Tag Archives: Bette Davis

TCM Classic Film Festival Day 1: 7 Seconds of Bette Davis in JEZEBEL (1938)

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This afternoon, classic film fans from around the country and the world descended upon the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard that runs from the Roosevelt Hotel to the Egyptian Theater for the opening of the TCM Classic Film Festival. For much of the day, the street was completely blocked off for the red carpet entrance to the opening night movie, In The Heat of the Night, for which Sidney Poitier and Norman Jewison were in attendance. It looked to be a spectacular affair. But for those of us whose passes don’t allow entrance to the opening night movie, there was no shortage of other choices–and I, being a devotee of Bette Davis in general and Jezebel in particular, was thrilled to see the pre-Civil War story of love and defiance as an option for the festival’s opening night. It was a screening I did not want to miss.

Jezebel has always fascinated me. The story of Julie Marsden (Bette Davis), a rebellious young southern belle in 1852, who defies convention and alienates her companion Pres (Henry Fonda) only to have him leave and return with a new wife, it is a beautifully directed, beautifully costumed movie that plays with the idea of women’s rights long before the women’s rights movement, while still reining itself in with the restrictions of the production code. We see a strong woman who fights for what she wants, but who repents when her companion leaves. Then when he comes back with a new wife, she rebels again, only to give her final repentance at the dramatic ending.

I arrived at the movie relatively late in my classic film life, having somehow missed it until my first year in college, and due to the nuanced and textured performances of Bette Davis and Fay Bainter, I’m rather glad that I came to it late. As I watched Jezebel for the first time, I was able to grasp right away the meticulous and fine acting details that define the movie.

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Jezebel is best-known for the scene in which Julie appears at the Olympus ball in a red dress, in direct defiance of what Pres wants her to do. All unmarried women appear in white, he tells her, but when Julie insinuates that he’s just afraid of having to defend her, he relents and takes her to the ball in the red dress. It is indeed a marvelous scene, filled with discomfort and palpable tension. But what I consider to be the greatest moment in the movie occurs afterward.

Following the dance, Pres leaves Julie, humiliated. A year later, he returns and Julie has repented, appearing to him in a white dress and asking him to forgive her. She kneels down to the floor, her dress flowing around her, and tells him “Pres, I’m kneelin’ to ya.” A few seconds later, Julie finds out that Pres has married during his absence. The woman walks into the room and is introduced as Pres’ new wife from New York. What follows is a phenomenal 7-second performance by Bette Davis. Start the video at 2:31.

Davis immediately transforms from the angelic, saintly creature that was kneeling to Pres on the ground, into a confused, startled person. She starts with a blank stare, almost as if she hadn’t heard what was said. Then, she gets a look on her face that shows comprehension, but a disbelief that he had done it. Leaning forward slightly, she looks for a moment as if she were about to move toward him, but thinks better of it. She looks at Amy, scrutinizing her, looking her up and down, then gets a puzzled look on her face, and turns back to Pres before she says, in shocked disbelief, “Your wife.” This all happens over the span of 7 seconds.

The entire moment is played in the face–except for a small movement of her arms when she is leaning forward. It works due to Davis’ naturally expressive features, and her ability to use them and them alone. These 7 seconds are a testament to Davis’ skill as an actress, and to her ability to work effectively with director William Wyler. By this time, Wyler knew Bette Davis extraordinarily well, onscreen and off. By the time of Jezebel‘s filming, Davis and Wyler were spending a great deal of time together as romantic companions, and Wyler used his knowledge of Davis to direct her to her second Academy Award. Whatever direction Wyler gave her in that moment prompted Davis to create one of the most impressive physical moments of her career.

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Stay tuned for more reports from the TCM Classic Film Festival as it rolls on through the weekend. Tomorrow’s schedule includes screenings of The Maltese Falcon, Born Yesterday, and Red-Headed Woman. Thanks for reading!

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Trailblazing Women to be Highlighted on Turner Classic Movies in October

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For the second year in a row, Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to significant contributions to the film industry by women, through their Trailblazing Women series in partnership with Women in Film. Last year’s programming was a huge success, with a spotlight on female directors in what has become a crushingly male-dominated industry. This year’s theme will be “Actresses Who Made a Difference,” focusing on those women who contributed to issues outside of acting, and made waves that are still felt today in the film world and beyond.

