Tag Archives: classic hollywood

TWO KATHARINES: The Childhood of Katharine Hepburn and the Shaping of an Icon

Today marks what would have been the 107th birthday of an incomparable legend. Katharine Hepburn, a persona so beloved and respected to have reduced hardened prop men to putty in her hands during her appearance on Dick Cavett in 1973, was a force to be reckoned with and everybody knew it. When Katharine Hepburn walked in the room, there was no question as to who was in charge. This was an individual who fought for what she wanted, demanded what she needed, and in the process singlehandedly redefined what it means to be a woman in Hollywood.

Katharine Hepburn at the rehearsal for her appearance on Dick Cavett in 1973.

Hepburn famously said on an interview with Barbara Walters “I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” Katharine Hepburn broke many molds during her lifetime, and defied societal expectations in a generation in which women were still expected to be subservient to men. And she didn’t do it alone.

Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn, the mother of Katharine Hepburn and a pioneer of women’s rights in Connecticut.

From her earliest childhood, Katharine Hepburn was taught to live the way she wanted to, and not give credence to what others might think. This attitude was instilled in her by her mother, the passionate suffragette and famed leader of Connecticut women’s rights groups Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Houghton Hepburn served as the president of the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association and, after the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, founded the American Birth Control League with fellow activist Margaret Sanger, the organization that later became Planned Parenthood.

In later life, the younger Katharine would remember her mother taking her along to suffrage rallies as a toddler, teaching her that the women there were doing all they could to fight for her future. Due to her mother’s work, the Hepburn family endured intense hostility from the neighbors–neighborhood children were often not allowed to play with the Hepburn children, and bricks were thrown through their windows on several occasions. But through it all, Mrs. Hepburn persevered, and passed on to her daughter the attitude that rights must be fought for and earned.

Katharine Hepburn with her mother and siblings.

Young Katharine never let go of the lessons of her childhood, and throughout her life fought many personal and professional battles, fighting hard and not backing down until she won. In her desire to be comfortable, she insisted on wearing pants almost exclusively, a practice seldom exercised in her generation. In her stalwart determination to not be restricted by what other people thought, she is widely credited with popularizing pants for women. In 1947, at the height of the Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist, Katharine Hepburn was one of the founding members of the Committee for the First Amendment, formed to protect and support the blacklisted Hollywood Ten. Evoking her mother, and the women who fought for equal rights for women when she was a child, she delivered a speech written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo at the Hollywood Legion Stadium during a Progressive Party rally. Her own risk of being targeted by the Hollywood blacklist not holding her back, Katharine Hepburn once again stood up for what she believed in.

Her mother must have been proud.

Many thanks to Margaret over at The Great Katharine Hepburn for hosting this blogathon!

New Feature Coming to Backlots!

Backlots will be watching and reviewing titles from the Warner Archive Collection as part of a regular feature on the site.

Readers, I am proud to announce some good news regarding the site. Beginning next month, I will  be adding a new and exciting feature to Backlots, one that I hope will prove informative, entertaining, and that will keep Backlots firmly rooted on the pulse of what is new and exciting in classic cinema.

As part of a new collaboration with the Warner Archive, I will be watching and reviewing several titles from the collection each month for a feature entitled “Treasures From the Warner Archive.” I will provide backstories on the films, explore trivia bits, and perhaps host a few quizzes, polls, and competitions related to the Warner Archive titles over at the Backlot Commissary. I do hope that you, the reader, will participate in discussions in the comments section or at the Commissary, because I would love to hear from you! I will also be taking requests as to which films my readers would like to see reviewed, so please be sure to stay in touch if you have a specific Warner Archive title you would like to see reviewed.

The first two films are on their way, and I am pleased to announce that the first entry in this feature will be analysis of Polly of the Circus (1932), starring Marion Davies and Clark Gable, followed shortly thereafter by a post on The Woman in Red (1935), an oft-cited but rarely seen Barbara Stanwyck film.

Polly of the Circus.

The trailer for The Woman in Red.

