Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Automat in the Movies


It's 1934, the worst year of the Great Depression, and Joan Crawford goes to the Automat in Sadie McKee because she can't afford better.  She can't even afford the Automat, scraping just enough nickels for a cup of coffee.


But The Little King, who is rich, and a king, also goes to the Automat in 1934 in Sultan Pepper, just for a lark, for the fun of it.

The Horn and Hardart Automat of New York City seems to bear the dual reputation of being a place of stark frugality and also a place of playful ingenuity.  It was nothing if not egalitarian.



It's fun to see it pop up in classic films from time to time.  Jean Arthur, down on her luck as Joan Crawford was, visits the Automat in 1937 for Easy Living, but finds rich boy Ray Milland slumming there, not unlike The Little King.  She determinedly tries to eat in the middle of riotous food fight.



By 1950, in Mister 880, which we discussed in this previous post, Burt Lancaster and the feds are trying to track Edmund Gwenn down for counterfeiting, and the Automat here seems less stylish, and more utilitarian.  A place where counterfeiters might hang out.



By 1956 and The Catered Affair, a serious young couple played by Debbie Reynolds and Rod Taylor discuss marriage.  Again, the Automat seems even more dour in this setting than it did for poor Joan Crawford in the depths of the Depression.  Perhaps it was no longer novelty and just another cheap cafeteria?


In 1962 in That Touch of Mink, Doris Day has a conversation with Audrey Meadows through the open food service slot, and because Doris is unemployed, pal Audrey, who works there, slips her food.  Here the Automat is fun again, and we don't take the hunger pangs seriously. 



For more on the Automat have a look at this brief documentary on YouTube.  Someone also put up a series of movie automat scenes, starting here.  Apparently one of the first, if not the first, was The Early Bird (1925).  The Automat had been around since 1912.  It closed in 1991.

Come back next Thursday for part six of our year-long monthly series on the classic film fan, and we'll have a look at John Greco's new book, Lessons in the Dark, a collection of essays from his blog Twenty-Four Frames.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Cinevent - Another Gathering of the Clan in June



Today we take note of another classic film festival: Cinevent.

Cinevent takes place in Columbus, Ohio, and this year marks the 48th edition of this annual gathering of fans of silent and early sound films, and of collectors of motion pictures and related items.  The dates are Thursday June 2nd through Sunday June 5th, at the Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel at 50 North Third Street in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

Movies are screened nearly continually, and dealers fill over a hundred tables full of film, video, sound recordings, posters, stills, lobby cards, books, and autographs, and the annual Hollywood Poster Auction!—run by Morris Everett of The Last Moving Picture Company in Cleveland.

The event annually attracts over 600 participants, including from other countries.   Truly a home-grown festival by and for film buffs, movie screenings are all 16mm, gleaned from collectors and archives across the U.S. 

Have a look at the Cinevent website for info on registering, where to stay, and more info on how to enjoy this fun festival for the classic film fan. 

Special thanks to Mr. Michael Haynes for information on Cinevent.  His father, the late Steven Haynes, was one of the founders.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Audio Book Update - Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.



I marvel at the textures—hard, biting, soft, tender—of the human voice.


This is to update you a bit on the progress of my forthcoming audio book version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.

As part of the production process, I recently listened to the audio tracks to provide notes and suggestions to the narrator and producer, Toni Lewis.  She will polish the narration and edit the tracks.  Ms. Lewis, a Los Angeles-based actress whom I introduced to you in this previous post, is a marvel.

First, the audio book is some eighteen hours long.  Yeah, big ol’ book.  Her task was nothing short of Herculean, and she sails through the obstacle course of my often clunky prose brilliantly. (Some sentences are so long I should be jailed for writing them.  Really, I’m not a long-winded talker.  I’m actually a rather quiet person.  But put a blank piece of paper (or word processing program) in front of me, and I lose my head.  It’s like I’m the only person in the room.  Oh, wait, I am.)

