Shirley Booth & husband Bill Baker's Cat "China"

Shirley Booth &  husband Bill Baker's Cat "China"
"1943: Shirley Misses Bill." She looks at photo of husband's cat "China." Photo Courtesy Bill's niece, Catherine Campaigne. Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved Jim Manago

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
Coming Early 2015!

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.


Site Meter

As of August 26, 2014, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story by Jim Manago is no longer in print. There are still some new copies left. They are 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.

COMING SOON!

I am the author of two books on Shirley Booth. My latest, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story, tells the story of Shirley's second marriage from 1943 to 1951. That's when she lived on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. My first book, Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story, covers her life from 1898 to 1992.

My next book coming soon is Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story, courtesy BearManor Media!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just Love These Chillers!


Some of my favorite film selections especially suited for Halloween include The Black Cat (1934), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), How To Make a Monster (1958), The Wolf Man (1941), and The City of the Dead (1961). The latter is also known by its American released title of Horror Hotel.  

*****

Initially you may wince when I bring out a Bela Lugosi movie for Halloween. However this one is not like so many of those low-budget quickies that Lugosi appeared in so as to put bread on the table. The Black Cat from 1934 is in a class by itself as a truly superb film with excellent story, editing, camerawork, and top-notch performances by all the cast.

You may not be that familiar with the name of Edgar G. Ulmer - but he is responsible for the most stylishly dark version of a tale ever filmed. The story has no resemblance to the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name. But the world Ulmer created here is truly stark, weird, and visually stunning so that the film seemingly offers the mood that can only be inspired by the tormented genius of Poe.

Ulmer got his initial experience and inspiration as a stage actor and set designer working in Vienna, Austria. The Black Cat is his second film as a director in America.  But it offers a remarkable face-off between the two horror greats, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.  The story credit goes to Peter Ruric and Edgar G. Ulmer.  It's an unusual story especially intriguing for that time in Hollywood.

David Manners plays writer Peter Allison and Jacqueline Wells is his bride Joan on a honeymoon trip that unluckily lands them during a storm in a futuristic castle built over a battlefield where tens of thousands of soldiers died during WWI.  It is there that the showdown occurs between fellow traveler Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) and his adversary Fort Marmorus Commander Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff). Poelzig built his abode over the ruins of this great graveyard, and he seems more like the incarnation of the Devil.

When Werdegast learns that Poelzig has done some unholy things, including secretly keeping Werdegast's daughter Karen as his wife (and telling Werdegast that she died), there is some intense emotions that seek release. Revenge is the keyword here as the two horror greats display their unique talents, each trying to steal the show from the other.

I assure you that a great climax ensues. Besides the set designs that are quite stunning, there are some visually arresting moving camera shots that add to the mood of unrelenting menace - one sequence where the camera moves up & down the stairs with Karloff.  The use of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" has never been more perfectly used in the movies than here in the romantic scenes with Peter & Joan Allison.

Indeed The Black Cat (1934) is highly recommended as one of Universal Studios best horror productions ever.

*****


The original 1958 chiller How to Make a Monster from American-International Pictures is another good film for Halloween! Robert H. Harris is absolutely superb as the disgruntled horror film makeup artist who plots revenge after he is axed from his film studio. His performance is right-on-target down to the glances. Herbert L Strock directs with Paul Brinegar, Gary Conway and Gary Clarke as co-stars.

*****

The City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel):

SPOILER ALERT!
The talents of many people are responsible for some of the best films. Proof of this is apparent with the British film, The City of the Dead.

It was September 12, 1961 when this film made it to these shores retitled as Horror Hotel. I will refer to the film by its original title.

The City of the Dead is a truly chilling film that I remember first seeing back in the late 1960's on New York local television. I could never get enough of seeing it - and watched it every time it was on. I do not remember if I ever saw the original British release at that time which is several minutes longer and includes some early dialogue not in the American released version, Horror Hotel. But I do remember it leaving an strong impression on my sister that I'm sure stays with her to this day!

Much credit has to be given to John Llewellyn Moxey (1925) who directed this story and to Milton Subotsky (1921-1991) who wrote this story (adapted by George Baxt). The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) tells of some truly sinister witchcraft in the modern New England town of Whitewood and depends on creating a paranoia about who one could really trust.

