Monday, December 28, 2009

See you in 2010....

Taking the week off.  Thanks for the pleasure of your company in 2009.  See you in 2010....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Man Who Came to Dinner - 1942

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942) is the kind of sparkling Christmas comedy we don’t see anymore, with more glitz than guilt-ridden messages about finding the true meaning of Christmas. We’re not even looking for it, because it isn’t lost. Here, we are delightfully unburdened with pseudo-morality tales about commercialism. It’s all glamour, and slapstick. If there’s a message at all, it’s about clinging to life with an iron grip and a sense of fun.

Literate scripts are mostly out of fashion, too, and that is the driving force of this movie, taken from the hit stage play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Monty Woolley plays the noted author, columnist, radio personality and full-time egomaniac who, making a brief Christmas visit to the home of a small-town industrialist, slips on the steps and is forced to spend his holiday with them as an invalid. Mr. Woolley is spectacular, never missing a beat in his sarcasm, his wit, and his impatience with lesser mortals. This is the role he created on Broadway, and deserved to play on film.

Bette Davis is his competent secretary, who is something of a revelation in this role. We’re used to seeing strong performances from her as larger-than-life characters, and waxing melodramatic in weepy flicks, but here she makes a smaller, quiet role pivotal to the story by being the sane and sassy anchor. She is one of the few people who cannot be bullied by Mr. Woolley by virtue of her sense of humor.

At the beginning of the film, we see the ever ditsy society matron Billie Burke fawning over Monty Woolley and inviting him to her home for dinner. She casts a brief sort of “also-ran” inclusion of the invitation to Bette Davis as his secretary. Davis accepts, quietly, with gracious humility and the self-deprecating smile worn by one who is used to being dismissed as unimportant in the great man’s shadow, but who really runs the show. It’s a subtle gesture and tells us more about her character in 30 seconds than another actress would take the entire film to convey.

Davis casts a warm glow of serenity, shaken up only by unexpectedly falling in love with the small-town newspaperman who comes to interview Woolley, and who squires her about at the community ice skating party. Davis’ character takes a header on the ice, and she cheerfully basks in the uncomplicated company of locals who are neither clever nor acerbic, just kind. (I know her character is not supposed to have been on skates before, but you’d think Davis, as a good New England girl, would skate better than that. Tenley Albright she’s not.)

Grant Mitchell (excellent here in “The Secret Bride”), plays the industrialist, proud of his ball bearing factory contributing to the war effort. In his own way he is as equally self-important as Woolley, but is only a big fish in a small pond. Ruth Vivian, playing his fey, fragile, and quite weird sister, along with the wonderful Mary Wickes who plays Nurse Preen, are the only ones in the cast, besides Mr. Woolley, to have appeared in the original Broadway play. (Ruth Vivian went back to Broadway next for “The Strings, My Lord, Are False”, the Elia Kazan flop mentioned in this week’s Tragedy and Comedy in New England.)

Mary Wickes is hysterical from beginning to end, as the severe nurse who gets the lion’s share of bullying from the great man, and who in the end, in her own diva scene, renounces her Florence Nightingale Pledge to serve a suffering mankind and instead get a job in a munitions factory. His obnoxious treatment of her has driven her to thoughts of destruction.

The lines are fast and funny, and almost too numerous to quote. All the lesser characters, just as with Miss Wickes’ final scene, all get great lines to say, too. The local doctor attending Wooley aspires to be an author, and seeks Woolley’s help.

“I’ve just got one patient who’s dying, then I’ll be perfectly free.”

Reginald Gardiner is as quick-witted and sophisticated as Woolley, and does a drop-dead impression of a stuttering Englishman to fool Ann Sheridan. What is perhaps most charming about Davis’ performance is her frequent lapse into delightfully natural giggles at the antics of Gardiner and Woolley playing off each other.

Ann Sheridan is a hoot. The opposite of Davis’ down-to-earth character, Sheridan is off the walls as a self-important, man-grabbing stage actress. Her first scenes playing kissyface on the phone with Woolley, and alternately hollering at her manicurist are hysterical.

Woolley turns the home of the industrialist and his ditsy society matron wife upside down, and even conducts his annual Christmas Eve radio broadcast, complete with a boys choir, in their living room. Jimmy Durante plays a raucous pal from Hollywood who leers seductively Nurse Preen,

“Come to my room in a half hour and bring some rye bread!”

