Well, she didn’t do it all by herself, but Fox’s golden-haired moppet was the hope of American Airlines—in an era where most people did not have the price of a plane ticket – and to Douglas Aircraft and its brand-new DC-2, an all-metal plane to answer the reluctance of travelers too leery of flying in one of the, then, wooden airships. The DC-2 was introduced May 1934. This movie premiered in December of that year. The aircraft industry, and Depression-era America, had nowhere to go but up.
This is our entry in the: Planes, Trains and Automobiles Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Have a look here for more excellent posts.
Bright Eyes is probably one of Shirley’s best – memorable most especially for Jane Withers’ devastatingly funny portrayal of a privileged little girl with the personality of an assault weapon. Indeed, she wants a machine gun as a present, as well as a wheelchair – perhaps to compete with her wheelchair-bound grand uncle- enemy, Charles Sellon. When Shirley rescues an old rag doll from Jane, Jane tells Shirley, “You can’t have her, know why? ‘Cause I’m gonna kill her.” And she proceeds to rip off the arms and legs and head of the unfortunate invalid doll.
As a child, I must say that Jane’s character intimidated me. I was more fascinated by Shirley hitchhiking a ride to the airfield to hang out with her flyer buddies. Today, that scene of hitchhiking gives me the creeps, and Jane Withers is my favorite part of the movie. Another fascination for me as a child was a glimpse at what a Southern California Christmas must be like – with no snow and people walking about with no boots on, in what looked like to be an early fall day in New England—except for those marvelous palm trees.
It is Christmas in the hangar/pilots’ clubhouse where the boys plan a special treat for young Shirley. Her late father was a fellow pilot, and her mother now works as a maid in the nouveau riche Smythe residence, whose only daughter, Joy – the name is a delightful irony – is played with vaudevillian panache by Jane Withers.
Shirley’s mother, played briefly by Lois Wilson, gets killed by a car, so Shirley is an orphan and much of the film is a custody battle between rich Uncle Ned (Sellon) and James Dunn, the swell regular-guy pilot who is Shirley’s best pal. Dunn takes Shirley up for her first plane ride after he learns of the death of her mother, so that he may break the news to Shirley. She wants to know what heaven is like, and when they are up with the clouds a magnificent carpet below them, he tells her, "It's all around us now." Though Shirley admirably turns on the tears on cue, understanding she has lost her mother, it is Mr. Dunn's thoughtful, awkward, agonized way of sharing the bad news, and sharing his idea of heaven with her that is most moving.
So contentious is the custody battle that Dunn takes on a risky mission – flying to New York in a blizzard to deliver a letter – for which he will be paid $1,000.
Shirley stows away on board, and they fly through the terrible weather. They don’t make it to New York (which at that time would not have been a nonstop trip anyway, and would have taken at least 15 hours, likely more) but must bail out and parachute to the ground. The wind drags their shoot, nearly pulling them over a cliff.
It’s exciting stuff, but little Shirley is unruffled. It was her moxie, after all, that saved Fox Studios and got us through the Depression. Bailing out of a plane during a blizzard? Big deal. Child’s play.
But it is the Good Ship Lollipop, which was the DC-2, that is the heart and soul of the movie—and is the song Shirley sings on the plane taxiing around the field in a Christmas party. No danger, just a few verses (backed up by what appeared to be extras from the University of Southern California football team) where the trip is about a visit to Candyland and there are never any worries. Happy landings on a chocolate bar.
The DC-2 was a 14-seater twin-prop engine all-metal plane, with a 66-inch wide cabin, and brand-new. Shirley is dancing down the aisle. Of course flying is safe, silly. See?
Especially when we are only taxiing around the field on a sunny Southern California Christmas afternoon.
Now fly on over to the CMBA site to navigate the rest of the blogs in this swell blogathon.
"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings
"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey
"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films
"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood
Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.
by Jacqueline T. Lynch
The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.
The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer. You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.
If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.
My new syndicated column on classic film is up at http://go60.us/advice-and-more/item/2047-everybody-comes-to-rick-s, or check with your local paper.