently she played FDR's mother in Hyde Park on Hudson.   She played the waitress Helen in the diner scene of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.  Do you remember the woman (with Tippi Hedren and others) who yells to a man not to lite his cigar?  Well, that's her! She also played Benjamin's mother in The Graduate (Benjamin, of course, was played by Dustin Hoffman).  She was Roz in the Dolly Parton movie Nine to Five, and so on...She also worked on Broadway where she received awards including a Tony for Sticks and Bones.

Liz, I will always cherish those phone calls, 
& I will never forget your spirit!

*****

Friday, May 1, 2015

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 Charlie 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 WPIX 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 his importance 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)


*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shirley Booth Quiz...

How well do you know Shirley Booth's Broadway show appearances?

Shirley Booth played a wide variety of characters.  Place the show number next to the character name of Shirley Booth's role...Good luck!


HERE'S THE CHARACTERS SHE PORTRAYED....

____Fanny

____Mrs. Loschavio

____Abby Quinn

____Mary Marshall

____Grace Woods

____Maggie Welch

____Carrie Nolan


 ____Lola Delaney

____Leona Richards

 
____Cissy

____Juno Boyle

____Bunny Watson

____Leona Samish

____Lottie Gibson

____Judith Bliss

____Elizabeth Imbrie (Liz)


____Bobby Marchante

____Mrs. Ackroyd

____Susan Pengilly

____Marg

____Performed 4 parts (played a bride, a fan, a returned traveler, and Bubbles)

____Elisa Zanotti

____Mabel

____Peggy Bryant

____Nan Winchester

____Louhedda Hopsons

____Mother Superior Maria

____Leah


____Emily Rosen

____Betty Hamilton


____Ruth Sherwood


HERE'S THE SHOWS:


1. Hay Fever 1970



11. Love Me Long 1949


13. The Men We Marry 1948

14.
Land's End 1946

15. Hollywood Pinafore 1945

16. Tomorrow the World 1943


17. My Sister Eileen 1940


18. The Philadelphia Story 1939


19. Too Many Heroes 1937


20. Excursion 1937


21. Three Men on a Horse 1935


22. After Such Pleasures 1933


23. The Mask and the Face 1933

24. Coastwise 1931

25. The Camels Are Coming 1931


26. School for Virtue 1931


27. Claire Adams 1929

28. The War Song 1928

29. High Gear 1927


30. Buy, Buy, Baby 1926


31. Laff That Off 1925


32. Hell's Bells 1925
*****

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Bette Davis

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 on this day. 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!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available, Coming soon to Kindle:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 



Sunday, March 22, 2015

80 Years Ago: Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields & Joan Bennett Share Billing In The Problematic MISSISSIPPI


Today is also the 80th 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 Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010

Monday, January 26, 2015

Yes, We Will Miss Joe Franklin!

Oftentimes we'd visit him at his 43rd Street office in New York City. 

We have so many wonderful memories over the years. We will miss his love, enthusiasm, and friendship. 

Last month we got the opportunity to bring him a copy of our just released Huntz Hall biography. Stay tuned for more on that visit. . .





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On NOW, VOYAGER (1942)

This month I salute novelist Olive Higgins Prouty.

 Olive Higgins Prouty (January 10, 1882 – March 24, 1974)  is best known for writing the story Now, Voyager.  In 1942, the story received an excellent Hollywood movie adaptation by Warner Brothers.  It's probably among the top ten best love story pictures ever made!  

I know my mother could never get tired of watching this gem.  For years, it seemed to be the one and only movie she asked me replay on video every other month.  Each time I would play Now, Voyager for her, I would also watch it.  Indeed, every time I watched it, I would find another layer of meaning or something that would fascinate me about it.

The story is about a repressed Boston woman named Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) who suffers from the poisoning effects of a domineering mother played to perfection by British actress Gladys Cooper.  Eventually, through the assistance of an understanding therapist Jr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), Charlotte finds love at first, and ultimately the peace that empowerment and self-assurance brings.  In addition, a married man named Jerry Duvaux Durrance (Paul Henried) plays a part in her recovery.

Bette Davis is compelling and fascinating in playing this part.  Davis' success as an actress came from staying in movies with her superb talent, just as Shirley Booth successfully stayed on the stage and avoided the movies as much as she could.  Both Davis and Booth excelled at what they did, and were definitely among the 20th century's finest actresses. Along with Shirley Booth, Bette Davis is among my favorite actresses of all time.

Besides the fine acting from a stellar cast of Bette Davis, Paul Henried (January 10, 1908 – March 29, 1992) Claude Rains, and Gladys Cooper, there's Max Steiner's beautiful score which rightly won the Academy Award that year.

The men are very likeable in this film (Paul Henried & Claude Rains), but the women certainly leave much to be desired - from Henried's miserable wife who we never see, Charlotte's niece June (Bonita Granville) who certainly sickeningly loves to torture her aunt with nasty jibes, and most importantly, Charlotte's tyrannical mother who thinks that being a good mother means controlling everything your adult child feels and does.  Even Jerry's depressed daughter Tina (Janis Wilson) is a mess - suffering from low self-esteem and feelings of isolation.  [Footnote: it was Wilson's first film.]

For many reasons Now, Voyager has stood the test of time as "The Woman's Film."  The story, written by Prouty, has a screen adaptation by Casey Robinson, which leaves amazingly intact much of the original story and actual lines of dialogue.  Irving Rapper directed this wonderful story of a woman suffering serious psychological problems and how she breaks free of her mother's domination to choose her own destiny.