The Warner Archive Collection is a real treasure for classic film fans. Established in 2009, it aims to manufacture classic titles on demand for consumers, focusing on films that have never before had a DVD release. Its library has been growing exponentially as it acquires the rights to release films from other collections, and its Netflix-type streaming system, Warner Archive Instant, is bringing classic films to a demographic that is accustomed to watching movies on the computer. It is a true honor to collaborate with such an innovative and forward-thinking company.

Keep your eyes peeled for the first installment of Treasures From the Warner Archive!

The Romantic Comedy Blogathon: EVER SINCE EVE (1937)

Ever Since Eve

For my own entry in the Romantic Comedy Blogathon, hosted by Carole & Co. and myself, I have decided to focus on a lesser-known but undoubtedly very funny comedy by the name of Ever Since Eve, made at Warner Bros. in 1937. This was the second time Marion Davies and Robert Montgomery appeared onscreen together (the first was in Blondie of the Follies five years prior) and this movie also marks the final film appearance of Marion Davies.

Ever Since Eve tells the story of Marge, a young secretary who, unable to find a job due to her attractiveness, dresses down and immediately finds employment as an assistant to writer Robert Montgomery. But ultimately when he sees, quite by accident, how she really looks, he falls for her and we are treated to a joyous and clever spectacle of mistaken identities for the remainder of the movie, highlighted by Marion Davies’ comedic talent and that of the delightful Patsy Kelly, who plays her roommate.

Patsy Kelly, a veteran character actress who often played wisecracking maids or roommates, is a gem. Though she is not referenced often, her face is familiar to the vast majority of people familiar with 1930s Hollywood because of the memorable characters she creates and the boisterous energy she exudes onscreen. Kelly has a penchant for stealing the show in any movie she’s in, and this is no exception. Her smart-aleck line delivery and almost manic characters make for a winning combination, and she has some of the best moments in the movie. Ever Since Eve was her 14th movie, and she continued acting through the 1970s in movies like Merrily We Live, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and even appeared in the classic horror film Rosemary’s Baby in 1968.

Though by today’s standards the basic plot structure of Ever Since Eve, revolving around physical beauty as a factor in whether or not a woman was hired, might be considered rather misogynistic, it oddly doesn’t seem to matter in this film. The comedy is so sharp and the mistaken identities so expertly crafted that one gets the sense of a Shakespearean comedy of errors. The dialogue is witty and the ensemble work is masterful. Ever Since Eve is a great movie.

Despite a widespread publicity campaign, Ever Since Eve didn’t get the attention that Warner Bros. thought it would get upon its initial release. Combined with three prior Marion Davies movies that failed to live up to box office expectations at Warner Bros., this seemed to be the logical end of the line for Marion’s career at the studio. In addition, William Randolph Hearst, companion to Marion Davies and head of Cosmopolitan Productions at Warner Bros., was having severe financial difficulties. Marion thought, for the sake of her beloved “W.R.”, this would be a good time for her leave the movies and act as his full-time companion and caretaker. And that she did, devoting herself to taking care of Hearst, never leaving his side until the day he died. It is said that Marion Davies was one of the kindest, most generous people in all of Hollywood. And this act of sacrificing her film career to take care of her companion confirms it.

Marion and Hearst were together for 32 years, until his death in 1951.

Ever Since Eve is a true delight. I leave you with a fun scene.

This has been an entry in the Romantic Comedy Blogathon. See you next time!

 

The Romantic Comedy Blogathon DAY 3 ENTRIES

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Well readers, we’ve got a light load today, but one that packs a punch! Here are the three entries we received for the Romantic Comedy Blogathon this evening. Remember, tomorrow is the last day, so get those entries in!

At The Great Katharine Hepburn, Margaret gives us 10 things to love about Without Lovehttp://margaretperry.org/10-things-to-love-about-without-love-1945/

Our friend Kristina at Speakeasy gives us a gem with The Richest Girl in the Worldhttp://hqofk.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/richest-girl-in-the-world/

And finally, ImagineMDD gets in with the high society with The Philadelphia Storyhttp://www.imaginemdd.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-philadelphia-story-and-features-of.html

Thanks to Margaret, Kristina, and Cedar for these lovely posts today. See you tomorrow for the blogathon wrap-up!

