Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Gloria Grahame: TCM Star of the Month

Today marks the centennial of Gloria Grahame. She is currently the "Star of the Month" on Turner Classic Movies: TCM will show four of her films tonight starting at 5:00pm PST. Grahame made her biggest impact in film noir, nailing the peculiar blend of fragile femininity and hard-as-nails practicality that came to define the femme fatale in a series of roles that ranged from blowsy ditz to brassy moll to downright deadly schemer. Grahame was a startling talent, an Oscar-winning actress with an intense work ethic that kept her acting until her final days and exploring “method” techniques before there was even a word for that style of acting. Known for her peroxide blond hair and her distinctive pout, Grahame crafted a film and public persona as a woman with a unique blend of sexuality, warmth, and existential ennui.

Born in Pasadena on November 28, 1923, raised in Los Angeles by her English father and Scottish mother (who was also an actress), 19-year-old Gloria Hallward was discovered on Broadway in 1944. A talent scout saw her in “A Highland Fling,” a play starring Ralph Forbes and John Ireland, and raved about the young actress to Louis B. Mayer. Mayer promptly saw the show and signed Hallward to a contract at MGM, under the name Gloria Grahame. (“Grahame” was her grandmother’s maiden name.) Grahame made her screen debut in Blonde Fever (1944), a comedy starring Mary Astor. With the supporting role of a waitress named Sally Murfin, MGM featured her prominently in the film’s advertising. “Meet Gloria Grahame,” read the poster. “She’s gorgeous! She’s dangerous!” Variety, in its review, reported, “Gloria Grahame, as the blonde waitress, shows possibilities, but is given a conflicting, indefinite role in this opus.” 

That may as well have described Grahame’s overall tenure as an MGM contract player, which lasted over two years. She made only four other films at the studio during this time—Without Love (1945), It Happened in Brooklyn (1947), Song of the Thin Man (1947) and Merton of the Movies (1947)—all of which are included in this tribute, and all of which show MGM not really knowing what to do with her. Her best films in the period were loan-outs: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) for Frank Capra’s Liberty Films and Crossfire (1947) for RKO, which was lauded in its day and is now seen as one of the great examples of film noir. Crossfire was produced by Dore Schary, who had a great interest in making films with socially conscious themes. She later paid tribute to the film’s dialogue director, Bill Watts, who coached her and helped her to really understand the craft of acting. 

As Grahame said, “It’s thinking. I was doing my hair for a scene and he said, ‘forget the hair.’ And he [talked] to me about who the character was, where she was, what she was, until I was so immersed in what it was all about. After that... I did it for myself.” Grahame received her first Oscar nomination for Crossfire, which drew five nominations in all and lost Best Picture to Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947). But of the two, time has been kinder to Crossfire. Schary was so impressed with Grahame that he bought her contract from MGM in June 1947. While Grahame was indeed more suited to the grit of RKO than she was to the glossy glamour of MGM, even RKO struggled to find her the right roles. Her first picture there, Roughshod (1949), a rare western for Grahame, was shelved for two years after it was completed. Next came A Woman’s Secret (1949), which was also shelved for about a year and became a significant flop. That film, however, was significant for introducing Grahame to its director, Nicholas Ray, and the two developed a romance. After filming, Grahame got a divorce from her husband, Stanley Clements, and married Nick Ray later the same day. Five months later, she gave birth to their son, Timothy.

A year and a half later, Grahame was loaned out to Columbia to star opposite Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place (1950), a heartbreaking film noir romance again directed by Nicholas Ray. By this point, however, their marriage had turned rocky, and shortly after filming began, they secretly separated, maintaining a fiction that all was fine between them for fear that the studio would otherwise fire them or stop production. All the while, Ray directed Grahame to one of her greatest performances. She is unforgettable as Laurel Gray, the beautiful and enigmatic neighbor of screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogart). Dix’s dark personality and emotional instability leads everyone around him, and the police, to suspect him of being a killer. The plot of the film paralleled the disintegration of the real-life marriage between Ray and Grahame, and when production was over, their marriage continued to crumble until they divorced in 1952. 

