FORTUNE IS A WOMAN 1957

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As is often the case, the poster above is misleading. This is the American title for the British film, FORTUNE IS A WOMAN (which is based on the Winston Graham novel of the same name).

If you know the plot, you’ll know that  HE PLAYED WITH FIRE would make more sense. But as usual, the publicity machine dictates a racy title.Compared to her previous British made film of 1956,  WICKED AS THEY COME, Arlene Dahl is playing a much different character in this.

I liked the story of insurance investigator, Oliver Branwell (Jack Hawkins) who , while investigating a small fire at a Manor House  in the country, meets his ex-girl friend, Sarah (Arlene Dahl) who is married to the manor’s owner, Tracey Moreton (Dennis Price).

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Oliver and Sarah are instantly re-attracted to each other (after 5 years apart), but Sarah is loyal to Tracey.

While assessing the fire’s damage, Oliver meets Tracey’s mother( Violet Farebrother)  and Tracey’s  cousin Clive ( Ian Hunter). Tracey shows him what’s left of a valuable landscape painting of the house. Oliver’s company , Abercrombie and Son, pays on the insurance claim.

Some months later Oliver is assigned another case involving a temperamental film star ( played for laughs by Christopher Lee) who is holding up production on a film. Trying to persuade him to go back to work, Oliver visits a Mrs Litchen (Greta Gynt) who has been involved with the star. With her help, the actor is forced to go back on the set.

While visiting Mrs. Litchen, Oliver sees a painting on her wall which rings a bell with him, but he can’t think why it should.

Visiting Tracey and Sarah again, Sarah happens to show him a view of the house from the grounds and he realises it is the view he saw in Mrs. Litchen’s  painting – it is the painting Tracey said was destroyed by fire.

Jack Hawkins, Arlene Dahl

Jack Hawkins, Arlene Dahl

And so the story develops. Tracey is killed in a second fire at the Manor, Oliver and Sarah marry and then find themselves blackmailed by the meek mannered Mr. Jerome (Bernard Miles) who is acting for someone else. Is Tracey really dead?

The mystery of what happened on the night of Tracey’s death and the name of  the blackmailer is  revealed at the end, and I found it quite a satisfying thriller. Though Hawkins and Dahl didn’t quite gel.

Greta Gynt as the merry widow , Mrs. Litchen , is very good . She and Bernard Miles add a light touch to the otherwise serious tone of the film.

It was also nice to see real life father and son, Malcolm and Geoffrey Keen playing the father and son who run the business Oliver works for.

One or two aspects  of the intricate  plot don’t  ring true, but  it’s well written and full of suspense and mystery ( writers Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat) and direction (Gilliat).

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JUDY AT THE PALLADIUM

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On 15th October,2016, the London Palladium is hosting a Judy Garland tribute called JUDY GARLAND IN CONCERT AT THE PALLADIUM: A 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, with full live orchestra.

Described as an audio/visual spectacle, with a giant screen and never before seen footage and rare home videos.

Plus a new exhibition of costume and memorabilia.

Sounds heavenly. Tickets for the Circle are £56.

I’m not a Garland expert, and I can’t figure out what 50th anniversary is being celebrated. The Palladium itself is nearly 100 years old. Judy appeared there for the first time in  1951. Judy and Liza did two concerts there in November 1964 and there was a recording released in 1965.

But, who cares. wish I could be there.

 

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Poster for Judy’s 1951 Palladium concerts. And Judy at the (RKO ) Palace in New York.

 

The Judy Garland rose

The Judy Garland rose

THE RKO STORY Part Two


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Some more highlights of the 1987 BBC series THE RKO STORY, TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD.

 

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Ginger Rogers. TENDER COMRADE

It was interesting to hear two different views from Ginger Rogers on Tender Comrade.

At one point in her interview she said,

“I thought this was a good film to show what women were doing while their men were away.”

Later she said, “There were many things in that film that I really didn’t agree with it and I felt that we were being undermined by some radical writers – I didn’t like anything about radicals.”

Annoyingly, the interviewer didn’t ask Ginger to explain what she meant.

Katharine Hepburn saw the script of MORNING GLORY, but was told by Pandro Berman – “That script is for Connie Bennett.” But Kate got the part.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. joked, “She won the Oscar and people have forgotten that Menjou and I were even in it!”

Katharine was philosophical about SYLVIA SCARLETT: ” RKO were glad to get rid of me.” 

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In the RKO Archives, Ed Asner opened a drawer which held all the preview cards for Sylvia Scarlett. (Imagine keeping all these cards for 80 years!)

One card said: “It has so many things wrong with it, I could scarcely see where you could start doctoring it.”

Director George Cukor and Katharine Hepburn  said to Pandro Berman, “We’ll make the next picture for you free of charge.”