What she does with this narrative is astonishing.  Those of you who might have read the book (or skimmed through some of the blog posts which began this project), know that I used a lot of quotes.  They are from interviews, or from old newspapers, magazines, reviews from long ago and these quotes provide voices to the story of Ann Blyth’s career.  Ms. Lewis, being an actress, provides “voices” to the voices.

The result is an audio book like none I have ever heard.  Most narrators will adopt a suitable vocal tone and personality and use it throughout the book, and it is a voice usually, of necessity, general, nondescript, objective, and omniscient. 

Toni acts out the book.

She's gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.  She's Roddy McDowell.  She's the co-stars, the agent, the critic from the Midwest.  She's Ann Blyth.  If you provided a quote for the book, she's you.

She does many voices, and accents, and I’ve lost count.  There are some line readings that sent chills up my spine.  She has brought warmth and depth, color, and the promise of possibly the most entertaining audio book you ever heard.  Indeed, it seems more like listening to a radio play than a book reading.  Her narration is touching, funny, often thrilling, and always imaginative.

I don’t know yet when the publication date will be for the audio book, as there is still some production work to be done and much of that is out of my hands, but I’ll keep you posted.

You will marvel at the textures—hard, biting, soft, tender—of her voice.

As mentioned in the previous post, there are a few ways to obtain a free Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. audio book:

1)  I plan to raffle off FREE copies of the audio book to five winners who subscribe to my email newsletter. 

   2)  I will also raffle off one FREE copy of the audio book to a reader of my blog based on the book – Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., and also one FREE copy to a reader of Another Old Movie Blog.  

3)  I will give a FREE copy of the audio book to the first five people who agree to review the book on its Amazon page here.  Just email me with your name.  I will email you when the audio book is ready for release and at that time I will ask if you prefer a CD or a download.  If you prefer a CD, I will need the address where I may send it. 

The audio book will be sold through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.


****************************

"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood



Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.
 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.

**************************
My new syndicated column SILVER SCREEN, GOLDEN YEARS, on classic film is up at Go60  or check with your local paper.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gathering of the Clan - at Classic Film Festivals - Classic Film Fans series Part 5


 What do you get when you gather thousands of classic film fans together?

Go ahead.  Think about a punch line.  Because I don’t have one.

This is our fifth post in our monthly series this year on the current state of the classic film fan.  Today we examine the gathering of the clan—at classic film festivals.  Such events are scattered throughout the year—climate and weather are irrelevant inside a movie theater—but just in the past three weeks three of the most popular have been held: The 18th Annual Noir City Festival in Hollywood, the 2nd Nitrate Film Fest in Rochester, New York, and the 6th annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood.


Hollywood, we may surmise, is not a bad place at all to hold a classic film festival.


Some festivals, like the Noir City, focus on a particular genre.  Some, like the Nitrate Film Fest at the Dryden Theater, Eastman Center, billed as The Nitrate Picture Show, the world’s first festival of film conservation, are geared more to the hardcore fan and film historian, those with a keen appreciation of “film” as opposed to digital movies.

The TCM Film Fest is a phenomenon of the modern—or we could even say younger—classic film fan’s expression of his fandom, with all the buttons and swag.  It seems, foremost, an emotional experience.

I have never been to the TCM festival, but perhaps as an outsider I can offer a few unemotional and objective observations.  I say that it is a younger festival not because there aren’t any Boomers in attendance—there most certainly are an army of them, but because I suspect that most of the some 26,000 projected attendees this year (TCM figures) are people without family constraints that prevent travel, and with disposal income to travel, and who specifically are geared to going to an “event” and being part of a event that is such a focus of social media.  I would love to know the demographics. 

The TCM fest is gloriously reported in social media, with in-depth reports by classic film bloggers (here’s a few by Raquel Stecher of Out of the Past, Kate Gabriele of Silents and Talkies, and look for an always thorough and articulate recap by Laura of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, as well as her look at the Noir City Festival.  Laura goes to film festivals like some people go to Wal-Mart.).  Facebook, Twitter give us in-the-moment posts on what’s going on at the fest, and I love to read them.  I suspect there are a lot of us armchair fans.

Looking forward to when Theresa Brown gets back to her Couch and does some blogging on her impressions of the festival this year.