The son and daughter of the house, teenagers who befriend the really-a-nice-guy-under-all-the-bluster Woolley are encouraged to pursue their own dreams and escape from their bourgeois parents. About the only weak link in the chain is Richard Travis, who plays the newspaperman in love with Davis. Probably he does not stand out simply because everyone else in the cast is so over-the-top.

Possibly the funniest aspect of this script is the constant name-dropping. We are told that Woolley’s character is so important, that he is friends with Winston Churchill, the Roosevelts and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that he has received Christmas gifts from Gypsy Rose Lee and Deanna Durbin. New York Governor, and presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey is his lawyer. The film ends memorably with the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt on the phone calling her dear friend to wish him a Merry Christmas.

To anyone with a cursory knowledge of popular history of the late 1930s and early ‘40s, this script is as fresh and funny as if it were written yesterday. However, I wonder if to someone not familiar with these names, does this make a good part of the film a mystery, and that much over-used word to describe old movies: dated?

The play was revived on Broadway in 2000 with Nathan Lane in the role. I didn’t see it (though I have seen another production), and I’m not going to review or compare it, except to imagine that these same topical references would not have had quite the same impact coming from Nathan Lane as from Monty Woolley, no matter how knowledgeable the audience might be on this time period.

And speaking of name-dropping, I’m not going to explain who Tenley Albright is. If you don’t know, shame on you and too bad.

A revival, or film remake, is always nostalgic. But this film produced in 1942 was not nostalgic. It was up to the minute and topical, and late-breaking news. Watching it, it still feels that way, decades later. That is the marvel of it.

May your Christmas have a little glitz, and glamour, too. But without the escaping penguins.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Meanwhile, Back at the Blog...December 2009

Just a few posts I enjoyed recently, and I hope you do, too.

From “Bygone Brilliance”, Merriam lists her observations if real life were like a classic film.

From “Sidewalk Crossings”, DKoren posts a fascinating description of one of the “Barbara Stanwyck Show” episodes now available on DVD, with an especially astute analysis of the work of actor Vic Morrow.

“Allure” needs no particular post to recommend it; all of them are a bonanza for discussing the careers of early Hollywood actresses, many of whom I’ve never heard of, and providing the most diverse collection of photos there exists anywhere.

Raquelle at “Out of the Past” serves up the many menus of “Christmas in Connecticut” in a most creative, culinary post.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jennifer Jones 1919-2009

We make icons of film stars, particularly those who suffer the tragedy of dying young. It is as if we mourn these stars more for losing them while they are at the peak of their beauty or talent, and their brilliance is frozen in time forever.

As irresistible as that is, there is a finer and more meaningful, if less glamorous, alternative.

Jennifer Jones was beautiful, and most certainly talented. She conveyed in her acting, even in the stronger and funnier roles, a vulnerability that sprang from her own quiet personality. There were also tragic incidents in her life where she might have died young. Had that happened, perhaps she would have been fast tracked to that transcendent icon status, and remained there. There would be no need to revive reasons many decades later since she stopped working, why she was so special. As it is, at 90 years old she has few contemporaries in the industry left to mourn and remember her. Whether she intentionally retired from films in middle age or was simply not in demand, or a combination of both, is a question less easily answered. She just seemed to have quietly slipped away.

Growing old is seldom forgiven by the movie industry, particularly where ladies are concerned. But with luck, and courage, and grace, she survived both the tragic incidents of her personal life and the awesome pressures of her film career, and applied herself in other directions in another kind of wonderful transcendence.

And that is the triumph of her life. Notoriously shy, (she was one of those actresses who took her work seriously, but hated stardom) Jennifer Jones devoted her later life to supporting art, and contributing both funds and her personal time to the treatment of cancer and mental illness.

The immeasurable significance that she died an old lady, in her own bed, with those she loved to say goodbye (what we should call a lifetime achievement award) may, understandably, be lost on young movie buffs just discovering a love for classic films based on a crush for beautiful young icons. We’ve just lost a great actress and a special lady whose greatest gift was neither her beauty nor her talent, but probably her resiliency.

