Thursday, March 26, 2015

Answers, Updates, and Famous Photos...

A bit of this and that today:

First, a big huzzah and best wishes to all our fellow film bloggers enjoying the festivities at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood, which begins today and runs through Sunday.  I really enjoy reading their posts and updates on the fun, and their coverage only gets better each year.

Now, the answers to last week’s Leggy Ladies on Ladders photos:

A is Cyd Charisse.  Though it’s a candid sort of backstage shot, the film she was doing in this costume is Meet Me in Las Vegas, which we discussed previously here.

B is Paul Newman and…Alexis Smith.  This is from The Young Philadelphians, which we briefly mentioned in this previous post on Alexis.

C is Zachary Scott entering the room to find…Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, which we discussed here. And here.

I have a book signing coming up this Saturday, the 28th of March at the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield City Library, 44 Oak Street, Indian Orchard (Springfield), Massachusetts, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  I’ll have a variety of my books available for purchase, both non-fiction and novels, and if you have time to stop by, I’d love to chat with you.


And now, a word about my soon-to-be-published book on the career of Ann Blyth.  June 18th is less than three months away, and will be here before we know it.  I’m working like mad on it, and I hope you’ll approve of the final product.

Part of the challenge of finding photographs for the book is investigating the copyright or ownership of the images.  It can be a daunting task, but also a pleasure when one discovers really fine photos by a master photographer.  In this case, I’m speaking of two greats: Florence Vandamm and Eileen Darby.  They were giants in the field of theatre photography, and Ann Blyth was photographed by both when she appeared in Watch on the Rhine as a young girl.

Florence Vandamm was a pioneer in this field, and from 1925 to about 1950, she was the foremost photographer capturing the greats of the Broadway stage.  The Vandamm Studio specialized in very glamorous portraits of the Broadway stars, images not too dissimilar from what the Hollywood studios would adopt for their style of light-sculpted, touched-up and stunning glamour photos in the 1940s.

Eileen Darby came a long a little later, beginning her career as a theatre photographer in 1940, Vandamm’s chief competitor and ultimate heir to this highly specialized field; however, Darby’s work had a different style.  She would most often perch herself in the front row seats and shoot with low light the dramatic action on stage, catching stars in the moment of their greatest work.

Ann Blyth, just by the serendipitous circumstances of being cast in Watch on the Rhine, was photographed by both these greats for that play, and I am so pleased and privileged to be including photos from both these famous photographers in my book.  I admire their work tremendously.

Today, the Vandamm body of work is the property of the Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  Because my budget was limited, I could only purchase the rights for one Vandamm photo.  Though I was tempted to go with the images that grouped Ann with Paul Lukas, who played her father, and other actors in the play, I ultimately chose, instead, a portrait of her.  The group photos were excellent, but I had seen them, or photos like them in other books and magazines.  The reasons I chose the portrait are twofold:

First, it is such a sweet expression that seems to show this young girl on the verge of leaving her “play-acting” years and becoming a serious actress – half school photo and half actor’s professional headshot.

Second, because something in that portrait kept calling to me, and finally I realized what it was.  I think I might have been the first person in seventy years to look upon that sweet face outside of the archives, and if I didn’t publish it, I might be the last.  So, since those other photos were more easily available to the public in other books, I took this rarely (or never) seen photo for mine.

The Eileen Darby photo of Ann in Watch on the Rhine is one of her “action shots” that shows Ann on stage with Lucile Watson, who played the family matriarch; George Coulouris, the villain of the piece; and Peter Fernandez, who played one of Ann’s brothers.  This particular photo had also found its way into the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts collection, but for rights to publish I had to turn to the Eileen Darby Estate, which is currently managed by her grandchildren.  I am very grateful to Mr. Alex Teslik for allowing me to publish that photo.

There will be quite a number of other photos in the book, and other photographers or publishers to whom I needed to apply for permission, but I wanted to tell the story of these two particular photographers because of the important place they have in the history of American theatre.

Last year, a retrospective of Vandamm's work was held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts called: Pioneering Poet of Light: Photographer Florence Vandamm & the Vandamm Studio, which you can read about here and see some of her stunning work.

Eileen Darby's life and work has been presented in the excellent book, Stars on Stage- Eileen Darby & Broadway's Golden Age by Mary C. Henderson.

See you next Thursday for a little Easter noir.  You can probably guess the movie.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leggy Ladies on ladders...

Have a gander at those gams, and tell us who the ladies on the ladders are, and, if possible, from what films:



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Paddy O'Day - 1935

Paddy O’Day (1935) is about an illegal immigrant we don’t have the heart to send back. 

Maybe it’s because she sings and has a puppy.  Maybe because mainstream America was a generation or two closer to the immigrant experience, where Ellis Island represented both the dreams, and the deepest fears of the immigrant, and so our understanding and compassion was deeper.  We remembered, or our momma and papa remembered, that hope rode one shoulder, a sense of doom the other.  We may muse with chagrin  and raised eyebrows that such a lighthearted and fanciful movie flies in the face of one of the most contentious political issues of current times.