Berman was scathing, “Heaven forbid. I never want to see either of you again.” 

Garson Kanin (writer and director) said that Ginger Rogers wanted to play Queen Elizabeth the First in MARY OF SCOTLAND:   “Pan (Berman) said we’d be the laughing stock of the world if Ginger Rogers played the Queen.”

But Ginger was enthusiastic and arranged a test for herself , in costume, makeup and hair. She certainly looked different. But Florence Eldridge got the part.

Ed Asner read a letter Ginger later wrote to RKO executives:

“Here’s to more scripts like “Kitty Foyle”, “Tom, Dick and Harry”,  “Bachelor Mother” and “Vivacious Lady”. And here’s a rousing raspberry to scripts like “Lucky Partners” and “Having Wonderful Time”.

When talking about STAGE DOOR, Lucille Ball commented:

“Katharine (Hepburn) put most of us in a panic – the very way she talked – real terrifying for me. She looked wonderful, very beautiful,very slim and chique.And not at all stand-offish with us – she just ignored the whole set.”

Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers. STAGE DOOR

Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers. STAGE DOOR

 

Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers

Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers STAGE DOOR

 

Linwood Dunn did the optical effects on BRINGING UP BABY and it was fascinating to hear him describe how they handled the leopard using  a moving split screen.

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You might think that that ‘Baby’ is in the car with Cary and Katharine, but he isn’t. Linwood Dunn’s magic at work.

 


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One of the 6 episodes was devoted to Orson Welles and CITIZEN KANE.

 

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Orson Welles

Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre had built their reputation on stage and on radio. They had no experience in Hollywood. So RKO were taking a big chance in allowing Welles full control. Actor William Alland commented, “We were a bunch of 22/23 year old kids.”

Welles was a quick learner. Miriam Geiger, an RKO researcher was assigned to explain to him the basics of film technique. Miriam got film frames and attached them to sheets of paper, while explaining  long, medium and close shots.

James G. Stewart, sound engineer, said, “Orson did not have the technical knowledge but he had the imagination and the concept.”

Welles recognised the talent of cinematographer, Gregg Toland and Toland’s influence on Welles was decisive.

 

Gregg Toland

Gregg Toland

 

 

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Orson Welles, Gregg Toland.

Maurice Seiderman, make-up artist, commented, “Orson wanted to know if I could completely change his face. I said Sure.”

Ed Asner :” Welles encouraged all his key technicians to experiment and improvise.”

In the RKO Scene Dock, the statues that Welles used as Kane’s private art collection could still be seen.

John Houseman

John Houseman

John Houseman, co-founder of the Mercury Theatre said of Citizen Kane,  “The picture was about William Randolph Heart – and two or three other newspaper men, but the picture was also about Orson. A great deal of stuff in the picture was taken from Orson’s childhood and life. And certain Kane characteristics were characteristics of Orson.”

 

Louella Parsons

Louella Parsons

James G. Stewart: “I ran the picture for Louella – Bob Wise and myself, Louella and her chauffeur were the audience. She left before the end in high dudgeon. She was outraged!”

Ed Asner read a note from the archives which said, “Louella Parsons called. She is asking for Mr. Schaefer’s home telephone number and said it is a matter of life and death to RKO She says RKO is going to have ‘one of the most beautiful lawsuits in history’  if they release Citizen Kane,”

George  Schaefer made a brave decision to employ Orson Welles but he didn’t survive as head of production after the box office  for the film was a disaster.

 

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Part Three to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EVE ARDEN AND HENRY

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This post is for lovers of EVE ARDEN – and cats!

It’s not clear whose idea it was to drape a white cat round the shoulders of Eve Arden in STAGE DOOR, but the shot is one you always remember from that great movie.

What can you say an about this cat, called Henry in the film, but whose real name was Whitey. In the still below, he seems oblivious of the cameras and is having a soothing nap.

Has there ever been an animal performer so relaxed and natural on screen.

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In a 2012 issue of the magazine, “Classic Images”, there as an article about the film’s director,Gregory La Cava, written by Richard C. Reid.

According to this article Eve Arden had inherited two cats from the Pound and suggested to La Cava that he let her character,’Eve’ have a cat named Henry who turns out to be a pregnant Henrietta!

The article goes on to say that it was Eve’s idea to put the cat around her shoulder, to free up her hands to eat peanuts.

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In the book, EVE ARDEN, A CHRONICLE OF ALL FILM,TV,RADIO AND STAGE PERFORMANCES (by David C. Tucker), Eve is quoted from an interview in Family Circle magazine:

“I found out they were paying the cat $150 a week, which was more than I got.!”

 

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In this scene, Eve points to the fur stole Ginger is wearing and warns Henry that could happen to him if he is a bad cat.

Notice how Henry is taking note!