But to credit those gentlemen alone would not be totally fair for there's also the foreboding and sinister atmosphere created by the combination of really brilliant contrasty black & white cinematography, fog-enshrouded sets, eerie music, good editing, and truly great character acting. The beautiful black & white cinematography is by Desmond Dickinson, art direction by John Blezard, music by Douglas Gamley, and film editing by John Pomeroy. 

Thanks must also go to the executive producers Milton Subotsky & Seymour S. Dorner, and the producers Donald Taylor and Max Rosenberg - all who contributed to make the whole film production possible. Subotsky and Rosenberg later founded the film production company Amicus Productions, responsible for a number of horror films from the 1960's.

As to actors there's the amazing talents of the lanky Christopher Lee (1922 - ) in top form as Prof. Alan Driscoll who suggests to his college student Nan Barlow played by Venetia Stevenson (1938 - ) that she should visit Whitewood, Massachusetts to see the place where some of his lecture material actually took place. Nan wants to get a really good grade on her thesis paper - and she enthusiastically takes his suggestion.

The other talents - including Patricia Jessel (1920-1968) as hotel manager Mrs. Newless (who actually is the still-living witch Elizabeth Selwyn though she was burned at the stake in 1692), and the delightful gloomy-voiced Valentine Dyall (1908-1985) as chief warlock Jethrow Keane - both indeed give absolutely superb portrayals worthy of awards.

Ann Beach (1938 - ) plays the deaf mute that knows the real sinister activities at the  Ravenswood Inn in the spooky New England town. Norman Macowan (1877-1961) plays the blind Reverend Russell of the town church who also knows what's going on and warns Nan: "...Leave Whitewood tonight. I beg of you...Leave before it is too late!" Betta St. John (1929 - ) plays the Reverend's granddaughter Patricia - who owns a little book store in town and lends Nan a book on witchcraft for her studies - only to have it never returned. Nan's brother Richard Barlow (Dennis Lotis) and Nan's boyfriend Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor) both search for Nan when she doesn't return home.

If any film could convince one that those "auteurists" do not wish to see filmmaking as an "ensemble endeavour" of the error of their thinking, for they wish to give directors all the credit, then it would be to see the collaborative efforts evident here that make this film work so well.

Some have criticized some of the actors for being British and not convincing us they are Americans - but this is not serious enough to take away from your enjoyment of this remarkable and totally intriguing gem. 

There are some shocking scenes - but I won't spoil that for you. Finally, the chanting that pervades the credits and crucial moments sounds truly like devil-worshipping chants and thus wraps the whole film into a complete package of sensory satisfaction! 

Although I usually love short films, this one seems too short at a brisk 76 minutes. It goes too quickly and I wish that it was somewhat longer! Nevertheless, it is unforgettable and great for Halloween night or whenever you wish to spook yourself a little!


It is interesting that The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel) is similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in many ways, including the early demise of the main character... 

*****The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel) is highly recommended! If you can see only one title from this post, choose this one!

***** 

Vincent Price:

Vincent Price (born May 27, 1911 - October 25, 1993) remains one of my all-time favorite actors and horror greats. See below for more.


So much can be said about the life of the amazing Vincent Price. Obviously, he had an uncanny knack for making anything he appeared in so much more interesting - whether through his distinct voice or mannerisms.   He made numerous film, television or radio appearances. Some of my favorites include Laura, The House of Wax, The Tingler, The House on Haunted Hill, etc.

I know that you will discover that so much of what Vincent Price accomplished so long ago continues to bring great pleasure so many years later.

On Halloween I will screen for the fiftieth or sixtieth time the William Castle classics - The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill. Although I know them perfectly well, I still enjoy the way Price seems to be savor every second that he plays these quirky characters...

*****

As regards Shirley Booth, her only TV guest appearance is in the television show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The show broadcast November 6, 1969 is called "Medium Well-Done." Shirley plays a spiritualist named Madame Tibaldi. The ghost (Captain) is quite unhappy that Madame Tibaldi visits his home to offer a seance.  (The cast includes Hope Lange as Mrs. Muir, Edward Mulhare as the Ghost, Charles Nelson Reilly as Claymore Gregg, Reta Shaw as Martha the housekeeper, and Harlen Carraher & Kellie Flanagan as the children.)