Howard Hughes instead wanted Grahame for an RKO film noir called Macao (1952), which no one otherwise involved in its making, including stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, wanted to make. A troubled production, it was credited to director Josef von Sternberg but largely re-shot by Nicholas Ray and was shelved for two years before being released in 1952. Grahame is billed fifth in a film that has not stood the test of time. A Place in the Sun, meanwhile, was an enormous hit nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Shelley Winters, and stands as an all-time classic. After Macao, Hughes released Grahame from her RKO contract and she went freelance, now entering the richest part of her career with three important movies released in 1952 alone (aside from Macao): The Greatest Show on Earth, which would win the Oscar for Best Picture, Sudden Fear, in which she was perfectly cast as Jack Palance’s treacherous girlfriend, and The Bad and the Beautiful, produced by her former studio of MGM. 

One of the great critical films about Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) was directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars Kirk Douglas as a movie producer who ruthlessly rises from making cheap B movies to reach the top of Hollywood, betraying three friends along the way: Lana Turner playing a movie star, Barry Sullivan as a director and Dick Powell as a screenwriter. Gloria Grahame plays Dick Powell’s wife, partly because producer Dore Schary (who was now at MGM) saw himself in the Dick Powell character and thought that Grahame resembled Schary’s own wife. Whatever the reason she got the role, Grahame played it beautifully and wound up winning her first and only Oscar, as Best Supporting Actress in 1953. 

Grahame was now at the peak of her stardom, but followed up The Bad and the Beautiful with two offbeat titles. In The Glass Wall (1953), an independently made production distributed by Columbia, she plays a deglamorized factory worker helping a Hungarian stowaway who has illegally entered the United States. In Man on a Tightrope (1953), directed by Elia Kazan for 20th Century Fox, she plays the young floozy wife of a Czech circus owner (Fredric March) who is contemplating an escape from the Communist east to freedom in the west.

As biographer Robert Lentz put it: “She is the gorgeous dame who wants some of the action and isn’t above murder to get it; the mobster’s moll who just wants to be ensconced in mink; the bored woman too busy enjoying nightlife to pay any attention to her husband." Columbia then cast her in Human Desire (1954), reuniting her with her The Big Heat co-star Glenn Ford and director Fritz Lang in another noir, but this one didn’t come together as well. Ironically, her next film, the underrated Naked Alibi (1954), produced by Universal, actually did bear a strong and successful similarity to The Big Heat. It’s set in a border town with Grahame as a gangster’s moll who helps a decent cop played by Sterling Hayden. Grahame loved making this film so much that afterwards she sent a note to producer Ross Hunter saying it was one of her happiest experiences.

She would make six more feature films through the decade, before disappearing from the big screen for seven years. Three of those six are included in this tribute: The Cobweb (1955), a drama from Vincente Minnelli set at a psychiatric clinic headed by Richard Widmark, Stanley Kramer’s Not as a Stranger (1955), a star-laden drama again set in the medical world and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), one of the last gasps of film noir from a major studio. Grahame has a small role. Martin Scorsese has written of this film: “Odds Against Tomorrow was made just as the old studio era was ending and different approaches and impulses in cinema were coming alive all over the world, and it’s comprised of so many distinctive elements that it feels unlike any other picture of its time.” Source:

Sunday, November 26, 2023

June Allyson & Dick Powell: Can It Last?

Robert Michael Pyle (who played Lt. Zander in the mystery drama Two Wrongs Make a Right): Dick Powell was a terrific, full-throttle, vibrant singer and all-around charismatic screen presence, perfect for the Warners musicals of the 30s, so his transformation into a non-singing actor was long overdue by the time of "Christmas in July" (1940). Older relatives of mine who lived in Pittsburgh remembered him as a local theatre personality, and reacted to his appearance in his movies of late as to an old friend. Now I live in Indianapolis, and used to work with a man who remembered Powell in 1928 working at the old Illinois Theater where he came once and played the saxophone in a small band. Shades of the beginning of Fred MacMurray. The man with whom I worked - long since dead and evidently a former musician himself - said that Powell was as nice a guy as you'd want to meet, but quite a loner. There is a short on the GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 DVD that shows Powell helping Busby Berkeley pick out winners of some beauty contest. Powell is visiting from the set of MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM, and he looks really good. Just look at how the beauty contestants are looking at him as he passes by them. It's like they never noticed what a handsome man he was. Source: 

“What’s with June Allyson?” a newsman asked a girl on the set of The McConnell Story at Warner Brothers. “Don’t you know?” she asked. “It’s all over the lot!” “What’s all over the lot?” asked the newsman. The extra smiled. “You’re kidding,” she said. “You must be kidding. Little Junie has fallen head over heels in love with Alan Ladd, and he with her.” It sounds incredible, but that’s the story that was making the rounds in Hollywood several weeks ago, and the vicious rumor caught on like a prairie fire. A columnist had printed the tip-off: “June Allyson and Dick Powell are quarreling and it’s serious.” The next thing anyone knew, Dick Powell and Sue Ladd were having a telephone conference. They had been singed and hurt, but they were determined to extinguish the gossip. And Dick began to take June out practically every night. 

