SHE DID IT ALL HERSELF: 100 Years of Olivia de Havilland

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100 years ago today, Olivia de Havilland was born.

5 years ago this past March (and in the very wee infancy of this blog), I was studying abroad in Paris and heard that the great Olivia de Havilland would be introducing a movie she had recently narrated, a documentary about Alzheimer’s called I Remember Better When I Paint, at the American Library in Paris.

I was ecstatic. This was at a point in my studies where I was becoming quite homesick, and had spent the past few weeks binging classic movies at the Rue Christine in order to give myself a taste of home and comfort. I had become a huge fan of Olivia de Havilland over the past few years, had seen nearly every movie she ever made, and the fact that she would be appearing at the American Library while I was there in Paris seemed almost too good to be true.

She was 94 then, and I had no idea what to expect. Her onscreen persona had been a strange and appealing combination of sweetness and vulnerability, paired with a lion’s strength and an iron will in her eyes. Her life had been a series of triumphs and challenges in the extreme–from rocky relationships with her sister Joan Fontaine and first husband Marcus Goodrich, to loving and beautiful ones with her two children and her second husband, Pierre Galante. She won two Oscars and was nominated for three more. Her childhood had been difficult in many ways, and she overcame it to become one of Hollywood’s brightest superstars and a powerful advocate for the rights of entertainment workers who almost singlehandedly destroyed the studio system. This was a woman of enormous strength.

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She was born in Tokyo, Japan on July 1, 1916, the first of two daughters to Lilian and Walter de Havilland, a British couple living abroad in Tokyo’s international district. Her sister Joan was born in 1917. In the aftermath of World War I, in March 1919, she moved with her mother and younger sister to San Francisco. Her parents were separating, and Walter stayed behind to work in Tokyo while Lilian moved with the girls to a warmer climate that would be better for their health. They soon moved from San Francisco to a smaller town an hour south, the village of Saratoga, CA. Lilian became involved with the owner of a San Jose department store, a man named George Milan Fontaine, whom she married when Olivia was 8. He was immensely strict with the girls, his harshness prompting at least one runaway attempt. They weren’t allowed any extracurricular activities, but Olivia was beginning to show a talent for drama and disobeyed her stepfather’s orders by joining the school play.

When Fontaine found out, he gave her an ultimatum. “You will either give up the play,” Olivia recalled him saying later, “or leave this house forever.” Olivia chose the latter, and at the age of 16, she left home.

I had invited several European friends, all fans of Olivia de Havilland, to come with me to the American Library to hear Olivia introduce the movie. They flew in, two from Sweden, one from Italy by way of England, the afternoon of the movie and after cramming all of our stuff into my tiny apartment near Parc Monceau, we headed over to the library. Shortly after our arrival, we saw a regal, perfectly arranged shock of white hair sticking up from the front row of chairs. It was Olivia. She was sitting perfectly straight, talking and smiling with the people introduced to her, a perfect lady. She stood up whenever she was introduced to someone, leaping out of her chair faster than someone half her age. We watched her in awe. Essentially shunned by her family, left to fend for herself at 16 years old, she had forged her own path, never looking back and creating a livelihood entirely on her own, standing tall and maintaining her dignity all the way through her life. Even at 94 years old.

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In a local production of Alice in Wonderland, shortly after she left home.

Despite the difficulties she encountered as a teenager living on her own, Olivia received a full scholarship to Mills College based on her exemplary grades. But at the same time, she auditioned and got the role of understudy for Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Max Reinhardt, to be performed at the Hollywood Bowl and various other places in California. Olivia decided to do the play in order to build up her resume and perhaps get more scholarship money for Mills, but after going onstage several times as the understudy, Max Reinhardt was so impressed with her that he selected her to go to Hollywood with him to make the movie version.

And thus began the career of Olivia de Havilland. She was signed to Warner Bros, where she made an impression not only with the acting talent that had so impressed Max Reinhardt, but also with her huge, winsome brown eyes and distinctive voice, perfectly suited for recording with the equipment in the mid-1930s.

 

When the program was to start at the American Library, the producer of I Remember Better When I Paint, Berna Huebner, went to the podium and introduced Olivia, who would introduce the movie. Her words were loving and kind, speaking of a woman whom she had clearly come to love as a dear friend. Then Olivia came up to the podium and began to talk about the movie. I was so profoundly struck by the sound of her voice, I could barely pay attention to anything but the beautiful deep tones that were coming out of her mouth. Her voice was like melted chocolate, rising and falling dramatically with each clearly enunciated word, articulated slowly and deliberately. I have never heard a voice like hers in my life. It seemed to come from an era that is long gone–and of course it does.

