Category Archives: Film

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.

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New Releases In Film History

In recognition of the 89th Academy Awards, we’re featuring our favorite new releases in the fields of film history. Which ones will you read?


UKY05 Showman of the Screen Selected.inddShowman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolution In Film Promotion

Short, immaculately dressed, and shockingly foul-mouthed, Joseph E. Levine (1905–1987) was larger than life. He rose from poverty in Boston’s West End to become one of postwar Hollywood’s most prolific independent promoters, distributors, and producers. Alternately respected and reviled, this master of movie promotion was responsible for bringing films as varied as Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), Hercules (1958), The Graduate (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and A Bridge Too Far (1977) to American audiences.

In Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolution In Film Promotion, the first biography of this controversial pioneer, A. T. McKenna traces Levine’s rise as an influential packager of popular culture. Despite his significant accomplishments and prominent role in shaping film distribution and promotion in the post-studio era, Levine is largely overlooked today. McKenna’s in-depth biography corrects misunderstandings and misinformation about this colorful figure, and offers a sober assessment of his contributions to world cinema. It also illuminates Levine’s peculiar talent for movie- and self-promotion, as well as his extraordinary career in the motion picture business.

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Hollywood Divided

On October 22, 1950, the Screen Directors Guild (SDG) gathered for a meeting at the opulent Beverly Hills Hotel. Among the group’s leaders were some of the most powerful men in Hollywood—John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, John Huston, Frank Capra, William Wyler, and Rouben Mamoulian—and the issue on the table was nothing less than a vote to dismiss Mankiewicz as the guild’s president after he opposed an anticommunist loyalty oath that could have expanded the blacklist. The dramatic events of that evening have become mythic, and the legend has overshadowed the more complex realities of this crucial moment in Hollywood history.brianton_cover

In Hollywood Divided, Kevin Brianton explores the myths associated with the famous meeting and the real events that they often obscure. He analyzes the lead-up to that fateful summit, examining the pressure exerted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Brianton reveals the internal politics of the SDG, its initial hostile response to the HUAC investigations, the conservative reprisal, and the influence of the oath on the guild and the film industry as a whole. Hollywood Divided also assesses the impact of the historical coverage of the meeting on the reputation of the three key players in the drama.

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Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story

They’ve traded punches in knockdown brawls, crashed biplanes through barns, and raced to the rescue in fast cars. They add suspense and drama to the story, portraying the swimmer stalked by the menacing shark, the heroine dangling twenty feet below a soaring hot air balloon, or the woman leaping nine feet over a wall to escape a dog attack. Only an expert can make such feats of daring look easy, and stuntwomen with the skills to perform—and survive—great moments of action in movies have been hitting their mark in Hollywood since the beginning of film.

Here, Mollie Gregory presents the first history of stuntwomen in the film industry from the silent era to the twenty-first century. For decades, stuntwomen have faced institutional discrimination, unequal pay, and sexual harassment even as they jumped from speeding trains and raced horse-drawn carriages away from burning buildings. Featuring sixty-five interviews, Stuntwomen showcases the absorbing stories and uncommon courage of women who make their living planning and performing action-packed sequences that keep viewers’ hearts racing.

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Harry Langdon: King Of Silent Comedy

Among silent film comedians, three names stand out—Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd—but Harry Langdon indisputably deserves to sit among them as the fourth “king.” In films such as The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927), Langdon parlayed his pantomime talents, expressive eyes, and childlike innocence into silent-era stardom. This in-depth biography, which features behind-the-scenes accounts and personal recollections compiled by Langdon’s late wife, provides a full and thoughtful picture of this multifaceted entertainer and his meteoric rise and fall.Harry Langdon.final.indd

In Harry Langdon: King Of Silent Comedy, authors Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon explore how the actor developed and honed his comedic skills in amateur shows, medicine shows, and vaudeville. Together they survey his early work on the stage at the turn of the twentieth century as well as his iconic routines and characters. They also evaluate his failures from the early sound period, including his decision to part ways with director Frank Capra. Despite his dwindling popularity following the introduction of talkies, Langdon persevered and continued to perform in theater, radio, and film—literally until his dying day—leaving behind a unique and brilliant body of work.