I get a kick out of Kate Gabrielle’s statement on one blog post of the rigors of attending:

I feel like TCMFF is actually kind of like practice for the apocalypse. Everyone around me could survive anything, making do without food or water for days while they plot out a plan to get movie projectors to work in a world without electricity.

Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, such as the wonderful Dame Angela Lansbury this year, are a major draw for fans.  One wonders, though, as there are fewer past stars to attend in future years, and with the increasing introduction of films that are from the post-classic era, how will the TCM Film Fest hold up in the future, and will its attendee demographics change as it becomes not so much a Classic Film Festival but a Film Festival?

TCM, always mining new opportunities and tweaking its brand, is slated to introduce TCM Backlot, an official fan club. Membership is $87 per year. There will be events across the country and exclusive content for subscribers. I’m interested to hear from classic film bloggers who join the club their impressions on the benefits and value of this membership.

Fan clubs have long been a part of Old Hollywood, a way for fans back in the day to connect with their favorite stars, and a way for the studios to promote the stars in their stable.  Today, merchandizing is obviously going to be part of the mix, but it’s a delicate balance to offer your members (customers—stores and theme parks may call us “guests” but we know we’re customers) something of value beyond just buying more junk on the credit card. 

An experience they are unable to get anywhere else is the genius of the TCM Film Fest, that emotional gathering of the clan, of like-minded people who share their passion for classic film in an environment that is fun, supportive, and obviously thrilling.  Most interesting is that this community appears to be wonderfully diverse: mixed in gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and in the movie preferences of classic film fans.  Sci-fi fans may not enjoy musicals, and not everyone goes big for noir, but they can still meet in a jubilant carnival and form lasting friendships.

What would Sam Goldwyn, L.B. Mayer, and Jack Warner think of that?

Go ahead, think of a punch line.  I don’t have one. 

I would like to thank all classic movie bloggers who attend and shared their experience.  It’s fun to see the festivities through their eyes. 

Next month, in the sixth part of this series, we’re going to visit the work of another classic film blogger, John Greco and review his latest book, Lessons in the Dark.


********

Part 1 of the year-long series on the current state of the classic film buff is here: A Classic Film Manifesto. 





Thursday, April 28, 2016

Film Stars on Stage - The Storrowton Music Fair



They also did theatre.

The stars and the character actors and the bit players, all the gang we know from the old movies we treasure, a lot of them did theatre as well—either before, or concurrently with their film careers—but these samples are, for the most part, what they did after their film careers were over.  The 1950s and 1960s was reckoned to be a kind of golden age for summer theatre in this country, and it hit just when many of the Golden Age of Hollywood stars were finding it difficult to get good movie roles.


Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that they reaped the benefit of having somewhere else to go. Maybe they fueled the fire with their tremendous talent. 


 We discussed stars on stage at the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, California, in this previous post.  We also discussed Ann Blyth’s work in theatre after her film career.  One of her gigs was at the Storrowton Music Fair in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where she starred in Show Boat in 1976.   Today we turn our attention to the old Storrowton Music Fair, erected on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition every summer from 1958 to 1978.  



Tent theaters are special.  They have a particular ambiance and magic, but sadly, when we lose them, we don’t even have a building left to remember it by. 


 But here, at least, are a few program covers.





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Come back next Thursday for part 5 in our monthly series on the classic film fan for a look at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

COMING SOON - AUDIO BOOK - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR.

This is to announce an exciting new project…my book on the career of actress Ann Blyth—Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.—is now going to be released as an AUDIO BOOK.

It should be available in late spring from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, both in CD form and as a download to your computer.

The book is narrated by actress and eBook narrator, Toni Lewis.  The quality of her voice is truly beautiful, her articulation is elegant and precise, and she brings a wonderful depth and warmth to the narrative.  I’m so pleased and honored to be working with her on this audio book. 

Ms. Lewis is a SAG/Aftra actress and singer whose credits include As the World Turns, Homicide: The Movie and Homicide: Life on the Street, for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.  Other television credits include The Wire; Third Watch; Oz; 10-8: Officers on Duty, House, M.D.; and Heroes.

