Tag Archives: barbara stanwyck

FASCINATING PEOPLE: Professor Alan Greenberg

A portion of an interview with Claudette Colbert, conducted by Professor Alan Greenberg.

Having had the enviable privilege of getting to know some of the biggest stars of classic Hollywood and possessing hundreds of hours of interviews that he conducted with such luminaries as Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Jack Lemmon, Lillian Gish, and Greer Garson, Professor Alan Greenberg is perhaps one of the greatest sources of classic film information around. During his time as leader of a community service program in San Diego focusing on teaching foreign students about American culture, Professor Greenberg was able to conduct lengthy interviews with the legendary stars and directors of classic Hollywood, recording on tape these rare and intimate glimpses into their lives and careers.

Gregory Peck on Alfred Hitchcock.

Professor Greenberg has a very interesting background. Upon a move to La Quinta, CA that would ultimately prove to be quite fortuitous, he found himself living in the same city as the legendary director Frank Capra who had recently published an autobiography. Always interested in the films of the 1930s and 1940s, Greenberg took it upon himself to write Capra a letter to ask if they might be able to meet. He agreed, and this was the beginning of a long friendship that also gave Greenberg the opportunity to meet some of Capra’s friends who, of course, were often giant figures in classic Hollywood. This ultimately led to a huge network of prominent friends who were always glad to help out when Greenberg’s students at Orco Development, the community service program he established in the 1980s, had a research need. In the following Q&A, Greenberg discusses Orco Development more in detail and gives you more information on what it is all about.

I became acquainted with Professor Greenberg a few weeks ago and found his story so fascinating that I asked if he would like to do a Q&A on the blog so that my readers could become introduced to him and his work. I was thrilled when he agreed. So please enjoy this Q&A that I conducted with Professor Alan Greenberg, friend to the stars!

You have had the great privilege to interview some of the most well-known, best-loved, and highly respected people in classic Hollywood. Tell our readers a bit about your background, and how you came to befriend so many of these veritable Hollywood legends.

A couple things in my background prepared me for interviewing and sharing adventures with some of the great legends from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I was always attracted to programs like Edward R. Murrow’s Person To Person and other interview shows where Murrow would talk to Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, etc. about their backgrounds and careers while being taken on a tour of their homes. This fascinated me, the ability to go to their house and talk to them about their work and lives. Secondly, I was bullied a great deal in high school due to a bad case of acne. Looking for a solution, I noticed an ad in the paper talking about boxing lessons at a gym in downtown Manhattan. Of all things, the instructor that day was the 5 time former middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson. He was having financial difficulties at the time, and wanted to make some money while helping young people. He became a friend and mentor to me over time and this experience taught me how to become comfortable talking to my heroes from an early age. Also, many people I interviewed over the years were fans of boxing including Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and the actress/director Ida Lupino. Ms. Lupino was a boxing enthusiast and you can see a picture of her, Sugar Ray Robinson, and myself taken during dinner in the gallery of my website.

I also had become friends with the late director Frank Capra after moving to California in the 1970’s. He was retired at the time and was impressed with my knowledge of his career. At one point he told me “You know more about me than I do”. One day we were having lunch at a restaurant, when a group of Japanese students asked if he was in fact the director Frank Capra. He said yes and we all had a friendly conversation about American film and American history. After the conversation was over, Capra and I realized the student’s knowledge of American film and history was lacking. This bothered Capra in particular because he had directed a series of documentaries called Why We Fight which explained America’s involvement in WWII. He and I eventually came up with the idea of creating a Community Service Program called Orco Development, the purpose of which was educating foreign-born students about American film, politics, and the military. I suggested it would be more engaging for the students if we spoke to the people involved in what we were studying. Capra used his vast connections in Hollywood to get subjects who I would then interview and eventually get to know on a personal level. So it was really Capra’s reputation and mentoring that allowed me to befriend all these Hollywood legends, there was nothing special about me that attracted them to the course, other than the depth of knowledge I had about their work.

Professor Greenberg with his friend, director Frank Capra.

Professor Greenberg with his friend, director Frank Capra.

Who was your first interviewee, and how did that experience prepare you for the many dozens more of these interviews you would go on to complete?

Although I met a number of famous people before getting to know Frank Capra, I would say he probably is the first formal interview I did. Fortunately when I contacted him and he wrote me back, he gave me 3 weeks time before we could actually meet. I had a copy of his autobiography The Name Above The Title which I read it in total and made numerous notes on index cards preparing for it. I then sat down and began to memorize my questions. When I arrived at his home in La Quinta I just had one index card with a keyword from each topic. He was so impressed with this breadth of knowledge on his life and career that it initiated this friendship. I think it also flattered him that someone so young would be interested in someone 50 years older.

I learned that one way to impress these people and get to know them personally was to do this kind of thing. Also I learned about eye contact, the worst thing you can do is sit there with your subject and have your eyes dart back and forth between them and your notes, studying the questions. It says you didn’t prepare. This experience taught me to be overly prepared and in some cases it can really impress people. Afterward Capra and I began speaking every weekend for 2 years and he basically schooled me in classic movies. He was one of the top 5 directors of all time and he was my mentor. So that was quite an experience.

Your prior knowledge coming into these interviews is vast. I recall one interview in which you provide your subject with the name of Melvyn Douglas’ wife with barely a pause. Were you a classic film fan before your association with these figures?

I would say I was a classic film fan but on a very superficial level. My good friend and fraternity brother Philip Wuntch, who was the former film critic for the Dallas Morning News and author of Marty Jurow Seein’ Stars, had a much deeper appreciation for classic films than I did before I was mentored by Mr. Capra. So I did enjoy the movies before, but it was the interaction with these people, getting to know them, that made me enjoy classic films on a new level.

