WEIRDLAND: May 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Anniversary, Howard Hawks! Marilyn Monroe: Another World's Blonde


Marilyn Monroe - 'Monkey Business' Premiere (Rare footage). "Monkey Business" (1952) is a screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Hugh Marlowe. To avoid confusion with the famous Marx Brothers movie of the same name, this film is sometimes referred to as Howard Hawks' Monkey Business.

Marilyn seemed at ease on screen in the comedy 'Monkey Business,' her third movie of 1952, but did not get on with the director, Howard Hawks. Physically impressive (like Huston) Hawks was “six-feet-three, broad shouldered, slim-hipped, soft-spoken, confident in manner, conservative in dress, and utterly distinguished overall.” Born in Indiana, the son of a wealthy paper manufacturer, Hawks was educated at Exeter and graduated from Cornell in 1917 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in World War I, and after the war built airplanes and a racing car that won the Indianapolis 500.

In 1922 he came to Hollywood, where screenwriter Niven Busch found him impressively distant and formidably frigid: “He gave me his reptilian glare. The man had ice-cold blue eyes and the coldest of manners. He was like that with everyone – women, men, whatever. He was remote; he came from outer space. He wore beautiful clothes. He spoke slowly in a deep voice. He looked at you with these frozen eyes.” Marilyn has the decorative but unrewarding role of Charles Coburn’s secretary. In one scene the seventy-five-year-old Coburn “had to chase and squirt Marilyn with a siphon of soda, a moment he approached with glee. Any seeming reluctance, he later explained,was only his indecision about where on Marilyn’s... um... ample proportions to squirt the soda.”

Despite her small part, Marilyn also caused trouble on this picture and forced Hawks to shoot around her when she failed to show up. The problem, as everyone later discovered, was her infected appendix, which she had removed, in late April 1952, as soon as her work was completed. No doctor performing an appendectomy would excise her reproductive organs. The formidable Hawks, mistaking her pain and fear for stupidity, was even more critical than Fritz Lang. Hawks considered Marilyn ‘so goddamn dumb’ that she was wary and afraid of him.

Still, Hawks admitted that she did a fine job in the film and that ‘the camera liked her.’ Cary Grant, like Celeste Holm and many other colleagues, was surprised by her meteoric rise to fame the following year: “I had no idea she would become a big star. If she had something different from any other actress, it wasn’t apparent at the time. She seemed very shy and quiet. There was something sad about her.” To the other actors Marilyn could seem ordinary, unresponsive and apparently “dumb,” but on camera she seemed to glow.

By 1953, against almost impossible odds, Marilyn had achieved the stardom she longed for. Yet her celebrity intensified her insecurity and unhappiness. The novelist Daphne Merkin wrote that Marilyn’s “desperation was implacable in the face of fame, fortune and the love of celebrated men. . . There is never sufficient explanation for the commotion of her soul” – though the reasons can, in fact, be found. Her wretched background, together with the pressures of life as a movie star, created her mental and emotional chaos. The cinematographer Jack Cardiff described it as “an aura of blank remoteness, of being in another world.”

As Howard Hawks remarked, “there wasn’t a real thing about her. Everything was completely unreal.” In Marilyn’s last two films of 1953 she played her typical and most popular incarnation: the gold-digger with a heart of gold. In 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' – based on the book and musical comedy by Anita Loos and directed by Howard Hawks – a dumb blonde and a showgirl, both well endowed, sail to Paris to find rich husbands.

In one scene of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' Marilyn wears a top hat, long black gloves, transparent black stockings, high heels and a gaudy sequined costume cut like a bathing suit. In another, wearing a strapless, floor-length, pink satin gown, with long-sleeved gloves, she steals the show by singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The best lines in the film – “Those girls couldn’t drown. Something about them tells me they couldn’t sink” – were cut by the censor.

'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' had been a 1925 book by the fabulous Anita Loos, which spawned a long-running Broadway adaptation. Hawks was ostensibly making a film version of the play, but the play didn’t have much of a workable plot, so he was rewriting it extensively with Charles Lederer, and the rewrite entailed discarding a fair number of the famous songs from the stage version—a decision which somewhat calls into question the logic of making a movie version of the show in the first place. And if the whole point of the thing seemed to be a justification for 90 minutes worth of breast jokes, Hawks seemed blithely unaware of the sex appeal of his two stars. In one of the strangest things anyone has ever said, Hawks said of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell “I never thought of either of them as having any sex.” They just weren’t his type.

