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.


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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.

**************************
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.

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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Talk on my novel BESIDE THE STILL WATERS

This is to announce that I will be speaking at the Agawam (Massachusetts) Public Library on my novel Beside the Still Waters and the destruction of four towns in Central Massachusetts for the building of the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1920s and 1930s.  I’ll be bring some poster-sized aerial photographs to illustrate the setting of the novel and the towns which were systematically dismantled.

More on the book:

Four towns, gone. Dismantled slowly while their inhabitants grieve for a history and heritage that has been voted away from them. The present threatens; the future belongs to the fearless.

Beside the Still Waters is a family saga based on an actual event which displaced four entire towns in central Massachusetts for the construction of a reservoir. Today, the Quabbin Reservoir provides water for millions of citizens, primarily in the greater Boston area.

Families are divided between those who protest the construction project, those who give up and leave, and those who help to build it. The central character is Jenny, a girl who comes of age facing the extinction of her community, who becomes the guardian of her family’s heritage, and ultimately, the one to decide what happens to them.

A rift between two brothers, Eli and John Vaughn, at the turn of the 20th Century continues through to the next generation as John tries to use Jenny, Eli’s daughter, in a plot to regain the family farm from Alonzo, who now runs it, who is Jenny's love. John is broke and eager to sell the farm to the state, which is buying up area property for the coming reservoir. Both Alonzo and Eli refuse to sell their properties, and protest removal by eminent domain. Torn between loyalty to her family and heritage, and the allure of a future beyond the valley, Jenny refuses to remain powerless like the men she loves, but looks for a way to take control. A disastrous decision may prove fatal in a race against time.

The talk is free to the public; please join us on Monday, April 4th at 7 p.m. at the Agawam Public Library, 750 Cooper Street, Agawam.



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Requiescat in pace, Patty Duke 1946 - 2016


Her name was Anna.  She was a star on Broadway while still a child in a role so deep and emotional, and so transparently played, it would always be identified with her.  She will always be young, defiant, touching, Helen Keller.

She won an Oscar at 16 for playing that same role in a feature film.  She won an Emmy for a made for TV movie playing "the other role" in that movie - Annie Sullivan.

Her work in numerous TV shows, including a show of her own when she was still a teenager, will always mark her as one of the greatest actresses of her generation.

Someday I would like to write more in depth on The Miracle Worker and some of her other roles.  For now, we must say goodbye.  Bless you, Anna.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Requiescat in Pace



Though this blog is on hiatus for a few weeks, we must note the passing of Former First Lady Nancy Reagan.  Classic film fans will also recall her career as a Hollywood film actress, as Nancy Davis, and we discussed her role in The Next Voice You Hear (1950) in this previous post.

Condolences to her family and friends.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

In Search of Elegance - Kay Noske, Movie Star Makeover


Welcome to the third post in our monthly discussion on the current state of the classic film fan.  It’s an examination on our evolution, where we’ve been, where we may be going.  To recap, the first two posts are here:

From January – A Classic Film Manifesto.

From February – Discussion with blogger and author Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera and his new book on actress Helen Twelvetrees.
 
Today we visit with Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover (whom we also heard from last week in our post on The New Loretta Young Show).  As we can tell from the name of her blog, Kay’s love of classic film has a great deal of bearing on her interest in style and fashion.

 

JTL:  One common theme among classic film bloggers I notice is that our love of old movies is a huge part of our lives: certainly personally, and for some of us, professionally.  Your blog reflects the close relationship between your passion for image consulting and your love of classic films.  I am fascinated by how your interest in classic films dovetails your Movie Star Makeover image consulting business.

From your website:

 Because I love both clothes AND old movies, I centered my image consultant business on Classic Hollywood, when studio image teams molded apparently ordinary women into stars. These studio experts began by looking at the individual and the type of woman she embodied, then helped her become the most complete expression of both.

This is so articulate and imaginative.  Your perspective on classic films and stars in terms of their image style is a unique among classic film bloggers.  While many of us profess an interest (even if only rudimentary) in the Hollywood fashions, your blog delves into the image of Hollywood stars in terms of fashion, hair, makeup, and breaks down all the components of style and interprets them, not only in terms of American pop culture, but what we can learn from and utilize today in our lives.  There are reasons, of course, for the Hollywood greats being icons, and much of that has to do with their look (abetted by some fabulous still photography, a pet interest of mine).  I love your posts for the information you give, your analysis of these elements of style, and most especially for the entertaining way the articles are written. 