Of all the Hollywood people you came to know, who left the biggest impression on you, and why?
I think the person who left the biggest impression on me was Burt Lancaster. He was exactly as energetic and charismatic in real life as he was on film. But that’s not what impressed me the most about him. One day he called me up and asked me if I knew anything about Cesar Chavez and the work he was doing with the farm workers. I said I only knew about it from reading stories in the newspaper. He then invited me up for the day to check out Chavez’s operation and see the kind of struggles they were going through. Burt’s personality was as big as they come, but when we went up to see Chavez and the farm workers he was as respectful, polite, and attentive as anyone I’d ever seen. He completely put his ego aside to listen to everyone he came into contact with. Not that Burt had ever been dismissive with people before, but most of the time his personality could really take over the room. Not in this case. That showed me how much he really cared about the issues that were important to him. There were no camera crews, no reporters, just two guys trying to understand the lives of people that were fighting for their rights.
What was the most memorable moment to come out of the interviews you conducted with the Hollywood stars?
When you’ve done literally hundreds of interviews, many moments stay with you over the years. I think one your readers might enjoy hearing is the interview I did with Myrna Loy. For those who don’t know, Myrna Loy was one of the most popular stars of the 1930’s with movies like The Thin Man , Manhattan Melodrama, and The Best Years Of Our Lives which incidentally, Capra once told me was the perfect movie in his opinion. She had starred with just about every leading man in Hollywood, and could do comedy as well as drama. I think on a list of the most popular classic film actresses, she could definitely make the top 10 along with Hepburn, Stanwyck, Davis, etc. With that in mind, she proceeded to tell me that she had made it as an actress, “in a very small way” and when I responded to her that she was in fact one of the most popular screen actresses of all time she said, “Good God I don’t believe that, but then that’s alright. I was just a little punk girl trying to be a movie star, there were a lot of us around”. When I asked her if she got a lot of fan mail she replied, “Oh I got hardly any at all, they didn’t even know who I was”. She absolutely refused to see herself as a big star, and she had this attitude every time we spoke, it wasn’t false modesty. She felt she was a good actress, but when it came to stardom, she not only wouldn’t acknowledge it, she honestly didn’t believe she was popular at all. I was very surprised given all the incredible films I had seen her in.
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You have had a truly fascinating career, and possess hundreds of hours of audio recordings from some of the most popular figures in the Golden Age of Hollywood, something unique indeed. Do you have any plans to write a book or put together a project related to your experiences interviewing these stars and directors?

I was very encouraged by the response I’ve been receiving from my website. For example we recently put a portion of my interview with Barbara Stanwyck on YouTube, and I think within a few days we had almost 500 people listen to it and many of them left comments, begging to hear the whole interview.

A portion of an interview that Professor Greenberg conducted with Barbara Stanwyck, in which she discusses her directors and her love of her older sister.

So I’d like to begin some speaking engagements, talking about these unique experiences because there is clearly an interest. Turner Classic Movies has millions of viewers and whenever Robert Osborne gives the background to a picture before they play it, I’ve been told it’s enthusiastically received. One thing that I think sets my interviews apart from the usual Hollywood interviews is these stars were much more candid with me, knowing I had no intention to gossip about them or pass the info on to the media, or take their words out of context. We had an understanding between us and I was sincere in my curiosity about them.

As far as a book is concerned, I’ve been approached by publishers in the past, but to be frank, they asked me if these famous people had revealed any personal sexual details about their lives. I was disheartened by this and the publishers told me the book wouldn’t sell well without these details. That certainly wasn’t the path I wanted to go down so I politely refused and put the idea of a book behind me.

Where can readers learn more about you, and follow any project you may be working on?

People can find out more about me and the program utilizing our website: www.orcodevelopment.org and also keep an eye out for my lectures where I reminisce, tell anecdotes, play interviews and show pictures of my friends Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, Jimmy Stewart and more. You can find most of them in the gallery section of our website with me during the 25 or so years I taught this course. I have some personal and never before heard stories about my friendship with these venerated actors. If any colleges, senior centers, organizations, etc. would like to contact me. They can do so through phone or email and I’ll be happy to reply.

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Thank you so much to Professor Greenberg for this marvelous Q&A. See you next time!

2013 at Backlots–A Year in Review

A big thank you to my readers for making 2013 a true banner year for Backlots. Here are some of the things that happened on the blog this year:

My attendance at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival was far and away one of the highlights of the year. A true movie lover’s paradise, the TCM Festival attracts classic film aficionados from the world over, and TCM certainly delivers the goods. It was great fun interacting in person with my fellow bloggers, whose work I know so well online, and making new classic film friends. A wonderful experience!

For the second year in a row, Backlots covered the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this past summer. As usual, it was a fantastic event with presentations unparalleled in their quality. Highlights for me included a screening of the hilarious Marion Davies movie The Patsy, an interactive talk with Winsor McKay expert John Canemaker,  and the breathtaking gamelan accompaniment set to the Balinese silent film Legong: Dance of the Virgins by the Sekar Jaya Gamelan Ensemble. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival never disappoints. Stay tuned next year’s festival which will be held over Memorial Day Weekend, and on January 11 for their special celebration of The Little Tramp at 100–celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Chaplin’s The Little Tramp. I will be at both events!

Last month, I was honored to be invited to blog for the Warner Bros. 90th Anniversary Tour. We bloggers were treated to a day of exploration at the studio, led by a professional guide, and topped off with lunch at the commissary. We had special access to the costume department and several areas off limits for regular tour members, and it was indeed a special day. Again, I met so many fellow bloggers and had such a good time. Thank you, Warner Bros., for organizing this wonderful day for us!

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The classic film community was graced with several magnificent new books this year. I had the pleasure of conducting interviews with Victoria Wilson, author of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940, and Kendra Bean, who is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait and a personal friend of mine. Both of these works are great monuments in and of themselves. A Life of Barbara Stanwyck is a gargantuan book that features 860 full pages of text and another 200 for source notes, and has proven to be the quintessential, definitive book on the actress. My reading of this book, though it took me less than 2 days, is one of the highlights of my year. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is so chock full of previously unseen photos of this staggering beauty that the reader simply cannot put it down. It is displayed prominently, face forward, on my shelf so as not to obscure its beauty. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to interview these two gifted writers, and I thank them for their interviews with me. Read Victoria Wilson’s interview here, and Kendra Bean’s here.

In what was perhaps my most meaningful personal success of 2013, I had the great privilege to interview Joan Fontaine in honor of her birthday. This was her last birthday, and her last interview. Joan was frail and her health declining, so she kept her answers short. The length of her answers does not matter to me. My interview with Joan Fontaine remains the single greatest privilege Backlots has ever had. Click here to read it. Rest in peace, dear Joan.

This is the video I made in memory of Joan Fontaine. I hope you enjoy it.

Wow, readers. What a year. 2014 is already shaping up to be an equally marvelous year! Here’s to what’s to come, and to you, loyal readers, for helping to make this blog what it has become.

Merry Christmas from Backlots!