 *****

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On Remembering Clayton Moore

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:

Clayton Moore was born on this day in 1914 (died December 28, 1999). He was best known for portraying The Lone Ranger on film and television.

*****

I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Clayton Moore in person back in 1979 at The Biltmore Hotel in New York City. The late Paul Saryian ran a yearly convention - and that year he brought us The Lone Ranger. 

Clayton had been making news since he was barred from wearing his mask because of the new feature film that was in the works. That film starred Klinton Spilsbury portraying the masked man. The film was a disaster and it deservedly flopped. 

Clayton talked about the fact that he would fight in court to get his right to wear the mask again. Yes, he fought and won as he said he would!

He was a gracious man so happy to be surrounded by his loving fans - both young and old. He shook hands, did some rope tricks, talked about the days lunching with George Trendle (and later with Jack Wrather) and so on. The last day of his 3 days at that nostalgia convention provided a special surprise. We all got to sing "Happy Birthday" to him at a surprise party. Before leaving the convention, he gave out a single trademark - a silver bullet.

Fortunately, I had brought along my new Super 8 Sound camera. I managed to change film cartridges four or five times to film a total of 10 minutes of his conversation to his fans, singing happy birthday, and so on. I treasure that moment captured on film. Someday I hope to share that video with his many fans.

Clayton brought such a wonderful energy to those 1950's Lone Ranger shows. I enjoyed watching the reruns in the 1970's. What stayed with me more than anything is how this character always treated the Native Americans and women fairly and respectfully. He did not need to flaunt his toughness, or swagger a macho bravado as John Wayne and so many other actors. Clayton satisfied audiences by being the real thing - and living the way he believed the character lived. 

Clayton Moore is indeed gone - but he never will be forgotten as long as we can watch his films and television programs. Besides his Lone Ranger films and TV shows, we have his appearances in a number of serials (such as The Crimson Ghost, Perils of Nyoka, and so on). 

Indeed I am happy to have met one of my childhood heroes in the flesh during those two precious days of my life. I have the memory of thanking Clayton Moore for the countless pleasures and inspiration that his portrayal brought to my life. Indeed Clayton Moore was an extraordinary person, and I just wish he was still living today!


*****

 On THE LONE RANGER Flop:

When I first heard about Disney's $225 million dollar production of The Lone Ranger, I thought what a stupid waste of money!  Anyone that knows that character will agree with me that there was only one Lone Ranger - that's the very competent actor Clayton Moore.   His rendition will never be topped.  I AM NOT SURPRISED ONE BIT that the film is not expected to ever recover such a ridiculous sum of money!

Those original television shows are superb in every way.  They speak for fair and equal treatment of women and  Native Americans.  Despite some recent efforts to denigrate the Jay Silverheels rendition of Tonto, the latter was not a mere sidekick.  He was a true partner to his friend, The Lone Ranger. 

Though Clayton Moore is now gone, I am proud to have had the distinct pleasure of meeting him back when they tried to stop him from wearing his mask.  That was when they were preparing another movie flop,  The Legend of the Lone Ranger
  
Now will Disney and all the other media giants learn anything? I wish I was wrong here, but I doubt it!   At the very least, please if they would stop trying to cash in on a previous generation's creative achievements.  Stop trying to rework past achievements, and spend a little money on developing some new stories! 
*****

I treasure several minutes from Clayton Moore's appearance at Paul Saryian's New York Nostalgia Convention (1979).

I have Super 8mm sound footage I transferred to VHS from this event in 1979.  Moore spoke those immortal words of the Lone Ranger creed, discussed the fact that Jack Wrather disappointed and hurt him when he met him to tell him we don't want you making appearances anymore since the part was going to a younger actor for the new movie that was being made.  He discussed the court case which forced him to wear the sunglasses instead of his mask.  He did some rope tricks, and talked about leaving a silver bullet with someone wherever he made a personal appearance.  it concludes when everyone gathered sang "Happy Birthday, Lone Ranger".  It runs about 10 minutes. 

Without a doubt Clayton Moore was a powerful and inspiring individual.  I wish the young people of today could have that type of role model to look to.  I know he enriched my life immensely and I could never forget that Convention when I met and shook hands with my childhood hero...

*****

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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On "September Song"


I must confess that I enjoy the music of the 1930's and 1940's much more than the rather lame music of the 1950's.   It seems that the earlier period offers  superior compositions that have never been surpassed!