The month-long Tuesday/Thursday night programming is hosted by Illeana Douglas, joined by a different female guest each night who will discuss the actresses, why they were chosen, and introduce a film made during a significant period in their life. On the first night, October 4, Douglas will be joined by the leading expert on women in early Hollywood, Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. The subjects on the first night will be three actresses who seized the idea of the traditionally male studio executive and turned it on its head.

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Mary Pickford was one of the most prominent figures in early Hollywood, both on and off the screen. While moviegoing audiences knew her as “Little Mary,” a perpetual little girl in curls even at the age of 30, in reality she was a woman with an steel will and iron constitution, a shrewd businesswoman and a savvy investor who knew the industry inside and out. In 1919, she founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, and subsequently founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture Relief Fund, which (now operating as the Motion Picture and Television Fund) still serves those in need in the industry. She will be discussed and profiled in conjunction with Little Annie Rooney, a movie she produced and performed in at the height of her position as a head of United Artists Studio in 1925.

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Lucille Ball, former contract player at RKO and “Queen of the Bs,” decided in 1950 to join with her husband Desi Arnaz to form their own production company, Desilu, in order to pitch a series based on Ball’s radio program My Favorite Wife. The series eventually became I Love Lucy, the production company became one of the most formidable forces in the business, and Lucille Ball became one of the most influential figures in movies and television. In 1960, she became the sole owner of Desilu and was directly responsible for shows such as Star Trek and The Untouchables getting to air. The movie Yours, Mine, and Ours was made in 1968, while Lucille Ball was serving as the powerful president of Desilu.

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Following directly in Lucille Ball’s footsteps was Mary Tyler Moore. 3 years out of her debut hit series The Dick Van Dyke Show (in which she broke significant ground for women on television in her own right), Moore created MTM Enterprises with husband Grant Tinker in order to pitch The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1969. The show premiered the following year and lasted for 7 phenomenal seasons, during which time MTM Enterprises grew and produced not only the show’s spinoffs, Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, but also the popular  The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere. The movie Thoroughly Modern Millie, chosen to represent Mary Tyler Moore this first evening, was made in 1967, in the in-between time just after Moore’s run on The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, and MTM Enterprises began.

Other nights to watch with significant women profiled:

Bette Midler, discussing women who controlled their own destiny, including:

  • Olivia de Havilland, the first person to make a major dent in the studio system by winning a contract case against Warner Bros. The ruling, the De Havilland Decision, is still cited often in entertainment law cases. She will be profiled in conjunction with Devotion (1946), filmed in 1943 but unable to be released until after she won the lawsuit.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, who left her Twentieth Century Fox contract behind to study at the Actor’s Studio in New York, only to return and demand director approval on all her projects–then form Marilyn Monroe Productions in 1956 in which she had full control over her work. Her work will be discussed with The Prince and the Showgirl (1956), produced by Marilyn Monroe Productions, as an example.

Jane Fonda, discussing women activists, including:

  • Myrna Loy, who served as the co-chair on the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, campaigned actively against McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, and became the first Hollywood personality appointed to U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. One of her best-loved movies, The Thin Man (1934), will be shown to profile her onscreen work.
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Dr. Emily Carman, discussing actresses’ wartime contributions, including:

  • Bette Davis, who together with John Garfield established the Hollywood Canteen, where soldiers could eat and be entertained for free while on leave. A semi-Hollywood movie, Hollywood Canteen, was made in 1944 to promote the canteen and enhance the war effort, and TCM will show it this evening.

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  • Hedy Lamarr, who developed frequency-hopping technology to help with communication between Allied forces, an invention that is still used today in cell phones, wifi networks, and Bluetooth technology. The Conspirators (1944) will be shown to highlight Hedy Lamarr’s war efforts as well as her film work.

Be sure to tune in every Tuesday/Thursday in October for what promises to be a timely and informative look at a group of women who made a difference in the betterment of their industry and their world.

Announcing the Fourth Annual Dueling Divas Blogathon!

Readers, I have been so bogged down with research that this is the first moment I am getting to announce our annual Dueling Divas Blogathon! Usually, the blogathon takes place in December, but this year I am going to need to push it back a bit due to various research obligations during the months of December and January.

