Tag Archives: Golden Era

Clarence Brown’s Legacy in Films

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Brown and Jarman Jr. on the set of The Yearling,Courtesy of Claude Jarman Jr.

Though he crafted films that garnered thirty-eight Academy Award nominations, Brown is not as well remembered as many of his contemporaries. Historian Gwenda Young hopes to change that with the publication of Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master, the first full-length biography of the seminal director. She recounts his upbringing as the son of hardworking Irish immigrants, as well as his work with stars such as Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Mary Pickford, which created his reputation for introducing new discoveries as well as revitalizing fading careers. Throughout his long tenure behind the camera, Brown defied expectations to create a lasting body of work that spanned Hollywood’s silent and golden eras.

Over the course of a five decade–long career, Brown directed numerous films that have stood the test of time—The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Anna Christie (1930), Anna Karenina (1935), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet (1944), The Yearling (1946), and Intruder in the Dust (1949), among others. Here, we have given you a look into a selection of Brown’s “starmaker” credits, of which have been remembered for defining Hollywood for decades.


The Great Redeemer, Maurice Tourneur Productions, 1920

The Last of the Mohicans, Maurice Tourneur Productions, 1920

The Foolish Matrons, Maurice Tourneur Productions, 1921

The Light In the Dark (short), Vitagraph Company of America, 1922

Don’t Marry for Money, Weber & North Productions, 1923

The Acquittal, Universal Pictures,1923

The Signal Tower, Universal Pictures, 1924

Butterfly, Universal Pictures, 1924

Anna Christie

Anna Christie, MGM, 1930

Smouldering Fires, Universal Pictures, 1925

The Goose Woman, Universal Pictures, 1925

The Eagle, Art Finance Corporation, 1925

Kiki, Norma Talmadge Film Corporation, 1926

Flesh and the Devil, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 1926

The Trail of ’98, MGM, 1928

The Cossacks (uncredited), MGM, 1928

A Woman of Affairs, MGM, 1928

Wonder of Women, MGM, 1929

Navy Blues, MGM, 1929

Romance (uncredited), MGM, 1930

Inspiration, MGM, 1931

A Free Soul, MGM, 1931

Possessed (uncredited), MGM, 1931

 

 


National Velvet

National Velvet, MGM, 1944

 

Emma, MGM, 1932

Letty Lynton, MGM, 1932

The Son-Daughter, MGM, 1932

Looking Forward, MGM, 1933

Night Flight, MGM, 1933

Chained, MGM, 1934

Anna Karenina, MGM, 1935

Ah Wilderness!, MGM, 1935

Wife vs. Secretary, MGM, 1936

The Gorgeous Hussy, MGM, 1936

Conquest, MGM, 1937

Of Human Hearts, MGM, 1938

Idiot’s Delight, MGM, 1939

The Rains Came, Twentieth Century Fox, 1939

Edison, the Man, MGM, 1940

Come Live with Me, MGM, 1941

The Met in Bombay, MGM, 1941

Sadie McKee

Sadie McKee, MGM, 1934

The Human Comedy, MGM, 1943

The White Cliffs of Dover,MGM, 1944

The Yearling, MGM, 1946

Song of Love, MGM, 1947

To Please a Lady, MGM, 1950

The Schumann Story (short), MGM, 1950

It’s a Big Country: An American Anthology, MGM, 1951

When in Rome, MGM, 1952

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In Memory of Screen Legend Dorothy McGuire

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Dorothy McGuire, circa 1945. James Bawden collection.

Stage-trained actress Dorothy McGuire, whose credits include A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Old Yeller (1957), and A Summer Place (1959), was one of the most interesting leading ladies of the 1940s and 1950s. She was extremely versatile, always bringing style and grace to every performance. But she didn’t build a large cult following of fans despite a solid legacy of truly memorable screen performances. Perhaps that’s due to her general aversion to publicity and a life lived without a breath of scandal or notoriety.

In honor of this talented stage actress, who passed away 15 years ago today at the age of 85, we’re sharing an excerpt from Ron Miller’s interview from the release Conversations with Classic Film Stars.