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UKY06 He's Got Rhythm Selected.inddHe’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly

He sang and danced in the rain, proclaimed New York to be a wonderful town, and convinced a group of Parisian children that they had rhythm. One of the most influential and respected entertainers of Hollywood’s golden age, Gene Kelly revolutionized film musicals with his innovative and timeless choreography. A would-be baseball player and one-time law student, Kelly captured the nation’s imagination in films such as Anchors Aweigh (1945), On the Town (1949), An American in Paris(1951), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

In He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kellythe 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. The authors even confront Kelly’s darker side and explore his notorious competitive streak, his tendency to be a taskmaster on set, and his multiple marriages. 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.

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My Life in Focus

When Gianni Bozzacchi accepted an assignment as a photographer on the set of The Comedians (1967), he didn’t know that his life was about to change forever. His ability to capture the beauty of candid moments drew the attention of the film’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, and prompted her to hire him as her personal photographer. Not only did he go on to enjoy a jet-set life as her friend and confidant—preserving unguarded moments between the violet-eyed beauty and Richard Burton as they traveled the world—but Bozzacchi also became an internationally renowned photographer and shot some of the biggest celebrities of the 1960s and 1970s.9780813168746

In My Life in Focus, Bozzacchi traces his journey from humble beginnings to the sphere of the rich and famous. Beautifully illustrated with many of the photographer’s most iconic images, this lively memoir reveals private moments in the Taylor-Burton love story and provides an invaluable behind-the-scenes look at the business of filmmaking and the perils of celebrity.

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Musicals at the Academy Awards

It came as little surprise to moviegoers when it was announced on January 24th, 2017, that La La Land had been nominated for 14 Academy Awards, tying the record for most nominations received by a single film (with Titanic and All About Eve). A critical and commercial success, La La Land is both a film made for modern audiences and a loving throwback to the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical. Time will tell whether La La Land will sweep the Oscars (although predictions skew in that direction), but its role is not without historical precedent.

To date, only ten musicals have won the coveted Academy Award for Best Picture. An American in Paris (1951) was the fourth to achieve this honor. In the following excerpt from He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly, authors Cynthia and Sara Brideson discuss the 24th Academy Awards, at which American and Kelly were to achieve special recognition:


If Gene believed that Hollywood and America as a whole did not grant him the recognition he deserved, he was soon to be proven wrong. The honor Hollywood lavished upon Gene after he left for Europe confirmed that his artistry was far from overlooked in his native country. Never in the history of film had a musical ever received as many Oscar nominations as Gene’s An American in Paris. The picture received nods in eight categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Musical Score, Best Art Direction and Set Decoration, Best Color Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing.

Most significant, Gene was announced as the recipient of the annual Honorary Oscar. The category, created in 1948, acknowledged cinematic achievements not covered by existing Academy Awards. Gene was only the second dancer to receive such recognition (Fred Astaire received one at the 1950 awards ceremony). Though pleased with the award, Gene still voiced regret that he had not been nominated as Best Actor. “The idea that musical [actors] are less worthy of Academy consideration than drama[tic ones] is a form of snobbishness.”

In truth, the honorary Oscar did pay tribute to Gene’s acting ability as well as his dancing talent. On March 20, 1952, the night of the awards ceremony, the president of the Academy, Charles Brackett, stated that Gene had earned his statuette through his “extreme versatility as an actor-singer, director, and dancer . . . and because of his specific and brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” From Europe, Gene requested that Stanley Donen accept the Oscar for him. Vincente Minnelli admitted that Gene’s decision hurt his feelings, particularly because Donen had had no part in the production of An American in Paris.

Gene was not the only one to receive an honorary Oscar that night. Arthur Freed took home the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award, given to a different producer each year. The Freed Unit was sweeping the Oscars; before Best Picture was announced, An American in Paris had already won two honorary awards plus Best Costume Design, Best Color Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Set Decoration, and Best Screenplay (not to be confused with Best Adapted Screenplay, which went to A Place in the Sun). However, in the Best Picture category, An American in Paris faced heady competition. In a year that sported such prestigious titles as A Streetcar Named Desire, The African Queen, and A Place in the Sun, a musical picture with a thin story line seemed the least likely to win the award. Presenter Jesse Lasky could not conceal his surprise when he opened the envelope. “Oh my!” he exclaimed. “The winner for Best Picture is An American in Paris.” The audience was silent except for a few gasps of shock. But slowly, hearty applause erupted, which only became more vigorous when Freed trotted up to the stage, clearly moved. As he cradled the statuette with the honorary one he had already received, he quipped, “It’s a double header!” He continued on a more serious note: “Thank you. And thank you from my brilliant associates who made this possible: Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly, and a great studio with real courage and leadership who supported me. Thank you.”