KN:  Thank you! This is music to my ears. Bloggers hope they are not just writing for themselves, as it often seems (I mean, really, is it THAT hard to leave a comment??), so it’s sweet to know that the effort is appreciated. Especially so by someone as talented at writing as you!

JTL:  Thank you very much. Where does the classic film fan in you end and the image consultant begin?  Or are they inseparable?  (Since my focus is history, that is the window through which I view classic films, so I can well understand that it is difficult to not watch a film through a prism.)

KN:  They’re two sides of the same coin, I think! I have loved classic film as long as I can remember, but I had an epiphany in senior high, discovering that clothes really DO make the man, so to speak. I’d been given the part of a society matron (mostly because of my dead-on imitation of Margaret Dumont, Groucho Marx’s much-put-upon grande dame cinematic foil) and my drama teacher, Mr. Anzalone, garbed me in a sharp, ultra-tailored navy blue 1950’s ladies dressmaker suit. Now, since my normal attire was along the lines of men’s tuxedo pants and tight sweaters, this was a radical departure and, when I emerged from the costume closet looking like something from 1935 Vogue, complete with pulled back hair and red lips, my peers’ reactions told me everything I needed to know about the power of clothes. As I have said earlier, it was as if the hammer of Thor smote me between the eyes. I then started watching films to gather information about the transformative power of costume/clothing and used what I was learning.  

JTL:  How long have you worked as an image consultant, and to what degree has American pop culture of Hollywood’s heyday influenced your analysis of clients’ needs and shaped your advice? For instance, this from your blog:

Today, those wonderful Silver Screen goddesses still have plenty to share with modern women about how to make the most of their individual beauty–if you know how to listen!

KN:  I’ve been image consulting professionally for 3 years now, but for virtually decades, I’ve been offering advice (welcome or not) to friends, the actors I would costume and strangers on the street about what works and what doesn’t. When I was a costumer (for 5 years here in Rochester, NY), I learned a lot about what shapes, colors, and styles flatter, distract, add visual weight, tell the right story. It may sound funny, but I was inspired by the memory of being a very un-put-together teen. I wanted to help my “sisters”…but not the rich ones, no, my target client is the nice middle-class gal who wants to feel beautiful or pretty. They’re the ones who watch the movies and dream of glamour coming their way…so, they’re typically the ones who respond most eagerly to analysis that incorporates the elements of classic Hollywood glamour. They have had zero glamour in their lives—I love to show them how Hollywood style masters made over the stars from fairly normally pretty girls to glamour queens—without (in most cases) dissolving their identity. For me, the key was to first determine a person’s essential personality and style—then build on it. The gloss of Hollywood glamour is just for the fun factor!

American pop culture has been handy for the younger set…they’ve heard of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, etc in various magazine features, fashion and beauty layouts, etc. The icons of style are usually instantly recognized by young and old…and it’s an approach that can connect my clients with something very appealing and exciting. For example, the latest Tiffany’s campaign features Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—if there wasn’t any residual cache from Audrey, they’d never bother to make her such a prominent part of their campaign!

JTL:  I also like that you use old Hollywood to spin articles on health, exercise, and nutrition.  You are a public speaker as well—what are the most popular topics on which you’re asked to present a talk?

KN:  Oh, definitely, the MOST popular lecture is the one on “100 Years of Fashion” and my free-form series on the back stories of well-known and under-sung Hollywood heroines. No one wants to hear about health, exercise or nutrition! LOL! They love to hear about how Agnes Moorehead rose to the top despite being told she was too homely for anything but radio and how Hedy Lamar conquered the stereotype of “dumb and beautiful” by inventing a technology that allowed submarines to code crucial defense information; how Judy Garland fought her “girl-next-door” image to emerge as a beautiful woman with a stronger screen presence. They love the “underdog” stories the best. Anyone can lecture on Marilyn Monroe, but I feel that the more interesting stories lurk in the forgotten corners of Tinseltown. My audiences really want to identify with the subjects of the lectures, and, let’s face it, who can identify with Marilyn?

