Niece Leslie Sodaro: "Here's a stunning shot of my Aunt Shirley from 1944!"

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On The Fourth of July...

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

James Cagney Takes Center Stage Fourth of July

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

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

Published December 1, 2010



Saturday, June 7, 2014

On Dean Martin and Shirley Booth

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:

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

*****

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

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


*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010

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

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

On A Wish That Could Never Come True...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*****

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

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

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

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

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

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


*****


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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On "Here Comes the Sun" and Easter Films!


Here Comes The Sun (The Beatles):

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

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

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

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

***** 

EASTER...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY EASTER!