Setting the Scene

Dorothy McGuire’s disdain for publicity always brings a smile to my face because I remember how severely I was warned about that subject when she agreed to do an interview with me in 1983 in connection with the ABC TV movie Ghost Dancing. The publicist insisted, “Don’t ask her about anything except the new movie. She hates talking about the past. If you try asking her about the ‘good old days,’ she may get up and walk out on you!”

Well, I certainly didn’t want that to happen, yet…how could I ignore those “good old days” that included so many movie classics? So, here’s what I resolved to do: Concentrate hard on getting the bare essentials about Ghost Dancing, then damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead into all the really good stuff. If she bolted on me, then I’d still have enough for a story on the current project, even if she dumped her soup over my head when I asked about her earlier work.

It turned out to be a pretty decent plan. McGuire issued no new rules when she arrived for our luncheon date at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, so I hot-footed it through the Ghost Dancing questions, then waltzed her right down memory lane without giving her a chance to catch her breath.

If she knew she’d been scammed, she didn’t let on. McGuire turned out to be a relaxed and friendly lunch companion, still a handsome woman with genuine class. My guess is she did like to talk about the earlier stuff–as long as the questions were fair ones. She also seemed to appreciate the fact that I actually knew what she’d accomplished before meeting her.

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Dorothy McGuire with Gregory Peck in Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1947. Courtesy of 20th Century-Fox.

The Interview

MILLER: From what I’ve read about the beginnings of your acting career, I’d say there was a blessing on you from the start.

McGUIRE: Maybe so. I had such extraordinary breaks–from the moment I entered the theater. I made my stage debut at age 13 at the Omaha Community Playhouse in James Barrie’s A Kiss of Cinderella. My leading man was the young Henry Fonda!

MILLER: I’m guessing the breaks continued when you finally headed for New York and the Broadway stage.

McGUIRE: I arrived on Broadway in 1938 and began as the understudy to Martha Scott for the role of Emily in the original production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  When Martha was signed to star in the movie version, I took over for her.

MILLER: Getting to play the leading female role in a play destined to become an American drama classic was certainly a big career plus for a young actress. So, that made you a pretty hot property in theater?

McGUIRE: It certainly led to my getting the title role in Claudia, the play based on Rose Franken’s novel and stories about a young woman who marries and starts learning about adult life in the 1940s. That was in 1941. The producers had rejected 208 other actresses before picking me.

MILLER: I guess their faith in you was justified when you won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for your performance.

McGUIRE: I think it also justified Leland Hayward’s faith in me. (Hayward, her agent, was the most influential Broadway agent at the time.)

MILLER: With Leland Hayward going to bat for you, you were in good shape for theater work–and you had a pretty good spokesman for your movie career, too, didn’t you?

McGUIRE: If you mean David O. Selznick, you’re right. He signed me to a movie contract after Claudia became a Broadway hit and he was then the most successful producer in Hollywood after Gone With the Wind and Rebecca had won back to back Best Picture Oscars.

MILLER: What did he have in mind for your movie debut?

McGUIRE: He really didn’t have anything for me and, as it turned out, I never made a movie with him!  But he decided to make some money off me by loaning me out to other studios, who did have things they wanted me to do. I think he needed to pay off some of the enormous sums he spent on Gone With the Wind and that was one way to do it.

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Dorothy McGuire in her most famous “mom” role, with Tommy Kirk i Disney’s 1957 Old Yeller. Courtesy of the Walt Disney Corp. and NBC.

MILLER: Did you resent that?

McGUIRE: No. That turned out to be perfectly OK. David watched over what scripts were sent to me and things like that. He was a man of great integrity.

MILLER: Where did he send you first?

McGUIRE: Fox and RKO.  They both were making good pictures in those days. Twentieth Century-Fox had the movie rights to Claudia, so they had me reprise my stage role, playing opposite Robert Young as my husband, David.