So hear ye, hear ye–dust off those jungle red nails and get ready, because Backlots’ 4th Annual Dueling Divas Blogathon is coming to the blogosphere on January 31, 2015! We have had so much fun with this blogathon over the past 3 years, and I can’t wait to see what this year holds.

If you haven’t participated in the past, here is a rundown of how it works.

In the weeks leading up to the blogathon, send me your topic so that I can add you to the list of participants. Your topic may be related to any of the following:

  • Classic film personalities who had a rivalry in real life, either over a particular film role or over a personality clash, ie Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
  • Classic film characters who had a rivalry on the screen, ie Mildred and Veda from Mildred Pierce
  • Any dual role played by an actor or actress in a classic film, ie Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap.

You don’t need to feel limited to a single duel between two personalities or characters. You can talk about various clashes a single actor had (ahem…Bette Davis) or duels within a group. In the past, I have written about the duels in The Women, which was a lot of fun.

When you have chosen your topic, comment on this post with what you would like to write about, and I will keep a running list of participants.

Please feel free to take the banner below to advertise on your own site. I look forward to seeing all of the creativity that has been the signature of this blogathon in previous years!

Here are the participants thus far:

NOW VOYAGING will discuss the legendary sister actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

FLICK CHICK will take a look at the duel between Sandy and Pamela in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

GOLDDIGGER OF 1933 will tell us about the duel between Lina Lamont and Kathy Selden in Singin’ In the Rain.

SILVER SCREENINGS will get creative and talk about 2 divas who LITERALLY duel, Gregory Peck and David Niven in The Guns of Navarone.

CINEMAVENS (a new blog to be up and running by the time Dueling Divas gets underway) will also get creative and pit Libeled Lady against Easy to Wed.

BARRYBRADFORD.COM will tell us about the duels between Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon in All the Marbles.

SISTER CELLULOID will write about Kay Francis vs. Carole Lombard in In Name Only.

I SEE A DARK THEATER will take on Rags Ragland’s dual role in Whistling Dixie.

MOON IN GEMINI will give us a post about Barbra Streisand’s dual role in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

CRITICA RETRO will get murderous with Olivia de Havilland’s portrayal of a suspicious pair of twins in The Dark Mirror.

CHRISTINA RICE will tell us about Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak in Housewife.

See you soon!

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The Hollywood Canteen

Servicemen gather outside the Hollywood Canteen at 1451 Cahuenga blvd. in Hollywood.

 

On this Memorial Day, I would like to pay tribute to an integral part of Hollywood history that relates to the holiday. On October 3, 1942, the Hollywood Canteen opened its doors at 1451 Cahuenga blvd. in Hollywood, with a purpose to provide music, entertainment and food to active service members, completely free of charge. Staffed by volunteer Hollywood celebrities and open to all serving members of the Allied forces–men and women, black and white, from all the allied countries–it was a venture to preserve Allied morale and a method for members of the entertainment industry to contribute to the war effort in a meaningful way.

The idea for the canteen came from actor John Garfield, who was inspired to recreate the successful Stage Door Canteen in New York for service members on the West Coast. Unable to serve in the army himself because of a heart problem, he wanted to do something to aid the efforts overseas and sought partnership with fellow actor Bette Davis, who helped set the wheels in motion. Working long hours to get the canteen up and running, Garfield and Davis managed to get the canteen built in less than 1 month, complete with elaborate chandeliers and a giant dance floor.

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Bette Davis installs a chandelier.

Per the rules of the “Hollywood Victory Committee,” established after Pearl Harbor in order to allow actors to volunteer for the war effort without having trouble with the Screen Actors Guild, Davis and Garfield were able to procure volunteers who not only would keep the canteen running smoothly, but would also provide unmatched amusement and entertainment for the patrons of the canteen. Among the frequent volunteers were Rita Hayworth, Deanna Durbin, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald, and countless other Hollywood luminaries. Upon the visit of the millionth service member in 1943, the lucky sergeant Carl Bell was brought into the canteen by Marlene Dietrich where he received a kiss from Betty Grable. It was unlike anything most of these servicemen and women had ever seen.

Though the Hollywood Canteen seemed to be a fantasy land in which soldiers could escape from the harsh realities of wartime, its walls were not immune to the difficult social problems of the time. Upon seeing that tables were not segregated at the canteen, many white soldiers opted to leave in lieu of sitting and chatting with fellow service members of African-American descent. Bette Davis, known for her refusal to entertain for segregated audiences, took to the microphone when this happened to explain the policy of the Hollywood Canteen. “The blacks got the same bullets as the whites did, and should have the same treatment,” she said.