Marilyn made a freeflowing tape for her psychiatrist, with “extensive comments about her problems achieving orgasm – in very blunt language.” Emphasizing the crucial paradox in her life, she bitterly said, “I just don’t get out of sex what I hear other women do. Maybe I’m a sexless sex goddess.” It’s sadly ironic that Marilyn herself did not live to see the sexual revolution and suffered greatly for being its symbol. She’d experienced intense sexual pleasure with Jim Dougherty and with Fred Karger in the mid-1940s; but by the 1950s, under the stress of promiscuous sex and stardom, she’d become frigid.

The photographer André de Dienes said that “Marilyn is not sexy at all. She has very little feeling toward sex. She is not sensuous.” The make-up man George Masters frankly called her “an ice-cold cookie, as frigid as forty below zero, and about as passionate as a calculating machine.” The costume designer Billy Travilla, who knew her in the early 1950s, was more sympathetic and felt the need to protect her, but was also disappointed by her inability to respond: “Her lips would tremble. Those lips! And a man can’t fight it. You don’t want that baby to cry. I think she wanted to love, but she could only love herself. She was totally narcissistic.” -"The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe" (2009) by Jeffrey Meyers

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Splitsville: Franchot Tone & Barbara Payton, Mad Men 'Waterloo' (Don & Megan)

Born February 27, 1905, in Niagara Falls, New York, Franchot Tone excelled in playing the debonair, tuxedo-suited aristocrat in his many film roles, which included an Academy Award-nominated performance in the classic 1935 picture 'Mutiny on the Bounty.' By 1950, he had nearly 60 films to his credit and was one of the town’s wealthiest and most respected stars. Los Angeles Magazine writer Tom Johnson offers a description of the actor: “Franchot Tone: a dapper man-about-town, the kind of guy who could make lighting a cigarette look like mankind’s highest calling. He was safe, secure, successful, dignified, and everything a woman could ask for.”

In 1933 Tone had completed seven motion pictures for MGM, co-starring with his future wife, Joan Crawford, for the first time, in Howard Hawks’ popular World War I drama, 'Today We Live'. One of his finest enactments of his near patented, rich playboy characterization was in 'Dancing Lady,' in which he and Clark Gable were rivals for Crawford’s affections. He was paired with Crawford for a third time in 'Sadie McKee' (1934), before being loaned to Paramount for 'The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.'

Bob Thomas writes (about Tone's courtship of Joan Crawford): “He was charmingly insistent, lavishing on her not only flowers but also rare books and works of art. At night he built a fire in her den and read Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare to her while she hooked a rug.” Rumors of Franchot’s intense professional jealousy and alleged heavy drinking, physical arguments, and rampant unfaithfulness on both their parts culminated with the couple’s divorce in April 1939.

After a staggering 29 motion pictures in six years, Franchot left MGM after 'Fast and Furious' (1939), a Busby Berkeley directed mystery/comedy, co-starring Ann Sothern. He returned to the New York stage, and to the Group Theater, to co-star with Sylvia Sidney in The Gentle People, a fine production that nonetheless flopped. Often relegated to second male leads for the remainder of his film career, Tone never quite managed to break out of the narrow mold Hollywood had cast him in. “Franchot Tone is a gentleman by breeding and inclination,” Burgess Meredith told TV Guide in January 1966. "He’s always been a man’s man, a hunter, a fisherman, and also a woman’s man. He’s an intellect, a man of charm, good looks, perception and enormous natural gifts as an actor."

In 1941, Franchot, 36, married 18-year-old, ex-Earl Carroll showgirl and Paramount starlet Jean Wallace (Blaze of Noon), and the couple eventually had two sons, Pascal Franchot and Thomas Jefferson Tone. However, this marriage, too, proved stormy and problematic, and would not endure. The blonde-haired Wallace, whose facial appearance and provocative figure bore striking similarities to Barbara Payton’s, would later go up against her lookalike nemesis in a highly-publicized court case. She also appeared to share Barbara’s propensity for trouble.

By 1948, Jean’s frequent domestic squabbles with Franchot led to an acrimonious breakup that found them wrangling over custody of their sons. During their divorce trial, Franchot accused his wife of committing adultery with several men, including Johnny Stompanato, who later would gain posthumous notoriety when he was stabbed to death by 14-year-old Cheryl Crane (the daughter of his lover, Lana Turner).

The suave, tuxedoed Franchot Tone twittered on Barbara's every word the night they met in Ciro's. "She was a sparkling liquid tipping at the brim," Tone recalled, "Radiating beauty like a phosphorous doll..." Carrying scars from a corrosive, second divorce -to actress Jean Wallace- Tone found the young Barbara "vampy and outrageously appealing".