MILLER: Claudia (1943) turned out to be a big hit for Fox, especially among women who identified with the young wife as she learns how to grow up at the same time she’s learning how to be a wife. It was such a hit that they immediately decided to continue the story in a sequel, Claudia and David. That was a phenomenal start for a young actress with no film experience.

McGUIRE: I took it all for granted, I’m sorry to say. I thought it was just the way it is.

MILLER: While the sequel was being written, Fox put you into another prestige picture, the film version of Betty Smith’s best-seller A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Your reaction?

McGUIURE: I was terrified. I didn‘t think I‘d be convincing in the challenging role of teenage star  Peggy Ann Garner’s pregnant mother.

At that exact moment in my life, I’d never had a child. I wasn’t quite sure about the whole mechanism, about what really happened to you. Being a very serious-type actress, I was very upset by this.

MILLER: Your director was Elia Kazan, who was making his debut as a movie director after years on the stage as an actor and director. Did you get much help from him?

McGUIRE: I went to him and told him I had no such experiences in life and didn’t know where to get the emotions I’d need. He was very patient with me and let me ramble on about my misgivings and anxieties. What he did, in a sense, was lock up all this intensity inside me so it wouldn’t be dissipated. He was marvelous. There are intangible things about actors like that which he just instinctively knew.

MILLER: The film was a big success and put both you and Kazan on the map as the hot new prospects in Hollywood. James Dunn, who played your alcoholic husband, won the supporting actor Oscar and Peggy Ann Garner won a special Oscar as best child actress of 1945. That’s when RKO stepped up with another wonderful role for you.

McGUIRE: They gave me the part of the mute servant girl who’s menaced by a serial killer in The Spiral Staircase.

MILLER: That was a real acting challenge because you had to play virtually the entire film in pantomime. How did that go?

McGUIRE: Robert Siodmak was a brilliant director and he lifted the film out of the ordinary. You know those creepy close-ups where we just see the eye of the strangler, watching me? That was Robert’s eye! He was that vain!

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverAfterword

Our interview finally ended when the waiter brought our lunches. “Turn off your recorder,” she told me. “Now we’re going to eat.”

Which is what we did, all right, just chatting about nothing in particular from then on. With the recorder off, Dorothy McGuire was just a handsome middle-aged lady having lunch with a friend in Beverly Hills. And, unless I put one of her films on the TV for a reminder of how good she was on screen, that’s the way I’ll always remember her, too.

McGuire was married for 35 years to Life magazine photographer John Swope and had two children with him. Her last film role was in a 1990 TV movie (The Last Best Year) and she spent the last decade of her life in retirement. She died of cardiac arrest in 2001, just a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, so there was little news space devoted to her death. She was eighty-five.

A Conversation with Robert S. Birchard (1950–2016)

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via Cinecon.org

We were saddened to learn that historian, preservationist, writer, and film/television editor Robert S. Birchard passed away this past weekend in Burbank, California. Many remember Birchard as the president of Cinecon and editor of the American Film Institute’s Feature Film Catalog, as well as for his work as a film editor in the 1980s and 90s, where he edited animated television shows like  Ducktales and Rainbow Brite, and movies such as The Return of Jafar. We remember him as the author of the seminal history, Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood. In honor of his life and work, we’d like to share a conversation with Birchard prior to the publication of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood:9780813123240

“Far and away the best film book published so far this year.”—National Board of Review, 2004

Q: To What do you attribute Cecil B. DeMille’s enduring popularity, both among film enthusiasts and the general public?

A: Cecil B. DeMille produced a number of films that have had enduring audience appeal: The Ten Commandments (1956), The King of Kings (1927), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Cleopatra (1934), and Samson and Delilah (1949). These films were major box office hits on their original release and they remain popular through repeated screenings on TV, and availability in home video formats. But, in many ways, Cecil B. DeMille’s personality has proven to be his most enduring creation. The strutting director in Jodhpurs and leather puttees, commanding great armies of extras and demanding perfection, was a creation just as much as any of his films. He worked at creating and sustaining that image throughout his career. The persona made DeMille a well-known figure, but it many ways it obscured his real accomplishments as a director. Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood is an effort to go beyond anecdote and reminiscence to create a portrait of DeMille the filmmaker. It is based in large part on original documents that erase the blur of nostalgia and preserve the immediacy of a time when Cecil B. DeMille helped create the art of motion pictures.