Jane, a little Irish girl who is slated to be sent back to Ireland, gives us only a few moments of the doom of being sent back; she quickly takes matters into her own hands by sneaking into the U.S. illegally by hiding in a milk can. 

Hiding in things to enter illegally has been done many times since, rarely so successfully, and often tragically.

Once having arrived, she is hidden by new friends, who are complicit in the crime.  That’s been done, too.  Who’s talking about the Mexican border?  I’m talking about all the illegal Irish in Boston right now (something like 10,000 of them).

Yeah.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Jane Withers was a multi-talented youngster, who was nine years old when this movie was made, and already a veteran of a dozen films.  We may most recall her as the brat tormenting Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (1934), but she had no less an important career over at 20th Century Fox as another feisty Depression kid.  There was not as much of a fairy tale element to Jane’s movies in comparison to Shirley’s films, and though her fame generated its own line of merchandising, as did Shirley’s, Jane never reached quite the heights of stardom that the moppet with the golden curls did.

Shirley’s talent was prodigious, and she was a hard act to follow.  But Jane Withers, I believe, was even more talented.  She had a better singing voice, was just as fine a dancer, could mimic and do accents where Shirley did not, but most especially, despite bursts of mugging, had a larger acting range and a quality of being “in the moment.” 

Shirley, possibly from her early training barely out of diapers was taught to react and respond much in the same way one might train a dog, and had an acting style as she grew older that was somewhat mechanical.  Perhaps because Shirley was so adorable and lauded to be a “natural” that no drama classes, or experience performing either on radio or stage was thought necessary to train her out of the habits she acquired as a child.  All she knew was the technical style of acting before the camera.  Shirley left acting to raise her family, and had a successful career in diplomatic service, perhaps partly because when she was too old to pretend she was the little orphan girl, her work became too studied and stiff.  It didn’t look like her heart was in it.

Jane Withers was nothing but heart.

We meet the little Irish lass, Paddy O’Day in steerage on a ship to the U.S.  She sings “With a Twinkle in Your Eye,” complete with accent and with reprises, you’ll be singing it before the movie’s over.  The wretched refuse of many teeming shores are dressed in native costume and singing native songs, among them Rita Cansino, who plays a Russian girl traveling with her mother and father, of course called Momushka and Popushka.  We see from the beginning this is more parody than anything.

Rita performs a spirited Russian dance.  She would make a handful more movies in the next couple years before she became Rita Hayworth.  The red hair and sex symbol came later under Columbia.  She and her parents, Momushka and Popushka take little Paddy under their wing, for the Irish girl is traveling alone.  Her mother, working as a servant in a wealthy household on Long Island, will meet her at Ellis Island.

For those of us who have family members who came through Ellis Island, the place is hallowed.  It’s fun to see it depicted, though as such, a scene on a movie soundstage, it's a little surreal if your grandma came through there terrified.

Tragically, little Jane’s mother is not there to meet her, because she has recently died, and with no one to claim her, Jane will be sent back to the old country.  

But she escapes the watchful eye of the immigration officer, played by Francis Ford, and we have a few neat shots of the real Ellis Island, and of the 3rd Avenue El and the Empire State Building rising behind it, looking to the little girl like science fiction monsters.

Through the improbable actions of an unknowing police officer who puts her in the car of a total stranger (such scenes these days make us squirm), Paddy arrives at her mother’s workplace—not knowing she has died.  Jane Darwell, kindly cook of the house, gets the dirty job to break the bad news.  She and the other servants convince the dour butler, Russell Simpson, to let the girl stay until they can figure out what to do.

A pair of fussy old ladies lives in this mansion, with their studious, mild-mannered and somewhat vague nephew, played by Pinky Tomlin.  Tomlin had appeared in a few minor films, but his main gig was as a bandleader and composer.  He’s the chap who came up with “The Object of My Affection.”  (Raise your hand if the first thing you think of is Alfalfa on the Our Gang comedies.”)

Here, Tomlin, a likeable fellow, strums a guitar and sings another of his original tunes, “Changing My Ambitions,” a very pleasant song he croons to Rita because he is falling in love with her.  

Rita and her family, now including a boisterous uncle who runs a café in New York, played with aplomb by George Givot, have discovered the mansion where Jane is in hiding and want to help keep her in the country.  It is agreed she will stay with her Russian pals and work at Uncle’s café as a performer. 

George Givot, a bullying impresario, mangles English with delightfully silly malapropos, but somebody has to speak with a Russian accent because even little Jane’s Russian accent is better than Rita’s.  However, Rita can dance, and that is her act in the club.  Jane, dressed up like a little Russian doll with painted cheeks sings, “I Like a Balalaika.”

Trouble is not over yet, though, because the aunties have discovered Jane and want to send her back to Ireland.  They, and the immigration officer Francis Ford are hot on the trail, but Pinky Tomlin and Rita decide to marry and adopt Jane, which will keep her here for good.  A WASP dad, a Russian immigrant mom, and loudmouth Uncle George.  What little Irish lass could ask for anything more?