For those interested in learning more about the life of Gene Kelly, the Brideson’s new and comprehensive biography is available for pre-order here. Or visit our Twitter for details on how to win an advance copy of the book.

Harry Langdon and Frank Capra: A Directorial Dispute

The dichotomy between actor and director has long been a fascinating one. Who has the ultimate say in what goes into the film? Conventional wisdom places the director at the forefront, but the recent rise of actor-directors (think James Franco) would seem to provide a counterargument. This rise, however, is not as recent as it may seem. In 1927, Harry Langdon, already a famous silent film comedian, decided to part ways with his director Frank Capra over just such issues of authorial control.

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In Harry Langdon: King Of Silent Comedy, authors Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon
provide a new biography of one of silent film’s less well-known but most enduring comedians. In films such as The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927), Langdon parlayed his pantomime talents, expressive eyes, and childlike innocence into silent-era stardom. Together, Oldham and Langdon survey his early work on the stage at the turn of the twentieth century as well as his iconic routines and characters. They also evaluate his failures from the early sound period, including his decision to part ways with director Frank Capra.

Langdon had worked with Capra on The Strong Man, and besides being Capra’s feature-length debut, it catapulted Langdon into a stardom he had not yet experienced. This stardom, it would seem, got to Langdon’s head – he was besieged by adulating fans and he began to believe that the reason for the film’s success rested solely on his shoulders. Beliefs such as these led him to a climactic confrontation with Capra that would permanently severe the relationship between the two men. The following excerpt tells the full story:


In February 1927, while finalizing [Long Pants], Capra needed to shoot some close-up inserts of Harry’s hand removing a book from a shelf so the audience could focus on the title. Any hand would have sufficed, as long as it matched Harry’s look and sleeve. But Capra wanted to use Harry’s hand, believing that the audience should be given the real deal, even for such a trivial shot. He issued a call for Langdon to come from his dressing room for the close-up and expected no opposition, as Langdon was a professional and seldom objected to retakes. But when Langdon emerged, he scolded Capra for bothering him and refused to do it. According to Capra, the incident became explosive before anyone realized what was happening:

I had sent for him several times. Finally Harry arrived, wearing a gaudy dressing gown and a gaudier scarf, followed by a newly acquired retinue of leeches.

“Why in hell do you keep sending for me? Don’t you know I’m through in the picture?” He was as arrogant as Napoleon chewing up a menial officer.

“Sorry, Harry. I need an insert of your hand reaching for this—”

“Insert of my hand? You ain’t learned nothing, have you? Directors don’t use stars for stupid inserts. They use doubles.”

“Harry, there isn’t another pair of hands like—”

Shouting an expletive, Langdon ranted about being interrupted during an interview with two important New York critics. As he stormed away, he muttered, “That’s what I get for trying to make directors out of two-bit gag men.”

Capra reflected on how to handle the situation: should he kowtow as Langdon’s “yes man,” or should he assert himself as the film’s director and as someone who had been instrumental in creating Langdon’s persona? Capra assumed that Langdon’s arrogance was really a reaction to his sudden popularity—a sort of culture shock—and decided to confront him. He found Langdon lounging on a couch in his dressing room, staring at the ceiling. “Harry,” he said, “I came to tell you what many of us have wanted to say to you for some time, to wit: that you’ve turned into an impossible, opinionated, conceited, strutting little jerk. The happy little guy we once knew and loved has become an ungrateful heel. . . . Comedians must be loved to get laughs—and right now the only one who loves you around here is you.”57 Capra felt relieved when he left , even though Langdon had offered him neither a word nor a glance. The young director felt he was being a professional as well as a friend, showing Langdon tough love. Unfortunately, soon after, Langdon’s business manager arrived at Capra’s home and handed him his last paycheck with the message that Langdon never wanted to see him again.