A case in point is one of the best compositions of the entire 20th Century, "September Song."  Walter Huston originally introduced the song in the 1938 stage production, *Knickerbocker Holiday. It is Huston alone that brings an unforgettable sincerity and tenderness to the words. No one can sing it with such naturalness and feeling.   

The beautiful "September Song" was composed by Kurt Weill (March 2, 1900 - April 3, 1950), with the thought-provoking lyrics written by Maxwell Anderson (December 15, 1888 - February 28, 1959). The lyrics make so much more sense to older listeners, understanding the brevity of life and the sober truth of our inescapable mortality. I particularly like the line that goes: "And the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame..." 

Yesterday I listened once again to over two dozen (of the many) versions of this song. I still say Huston's original version is the best ever! What he lacks in a perfect voice or the power of a professional singer, he surely makes up by evoking a poignant sadness and sincerity that is truly memorable. No one else has been able to do that in the seventy-five years since that recording in 1938.


You will know the original version since it has a line about losing a tooth. As the story goes (at least according to Joe Franklin), Walter Huston was at the dentist earlier in the day when he recorded this song. He changed the lyric line to: "I lost one tooth and I walk a little lame," instead of singing the actual lyric line: "And the autumn weather, Turns the leaves to flame (or gray)."


After playing the song on one of his Saturday night radio broadcasts back in the early 1990's, this is how Franklin explained it:

Joe Franklin on WOR Radio (circa 1990's): "These Precious Days I Spend with You," and I do mean you!!  Joe Franklin putting on the hits… Precious memories on WOR 'til 5'o'clock in the morning. 

I gotta tell you that line, near the beginning of that record, that line about I have lost one tooth was not part of the original lyric when he sang it in Knickerbocker Holiday, but it actually - it actually-factually - happened that Mr. Huston went to his dentist on the day that he made the phonograph record.  So it was kind of a private or inside, not a joke, but a private remark about losing his tooth or about teeth and it was a remark that was etched into the wax - into recorded immortality…Something that happened that day and it lives on!"
 
There is another take of Huston singing this song, but it's slightly different in intonation from the familiar one. You can hear it in the 1950 film September Affair, with Joan Fontaine & Joseph Cotten. 

*Although the story was modified substantially, you may still want to hear the radio version of Knickerbocker Holiday with Huston singing the song two times.  Click on the show title at: http://archive.org/details/TheaterGuildontheAir

Variations of the lyrics are found in many of the various recordings done. Besides several minor word switches (like "but" for "and," etc.) Huston re-recorded the song with such changes as "vintage years" for "golden (& precious) years."


 "September Song" Has Stood The Test Of Time!

*****

 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

Friday, August 29, 2014

On Ingrid Bergman -She's INIMITABLE!

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:

Actress Ingrid Bergman was born and died on this day (August 29, 1915 – August 29, 1982)

*****

Legendary actress Ingrid Bergman offered us so many memorable films, including Gaslight (1944) - for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress, Spellbound (1945), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Notorious (1946), Joan of Arc (1948), Stromboli (1950), Anastasia (1956), Autumn Sonata (1978) and so on.

Last year I got to see her in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Saratoga Trunk (1945), and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958). Clearly Ingrid Bergman has the ability to charm you. She simply shines time and again - undoubtedly she is among the best actresses of all time.

I remember her television appearance at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards wherein she briefly recreated the scene with piano player Sam from Casablanca. Unfortunately she succumbed to cancer at the age of 67. The television production A Woman Called Golda concluded her acting career.

As with Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, and several other luminaries, I would have loved to meet her. Nonetheless, Ingrid Bergman will always be with us in spirit through her many productions.

As a tribute to her, I selected one of my favorite films that she starred in. I found in my archives, my defense of Spellbound (1945), published forty years after the film was made in 1985. What I said then holds true today, now sixty-seven years later since the film's premiere...

This article originally appeared in Classic Images, No. 112 (April 1985). Spellbound has been denigrated as not being a "true" Hitchcock film when comparing it to the typical Hitchcock scenario. Nevertheless, I liked it enough to write this. The extraordinary Ingrid Bergman shines in this complex plot involving psychoanalytic theory.

A response (2 issues later) from one of the paper's readers follows.