Romantic Comedy Blogathon Starts Tomorrow!

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May is upon us, readers, and you know what that means–it’s time for the Romantic Comedy Blogathon! Co-hosted by Backlots and Vince over at Carole & Co., the Romantic Comedy Blogathon runs from May 1-May 6 and is an opportunity for bloggers to swoon over their favorite romantic comedies and give us all a taste of that romance that classic Hollywood did so well.

We have a huge list of participants this year and we’re still accepting requests, so if you have something you would like to submit, let us know! This is shaping up to be a monumental blogathon, and I’m so excited to read all the entries.

For participants, there are two ways you may submit your post:

  • When your post is finished, link to this post. We will then post your link live on Backlots and Carole & Co. so all of our readers can go to your blog and read the entry.
  • Leave your link as a comment on this post.

In past blogathons I have accepted email submissions, but I find that sometimes emails get lost, so to keep all the submissions in one place I would like to have the entries linked or left as comments. My sanity thanks you!

Marion Davies in THE PATSY sums up how many entries we’re expecting.

If you have any further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or email me or Vince, but if not…see you tomorrow for the Romantic Comedy Blogathon!

Book Review: GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Glamor, fashion, and beautifully seductive images are hallmarks of George Hurrell’s unmistakable photographic style. The preferred photographer of many classic Hollywood stars, he became indelibly associated with the Golden Age of Hollywood, and one of the most famous names in portrait photography.

Jean Harlow as photographed by Hurrell. As seen in GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD.

Never has Hurrell been more aptly celebrated than in Mark Vieira’s big and beautiful new coffee table book George Hurrell’s Hollywood (published by Running Press Books), that chronicles Hurrell’s life and work, his relationship to his photographic subjects, and his growth as a photographer over the course of his monumentally lengthy career. A detailed biography of Hurrell is accentuated by hundreds of stunning photographs, ranging from Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford all the way to Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas.

Carole Lombard, as photographed by Hurrell. Seen in GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD.

Vieira was a longtime friend of Hurrell’s, and draws on exclusive archival research, interviews, and diaries to create a portrait of the artist never before seen in any book. He details Hurrell’s rise to fame, his flourishing career in Hollywood’s Golden Age, and ultimately his perseverance when times got extremely hard due to scandal and corruption from the underworld of the art collectors’ community.

The book is also a treasure trove for lovers of old Hollywood gossip, providing the reader with information about the mystery of Greta Garbo that existed offscreen as well as on (Vieira relates an anecdote on the unusual way in which Hurrell finally succeeded in getting Garbo to smile for a picture), the eccentricities of Marlene Dietrich, and the resistance of Olivia de Havilland to Hurrell’s unorthodox methods of getting a shot. One of my favorite parts of the book is an examination of how Hurrell airbrushed his subjects. A famous Hurrell photograph of Joan Crawford, glamorous, sexy, and a true movie star, is shown alongside its original negative–and we see Crawford as the freckle-faced, normal woman she was when she came into Hurrell’s studio. The difference between the two photographs is astounding, and shows what Hurrell was capable of long before the days of digital airbrushing and Photoshop.

Hurrell expanded his horizons a bit during the second half of his career, photographing such musical notables as Diana Ross, David Bowie, and Natalie Cole (Hurrell’s photograph of Cole appeared on the cover of her album Unforgettable…With Love). Sharon Stone, his last photographic subject, provides the foreword to this book and an alluring photograph of Stone graces the first page of text.

Hurrell’s photograph of Sharon Stone that appears alongside the foreword of GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD.

Click here to order your copy of the book. George Hurrell’s Hollywood is a must-have for anyone interested in classic Hollywood, photography, the art world, or simply the life of a fascinating personality whose career survived multiple setbacks and difficulties. A truly loving and fitting portrait to a photographic genius, featuring 420 breathtaking images that testify to the man and his art.

Joan Crawford in 1930, as seen in GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD.

See you next time!