On July 17, 1956, the musical comedy High Society premiered, featuring a “power house” cast of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Grace Kelly. The film was based on The Philadelphia Story, starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart, and was directed and choreographed by Charles Walters who staged the iconic musical sequences of Hollywood’s golden age.
In honor of the 60th anniversary of the film’s release, here are excerpts from Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance. Author Brent Phillips chronicles the artist’s successful film career, how he navigated the movie industry as an openly gay man, and the revealing backstory about his work on one of his most beloved musicals, High Society:
[. . .] In [Grace] Kelly, Walters had an undeniably lovely leading lady, but her gracious appeal was entirely dissimilar to the individuality of Katharine Hepburn. He spent considerable time helping Grace tap into the defenseless interior of Barry’s icy socialite. The actress acknowledged, “I tried to find the point where [Tracy’s] haughtiness was a cover for insecurity, and for the pain she felt over her father’s thoughtless behavior.” [. . .] As Alain Masson would later articulate, the key difference between Hepburn and Kelly “lies in the fact that Hepburn— though she may lose her composed image— always seems to master the game, at least intellectually, [whereas] Kelly sometimes is really at a loss.”
Her male co-stars, nonetheless, didn’t bother to analyze; they patently adored her. A doting Sinatra called her “Gracie” and poured on the charm, leading Chuck to privately refer to them as “Beauty and the Beast.” Crosby, victorious beau in the High Society love triangle, called Grace “kind, considerate, and friendly with everyone.”
[. . .]
High Society’s biggest hit, however, came in the Crosby-Kelly ballad “True Love.” Practically a lullaby, the song required simple direction, and critic Douglas McVay later praised Walters’s “talent for musical naturalism,” adding, “This sequence (significantly not present in The Philadelphia Story), in which the newly-married couple quietly and blissfully duet . . . on board their yacht of that name, invests the love between Tracy and her former husband with a sense of physical truth, and thus makes their movements towards reconciliation in the rest of the film equally credible. . . . [The duet] emerges as one of the most persuasive illustrations of the power of song (or dance) to convey sexual passion and affection more intensely than any exchange of spoken words or fervent embraces can do.”
Holm recalled: “[Grace] had a very dear contralto— lovely and totally appropriate. She
made no effort to sound like a professional singer. On the day she was to [record] with Bing, we all hung about to hear them.” After receiving his disc from the session, Porter wrote to Metro conductor Johnny Green, “I can’t tell you how surprised I am at the singing of Miss Grace Kelly.” The public was in agreement, and sales of the “True Love” single earned Kelly her first and only gold record. “My brother,” she later said, “once made a very unbrotherly remark by saying that he thought my voice on a golden record was one of the ‘modern miracles.’ But I was very delighted about it.” “True Love” later won a Best Song Oscar nomination, and MGM joined with Porter’s press agent to lobby hard for a win. When Doris Day’s chart-topping “Que Sera, Sera” took home the prize, the agent received a succinct cable of defeat from Porter that read: “Whatever will be, will be.”
Dreaming up staging possibilities for “Jazz,” “Millionaire,” and “True Love” proved unproblematic, yet Chuck ran adrift with “You’re Sensational,” a seduction song for Sinatra to woo Kelly. “I couldn’t think what to do,” he admitted. “[Then] I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, ‘Just a minute. [Frank and Grace are] getting an awful lot of money, individually and collectively. I’m going to make them do the work.’ ” The next day he showed up for rehearsal with a simple directive: “Go with it, dears.” When his stars became too artificial in their actions, he offered one final piece of advice: “Play it like a scene.” With that, the performers acted— and aced— the Porter lyric, with Sinatra, lustful and lost, melded to Kelly’s mute response. Her radiant mix of yearning and uncertainty enchanted Walters, who said, “I thought she was marvelous.”
[. . .]
“[Grace] invited me to lunch,” she begins, along with the royals [Prince Rainier III and his father, the Duke of Valentinois], Schary, and Chuck, “who had a tendency to be enchantingly obscene.” The luncheon was given in the paneled executive dining room, which at MGM was considered a bit of a joke; it only seated eight. “So we were all sitting at the table, and I can’t imagine who would have been dumb enough to have said, ‘How big is Monaco?’ But somebody did. Well, there was a pause, and I think the Prince gave him the area in feet. Dore laughed and said, ‘Why, that’s not even as big as our back lot.’ Now that was just bad manners!” An awkward, uncomfortable silence came over the luncheon, until Holm smartly stuck a fork in her steak and propelled it across the table. “While everybody was busy getting straightened out over that,” she concludes, “I changed the subject. Nobody knew that I’d done that on purpose.”