Franchot was still walking around in a kind of daze over Barbara and continued to court her with almost daily gifts of champagne, flowers and expensive jewelry. Barbara responded by lovingly nicknaming him “Doc” and treated him to delicious, home-cooked meals at her Hollywood Boulevard apartment. “Franchot Tone was a very nice and extremely generous person,” adds Jan Redfield (Barbara's sister-in-law). “We saw him several times at Barbara’s apartment and he was a lovely man. Although I don’t think I ever saw him without a drink in his hand, he was never out of line nor did I ever hear him raise his voice at Barbara ever. His manners were always impeccable. I think Barbara saw him as someone who would love her unconditionally and take care of her and support her — things she didn’t always get from her father.”

According to Lisa Burks: "Franchot was extremely altruistic and I think he tried to give the relationship every chance, but he could not endure the humiliation of Tom’s constant presence in Barbara’s life before he gave up. Her continued infidelity with Tom Neal aside, I think Franchot finally gave up on Barbara when she, in a way, began to give up on herself." According to Barbara's autobiography "I'm Not Ashamed", Franchot offered to marry her again, attempting to rescue Barbara from her self-destruction, promising her "I'll be young for you again." Sadly, Barbara was too far gone by then. -"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - The Barbara Payton Story" (2013) by John O'Dowd

Don clearly didn't see his split from Megan coming, but once he realizes the sad truth that Megan can't bring herself to say, he doesn't handle it with the bile he once spewed at Betty; instead, he promises Megan all of the resources he can offer and allows their marriage to come to a quiet end. Later, he makes a professional sacrifice when he tells Peggy to deliver the Burger Chef pitch, voluntarily giving up his last chance to make himself irreplaceable at Sterling Cooper so he can give his protégé the chance she earned. Source: theweek.com

Don makes a call to Megan and, by doing so, severs his own tie — to love, to California, to the promise of rebirth and manifest destiny. He confesses to her that he’s about to be fired, that he thought if he kept his head down and did his job, things would work out. He offers to go to Los Angeles, and Megan just doesn’t say anything, leaning on her beautiful green phone. She’s done. Maybe they’re done forever and ever and it’s time for a trip to Reno. Source: flavorwire.com

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Franchot Tone: Smooth P.I. in "Love Trouble"


'I Love Trouble' (1948) is a film noir written by Roy Huggins from his first novel 'The Double Take,' directed by S. Sylvan Simon, and starring Franchot Tone as Stuart Bailey. Plot: A wealthy man hires a detective to investigate his wife's past. The detective (Franchot Tone) discovers that the wife had been a dancer and left her home town with an actor. The latter is killed before he can talk, but, with the help of a showgirl, the detective learns that the wife had used stolen papers from a girl friend to enter college after she had stolen $40,000 from the night club where she worked.

Franchot Tone was a terrific actor. He could play a psycho as in "Phantom Lady" and "Man on the Eiffel Tower" or he could switch to a smooth, fast-thinking and highly intelligent private eye as in "I Love Trouble". The title is misleading. It suggests a comedy-mystery, which this is not. Tone is not sardonic, like a Dick Powell. He's not weary, like a Robert Mitchum, and he's not tough, like a Humphrey Bogart. He's smart and quick-witted and self-controlled.

Janet Blair pops up, as the sister of whom this wife had taken an identity before her marriage. And Janet's real sister, the possessor of that identity, has happily left it behind when she married. That's Janis Carter, affecting a terrible South American accent. Tone doesn't know if he can trust Blair, but he knows he's attracted to her. Meanwhile his detecting takes him all over LA and nearby places where he meets up with a bevy of well-known supporting players and complications.

This is noir, done Chandler-style in complexity, in which even the writer may not know who did what to whom, when, and why. I haven't grasped it all myself, but the ride is sure enjoyable, and I'll take it again. It's done in a lighter Dick Powell "Murder My Sweet" vein, but without any narration. Solid film noir.