To all those who celebrate it, I wish my readers a very merry Christmas with lots of quality time with friends and family!

The holiday of Christmas has heralded some of the most beloved movies of all time. In celebration of the season, I am profiling a few of my favorites here. Have a wonderful holiday, and if you have a free moment, check out some of these movies!

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, it tells the story of a “perfect housewife” columnist who doesn’t exactly have the life her column suggests…and when her boss requires her to host a war veteran at her home for Christmas (and insists upon coming along himself), she has some arranging to do! A sweet situation comedy that is defined by Barbara Stanwyck’s delightful performance and that of the adorable S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as the character of Uncle Felix.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)

This one is a true classic, and often I find myself disillusioned with the fact that with its great popularity has come a colorization that has now taken over AMC every year at Christmas as well as a 1994 remake, that has become more prevalent than the original on the other more commercial channels. But this, I believe, is the one and only one to see. Natalie Wood stars as a little girl skeptical of Santa Claus, until a Macy’s Santa Claus played by Edmund Gwenn makes her think twice. It is a fantastic children’s movie and also holds up extremely well for adults–if you haven’t seen it since your childhood, now is a wonderful time to revisit it!

HOLIDAY AFFAIR

This is a lesser-known gem with which I first became acquainted last year at Noir City X-Mas. It is a sweet, low-key comedy that stars Janet Leigh as an engaged war widow who falls in love with a department store clerk while undercover on her job as a comparative shopper. Though she already has a fiancé, her young son takes to the department store clerk (played by Robert Mitchum) and there begins to be some tension due to her son’s clear preference for Mitchum’s character. The movie is light fare, but good fun. One of the best performances in the movie comes from the little boy, played by Gordon Gebert. His acting career never took off but he found a second talent in adulthood–after studying architecture at UCLA, USC, and MIT, Gebert is now a very prominent professor at New York City’s College School of Architecture.

The Miracle Woman (1931)

In the lion’s den in MIRACLE WOMAN (1931)

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

For the past few months I have been on a rather unshakable Barbara Stanwyck kick. I have always been aware of her gifts as an actress and have always enjoyed her work, but over the past few months I have not been able to get enough of her. All this was simply expanded when I had the honor to interview Victoria Wilson, the author of the new Barbara Stanwyck biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940–and when my book arrived, I devoured it almost as quickly as it reached my hands. I’ve gone mad for Missy (the nickname given to her by a maid in the 1930s that stuck), and there seems to be no turning back now.

Thus, I have decided to make a post on what is one of my favorite Stanwyck films that does not seem to get enough credit. It is The Miracle Woman, co-starring David Manners and released by Columbia in 1931 under the direction of Frank Capra. This was Stanwyck’s second film with Capra after 1930’s Ladies of Leisure, and would be followed by three more collaborations over the course of 11 years.

The Miracle Woman draws much of its material from the life of popular preacher Aimee Semple McPherson and from the hit 1927 novel Elmer Gantry. A scathing critique of popular Christianity and revival meetings featuring charismatic preachers, Elmer Gantry was banned in several cities across the United States for denouncing popular preachers as frauds and false prophets. Several key components in the book are reflected in The Miracle Woman, not the least of which seems to be the similarity of the names of the main female characters, “Sharon Falconer”in Elmer Gantry and “Florence Fallon” in The Miracle Woman.

Florence Fallon hushes the crowd.

Florence Fallon is a preacher’s daughter who calls out the sins of her father’s congregation after they cast him out shortly before his death. Her impassioned speech scares the congregation out of the church, but one person remains–an out-of-towner named Hornsby who sees the fire in her soul and teaches her how to make money preaching.

I must digress from the plot a bit to tell you to watch how Barbara Stanwyck, age 23 and still a novice in Hollywood, plays this scene. A true testament to her gifts, and to Frank Capra’s understanding of her as an actress. In his autobiography, Capra states that in his films with Stanwyck, he rehearsed with the entire cast before he brought her in. Stanwyck gave her best performances, he said,  on the first take. If he tried to do multiple takes with her, the subsequent performances would merely be carbon copies of the first. That fact makes this scene even more astounding.

Florence teams up with Hornsby to create a veritable preaching empire, beginning with broadcasts over the radio and branching out into revival meetings for her loyal followers. One man named John Carson, a veteran who was blinded in battle, hears Florence’s voice over the radio just as he was about to commit suicide over the misery of his condition. Her voice and words make him find new light in his life, and he decides to attend one of her revivals. There, he volunteers to sit in the cage of lions to prove that one cannot be hurt with “love and understanding in your heart.” We soon learn that, much to Florence’s disillusionment, he is the only volunteer that has not been pre-selected by Hornsby and paid to feign healing.

John hears Florence Fallon’s voice for the first time.

On her way out of the theatre, she runs into the man again. She offers him a ride home in the rain, and he offers to bring her into his home. They start to talking, and cultivate a close friendship. Soon, it turns into romantic love. Florence begins sending him notes, assembled tirelessly in raised letters so that he can “read” them.

At a party, one of the staff members of Florence Fallon’s revival show demands a share of the profits, and threatens to expose her as a fraud if he doesn’t get it. In the paper a few days later, we see that the worker has been found dead. The staff suggests that they move to a different town to get away from the scandal. When Florence refuses telling him that he doesn’t own her, Hornsby claims that he holds a sort of “first mortgage.” Then he assaults her, grabbing her body and kissing her on the lips.

This scene shows more evidence of Stanwyck’s magnificent acting abilities. When Hornsby grabs her and she eventually pushes him away, the horror on her face is real, palatable. She holds a hand to her mouth, and her eyes show legitimate fear. As she begins to warn him of what will happen if he ever does that again, her voice quivers with shock. This is an incredibly nuanced, emotional moment, one that requires intense emotional depth from its 23-year-old actress. And Stanwyck delivers.

It is also this scene that establishes Hornsby as a malicious character. Shortly thereafter, and following a birthday celebration with John in which they declare their love for each other, Florence sees a newspaper article that says she is going to the Holy Land. When she asks Hornsby to retract it, he refuses–saying that his idea of the Holy Land is Monte Carlo, and they will go together. Florence resists him, until Hornsby says that it’s either Monte Carlo or jail. He plans to frame her for embezzlement of funds, or pin on her the death of the staff worker.

a2 Frank Capra The Miracle Woman Barbara Stanwyck DVD Review PDVD_000

In tears before her final sermon.