 

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The aspiring actresses of the Footlights Club. Eve on the left with Henry, Lucille Ball , Ginger Rogers.

 

 

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Henry enjoys the conversation.

Ginger,as Jean, has  just rushed out after hearing of a job offer. Eve says,

“She hasn’t worked in so long, if she does get the job, it’ll practically amount to a comeback.”

 

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According to cinema cats.com, ‘Whitey’ was a veteran feline actor. Another article said, “Whitey’s acting ambitions probably never included playing a neck piece!”

One article said, “He responds to silent signals and will meow or purr readily on cue”

This cat should have been Oscar-nominated, a special cat award!

 

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Ann Miller, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers.

At the end, Eve is without Henry. –  she’s in the pet hospital having kittens – Henrietta, that is!

 

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Eve, Whitey and Katharine  Hepburn.

A 1944 article said that Eve kept Whitey at the end of shooting.  But I also read that Whitey scratched  Eve every day!

 

 

THE RKO STORY: TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD


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Six hours of “THE RKO STORY,TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD”  told by the people who were there. It doesn’t get any better. From the stars, producers, directors to the technicians like the sound engineer, the cinematographer, the poster artist.

Back in 1987, the BBC , in association with the RKO company, made a 6 part documentary series about the smallest Hollywood major.  I remember watching it, and what fascinated me was seeing presenter Edward Asner looking through the archives of RKO, going through drawers which were full of everything, from contracts to preview cards, to letters the stars wrote to the studio bosses.

You are back to wishing that the money could be found to digitise all the written material.

The good fortune was that , at that time, the BBC  was  able to interview so many of the RKO employees –  from the 1930s studio head Pandro Berman to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn,Robert Mitchum,Jane Greer and many more. This really is the inside story.And it’s wonderful that everybody was willing to be interviewed.

And the 6 hours are jammed packed with film clips.

Heaven knows why this series wasn’t released on dvd. I had it on video and a kind friend (that’s you,Alistair!) copied it to dvd for me when the BBC showed it again.

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Ed Asner was one of the best presenters ever, sometimes in front of the camera, but mostly behind it. He started off in front of the RKO building above. It no longer said RKO , but instead Paramount. And the big radio mast above the concrete dome was gone.

Initially RKO relied on stage adaptations. Kay Brown in New York was employed to read stories from every source. She recommended Edna Ferber’s book, CIMARRON and the film won 3 Oscars in 1930. The camera operator on the film, Joseph Biroc said there were 2,000 people and over 2000 horses used for the Land Rush scene.

Biroc said, “It was all planned on paper….we had close to 30 camera set-ups.”

At age 29, David O.Selznick came into RKO. Katharine Hepburn was offered a contract by him. The great Kate said,

I said I wont go out there for less than $1500 a week……I took a flier.”

And it worked. We saw her contract!

She was expertly showcased by George Cukor and won an Oscar for her first film, BILL OF DIVORCEMENT.

 

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Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray

“Did you ever hear of Kong?”

Writer/director Merian C. Cooper sold the idea of KING KONG to Selznick. Cooper originally intended shooting the film in a jungle  with a real gorilla! Then he met Willis O’Brien who was trying to put things on the screen that you couldn’t possibly photograph – stop- motion photography. Cooper realised that he could do the picture on the RKO backlot.

In Fay Wray’s interview, she said that Cooper told her, “You’re going to have the tallest,darkest leading man in Hollywood!”

Median C. Cooper

Merian C. Cooper

Sound engineer Murray Spivak explained how he achieved some of Kong’s sounds. He went to a zoo and recorded sounds of lions and tigers at feeding time, then slowed the sounds down, played them backwards and forwards to create the sound of Kong.

Fay Wray added, “The Empire State Building was built just in time.!”

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RKO always seemed to be permanently in financial trouble. Selznick joined MGM in 1933 and Merian C. Cooper became head of production for a short time. . And then the young Pandro Berman led the studio into a golden period.

Kay Brown read out a telegram she got from Merian C. Cooper in March,1933:

Can you ship Fred Astaire by airplane today. answer straight wire or phone.”

Pandro Berman

Pandro Berman

And suddenly RKO had a stream of hits on their hands with the Astaire-Rogers films. The RKO special effects unit went into overdrive. Using wind machines, the girls and the planes in front of huge back projection screens. It was a spectacular routine.

Flying Down To Rio

Flying Down To Rio

Edward Eliscu,  who wrote the lyrics for the Flying Down to Rio songs, said,

“I never conceived of girls being strapped to the wings of a plane. I think that’s subject to cruelty to dancers.!”

Fred and Ginger had 4th and 5th billing in the film, and only one musical number., ‘The Carioca’.

 

My favorite interviewee was Hermes Pan. He was so enthusiastic when describing his association with Fred Astaire, And like his namesake, seemed perennially young. In looks and appearance, he could have been Astaire’s younger brother.