A great turn by Franchot Tone as LA private eye Stuart ‘George’ Bailey, who out-Bogart’s and out-Powell’s Philip Marlowe in a deliciously convoluted story of deception, greed, frame-ups, murder, and sexy high jinks. Bit player Glenda Farrell is a comic delight as Bailey’s cute, loyal, eccentric, and sharp-as-nails secretary Hazel. Tom Powers delivers a solid performance as the aging suspicious husband who hires Bailey to tail his young wife, who is being blackmailed. Steven Geray delivers a nuanced low-key performance as mysterious crime-boss Keller, and John Ireland, Raymond Burr, and Eddie Marr are great as Keller’s heavies. Sid Tomack is in his element as a small-time chiseller who is out of his league. The dames are all delightfully buxom good-bad girls, with enough charm and innuendo for a dozen Marlowes: Janet Blair, Janis Carter, Adele Jergens, Lynn Merrick, and Claire Carleton. A weird waitress-from-hell played by uncredited bit-player Roseanne Murray, is a scream. Source: filmsnoir.net

One afternoon in the Formosa Café near Goldwyn Studios, the actor Franchot Tone approached Beth Short (The Black Dahlia). She was at the bar as the actor stepped from the inside telephone booth. He pretended to know her, dropping a few names, but Beth only smiled and shook her head. “She said she was waiting for someone,” Tone says, “and I said, ‘Of course you are, you’re waiting for me! And I have just arrived.”’ He says it was “a ridiculous line” he had used before. The actor insisted he remembered her “very well... Most girls were flattered by it, but this one seemed more concerned that I’d had too much to drink.”

He told her he had finished a film with director Robert Siodmak, 'Phantom Lady,' and convinced Beth that an associate interviewing young women with “your kind of looks” would be most interested in meeting her. He took her to the unoccupied office of the “associate” but she was not interested in cozying up on the sofa, which opened into a bed. Tone says, “I thought it was a pickup from the start but to her it wasn’t anything of the kind!” It was an extraordinary experience, Tone later recalled. Beth believed they had “hit it off” as people. She was disappointed that Tone had only “that” in mind. He tried to kiss her a couple of times and told her she had the most gorgeous eyes in the world, which he thought she did— dreamy eyes that he was almost seeing through smoke. He could imagine her as a siren luring sailors to their death. And then she turned ice cold. Always the gentleman, Tone turned the situation around and made it seem that he had made a mistake thinking that she was after romance. He did find her most refreshing to “talk” to, he said, but secretly the actor was flustered —a pathetic scene, and the girl seemed so sad and disappointed that Tone had to hold back tears. “She told me she’d been ill,” he says, “something about an operation to her chest.” He gave her a phone number to reach him about “the part and the associate. I gave her whatever bills were in my pocket. It was a strange and unsettling experience. Even after I called a cab for her and she was gone, the feeling stayed with me. It was almost as though I had experienced being afraid of her.” -Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder (2006) by by John Gilmore

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Barbara Payton & Franchot Tone: Love Brawl

Today We Live (1933) -- Well here's the answer to the trivia question, "What movie did Joan Crawford and Gary Cooper star in together?" Based on a short story by William Faulkner (who also worked on the screenplay), it's a soapy love triangle set in the English countryside during World War I. Joan plays a lonely young (British) woman who is torn between love of her brash tenant (Gary Cooper) and a valiant soldier (Robert Young). Franchot Tone plays Joan's brother -- two years later the couple were married in real life! -- Turner Classic Movies, Wednesday, 8:15 a.m. Source: www.theeagle.com

In the 1940s, Tone’s film roles varied widely. One moment he was involved in fluffy affairs with the much younger Deanna Durbin (in Nice Girl?, His Butler’s Sister, and Because of Him), the next he was up to his neck in some sort of dangerous business in, say, Billy Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo, with Erich von Stroheim and Anne Baxter;

Robert Siodmak’s classic film noir Phantom Lady, with Ella Raines. Apparently, it was Joan Harrison, Universal’s first female producer and former screenwriter for Alfred Hitchcock, who brought Phantom Lady to Franchot’s attention. He admired her talent, trusted her instincts, and was eager to learn from her. Also, Franchot loved both working with newcomers (such as co-star Ella Raines) and trying new forms of cinematic expression. Phantom Lady would prove to be Robert Siodmak’s breakthrough film at Universal, and it set the early standard for film noir. But when it came down to it, Franchot was hungry to play a dark role and Jack Marlow fit the bill.

-Franchot Tone was Joan Crawford’s second husband (1935-1939). What was that marriage like? And what was it like for Tone to play opposite Crawford, then one of MGM’s top stars, in no less than seven films?

-Franchot and Joan’s marriage was her second (or third, depending on who you talk to) and his first, and it was a passionate one. They remained friends after their divorce and until Franchot’s death; I think that connection speaks for itself. A true love story even though the marriage didn’t work out.