During her years at Warner Bros, Olivia was often cast in damsel-in-distress roles, paired a whopping nine times with Errol Flynn. Their feelings for each other were palpable onscreen and off, but Flynn was married and Olivia refused to be the “other woman.” Still, Olivia continued to speak giddily about Flynn even in interviews many decades later, and it was clear that the love had never faded.

In 1938, she persuaded Jack Warner to loan her to Selznick International for a movie that Selznick was making based on the hit novel Gone With the Wind. Warner was reluctant, but finally allowed her to go, and Olivia signed on to play the shy, demure, ever-trusting Melanie Hamilton to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara.

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Cast members sign the contracts for Gone With the Wind.

It became the role of her lifetime. Above anything else, Olivia de Havilland is remembered as Melanie Hamilton, playing the character to nuanced perfection. She received her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress against costar Hattie McDaniel, with McDaniel winning the Oscar and becoming the first African-American actress to do so. De Havilland took it very much in stride.

People were very attached to Melanie, but they knew I wasn’t a supporting actress. They knew that Hattie was, and they were not tricked, and they were not deceived, and they voted for Hattie.

-Olivia de Havilland, Academy of Achievement, 2006

Back at Warner Bros, she was beginning to tire of being the damsel-in-distress, finding those parts too limiting and itching to expand her repertoire. She had been nominated for an Oscar again in 1942 for her performance in Hold Back the Dawn, but had lost to her younger sister, who had come to Hollywood and started acting under the name Joan Fontaine. Joan and Olivia eventually became fodder for the press, who scavenged for stories and contributed to the crumbling of their sibling relationship, which had never been strong. But on Oscar night, Olivia was extremely gracious and proud of her younger sister, and the press captured it.

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In the wake of her second Oscar loss, Olivia started refusing scripts from Warner Bros, resulting in suspensions that were then tacked on to the end of her contract. She seemed forever destined to the roles that she hated–and saw no light at the end of the tunnel for her career. She became very depressed, and consulted her agents to try to help her. The agents called a lawyer, who informed her of an obscure California law restricting the duration of time that a worker can be held under contract to seven years.

She went to court, and after an appeal, she won in a unanimous decision of the California Superior Court. The De Havilland Law, as the decision is now called, had and continues to have huge implications for workers in the entertainment business. It limited the power of the studios over their stars, and gave stars greater freedom to seek projects that they felt suited them, and set a precedent for workers in the music and sports fields. Most recently, Jared and Shannon Leto of the band Thirty Seconds to Mars sued in response to a musical contract issue, and won based on the De Havilland Law. They wrote Olivia personally to thank her.

From then on, Olivia’s career soared. In 1946, she played the role of a mother who gives up her illegitimate child and then tries to adopt him back in To Each His Own. The role finally won her her first Oscar. In 1948, she received another Oscar nomination for playing a mentally unstable woman whose treatment in a mental institution is documented in The Snake Pit, one of the first serious treatments of mental illness on film. Then in 1949 came another role of a lifetime, the role of a simple embroiderer set to inherit a large fortune who is courted by a man of questionable intentions in The Heiress, for which she won her second Oscar. Olivia’s metamorphosis from naïve, schoolgirlish embroiderer to bitter, jaded woman getting her revenge stands as one of the most brilliant transformations in film history.

At home, her life was becoming difficult. She was on the brink of divorce from Marcus Goodrich, whom she had married in 1946, and with whom she had had a son, Benjamin. They finally divorced in 1953, and shortly thereafter Olivia moved to France with Benjamin. Life got better in France–she married a Frenchman, Pierre Galante, the editor of Paris Match, with whom she had a daughter, Gisèle. She continued to work, though more sporadically now than before, and focus her energy on raising her children. She wrote a witty memoir in 1962 called Every Frenchman Has One, recounting anecdotes of living as a foreigner in France.

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With her two children: Benjamin (left) and Gisèle (right).

Benjamin, a prodigious mathematician, grew up to be a statistical analyst and died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1993. Gisèle became a respected journalist like her father, and currently lives in the Los Angeles area.

Olivia became an American citizen in 1943 and has long been dedicated to the bastions of American culture in Paris, devoting her time and resources to the American University, the American Library, and the American Cathedral. It was her commitment to the American Library that brought I Remember Better When I Paint to France, and Olivia de Havilland to me. After her introduction, she sat down and watched the movie with the crowd–delighting in the movie as a simple member of the audience. It was a memorable moment. I watched one of the towers of the entertainment world sitting on a simple folding chair, laughing at a movie’s funny parts and furrowing her brow at the sad parts, just like the rest of us.