[. . .]
[High Society would be Kelly’s last film performance before she became Princess consort of Monaco.]
Kelly became Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco on April 19, impeccably gowned by High Society designer Helen Rose. The press dubbed the event “The Wedding of the Century.” Even MGM couldn’t buy such publicity, although the August 1 world premiere at the RKO Pantages Theater in Los Angeles was carefully orchestrated pandemonium. Shouting street crowds were showered by flower petals, and the floral display was a convenient distraction from the fact that none of the film’s stars were in attendance. (Crosby was relaxing at his ranch, Sinatra and Holm were in New York, and Kelly was away playing princess.) To compensate, George Murphy presented Porter with a civic citation, Bob Hope kidded Crosby’s no-show, and Walters’s former stars Ann Miller and Debbie Reynolds represented the home studio. Ever recalcitrant, Chuck later admitted, “I wasn’t going to go to the premiere either, [until] my dear friend Earl Blackwell of Celebrity Service phoned Ginger Rogers and told her to call me. She told me to get my tuxedo out of mothballs, get a limousine, and come pick her up. And I enjoyed it. I was like a kid in a bathtub: it was hell to get me in, but once you did, I didn’t want to get out.”
Summer time is blockbuster movie season, with a plethora of 3-D films on deck. As evidenced by Avatar, the most successful motion picture of all time, seamless computer-generated imagery and live-action stereo photography represent the future of cinema. Many would be surprised to learn that this burgeoning hybrid of art and technology has its own rich history as a defining transformation in filmmaking, alongside the development of sound and color.
In 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema, author, film maker and historian Ray Zone explores the evolution of 3-D technology from the 1950s boom through the digital age of the twenty-first century, while addressing topics ranging from 3-D theme park rides to IMAX 3-D.
In honor of Embrace Your Geekness Day, we’re featuring an Q & A with author Ray Zone who reveals the ways in which the film industry has evolved from its two-dimensional flatness and how the world of 3-D no longer restricts the cinematic storyteller:
How did you get started in the professional world of 3-D?
As a result of my writing about 3-D, I was hired to write a history of 3-D in the form of a 3-D comic book. After that experience, I worked at 3-D Video Corp., the company that published the comic, and subsequently started my own company to convert flat art to 3-D for comics, advertisements, and videos.
You have published work in more than 130 comic books. How are 3-D comics made, and how does that side of the 3-D industry connect to 3-D film industry?
The art, which is originally flat, or 2-D, is converted to 3-D by producing a second eye view of the art for creation of a stereo pair of images. Comics are very important to movies today since most of the top-grossing films are based on comic book characters. In one specific instance, my 3-D work on Thomas Jane’s Bad Planet comic book convinced Sony Pictures in 2007 to “green light” Thomas’s directorial debut on Dark Country as a 3-D feature film.
In the book, you discuss the invention of Cinerama in the 1950s, pointing out the importance of depth in capturing the feeling of 3-D. Why is 3-D so much more effective when it creates depth as opposed to when it brings things out of the screen?
Well, it’s all depth whether the image is perceived in 3-D space behind or in front of the screen. Some people enjoy looking through the cinema screen as a 3-D window on space. Others, like me, also enjoy the use of the audience space where things come out of the screen. Any 3-D movie can make use of both these spaces for the narrative. Z-space storytelling is very powerful, and filmmakers are still figuring this out.
Many people dislike 3-D cinema. What is it that gets people so heated about 3-D?
Neophobia: fear of the new. Plus, many individuals are already disturbed by the necessity of having to wear glasses in their daily life. These are the ones most resistant to going to movies which require the use, in their case, of an additional pair of glasses. When sound and color were inaugurated in cinema, there were also many people at the time heated up about these innovations. And they felt that these additions to cinema were absolutely unnecessary to the movie going experience, which, they opined, was perfectly fine as it was.
What are some classic films you think would be great if re-released in 3-D?