There are three ways you can obtain a FREE copy of the coming audio book:

1)  I plan to raffle off FREE copies of the audio book to five winners who subscribe to my email newsletter. 

   2)  I will also raffle off one FREE copy of the audio book to a reader of my blog based on the book – Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., and also one FREE copy to a reader of Another Old Movie Blog.  

3)  I will give a FREE copy of the audio book to the first five people who agree to review the book on its Amazon page here.  Just email me with your name.  I will email you when the audio book is ready for release and at that time I will ask if you prefer a CD or a download.  If you prefer a CD, I will need the address where I may send it.

More details on the release of the audio book and on these giveaways in weeks to come.  In the meantime, here’s what the cover of the CD will look like:






Thursday, April 14, 2016

Letters in Old Movies


Humphrey Bogart stands on the train platform in the rain, reading the letter Ingrid Bergman has written to him.  The next few frames of the movie are focused on the letter, its handwriting melting to a blur as the ink bleeds down the page from the rain.

Some classic films, such as The Letter (1940) and Love Letters (1945) discussed here, and The Shop Around the Corner (1940) discussed here, have plots that are predicated on a letter.  A letter is the catalyst for conflict in the story.  There are a lot of movie plots we could add to this category, like A Letter to Three Wives (1949).  A letter is the incriminating evidence, or provokes a mystery, or a love letter may bring the wrong lovers together, or incite jealousy. 

But the use of letters, moreover, showing the handwriting on the letter is such a typical device used in old movies that we might regard it a cliché, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it parodied.  It certainly could be, but perhaps the image of handwritten letters is so natural to this era that we accept it without thinking.  In this previous post, readers responded with what were their favorite images commonly seen in old movies: the passage of time with flipping calendar pages, or the candle stick desk phones, men’s broad-brimmed hats, etc.  We can also see all of these in modern movies set in the 1930s or 1940s, and we can see them in parody skits, but I don’t think the use of a handwritten letter has been used in decades since the era when handwritten letter were the major form of communication, in business and in personal use.

I especially love moments in old movies where a letter has nothing to do with the plot, but it’s there as a convenience.  Consider White Christmas (1954), where Anne Whitfield passes a letter written by Rosemary Clooney to her sister, Vera-Ellen.  The letter informs Vera-Ellen that Rosemary, not wanting to stand in the way of what she thinks is her sister’s impending marriage, breaks up their stage act and has taken a job in New York.  Vera-Ellen merely glances at the letter to know all the contents, and passes it to Danny Kaye, who, likewise, merely glances at the letter to know all its contents.  They may be speed readers, but the director gives us a few frames of the actual letter to read because we don’t read as fast.

We are included in the letter reading.  It is as if Vera-Ellen has passed the letter around to us too.  The audience shares the news “real-time.”  We are reading over her shoulder.

Who really wrote the letters in the movies?  Was it a staff of talented handwriting stand-ins?  A studio secretary with a high school prize for penmanship?  I’d love to know.  A reader commented once that the handwriting in two different letters in two different movies looked the same.

I suppose the most famous letter in literature is the very long and detailed letter Mr. Darcy wrote to Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, explaining the back story of his relationship with Mr. Wickham and the treachery done to his sister, and why Darcy interfered with Mr. Bingley’s relationship with Elizabeth’s sister Jane.  It’s a bomb dropped in the middle of the story, and turns the whole plot on its head. 

He may be a closemouthed fellow when it comes to talking, but in a letter, Darcy goes on forever, yadda, yadda, yadda.  We would not likely see such a long letter printed verbatim in a modern novel. Even modern film adaptations of Darcy’s famous letter tend to abbreviate his epistle, or illustrate its points instead in dramatic flashback scenes.  The directors must think modern audiences will not sit still for a little juicy letter reading.

In many schools today, cursive handwriting is no longer taught.  Many of us have youngsters in our families who cannot write or read cursive handwriting.  This is unfortunate on many levels, most especially that they will not be able to read historic documents, including the personal letters preserved in their own families.