After it was over, we prepared to leave. Olivia was taken by the arm by one of the library staff, and accompanied out of the main room. But just as we were about to head out the door, we saw that shock of white hair again–this time behind the library desk, as Olivia chatted with the audience members who had come to see her. She had somehow broken free of the library staff member who was supposed to lead her to her car, and she was simply interacting with those who had loved her for so many years.

Just in case, we had brought things for Olivia to sign. I had brought my copy of Every Frenchman Has One, and my friends and I excitedly positioned ourselves in the crowd. She talked with us for several minutes, asking us where we had gotten our long out-of-print books and interacting in just as charming and gracious a way as she did on the screen.

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When it finally came time for her to leave, she went unwillingly. “They’re making me leave!” she exclaimed. It took her another good few minutes to get out the door, and when she did, we saw that she had come to the event alone at 94 years old.

And so it has always been. She did it all herself.

Happy 100th birthday, Olivia. There is no one more deserving of this special birthday than you.

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Marilyn Monroe’s 90th Birthday–Celebrated With a Worthy Cause

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Norma Jeane Baker (Mortensen on her birth certificate), who would grow up to become Marilyn Monroe. Pictured here around the time when she lived at the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home Society, now known as EMQ FamiliesFirst Hollygrove.

June 1, 2016 marks what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday. Her early death has frozen her in time, making it difficult to fathom the idea of Marilyn Monroe being 90 years old at all–and further, while it is confounding to think of Marilyn Monroe as a 90-year-old, 90 is young enough that she might still have been alive today, if that night on August 4, 1962 had gone differently.

Marilyn Monroe is one of the most intricate and complex personalities in all of film history. I have been fascinated by her story ever since I was old enough to comprehend it. Her psychological demons consumed her, but she put forth a million dollar smile that belied her internal struggles. She was a gifted actress, but was stuck in the sex symbol roles that would bring 20th Century Fox the most profit. Childhood memories of living in an orphanage and in foster care, reminding her that she had been an unwanted child named Norma Jeane Baker, haunted her as she lived the life as the most sought-after actress on the screen. Ultimately, these dualities destroyed her.

The child who became Marilyn Monroe was born to a 24-year-old film cutter named Gladys Baker on June 1, 1926. Gladys had severe mental illness, and was unable to care for her new daughter. After living in several foster homes, she was placed at the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home Society in 1935, near the corner of Vine and Melrose. There, she lived in a girls’ residence hall that overlooked Paramount Studio alongside several dozen other children, many of whose situations were similar to hers. She stayed for 2 years before going back into foster care, living long term with the aunt of her mother’s best friend. She returned for visits several times over the course of her life, signing the guest book as “Norma Jeane Baker” on her first visit, and “Marilyn Monroe” every time after that.

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The Los Angeles Orphan’s Home as it looked in 1935.

The mission of the orphanage began to shift in the years following Norma Jeane Baker’s stay there, and became known as the Hollygrove Home For Children. It began to focus less on children who had no parents, and more on children like Norma Jeane who had parents who were unable to care for them. Its goals became more family-driven, providing resources and support to families in need of help. The home itself closed in 2005, but the organization continues to do great and needed work in the Los Angeles area.

On the anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday, EMQ FamiliesFirst Hollygrove is holding a fundraising drive in her honor. The modern Hollygrove is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “the social-emotional, behavioral and mental health needs of young children, teens and their families,” and aims to “heal the whole child-and the whole family – through a full range of behavioral and mental health services.” It has thought of a lovely and fun way to participate in the fundraising drive–using the hashtag #ModernMarilyn, participants are encouraged to post a picture inspired by Marilyn Monroe, along with the link to the fundraising page.

If you are so inclined, contributing to this fundraising drive would be a wonderful way to honor Marilyn Monroe’s memory this year, and a great contribution to a vital Los Angeles institution. Please follow this link to contribute or share the page with someone who can, and honor a legend while at the same time honoring Los Angeles children and families.

Happy 90th birthday, Marilyn!

Hollywood Stars as Kids

 

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: The Subtle Messages of BORN YESTERDAY (1950)

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A few days ago, as I spent a sick afternoon at home, I was pleased to discover the delightful Born Yesterday (1950) playing on TCM. This is a movie that has always fascinated me–Judy Holliday’s performance as the dim-witted Billie Dawn won her an Oscar for the Best Actress of 1950, in the face of Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson, both nominated for the roles of their careers. Holliday’s win has always been a bit of an enigma, so much so that in the process of trying to “figure her out,” I’ve developed a real fondness for Judy Holliday and her all-too-brief career. To me, she’s one of the most underappreciated and underutilized comediennes of the era, and her early death was a huge loss to the industry.