JTL:  Later on in the year, I’m going to discuss what we might expect for future classic film fans – and the possibility there may be fewer as younger generations will enjoy less opportunity to be exposed to them.  In general, are the demographics of your clientele (without getting into specific age groups) – receptive to learning about the elements of style as you might interpret them through classic film stars – or is the world of old movies too remote for them? 

KN:  As you can guess, I’ve got a bee in my Lilly Dache bonnet about this subject. I’ve spoken to several college age groups about developing a viable, polished career wardrobe after years of living in pajama bottoms and sweatshirts. The presentation I give uses classic Hollywood images, and I think the fascination of seeing timeless styles adds a unique angle, and provides them with inspiration without making them feel it’s unattainable. For example, when I use an image of Audrey Hepburn in capris to illustrate the proportion of ankle to shoe to pant hem, they get it. I do intersperse these images with modern ones to clarify how the principles that dictate good style are reflected in something they can buy at the Limited or Brooks Brothers, too.

JTL:  When it comes to discussing the style of Cary Grant or Loretta Young to your fellow old movie bloggers, you are, of course, preaching to the choir.  But I wonder if the general public of your clientele is as eager to grasp them for examples? 

KN:  90% of my clients are NOT old movie weirdos, as it turns out! Some of them are completely clueless about the “classics”…many have never seen a black and white film. But, for whatever reason (and I think your brilliant question #8 nails why) it never fails to excite them when I show them my Pinterest board full of fabulous clothes on classic stars—in “their” Star Style. Essentially, it’s a perspective that allows me to indulge my adoration of these beautiful stars and their style while showing my clients the most obvious, clear examples of the style we’re going for. They would never think of Rita Hayworth as an example of who they are, but when they see Rita, they think “wow, I’m THAT kind of woman???” and it thrills them.

JTL:  How do you approach your work with a client?  Do you find that they already have a firm idea in their minds of what they want to project, or are many willing to put themselves in your hands, trusting you to navigate this for them?  Most, I imagine, are there for career help in discovering the part that their personal style plays in their professional image.

KN:  Yes, exactly! I send clients a little worksheet ahead of time so that when I descend upon their closet, they’re ready for real work. Most have NO IDEA of what they want to project—so we start with “what 3 words would you want someone to use to describe your work”…then I offer examples, like “approachable, friendly, open” or “professional, managerial, intelligent” or whatever. Once we establish those words, we have a good filter for the closet editing and a future buying list. Typically, they put themselves completely in my hands, which makes life very easy for me. I tell them about my experience as a costumer and consultant, and offer them choices they know will flatter them—they’ve seen the evidence before their eyes as I pull together viable outfits from their own closets that never occurred to them. Once they see it happening (and almost all of them say “it’s like MAGIC!”), they really get on board and start purging like mad, eager to assemble a closet full of outfits that genuinely flatter them. It’s so fun to see them smile like mad as they look in the mirror and realize, “hey, I’m beautiful!!” I’m telling you, there are sometimes tears of joy! 

 
JTL:  The future of classic film fans also brings me to something you mentioned in your email, about cutting back on watching TCM.  I know you’ve mentioned, possibly on Facebook, I think, about your concern of TCM’s shifting to programming many more newer movies, which I would call non-classic  or post-classic films.  You’ve also announced your decision recently to choose the Rochester Nitrate Picture Show film festival over the TCM Classic Film Festival this year, due to they’re both being scheduled at the same time, etc., as well as:

…the recent and undeniable TCM trend towards screening more and more modern fare made my decision quite a bit easier.  The Dryden’s Nitrate Picture Show is by its very nature “forced” to focus on what I deem true classic film…rend towards screening more and more modern fare made my decision quite a bit easier. The Dryden Theatre's Nitrate Picture Show by its very nature is "forced" to focus on what I deem true classic film, and the idea of sleeping in my own bed, relaxing in my own hometown, and seeing some truly wonderful pictures on a big screen surrounded by fellow film geeks...well, it was too tempting.