Q: You discuss your first encounters with DeMille’s body of work in the introduction. After writing program notes for a retrospective Of DeMille’s films, what inspired you to continue your engagement with DeMille and his art?

A: DeMille never threw anything away. Letters, telegrams, contracts, memos—even requests from actors looking for work—he kept it all, from the beginning of his career to the end. Although several biographers had gone through the DeMille archives, no one had really made a comprehensive effort to document the making of DeMille’s films and his relationship with the rest of the motion picture industry. DeMille’s story, I felt, would answer many questions about how and why Hollywood developed the way it did and offer a vivid look at how movies were really made in Hollywood’s golden age.

Q: How do you see DeMille fitting into the film industry in today’s Hollywood? If the DeMille that you have studied were a young filmmaker in 2004, would you speculate that he would have more or less difficulty reaching the heights that he achieved?

A:. DeMille brought great energy, enthusiasm, and determination to his work as a filmmaker—but, contrary to his popular image, he also had a realistic sense of the studio system and was willing to blend his vision with the demands of the marketplace. He was an independent producer working within the studio system long before this became common, and in this sense he would feel right at home in the Hollywood of today.

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via rsbirchard.com

Q: What are DeMille’s lasting legacies, either from creative or from business/industry standpoints?

A: To a large extent it was Cecil B. DeMille who set the working model for Hollywood movie making, and that legacy survives to this day. Early filmmakers often went out and shot “off the cuff” with the barest of outlines. DeMille always worked from a detailed script with meticulous pre-planning, and he pioneered the use of production sketches and story boards to determine the look of his films.

Q: Can you elaborate on DeMille’s strengths as a man and/or as a filmmaker? His weaknesses?

The most surprising thing is that for all of DeMile’s reputation as a stern, demanding director on the set, he had a real love for the people who helped bring his vision to the screen, and he went out of his way to offer work to many actors who were having trouble finding work in their later years.

If he had a weakness it was in his adherence tothe Victorian idea that art must be instructive and uplifting—a notion that is out of favor today, and in some ways this makes his work “old fashioned.” But he also had a bold sense of movie storytelling,creating compelling images that remain in one’s memory long after the light of the projector has faded from the screen—and for this reason his films retain their power to entertain.

A Summer Under the Stars

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Cool summer nights, on a blanket, under the stars – there’s no better setting to watch a classic film. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era is out now, and it is sure to help you bring these big-time silver screen stars back to life. With rare interviews from big stars like Margaret Hamilton. If ever an actor was defined by a single role—and loved for it through the ages—it was Margaret Hamilton, whose cackling voice and sharp features are vivid memories to generations of movie fans who remember her as the Wicked Witch of the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton was a veteran of Broadway theater, radio, and television as well as the movies, where she specialized in character roles. She might even have been remembered, if for nothing else, as Cora from the Maxwell House coffee TV ads she did in the late 1970s.

Setting the Scene

Meeting Margaret Hamilton was a real thrill for an old Wizard of Oz fan. It happened in January 1972. Hamilton was busy stealing scenes from Jean Simmons in the road company of A Little Night Music in Toronto, and I arranged an interview with her between shows. When I walked into the lobby of the King Edward Hotel for lunch with her, I suppose I was expecting someone who cackled and had a broom waiting in her parking space. Instead, I was greeted by a beautifully coiffed matron in a Chanel suit. Not once was she recognized by the other diners as one of cinema’s best-ever villainesses.

The Interview

BAWDEN: Does it bother you that everywhere you go you’re—

HAMILTON: The Wicked Witch of the West? Well, I wouldn’t get any work at my Hamilton_Wicked Witchage if I didn’t have that great movie as my signature piece. I mean nobody asks me about Mountain Justice [1937], The Gay Vagabond [1941], or Breaking the Ice [1938]. Why would they? But to have one film that’s still seen more than thirty years later? Well, it’s astounding.