Holliday’s Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday stands out as her best-known role, a part she originated on the Broadway stage before signing on to reprise the role in the movie. On the surface, the movie is a fluffy comedy about a rather intellectually dull woman who studies with a tutor to expand her mind. It seems to be standard code-era fare. But upon a deeper examination of the plot, and of the character of Billie Dawn, one is hit with some powerful messages about women’s rights, and the political climate in which the movie was made.

Billie Dawn is a poorly-educated New Yorker, living with her gangster fiancé on a long-term business venture in Washington, D.C. Billie often embarrasses Harry with her ignorance, and in order to make a better impression on his business contacts, Harry engages a tutor, Paul (William Holden), to teach Billie the ways of the world. The two get on swimmingly. Billie loves learning, and Paul respects her mind and her autonomy in a way that Harry doesn’t. In interacting with Paul, and in learning more about the way the world works, Billie comes to the realization that Harry abuses and takes advantage of her, and she must leave him.

Advocating for a woman’s right to educate herself, and for her right to leave an abusive relationship, was forward-thinking in 1950. Despite women taking the jobs of overseas men during WWII and the resulting spike in women’s employment in the postwar years, the prevailing thought in 1940s and early 1950s American media continued to be that women should be subservient to their husbands, and that education for women was futile. Few movies challenged this view, with the perhaps singular exception of the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy comedy Woman of the Year, released 8 years prior. In Woman of the Year, we are presented with a mirror image of Billie Dawn, in Katharine Hepburn’s portrayal of the very educated, self-reliant Tess Harding, who becomes involved with Spencer Tracy’s meat-and-potatoes, sports-enthusiast Sam Craig. They fall in love, and at the end of the movie (spoiler alert), we see Tess trying to eschew her intellectual gifts for domestic life with Sam, trying (and failing) to make him breakfast in the final scene. Sam encourages her to simply be herself, and not change for him. Tess had fallen victim to the same views that plagued the majority of women of that era, and many were not as lucky as she was.

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Here, with Born Yesterday, we see a shift in the narrative. “It’s a new world, Harry,” says a business associate of Harry’s, late in the movie. “Force and reason are changing places. Knowledge is power.” When Billie returns to Harry, newly educated, she encounters his brute force as he beats and yells at her. With her newfound sense of confidence and power from her education, she sees him for what he is and leaves him for Paul. An empowering message for women of the early 1950s, often trapped in abusive or unfulfilling marriages.

The “knowledge is power” theme of Born Yesterday is especially meaningful when viewed through the political lens of the late 1940s and early 1950s. McCarthyism was at its peak, with many in Hollywood as its targets. Senator Joseph McCarthy took advantage of the raw, ignorant fears of the American populace regarding communism, while the defenders of the Hollywood Ten and other blacklisted individuals fought against the base ignorance of McCarthy’s followers. In its own subtle way, Born Yesterday takes sides, and fights against the core ideology of McCarthyism by asserting that “knowledge is power,” and that brute ignorance is destructive and harmful.

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Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall lead the Committee for the First Amendment, organized to support the Hollywood Ten.

In a side note, Judy Holliday was blacklisted herself in 1952. When testifying before the subcommittee, she took on the distinctive voice and persona of Billie Dawn, confounding those asking her questions and, possibly, saving her career. Despite being blacklisted from certain media for 10 years, she ultimately returned and everything got back to normal–she worked in films and on the stage until shortly before her death in 1965.

While today’s world has changed in its attitudes toward women and education, we are currently faced with an epidemic of anti-intellectualism in our politics, reminiscent of the McCarthy years in its prideful ignorance. It is significant that the movie takes place in Washington, D.C., and extols the virtues of knowledge and education in the very location where our government is centered. We might do well to remember the message of this movie in this day and age, when knowledge and expertise are all too disposable in our political system.

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Highlights From the TCM Classic Film Festival

Charles Coburn and Jean Arthur in a scene from THE MORE THE MERRIER, 1943.

The TCM Classic Film Festival came to a close last night, and I am currently fighting off a tremendous case of sleep deprivation following my flight home at 6:15 in the morning. Despite my lack of sleep, I still feel the elation of the festival in every fiber of my being.

What a weekend it was. Attendees come from all over the country and the world, and every year it feels like a family reunion–except, as a friend of mine put it, for the fact that “everyone likes each other.” Those of us who are regular attendees can hardly walk 10 feet across the Roosevelt Hotel lobby in less than half an hour, because everyone we see is a close friend whom we haven’t seen in a year. It’s truly unlike anywhere else.