JTL:  Could you elaborate on your choice to cut down on TCM?  (I’m leery of TCM’s shift in programming myself.  Having been a fan of the old AMC channel before it went over to the dark side, as they say, (I still miss Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney) I’m mentally and emotionally trying to prepare for the day when, Robert Osborne-less, TCM becomes another overflowing sewer of gritty cop shows, “reality” shows, and topic-of-the-day dramas.  And infomercials.)

KN:  I really didn’t want to do this, Jacqueline, cut back on TCM, because it’s like leaving a relationship! LOL! However, I saw a similar thing happen at AMC and look where they are! I was thinking a lot about this and I believe, for me, it’s the idea that the classic films represent a way of looking at life that I can identify with—I am a very straight-laced, old-fashioned Christian woman of a certain age (as the French so delicately put it). I find no amusement or entertainment in sordid tales of mean, ugly people being hateful to each other. I don’t enjoy seeing images that lift up the worst aspects of humanity. It’s just not my cuppa. Life’s plenty tough without using my spare time to view something that doesn’t leave me feeling happy and hopeful. I guess that makes me a lightweight, but I don’t care! I’ve had enough pain and sorrow in my real life to not seek it out for my entertainment.

I used to know that I could turn on TCM at any hour and know I wouldn’t see something I’d be embarrassed to share with my mother or father. The uplifting or funny or heartfelt stories with heroines and heroes I can admire; a life lesson to be learned; some giggles or belly laughs that aren’t prompted by meanness, or some really great clothes to inspire my own wardrobe—that’s what I want out of movies. And that’s what I used to be able to count on, but now, TCM is showing R-rated films from eras I lived through…there’s nothing exotic or interesting about that to me. Boring as all get out! And I miss Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney too!! Overflowing sewer…yes, that’s exactly the image that comes to mind. Life’s dark…why make it darker? Less grit, more wit, please.

And what KILLS me is that I, as a teen in the 1960s, came to LOVE old movies because they were so “foreign” to my everyday life…they were another world that I could enter and swim around in. I loved the odd phraseology, the glorious style, the interiors populated with beautiful objects, the functions of which I could only guess at. It was time travel and I reveled in it. Going back to 1990…yeech. By “modernizing” their offerings, TCM is short-changing this generation, assuming that they can only relate to the near past. My 7 year old granddaughter sobbed her way through the climactic scene in Heidi where the Grandfather was wandering through the streets, calling out for Heidi. Her mom said she sat there, riveted, and started to cry saying “What will happen to the Grandfather????” (I get tears in my eyes just writing about it! LOL!) That’s powerful! Today, so many movies are re-treads and pre-fab emotions for these poor kids. When they see the real thing in black and white, they can tell it’s different. I pity this generation when TCM folds to the money men. That’s what killed the studio system and that’s probably what’s killing TCM. No visionaries at the helm, just money men. Happened to Disney, too!

JTL:  Do you have any of those other retro-stations like GetTV that program classic films, and do you expect they will, in future, take up the slack?  

KN:  From your mouth to God’s ear! I wish! Time-Warner Cable in my area doesn’t have those options, which is why I’m diligently seeking alternatives to get some of those channels! As for getTV and other retro channels, yes, I do expect them to pick up the slack with a vengeance. I have heard that they are getting mad kinds of popular numbers in social media, proving there’s a viable market for “old movies”…I suspect TCM will discover that it’s easy to lose a fan and hard to win one back, especially in this era of multiple, inexpensive, mass-deliverable options for viewing and enjoying classic Hollywood films.

JTL:  Speaking of the Rochester film festival, your Facebook updates on the series of films you introduce at the Dryden are terrific, and I think you must have quite a following by now of people who just want to see what you’re wearing to emulate the film of the evening.  That is such an innovative way to combine your knowledge of classic films and your expertise as an image consultant.  There’s always a touch of humor in the theatricality of your presentation.  I hope to get to Rochester some day to attend one of these events.  How did you come to have a relationship with the Dryden? 