I initially sensed that the writer seemed to have studied this situation or went through such an ordeal.  Prouty's writing is keen on women and mental issues. There's an interesting autobiographical element to Now, Voyager. Indeed Prouty was the right person to tell such an unusual story about the mentally ill Charlotte Vale.  She herself was from a fine Boston family and she too herself suffered a mental breakdown as an adult in 1925 after the death of her one-year old infant (She also had an earlier breakdown at the age of twelve).  Prouty went to a sanitarium for recovery where she met two therapists - one of them encouraged her in her writing career.

So Prouty knew what she was writing about when she created Charlotte Vale.  Do you remember the story Stella Dallas?  That too was written by Prouty.  However, she was not too happy with the melodramatic screen and radio adaptations.

The point that seems evident is that Charlotte Vale is not really better off at the bittersweet conclusion than she was at the start....She might still seem to have some issues to work on, depending on how you want to see her decision to play surrogate mother to a married man's child.  However, at least she has finally stood up and chosen her own destiny despite the consequences.  Charlotte is liberated finally....That's what I especially like about Now, Voyager.

In short, Charlotte overcomes her mental problems and becomes a complete person.  She learns to win and assert her independence, first by dumping repressive family ties, and then overcoming those limiting class and gender restrictions which society brainwashes us at an early age to accept as normal and the only sensible way.
 
Charlotte is a character that finally exhibits strong empowerment.  She even achieves her stated goals of having a home (inheriting her tyrannical mother's house), having a child (through being a surrogate caretaker of her "ex-lover's" daughter) and having a man to call her own (via a very non-traditional friendship with a married man). 

Now, Voyager's character of Charlotte Vale is interesting, especially when you consider the time when this story was written.  In achieving her goals in an unusual manner, she frees herself from the repressive upper class stuffiness and patriarchy of the traditional male-dominated, anti-feminine, Western  gender code. 

Olive Higgins Prouty's Now, Voyager is worthy of your attention for challenging these things!  

NOW, VOYAGER   

*****
 5 Stars out of 5
  

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014

*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On "The Bright, Blessed Day, The Dark, Sacred NIGHT!"

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2015!

A truly wonderful song that I wish to salute today is by Satchmo...


“The Bright Blessed Day, The Dark Sacred Night”

That’s a line from the all too-brief song “What A Wonderful World.” This beautiful song both lyrically and musically has been under-appreciated, and perhaps misunderstood, over the years since Louis Armstrong first recorded it back in 1968. It has often been misused as the “perfect” counterpoint music played to images of conflict, pain and human misery.

One of the things that’s superb about it is how jazz giant Armstrong offered us some surprisingly restrained vocalizing to the words and music by Bob Thiele (as George Douglas) and George David Weiss.

For some reason many people have found it an uncomfortable song since it seems painfully naive to have feelings of awe when we look at the world we live at anytime - especially now. Yes, I agree that might be a natural response to what seems like the song’s Pollyanna-like non-critical depiction of the world…

Yes, I can never get over the sheer stupidity of humanity bent on war, murder, and all sorts of never-ending destruction and evil. In fact, I shudder to think of all those millions upon millions of human beings that were senselessly disposed of in World War II. No, I cannot reconcile the cruelty of the horrendous Nazi death camps with anyone’s dislike of other human beings. And the havoc that Mother Nature brings us every day seems ruthless and unforgivable.

And yet I can listen to Armstrong sing in “What A Wonderful World” of the beauty of all the colors - the green trees, red roses, the blue sky, white clouds, the rainbow, the bright day and dark night. He is also awestruck when looking at the rainbow of the faces of the people, the love shared by friends shaking hands, and hearing babies cry and watching them grow as they learn what he never will know. Yes, I have experienced that awe when I stop to look at those things so easily taken for granted.

Somehow during the brightness of the day – with all of its concomitant noise and busyness - it seems difficult to connect to this wonderful world he speaks about. It’s impossible to be awestruck with all the crap that happens everyday.

I really found the song made sense at night. It is then when I sensed an overwhelming awe. It is then at night, when no one is around, if you can venture outside and look up at that massive moonlit sky with stars and worlds beyond number out there in vast space. It is in the glow of that immense midst out there in that “Dark, Sacred Night” that I faced some of the feelings and thoughts to make me see the world as miraculously wonderful despite all of the negativity that we tend to dwell upon daily.

Yes, I have learned again while listening to that deceptively simple but powerful song that there’s a true wonder in this world, if only we open our heart and mind to it. Indeed, it is easy to look past this reality in this thing we call living, and you will miss this awesome world’s ultimate beauty and meaning. The wonder has always been there, It has been our stubborn unwillingness to find it right there all around us, all the time.

No, this wonder and awe cannot erase any of the pressing problems or pains of the past or now. But when you can look beyond those realities, you can truly experience the joy of living in this world.

Take a moment to listen to this song when you walk outside one night this new year. Yes, I know that “the dark, sacred night” can bring an appreciation of a truly, wonderful world!

Thank you Louis Armstrong and the artists responsible for giving the world “What A Wonderful World.” And thanks to the Creator for giving us this WONDERFUL WORLD!
*****

I highly recommend visiting Louis Armstrong’s home in Corona, New York….GO TO: http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm

Several years ago I had the memorable opportunity to walk around the home and view the possessions of Louis Armstrong. The tour guide superbly managed to convey that love that Louis wanted the whole world to experience in his music and in his life’s devotion as a performer. Yes I felt that powerful presence of Armstrong in every part of his New York home. It's a good place to find warmth and love!

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008