“By practice,” Dick explained, “June and I are not nightclub habitués, but we’re determined to show people that our marriage is swell. There’s nothing wrong with it, no matter what you hear.” Dick and June showed up at Ciro’s to see Sammy Davis, Jr. Then they attended Sonja Henie’s circus party. They made the club rounds, living and loving it up, and when they thought they had dispelled the ugly rumors, they took off—just the two of them—to Sun Valley for a month of relaxation and winter sports. Alan Ladd drove down to a resort, Rancho Santa Fe, alone, taking time separated from his wife. Whilst, Sue Ladd went to Las Vegas with her friends and her aunt. This year (1955) marks the tenth anniversary of the June Allyson-Dick Powell wedding. They were married on August 19, 1945, in the home of Johnny Green, the loquacious MGM musical director. Dick is thirteen years older than June. She was his third wife, and at the time there were many who insisted that the marriage would not work out.

They said that Dick was too professorial, that he sometimes treated June like a wayward little girl, and that sooner or later she would come to resent Dick’s domination of her life. The record shows that the Powells have had several quarrels in the last ten years. “Which married couple hasn’t?” Dick asks. But their marriage is more secure than ever, thanks to these very quarrels and to Dick Powell’s great understanding. Last year June was reported to have been romanced by the Rat Pack's VP Dean Martin, much to the chagrin of Dick, who reportedly was howling in pain. While Dean and June were seeing each other in New York (June was there on a shopping spree), Dick Powell waiting back in Hollywood assured he trusted his wife. June Allyson was a grown-up girl and could handle herself very nicely. On another previous occasion, Peter Lawford had been another of June Allyson’s ardent admirers. Dick Powell wouldn’t even dignify that particular rumor with a reply.

As to the gossip about June and Alan Ladd, here’s what June confided to a friend. “I don’t know how it got started. I really don’t. Sure, I like Alan. Who doesn’t? He’s a wonderful guy. But how anyone could imply there was anything serious between us I don’t know. After all, Sue Ladd was on the set a good deal of the time." June conceded: "Sure, Richard and I have had our spats. But the latest one had nothing to do with Alan. Thank heaven, Richard is sensible enough to discount these stories. He’s an actor and he knows how easily rumors can begin about a leading lady. I’ve had reporters call me day after day. They want to know about Alan and me. I told them it was ridiculous, crazy. But once these stories start, what a time they’ve got! By the time we get back from Sun Valley, I sure hope the whole thing has blown over.”

Thrusting the Alan Ladd canard to one side, what factors are there that could possibly cause dissension in the Powell household? In Pamela and Rick, the Powells have two of the most adorable children in Mandeville Canyon. They have all the money they will ever need. They own a fifty-eight-acre estate, three cars, the Four Star corporation. What could possibly be wrong at home? First, June has been working too long. In the past eleven months, she has worked unceasingly in Strategic Air Command, Woman’s World, The Shrike and The McConnell Story. Between pictures she has gone on location with Richard, shopped for and decorated their new house. And most important of all, she has changed her way of life to include her stepdaughter Ellen, and her half-brother Arthur Peters, twenty-one. Ellen and Arthur came to live with the Powells this year. What this means is that June has a houseful of children ranging in age from four to twenty-one. Managing such a household is a wearing job. Ellen Powell, at sixteen, is entering the problem years. Arthur is a medical student. Pamela and little Ricky see their mother much less than they’d like. The Powells have about seven people in service, plus four dogs, two cats and two horses. June’s job to see that the household functions smoothly has taken its toll in her temperament. 