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Bette Davis signs autographs outside the Hollywood Canteen.

In addition, it was at the Hollywood Canteen that a pregnant Gene Tierney was signing autographs when she was approached by a fan who had recently been quarantined for German measles. Tierney contracted the disease, and her daughter was born with severe problems including blindness, deafness, and intellectual disability. Tierney suffered from serious mental anguish and guilt for the rest of her life because of her decision to go to the Hollywood Canteen that night.

In 1944, the canteen was such a famous institution that Warner Bros. decided to make a movie about it. Based loosely on the experiences of Sgt. Bell, it tells the story of two servicemen on leave who spend several nights at the Hollywood Canteen–one of whom becomes the millionth G.I. served and wins a date with Joan Leslie. The movie features so many stars that, according to Variety, “There isn’t a marquee big enough to hold all the names in this one, so how can it miss?” The movie was a smash success, and received 3 Academy Award nominations. 40% of ticket sales went to the real Hollywood Canteen.

The Andrews Sisters in Hollywood Canteen (1944)

The canteen continued even after the war was over, finally closing for good on Thanksgiving Day, 1945. Today, in keeping with corporate lack of appreciation for history, the building has become a parking garage for the building next door. But the legend of the Hollywood Canteen lives on, a true testament to the power of Hollywood to maintain morale and keep spirits up in the most difficult times.

Many of these photos were found over on Karen Noske’s wonderful blog Movie Star Makeover. Go visit it if you have the chance, K is a friend of mine and does a magnificent job with her site.

Dueling Divas–THE ENTRIES

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By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

It’s Sunday, everyone, and the divas are out in full force! I will be updating this page throughout the day as the entries come in. Here is our list of duels so far:

Vanessa oversees legendary rivals Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford squaring off in several dueling rounds in a delightful post over at Stardusthttp://bwallover.blogspot.ca/2013/12/dueling-divas-blogathon-joan-crawford.html

Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth compete for the love of Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand at Critica Retro. Don’t forget to hit Le’s handy translate button if you don’t speak Portuguese! http://criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2013/12/quem-vai-ficar-com-ty.html

At Girls Do Film today, Vicki explores Dark Mirror, Olivia de Havilland’s tour-de-force playing a mysterious pair of twins. http://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/the-dark-mirror-olivia-de-havilland-as-terry-and-ruth-collins/

Java’s Journey referees the duel between Judy Holliday’s “Ella” and Valerie Allen’s “Olga” in Bells Are Ringing. http://javabeanrush.blogspot.com/2013/12/dueling-divas-ella-vsolga-in-bells-are.html

Movies, Silently gives Mary Pickford’s dual role in Stella Maris epic treatment in this exhaustive post about the film. http://moviessilently.com/2013/12/22/stella-maris-1918-a-silent-film-review/

Angela at The Hollywood Revue gives us a rundown of Dead Ringer and Bette Davis’ dual role in it. http://hollywoodrevue.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/dead-ringer-1964/

Silver Screenings sings the praises of not one Edward G. Robinson, but TWO, in The Whole Town’s Talking. http://silverscreenings.org/2013/12/21/the-dual-edward-fan-club/

Sepia Stories gives us a view into the lives of Mary Pickford, her mother, and their nemesis Olive Thomas, who wanted to marry Mary’s brother Jack. Fun read! http://sepiastories.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/thomas-vs-pickford-backlots-third-annual-dueling-divas-blogathon/

Christy over at Sue Sue Applegate gives us a rundown of June Allyson and Joan Collins in The Opposite Sex…and also gives us some insight into the rivalry between June Allyson and Joan Blondell over mutual hubby Dick Powell. http://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/that-darn-smack/

My own entry–Backlots takes a look at Margo Channing and Eve Harrington in All About Evehttps://backlots.net/2013/12/22/dueling-divas-blogathon-margo-channing-vs-eve-harrington/

Announcing Backlots’ Third Annual DUELING DIVAS BLOGATHON!

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It’s back, readers!