Franchot loved women. Loved. His sexual appetite was an integral part of his identity. He was most happy when he was married because those relationships gave him stability — except for his short, tumultuous union with [minor leading lady] Barbara Payton [1951-1952]. He also loved family life; he had two sons with his second wife, actress Jean Wallace [1941-1948; Wallace later married Cornel Wilde]. But when he was single, he was never lacking in female companionship. [Tone’s fourth -- and last -- wife was actress Dolores Dorn, 1956-1959.]

-Franchot Tone’s film career came to a halt in the early 1950s. Why?
-That decade got off to a rocky start with his marriage to Barbara Payton, which took a huge toll on him both emotionally and physically. (After the fisticuffs with his romantic rival, boxer/actor Tom Neal). He felt betrayed and publicly humiliated by Payton’s infidelities. But he had to keep going, for his sons and for himself. Source: www.altfg.com

John O'Dowd: Franchot Tone first met Barbara at Ciro's nightclub in Hollywood in 1950, and was evidently blown away by her beauty. She, in turn, was most likely impressed with his millionaire status and with the fact that he was a very big movie star. Tone reportedly wooed her with daily gifts of champagne, flowers, and expensive jewelry, while Barbara reciprocated with home-cooked meals. The couple was soon engaged and was photographed often over the next year at various film premieres and nightclubs. When Tone left on a business trip to NYC in July 1951, Barbara attended a pool party in Hollywood and met Tom Neal.

An inveterate romantic, Barbara was immediately swept off her feet by Neal's rugged good looks and machismo, and quickly broke off her engagement to Tone. Several engagements followed--to both men--and she was all set to walk down the aisle with Neal in September 1951 when, on the eve of their wedding, she dumped him for an afternoon tryst with Tone at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Tom was living with Barbara at the time, and in the wee hours of September 14, he ambushed the couple upon their return to her home. Neal was an ex-amateur boxer and a weightlifter, and he hammered Franchot Tone into the ground. Tone was rushed to the hospital with severe head injuries, and for the next 18 hours he lingered near death in a comatose state. The brawl made worldwide headlines and brought a torrent of bad press raining down on the trio. Tom Neal had a comfortable upbringing in the Chicago suburb of Evanston and there were no police incidents in his youth. It appears that Barbara often toyed with Tom's emotions, as she was often inclined to do with the men in her life. "She drove the men in her life nuts" is how Tom's son put it to me. -John O'Dowd interviewed by writer Alan K. Rode in 'The Big Chat' Source: www.noirfilm.com

“Hop, you have no idea how rough it is,” the actress said, lighting a match off the bottom of her shoe like the slickest of New York bookies. “I know, Barbara. Believe me.” “Here I got one guy in love with me—Franchot—he reads Zigmund Freud to me while my head’s in his lap, and I got another guy, Tom, muscles like poured concrete, who’d just as soon gut Franchot as give up one night with his chin nestled in my thighs. Why make it either/or? Why not both?” Her lips curled into a smirk and he couldn’t help but laugh. She did, too, like a horse. On her it was inexplicably sexy. “I understand, Barbara. I really do. But you got a dozen columnists chasing this story.” She tapped her cigarette on one silky knee. “Fuck, Hop, what do I care? I’m having a ball. It’s not like I compete with Loretta Young for parts. I play hookers, molls, pinup girls.”

Hop hadn’t bothered with Tom Neal, a side of beef in tight pants. But he’d worked Franchot Tone a bit. Over the last week, he’d carried on several soulful late-night conversations with the longfaced, highbrow actor. “What do I care what they say?” Tone had confided. “Don’t you see? I love her. Love that darling girl.” And it was no surprise to Hop. Tone had long had a taste for beauties whose hems were still wet from the gutter. Even Joan Crawford, whom Tone married when she was Hollywood royalty, came with the richly thrilling backstory of a pre-fame gold-standard stag film, a seven-minute loop Hop himself had seen at more than one Hollywood party. It had been shown so many times at so many different gatherings that it had taken on the quality of a ho-hum home movie trotted out one too many Christmas mornings. -"The Song is You: A Novel" (2008) by Megan Abbott

For more details, please read my previous post: The Barbara Payton story

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Connie Britton (American Ultra), Mad Men & 60's dystopian turn

Connie Britton is the latest to join the cast of Lionsgate’s 'American Ultra,' the action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart that recently kicked off production. Eisenberg plays a seemingly hapless and unmotivated small-town stoner who is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent in a government program. That program was created by Victoria Lasseter (Britton). Topher Grace, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman and Walton Goggins also star. Source: www.deadline.com

Access Hollywood: -Friday night lights... do you keep in touch with Kyle Chandler? -Connie Britton: I sure do. -Reporter: Good looking man, handsome man. -Connie Britton: We saw him recently. Went and visited. My son he's like: where is uncle Kyle? It's great. Source: www.accesshollywood.com

-You’ve been ranked as one of the best TV dads for Friday Night Lights, so how do your real life experiences as a dad affect your portrayal of your character [in Super 8]?

