Category Archives: Film

Weird and Wonderful Tales from the Editorial Department: Meet Joe Martin

9780813174259Senior Editing Supervisor Ila McEntire loves a good story, and she’s in the right job to read some great ones. She delighted our staff recently by sharing the tale of an editorial mystery that arose while she was working on Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood by Sherri Snyder. Ila’s story was so much fun, we wanted to share it with you.

It all started with a photo caption . . .

and Joe Martin

Barbara La Marr with Ramon Novarro and Joe Martin in TRIFLING WOMEN (formerly BLACK ORCHIDS). From the collections of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

While editing our forthcoming biography of silent film star Barbara La Marr, I came across this photo and this (slightly edited) caption: “Barbara La Marr with Ramon Novarro and Joe Martin in TRIFLING WOMEN (1922).” It’s my job to make sure the photos match the captions, and I only see two people in this photo—Barbara and Ramon. “Where the heck is Joe Martin?” I thought.

JoeMEET JOE MARTIN. An orangutan who happened to be a silent film star. During this particular film’s production he attacked a (human) costar who antagonized him after fifteen grueling hours onset. It took six men to rescue the victim, who came away from the altercation with some broken bones and a nasty bite on his hand; he never worked with Joe Martin again. Joe was usually gentle, and he adored the film’s leading lady (Barbara La Marr).

Our Director of Editing, Design, and Production, David Cobb, had never heard of Joe Marin either, and we discovered (by Googling) that there’s a controversy as to his species —some folks say chimp, some say orangutan. (Our author says orangutan, so I’m obliged to agree.)

But the IMBD page identifies him as a chimp. I don’t know whose flag to follow, but he looks like an orangutan in the photo to me!


Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood will be available in November, 2017.

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The Softer Side of Michael Curtiz

9780813173917In a few months, we’ll publish Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode. As the first comprehensive biography in English of the director of classic films such as Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and White Christmas (1954), this book highlights some fantastic stories about one of the film industry’s most complex figures.

Since it’s high summer and a number of us here at the press are devotedly tending home gardens, the following anecdote from the book really struck a chord. Curtiz was famously known for having a temper on set, but it seems that the legendary director did have great compassion for a garden’s most adorable scourge: bunnies.

The following is excerpted from the book:


Victory Garden

The war years sped by for Curtiz. Long days at the studio were interspersed with leisure time on Saturday nights and Sundays at the Canoga Ranch. Though his dedication to polo began to taper off, Curtiz’s passion for shooting skeet remained constant. He wore a jacket around the ranch adorned with a sleeve patch that bore a “50” insignia, indicating that he’d successfully hit fifty consecutive targets without a miss.

World War II motivated everyone to support the Allied cause. John Meredyth Lucas [Curtiz’s adopted son] remembered “the war had gotten Mother out of bed.” Bess [Curtiz’s wife] became involved with the British War Relief Society during the early years of the war. She joined Virginia Zanuck and many other friends in supporting “Bundles for Britain.” Started in a New York City storefront, the wartime charity ultimately delivered $1,500,000 in clothing to a belt-tightened United Kingdom along with another million in cash.

Then there were the ubiquitous victory gardens championed by the government to support the war effort. Bess seeded a large plot adjacent to the main house to raise vegetables for the family table. Although she diligently tended the garden, it wasn’t productive; the local rabbit population became nighttime saboteurs. After an unsuccessful attempt to fence off the garden from the pests, Curtiz initiated an evening stakeout with his shotgun. After spotting a rabbit, Curtiz shot it in the leg, then experienced an epiphany as the injured creature piteously attempted to drag itself to safety. According to John Meredyth Lucas, the episode brought forth a compassionate side from Curtiz that was rarely witnessed on a film set:

Mike watched, horror-stricken. Then, calling for help, he carefully captured the wounded rabbit. We had a veterinarian we used for all our dogs. Mike had Mother get the vet out of bed and took the rabbit to the animal hospital. The rabbit made a slow but satisfactory recovery and was ultimately turned loose on the ranch again. “Why hell we need garden?” Mike asked Mother. “We doesn’t eat much vegetable.” Henceforth we bought our greens at the market. Mike had always loved rabbit cooked the French provincial way, but as far as I know, he never again ordered this dish.