Those who are unfamiliar with her work will likely have opportunity now, as always happens after the death of a star, to watch a number of her films. They may find themselves adding the incomparable, transcendent, Jennifer Jones to their list of favorites. She deserves this, and more.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Movie Christmas Trees

As a follow-up to last year’s look at some movie Christmas trees, here are a few more to deck the halls.

“Peyton Place” (1957), discussed in this post, shows how fun Christmas can be with Hope Lange and her little brother until abusive stepfather Arthur Kennedy shows up and spoils the afternoon. Not only that, the tree gets knocked over (gasp!). And Arthur gets knocked off. But hey, pass the eggnog.

In “Bell, Book, and Candle” (1958), discussed in this post, we see perhaps the ultimate in artificial Christmas trees, a kind of tree-inspired metal sculpture around which some witches switch presents, which is fun for witches.

Here in “Stella Dallas” (1937), we get the old fashioned traditional enormous tree with visiting papa John Boles and daughter Anne Shirley sharing a brief happy moment in another traditional dysfunctional family.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown, making the best of it. And being grateful for the socks and underwear. Or, whatever is it those witches are giving each other.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorite Christmas Music Meme

Having been tagged by J. C. Loophole over at The Shelf (and bearing the angry red dodgeball welts on my forehead) to partake of a little favorite Christmas musical performances meme, mine are as follows:

When it comes to Christmas music in general, I’m partial to any performance, TV, CD, in person or otherwise by soprano Kathleen Battle accompanied by classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. But, since this is Another OLD MOVE Blog, I’m going to sort through only those performances you can find in old movies.

1. “I’ll Be Seeing You” (1945). Joseph Cotten, Ginger Rogers, Tom Tully, Spring Byington, and Shirley Temple all sit around the dining room table singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It is homey, amateur night, and I like the way Cotten sings a little off the others. He is the stranger in the house trying to fit in, and he makes a game try with his touchingly pathetic warbling.

2. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944). Judy Garland pacifying little sister Margaret O’Brien after little Margaret freaks out and attempts a mass murder on the snowmen in the yard. Judy sings the really more-sad-than-cheerful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which says so much more about Christmas during wartime when the film was made than it does about St. Louis in 1904.

3. “White Christmas” (1954). Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen’s singing double singing “Snow”. I like it because it is staged like a Busbee Berkeley chorus number, yet nobody gets out of his seat. I also like it because it takes place on a train, and I love trains more than I love people. (Oh dear. That sounds a bit mentally unbalanced. It’s not true. I only love trains more than I love some people. Better?)

4. “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947) discussed here, I like this moment with the Mitchell Boys Choir coming together bit by bit as each boy arrives to take the individual parts and meld them into a choir. We should all work so well together.

5. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). At the very end of the movie, James Stewart and gang sing “Auld Lang Synge” and by this time, I am usually sobbing and singing with them. The sobbing almost always starts when his brother Harry raises his glass and says, “To my brother George, the richest man in town.” Cue sob.

6. “Holiday Inn” (1942). Where Bing gives us “White Christmas” for the first time, tapping his pipe on the bell decorations on the tree.

7. “White Christmas” (1954). Where Bing gives us “White Christmas” for the second time, at the very end of the movie where the camera pans back and we see all the soldiers at the reunion table hopping, raising glasses, and little girls hugging their daddies.

8. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945), discussed here, when James Dunn helps his kids lug the Christmas Tree up several flights of their tenement building, his wavering tenor leading everybody in “Silent Night” while the neighbors come out to enjoy the sight, and Peggy Ann Garner’s face lights up. I’m not sure I could sing while lugging a large tree up several flights of stairs, but I would give it my best try if somebody really needed me to.

9. “Meet John Doe” (1941), discussed here, in which rapacious and power hungry would-be despot Edward Arnold listens morosely, but perhaps pensively, to the soft chorus of Christmas carolers outside his mansion on Christmas Eve, and he puts a tip for them on his butler’s grog tray. The music is brief, but feels like a benediction. If only he would take it that way, rather than an annoyance.

10. “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945), in which Dennis Morgan sings "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" at the piano while Barbara Stanwyck decorates the tree, but concentrating more on Morgan. It is the perfect Christmas scene, and it’s being fake to trick Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet, who are willing participants in this “Christmas play” only makes the scene more loveable.