But it also means they will not be able to read Rosemary Clooney’s letter to Vera Ellen, or Ingrid Berman’s letter to Bogie, or any of the notes and handwritten clues as to why the actors are behaving the way they do—remember, their actions are not always explained.  Reading the letter saves us from having to say what has happened off screen.

“Why is Bogie sad, Mommy?”  Now, doesn't that just tear your heart out? 

The letter writing and letter reading scenes are passive, yet still powerfully dramatic.  The letters convey intimate news.  Sometimes they are kissed or embraced because they represent the person that wrote them.  Sometimes they are stashed quickly in a hiding place.  Sometimes they are burned, or crumpled and thrown away. 

This is what Bogie does when the goodbye letter that kicks his guts out has become illegible from the rain, substituting for tears, as Ingrid’s words bleed down the page.  He stands on the steps of the now moving train, crushes the soggy paper in his fist, and tosses it to the tracks.

Deleting an email, or "un-friending" someone was never so dramatic, or so satisfying.

What are some other favorite “letter scenes” of yours?

Please have a look at the other great posts in the Words, Words, Words blogathon.


****************************



"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings


"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood



Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.
 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.

**************************
My new syndicated column SILVER SCREEN, GOLDEN YEARS, on classic film is up at Go60  or check with your local paper.



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Evolution of the Classic Film Fan


Jack Lemmon arrives home late at night to his New York City apartment, a second-floor walk-up in an ancient brownstone.  It’s a cold, misty night in the late autumn.  He pops a TV dinner in the oven, and when it’s ready, he drops the hot aluminum foil slab on his coffee table and parks himself in front of the TV.  He is cheered by the prospect of Grand Hotel (1932) being broadcast, but is fed up with commercial sponsor interruptions by the announcer, and flicks channels (surprisingly, on an early cable manual remote dial), runs through a western and another show that do not hold his interest, before he lands back on Grand Hotel and finally gives up at yet another commercial.  He snaps off the TV, and it blips into a single white spot, as if the cathode ray tube has been engulfed in a cosmic black hole.

Had his character, C.C. Baxter ever seen this, then 28-year-old movie, before?  Or had he only heard of it?  He is clearly excited at the prospect of seeing it as the announcer trumpets the names of the cast, including Joan Crawford and Lionel Barrymore.

Most of us recognize this scene from The Apartment (1960).  It always fascinated me as possibly one of the first depictions of the old movie buff.  Today we discuss the evolution of the classic film fan, which, as we’ve mentioned on this blog before, was a result of television.

January 25, 1957

In this previous post we took a playful look at some pages of TV Guide from 1976 and the old movie listings.  Here are a few much older pages from the 1950s and 1960s.  Though there were only a few channels then, there was still a lot of time to fill on this new medium, and movies from decades past were pulled out of the vault and used as filler.

But it was also an exciting era of entertainment in a new format.  Dramas, many of them live, featured stars and character actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age.   We might wonder how they felt about sharing the airwaves with old movies featuring their much younger selves?   Here was graphic proof that they had aged—not something helpful in promoting a current career in middle age.  (Catch Claude Rains in an episode of The Naked City below, and Gloria Swanson starring in her own program.)  It's difficult enough to compete against other actors, but to compete against one's younger self?


November 9, 1960


February 8, 1955


The studios were breaking up or had broken up by this time, and the broadcast rights to these movies were sometimes held by no one connected with the making of them.  Certainly, none of the actors received residuals.

But it must have seemed amazing that these old movies—which most studio execs back in the day could never have imaged would have a life beyond the vault—were now being shown to a new generation.  A few “art house” movie theaters across the country might chime in with a retrospective  on a particular film or star, but none of these venues could claim the huge audience numbers of a single night of television.

The 1960s, so forward, fast-moving, and futuristic, was not a particularly nostalgic period, though we see on this TV Guide page an early documentary series, Hollywood and the Stars.  Most remarkably, though, have a look at Silents Please, a program which showed silent movies and listed the credits.


October 7, 1963


October 3, 1962

Most Baby Boomers, though having benefited from the Late Late Show, the Million Dollar Movie, etc., since the 1950s, would recall the 1970s and the curious nostalgia boom as the mechanism that really launched a generation of old movie buffs. 