Excerpted from Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode, forthcoming from the University Press of Kentucky in October 2017.

Happy 80th Birthday, Jack Nicholson!

Happy 80th birthday to Jack Nicholson! A prolific actor and filmmaker who has brought to life some of the most iconic characters in American film, Jack is also the most nominated male actor in the history of the Academy Awards.

In this special excerpt from Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder, author Robert Crane steps away from the stories surrounding his father and recounts the time he and coauthor Chris Fryer interviewed then up-and-coming actor Jack Nicholson for their film class at USC:


During the early 1970s the two of us had become great observers of the ascendant star of Jack Nicholson. Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Carnal Knowledge were big, important films, at least to us. Jack represented an honesty, an abandon that I had seen elsewhere only in old Marlon Brando films. Nicholson crying in front of his paralyzed father in Five Easy Pieces was a landmark moment for me. It was a shocking and spellbinding scene. How could you be a man and allow yourself to show emotion like that in front of millions of people? I was stunned by it, but I felt nothing but admiration. Ultimately I wanted to be like that character. I wanted to be that honest and open with other people. That particular scene spoke to me about my relationship with my dad, because except when I was a really young kid I could never cry in front of him. I wouldn’t allow myself to be that exposed. Seeing Nicholson do that was a revelation.

The semester after the release of Five Easy Pieces Chris and I took a class at USC called The Film Heroes of the ’30s and ’60s taught by screenwriter Steven Karpf, and we had the idea of teaming up to interview Jack Nicholson as the “antihero” for the ages. It never occurred to us that a couple of tyros from Tarzana and USC film school might not be able to talk to Jack Nicholson for their class project. We just didn’t know any better. Hell, we’d been told no by curmudgeonly gift shop buyers in college bookstores all over this great land, but we still managed to sell them license frames. So even though we’d heard the word no umpteen times, it just hadn’t made that much of an impression. We weren’t deterred by the word. We weren’t put off by the word. We just stepped around it, coming at the target from a different direction.

I had seen Jack once on a film panel at USC, and at that point in his career he was a great supporter of film, foreign cinema, and up-and coming filmmakers. He’d been to the Cannes Film Festival with his directorial debut, Drive, He Said, but he was still accessible enough that he could be persuaded to make an appearance at a college. This was well before the curtain of opportunity closed for nobodies to get near Jack Nicholson.

Talking to Jack Nicholson was remarkably easy. Through a family connection of Chris’s we got what turned out to be Jack’s home phone number, though we didn’t know it at the time. I dialed it, and damned if the guy himself didn’t answer the phone on the second ring. I knew who it was, but I still asked for Mr. Nicholson just to be polite. He asked, “Who’s calling?” and I introduced myself and launched into my pitch for an interview. To our incredible surprise and elation, Jack Nicholson agreed to sit down with us and talk film. It was absolutely unreal. Chris and I were bouncing off the walls.

Jack invited us up to his house on Mulholland Drive. To illustrate how different the world was in 1972, there was no gate on the driveway— the same driveway Jack shared with his next-door neighbor, Marlon Brando. We rolled up to the open front door and were escorted into the two-story ranch house as Michelle Phillips, Jack’s girlfriend at the time, passed us in the foyer. Chris and I exchanged looks, trying to be cool, as we stepped down into the living room. We were in a different world. There was a large, plush, brown suede couch opposite the wall of windows that overlooked Franklin Canyon and Los Angeles. The house was comfortable, lived-in. I felt pretty much at ease even though I was about to meet one of my film heroes. Jack came down the stairs wearing a navy blue bathrobe with a bat pin on the lapel. He might have just gotten out of bed, although it was well past lunchtime. As I discovered over the next several hours spent talking about film, Jack’s upcoming projects, his past experiences, and the future of cinema, Jack wasn’t wearing anything under that robe as he inadvertently flashed me several times.