Thee stunning news leaked out, and it was soon followed by another story that echoed the Sennett split and its question of egos: Langdon would be assuming the director’s chair from now on. Variety stated on March 2, 1927: “Harry Langdon has decided that he no longer needs a director to lead him through his paces. . . . The comedian feels no one can interpret his thoughts as well as himself, so he is going to hold the megaphone instead. Langdon is also said to feel that nobody can title his pictures like he can, so he is also going to title same. In the past, all ideas and gags used in the Langdon pictures were credited with having been conceived by the comedian, with the gagmen simply helping out in the construction.”

Moving Picture World also reported that Langdon was planning to cut his “corps of gag men or comedy constructionists, as they have been called of late, down to one man.” Studio executives hurriedly rebutted these stories, noting that Langdon was not a “high hat” and that these rumors were an “injustice” to him. It was more that Langdon’s technique was so unique that it was impossible to find a “kindred mind” to direct him. They also erroneously pointed out that Langdon had been his own director since the Sennett days but was too modest to take directorial credit on his films; instead, he “selected one of his gag men to sit on the set during each picture and watch the action for ocular errors.” There was also talk that if anyone were to assume the directorial chair, it would probably be Arthur Ripley.

Before this ultimate assault, Capra had already been badly burned by Langdon’s executive control on Long Pants. The star had altered Capra’s “vision,” deleting a prologue because Ripley had opposed it, and reducing a ten-minute, two-strip Technicolor fantasy sequence with gorgeous costumes, a knightly duel, and a fairy princess to a mere fragment. The experience made Capra feel like he no longer existed in Langdon’s world. It must have been devastating to lose the support of a friendly team, and it shook his confidence as a director. However, Capra was determined to find his directorial niche and learn how to control a film. In the meantime, the focus on Long Pants had shifted from director to star on all levels: even a large ad in Variety screamed Langdon’s name three times in type that was three times larger than that of the film’s title. Capra’s name was not included.

At one point, Capra wanted to attend a preview of Long Pants, and he asked his wife Helen, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship, to accompany him. She agreed, but when the time came, he found her unhappily drunk—a recurring pattern in their lives—and he apparently hit her so hard that she crumpled into a heap and lost some teeth. All Capra could remember afterward was feeling that she was lucky he had not killed her—a bitterly ironic statement, given [a] disturbing sequence in Long Pants in which Harry attempts to kill Priscilla.

Capra moved on as a director—and temporarily away from Hollywood—when he accepted Hell’s Kitchen (released as For the Love of Mike), which starred Ben Lyon, debuted Claudette Colbert, and was filmed in New York. Unfortunately, Capra had been persuaded to defer his salary until the end of production and was never paid. Despite many strong aspects, the film was considered a commercial failure (after generally bland reviews, Colbert vowed never to make another film, but clearly she changed her mind when she contracted with Paramount two years later). Capra persevered as well, but he had been scarred by so many experiences that, according to his biographer, he turned into “a gut-punching little man in order to survive.”

For many reasons, Capra believed Langdon would fail if he attempted to do everything himself. But Langdon now embraced the idea of taking full charge of the business: directing, acting, writing, and editing. If he was to be another Chaplin, this was Langdon’s destiny. But life imitated art, and like his character in Long Pants, Langdon tried to wear a pair of trousers before he had matured enough to do so. He was drawn to the wrong fantasies, forgetting the simplicity in his own backyard.

Behind the Screen

Film has become an integral part of American life.brianton_cover
Though the face of the film industry continues to change, it is undeniable that films and television continue to impact lives and culture. With the approach of the 69th Annual DGA awards, it is a time to celebrate some of the best among this year’s productions and, more importantly, the directors behind them. This year’s list of directors includes many first-time nominees, making it clear that the stage has been set for the recognition of new talent.

In addition to celebrating directorial achievements, the DGA (Directors Guild of America) helps to protect the rights of directors and to promote diversity within the film industry. However, in the earlier days of Hollywood, the film industry wasn’t always so welcoming.