BAWDEN: I keep hearing you were not first choice for the role.

HAMILTON: Mervyn LeRoy, who produced it, asked me to come in and test in full makeup. I worked with the designers on what I thought was a particularly foul-looking costume. I just thought of Halloween. I suggested the pointed hat and I found an old broomstick in a corner. Then I read in the trades a week later Gale Sondergaard had waltzed in and wowed them with a particularly glamorous interpretation. And she even announced she’d gotten it. I just shrugged and kept on working on my character studies. Then I was at a football game with my little son and Mervyn spotted me and ran over and said, “We’ve been looking for you everywhere. You got it! Report Monday for costume and makeup tests.” He offered me six weeks at $1,000 a week, which was manna for me. It eventually stretched out to twenty-three weeks. I asked him what had happened to Gale and Mervyn said, “Too pretty. We needed somebody who could scare the pants off children.”

BAWDEN: But the making of that movie wasn’t your fondest experience, was it?

HAMILTON: Working on it almost killed me. Buddy Ebsen, who was the original Tin Man, was rushed to the hospital and replaced by Jack Haley. The cause was paint poisoning and he was there for an awfully long time.

Supporting actors were not well regarded in those days. In one scene, I had to drop six feet through a trapdoor with the colored smoke all around me, and it was a close-up so there was no double. I was told to bend my knees and I’d land simply, but suddenly I was in flames. Somebody had prematurely touched the fire button. I was on fire! My broomstick went right up! My hat was on fire! I had to be hospitalized for second-degree burns for a month. MGM grudgingly paid the bills, but my face was seared, I had third-degree burns on one hand. I was in agony. My agent said if I sued I’d never work in this town again.

When I returned, I was told I’d be suspended in the air with a long pipe emitting smoke below me. I said no and they said I was a sissy and brought in the stand-in and she saddled up and the whole gadget exploded. She was badly wounded and spent months in the hospital.

BAWDEN: But surely there must be happy moments?

HAMILTON: Well, working with Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger was heavenly. They kidded Judy [Garland] like crazy to keep her perky. Those Munchkins were Margaret Hamilton-Mae Westsomething else—a bad lot, I say, but they were afraid of me and kept their distance.

Watching Judy Garland perform was lovely. She had such energy. I didn’t realize it was all the Benzedrine she was being force-fed. They worked Judy to the bone. Saturdays, too, right up to the dawn breaking on Sunday morning. You know Judy was only sixteen and she was about to graduate from Hollywood High and I helped her pick the dress, but she had to do a cross-promotional Oz tour and only got back the day before her last day at high school.

I had my lovely little son, Meserve, with me one day in the commissary and [MGM studio boss] Louis B. Mayer waddles over and offered him a kiddie contract. “Don’t you dare!” I shouted and he ran off. I’d seen, up front, the awful things Hollywood did to little children.

Take a stopwatch and you’ll see I’m only around for less than fifteen minutes. It took an awful lot of effort to get those fifteen minutes. I became the real star of it because children always love to be frightened nearly to death. And little tots still recognize me on the street today. They point at me and shiver and laugh. It’s quite a compliment to think I still look a bit like that. . . .

BAWDEN: Were there any of the big stars you truly enjoyed working with?

HAMILTON: Oh, Carole Lombard would be right at the top of any list. I have to explain the star pecking order in those days. The stars had huge dressing rooms—many were suites complete with kitchens and even bedrooms—and portable ones on location. They were insulated from the rest of us. We were ensconced in a holding pen. I’d read, study my lines. But interaction was rare. With Carole, she came over and sat with us. She would be taking the lay of the land. She’d get her makeup done right there. An all right dame. And her mastery of screwball comedy was supreme. She was so lithe with a comedy line even Freddie March had trouble keeping up. I ran the drugstore in Warsaw, Vermont, in that one.

Eddie Robinson was the same way in A Slight Case of Murder [1938]. A sheer delight, very erudite. Bespectacled between the scenes. On camera, a whirling dervish, very competitive.

The year I did Wizard of Oz I also had a part in Babes in Arms with Judy Garland. The way Busby Berkeley mistreated her was awful. And Judy’s mom let him get away with this abuse. I was the aunt of one of the kids, name of Martha Steele, whom I loved. Judy asked me to sit with her in her dressing room. That way the mom couldn’t have a temper tantrum. I smuggled her in cookies because she was kept on a starvation diet. I told Busby off once about his foul language. He couldn’t really direct people. He could only devise those geometric shapes.

Years later during Judy’s Carnegie Hall triumphs I went backstage and she didn’t recognize me or Ray Bolger. He was in tears, saying she was on something. I did a Merv Griffin Show with her and her speech was slurred. I realized the sweet little teenager I’d known was long gone. . .

BAWDEN: In My Little Chickadee [1940] you had to contend with W. C. Fields and Mae West. How did that go?Margaret Hamilton

HAMILTON: Bill Fields walked in the first day, reeking of liquor. He came over and apologized to me. Understand, I was in awe of his talents. I said, “Mr. Fields, on you it smells like eau de cologne,” and he brightened up. A very sweet egomaniac. Ditto Mae West, who looked like an overstuffed mannequin. She said to me, “Margaret, can I help it if every man on this set is crazy in love with me?” Well, the love was one-sided, I can tell you. She was forty-eight and needed special lighting to wash out her creases. And Bill was constantly changing lines and she’d protest to director Eddie Cline, who told me he now knew how a wrestling referee felt.

Everyone seems to have seen this one, but it was considered a disappointment when first released. Mr. Fields never used bad language, although he was sorely tried when Miss West was in one of her moods. She kept saying, “I’m a solo performer. Please tell Bill that next time you find him awake.” Like all comics he’d try out a bit of business and then spend days refining it. He simply tried to add to his performance and she to hers. Mae would say, “Bill! Enough!” and waddle away and he’d mope for the rest of the afternoon. Thinking of that scene where he gets into bed with a billy goat still makes me laugh. But Mae wanted it out as being unrefined. . . .

What I want to explain is how grateful I’ve been. I could have spent all these years teaching kindergarten. I used to go out to junior grades to say hello, and all the kids would ask me to cackle. Which I always did at full throttle, and the little nippers would be cowering in their seats. We even had a few moist accidents. I’ve played hundreds of characters and I’m still up for more. Preston Sturges called me a “miniaturist” and that’s pretty wonderful as far as I’m concerned.

Afterword

Margaret Hamilton acted until 1982, when she played guest roles on two CBS series—Nurse and Lou Grant. She died of a heart attack, aged eighty-two, in Salisbury, Connecticut, on May 16, 1985. Predictably, the obituaries’ headlines all mentioned The Wizard of Oz.

Cutting to the Golden Era

When James Bawden arrived precisely four minutes and twenty seconds late to interview the esteemed and ever fashionable Gloria Swanson, she bemoaned, “But I have more pressing problems [than being fashionably late], as you can see! Here I am in a supposedly grade-one hotel suite, and look for yourself! The ignominy of it all! No full-length mirror! No chandelier! Must I rough it? Must I?” Bawden’s interview relentlessly zooms Swanson’s close up in by touching on everything from her less-than-rewarding criticism of Kathrine Hepburn in Coco to her obsessive bean sprout diet.

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverJames Bawden and Ron Miller have spent more than fifty years interviewing stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era collects many of these in a rich and enlightening archive about our favorite Golden Era stars. These interviews expand and enhance what was published at their respective newspapers with exclusive interview material. Bawden and Miller paint a picture of these illustrious stars’ careers while offering rare insights into their life and personalities.

Since the studios directed the Golden Age, interviews and cover stories about the glamorous stars have always been perfectly scripted, until Bawden and Miller put the spot light on the actors’ true words and not the force-fed words their studios wanted them to say. Strikingly real, some of the words these famous film stars had for their peers and costars are, in the words of popular columnist Liz Smith, “scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.” Douglas Fairbanks Jr., for instance, admits that his first wife, Joan Crawford, “hated every minute” of their honeymoon in Europe. Well, every minute except those few, precious moments at the local MGM distribution office “where she could do some publicity.”