After finally switching off the tape recorder, we took a few commemorative photos—for our benefit, not Jack’s—and left the house on cloud 99. We were so juiced that Chris almost killed us, spinning out his Porsche on a Mulholland curve and doing a 360 into a cloud of dust. We came to a stop between a telephone pole and the edge of a cliff. As the dust settled we could hear our pounding hearts, and then laughed like lunatics. Needless to say, we got As in that class.

Serendipitously, after that first interview, Chris and I, separately and together, began bumping into Jack around L.A. I saw him at a Rolling Stones concert, and we exchanged pleasantries. My date, Barbara Stephens, who had been my government teacher at Taft High School, was suitably impressed. Chris ran into Jack at an antiwar/pro-McGovern rally at UCLA. Jack was always where the action was.

Because these chance meetings made us think we were becoming pals, we did the only logical thing—we decided to write a book about our new best friend. There had never been a book about Jack Nicholson, and we felt it was high time and that we were just the guys to do it. Frankly, in 1972 the name Jack Nicholson wasn’t yet on the American public’s radar screen. On more than one occasion when I mentioned the idea I was told, “Gee, Bobby, I didn’t know you were that interested in golf…”


crane.final.indd

For more interviews and stories, check out Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder by Robert Crane, now in a new paperback edition.

In this poignant memoir, Crane discusses the terrible day that his father Bob Crane, known to Hogan’s Heroes fans as Colonel Hogan, was discovered brutally murdered and how he has lived with the unsolved murder of his father. But this storyline is just one thread in his tale of growing up in Los Angeles, his struggles to reconcile the good and sordid sides of his celebrity father, and his own fascinating life. Through disappointment, loss, and heartbreak, Crane’s humor and perseverance shine. Beyond the big stars and behind-the-scenes revelations, this riveting account of death, survival, and renewal in the shadow of the Hollywood sign makes a profound statement about the desire for love and permanence in a life where those things continually slip away. By turns shocking and uplifting, Crane is an unforgettable and deeply human story.

Robert Crane is coauthor of My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider’s Journey through Hollywood, Jack Nicholson: The Early Years, and Bruce Dern: A Memoir, and a contributor to Hal Ashby: Interviews.

Christopher Fryer is coauthor of Jack Nicholson: The Early Years and Bruce Dern: A Memoir, and a contributor to Hal Ashby: Interviews.

5 Unforgettable Gene Kelly Dance Numbers

Suffering from the rainy day blues? We’ve got you covered!

As told by Cynthia and Sara Brideson in the new biography, He’s Got Rhythm, Gene Kelly was one of the brightest stars in the world of Hollywood dance musicals. From tap dancing on roller-skates, to creating rhythms with a squeaky floorboard, to collaborating with dance legend Fred Astaire, Gene was a creative genius and a master of his craft.

These iconic song and dance numbers are guaranteed to put a “smile on your face” and have you “laughing at the clouds”:


1. “I Like Myself” from It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

In this unforgettable number, Gene provides one of his most energetic and entertaining performances, and proves that he can hoof it even when wearing roller-skates!

2. “The Babbitt And The Bromide” from Ziegfeld Follies (1946)

Two legends of American dance go head-to-head in this Gershwin brothers number from Ziegfeld Follies. In a classic sketch of friendly one-upmanship, the technical perfection of Fred Astaire meets the easy grace of Gene Kelly. This was the only time Astaire and Kelly appeared together on film in the prime of their careers.

3. “I Got Rhythm” from An American in Paris (1951)

Gene oozes charm in this clip from the Academy Award winning An American in Paris, as he taps and sings a classic jazz tune while teaching French children a few words of English.