In Defense Of Hitchcock's Spellbound
by Jim Manago

Spellbound has been downgraded for many reasons. Some anti-Hitchcockians (those critical of Hitch) will say the director's shift to a film about psychoanalysis, which seems so un-Hitchcockian on the basis of previous films proves he is less of an artist for it shows the lack of a unified philosophy.

Also, the presence of audience manipulation via the larger-than-life trick gun shows this wise showmanship ability of maintaining his audience's attention - which a true artist would not be concerned with. I believe these are unfair charges.

Those critics that revere Hitchcock but exclude Spellbound as one of his triumphs usually charge the film with oversimplifying psychoanalysis. This and the pedagogic/didactic quality of the dialogue are what I consider the only fair accusations of any real substance. Yet I believe these accusations could be disregarded given Hitchcock's beautiful direction and careful development of the narrative via well-chosen visual effects.

Grossing around 8 million dollars by 1949, with only a one-and-half million dollar cost, Spellbound was a huge commercial triumph for Hitchcock. Yet he underestimated the film by calling it "just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis." He added surprisingly: "The whole thing's too complicated, and I found the explanation toward the end very confusing." To the contrary, I perceive the film as very logical and understandable. Unfortunately though for psychoanalysts, Spellbound tends to reduce psychoanalysis to simply detective work.

As the second of three films Hitchcock did for David O. Selznick (besides Rebecca and The Paradine Case) Spellbound bears no resemblance to it's inspiration, Francis Beeding's novel "The House of Dr. Edwardes." However, the novel did suggest the setting in a psychiatric hospital and the notion of the hospital director being mad. Ben Hecht wrote the screenplay because, as Hitchcock put it, he was "keen on psychoanalysis." Surrealist artist Salvador Dali was chosen to give the famous dream sequence what Hitchcock felt real dreams involve, namely the quality of "architectural sharpness," though have said Dali was invited to assist only for publicity reasons. Hitchcock had to compromise on the filming of the dream sequence: he preferred doing it outdoors for the added sharpness but Selznick objected to this on the grounds of the added expense such a practice would incur.

Spellbound is basically a study of the process involved in solving the amnesiac's (Gregory Peck) guilt complex which cause him to assume the identity of a murdered Dr. Edwardes, the new hospital director. The ski trip Dr. Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) takes the amnesiac on helps to evoke a catharsis that reveals the origin of the guilt complex. The amnesiac assumed the role of Dr. Edwardes because witnessing the death at a ski resort (where there is snow and parallel lines created by the skis) reminded him of the accidental death of his brother in his childhood (caused by Peck's sliding him into a spiked fence). The previous guilt complex re-emerged and caused the amnesia when the Edwardes' murder occured. Later Dr. Petersen is able to piece together the meaning of the amnesiac's dream, thus discovering who murdered Dr. Edwardes with the help of a Freudian slip by Dr. Murchison. Undoubtedly this may sound confusing or undramatic when explained. Nonetheless, Spellbound is an engaging film to me despite what any critic has said.

Dr. Petersen is a woman of reason who becomes more emotionally mature when she stops repressing [her true self] with academic manners and attitudes. Her abnormal and almost absurd concern or belief in the innocence of the amnesiac when the latter believes he's guilty shows her new-found willingness to open up in her personality other avenues of knowledge. Reason is balanced by feeling.

Michael Chekhov as the old doctor, who is friend and previous instructor of Dr. Petersen, gives a marvelous performance full of humorous moments based on his somewhat eccentric behavior. He plays out perfectly the old adage that 'genius borders on insanity.' Ingrid Bergman's acting presence in Spellbound needs no explanation - she's inimitable. Gregory Peck most effectively portrays the bewilderment and fear of an amnesiac. Though not as sympathetic as other 'Hitchcock villains' Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Murchison gives us no real hint of his criminality.

Hitchcock was a master at integrating those visual tricks, techniques, or pieces of business (whatever you might call them) into the narrative which one will remember long after the film. Some of these effects include: the gun fired at the audience with a flash of color, the kissing scene between Bergman and Peck where doors are shown opening indicating the opening-up of Bergman's cold academic personality to the warm feelings of love, the recurring sharp radiant objects (a letter opener, razor, spiked fence, scissors in the dream sequence), the surrealistic dream sequence, the parallel lines motif in it's many manifestations (fork trails in a tablecloth, lines in a robe, train tracks, bedspread with lines, sled tracks, etc.) the color white motif in it's many manifestations (snow, light, a sink, chair, shaving soap, etc.), the camera's emphasis on the eyeglasses which when removed by Dr. Petersen indicates her experience of removing that cold intellectual facade to reveal another creature more human underneath.