I spent several days before the festival posting about my festival picks. Normally, I post every evening after the day’s festivities, but as there had been so much posting before the festival and my social media skills have been honed since last year, I made the decision to hold off on posting until after it was over and rely on Twitter to keep everyone up to date during the festival itself.

As expected, the highlight of the festival was the screening of The More the Merrier at the Egyptian Theatre. The pure joy and infectious laughter of the crowd was something very rare and unique to festivals like TCM–this level of excitement is not something one encounters at the standard neighborhood movie theater. It reminded me of just how special this festival is, and why we keep coming back year after year.

The More the Merrier is a movie that we had been fighting tooth and nail to bring to TCM for some time now. Along with my fellow fans of the movie, I was slightly concerned that it wouldn’t get much of a showing, owing to the fact that it was scheduled opposite Shanghai Express and Love Me or Leave Me. We shouldn’t have worried. The theater was packed, and the audience enjoyed themselves more than at any other screening I attended, 9:00 in the morning or not.

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Another highlight for me was the wonderful Midnight, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. The movie was introduced by Bonnie Hunt, who lauded it as one of her favorites, and then backed up her claim by staying to watch it with us. She is a charming presenter, filled with humor and a down-to-earth air about her. As with The More the Merrier, the audience was enthusiastic and involved, laughing out loud at the perfect Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett script about a chorus girl who gets caught up in a millionaire’s scheme. My favorite line: “When I married, I didn’t realize that in the Czerny family there was a streak of… shall we say, eccentricity. And yet, I had warning. Why else should his grandfather have sent me, as an engagement present, one roller skate covered with thousand island dressing?” Claudette Colbert is a gem, and John Barrymore does a hilarious scene on the telephone in which he pretends to be Ameche’s wife and daughter.

Barrymore died a mere 3 years later. While he showed a talent for comedy early on, he never truly became known as a comedy star–something that may have come had he lived longer. His performances in Midnight and Twentieth Century 5 years earlier are world-class.

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On Friday night, I went to see Angela Lansbury interviewed before a showing of The Manchurian Candidate. The line to get in was one of the longest I have ever seen in any of my years attending the TCM Festival. I knew it was going to be packed, so I got there over an hour early. By the time I arrived around 6:45 for the 8:00 interview, the line had snaked around to the side of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, up the stairs, through Hollywood and Highland center, and almost around to the back of the complex. Despite my early arrival, I was number 293 in line.

Angela Lansbury is one of the most versatile and prolific actors alive. She has excelled phenomenally in every medium she has attempted, becoming a legend of film, a legend of the Broadway stage, and a legend of television in equal measure. Very few people achieve the level of stardom that she has, even in one medium–and she has conquered them all. TCM festivalgoers know this, and the level of respect that she has earned among this crowd is immense.

Trying to contain an interview with Angela Lansbury within the confines of one single movie is futile. Lansbury’s career is so immense and far-reaching that a focus only on The Manchurian Candidate gives the impression of a big elephant in the room–the rest of her career. While interviewers have set guidelines to follow, and interviewer Alec Baldwin had to bring her back to The Manchurian Candidate at some point, there were moments where Angela Lansbury clearly wanted to talk about her early career in film, and about her roles as Mame Dennis in Mame and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She is prime material for a lengthy interview, along the lines of what TCM does every year–last year with Sophia Loren and this year with Faye Dunaway. And judging by the line I stood in, number 293 over an hour before the interview, there is a Grauman’s Chinese Theater-full of people who agree.

The Hollywood home movies were a joy. We were treated to behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of The More the Merrier (which obviously made me happy), footage from Marjorie Morningstar, and home movies of the Nicholas Brothers, presented by Fayard Nicholas’ son, Tony. Tony’s daughters and grandchildren were there as well, and we had a nice surprise when one of the grandchildren, who looked to be about 9 years old, did an impromptu tap routine. It is comforting to know that the out-of-this-world talent of the Nicholas Brothers is being passed on through the generations.

The reasoning behind my current sleep deprivation is the fact that I was originally scheduled to fly home last night. But when I saw the schedule and realized that Network was playing on Sunday night, I changed my flight to early the next morning. There was no way I was going to miss it.

As I have mentioned before, I consider Network to be one of the most timely, prescient and telling movies ever made. It was a thrill to hear audiences gasping with recognition at lines such as “We are talking about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national television,” recognizing the eerie parallels with today’s election news cycles. There were some people who laughed all the way through the movie, something that I felt to be a recognition of the absurdity of the story. But upon leaving the theater, a friend of mine expressed that she was upset that people laughed during the movie, that it trivialized the brilliance of it. I’m not sure which one of us is in the right, but I think it was unexpected for us both.