4. “Squeaky Floor Routine” from Summer Stock (1950)

In what Kelly himself would later call his favorite solo routine, he creates a dance inspired by the environment in which it takes place. Employing a squeaky floorboard and an old newspaper as the basis for his rhythm, Gene displays his remarkable ability to explore a space through dance.

5. “Singin’ In The Rain” from Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

“From where I stand the sun is shining all over the place.”

In perhaps the most iconic number in any Hollywood musical, Gene taps and splashes his way through a California downpour and right into film history.


UKY06 He's Got Rhythm Selected.inddTo read the stories behind these and many other iconic Gene Kelly films, check out the newly released He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly. In the first comprehensive biography written since the legendary star’s death, authors Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson disclose new details of Kelly’s complex life. Not only do they examine his contributions to the world of entertainment in depth, but they also consider his political activities—including his opposition to the Hollywood blacklist. Drawing on previously untapped articles and interviews with Kelly’s wives, friends, and colleagues, Brideson and Brideson illuminate new and unexpected aspects of the actor’s life and work. He’s Got Rhythm is a balanced and compelling view of one of the screen’s enduring legends.

Get Crafted at The Market this Weekend

 

Where can you find some of your favorite Kentucky/Regional books, fine arts and crafts, live music, specialty food, and much, much more? The 35th annual Kentucky Crafted: The Market 2017 will be held April 22-23 at the Lexington Convention Center. Stop Mommy Goose final front coverREV.inddby our booth #102 to check out some of our new titles, and meet Mike Norris, who’ll be signing copies of Mommy Goose, from 12 – 2 pm on Saturday, April 22.

More than 200 exhibitors will be on hand at the event, which was chosen as the No. 1 Fair & Festival by readers of AmericanStyle Magazine four years in a row, and also named a top 10 event by the Kentucky Tourism Council and a top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Here’s a sampling of some of our new releases that will be available at our booth during Kentucky Crafted:

 

Feud: Bette and Miriam

Bette Davis’s feud with Joan Crawford is famous and is being well-documented on FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, but Crawford was not the only actress with whom Davis established a rivalry. In this excerpt from the forthcoming Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, Allan R. Ellenberger details the central points of the feud that erupted between Hopkins and Davis on the set of 1939’s The Old Maid, perhaps an early hint at the rivalry that would erupt between Davis and Crawford some two decades later:


Whether described as a ‘woman’s picture,’ ‘tearjerkers’ or a ‘soap opera,’ the melodrama has been a standard since the early days of the silent cinema. The maternal melodrama, a sub-genre featuring plots of self-sacrificing, mother-loving figures who suffer adversity best describes Miriam’s first film at Warner Bros. – The Old Maid. Similar films include The Sin of Madelon Claudet, Imitation of Life, and the twice-filmed Stella Dallas.

In the late 1930s and into the following decade, Bette Davis was a staple in the melodramatic maternal film. Along with The Old Maid’s director Edmund Goulding, executives paired them in 1937’s That Certain Woman, about a sacrificial mother following an annulled marriage. Then two years after The Old Maid, they made The Great Lie where newly-widowed Davis offers to bring up the child of her husband’s pregnant ex-wife (Mary Astor). The Old Maid shared a similar plot-line: Davis as a cynical ‘old maid’ spinster who gives her illegitimate child to her self-centered cousin (Hopkins) to raise.

Filming began on Wednesday, March 15, 1939, with Edmund Goulding directing. Goulding knew Davis well, directing her in two films at Warners: the above mentioned That Certain Woman and, the film Miriam hoped would be hers, Dark Victory. But he knew Miriam longer, beginning with the New York social circles in the late 1920s, and later at Astoria Studios where they both were making films.

The first day, the cast reported to the sound stage at nine o’clock, but Miriam was ten minutes late, wearing a replica of a dress Davis wore in Jezebel [a film which Davis won an Oscar for and which Miriam believed should have been her starring role]. Davis claimed that Miriam hoped she would “blow my stack at this.”