-Kyle Chandler: Well I mean the guy that I’m playing doesn’t have very good communication with his son and he’s mourning the loss of his wife and he’s rather distant so it’s not really similar but it is in the sense that I knew what I was missing playing the character. I’m very close with my kids and I’m a big hugger and a big talker and [I am] everything this guy is not. Source: www.viewauckland.co.nz

-I love Bob Dylan. I love all vintage -everything, really. I love fashion. And the fifties, I've always loved. But after working on 'Super 8' and seeing all the seventies clothes, now I'm really into Twiggy and 'The Virgin Suicides'. We were in West Virginia filming in this really small town [Weirton], which sort of felt like the seventies anyway. Then, being in all the clothes, you really felt like you were just there. I remember going to the wardrobe-fitting for the first time and seeing all the cool high-waisted jeans and halter-tops and that style is coming back anyway! -Elle Fanning about filming "Super 8" (2011)

It’s 1969, the culture is coming apart at the seams and a reckoning is on the horizon, a horizon that nobody sees, drenched as they are in narcissism and self-indulgence. What’s happening, simultaneously, is the demise of an old male order. Don Draper now back at work, but in a lowly position, pounding out ideas on a typewriter to please the boss, Peggy. Even the big boss who has replaced Don, the sharp-tongued, high-handed Lou, is revealed to be, in private, an absurd figure. The viewer who is even slightly aware of the thrust of recent U.S. history knows what the future holds – the optimism of the 1960s disintegrating, into the “Me Decade” of spiritual emptiness and moral decay, the decline of great cities, the traumatic attempt to disentangle from the mess of Vietnam. The end of entitlement for some, the evaporation of enlightenment for others.

In that context Mad Men now seems to take a dystopian turn. As it must. What seemed heavenly in the series’ first seasons – anchored in viewer nostalgia for the fashion, the social mores, the predigital requiescence of working and personal life – now turns, inexorably toward a vision of a hellish place. Darkness looms and if you look below the surface of Mad Men now it should make you shiver. Source: www.theglobeandmail.com

Project MKUltra is the code name of a U.S. government human research operation organized through the Scientific Intelligence Division of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). MKUltra used numerous methodologies to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, etc. LSD and other drugs were usually administered without the subject's knowledge or informed consent, a violation of the Nuremberg Code that the U.S. agreed to follow after World War II. LSD was eventually dismissed by MKUltra's researchers as too unpredictable in its results. Alarmists and proselytizers alike collaborated in the belief that American youth en masse were abandoning the stable routes of American society and striking out onto unprecedented trails. Even as the editors deplored the current excesses (although it was a Life article that stimulated a psychologist named Timothy Leary to try his first psychedelic mushrooms), they were usually less than scrupulous in reminding their audience that most of the young were dropping acid and fleeing to the Haight-Ashbury.

There was enormous anxiety about whether the prevailing culture could hold the young; and on the liberal side, anxiety about whether it deserved to. Governor George Wallace and Dr. Timothy Leary agreed that what was at stake was nothing less than Western Civilization, the only question being whether its demise was auspicious. Thrown out of Harvard in 1963 for tampering with unwary undergraduates, Leary and his colleague Richard Alpert took their drug experiments to a millionaire heir's mansion in upstate New York, a quasi-religious ashram for what Leary called the International Federation for Internal Freedom, where psilocybin was superseded by the even more mind-blowing chemical LSD.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Kesey, who had been turned on to LSD by a Veterans Administration hospital experiment in I960, wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with its romance of crazy-like-a-fox heroes up against the Combine (a.k.a. System), and founded a countercombine of Merry Pranksters. How to summon up the enormous innocence of the Pranksters? In their reckless abandon, their sheer ingenuity and bravado, they were strangely of a piece with the nodules of the civil rights movement and the New Left. For Kesey, like Leary, was a proselytizer at a moment when millions were seeking a way to live beyond limits; he had a "vision of turning on the world." Expert chemists like the Bay Area's Owsley, who set up underground laboratories and fabricated potent and pure LSD tablets (still legal), were not in it just for the money; they kept their prices down, gave out plenty of free samples, and fancied themselves "architects of social change", toward which end Owsley helped, for example, to finance the Grateful Dead." -"The Sixties: Years Of Hope, Days Of Rage" (1993) by Todd Gitlin