This leaves Florence no choice but to go with him–and when she sees John to tell him that she is going away, she exposes herself as a fraud. John does not care, and hatches a scheme to make her think that she really can perform miracles. Before Florence’s farewell tour, he pretends to be able to see to make her think that she has performed a miracle on his eyesight. She is not fooled, but credits him with a miracle nonetheless–that he “made [her] see.” It is at this moment that she officially separates herself from Hornsby, just before she goes onstage. Hornsby sees that John is the catalyst for this, and knocks him out after Florence leaves the room.

As Florence goes onstage, Hornsby gets his revenge. He allows an electric fire to start, and the tabernacle burns. John is awakened by the smoke, makes his way down to the stage and rescues Florence from the fire. He spends a few days in the hospital, where they begin to repair his eyesight. Florence gives up preaching and instead joins the Salvation Army. A telegram at the end of the movie shows that she and John are to be married, delivered as Florence marches with the rest of the Salvation Army, singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the movie ends.

The ending of The Miracle Woman is taken almost entirely from Elmer Gantry, but differs slightly in an important way. In the latter story Sister Sharon Falconer perishes in the fire, prompting the main character, Elmer Gantry, to give up his religious ways. In The Miracle Woman, religion is treated with more reverence. Florence is rescued from the fire and simply finds a new and better outlet for her religious convictions.

A publicity still with Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners.

There was an official production code in place in 1930, but its enforcement did not begin until 1934 (incidentally, following a string of risque Barbara Stanwyck films. I wrote a post on the subject nearly a year ago, click here to read it). One of the restrictions outlined by the Production Code of 1934 was that religion was to be treated with nothing but reverence–thus this film likely would not have passed the censor board had it been made under the Code due to its questioning of the legitimacy of religious revivals, regardless of Florence Fallon maintaining her religious devotions at the film’s conclusion.

Though The Miracle Woman was made several years before the strict enforcement of the Production Code, filmmakers were still limited by common standards of what the public would accept. In order to appease the influential masses of Christian viewers, Capra and Columbia played it safe with this story, avoiding the issue of religious denouncement that was the hallmark of Elmer Gantry. In doing so, they created a unique film–one that both celebrates religion and questions it. The Miracle Woman really makes us think, which is a sure sign of a well-made film.

See you next time!

The Warner Bros. VIP Tour

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Well, readers, today was an exciting and exhausting day to say the least. It began around 9:45 in the morning when, running on adrenaline and caffeine only (I didn’t get very much sleep), I arrived at the Warner lot for the VIP tour. After getting formally acquainted with several classic film bloggers whose names I knew well, we were led into a special screening room where we watched a short video of the history of Warner Bros. and then headed out on the tour itself with our friendly guide, John.

We bloggers got some very special treatment–our first stop was the costume department, which is not normally part of the tour. There, a woman by the name of Elaine showed us stock costumes while explaining to us how the costume system works at Warner Bros. It turns out that costumes are owned by Warner Bros. but can be rented by other studios–there is a bit of a kinship there that allows costumes to be shared. Upon questioning her about a sign on one of the door that said “Trades not allowed,” Elaine also informed me that there is a trade system in place for some of the costumes. If a costume from the collection is lost or damaged, often the person who lost or damaged it can replace it with another costume of the same value. However, in that particular department, trades are not allowed if the costume is lost or damaged. The person must pay, out of pocket, the value of the costume. Very interesting stuff, and really gives you an insight into some of the politics of the inner departments of the studio.

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Some hats from 1920-1960.

As many of my readers know, I am a big fan of Barbara Stanwyck and was keen to know where Stanwyck’s pre-Code Warner Bros. films were shot. I posed my question to John, who was wonderful in getting the answer to me. He handed the question off to several people until I finally got an answer, and the answer was that most of the Barbara Stanwyck pre-Codes were filmed in Studio 14. When we passed Studio 14 later, John incorporated this new information into the tour. The Warner Bros. tour guides clearly respect and value new information, and I appreciated his diligence in answering my question and imparting it onto the whole group.

A scene from BABY FACE, shot on Warner Bros. Stage 14.

One of my favorite aspects of the tour was the prominent inclusion of A Star is Born. Having seen the movie at least two dozen times, I recognized the set where the opening shot was filmed, and we also passed Stage 7 where many prominent films were shot including A Star is Born, 42nd Street, and Casablanca. Though there were ladders blocking the bottom part of the plaque, I was able to get a bit of it in a picture. I hope you can read the text!

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From the opening shot of A Star is Born.

From the opening shot of A Star is Born.

Halfway through the tour, we got a taste of the more modern Warner Bros. with a visit to the set of Friends. As this was a tour specifically geared toward bloggers, several of us classic film bloggers, John was kind enough to also include a lamp from The Maltese Falcon that appears alongside the Friends set. It was fascinating for me to experience the gamut of Warner Bros. through my lens of a classic film fan. It truly gives the visitor a holistic view of the company, and how its history (with which I am mostly familiar) has shaped its present.

The tour ended with a bang, as we were given special access to take pictures in the museum, something not generally allowed on tours. I have a real soft spot for costumes, so I was thrilled to be able to take photos of such costumes as the three dresses shown below.

Three Elizabeth Taylor costumes from GIANT, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and FATHER OF THE BRIDE.

Costumes worn by Joan Crawford (left) and Elizabeth Taylor.

Harry Warner’s granddaughter, Cass Warner, happened to be on the lot that day and visited with our group, which was a wonderful moment. She is part of Warner Bros. 90th anniversary speaker series, “Meet the Family,” telling the story of the Warner family through the eyes of its members. Cass has her own production company, the Warner Sisters, that is doing very prominent work in the industry right now. She also shared stories of the family, how she wanted the Warner record set straight. People often think of the movie moguls of classic Hollywood as being tyrannical and controlling–and Cass Warner wanted to reiterate that her grandfather was a loving man with whom she was close. She has also devoted much of her life to learning more about her family history. “I’m sort of the family detective!” she joked. She was very interested in the work we classic film bloggers were doing, and I was lucky enough to get a picture with her.

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The tour ended at the commissary, where we were given a very delicious lunch. My blogging friends Kimberly Truhler, Kristen Lopez, Elise Crane Derby and I had exciting and lively discussions about our favorite classic film stars, little-known old Hollywood gossip, and our modest but vibrant online classic film community. We are indeed a rather small, devoted, and tight-knit bunch.