Both Miriam and Davis suggested to Goulding how they could improve their roles. At first, unit manager Al Alleborn reported that each one had “little suggestions in the working out of scenes and getting the characterizations of their parts which did cause a slight delay on the first day, but company is now going smoothly.” It was short-lived.

The first two days, Goulding filmed the original opening scene in Mr. Painter’s lingerie shop, where the cousins and their grandmother are buying Delia’s trousseau. However, Davis wanted to enhance her role at Miriam’s expense. William Wyler had taught her that an actor’s first appearance in a film established their character. When they completed the lingerie shop sequence, Davis wanted to cut the scene. Instead, the opening sequence would be Delia’s wedding day.

The following day, Friday, March 17, Miriam was on Stage 15 at nine o’clock, an hour earlier than Davis. Assuming that she had already established her character in the lingerie shop, Miriam played the scene at a lower register. She had no idea this scene would be the audience’s first glimpse of her. So when Davis entered, excited and enthusiastic, people noticed.9780813174310

A month later, when Goulding cut the lingerie shop scene, Miriam sensed what Davis had done. By then she was using “every trick in the book” to rile her co-star. Davis was fascinated, “watching them appear one by one.” Miriam’s scene-stealing stunts were endless: a button would come undone, or a hairpin would fall out. She would change her position in close-ups and then inch her way upstage so Davis would turn away from the camera, sometimes at the expense of losing her light.

Considering Miriam needed this film to salvage her career, this unprofessional—and costly—behavior could finish her. She was fighting to be popular with audiences but allowed her loathing of Bette Davis to rule her emotions.

Davis admitted Miriam was a good actress and was perfect for the role, so it baffled her why she behaved as she did. Did Davis know Miriam was seeking revenge for her aggressive acts, including stealing Jezebel, the Academy Award that went with it and the weekend fling with her husband? It’s unlikely. Instead, Davis played dumb and was the victim, claiming she controlled her temper during the day, but at night she “screamed at everybody.”

The Davis-Hopkins thespian duel threatened innocent bystanders as well. Rand Brooks, who also appeared that year in the classic Gone with the Wind, played Delia’s son, Jim Ralston, Jr. He later recalled both actresses tried directing him. “One would tell me one thing, (and) then the other would say something else. They were both so anxious to look good and be better than the other. Edmund Goulding just stood by and was amused by the whole thing.”

Goulding tried to be a mediator. He respected Davis, but he was Miriam’s friend. To his credit, he tried keeping the peace. “Whatever respect they had for each other as professionals was quickly thrown out of the window when one or the other didn’t get her way,” Goulding said of the two women. “If it wasn’t lighting, it was costuming or camera angles or lines. There were times they behaved like perfect little bitches, but I loved them both, and I think the admiration was likewise.”

Unit manager Al Alleborn acknowledged Goulding’s struggles. “Working with two impossible people like Davis and Hopkins, many things have to be ironed out… Goulding has a tough job on this picture with these two girls. Not that they want to cause him any trouble or worry, but each one is fighting for a scene when they go into it.”

The rumors spread about friction on the set. The Warner’s publicity department concocted a scheme that Davis and Miriam agreed to. Davis told a reporter “Hoppy [her nickname for Miriam] and I are going to get a couple of pairs of boxing gloves and pose for a picture glowering at each other like a couple of fighters in their corners. It’s the only answer we can make to all the nonsense about how we can’t get along.”

In their silk dresses and bodices and shawls, they donned boxing gloves and posed for a picture with a worried-looking Edmund Goulding between them. Hedda Hopper reported the actresses had a sense of humor. Even so, she “never knew two blondes yet who were real palsie- walsies!”

Miriam’s sense of humor was waning; the staged photograph made matters worse. “Now they call me ‘Hardboiled Hopkins. I’m not.” she insisted, “I’m not temperamental and not hard to get along with. It’s those boxing gloves that caused all the trouble. But everyone forgot it was just a gag. They took it seriously.”