Dick works very hard on his various enterprises all day long—he has just finished editing The Conqueror for Howard Hughes, an outstanding film he directed last summer—and when he comes home, he likes everything to be in order. He wants his Scotch and water, his seat by the fireplace, and a few minutes of relaxation. “As a matter of fact,” June said, “Richard and I haven’t had very much time together. That’s why this Sun Valley vacation will be a very good thing.” In Sun Valley, Dick and June vacationed and skied, until Dick turned up in bandages. Headquarters for their stay was the Sun Valley Lodge—near the skiing area. The first morning there they took the chair lift to the highest slope. June learned to ski only a few years ago. Dick has been at it longer. Dick, a camera bug, snapped her, sent photos home to the kids. Later they relaxed during a long sleigh ride. And then... calamity! Dick took a bad fall on skis and broke his shoulder. Originally, June and Dick planned to hire a tourist cabin in Ketchum, a small town near Sun Valley. June was going to cook for her husband. It would be another honeymoon, idyllic and peaceful. “It’s not that June doesn’t cook well,” Dick later explained, after he canceled the cabin routine. 

“It’s just that we thought Sun Valley Lodge and the hotel service would be a little more appropriate for a vacation.” June and Dick are both pretty good skiers, because they are both supple and light on their feet. Originally a dancer, June surprised the Sun Valley ski instructors by learning how to slalom so quickly. There’s a story about their skiing that’s told around Hollywood with great relish. When the Powells went to Sun Valley a year or so ago, June bought the most expensive clothes and ski equipment. She also hired the best ski teachers. Dick thought it was all a lot of nonsense. But he’s a camera bug, and likes to run family motion pictures, so he hired a man to take movies of him and June skiing down the mountainside. One night he ran off the movies at home to the accompaniment of wisecracks. “See that figure coming down the mountainside?” he asked his children. “See that figure with her skis spread a mile apart? See that figure who looks as though she’s ready to fall head-first into the snow? Well, that’s your mother after five hundred dollars’ worth of instruction!” 

The figure Dick was talking about was rather fuzzy on film. Once the camera moved in for a close-up, however, the figure turned out to be Dick himself! The family roared. Actually, Dick is a better skier than June but not by much. “Another season on skis,” says Leif Odmark, a Sun Valley instructor, “and Mrs. Powell will be very good. She has rhythm and grace. She’s come a long way.” June Allyson has come a long way in other ways, too. Ten years ago when she became Mrs. Richard Powell, she was scared stiff. She was shy, insecure, frightened, completely dependent on her husband. She knew nothing about housekeeping, nothing about personnel, nothing about budgets. It was Dick who did the hiring and firing, Dick who chose the furnishings. June seemed ashamed of her background and avoided probing interviewers. Interior decorators reported that she had no idea of what should be in her home. Lovingly, Dick used to judge her scripts, give her advice, tried to bolster her courage and inflate her ego. And now it has been suggested that subconsciously June resented her total dependence on Dick. If so, she never showed it publicly.

At first, June didn’t want to star in The Stratton Story. Dick said, “Don’t be foolish. With Jimmy Stewart you’ll have a big hit.’ Dick was right. He’s been frequently so. A little over a year ago, June said that she was tired of the stories MGM was giving her. She wanted to quit. “Only I lacked the courage to free lance. After all, I’d been at Metro almost ten years. My contract had been renegotiated twice. The studio had been kind to me, but I knew I couldn’t go along forever playing opposite Van Johnson. Richard said if I felt that way, I should quit, that I’d have no trouble getting work as a free lancer. I was hesitant. He told me to put my foot down. I listened to him and I left the studio. I’ve never been happier in my career. I’ve had the most wonderful offers. I’ve worked at Paramount, Warners, 20th Century Fox, and I’ve been able to choose my own stories.” Before June and Dick left for Sun Valley, June gave her first dinner party. “It was the first time I arranged everything myself—ordered the food, arranged the guest list and so forth.” The party was for Harold Cohen, a Pittsburgh screen critic, and it came off beautifully. “I knew I could do it,” June said proudly. It has taken her ten years to mature, but now her personality is coming to the fore, ready to assert itself. June has found renewed confidence. 

And her relationship with Dick reflects those changes due to it. Being the kind of husband Dick is, warm-hearted, understanding and considerate, Dick Powell thinks June’s growth is a very good thing. For years he has been telling June that she has absolutely no reason to suffer from feelings of inferiority. “You’ve got good looks, ability and talent,” he once told her, “and you can do anything you set your mind to!” June realizes, of course, that she owes her character development to Dick, that it was he who brought her potential out. No one was happier than Dick when June insisted upon furnishing their new home herself. June has reached the point where she is ready to give orders in her house. That goes not only for Rick and Pam but for Ellen and Arthur as well. When she has something to say, she wants Richard to listen to her as an equal, not as a precocious child feeling her oats. Not too long ago, the Powells had a quarrel in public at the Mocambo. June left the table when she felt like a pressure cooker about to explode.