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I got an added bonus after the tour–my friend Marya, who works at the Warner Archives, brought me up to see the closet where they keep all the Warner Archive DVD releases. Needless to say, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Marya and I talked about all the movies, I got to see where she works, and of course I got a picture with Robbie the Robot.

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I can’t imagine a more fun-filled day for a classic movie fan. I departed Warner Bros. an exhausted, but very happy blogger.

Now for the good stuff!

If you would like to go on a Warner Bros. tour, I would highly recommend it. It was a lot of fun, and if you’re a film fan in L.A. it’s a great thing to check out. The VIP tour package looks like this:

Departs: Mon-Sat 8:15am-4pm  and Sundays (limited availability)
Duration: 2hrs 15 min
Cost: $52.00/person
Children 8yrs + are welcome

We technically went on a VIP tour, but with the added special access it was actually more like a Deluxe tour in many ways. This is what the Deluxe tour looks like:

Departs Mon-Fri 10:15 am
Duration: 5 hrs.
Cost: $250.00/person

As I mentioned before, Cass Warner is speaking on tours through the end of the year, so if you would like to see her then this is the time to go. Also, apparently there is a tour in French, if you (like your author here!) speak French. However, act fast for that one because it’s only going on through November.

If you’re in Los Angeles and have a school or club who would like to see Warner Bros., give them a call because hey have special discounts for groups larger than 24. More information can be found on their website.

Thank you, Warner Bros., for this wonderful opportunity!

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Alfred Hitchcock Thanks YOU for a Wonderful Hitchcock Halloween!

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Hello there readers, Lara here to thank you for all your fantastic submissions yesterday for Hitchcock Halloween. It was a really fun event and I think Hitch would have been proud! I hope you will join us next Halloween for another installment of what proved to be a very popular tribute to Alfred Hitchcock!

This post also closes out the month of October, which was a very fruitful one for Backlots. As a refresher, here are the things that happened this past month on the blog:

Backlots interviewed Joan Fontaine in honor of her 96th birthday.

Backlots interviewed Victoria Wilson, author of A LIFE OF BARBARA STANWYCK: STEEL-TRUE 1907-1940.

Backlots interviewed Kendra Bean, author of VIVIEN LEIGH: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT.

The Hitchcock Halloween Blogathon.

Thank you to all my readers for making this such a memorable month at Backlots, and here’s to many more equally memorable months to come!

In about 2 weeks, Backlots will go down to Burbank to blog for the Warner Brothers’ 90th Anniversary VIP Tour, so stay tuned on November 13 for some very special coverage. More details to come!

See you next time!

An Interview with Victoria Wilson, Author of A LIFE OF BARBARA STANWYCK: STEEL-TRUE (1907-1940)

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

The life of Barbara Stanwyck has fascinated film lovers for decades. Her particular combination of sex appeal, toughness, and grit makes for an intriguing character and was doubtless informed by a private life about which she was extremely reticent. This, along with innate intelligence and a seemingly natural instinct for acting, has made her one of the most enigmatic personalities of classic Hollywood.

Though it seems impossible to fathom, there has never been a major biography of Barbara Stanwyck.

Until now.

On November 12, Simon & Schuster will publish A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True (1907-1940), volume 1 of the long-awaited first complete biography of Barbara Stanwyck. 15 years in the making and running a whopping 1,056 pages in length, author Victoria Wilson has created a colossal piece of literature covering the first 33 years of Barbara Stanwyck’s life. Comprised of tireless research and interviews with the star’s family, friends, and acquaintances, the work promises to become one of the most complete and enduring biographies ever written about a motion picture star.

I conducted an interview with Victoria Wilson a few weeks ago, and her answers appear here.Thank you to Vicky Wilson for this interview, and please be sure to pre-order your copy of the book by clicking here.

AN INTERVIEW WITH VICTORIA WILSON

Q This is a biography that has been in the works for 15 years, and has been very highly anticipated in the classic film community for a long time. What was your research process like in writing a book of this caliber and magnitude?

A The answer to the question of research is a huge one . . .to begin with it was definitely a process of starting on the outside and working one’s way deeper and deeper into a subject, a world, and then worlds within worlds.  I began with making lists – of films, directors she worked with,  living people to interview, archives. .  .gathering information and creating a detailed chronology and constantly filling it in (it is now almost 400 pages long); collecting fan magazines. The earlier the fan magazine, the more authentic the interview, the information in the articles; there were no funnels, no press agents, no studio filters; fewer inventions of facts; less distortions.  There was the process of interviewing people, once, twice, three times, sometimes over months, sometimes over years (as with Barbara’s friends, family, her son, etc). There was the process of collecting materials – press books, articles, objects, photographs, letters, scrapbooks, reading them, taking the information I needed, thinking about it, having it lead me to other people, ideas, and so on.  I went through every file of every picture she made, or almost made.  I read the novels of pictures she made, or almost made.  I wrote about the novelists whose novels she read; the playwrights whose plays she acted in, or almost acted in; the directors with whom she worked. I hired researchers to go through and copy scrapbooks of her friends; to go through court records; to go through Variety from 1927 onwards and copy every article on Stanwyck, Frank Fay, Robert Taylor, etc. Each was put in chronological order in large 3-ring notebooks I amassed. I could go on and write a book about the research for the book; of the stories of finding people; of being lead to others, of leads that appeared one day and didn’t make sense or were answered until months or years later . . .And this only begins to give you an idea of what was involved.

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A 1932 fan magazine with Stanwyck on the cover.

How did your interest in Barbara Stanwyck as a subject come to be?

I had always been aware of Barbara Stanwyck as an interesting actress. Someone slightly odd, compelling, not beautiful but sexy, intelligent, sometimes off-putting in her off-centeredness – but always interesting on screen.

It was really John Kobal, who I published and who became a great friend, who would tell me stories about the actors he had interviewed over the years (eventually we put together the interviews in a book called PEOPLE WILL TALK and I had John write up the stories he’d told me about them as introductory pieces to each interview) who talked to me several times about Stanwyck that made me see her in a new way, a way that stayed with me.

Years passed. I published as an editor at Knopf many biographies. I enjoyed the process of working with biographers as they did their research; helping them to think about their subject and what they were discovering about him or her and I decided one day to think of writing one myself.