One of the most famous (or, more appropriately, infamous) incidents in American film history is the Hollywood blacklist. In this time of directing giants, the looming reality of the Cold War led to an era of paranoia and tension within the film industry as actors and directors alike faced accusations about their connections to communism and communist sympathies. Countless actors and directors lost their careers due to the blacklist, but within the American tradition, there is one incident that stands out among the rest: the 1950 Screen Directors Guild Meeting.

In Hollywood Divided: the 1950 Screen Directors Guild Meeting and the Impact of the Blacklist, Kevin Brianton dives into the facts and myths surrounding that famous meeting which would go on to obtain something of a mythic status in the American memory. A large part of its fame, unfortunately, comes from the misinformation surrounding it, but how exactly did this information come to be? And what is the truth of this historical moment which would prove to have a lasting impact on the film industry? Part of this uncertainty can be attributed to ways in which time often obscures memory, but it might also be connected to Mankiewicz’s directing career, which was beginning to decline. As Brianton mentions in his book, in reference to a speech that Mankiewicz gave recounting the events of the SDG meeting, “When Mankiewicz had finished, the Master of Ceremonies, Carl Reiner, joked that Mankiewicz’s speech had the same problem as Cleopatra–it went on for too long. Makiewicz would be sure to enliven his future accounts of the meeting.”

In the following excerpt, Brianton draws on SDG minute records to provide an inside look at one of the many tense (and true) moments of the 1950 meeting:


Daves began, “I did not sign the petition. I wish I had. I am a Republican too, Mr DeMille … I resent beyond belief the things that you said as you summarized the twenty-five men.” Daves said he agreed with Wellman about the basic unfairness of the campaign. When he had received a phone call about recalling Mankiewicz, he told the caller he wanted to hear Mankiewicz’s side of the story. Looking up at the board members sitting on the dais, Daves said,

“All of us here look before us and see seated at this Board of Directors table dear friends, and the men who signed this telegram are some of my very dearest friends in this town. Mabel [Walker Willebrandt] is a very dear friend of mine. I can go right down the list … their kids play with my kids. We are as close as people can be, and I love a lot of people sitting at the table. This has nothing to do with personal acrimony at all, nor toward the men who signed the recall. It merely has to do with the faction and the attack that was made … [in] what I consider a completely undemocratic manner, and one which was so secretive by nature that I was shocked.” Daves said, “The next thing I knew I received a ballot, and it said, ‘This is a ballot to recall Joe Mankiewicz. Sign here – yes.’ There was nothing more. It was not yes and no. I was more deeply shocked.”

Perhaps drawing on his distant legal training at Standford, where he graduated as a lawyer but never had the opportunity to use the degree, Daves then presented damning evidence against DeMille. He said the recall committee deliberately misled the membership by pretending to be acting on behalf of the entire SDG board rather than a committee attempting to recall Mankiewicz. He said, “[Mankiewicz] is not a personal friend of mine. I am fighting for him here, because I feel our rights and our freedom have been violently hit by what has happened.” He discussed the telegram that appeared to be mailed from the board of directors in support of the recall: “It said twelve times, ‘The Board of Directors this,’ and ‘The Board of Directors that.’” Daves called the exercise “an abuse of privilege.”

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  Before the storm, Cecil B. DeMille, Gloria Swanson, and Billy Wilder enjoyed working together on Sunset Boulevard (1950), which was released just before the October 22 SDG meeting. Wilder would become a strident opponent of DeMille over his treatment of Mankiewicz. (Photofest)

Mankiewicz was passed a note saying that some directors were leaving the room to provide updates to the journalists milling around outside the room. Mankiewicz was furious: “Now, good God, gentlemen, can’t we act like adult men? When you go home … tomorrow, remember that America is created on the system of sitting around an old stove in the grocery store and talking things over, and then going in a booth and voting the way you feel. Now we are here to talk. Let’s talk and let’s mind our own business.” Mankiewicz then called on another one of the anti-recall signatories H. C. Potter to speak. Henry Codman Potter was known for films such as The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), Second Chorus (1940) and Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). He had studied drama at Yale University, before carving out his career in the cinema. Describing himself as an SDG member older than Mr DeMille and also “an American, as good as Mr DeMille,” Potter demanded an inquiry into the “shameful thing of the recall.” It was another short speech, but it was the first such demand for an investigation of the recall faction, which would grow louder as the meeting progressed.