People who celebrate Christmas should sing, no matter how lousy our voices, no matter if there’s no piano or Dennis Morgan. It is perhaps the only time anymore that many of us know the words to the same songs.

“Popular” music is no longer universal. There was a time when singalongs were easy because everybody knew the same songs. Now with so many types of popular music catering to different tastes, we’re not on the same page anymore, unless we happen to be in a room with people our age group, with our exact same musical preferences.

Christmas songs cater to neither young or old, city or rural. If you know some, you learned them as a child. For the rest of your life, you’ll fit into any makeshift street carolers or living room chorus, just like Joseph Cotten, who has a hard time fitting in any place after his bad war experience.

Just like James Stewart, who finds his way back to his community after a frightening “Twilight Zone” nightmare, and celebrates both his victory and his gratitude with a song.

Just like the old soldiers who sing at their reunion at Dean Jagger’s Vermont inn, who are far away from their homes this Christmas Eve, but the song “White Christmas”, sung anywhere, can instantly bring us home again.

Thanks to J. C. for tagging me for this fun meme. Off to pick up some salve for the dodgeball welts. I won’t tag anyone, because I’m still in the middle of wrapping presents and I ran out of tags.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Boris Karloff as Captain Hook on Broadway

Moira Finnie came to the rescue and supplied this publicity photo of Boris Karloff in his role as “Captain Hook”. We discussed Karloff’s Broadway stint in “Peter Pan” in this post, part of Frankenstenia’s Boris Karloff Blogathon.

Thanks so much to Moira for this very theatrical image of the monster thespian in his stage makeup. Have a look at Moira’s “Skeins of Thought” here, and at the TCM Movie Blog.

By the way, having discussed a couple of Grace Kelly’s early television appearances in this recent post, we might also note that in 1952, Boris played Don Quixote opposite Grace Kelly as Dulcinea in an episode of the anthology series “CBS Television Workshop.”

Boris Karloff as Don Quixote, with Grace Kelly as Dulcinea.

Let me say it again just because I like how it sounds: BORIS KARLOFF as DON QUIXOTE, with GRACE KELLY as DULCINEA. Oh, please let there be a Kinescope of this one floating around somewhere.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Navy Blues" - 1941

We mark Pearl Harbor Day with “Navy Blues” (1941), a slight musical which could probably be left to safely float off into oblivion, were it not for the lightning bolts of zeitgeist that make it a curiously eerie film today.

Jack Oakie and Jack Haley play bumbling sailors trying to get rich quick by betting on a gunnery target practice contest between ships, in which bumbling Herbert Anderson, a naïve hick from the cornbelt with a deadeye aim in the gun turret, is favored to win. Jack Carson, in what was something like his third film, plays the straight man to these clowns as their chief petty officer. One can see he displays a lot of screen presence even if he isn’t the one making the wisecracks. His time will come.

Jackie Gleason makes his film debut as one of several sailors trying to kill Oakie and Haley for having been double crossed by them, and there are times when we almost which they would kill Oakie and Haley.

Ann Sheridan and Martha Raye play a couple of struggling show girls, whose outfits invariably seem to be variations on the sailor suit. Sheridan is the no-nonsense, brassy gal with a somewhat world-weary attitude and an unsuspected soft spot for romantic hog-calling Middle West types.

Martha Raye, being the comedienne, takes the pratfalls and gets the leftovers. Jack Haley is her ex-husband, whom she chases for the $20 a month alimony due her. He repeatedly turns her over to the Shore Patrol as a spy.

There are only a few songs in this movie, but each production number makes up for it by being quite long. The movie opens with the energetic “Navy Blues” and we are introduced to the girls who set the energetic tone and the idyllic scene here in the bamboo, palm fronds, and pineapple setting of Honolulu.

Knowing the film is set on Hawaii, and was released in September, 1941, just two months before Pearl Harbor, it is irresistible to look for clues in the calm before the storm.

In one quip, Martha Raye reminds Haley, “Hawaii happens to be in the United States.” He responds, “When did that happen?”

One of the most often repeated reminisces by Americans on the mainland of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire in 1941 was wondering “Where is Pearl Harbor?”