I made a list of various subjects and Barbara’s name was on the list. I didn’t know much about her and did some preliminary research and realized that there hadn’t been a serious book on her; that her career spanned the history of Hollywood in its second stage and onward through television; that she’d worked with almost every major director; that she as an actress who could do almost anything onscreen; and there was the question of what she projected on the screen and where did that come from and what did it come out of . . .

On the set of LADIES OF LEISURE (1930), her breakout role and her first film with director Frank Capra.

Barbara Stanwyck had a reputation for being an intensely private person, refusing to talk about her difficult childhood or go into detail about her romantic relationships. How did you go about uncovering some of the aspects of Barbara Stanwyck’s life about which she was so reticent?

Hardcore research, pulling together bits and pieces . . .I went to Lanesville, Mass where her family came from and figured out just how – and why – her father became a mason . . .I went to Chelsea, Mass and found in the records where her family moved and moved again and again, up in stature and closer to the center of town away from the rough edges of the city on the river. I pieced together her upbringing in Brooklyn, bit by bit. But it is what one brings to the bits and pieces that makes the narrative and makes it make sense. That’s instinct, and grasp and understanding of character and human beings and coming to know one’s subject through the choices she made; the things she said; her desires and dreams and ambitions etc. Stanwyck was private but she did talk about her childhood. If anything, she played up what was difficult about it and glossed over what was normal about it. Why? Because the experience of it to her was so lonely and tough and relentless and wouldn’t it be for all of us if by the time we were four we were without a mommy and daddy and had a brother who was two years older and just as lost as we were and had three much older sisters who did the best they could to take care of us but were essentially making their way in their own lives and new families.

Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, and was orphaned at the age of 4 when her mother was killed and her father abandoned the family.

One of the most fascinating things about Barbara Stanwyck, to me, is how much her rocky childhood influenced who she became as an actress and a person, yet she still refused to let that childhood define her. What was the most important aspect of Barbara Stanwyck’s childhood that you uncovered for this book, in terms of how it helped shape her character?

Her childhood totally made who she was, just as our childhoods make or have made who we are. Her childhood was about taking care of herself and getting through and being on her own – and apart. Her childhood of being taken to New York from Brooklyn by her sister who was a dancer and actress and being able to watch the performances in the wings and feeling close to her sister, all of which became a family to her, home to her. It gave her the sense of belonging which is what work did for her and did for her throughout her life. . .but that particular childhood also prepared her to make her way in Hollywood. She never was part of any studio family; was under contract to more than one studio when that was unheard of beginning in the early 1930’s whereas Robert Taylor, who grew up in a real family of loving parents who adored him, stayed within his Metro family for decades, longer than any other contract actor at MGM. Finally, all of the hurt and abandonment and anger and terror that she experienced as a child, and the will to survive and make something of herself, and also the love of her own sisters and brother and nephews informed the complex range of feeling and intelligence and humor and spirit and sense of fun that comes through on the screen. It was all of a piece and came right out of her childhood.

Circa 1924. Stanwyck’s sister Mildred was a chorus girl, and she soon followed suit.

Stanwyck’s two marriages, first to vaudevillian Frank Fay and next to MGM superstar Robert Taylor, both ended in divorce. Rumors circulated for years and persist today about her marriage to Robert Taylor, and that it may have been manufactured as something as a “lavender marriage” by the studio system to quell talk about the sexualities of both Stanwyck and Taylor. Clearly, it would be very difficult to say for certain whether or not this was the case, especially as so many years have passed. In addition, Stanwyck seemed to be very much in love with Taylor, never remarried, and took his 1969 death extremely hard. In your research, was there anything you found that would lead you to believe that these persistent rumors about their marriage had any truth to them?

I had one ambition for my biography of Barbara Stanwyck, and that was to write a book that reflected the truth about my subject and her world, regardless of what it was. I have written quite detailed portraits of Stanwyck’s two marriages; the first to Frank Fay; the second to Robert Taylor. Each marriage was complex and came about because of complex reasons – and stayed in tact because of equally complicated reasons; neither marriage came about because of homosexuality. I asked many people who would have a somewhat informed inkling about Robert Taylor’s sexuality, people who knew him at the time, or would have heard about the (then, of necessity) underground truth of his sexuality and nowhere did I come across any hint of his being gay, including interviewing Harry Hay, founder in 1950 of the Mattachine Society. If anyone would have known, or heard about the truth of Taylor’s sexuality over the years, it would have been Harry Hay. . .

Stanwyck and Taylor came together at opposite points in their careers, which most people don’t know. She may have been successful and by that time been around Hollywood for six or so years, but her career was in trouble when she met Taylor. He was the big big star, just exploding into real fame and overwhelmed by it all. If anything, she needed him, for lots of reasons, which I write about in the book. And he needed her – just not as his beard.

The last thing Metro wanted was for Robert Taylor to be married, until they did, and it was not as a cover up for his sexuality. When people read the book they will see in detail how Stanwyck and Taylor came together, and what it did for both people; how it helped both and changed both. Volume Two portrays the shape of the marriage and how and why it ultimately fell apart, which, as in real life, happened over time and grew out of a set of subtle and complicated circumstances – and out of two people changing and changing out of different needs at different stages of their life, and their work.

Stanwyck and Robert Taylor married in 1939 and divorced in 1951.

I was very saddened to learn of the 2006 death of Barbara Stanwyck’s only son, Dion Anthony Fay. Were you able to speak with him about this book, and what insights was he able to provide about his childhood and his intensely complex relationship with his mother?

I was able to find Tony Fay, long before the internet, through a man who was in charge of security for the Pope on his New York visits. That is a funny story – but he did find Tony and I interviewed him during the course of many years. He was extremely helpful during the writing of the book and we became quite close. Tony talked to me in great detail of his years growing up, of his nurses, his years with Fay in the house, and then after, being sent away, first to schools, then to camps, of his loneliness, of his fears of his mother, and bewilderment towards her,and his defiance; of his mother’s marriage to Bob Taylor; of the years Tony lived at home during the war when Bob was in the Navy as a training officer; of his relationship with Uncle Buck*; his years after, going to various schools; of living in Beverly Hills and much much more. I was extremely fond of Tony. Despite being put up for adoption once and then cast out by his adopted mother, Tony Fay was a loving man who managed to triumph over difficult, dark years.

Barbara Stanwyck with her son Dion Anthony Fay (called “Tony”), whom she adopted with husband Frank Fay in 1932.