Such 'Hitchcock touches' are not devices existing for their own sake like those anti-Hitchcockian critics contend. Instead these visual effects form the narrative and Hitchcock's unique perception of the way narrative must be advanced visually. They do not serve the function of being excess baggage, but are integral cinematic features of Spellbound.

Two other aspects of Spellbound that I particularly enjoyed are the music and the likening of psychiatric work to detective work. For a change, the score is not obtrusive or cloying as in earlier Hitchcock films. The composer, Miklos Rozsa, won an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture. The theremin, an oscillating instrument, was effectively played every time Peck experienced the psychotic state of confusion and anxiety. As for the overlapping of psychiatric and detective work: the house detective for the Empire State Hotel acts like a psychologist (and even admits his work requires it), Dr. Petersen acts like a detective in piecing together the various clues of the Dr. Edwardes' mystery.

Film scholar Andrew Sarris has recognized the problem with Hitchcock criticism, and his remark seems particularly applicable to Hitchcock's film Spellbound: "Certainly Hitchcock's reputation has suffered from the fact that he has given audiences more pleasure than is permissible for serious cinema. No one who is so entertaining could possibly seem profound to the intellectual puritans." Although some watching Spellbound may be disappointed for the fact that it's a less typical Hitchcock film. But consider its merit of being one the first American films to acquaint us with psychoanalysis besides serving as proof of Hitchcock's versatility.

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from the author's film notes to Spellbound, previously published for The St. John's Picture Show, St. John's University, Jamaica, NY (February, 1984).

*****

In response to my defense, there was an interesting letter from a reader two issues later (Classic Images, No. 120, June 1985). Here's that letter published originally in the "from the mailbag" column:

Spellbinding Ingrid


Jim Manago's "In Defense of Hitchcock's Spellbound" in the April 1985 Classic Images is the best analysis ever written of that engrossing film. His observations are astute, but not pedantic, which is a common fault that the critics of today exhibit frequently. His interpretation of the opening doors, which were enhanced immeasurably by Rozsa's romantic music and the meaning behind Ingrid's removing her eyeglasses, ring true. One might say that only when she took them off was she able to actually see.
Mr. Manago states that one aspect that he enjoyed was the likening of psychiatric and detective work. There is the strategic clue to appreciating this film. Ingrid Bergman portrays Mrs. Holmes, not Dr. Peterson.

She has to resolve two quandaries. First, what made Peck ill? The solution is brilliantly realized by Hitch and Ingrid in the scene when she glances questioningly out the window at the falling snow and murmurs knowingly: "Snow...snow." The look of discovery on Bergman's face is exquisite emoting. The other dilemma for her to probe is how to find the killer of Dr. Edwardes. She is assisted by a slip of the tongue. It is the scene immediately after this that is so compelling, depicting Ms.Bergman in her room alone as she incessantly hears the tell-tale words: "I only met him once."

Other fine moments linger in the mind, such as Bergman's artful acting in the final confrontation with her adversary when she accuses him of the crime. yet, the highlight occurs when Ingrid and Peck frolic during the country stroll. They reach a hilltop, and she says breathlessly: "Oh, isn't this lovely?" Peck, with his eyes fastened on her lustrous face replies: "Perfect!"

Then Peck asks her if she wants a ham or liverwurst sandwich. Ingrid, overwhelmed by the far-reaching prospect, sums up in one word as she inimitably could (remember her saying, "Delicieuse!" in Saratoga Trunk), how she feels about the incredible view, by declaring ecstatically: "Liverwurst!"

John J. Croft
*****

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

Signed Copies Available for $40.00pp

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Memories of Wildwood...

It is with summer that thoughts and memories surface of going to amusement parks and beaches. It seems nowadays looking at stills of Shirley Booth's Broadway hit By the Beautiful Sea (April 8, 1954 - November 27, 1954) reminds me most of those bygone days in the sand and the sea of my childhood. 