Once again, a remarkable festival. Here are some things that I would like to see next year:

  • A Conversation With Angela Lansbury
  • More pre-Codes. Double Harness, the William Powell pre-Code that showed on Friday morning, filled up quickly and left many people disappointed. It was rescheduled for Sunday, and filled up yet again. Every year, the pre-Codes fill up. This, to me, means that the TCM Film Festival crowd has a special affinity for this era.
  • As an addendum to the previous point, I would love to see a showing of Ladies They Talk About (1933). Combining Barbara Stanwyck with pre-Codes would be a surefire hit for the festival.

Thank you, TCM, for a wonderful festival this year. I can’t wait for next year’s “family reunion!”

2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule, SUNDAY

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I leave tomorrow for the TCM Classic Film Festival, so here is the final installment in my rundown of the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival schedule.

Sunday will be a light day for me, because in the morning I will be going to visit an old research friend in Hollywood. However, the schedule offers some prime choices for attendees on Sunday morning, including a screening of 1961’s King of Kings at the Egyptian at 9:00, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid at the Chinese multiplex 1 at 11:00, and Children of a Lesser God at 1:00, also at the Egyptian. TCM pulls a bit of a trick on festivalgoers at 2:30, with the simultaneous programming of the conversation with Gina Lollobrigida, and the Live From the TCM Festival interview with Faye Dunaway, which will be broadcast on the channel.

I am going to try to get back from my friend’s by 2:30, in time for the Faye Dunaway interview. Dunaway is one of the most prominent actresses of the 1970s, with starring credits in such enduring classics as Chinatown, Network (for which she won an Oscar), and Bonnie and Clyde. Her appearance at the festival comes as a pleasant surprise–the interview was originally scheduled with Burt Reynolds, but when he had to drop out due to unforeseen circumstances, Faye Dunaway stepped in at the last minute. It will be fascinating to hear what Dunaway has to say about her long career and her Oscar win for Network, playing at the TCM Festival that evening.

Sunday’s schedule includes many spots marked TBD, which is TCM’s way of accommodating movie fans whose film choices filled up quickly. In a TBD slot, TCM will program a movie shown in a previous time slot that was so hugely popular that many fans were left outside due to lack of space in the theater. It is difficult to speculate what will play in a TBD slot, but based on the length of the Faye Dunaway interview, I will likely not make any of the movies in the next time slot except the TBD one. I am looking forward to seeing what that choice will be.

The next thing on the schedule is Network, at 8:00. I changed my flight home so that I could see Network on the big screen, as I feel that it would be remiss of me to let one of the most eerily prescient movies ever to have been made fall by the wayside just for a flight.

Network is the story of Howard Beale, a veteran newsman fired from his job due to poor ratings, who threatens to kill himself on national television. His network sees the ratings value in his remarks, and builds an entire show around Beale and his pseudo-political ravings. In order to boost ratings even further, another show is developed surrounding a terrorist cell–and herein lies Beale’s downfall, and the network’s triumph. The movie won several Oscars, including one for Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of the ruthless news producer, Paddy Chayefsky’s writing, and a posthumous award for Peter

In 1976, the premise of a network manipulating ratings based on the ravings of a “manifestly irresponsible man” was considered satirical and farfetched. But screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky seemed to have a vision of what was to come–today, the basic tenets of Network drive much of our 24-hour news cycle, especially during this presidential election year. Networks know that the incendiary words uttered by certain presidential candidates invite shock and outrage, and so they broadcast those words over and over, analyze them, and discuss them, because they know that people will tune in to hear them. The symbiotic relationship between outrage and ratings is well known now. We seem to be living out what Paddy Chayefsky envisioned in his imaginary world of news cycle absurdism in Network. It is a simultaneously fascinating and extremely frightening situation.

MY SUNDAY CHOICES: Faye Dunaway interview and Network

See you in Hollywood! As usual, you can follow along with all the action right here on the blog, as I enable a live Twitter feed during the festival. To send us off, hit it Bing!

2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule, SATURDAY

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A recurring theme of this year’s festival is one that is familiar to anyone following current events–corruption in the media and the rise and fall of media superstars. Whether it’s the story of an unstable buffoon on the airwaves, a drifter who becomes a media sensation, or an exploration of the costs of covering a juicy news story, the theme speaks to audiences in this current political climate, as we can see similarities in each of these stories in relation to what is happening in the media today.