Barbara Stanwyck is often described as “the best actress who never won an Oscar,” and indeed, her versatility is staggering. Her ability to play drama, film noir, and comedy with equal flair is almost unmatched. To what do you attribute her extraordinary talent?

Deep intelligence; a dark childhood; iron determination; will; large emotions – fear; anger; loss; a driving discipline; uncanny talent.

Barbara Stanwyck in “The Thorn Birds,” a TV miniseries she made in 1983 and which also won her the 1983 Emmy and Golden Globe.

How would you like Barbara Stanwyck to be remembered today?

You’d have to ask that of Stanwyck herself. And chances are her answer would be not at all, that she was here for a time, did an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and when it was over, it was over.

REFERENCE:

*Uncle Buck was the boyfriend of Stanwyck’s sister Millie, who was one of Stanwyck’s closest friends and biggest supporters. He ran her house for years and for a time, he looked after her son, Tony.

October Events on the Blog

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Hello dear readers, Lara here to update you on what is coming in the month of October on the blog. There are a few very exciting things on the horizon, and here is what you may expect to see this month.

In my last blog update, I spoke of a special surprise to appear on the blog this month. On October 22, in celebration of Joan Fontaine’s 96th birthday, I will present a Q&A that I conducted with the legendary actress a few months ago. This is a huge honor–Miss Fontaine very rarely does interviews, and she was incredibly kind and generous to grant one to me. You will see her answers in response to questions about her childhood, her career, her life now, and her perceptions of herself as an actress and a human being.

I waited until now to let my readers know, because I want to keep the hype to a minimum and emphasize that this Q&A was conducted in honor of a very great actress’s birthday. My motive is very simply to present the reader with this wonderful gesture on the part of Miss Fontaine, and to share with you what she so graciously shared with me. So be sure to tune in on October 22 to honor, with me, the birthday of a great lady.

I am a very proud friend, because a personal friend of mine, Kendra Bean, is a first-time author and her book about Vivien Leigh, entitled Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait,  has already received accolades as one of the top film biographies of Fall 2013.

Kendra has agreed to a formal interview with Backlots, and I am very much looking forward to talking with Kendra about the book, the process of which I have watched, as a friend of Kendra’s, since its inception. Stay tuned for what promises to be a very insightful interview with Kendra about Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait.

Victoria Wilson, the author of the new Barbara Stanwyck biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck, Steel-True 1907-1940 (known in classic film circles lately as simply Steel-True), has also graciously agreed to an interview. Classic film aficionados have been anxiously awaiting this book for over a decade–15 years in the making, Steel-True covers the first 33 years of Barbara Stanwyck’s life, and consists of a whopping 1056 pages. We are in for the biography of the century.

The interview will be conducted toward the end of the month, and will appear on the blog a few weeks before the book’s release on November 12.

Watch your showers and stay away from those birds, everyone, because Hitchcock Halloween is fast approaching! If you haven’t yet signed up, please do so and I will add you to the list. You can write about anything you like related to Hitchcock–his life, movies, technique–and I am quick to welcome submissions about the Alfred Hitchcock Hour as well. It will take place on October 31, for one day only, so let me know what you would like to write about and get those submissions in by the 31st!

That’s the news for October! See you soon!

Happy birthday Barbara Stanwyck!

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Today marks what would have been the 106th birthday of the legendarily versatile actress Barbara Stanwyck, who left her indelible mark on nearly every genre known to film. With a career spanning nearly 60 years, Stanwyck’s versatility proved to stretch beyond the confines of film and in later years she became equally at home on the small screen, starring in such projects as The Big Valley and the TV movie The Thorn Birds, along with her own hit television series.

She was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, to a lower class family with 4 older children. When Ruby was 2, her mother was killed when a drunken stranger pushed her off a trolley car, and her father subsequently abandoned the family to dig the Panama Canal. With her older sister Millie as her guardian, Ruby lived a chaotic and poverty-stricken childhood in a series of foster homes, from which she often tried to escape. Her only comfort was in her brother, Malcolm Byron (called “Bert”). Bert later became a sometime actor, a troubled soul who was supported both financially and emotionally by his sister throughout his life, a devoted repayment for the comfort he provided her in their difficult childhood.

As a chorus girl, circa 1924.

Perhaps due to the chaotic nature of her childhood, Ruby was never a good student, and dropped out of school in the 7th grade to work as a package wrapper in a Brooklyn department store. After going through several different menial jobs, she finally landed a job as a chorus girl, taking after her sister Millie. She was spotted by the producer of a play called The Noose, and she was given a part in the play, under the new name of Barbara Stanwyck, and soon took another job in Burlesque. In later years, film actor Pat O’Brien, who had seen Stanwyck in Burlesque, recalled with sadness that “one of the greatest stage actresses of our time was embalmed in celluloid.” This is a testament to yet another dimension of Stanwyck’s versatility that would soon make itself apparent in motion pictures.

After marrying a volatile actor named Frank Fay, Stanwyck moved with her husband to Hollywood so that she could expand her horizons to film. She began in such small movies as Ladies of Leisure (1930),  Ten Cents a Dance (1931), and Shopworn (1932). From those early roles, one stands out–her magnificent performance in Baby Face (1932), which tells the story of a poor bartender’s daughter who escapes her life in a bar and moves to the big city, where she sleeps her way to the top. A monumental and risky film for its time, it stands out as one of Stanwyck’s best performances of her career, and was one of the main impetuses for the implementation of the Hays Code.

Baby Face.

Stanwyck’s career quickly took off, and by the middle part of the decade, she was a bona fide star. She consistently made wise career choices, and hence one is hard pressed to find a Barbara Stanwyck movie that is not top notch. Though most of her roles in the 1930’s were dramatic, solidifying her reputation as a skilled dramatic star, the 1940’s saw her taking marvelous comedic parts, and with such films as Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve, she proved to audiences that she was equally adept at comedy. She further expanded her horizons in 1944 when she accepted the role of murderous housewife Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder’s classic film noir Double Indemnity, securing her reputation as a noir actress. Her 4 Academy Award nominations are indicative of her myriad skills–her first nomination was in 1937 for Stella Dallas (a drama), followed by Ball of Fire (1941, comedy), Double Indemnity (1944, noir), and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948, suspense).

From Ball of Fire.

Stanwyck was known in Hollywood as one of the most likable actresses in the business. She developed a close friendship with William Holden when they acted together in Holden’s first film, Golden Boy, and he credited her with truly building his career to what it became. They remained lifelong friends.