Take a seat and get ready to see some sparring, ladies and gentlemen, because on December 22 for the third year in a row, Backlots will be hosting the Dueling Divas Blogathon! This blogathon has proven to be lots of fun in the past, and always elicits very interesting entries. I look forward to what’s to come this year!

On December 22, write about your favorite dueling divas. Your piece can be on one of those legendary offscreen duels (ex. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) or an onscreen one (ex. Eve Harrington and Margo Channing). You can even write about an actress (or actor, we’re gender-neutral here at Backlots!) who played a dual role in a classic film if you would like–such as Olivia de Havilland in The Dark Mirror or Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. We don’t often get many entries of this type, but it’s there if you want it!

Olivia de Havilland in THE DARK MIRROR.

You don’t have to just focus on two people. You can talk about the various duels a single actor had (good heavens, Bette Davis’ duels alone could fill a book!) or duels within a group. Last year I wrote about the divas in The Women, which was a lot of fun.

So to sum up, here are the guidelines on who to write about:

  • Those who had a rivalry in real life, either over a particular film role or over a personality clash, ie Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
  • Those who had a rivalry on the screen, ie Mildred and Veda from Mildred Pierce
  • Any dual role played by an actor or actress in a classic film, ie Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap.

Please do try to stay on track with the theme! Since this is an open-ended blogathon with a lot of choices, it’s easy to get carried away. But if you just refer to the guidelines above, you’ll be good to go.

Comment on this post with your diva choices and I will add you to the list. So far we have:

MOVIES, SILENTLY: Mary Pickford’s dual role in Stella Maris

SILVER SCREENINGS: Edward G. Robinson’s dual role in The Whole Town’s Talking

CHRISTY PUTNAM: June Allyson vs. Joan Collins in The Opposite Sex

LOVE IS A FIRE: Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford

OUTSPOKEN AND FRECKLED: Josephine vs. Daphne in Some Like It Hot

STARDUSTJoan Crawford vs. Norma Shearer in The Women

ONCE UPON A SCREEN: Greta Garbo vs. Marlene Dietrich

MOVIE STAR MAKEOVER: Rita Hayworth vs. Kim Novak in Pal Joey

CRITICA RETRO: Rita Hayworth vs. Linda Darnell in Blood and Sand

SEPIA STORIESOlive Thomas vs. Mary and Charlotte Pickford

THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE: TBA

GIRLS DO FILM: Olivia de Havilland in The Dark Mirror

Liz Smith: Two Bette Davis duels

While you ponder over who to write about, feel free to take this banner and add it to your site to let everybody know you will be participating.

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I can’t wait to read all your posts! This is going to be fun.

Backlots to Cover Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour

As I write to you, dear readers, I am on Highway 5 heading from my home in Oakland down to Los Angeles. The purpose of my visit, this time, is to blog for the Warner Bros. 90th Anniversary VIP tour which is happening tomorrow. I was invited along with several other classic film bloggers to be among 10 featured writers on the tour.

A brief history of the company: Warner Bros. was founded by four brothers, Albert, Sam, Harry and Jack Warner who had been collecting and distributing films for many years, in 1923. It remained a fledgling studio until Warner Bros. had the foresight to see that the future of movies was based in sound. In 1927, the studio released The Jazz Singer and Warner Bros. became a household name.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Warner Bros. had under contract some of the most gifted and eminent stars in the business. Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and directors such as Michael Curtiz, Busby Berkeley, Mervyn LeRoy and William Wellman all called Warner Bros. home at seminal points in their careers. Such diverse films as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, A Star is Born, My Fair Lady, Cool Hand Luke, and The Exorcist were all shot at Warner Bros., securing the studio a reputation for staggering versatility.

Today, Warner Bros. is known and appreciated by classic film fans for the incredibly vast library of films available in the Warner Archive. Previously unreleased or rare films get a new audience with the Warner Archive Collection, and it has proven to be a very valuable resource to those researching classic film. It recently procured a license to release Paramount pictures under the Warner name, so the releases from the Warner Archive will continue to grow exponentially as time goes on.

The Warner Archive release of Thirteen Women.

In recent times, many high profile television shows have been shot at the studio, and on the tour I expect to see the sets of modern television shows like ER and Friends, both shot at Warner Bros. in the 1990s. I will be taking pictures and live-tweeting, and at the end of the day I will make a blog post here about my experience and some information about the Warner Bros. tours themselves, should you want to go on one.

See you soon!