The obvious answer to that question is Citizen Kane, with its bravura use of deep focus. Also, while watching Antonioni’s L’Avventura recently, I was struck by the dramatic force created by environment and actors moving around within it, making it a perfect film to realize in stereoscopic space. Other filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Jean-Luc Godard are very aware of the world enclosed within the cinematic frame. Their films would be spectacular in depth. Godard has announced 3-D for his next production.
It seems as if every new movie is being released in 3-D, and some theaters don’t even offer 2-D options of some films. Is Hollywood forcing 3-D at this point, and what does this mean for the future of 3-D cinema?
Hollywood has forced quite a few films converted to bad 3-D on the public, who was compelled to pay a premium price for the disappointment. Tent-pole blockbusters in 3-D have dominated the multiplex up to the present. Indie films are playing 3-D “catch-up” at this point, and nearly every 3-D film has also been released flat in “2-D.” Some films should only be seen in 3-D. These are films like Pina 3-D by Wim Wenders and Hugo in 3-D by Martin Scorsese. If you see these films in 2-D only, you haven’t really seen the film. You haven’t been exposed to their fullest creative expression.
Soon, the premium ticket price moviegoers are paying for 3-D will go away. As 3-D becomes normative in visual culture, it will just be a given on the entertainment landscape. As cinema migrates to smaller displays like TV, cell phones and tablets, 3-D, much of it autostereoscopic, will be a part of this migration.
There’s something about music during the summertime—outdoor concerts, guitar-playing on the porch, festivals across the globe. One of the oldest and most popular southern singing traditions is that of “Shape Notes.”
Shape notes have been in use by classrooms and congregations for more than two centuries, and arose to simplify the notation, teaching, and arrangement of songs. Rather than traditional musical notation heads, shapes are substituted that correspond to different sounds:
William Walker’s Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was first published in 1835. During the nineteenth century, when advertising was mainly by word of mouth or relatively sedate ads in weekly and monthly papers and pamphlets, Southern Harmony sold about 600,000 copies, and is perhaps the most popular songbook ever printed.
As far as is known, Benton, Kentucky, is the only place where the Southern Harmony is still used regularly. The Big Singing, usually held on the fourth Sunday in May, has been an annual event since 1884. Before World War II it is said that many thousands attended; as many as four extra trains in each direction were added to bring in the crowds.
Preface to the 1835 edition:
The CD included with Southern Harmony and Musical Companion contains more than 300 tunes, hymns, psalms, odes, and anthems, including “New Britain (Amazing Grace),” “Happy Land,” “O Come, Come Away,” “Wondrous Love,” and many, many more. The recordings were made at the Big Singing in Benton, Kentucky, between 1966 and 1992. We’ve included two of the more popular tunes, “New Britain” and “Newburgh” below.
The Army Historical Foundation recently recognized outstanding contributions to U.S. Army history that were published in 2015. Among those select works honored by the Foundation was Jacob L. Devers: A General’s Life by James Scott Wheeler which won in the category of biography.
General Jacob L. “Jake” Devers (1897–1979) was one of only two officers—the other was Omar C. Bradley—to command an army group during the decisive campaigns of 1944–1945 that liberated Europe and ended the war with Nazi Germany. After the war, Devers led the Army Ground Forces in the United States and eventually retired in 1949 after forty years of service. Despite incredible successes on the battlefield, General George C. Marshall’s “dependable man” remains one of the most underrated and overlooked figures of his generation.
In this definitive biography, Wheeler delivers a groundbreaking reassessment of the American commander whose contributions to victory in Europe are topped only by those of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Wheeler’s exhaustively researched chronicle of Devers’s life and career reveals a leader who demonstrated an extraordinary ability to cut through red tape and solve complex problems. Nevertheless, Eisenhower disliked Devers—a fact laid bare when he ordered Devers’s Sixth Army Group to halt at the Rhine. After the war, Eisenhower’s and Bradley’s accounts of the generals’ disagreements over strategy and tactics became received wisdom, to the detriment of Devers’s reputation.
This exceptional work of military history was recognized at an annual awards program on June 16, at the Nineteenth Annual Members’ Meeting at the AUSA Building in Arlington, VA. The finalists were judged by a select awards committee of distinguished military historians and writers against a set of criteria, including significance to U.S. Army history, historical accuracy, and quality of writing. The win marks the ninth time a University Press of Kentucky title has won an award from the AHF. UPK’s previous winners in the category of biography are Beetle: The Life of Walter Bedell Smith by D. K. R. Crosswell, Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler’s Germany by Henry G. Gole, and Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano.