She never distinguished herself or held herself above anyone else on her sets–crew members recall that she knew all of their names as well as their children’s names, and frequently asked about them. Marilyn Monroe said that Barbara Stanwyck was the only member of Hollywood’s Golden Age who helped her and was kind to her. She was known as “Missy” to her friends and coworkers, and often her chairs on the set said “Missy” instead of the standard “Miss Stanwyck.”

Her personal life was rocky at best. An early relationship to Al Jolson ended in lifelong physical and psychological damage to Stanwyck, and her marriage to Frank Fay dissolved due to intense abuse. She married actor Robert Taylor in 1939, and the marriage lasted until 1951, constituting arguably the longest relationship in her life. After her marriage to Robert Taylor, her film career began to decline and she turned to television with a series entitled The Barbara Stanwyck Show that lasted for 1 season. But television proved to be her forte in later years, with a starring role on The Big Valley and guest spots on numerous high ranking television shows in the 1960’s through 1980’s. Her role in The Thorn Birds earned her another Emmy, and proved to audience that after all these years, she still had it.

A smoker since the age of 9, Stanwyck’s health took a turn for the worse in the late 1980’s, and she died in 1990 from acute emphysema and congestive heart failure. She never won an Oscar, and has been called the greatest actress never to have done so. She was awarded an honorary statuette shortly before her death, and dedicated it to her lifelong friend William Holden.

Happy birthday, Missy!

LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL, DAY 3: Jane Fonda’s Handprint Ceremony, “On Golden Pond,” “The Lady Eve,” “Mildred Pierce”

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Day 3 started with a bang, as the first event of the day was a very special one. Jane Fonda was scheduled to have her hand and footprints put in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, right alongside those of her father, Henry Fonda. The event was very crowded, and the security tight and closely monitored. For obvious reasons, this is to be expected at an event for a major celebrity, especially one who is as politically controversial as Jane Fonda. Once all attendees successfully passed the security screenings, the event began. We saw a number of major celebrities in attendance, including Jim Carrey, friend and 9 to 5 costar Lily Tomlin, brother Peter Fonda, and longtime friend Maria Shriver. Jane Fonda’s son gave a keynote address, followed by warm words from Lily Tomlin and Maria Shriver. My friends and I happened to be in a spot where we could see Jane behind the scenes as the speeches were read, and she was clearly very emotionally moved. Because of the massive crowd, pictures were hard to get. Here are a few pictures from the official TCM collection of the event.

Jane and Peter Fonda sit next to their father's hand and foot prints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Jane and Peter Fonda sit next to their father’s hand and foot prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

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Putting her hands into the cement.

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Finishing the prints.

The ceremony slowly began to break up after Jane’s prints were sufficiently down in the cement, and we began to prepare for the next event–a screening of On Golden Pond (1981) introduced by Jane, clearly the woman of the day. She told some beautiful stories about the filming,  particularly relating to her relationship with Katharine Hepburn on set. Jane Fonda was the perfect person to introduce the film, as she had a position as actor and producer on the film as well as being Henry Fonda’s daughter. It was wonderful to hear her talk.

This widescreen print magnified the lush beauty of the photography, shot on location in New Hampshire with breathtaking shots of the fall leaves and loons. It is a simple story, taken from the stage play about Norman and Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda), an elderly couple dealing with the effects of age. Norman’s failing health and grumpy personality alienate everyone around him, but Ethel is devoted to him and loves him unconditionally and with all of her soul. Norman and their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) have a severely damaged relationship due to Norman’s inability to be a demonstrative father, and much of the movie deals with their healing process as Norman nears death. It is a beautiful movie on so many levels. The relationship between Norman and Ethel is one that I think everyone hopes they will have with their spouse as they age together, and watching Hepburn and Fonda together is so touching that the mere thought of it provokes tears.

Next up was the brilliant comedy The Lady Eve, another in the Fonda family pantheon. Henry Fonda plays Charles, the heir to a beer fortune who, unbeknownst to him, gets mixed up with a father and daughter pair of card sharps on a cruise ship. He ends up falling in love with the daughter Jean (played by Barbara Stanwyck), and when Charles finds out who she is, he breaks off the relationship. To get him back, Jean collaborates on an elaborate plan to pose as the Lady Eve Sidwich, fictional niece of wealthy Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith. “Lady Eve” and Charles fall in love all over again, and Charles is none the wiser that this is the same woman with whom he had broken up on the cruise ship.

This is a classic screwball comedy by the brilliant Preston Sturges, who has a unique and specific style that leaves its mark on any movie he makes. As film historian Carrie Beauchamp said at the beginning of the screening, Sturges’ films center on dialogue and a hand-picked, stellar cast. The supporting cast in The Lady Eve is especially good, with Sturges mainstay William Demarest, Eugene Pallette, and Charles Coburn playing small but significant roles.

Below is a scene which Roger Ebert called the sexiest scene ever on film. The Hays Code forced filmmakers to be cleverer with their depiction of sexual or steamy content, and this scene is a prime example of how a scene can be extremely charged without the two leads ever even hugging or kissing.

Next on the agenda was Mildred Pierce (1945) with special guest Ann Blyth, Veda in the film. By all accounts that I have heard, Ann Blyth is one of the nicest celebrities in Hollywood, and she certainly showed that tonight. Gentle and sweet, she is the complete polar opposite of her character in Mildred Pierce. Robert Osborne interviewed her about her time in the movies, and she spoke of nothing but good memories of Joan Crawford, a celebrity who often gets a bad rep in Hollywood gossip circles.

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Robert Osborne interviews Ann Blyth.

Mildred Pierce is another wonderful ensemble movie, though the plot centers around the relationship between Mildred (Joan Crawford) and her devotion to her daughter Veda, who proves to be a spoiled, ungrateful child with an evil streak. The supporting cast includes such character actors as Jack Carson and the witty and hilarious Eve Arden, who pops up and provides some oft-needed comic relief every now and then.

This was the third time that I had seen Mildred Pierce on the big screen, and it never fails to impress me. It is wonderful on the small screen, wonderful on any medium, but there is nothing like the big screen for this movie. Everything is accentuated and magnified, and Veda’s evil is all that more powerful.

For a previous post I have written about the costumes of Mildred Pierce, click here.

Stay tuned tomorrow as Backlots puts the blame on Mame, with a review of Gilda!