Hal Wallis, who witnessed their antics, confirmed their hatred for each other was real. “It was an incredible feud, just fantastic,” Wallis claimed in an interview years later. “They would each prolong their arrival on the set, trying to make the other wait. I think later the studio tried to claim it was all just publicity, but it was the real thing. Those girls hated each other.”

excerpted from Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel (Kentucky, 2017)

Read more about Hopkins and Davis in Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, available here.

Happy 85th Birthday to Elizabeth Taylor

It’s hard to talk about classic Hollywood actresses without talking about Elizabeth Taylor. She was widely regarded both for her beauty and for her roles in films such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? as well as the infamous Cleopatra. In addition to all of this, she is also remembered as an outspoken activist in the fight against AIDS, a passion which continues to change lives in the form of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Though she passed away in 2011, her memory lives on as we continue to celebrate her legacy.

9780813168746In the following excerpt from My Life in Focus: A Photographer’s Journey with Elizabeth Taylor and the Hollywood Jet Set, Gianni Bozzacchi describes his early experiences with photographing Elizabeth, to whom he would later become both a personal photographer and a friend.


 

I’d enjoyed freedoms that a twenty-two-year-old rarely has on the set of a movie featuring two of the biggest stars in the world. Not being the official photographer was a blessing. He or she is obliged to stay close to the camera and take photos that correspond to individual scenes, with no freedom to choose any other angle than whatever the director wants. Actors know they are being photographed while they work and inevitably pose, even if unconsciously. Which is why any “spontaneous” photo of a star at work isn’t spontaneous at all. Those were the kinds of photos that Elizabeth had expected to see.

When I was on set, my technique had been to not be seen. If you don’t see me, you don’t think that someone is photographing you. You feel freer, more relaxed. A lot of people are intimidated by a camera. They block, consciously or unconsciously, concerned about how they look. But in my case, since no one cared what I did and didn’t realize that I was taking professional photos, I didn’t have that problem. I was able to photograph Elizabeth and Richard being natural without worrying about their poses.

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An unauthorized photo of Elizabeth Taylor (center) and Richard Burton (right) on the set of The Comedians, taken by Gianni Bozzacchi and signed by Richard Burton.

 

My long experience with printing had taught me the best system for photographing a woman. I learned from observing how light bounces off a subject through the lens and is then imprinted on film. The negative. The aperture of the stop is inversely proportionate to the contrast obtained in the final photo. Thus, at the retouching stage, you realize that some of the defects could have been avoided with a different stop aperture. Skin and color tonality are merely a question of light, and thus of contrast. In Africa, the light was very strong, so I knew I had to close down the stop and use film with a low ASA. To get better photos, I exposed a small quantity of light (stop closed) over a longer time lapse (shutter).

All these considerations contributed to me getting unique photos. But I don’t believe that that was what made them special, nor why Elizabeth appreciated them so much. Stops and exposure times mean nothing when you’re dealing with a woman as beautiful as that. If you took a Polaroid shot of her neck she’d still have looked like a star. She was the most famous and photographed woman in the world. The world had literally watched her grow up through movies and photographs. Ever since she shot to stardom in Clarence Brown’s 1944 classic National Velvet at just eleven, Elizabeth had been shot from every conceivable angle and in every imaginable circumstances, often alongside crowned heads and superstars. How can you take an interesting photo of a woman like her? What more can a photographer come up with?

In the end, while shooting dozens of photos of her in Africa, I realized where the real challenge lay in photographing Elizabeth: how to make people looking at my photos feel as I’d felt, as if they were seeing Elizabeth—the world’s most photographed and famous woman—for the very first time. I’d spend the next twelve years trying to solve that problem. My photos were not of a movie star but of a woman and her husband behaving normally, unaware of my lens. And those were the kind of photos I’d keep trying to take throughout my career.

Gianni Bozzacchi is an Italian writer, producer, and director made famous by his photographs of Elizabeth Taylor. He has collaborated on films with Sergio Leone and Michelangelo Antonioni among others.

Purchase book here.