The Army Historical Foundation is a member-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the American soldier. Established in 1983, the Foundation funds projects such as educational programs, research, publication of relevant historical materials, and the acquisition and preservation of Army artifacts.
The Fourth of July holiday is All-American: bombastic, creative, unique, celebratory, commemorative, joyful, and unconstrained. And what’s more American (or more Kentucky) than apple pie?
Celebrate with new and vintage apple-flavored favorites from some of UPK’s best-loved cookbooks:
Today is the 100th birthday of Olivia de Haviland, the last surviving star of Gone with the Wind. Her younger sister was Joan Fontaine, one of the great Hollywood leading ladies of the 1940s. Only 15 months apart, they were the only pair of siblings to win lead acting Oscars.
Fontaine’s performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the Oscar-winning 1940 film, lifted her into the top ranks of dramatic actresses. She followed up that success in 1941 with Hitchcock’s Suspicion, for which she won the Best Actress Academy Award.
In Conversations with Classic Film Stars, James Bawden’s interview with Fontaine demonstrates that despite being one of the brightest stars in the film industry at the time, a life in Hollywood wasn’t always sensational and glamorous. Fontaine also elaborates on her long-standing feud with her sister Olivia.
Setting the Scene
I first met Joan Fontaine at a Toronto hotel where she was peddling her tell-all 1979 autobiography No Bed of Roses. There was a second interview in 1987 in an L.A. screening room when Fontaine was promoting her appearance in the TV documentary The RKO Story. And a few years later she appeared on a panel with Tommy Tune and Stanley Kramer for The Movie Channel and we lunched afterward.
BAWDEN: Why did you decide to become an actress?
FONTAINE: I needed a job. My sister (Olivia De Havilland) was doing nicely at Warners, so I became Joan Burfield for RKO and had a bit part in Katharine Hepburn’s movie Quality Street (1937).
BAWDEN: What happened?
FONTAINE: I bombed at RKO. They made me Fred Astaire’s leading lady in Damsel in Distress (1937) only because first choice Jessie Matthews had to bow out due to schedule changes. I remember walking along a path and Fred dancing around me. I was truly awful!
BAWDEN: But you managed to get into some big pictures.
FONTAINE: In bit roles. George Cukor hired me as the insignificant ninny who is part of The Women (1939). I really only had a telephone scene to strut my stuff and George lit it as carefully as Norma Shearer’s close ups. And I met Joan Crawford on that set and I continued to get Xmas cards from her until she passed. Both Paulette Goddard and I had tiny parts. When MGM re-released it in 1946, we were elevated to top star billing! And I had a bit as Doug Fairbanks, Jr.’s sweetheart in Gunga Din (1939). I remember, after a day of shooting, I looked out the window and saw Doug and his current flame, Marlene Dietrich, off to some grand soiree all dressed up and I sighed. Because that kind of glamour always eluded me.
BAWDEN: What do you remember of the making of Rebecca?
FONTAINE: How miserable I was. Larry Olivier had tested with his wife, Viv Leigh, but (producer) David Selznick said it was too early after (his) Gone With the Wind. In fact scenes from Gone With the Wind were being done at the same time as we started. I also know Loretta Young and Maggie Sullavan had tested, but both were considered too American. Finally David said, “I guess it will have to be you,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement.
The best thing is that David was so busy with the last minute details of Gone with the Wind that he stayed away for long periods of time, which was unusual for him. Hitch (director Alfred Hitchcock) simply refused to discuss characterization. Occasionally they’d met for a great blow up. One of the scenes had the young lovers meeting in the hotel lift. David came on set and told Hitch to do it again because he’d paid for the construction of a great breakfast room and he wanted to show it off. Hitch did as told–this was his first movie (in America) and he had no clout.
Larry and Judith Anderson were very mean to me, but I now see this only increased my performance because I had nothing else to fall back on, no technique. Oscar night I was in a hissy fit. I didn’t want to win, I was only 23. David insisted I would, but he was wrong. Ginger Rogers walked away with it that year. And as it turned out, Rebecca was the only David Selznick movie I would ever star in.
BAWDEN: But he promptly loaned you and Hitch out to RKO for Suspicion and you won the Oscar.