In another scene, Oakie and his sailor pals, trying to inspire gunnery champ Anderson to re-enlist (so they may exploit his fame by betting on him), recite the names of battleships, including the USS Nevada. In December, this would be one of the ships trapped in Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor. However, rather than being sunk, its crew made a valiant effort to get it clear, and though it was hit by bombs and a torpedo, the Nevada managed to survive the disaster. It was repaired, served in the Atlantic landing troops at Normandy, took part in the invasion of southern France, and on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

At the end of the war it became a radioactive dump when used for testing of atomic bombs at the Bikini Atoll. The Nevada was finally destroyed as part of gunnery practice in 1948.

The ship on which the boys are stationed, the USS Cleveland was actually not commissioned at the time this movie was made. It would not be completed and launched until a couple months later, in November 1941. The film seems to be kind of a promo for the real ship.

There is some footage of actual sailors performing gunnery procedures, and this adds a slap of realism to a movie otherwise not terribly realistic. In contrast to the hardened real sailors, the bumbling characters in this movie are slap-happy, overweight almost to a man (except for Herbert Anderson), and represent the kind of sailor pre-war movies depicted, a happy-go-lucky stumblebum with the innate ability to dance. In another couple of months, rugged sailors-as-warriors would replace the idle image of Jack Oakie dragging Martha Raye around the bowels of a ship in a laundry bag.

In another bit of reflection on then current happenings, one scene prominently features sandwich board signs in front of a movie theater advertising two actual movies, “Affectionately Yours” released in May that year, with Merle Oberon and Dennis Morgan, and “Man Power”, released in August with Edward G. Robinson, Marlene Dietrich, and George Raft. Nothing like leveraging publicity sources.

It’s a little difficult to pinpoint who exactly is the star of this movie. We catch glimpses of Ann Sheridan, the only real “movie star” of the pack, but most of the film seems to belong to Jack Oakie, who wears a bit thin after a while. Miss Sheridan surprises, however, by being quite a good singer and dancer, and her alto duet with oh-shucks-ma’am-Herbert Anderson (with quite a decent baritone himself) in “You’re a Natural” is silly and sweet.

I like him with Sheridan. His character clearly out of her league, and that may be why their pairing is so sweet; it’s goofy. This is probably Mr. Anderson’s closest shot at a starring role in films. He was one of the many unnamed singing servicemen (as a Corporal in the Army) in the cast of “This is the Army” a couple of years later, of this previous blog post, but with his Robert Walker innocence, I suppose there were few other kinds of roles the studio might have been willing to plug Anderson into; rather like Martha Raye always playing the plain Jane sidekick. He enjoyed a long career as a guest on many, many television shows, and you may remember him on his own show playing the father of “Dennis the Menace.”

None of the musical numbers have that smash hit stand alone quality, but the lyrics are clever and fun. One song “Where Do We Land Abroad?”, with the obvious Code-skirting pun about landing “a broad”, mentions Japan as one dreamy port of call. It’s clear from this hapless movie nobody had a crystal ball on set.

We have a lot of Hawaii clichés about moonlit luaus, grass skirts and ukuleles. The movie seems like a pleasant vacation, at least until we have those shafts of foreboding about the Nevada, about the Pacific Fleet being docked in Hawaii, and it being close to the day our world changed, the day that for thousands of servicemen trapped in Battleship Row their world ended.

We sense this foreboding because we knew what happened next. But perhaps the audience watching this lighthearted fluff in September 1941 sensed something, too. As Ann Sheridan remarks to Herbert Anderson, “This is no time for a good gun pointer to be leaving the Navy.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Grace Kelly, Studio One, and Live TV

One recent evening, as part of its month-long salute to Grace Kelly, TCM showed two episodes of the 1950s television show “Studio One”, in which Grace Kelly appeared. They were shown in the wee hours, so unless one knew about them beforehand and set the recorder, I wonder how many people saw these hour-long shows. One must appreciate the impact these crudely technical shows made on the careers of future stars like Grace Kelly.

Miss Kelly was part of the new vanguard of actors, including Paul Newman, Anthony Perkins, James Dean, Lee Remick, Charles Bronson, who learned their trade on live (yes, that’s live) television before they went into films. “Studio One”, an anthology series where each episode was a different story, was only one of the groundbreaking new outlets for young talent. Other shows included “Conflict”, “Climax”, “Playhouse 90”, “Robert Montgomery Presents”, and a host of other shows, many produced in New York City at the time.