That’s Entertainment! (1974) had a huge hand in launching it.  Originally intended as a television special for the 50th anniversary of MGM, producer and director Jack Haley, Jr. and the studio execs decided to gamble on a feature release, and its popularity surprised everyone and led to a soundtrack album of highlights.  (I don’t really remember, but I think it could have been one of the first albums I ever bought.) The tag line “Boy.  Do we need it now.” was both an acknowledgement of the fatigue over the political and social upheaval over the past several years, and a slap in the face to modern movie makers, whose style and subject matter were vastly different from the classic era.  It was one of the highest grossing films of the year.  

Aha.  There was a market for this old-time stuff.

The clips are wonderful, but some of the film's most powerful moments are the introductions to each segment hosted by stars of the Golden Age on the run-down sets of the back lot.  These scenes of aging star reviving warm memories of elegance -- on a dilapidated set rotting away -- hammer home the lure of nostalgia like nothing else.

Here is a clip of the festivities and roll call of the stars from the 1974 premiere.  These stars need not have worried about competing with their younger selves anymore. That was water over the bridge.  They could look back safely, and even enjoy being in the limelight for one more special evening.

And for the first time, their fans shouting at them as they walked the red carpet were not their contemporaries -- they were young enough to be their children and grandchildren.

But some modern movie makers, perhaps spurring the nostalgia era, perhaps capitalizing off it, paid tribute to Hollywood’s golden age.  What’s Up Doc? (1972) was a modern film, but a direct tribute to the screwball classics of decades past.  Paper Moon (1973) was not a parody, but a slice of life of Depression-era America, filmed in black and white.  The Sting (1973), decidedly in color, a planned art deco palette.  Young Frankenstein (1974)—also filmed in glorious black and white— represented the most common tribute to classic film in this era—the parody.  Add to this Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (1978), a knockoff on Casablanca (1943) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).

During this era we can thank The Carol Burnett Show for making us laugh with superb old movie parodies.  Parodies, and kitschy merchandise (Betty Boop was reborn as key rings and coffee mugs long before anybody thought of rebroadcasting the old cartoons.) fed the old movie nostalgia boom, and a few slim books that tried to cram names and facts if not a deep understanding or analysis of film at this time.


Such books include Richard Lamparski’s Whatever Became Of…? series, and Jerry Lang and Gösta Viertel’s Who Is That? and many others.  These were photo-filled books, lightweight, without much depth to them, but certainly a kind of survey course for newcomers.   Most had little substantive narrative, with a reliance on cliche, and sometimes, as in the case of Who Is That?, an awkward handling certainly in the "separate but equal" gallery of “Negro Actors” along with a roster of vamps and bad guys.  These high school yearbook-style books at least put a name to the face, long before IMDb gave us movie credits.  In all these ways, serious and spurious, the decade was waking up to classic films.



One could argue the chicken-and-egg scenario: did these items feed off the merchandising craze of the nostalgia boom, or did it create it?

Critics and film historians Pauline Kael and Jeanine Basinger wrote contemplative essays on classic film, and colleges began film appreciation courses.  Leonard Maltin published his first book of reviews, which would be updated for the first time during the decade, and, of course, Robert Osborne’s  Academy Awards annual became bibles in the homes of movie buffs.

The term "film noir" came into popularity in the 1970s.  

Those of us who were around then, educating ourselves on classic film from public library encyclopedias and biographies, and many late nights in front of the cathode ray tube, welcomed these and That’s Entertainment and it’s sequel.  It was fun to be reminded of great musicals in an era where they were dying and we were told they would never come back because they were too expensive, but mostly too corny.  Its success, and that teasing moniker, “Boy. Do We Need It Now.” seemed to legitimize our love of old movies.

Television remained our main source for classic film, and in an era where old movies were often shown on primetime, we recall that the very first showings on TV of Gone With the Wind (1939) in 1976 (engendering a famous Carol Burnett parody), and The Sound of Music (1965) in 1975 were huge events and received the highest ratings of the era.  Subsequent yearly showings continued to reap great ratings and became annual favorites for new generations.