FONTAINE: Hitch was angry David demanded so much off the top for us that there wasn’t an adequate budget for production. At the time I was very contemptuous of Cary Grant. I thought he was only interested in himself. Re-watching the film, I see how he threw whole scenes to me. He seemed aloof at the time, but he never was the gregarious sort. I loved knowing Nigel Bruce — so warm, so winning. Hitch kept mumbling all the time it didn’t look at all like England. But neither did Rebecca, really! This time I got the Oscar. It changed my life. It changed my relationship with David, too.
FONTAINE: After Rebecca, he went out of production for three whole years. He started a lavish remake of Jane Eyre. I’d be Jane. Another Selznick director, Bob Stevenson, would direct it. Orson Welles was signed. David did all sorts of market tests and finally concluded the public would confuse it with Rebecca, so he sold the whole thing, sets, scripts, cast, crew to Darryl Zanuck who had a huge success. People always ask me did Orson interfere? Well, he certainly tried to! But Bob was a guy who knew movies inside out. And there was our cinematographer George Barnes, who had trained Greg Toland.
BAWDEN: But you are too pretty to play Jane!
FONTAINE: Kind sir! This was Hollywood after all. I first met little Elizabeth Taylor on that set, all about 10 years old, Dresden china features. It’s one of my faves to this day.
BAWDEN: how did your relationship with Selznick evolve?
FONTAINE: He sold my services to the biggest bidder and pocketed the profits. I wanted to only do a picture a year. David needed money to pay for all his failed ventures. I think he’d pay me $2,000 weekly for 10 weeks and get up to $150,000 for my services. You do the math. I didn’t much want to do This Above All (1942), but it was with Ty Power, who was the biggest leading man around at the time and it was a good picture to make for wartime audiences.
BAWDEN: Then you played a 12-year old in The Constant Nymph (1943).
FONTAINE: A few years back, Turner Classic Movies arranged a screening for me. I watched in awe. I was really good and then I staggered into the sunlight in desperate search of a gin and tonic. This was the movie that really started the Joan-Olivia feud. I was at Olivie’s home studio. I’d gotten the assignment after director Teddy Goulding had turned her down as too mature. I did not know that at the time. Teddy was a magician. He drew from me emotions I never knew I had and also from Alexis Smith, who was only 24 at the time and playing a frosty beauty of 35.
BAWDEN: You brought it up so I have to ask about your famous feud with your sister.
FONTAINE: It takes two to feud. I know how Livvie was shocked the night in 1942 I won an Oscar over her. But I’ve always tried to make amends. She was shocked when our mother (Lillian Fontaine) started acting–she played Ray Milland’s landlady in The Lost Weekend (1945). I’m always shocking her, but she doesn’t ever shock me. We’re so close in birth terms, we’re more like twins and twins do quarrel on occasion, right?
[. . .]
BAWDEN: You once said Ivy (1947) was your favorite film.
FONTAINE: Why not! I Get to poison the cast, which is an actress’ s dream. Bill Cameron Menzies, who designed Gone With the Wind, designed it and the sets are fantastic. And we later did a sort of modern day version called Born To Be Bad (1950), which is another favorite.
[. . .]
BAWDEN: At MGM you were the loveliest Rowena in Ivanhoe (1952).
FONTAINE: That got me going at MGM and I later made Until They Sail (1957) I was 40 by then, playing the frumpy sister who never married. Paul Newman told me he’d grown up on my movies, but Paul was only eight years younger! And I had a 20th Century-Fox period with Island in the Sun, Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea and Tender is the Night.
BAWDEN: I remember Island in the Sun (1957 ) was considered highly controversial.
FONTAINE: I played Harry Belafonte’s lover but we were not allowed to touch hands, let alone kiss. One day I casually brushed against his arm and alarm bells went off with the censor, who considered it racial and we had to re-shoot the scene. But I much preferred Voyage because I fell into the fish tank and got eaten by Peter Lorre’s shark. I was the older wife in A Certain Smile (1958) and everybody at 20th said how big a star Christine Carere was going to be. Nobody ever heard from her again!
[. . .]
Joan Fontaine’s final screen appearance was in a made-for-TV movie, Good King Wenceslas (1994) for cable’s The Family Channel. She died in her sleep in her home in Carmel, CA, on December 15, 2013. She was ninety-six.