Ace in the Hole, playing Saturday morning at the Chinese multiplex 1, tells the story of a down-on-his-luck reporter who sees an opportunity to redeem himself via a report about a miner trapped in a collapsed cave. The public takes to it immediately, and it stays on the front pages of the paper. The bigger the story gets, the more the reporter’s life begins to disintegrate until several tragedies strike and we see the futility of greed and self-serving ambition. It is a pensive and symbolic story, and one whose message holds true over 60 years later.

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In any other time slot, Ace in the Hole would be one of the must-sees of the festival. Playing down the hall, however, is a celebration of 90 years of Vitaphone. When sound came to film for the first time in Don Juan (1926), the movie was screened alongside a bill of shorts that featured speech and song, recorded and synchronized by the Vitaphone company. Only a few survive. Since 1991, an organization called The Vitaphone Project, run by self-described “film buffs and record collectors,” has been dedicated to restoring and releasing these shorts that are so vital to understanding the history of sound on film. At the festival on Saturday morning, Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project will be on hand to discuss and screen some of the recently restored Vitaphone shorts, including some featuring George Burns and Gracie Allen, Baby Rose Marie, and Molly Picon.

For now:

MY CHOICE: 90 Years of Vitaphone

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: Ace in the Hole

The next time slot features several attractive choices. A Face in the Crowd, another timely movie fitting the theme of broadcast corruption, is showing at the Egyptian. Meanwhile, the always popular One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is playing at the Chinese multiplex 1. Intolerance, D.W. Griffith’s 3.5-hour silent masterpiece, will be at the Chinese multiplex 6 (and is recommended for dedicated fans only, as it spans several time slots). The brilliant Carl Reiner will be giving a talk at Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, in the beautiful Grauman’s Chinese Theater. But it will be at Club TCM, the gathering and lounging space at the Roosevelt Hotel for festival passholders, where many stars will gather on Saturday.

Last year, Cari Beauchamp released a book in which she assembled stories from actors, directors, and screenwriters about the first time they saw Hollywood. The book is a compelling read, and at this special presentation, the stories as presented by Beauchamp in the book will be read by such stars as Laraine Newman (Anita Loos), Nancy Olson (Colleen Moore), Bruce Goldstein (Ben Hecht), David Ladd (Robert Parrish) and Sue Lloyd (Harold Lloyd). This is my pick, as it is sure to be a meaningful glimpse into the world of classic Hollywood.

Also, if you haven’t had a chance to buy the book yet, Cari Beauchamp will be having a book signing in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby following the presentation.

MY CHOICE: My First Time in Hollywood

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: Nothing this time.

 

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The TCM Festival is lucky in that it attracts some of the most legendary classic Hollywood stars to the festival for appearances and interviews. Last year the major guest was Sophia Loren, who gave an interview for the festival that will air on the channel on April 28. This year the festival continues the Italian theme with Gina Lollobrigida, who will introduce Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Saturday at 3:30. Down the road from Gina Lollobrigida at the Chinese multiplex 1 is The Big Sleep, one of Bogart and Bacall’s biggest hits and a noir classic, while The Yearling  will play at Chinese multiplex 6 and the 1953 version of Orson Welles’ radio program War of the Worlds will be at multiplex 4. Elliott Gould will also be giving a discussion at Club TCM. This is a tough one, but I think I’m going with The Big Sleep. There are few times when I can give up Bogart and Bacall on the big screen.

MY CHOICEThe Big Sleep

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: I don’t think anything, at this point.

Next up is The King and I, versus Song of Bernadette, versus Hollywood Home Movies. Along with the Shanghai Express/The More the Merrier issue, this is one of the more difficult choices of the festival. Having expected to see The King and I open the festival this year (and thus not be able to see it, with my media pass), I feel that I should see it–especially since Rita Moreno is introducing. But at Club TCM during this time slot is a truly fun annual program in which the festival brings in Hollywood home movies from the Academy and shows them to the crowd, assisted by the stories and memories of the people who are in them. The home movies program is a yearly tradition for me, and I can’t see both The King and I and the home movies due to their starting times. In previous years, I have left early from movies in order to catch the next one. But I have come to the conclusion that this is not “best practices” for the TCM Festival, so I will have to make a decision. Home movies will probably win out.

MY CHOICE: Hollywood Home Movies

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: The King and I.

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Joan Fontaine between takes on the set of Gunga Din.

As for the last time slot of the day, I’m probably going to have to choose Midnight. I love Claudette Colbert too much for anything else there.

MY CHOICE: Midnight

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: Nothing.