Interesting that The Wizard of Oz (1939), another film that received a huge boost from TV and probably would have been forgotten without it, really took off with the advent of color TV, where its special effects could be better appreciated.

I don't believe The Wizard of Oz has been shown on broadcast TV in years.


Another TV tribute—and I’d love to see how many remember this—was the series run on PBS stations called Matinee At the Bijou  in 1980 and ran for five years.  It was probably a first for showing in each episode a cartoon, a short subject, and a serial or “B” movie.  Rudy Vallee was brought out of retirement to sing the show’s theme song.  It was a real treat for the old movie fan to have access to these less prestigious examples of the studio era.  All well and good to celebrate Casablanca, but for the serious film buff, the giants do not tell the whole story, nor satisfy our yen for what else is in the vault.

On the horizon—a tsunami.  The VHS cassette.  Old movies were now being produced in video format to be purchased for home use.  To be sure, collectors of 16mm print films had enjoyed a select assortment of classic films, shorts and cartoons for decades (and some still prefer them), but the VHS cassette offered a less expensive alternative that was easier to use, required less equipment, and a larger variety of movies.  Icing on the cake was the ability to actually record on blank video tape at home.  Now the Late, Late Show offerings were funneled into our private collections.

Watching a particular movie anytime you wanted.  Mind blowing.  A Flintstones-era  “on demand” TV.

And THEN came the movie rental shop.  And “please rewind.”

DVD, of course, was the next big advancement, and Blu-ray, but even before this came on the scene, what I think was more profound to the evolution of the old movie buff and the perpetuation of familiarity with classic films to a new generation was the American Movie Classics channel, and its hosts Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney.   It ran from 1984 to 2002 and was our go-to network for classic movies.  Since AMC (now called American Movie Channel) abandoned classic film programming in 2002, there is always that reference to their going to the “dark side” and fears that one day Turner Classic Movies might follow their example. 

TCM, launched in 1994, I think we can all acknowledge, has been a giant in the appreciation of classic film.  No other TV source has promoted the wide array of studio era films—from features, to shorts, documentaries, live events such as the TCM Film Festival and the TCM Classic Cruise.  We may scorn its drifting into modern films, and the trite “let’s movie” slogan, but TCM is a haven for classic film buffs in a way no other venue has been, not since the old neighborhood movie house from the teens to the late 1950s.  Robert Osborne has earned the respect and love of millions of classic film fans for many reasons, most especially for the dignity with which he presents the movies, for the way he represents us.  Not since the “Boy. Do We Need It Now.” has the appreciation of classic films been raised to the level of esteem it deserves.

We may have reached a climax of sorts—for, as discussed in the first part of this series here, the demographic of the Millennials do not get their entertainment from cable television.  With few classic films shown on broadcast TV these days, younger generations are not apt to be introduced to classic film just by switching the dial, as we were, if they do not subscribe to TCM.

But there are some interesting new venues to promote classic films.  Blogs and websites certainly, but also the growing experiment of showing old movies in cinemas for special releases, allowing fans to see their favorites once again on the big screen.

There are also some intriguing home-grown programming—such as Dana Hersey, who hosted The Movie Loft on Boston-area TV-38 in the 1980s is launching an Internet classic movie streaming channel. Other hosts of online podcasts demonstrate that being a classic film fan is continually evolving according to the technology that allows us to appreciate old movies.  No longer content to be “programmed to”, the classic film fan is now taking the reins and doing the programming.  We'll talk about that more later in the year.

Come back next month, Thursday, May 5th, for part 5 of this series when we discuss the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Come back next week for our regularly scheduled programming—the CMBA “Words! Words! Words!” Blogathon.  My entry is the use of letters in old movies.  Please join us next Thursday for this fun blogathon.

Part 1 of the year-long series on the current state of the classic film buff is here: A Classic Film Manifesto. 




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"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood



Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.
 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.

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My new syndicated column SILVER SCREEN, GOLDEN YEARS, on classic film is up at Go60  or check with your local paper.