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pre-Code's Sex Slant, Carole Landis ('sex-loaded'), Homefront's Lemo Stars

‘I like restraint,” Mae West once said, “if it doesn’t go too far.” It went a long way during the so-called Golden Age of the Hollywood studio system, from 1934 to 1968. During those years, there were exact limits on what could be shown on screen, as specified in the Hollywood Production Code. The period came to an end in 1968 when something like the present ratings system came into effect, partly in response to a new generation of films full of nudity, obscenity and bloodshed that scarified the bourgeois, films such as 1966’s Blow Up and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It had begun four years after the formal end of silent cinema in 1930.

So what happened between 1930 and 1934? A rich, 21-film season at BFI Southbank in London next month provides an answer, mapping the turbulent, fascinating period of studio history known as ‘Pre-Code Hollywood’. Familiar stars appear in these often dazzling early talkies – James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis and Clark Gable among them – but the films aren’t standard Hollywood fare. As James Bell says in the season programme, it was ‘a naughtier, rougher-edged and more shocking cinema than anything audiences would see again until the 1960s’. It treated with arresting frankness, and often visual inventiveness, subjects as delicate – or as crude – as lust, violence, drugs, alcohol, adultery, bestiality, rape and homosexuality. Gangsters shot or lied their way to the top in a desperate Depression-era world; but women could be just as hard-bitten.

A film like Jack Conway’s Red-Headed Woman (1932), starring the usually blonde Jean Harlow as Red, a promiscuous predator sleeping her way up the financial food chain to millionaires, is based on the premise that men can’t resist her body. The hero’s estranged wife accuses Red right out: “You caught him with sex!” This isn’t the kind of line we would hear film characters deliver much post-1934. Red later crows, ‘I’m the happiest girl in the world. I’m in love and I’m going to get married!’ She’s in love with a handsome chauffeur – and is marrying his aged millionaire boss. Yet, to suggest that this was a film revelling in a world before censorship would be wrong. In March 1930 the studios had already pledged to observe a new, elaborate Production Code associated with Will Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.

Not all the ‘sex slant’ was so serious. The German director Ernst Lubitsch constantly flirted with the transgressive – in for instance the still-unsettling ménage à trois of Design for Living (1933). Musicals could also raise an erotic frisson – like the delightful girls-on-the-make entertainment Gold Diggers of 1933 by Mervyn LeRoy and Busby Berkeley, with songs such as ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ (‘Come on, maybe this is wrong, / But, gee, what of it? / We just love it.’) After all, the subtleties of coded suggestion in Hollywood’s Golden Age have enriched the cinematic heritage just as much as the startling achievements of this heady era. Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

Carole Landis - Ping Girl at Roach Studios (1939–1940): With dubious logic, Roach created the slogan, “The Ping Girl: She Makes You Purr.” But for those in the know, ping had a less respectable meaning. Although the word does not appear in standard slang dictionaries, an Internet dictionary defines it as an exclamation accompanying an erection, as in, “I saw her, and ping.” One can well understand why Carole, presumably aware of this usage, would have found the title unacceptable. At the same time, the fact that Roach was able to use the term in publicity suggests that its slang meaning was not widely known among the general public, who were expected to be duped by the motor-oil red herring.

The awkwardness of the episode, which would be writ large in the uneasiness of Carole’s entire film career, is one more demonstration that the kind of overt sexual appeal that had flourished in the days
of first Clara Bow and then Jean Harlow (who never needed a slogan to project it) was no longer possible. The 1930s image of the desirable woman had been divided between the ethereal sexuality incarnated by Greta Garbo and a pointedly sluttish style typified by Harlow and raised to the level of caricature by Mae West (who, we should not forget, turned forty in 1933). In contrast, 1950s sexuality, reflecting the budding postwar youth culture, would cater less to adult desires than to adolescent wet dreams. The sexuality of the 1940s was more restrained, less explicit.

Especially after the war, actresses such as Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth evolved a sexiness that was suggestive rather than direct. In Gilda (1946), under the direction of Charles Vidor, Hayworth inaugurated a new art of playing seductively to the camera—the implicit eye of the spectator—that in the following decade Marilyn Monroe would perfect and Jayne Mansfield parody.