Shirley's show depicted turn-of-the century Coney Island in the early 1900's. It included the excitement of Steeplechase Park's Tunnel of Love, the Old Mill boat ride, the Midway, and balloon parachuting.  It celebrated all things summer including the beach and the amusement park. 

As the month of August comes to an end, I yearn for some of my own bygone days.

I remember many happy summers in the 1970's vacationing with my family in Wildwood, New Jersey. Back then there was the huge King Kong ride towering over the pier (it fell apart when it was being moved in 1980). Also, Wildwood had the cleanest beaches I had ever seen. Most importantly, there were some truly wonderful people - all gone now, but not forgotten.

There was the Sand Dollar Motel on Surf & 9th Avenues owned then by the late Carl Curcio - a truly remarkable motel owner and family friend. On Friday nights he would set up the 16mm sound projector next to the outdoor pool and show some intriguing travel documentaries that were loaned to him. He always had that happiness and smile whatever he happened to be doing (from cleaning the pool to greeting and chatting with his guests). During the winter months he worked with my father as a coin/stamp salesman/concessionaire at the Abraham & Strauss Stores in New York.

There was the miniature golf park around the corner, along with the rental of tricycles and bicycles by the arcade concession managed by a rather plump Mrs. Botto! I remember it was a time when having some extra body fat wasn't politically incorrect or something to worry about or despise...She was a lady who participated in the fun of the visitors to the town. She lived life to the fullest and people seemed to easily catch her energy!

I have many Super 8 silent films I took of Wildwood, including Mrs. Botto riding and almost falling off the tricycle as she turned the corners of the block. These are truly funny segments of real people living in the moment. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to her and so many others after I left there. They are probably all dead now. Nevertheless, those people to this day (some 40 years later) have provided me with so many wonderful memories!!!

My films of The Sand Dollar Motel, and the surrounding sites (including the huge King Kong pier ride) are most valuable since so much of North Wildwood has been razed in the last ten years....

 I would conclude my home movies that I shot and edited of those trips with a song. The thirty to forty-minute Super 8mm films would end with scenes of getting ready to leave, such as family members carrying luggage to the car and saying goodbye in front of the resort, driving away, passing through what was then called "Shantytown," back over the Verrazano Bridge, etc. 

The song that I played to these final minutes of my home movies was Bobby Vinton's 1972 rendition of the song, "Sealed with A Kiss." I know I wore out more than several 45rpm's of this recording back then.  The precocious kid in me was even given the name of "Mr. MGM" by the Sand Dollar motel owner Carl Curcio for my creativity and intense effort I put into these home movies.

But anyone who saw them knew that the finale's memorable song by Vinton gave my film productions a poignant conclusion.  His song has become a beautiful and inseparable part of the fabric of my life.

I offer singer Bobby Vinton (born April 16, 1935) a very special "Thanks!"  Although his version of "Sealed with A Kiss" is at least the third rendition recorded of this beautiful 1960 song by Peter Udell and Gary Geld - it is arguably THE BEST! The lyrics are bittersweet (including the lines "I don't wanna say goodbye for the summer - knowing the love we'll miss..." and "But I'll fill the emptiness - I'll send you all my love in a letter").

Vinton's superb and lush vocals in  "Sealed with A Kiss" are complemented by a fine orchestration and some very distinctive drumming. There’s an unforgettable sadness captured by that song that rings so true!  It's one of the best from that era.

Interestingly, I discovered one of the early versions of this song was done by Brian Hyland (best known for recording "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" ....). Hyland was born a short distance from where I lived in Richmond Hill, New York from 1967 to 2000...Hyland was born a mile away in the adjoining community of Woodhaven where most of the good stores were along Jamaica Avenue.


As I sadly learned, the wrecking ball has wiped the Sand Dollar motel from the map...But my memories of Wildwood live on...


Thursday, August 14, 2014

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

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

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


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

Listen to this wonderful actress close the show with: 

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, fairly forlorn,
Jo

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

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

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

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

***** 

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:
Celebrated actress Rosalind Russell was born today.

(June 4, 1907 – November 28, 1976).

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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



*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010



Thursday, May 8, 2014

On A Wish That Could Never Come True...

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

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

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

I always will cherish that one afternoon when he visited while that particular episode was on 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)

*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro