Tag Archives: Movies

Happy 80th Birthday, Jack Nicholson!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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5 Unforgettable Gene Kelly Dance Numbers

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Feud: Bette and Miriam

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

           

Geekdom in Full 3-D Effect

3dSummer 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.

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!

Dalton Trumbo's Fight for Hollywood

On the 69th Anniversary of the First, Unofficial Blacklist, Dalton Trumbo Steps Back into the Spotlight with a New Biography and a Biopic Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival

On July 29, 1946—sixty-nine years ago today—Billy Wilkerson, founder of The Hollywood Reporter, published an editorial naming 11 alleged Communists working in Hollywood. Among the notable figures included on this list was screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who at the time was the acclaimed writer of films like Kitty Foyle (1940) and novels such as Johnny Got His Gun (1939). In the article “A Vote for Joe Stalin,” Wilkerson claimed that those listed were a threat to the “free world” and the “millions of readers” dependent on the free trade of ideas.

Trumbo, who was a member of the Communist Party, was soon called to testify to his political affiliation before the House Un-American Activities Committee. As a result of refusing to answer questions, he was sentenced to prison for a year, blacklisted from working in Hollywood, and, after a thirteen year struggle, fought his way back to become one of the most sought-after and respected screenwriters in the industry.

Dalton Trumbo Speaking Out University Press of KentuckyA fight was something Trumbo was not afraid of. In 1962, in a cover letter attached to an archive of his papers donated to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, he addressed this theme that dominated his adult life:

“I’ve always thought of my life as a sequence of conflicts, each a separate battle, segregated in my mind under the heading, “My fight with these guys” or “My fight with those guys.” . . . I now realize it was all one fight . . . It just happened in my case that the original fight once undertaken, expanded marvelously into what seemed like many fights.”

Now, Trumbo’s fight is about to hit the big screen with Trumbo, a new Bryan Cranston-starring biopic set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. While the biopic, directed by Jay Roach, focuses on Trumbo’s battle against HUAC and the resulting fallout, historian Larry Ceplair and Trumbo’s late son, Christopher, have written a recently released biography that gives a full account of Trumbo’s life and impact on American culture, politics, and the film industry.

Dalton Trumbo Blacklisted Hollywood Radical University Press of KentuckyDalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical follows the beleaguered screenwriter from his youth in Grand Junction, Colorado to his film career both on and off the blacklist and his death in 1976—seventeen years before he would receive a posthumous Oscar for writing Roman Holiday (1953). A prolific letter-writer his entire life, Trumbo’s son Christopher, collected these missives of his father’s ideas and politics, his irascible personality, conversations with notable collaborators like Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas, and his campaign to break the blacklist, to compile an honest portrait.

Through it all, Trumbo used his barbed tongue and slashing pen to combat his adversaries, especially Billy Wilkerson, who wielded his own pen against the perceived Red Scare in Hollywood. Trumbo’s propensity for speaking out was well known, and he and Wilkerson had been baiting each other in print for the past year—Trumbo, as editor of Screen Writer, and Wilkerson through his “Tradewinds” column in The Hollywood Reporter. Wilkerson was one of the most outspoken, vehement anti-Communists in Hollywood, and he used his platform at the magazine often to call out “Hollywood’s Red Commissars!”

To Wilkerson and his allies, the Screen Writers Guild was the main propaganda arm of the Communist Party in Hollywood, and Screen Writer—at the time, a new publication published by the guild—was widely seen in the industry as a “party line” journal. With Trumbo as editor, two other party members as managing editor and editorial secretary, and two Communists on the editorial committee, Screen Writer was an easy mark for those looking to root out “anti-American” sentiment.

When Democratic congressman John Rankin from Mississippi first called on HUAC to investigate the motion picture industry, Billy Wilkerson enthusiastically welcomed his call in The Hollywood Reporter. In response, Trumbo excoriated Wilkerson in Screen Writer for “endorsing in advance an appraisal of Hollywood by one of the most dangerous fascist-minded men in America.” Trumbo felt that Wilkerson, HUAC, and the recently formed Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals were conspiring with studio heads to vilify Communist Party members in Hollywood in exchange for advertising dollars and scoops from the inner circle. What followed was a series of hostile letters to the editor and advertisements placed by the two factions in each other’s publications. Screen Writer and The Hollywood Reporter became the ideological battleground where Hollywood waged war against itself.

Dalton Trumbo Bathtub University Press of Kentucky

Bryan Cranston will portray the blacklisted screenwriter in the Jay Roach-directed biopic ‘Trumbo,’ set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“A Vote for Joseph Stalin” was actually the first in a series of “Tradewinds” columns designed to red-bait the Screen Writers Guild. In the editorials, which came after The Hollywood Reporter’s initial list of exposed Communists, Wilkerson posed a series of questions to Trumbo: “Are you a Communist? Are you a member of the Communist Party?” Additionally, he published as evidence, a few of Trumbo’s “Communistic” activities, including his novel The Remarkable Andrew; his membership in the American Peace Mobilization, the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, and American Youth for Democracy; and his support for LaRue McCormick’s campaign for the US Senate.

Trumbo, who by that time been hamstrung by Screen Writer’s new editorial board and could not publish a response, drafted a letter to Wilkerson which he never sent. In it, he charged Wilkerson with failing to prove the existence of Communist propaganda in any of Trumbo’s films and criticized his censure of the Screen Writers Guild. Trumbo ended his diatribe with a note on freedom of speech:

“We live in a country founded upon the principle that a man’s race, his religion and his politics are his private concern, protected as such by law. Any answer to your “questions,” either positive or negative, would constitute an admission on my part of your right to assume the function of industry inquisitor. I deny that right, and have no intention of collaborating with you to establish it.”

For all of his attempts to stave off the personal, professional, and philosophical attacks from Wilkerson and his fellow anti-Communists, Trumbo’s name, seven additional names from Wilkerson’s informal list, and two others were officially Blacklisted on November 25, 1946 by the studio chiefs and the Motion Picture Association of America in the infamous Waldorf Statement. Among those who assembled at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and drafted the statement against the so-called “Hollywood Ten” were names like Louis B. Mayer, Henry Cohn, Samuel Goldwyn, and Albert Warner.

Their decree terminated current or future employment and called on the guilds to “eliminate any subversives.” The guilds ultimately capitulated to the Waldorf Statement, casting out their besieged members. In addition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences passed a bylaw that prohibited Oscar nominations for anyone who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in their testimony before HUAC.

Dalton Trumbo Mugshot University Press of KentuckyRefusing to answer questions about his involvement with the Communist Party, Trumbo sacrificed a successful career in Hollywood to stand up for his rights and defend political freedom. He was found guilty of Contempt of Congress, and as a result of the deepening Red Scare, was sent to the Federal Corrections Facility in Ashland, Kentucky, where he spent ten months writing letters for his fellow inmates and attempting to continue to write novels and screenplays when he could.

Though barred from being employed by the studios, after his release, Trumbo continued to write and assist with scripts, primarily under the pseudonym “Robert Rich,” or using other screenwriter’s names as a front. Roman Holiday, for example, had been completed by Trumbo prior to his conviction and incarceration, but was released in 1953 with Ian McLellan Hunter credited as the screenwriter. The film went on to be nominated for, and win, multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.

Roman Holiday was the first Academy Award Trumbo could not accept. Later, when Robert Rich won the Oscar for best motion picture story for The Brave One at the 1957 Oscars, a mere month after the AMPAS bylaw was enacted, Jessie Laskey Jr., vice president of the Screen Writers branch of the Writers Guild accepted the award. “On behalf of Robert Rich and his beautiful story,” Lasky said, “thank you very much.”

The blacklist finally ended for Trumbo in 1960, when he received screen credits for Exodus (1960) and Spartacus (1960). When Otto Preminger was asked why he had hired Trumbo to write Exodus, Preminger stated that “It is absolutely un-American. . . to ask people what political beliefs they have,” adding that in giving Trumbo screen credit, he was acting much more honestly than other producers who had employed blacklisted writers and did not give them credit.

Just before his death, Trumbo’s name was amended to the credits for The Brave One, and he received his long-awaited Academy Award. His wife, Cleo, received the Oscar for Roman Holiday at a special ceremony in 1993 with Trumbo’s name added to the award plaque. Though the names “Robert Rich” and “Ian McLellan Hunter” were called as Academy Award winners during his time, with Trumbo making its early award season bid in Toronto, perhaps Jay Roach and Bryan Cranston will finally bring Dalton Trumbo to the Oscar’s stage where he belongs.