Photographer To The Stars

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Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Photo by Gianni Bozzacchi, author of My Life in Focus.

Once again we find ourselves in the heart of awards season, and while much attention is given to the flood of images coming from the red carpet, little thought is given to the men and women who dedicate themselves to capturing the glitz and glamor of Hollywood’s budding starlets and leading men.

In My Life in Focus: A Photographer’s Journey with Elizabeth Taylor and the Hollywood Jet Set, Gianni Bozzacchi gives his firsthand account of life gazing at some of Hollywood’s biggest stars through the lens of a camera. This honest and lively memoir also reveals private moments in the romance between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor—to whom Bozzacchi was personal photographer, friend, and confidant—and features dozens of photographs capturing unguarded moments between the two.9780813168746

Bozzacchi gives a fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s, with all of its seductive charms and quirks. He tells of racing sports cars with Steve McQueen on the set of Le Mans, of fielding marriage proposals from Coco Chanel, and of photographing a shy young actor by the name of Al Pacino. His unique ability to put his subjects at ease, and his commitment to photographing celebrities as individuals allowed Bozzacchi to capture stunning images of some of the biggest stars of the twentieth century, including Audrey Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, and the royal family of Monaco.

In the the following excerpt from My Life in Focus, Bozzacchi discusses the artistry behind one of his most iconic images, which he shot with the intention to dispel rumors that Elizabeth Taylor was losing her famously beautiful looks:


Of all the photos I’d taken, how many revealed the artist in me? I was always photographing for reasons dictated to me by others. The artist always came last, if he even came into the picture at all. Above all, you had to satisfy the objectives of the photo shoot—whether it was publicity, a poster, or a piece of clothing that needed selling. Generally, the subject was a star or someone important. Then there was the context. Was it for a magazine? Or a poster? In which case, the subject had to be to one side of the  image, because there’d be words on the other. As the photographer, you came last. If you did manage to infuse a little artistry into the photo, great. But my experience had taught me that nourishing such hopes was invariably in conflict with the aim of the image.

A true artist is free to express him- or herself completely, with no conflicts or compromises. Many of my photos were not like that. I enjoyed more freedom than a set photographer, but I had limits all the same. On set, for example, I couldn’t control the lights because that was up to the director of photography. My only choice was what angle I chose to shoot from. The clothes were chosen by the director in collaboration with the costume designer. The makeup artist decided the hairstyle and makeup of whatever star I was photographing. Sure, there were a few occasions when I was able to make my own decisions and express myself. But most of the time, I had to repress myself.

But there was one shot that really did express the artist in me. I was still burned up by the fact that someone had destroyed Elizabeth’s image. As her personal photographer, it was up to me to fix the damage. The idea that Elizabeth had suddenly become fat and ugly was absurd. Just look at that photo of her running out of her dressing room […] No one could say I’d touched anything up. That photo was as true as it gets. And technically, it was almost impossible. Just before taking it, I’d seen Elizabeth go from the set to her dressing room. Once the set floodlights had been switched off, the light was very different, very soft, beautiful. I liked the way it bathed Elizabeth’s figure and wanted to be able to photograph her in that light before they put the floods back on. Using a flash was out of the question because it can destroy any atmosphere. I measured the relative aperture. The stop was on 2, so the focus would be very tight. The speed was one-fifteenth of a second, which, technically, means it should be impossible to freeze a subject in motion. But I was convinced I could pull it off.

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Bozzacchi’s iconic photo, signed by Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth came out of the dressing room running, which made everything even harder. With no time to plan, I shot without thinking. As she ran toward me, I dropped to my knees and leaned backward at the same speed that she was advancing, snapping off three shots. My movement compensated hers, creating a sense of immobility, even though Elizabeth was actually still running. There was no pose, no tricks, and the way her top wrapped around her body highlighted how well proportioned she was. And how beautiful.