Featuring interviews from some of the most famous leading men and women of the era like Kirk Douglas, Joseph Cotton, Jackie Coogan, Joan Fontaine, among many others, Bawden and Miller bring the silver screen out of the Golden Era and onto the page. Conversations offers a new look at our favorite Golden Era stars through the eyes of our favorite Golden Era stars.

Conversations with Classic Film Stars

Oscar Sunday is officially less than a week away, and UPK is counting down the days! To celebrate, we are kicking off a week-long series called “Let’s Go to the Movies” that will showcase a few of the films nominated for an award this year as well as reminisce on some classics that got the industry started nearly 100 years ago. Additionally, UPK will be handing out some of our own awards this week (be sure to check back tomorrow to learn more about how you can win)!

Today, we decided to kick it old school and share some of the most interesting interviews we could muster that are featured in the UPK book Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era by James Bawden and Ron Miller. In this book, each interview takes readers behind the scenes with some of cinema’s most iconic stars. The actors convey unforgettable stories, from Maureen O’Hara discussing Charles Laughton’s request that she change her last name, to Bob Hope candidly commenting on the presidential honors bestowed upon him. Humorous, enlightening, and poignant, Conversations with Classic Film Stars is essential reading for anyone who loves classic movies. Here are some highlights of the collection’s interviews:

Cary Grant

[Cary] Grant was the quintessential Hollywood leading man, a handsome and debonair fellow who was as impressive in action roles as he was in romantic love stories, as convincing in serious dramatic parts as he was in flat-out comedy roles… Grant had come a long way from his days as a British-born acrobat named Archie Leach. He had scaled the heights of stardom in America but was known all over the world. He had evolved into an international symbol of style and grace. [In his interview with Bawden, Grant laments the ways in which he struggled to identify with his film persona as opposed to his true identity:]


Bawden
: Seeing the way people behave around you, is it still fun being Cary Grant?

Grant: I don’t like to disappoint people. Because he’s a completely made-up character and I’m playing a part. It’s a part I’ve been playing a long time, but no way am I really Cary Grant. A friend told me once, “I always wanted to be Cary Grant.” And I said, “So did I.” In my mind’s eye, I’m just a vaudevillian named Archie Leach. When somebody yells “Archie” on the street I’ll look up. I don’t look up if somebody calls “Cary.” So I think Cary Grant has done wonders for my life and I always want to give him his due.

Jackie Coogan
The greatest and most memorable of the silent movie child stars was surely Jackie Coogan. Charlie Chaplin discovered him performing onstage at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Noticing the boy was a natural-born mimic, Chaplin cast him—at age five—in a small part in A Day’s Pleasure (1919). The boy glowed on camera, so Chaplin put him into his 1921 feature film The Kid and Jackie became an overnight sensation in one of Chaplin’s biggest hits. [Coogan sheds light on what it was like to be adored by millions as a young star when he sat down with Miller for an interview:]

Miller: When you became a star, movies were silent, so there was no language barrier and people all over the world could see and appreciate what you did on-screen. As a little boy, did you realize you were world famous?

Coogan: When I was around nine, I was taken on a trip to Europe. It wasn’t like a normal kid’s trip to Europe. I met heads of state. I was “received” by royalty. I exchanged photos with Benito Mussolini. I kissed the pope’s ring. Everywhere I went, I was mobbed by fans. I can remember being in a car in Paris when the mob nearly killed me. They picked up the whole car with us in it and paraded us down the street on their shoulders.

Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine was one of the great Hollywood leading ladies of the 1940s, her 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. [Despite being one of the brightest stars in the film industry at the time, Bawden’s interview with Fontaine demonstrates that a life in Hollywood wasn’t always as glamorous as it seems:]

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] Gond 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.

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 was a hissy fit. I didn’t want to win; I was only twenty-three. 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.

For more interviews like these, be sure to check out the rest of Bawden and Miller’s collection in Conversations with Classic Film Stars!