New York was the home of live television just as it had been the driving force of the theatre world, and TV shows in those early days of the 1950s were more like theatre than what they would later become when videotape and canned laughter were invented. We mentioned in this previous post about how some famous films had their start as single episodes of some of these television shows. In a similar vein, Grace Kelly’s 1956 film “The Swan” originated on live television as an episode of the show “The Actor’s Studio” in 1950, starring…Grace Kelly.

Many of these shows have been lost, many were simply broadcast once and never recorded, others, like the two “Studio One” episodes recently shown on TCM called “The Rockingham Tea Set” and “The Kill” were preserved on Kinescope. Few early shows were actually shot on film. Compare the quality of any episode you might have seen of “I Love Lucy”, which was shot on film and therefore is preserved in excellent quality, and any of the shows from the 1970s which were filmed on videotape. The ones from the 1970s are in comparison, fading in quality. (Though some series are now being digitally preserved on DVD.)

A few months ago a meme was traveling about the movie blogs in which bloggers listed books which had most influenced them as movie fans. My post on this was limited, as, though I’ve read many books on film, I could not directly answer the question on which had influenced me because I did not feel particularly influenced by any of them.

I never “discovered” old movies. They were always on in my home and I watched them from earliest memory. I was free from an early age to approach them from my own viewpoint (which usually involved a curiosity about what was happening in the world at the time the movie was made) and form my own opinions without really being influenced that much by critics.

Classic television, however (if we may use the term), was something I had to “discover”, as by the time I was growing up, old movies were being shown on television, but television was conspicuously ignoring its own separate heritage.

Though I could not list any particular books on film which influenced me, I can name at least one book on television that had a profound impact on me by opening up to me this whole world of shows which were produced in what now must be regarded by television executives as the Pleistocene epoch. (However, with the junkyard of “reality television” we experience today, I would say we’ve taken several steps backward. End of polite rant.)

The book which taught me a lot about the Golden Age of Television is How Sweet It Was by Arthur Shulman and Roger Youman (Bonanza Books, NY, 1966). Not just teeming with photos, but with brief paragraphs on each show, the good, the bad, and the entirely forgotten.

This photo is from the book, and is from the “Studio One” episode “The Kill” shown on TCM. The book captures the excitement of early television, the theatrical aspect to it, and is a well-documented and down-to-business tome, as well as a valentine, on the Golden Age of TV.

The two “Studio One” episodes likewise capture the excitement of live TV, in that they are very theatrical (in some aspects, rather bumbling like low-budget community theater) in nature. There were, quite obviously, severe technical limits on what the shows were able to do in their small studios. Sets were simple. There was usually only a two-camera setup. Close-ups, such as the photo of Grace Kelly at the beginning of this post, were often accomplished not by zooming in on an actor, but by the actor simply stepping closer towards the stationary camera. It’s cheesy, but I love it.

In “The Rockingham Tea Set”, Grace Kelly plays a nurse hired to care for a wealthy young invalid. She walks a tightrope navigating the moods of the manipulative and emotionally disturbed patient. In “The Kill”, she plays the wife of a man hunted like a dog by his neighbors. Both simple plots, simple dialogue, but dramatic and fun to watch for what television was able to do at the time and even for what it wasn’t able to do, and especially for the sublime pleasure to see Grace Kelly at 20 years old.

It has been noted by various biographers that during the shooting of her 1955 film “To Catch a Thief”, co-star Cary Grant was awed by Grace Kelly’s ability to deftly improvise a scene. She explained to him it was because of her early training in live television.

By the way, the original commercials for Westinghouse home appliances presented by Betty Furness are still included in the Studio One episodes, and they are as much fun, and as much an education, as looking through old magazine ads.

My hope is that TCM shows more of these live anthology shows from the 1950s which showcase that particular generation of actors who cut their teeth on them, and later came to have important careers in film. We have little other access to these shows, except for archives which are not easily available to most people. The Paley Center for Media in New York (and also Los Angeles) is an excellent museum in which visitors can view a collection of television broadcasts on private screens. But it’d be nice to be able to stay home and watch. On television.

For more information on early television have a look at these two great blogs: Television Obscurities, and The Classic TV History Blog. For more on the Paley Center for Media, have a look at this website.

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