Despite Carole’s penchant for low-cut gowns, modesty was an important trait of her character; she loved to tell jokes, but according to at least one credible witness, these were never off-color, nor was she known to use foul language—in contrast to her notoriously salty-tongued namesake, Carole Lombard.

I Wake Up Screaming, Carole’s second turn as Betty Grable’s sister, was not a film Carole claimed to have particularly enjoyed making, yet it is the most biographically significant motion picture of her career. Vicki, Carole’s character in I Wake Up Screaming, was almost certainly the inspiration for Jerome Charyn’s obsessively counterfactual portrait of Carole in Movieland (1989): “almost pathological coldness... frozen beauty... coolness that was outside any art.”

Although the Landis:Grable::beautiful:pretty paradigm had been marked in Moon over Miami, it was incidental to the substance of Carole’s role, merely a way of justifying and mitigating her presence on screen. I Wake Up Screaming does something different, and rather daring: it foregrounds Carole’s beauty not simply as an empirical reality of the fictional world but as a transcendental difference reflected in the formal structure of the narrative. Carole was uniformly praised for her performance, as “properly hard and brittle.”

On the final pre-shooting script of I Wake Up Screaming in the Fox archives at the University of Southern California, one of Darryl Zanuck’s thick-penciled notes describes the still uncast character of Vicki Lynn as “sex-loaded.” Whatever the truth about Zanuck’s 4 p.m. trysts, it could not have escaped him that no one on the Fox lot fit that description better than Carole. But a woman whose sex appeal is so excessive that she must be expelled from the film before it begins is not compatible with very many movie plots. In Carole’s Fox career, I Wake Up Screaming was in the nature of an exorcism. In the script conferences, various names had been suggested for both roles: Rita Hayworth or Gene Tierney as Jill, Lucille Ball as Vicki. Zanuck’s choice of Carole for this “sex-loaded” role had been an afterthought. -"Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl" (2008) by Eric Gans

Ginger Szabo (Tammy Lauren) has just told Jeff (Kyle Chandler) that they would like her to sing a love song on the next "Lemo Tomato Juice Hour". -Jeff: At this rate, you'll be bigger than Betty Grable! -Ginger: You think so?

Review: ‘Homefront the Traveling Lemo All-Stars’: It is the fall of 1946. The nation is just getting used to the idea that nylon stockings are plentiful and has rediscovered that there is actually an organization called the Republican party. Meanwhile, in a farcical turn away from their usually serious and oftentimes traumatic post-war adjustments, the denizens of “Homefront” Ohio are enduring the joys and sorrows of America’s rush to embrace the free enterprise system.

The laughs are few in this hit-and-miss episode centered around Cleveland Indians baseballer Jeff Metcalf’s (Kyle Chandler) ill-fated journey as a member of “The Traveling Lemo All-Stars,” but the series still deserves high marks for its well-defined characterizations and rich attention to detail. All Metcalf wants to do is earn enough postseason money to keep the payments going on his car until spring training; but his reluctant participation as a member of the Lemo Tomato Juice all-star baseball team turns into the barnstorming-tour-from-hell. Kyle Chandler and Tammy Lauren are totally likeable as the on-again-off-again lovers... Source: variety.com


Ginger Szabo and Jeff Metcalf talk about their plans for a honeymoon. (from "Can't Say No" -'Homefront' episode). Jeff tries to cheer Ginger up after the screen test (from "Szabo's Travels"). Ginger is sitting at the bar looking very glum; Eddie (comes up behind Ginger): -For whatever it's worth, you reminded me of Carole Lombard. -Ginger (excited): Really?

Carole Landis was born on New Year's Day in 1919 in Fairchild, Wisconsin, as Frances Lillian Mary Ridste. Some time after her arrival in San Francisco, Frances tells us she chose her stage name. Carole was her “favorite name,” clearly borrowed from Carole Lombard, the first Hollywood star to spell her name that way, although Carole herself “never gave this story credence.”

Frances was surely aware that, like herself, her chosen namesake, née Jane Alice Peters, was born in the Midwest (in Fort Wayne, Indiana), the child of a broken home, had come to California as a girl, and had dropped out of high school to pursue an entertainment career; above all, Frances, whose best acting would be in comedy, must have admired Lombard’s mastery of the screwball genre. Carole explained the choice of “Landis” as one of two hundred names she found in the San Francisco telephone directory; some writers claim that she made her selection on seeing the name of baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in a newspaper. -"Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl" (2008) by Eric Gans