Ginger Rogers, Hermes Pan

Ginger Rogers, Hermes Pan

His first film  on Flying Down To Rio came about when the film’s choreographer Dave Gould said to him,

“Fred Astaire is up on Stage 8. Would you go up and see if you can help him.”

Astaire and Pan

Astaire and Pan

And so the collaboration began. He confirmed that he would teach Ginger the routines, and that on ROBERTA there were no cuts on the ‘I’d Be Hard To Handle’ number – the taps were recorded live.

Ginger Rogers said,

“We spent 6 weeks in daily rehearsals and we didn’t go into principal photography till after that. We would dance all day in a rehearsal hall. We had a great deal of fun. Something about rehearsals ,very exciting.”

Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers

Pandro Berman: “We were fortunate that we came up with the Astaire-Rogers series when we did.”

Back in 1987 when the series aired, a never before scene from SECOND CHORUS was shown – Hermes Pan dressed as a ghost and dancing with Fred Astaire. Shame it was cut from the film. The number was called ‘Me and the Ghost Upstairs’ and can be seen on You Tube.

Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire

Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire

Hermes told a story about Irving Berlin:

“Berlin came in one afternoon – he was a terrible pianist – he would play the song – he played ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and sang it. When he got through,we’d sort of look at each other and say, ‘Yes,very good – Is it?’

And then when Hal Borne came in and played it, it was exquisite.”

The musician, Hal Borne said:  “Berlin was a man who was blessed with a natural talent.”

Pandro Berman had other views on the great composer:

“Irving Berlin was a very nice gentleman – a very tough trader, hard as nails – money negotiations were very difficult with him.”

Borne commented on Astaire’s voice:

“He had a nice voice. I set all the keys in the right direction,so that it was comfortable and he didn’t have to go stretching.”

Isnt This a Lovely Day

Isnt This a Lovely Day

Another amazing and rare film clip was of Astaire rehearsing ‘Slap That Bass’ in color – taken by George Gershwin!

Pandro Berman had trouble keeping Astaire with Rogers:

“I went through a lot of hell getting them to make picture after picture for various reasons……I solved it really by getting the company to give Fred a new contract which gave him 10% of the profits. After he got the first few cheques from the profits, his reluctance evaporated.!”

In the Archive vaults, Ed Asner showed us the contracts which had Fred insured for $1million and Ginger for $500,000.

Ginger said, “Fred was a perfectionist but he was not my Svengali.”

 

More to come, Welles, Film Noir and the man called Hughes.

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MEET THE FILM STARS 1934 -35

 

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Another lovely annual published in 1935 by Associated Newspapers,London.

With lots of beautiful, color illustrations.

With Norma Shearer on the cover, there is a letter from Norma which says in part that,

“British filmgoers have been so generous to myself, so many of them have taken the trouble to write me letters of appreciation and I have spent such happy holidays among them that I feel I am welcoming, not strangers, but a company of old friends, to this pictorial party . ….”

No doubt written by the MGM publicity dept, still, it looks good!

Films covered, with two page spreads, include THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET, CLEOPATRA, TWENTIETH CENTURY, ONE NIGHT OF LOVE, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, THE MERRY WIDOW and many others.

The copy I have is in remarkably good condition.

I’m still interested to know if any similar annuals were ever published in the States.

Here is a selection of the lovely photos. I’ve concentrated on the Hollywood stars mainly.

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Marion Davies

 

 

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Constance Bennett. THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI.

 

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Richard Dix. STINGAREE

 

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Carole Lombard.

 

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Jane Wyatt. ONE MORE RIVER

 

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Warren William. CLEOPATRA

 

 

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William Powell

 

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Herbert Marshall

 

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Ann Harding.

 

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Merle Oberon. THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

 

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Robert Montgomery

 

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Jean Arthur

 

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Jessie Matthews

 

 

 

 

FOREIGN POSTERS. 19

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THE  TALK OF THE TOWN.    ( HUMAN JUSTICE)

Not as catchy.

 

 

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THE MORE THE MERRIER.         (TWICE THE MERRIER?)

 

 

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GUNFIGHTERS.          (AVENGER WITHOUT WEAPONS)

Randolph Scott initially doesn’t wear a gun.

 

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DESTRY RIDES AGAIN.      (ARIZONA)

Was it set in that state?

 

 

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THE DEEP SIX        (PATROLLING)

 

 

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FALLEN ANGEL.        (ANGEL OR DEVIL?)

 

 

 

 

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PAT AND MIKE       (MISS WINS – ALL)

Well, she did!

 

 

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VERTIGO.        (COLD SWEAT)

 

 

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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.         (LIFE IS GOOD)

 

 

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THE PLAINSMAN.       Same title.