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See you back here for a rundown of Sunday!

 

2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule FRIDAY

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Analysis of the TCM Festival schedule continues here at Backlots. Friday morning starts off as well as any Friday morning could start, but it is also a perfect example of the joyous difficulty TCM’s schedule poses for the attendee.

THE CHOICES

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As happy as many of us are that Shanghai Express, The More the Merrier, and Love Me or Leave Me are all playing at the festival this year–we are faced with the dilemma that they are all playing at the same time, and we can’t be in three places at once.

Shanghai Express, the 1932 pre-Code starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, and Anna May Wong, is exactly the kind of film that attracts a significant part of TCM’s demographic. TCM viewers and festival attendees seem to have a real fondness for pre-Codes–two years ago, Bruce Goldstein’s presentation on pre-Code Hollywood was packed to the gills with enthusiastic fans of the steamy, sensuous world of Hollywood between 1929 and 1934. Shanghai Express is a textbook pre-Code. Telling the story of Shanghai Lily, a sexually liberated woman (“It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily”) who meets a former lover on a train during the Chinese civil war, it is sure to draw a large crowd at the festival.

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Love Me or Leave Me, the classic Doris Day musical, is another delightful choice for this time slot. An increasing number of people seem to be drawn to Doris Day in recent years, and the love is much-deserved. There is more to Doris Day movies than may meet the eye at first glance–this movie, for example, was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won for Best Writing.

But both of these are playing opposite The More the Merrier, a movie that many of us have been trying to get to the festival for many years. Starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn, The More the Merrier is a farce about the housing crisis during World War II, disguised as a hysterically funny screwball comedy. Coburn’s character finagles his way into sharing a room with Jean Arthur and then rents half of his room to Joel McCrea, creating a situation in which Coburn begins to act as a matchmaker for the two younger characters.

Additionally, The More the Merrier will be introduced by Cari Beauchamp, a major draw for festivalgoers herself. In addition to her regular presentations at prior TCM Festivals, she won over viewers of the channel this past year with her appearances on TCM’s “Trailblazing Women” series.

The fact that we have been trying to get The More the Merrier for several years, along with the delightfulness of the movie and Beauchamp’s introduction, makes this a must-see.

MY CHOICE: The More the Merrier

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: Nothing, although if it were in any other time slot, I would see Shanghai Express.

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The next time slot at 11:30 is quite a lot easier on the decision-making front. I love The Way We Were, and once again, Cari Beauchamp is introducing. With her long history in politics and in the feminist movements of the 1970s, there is no one better to introduce this movie.

Nothing else in this time slot particularly grabs me. Lassie Come Home is sweet, but I don’t feel the need to see it on the big screen. The Way We Were it is.

MY CHOICE: The Way We Were

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: Nothing.

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The Friday afternoon and evening slots provide a buffet of great choices once again. At 3:00 at Chinese Multiplex 1, Serge Bromberg will present a look at some of the newest discoveries and restorations in silent film, including new footage from Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith and a previously lost Laurel and Hardy film, The Battle of the Century. Meanwhile, down the hall at the Multiplex 4, there will be a screening of the Deborah Kerr classic Tea and Sympathy, and for Coppola fans, a screening of The Conversation with Coppola present. For me, I’m torn between Tea and Sympathy and Serge Bromberg’s presentation. I’m not sure which will win out this time–my never-ending love for silent film, or my love for Deborah Kerr. Darryl Hickman, who plays Al in the film, will be a special guest, which is a plus. This one is a toss-up, but silent film may easily win out despite the pros to Tea and Sympathy.

MY CHOICE: Amazing Film Discoveries

MY MIND MAY BE CHANGED BY: Tea and Sympathy.

The evening hours commence with a choice between another pre-Code, an oft-screened uber-classic, a modern movie, a silent, and a Club TCM presentation about vaudeville. The pre-Code is Pleasure Cruise, a not terribly well-known movie and one that would be my first new-to-me pick of the festival. It’s difficult to go wrong with a pre-Code, and the new-to-me factor is a bonus.

MY CHOICE: Pleasure Cruise

MY MIND MAY BE CHANGED BY: Vaudeville 101

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The late evening is no contest. Despite the stellar lineup of movies in this time slot, including Pride of the Yankees and My Sister Eileen, Angela Lansbury is going to be at The Manchurian Candidate. That sells it for me.

MY CHOICE: The Manchurian Candidate

MY MIND MIGHT BE CHANGED BY: Nothing, unless Angela Lansbury can’t be there for some reason.

I’ll be back tomorrow with Saturday’s picks!