Jane doesn’t become assimilated in America in the little more than an hour it takes to watch this movie, but she does what all immigrants did when they first arrived, and still do—try to put down roots in a strange new world, more magical, more wonderful, and more terrifying than Alice’s trip through the looking glass.

Jane Withers has a good rapport with all her adult cast mates in this movie, but she forged a special bond of friendship with the shy young woman who would come to be known as Rita Hayworth.  Rita, 16 years old, was nervous on the set, more terrified than the immigrant she was playing. Jane, nine years old, but already a veteran and the star of the movie, felt protective of her.  Before the cameras rolled, Jane held Rita’s hand and said a prayer to comfort her. 

Decades later, in 1987, when Rita Hayworth died, Jane was asked to deliver the eulogy at her funeral.  She repeated on that occasion the prayer she said while holding Rita’s hand on the set of Paddy O’Day:
“Lord, this is Rita and she’s afraid… Please be with her because she’s special.”

Jane Withers is pretty special too.

This post is part of the Luck of the Irish Blog O’Thon sponsored by the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes.  Please go have a look at the other great entries.

And Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. - Cover Reveal

Today, I'm pleased to reveal the cover for my forthcoming book on the career of Ann Blyth...

(Climbs billboard at great peril, loses shoe, which falls 100 feet to the ground, struggles with tarpaulin, gets wrapped in it for a moment when the wind picks up, then proudly shakes lose the tarp .  Dang, glasses go flying off her face.  Makes "ta-daa!" gesture, squinting myopically at the gathering crowd below, wears a cheesy grin...)


I'd like to thank most sincerely and congratulate most heartily the graphic artist who designed this cover, your friend and mine, Constance Metzinger, one half of the Metzinger Sisters who author the swell blog Silver Scenes.  Please have a look at their blog and you'll be regular customers.

The cover above will be on both the eBook and the print version, but the print book will also have another photo gracing the back.  This one:

And there will be a bunch of photos in between, some that you've never seen.

By the way, they Metzinger gals are hosting The Luck of the Irish Blog 'O Thon, and my post is coming up this Sunday the 15th.  Come back Sunday for Paddy O'Day (1935) with Jane Withers.

My book on Ann Blyth's career--Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be published on June 18th. To that end, I’ll be looking for some help in the pre-launch phase, so I’d like to invite any blogger—film blogger or book blogger—to participate in a blog tour. I’ll be looking for blogs to schedule publicity-oriented posts beginning Monday, June 1st. The last day will be June 17th. If anyone wants to pick a day, please let me know so I can coordinate with others. Think of it as a kind of blogathon. On your day, you can post a review of the book (I’ll have ARCs – advanced reading copies - available in PDF form which I’ll email to you that you can read on your computer), or you can do a Q&A with me, or I can just send you a 250-word excerpt of the book, or you can just post the cover and a link to the Amazon page, if you will. Just a little something to spread the word. I will be posting here every day from June 1st through the 18th and I’ll be linking to your blogs, pushing traffic to you.

Among those 17 bloggers who participate, I’ll throw your names in a hat and pick five winners who will receive a print book of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. when it is published on the 18th. The rest will receive an eBook file in whichever format you choose: ePub, Mobi, or PDF (Note, the ARC copies will not have the index).

Thursday, March 5, 2015

8th Anniversary - News and Notes

Today marks the 8th anniversary of Another Old Movie Blog, started in 2007 when I had no idea what I was getting into.  But I’m glad I did.  Thank you for the pleasure of your company.
Just a few news and notes today:

First, I’ll be joining the céilidh in the kitchen with the Metzinger Sisters over at Silver Scenes for their “Luck of the Irish Blog O’thon.”  I’ll be posting on Sunday, March 15th, and I’m having a look at darlin’ Jane Withers in Paddy O’Day (1935), where she plays a young immigrant from Ireland on her way through Ellis Island to begin her new life in the new world.  She runs into a bit of trouble, but nothing scrappy little Jane can’t handle.  Rita Cansino, soon to be Rita Hayworth, plays her Russian immigrant pal. 
The Metzinger colleens are still open to entries, so stop by and join the fun.
I have a book signing coming up on Saturday, the 28th of March at the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield City Library, 44 Oak Street, Indian Orchard (Springfield), Massachusetts, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  I’ll have a variety of my books available for purchase, both non-fiction and novels, and if you have time to stop by, I’d love to chat with you.
I’ll be speaking at the Chicopee Historical Society Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00 p.m. at the Edward Bellamy Memorial Association, 91-93 Church Street, Chicopee, Massachusetts.  The topic will be my novel The Current Rate of Exchange.  Copies will be on hand for sale and signing.
Speaking of books, next Thursday I’m going to reveal the cover for my upcoming book on the career of Ann Blyth.  I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you.  It’s swell.  You’ll see.

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