KN:  I begged them plain and simple, about 10 years ago. I’d been attending the marvelous film screenings at the Dryden for a few years and thought “hey, wouldn’t it be fun to give introductions in costume?” So, I begged the then-box office manager to give me a chance. I think I literally said, “Put me in, coach!” I told him I was going to wear a vintage gown to introduce Gilda and he said “Oh. Okay. Sure, why not?” I think I had 2 proposals in the parking lot after the film. Again, I realized people are STARVED for glamour these days. So, I started wearing era-appropriate attire (of which I had oodles) to introduce all the films they’d let me have. Eventually, I got a reputation and if I dare to show up in “civvies” I get a lot of guff from my “fan club.” They almost always say “I love your dress!” and when they come into the theater and see me sitting there in some outlandish headgear or a swoopy, sequin-covered gown, they come over and say ‘Oh, goodie! You’re introducing tonight!!!” That’s so sweet of them and it’s fun for all of us. I love making the film-going experience 3-D in a REAL way!

JTL:  What’s in store for the rest of this year on the Dryden’s roster?

KN:  Believe it or not, I have no idea! They only send we presenters a list of potential, available films about a week or two before the months in question. I just presented The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib in January, and A Room with a View and Camille in February, but who knows after that? HINT: I *do* happen to know that the Dryden is screening a HUGE James Bond series. When I presented From Russia With Love, I went in Moneypenny togs, as the Bond Girl attire is harder to pull off when you’re 60 years old! LOL! Oh, newsflash—just discovered that they are presenting a SLEW of Maureen O’Hara films—from Jamaican Inn to Our Man in Havana to Parent Trap!! Whoopie!!!!  

JTL:  Perhaps, by default, in a world where there is very little class or elegance left, our classic film stars are our best remaining examples.  And we have them preserved forever.  Your thoughts?

KN:  This needs to be made into a bumper sticker. That’s why TCM’s foray into the sloppy world of today’s cinema is so unsatisfactory—what can it offer you but the dubious sensation of knowing you—and your world—are essentially sucky. With small, sad moments of lifted gloom. Pathetic!

JTL:  Is there anything you’d like to add about your consulting business, about Loretta Young, about your appreciation of classic films, or anything else you’d like to discuss?

KN:  When I was a kid, I’d create the world I wanted to live in by make-believe and movies were there to provide me with fodder for dreams. That’s what I try to do by steering my clients towards classic cinema for their role models. I started my business with two objectives—to try and make my sisters feel beautiful (because I never felt beautiful as a youngster) and to encourage folks to watch old movies so they’d want to help preserve, conserve, and enjoy classic Hollywood.

Now, the funny part is that my area of the country is (judging by the appearance of 90% of the patrons in restaurants, airports, and on the street) basically uninterested in dressing stylishly. But that’s not really rare, is it? The dumbing-down and casualization of American clothing has cut a swath across all generations and classes. Few but the office-bound professionals dress above the bare minimum of style.

There’s a DEEP-seated spirit of conformity in my hometown. As a general rule, the folks here won’t spend money on learning how to improve their sartorial lot. So, my moonlighting image consulting business has become limited to lectures, which western New Yorkers love. But try to pry them out of their NFL jerseys and you’ve got a fight on your hands! (I should have realized this years ago, since there are NO image consulting businesses in this area per the yellow pages—zillions of nail salons and beauty salons, but no image businesses. That’s telling, isn’t it? LOL!)

So, I’ve basically limited my consulting to word-of-mouth after a few years of hustling like mad only to gain a onesie-twosie amount of clients, both locally and by Skype. Happily, the majority of my clients have become friends, so what a lovely by-product! One probably CAN carry coal to Newcastle, but why bother? Life’s too short and I have too many other cool projects to tackle to worry about it! I’m sure Loretta would have said something like that!

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My thanks to Kay Noske for sharing her enthusiastic input from her perspective as a classic film fan on our unique little blogging corner of the world.

 

Next month, in our fourth entry in this series, we’re going to ruminate on the evolution of the classic film fan—from the 1950s television “late-late show” to art house film festivals, to the nostalgia boom of the 1970s, cable, Netflix, Internet streaming, big-screen showings, and the future for classic film fans.  We may have reached a golden age.  Can we expect a decline in years to come?  Join me Thursday, April 7th, for this post.

This blog will go on hiatus for a few weeks in the meantime.

Let me pause here a moment to note that this Saturday, March 5th, will mark the 9th anniversary of Another Old Movie Blog.  Thank you for the pleasure of your company.