Many great photographers have photographed Elizabeth during her career. Why, then, does talk always turn back to me? Why not Richard Avedon or Lord Snowdon? Maybe because I never photographed only the woman, the wife, the actress or star—I also managed to photograph her as a fully authentic individual. I brought her to life. I never immortalized an immobile and inexpressive star. And I never lurked in the bushes with a zoom lens like Galella. A photographer has to be in touch with his feelings, which I believe is what made the difference between that photo and all the others. Richard [Burton] liked it so much that he wrote a prose poem to go with it:

She is like the tide, she comes and she goes, she runs to me as in this stupendous photographic image. In my poor and tormented youth, I had always dreamed of this woman. And now, when this dream occasionally returns, I extend my arm, and she is here . . . by my side. If you have not met or known her, you have lost much in life.

5 Forgotten Films of Joseph E. Levine

Levine (center), pictured with his wife Rosalie and Howard Koch of Paramount

From the middle of January to the end of February, Hollywood finds itself in the midst of Oscar season, a time when the recent achievements of various actors, directors, and many others involved in the film business are celebrated widely. It is also be a time when the history of Hollywood is remembered for all its many characters. One such character was Joseph E. Levine, one of the most prolific producers of the middle twentieth century.

UKY05 Showman of the Screen Selected.inddBorn into the slums of Boston’s West End, Levine became a true American success story. His showmanship, boundless energy, and a fondness for both risk-taking and profanity made him one of the most recognizable personalities in show business. But despite being—by his own dubious accounting—involved in nearly five hundred films over the course of his life, Levine is barely remembered today. Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolutions in Film Production, a new biography by award-winning film writer A. T. McKenna, reveals the streetwise hustler, hawker, name-dropper and capricious and contradictory promoter who excited audiences and forever changed modern movie marketing. While he worked on films as notable as The Graduate (1967) and as notorious as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), he also produced many films that are now mostly forgotten. Presented here are just five, but there are many more.

The Oscar: Hollywood has always loved a story about itself (as recent critical favorite La La Land demonstrates) but rare is the film in which the Academy Awards themselves constitute a plot point. The Oscar (1966) goes against that trend to present the story of Frankie Fane, a self-absorbed actor who attempts to secure a Best Actor win after an unexpected nomination. Although it was, in fact, nominated for two Oscars (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design), it was also labeled as one of the worst films of the year and ensured that Tony Bennett (who saw his film debut in it) would never play a dramatic role again.

Mad Monster Party?: The Rankin/Bass Christmas specials (Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town) have been a staple of American culture since their debut in the 1960s, but did you know that they also (in conjunction with Levine) released a monster mash theatrical film? In the traditional stop-motion style of their best known features, Mad Monster Party? sees Baron Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff, in his last work in the Frankenstein mythos) summon the monsters of the world (among them Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon) to his castle to inform them of his discovery of the secret of total destruction. Shenanigans ensue, in typical Rankin/Bass fashion, and the film has since attained a cult status.

The Day of the Dolphin: In this 1973 film, George C. Scott plays a scientist who trains dolphins to speak English. After two of his dolphins are stolen, he learns of a plot to use them to assassinate the President of the United States by placing a mine on the hull of the President’s yacht, and must race against time to stop it. Although the film was met with critical ambivalence and weak box office returns, it was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Sound.

Magic: Many remember The Princess Bride, but few know that its writer William Goldman also wrote Magic, a 1978 film in which Anthony Hopkins played a failed magician who turns to ventriloquism but soon finds himself killing friends and enemies at the will of his dummy. Originally, Gene Wilder was chosen to play the lead, but Levine refused on the grounds that he was making a serious movie, and the appearance of a comedian in the lead role would detract from that. Although widely praised on its release, the film has since passed into relative obscurity.

Tattoo:  The last film ever produced by Levine, Tattoo (1981) told the story of a disturbed tattoo artist (Bruce Dern) who becomes obsessed with a model and kidnaps her with the intent of making her into a canvas for his art. Although its promotional materials (which featured a woman’s legs covered in tattoos and bound by cloth) were met with uproar by some, the film failed to make any dent in the critical or commercial landscape.

More film stories as well as many anecdotes about Levine’s life (including details about his feuds with George C. Scott and Peter O’Toole, among others) can be found in Showman of The Screen by A.T. McKenna.