She went out, ordered a cab and went home alone, having demonstrated her independence. It has been hinted of late that June’s new success has given her a rate of growth faster than Dick anticipated. Many say, “June Allyson is outgrowing her husband. It’s just a question of time before they begin to differ about major things. She was elected Number One box-office star of 1954. She’s coming along fast.” Yes, but let's not forget that Dick Powell is the mastermind behind June’s new success. June is adamant that his husband was her first mentor. When June met him, Dick knew every avenue of show business. He'd started as a saxophone player and crooner. At Little Rock College, Powell formed a band called Peter Pan. Powell’s professional career began in 1925, when he toured the Midwest with the Royal Peacocks dance band. He made his first recordings for Gennett Records in late 1927 and for Vocalion in 1928, recorded in Indianapolis with the Charlie Davis orchestra, including "Was It a Dream?" Then he graduated to master of ceremonies in the Enright theatre in Pittsburgh in 1929.

Dick turned himself into a musical comedy star in Warners, then into a serious straight actor. He also combined his film career with his own radio programs. Powell was a guest on Bing Crosby's Philco Radio show around 1948 and it's interesting to hear him sing several of the old WB songs. Powell also plugged his own "Richard Diamond" radio show by playing sleuth with Crosby. When challenged to prove his detecting skills, Dick says that Bing had an argument with his wife Dixie before leaving home. Crosby admits that's true and asks Powell how he knew. Dick says he observed a lump on Bing's head! Presently Powell has become a director, producer and president of a show business corporation. Additionally, he is also an attentive father, a charming host and a shrewd businessman. Dick Powell mentored Jane Powell and Mary Tyler Moore's careers. In 1954, he helped launch Kim Novak's career in Columbia. Powell heard they were filming a noir film starring Fred MacMurray (Pushover), and he thought Novak would be ideal for the femme-fatale role. Columbia intended for Novak to be their successor to Rita Hayworth; also that Novak would bring them the same box-office success Marilyn Monroe brought 20th Century-Fox. Novak's first role for the studio was indeed in Pushover (1954), and quickly became one of Hollywood's top box office stars. 

Dick Powell predicted that Debbie Reynolds would become a big star. He did record the two songs from Susan Slept Here for Bell Records in 1954. Later, at a dinner party after the whole Liz-Eddie-Debbie saga, June kept mistakenly calling Liz Taylor 'Debbie', and she was understanding for the first few times but by the end, Liz snapped: "Why don't you just call me George? Just call me George." Powell helped to defuse the bad mood. Also, June said that Joan Fontaine would come to dinner parties and talk business the entire time with Dick. So, would June ever give all this up? She was once asked that question. Her answer: “I would never give it up for anything. The most important thing in my whole life is my husband. And he always will be!” It looks as though the Powell-Allyson marriage will last a long time. Each of the participants has much of what the other needs, wants and loves. —"June Allyson & Dick Powell: How Long Can It Last?" article by William Barbour for Modern Screen magazine (May, 1955)

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Bombshells and The Opposite Sex: Barbara Payton, Evelyn Keyes, Joan Blondell

Bombshells: Hollywood’s Leading Ladies (Winnetka-Northfield Public Library, November 2023): Hollywood has had its fair share of leading ladies, with many of them remaining iconic to this day as studio bombshells. Join Film Historian Dr. Annette Bochenek as she presents the history of the Hollywood bombshell, some of the top Hollywood bombshells, and their legacies today. The program will include a multimedia presentation consisting of photos, video clips, and captivating stories. The registration link will be made available closer to the presentation date. Source:

Irish Screenwriter/Director and U.S. Celebrity Biographer team up to bring the story of Actress Barbara Payton to the big screen: Forever is Just a Weekend. It's a project more than 25 years in the making. Now the story of actress Barbara Payton is getting ready to head to the big screen, where it essentially started – explosive as a firecracker – and burned out just as quickly. Author and celebrity biographer John O'Dowd has teamed with award-winning Irish screenwriter and director Ciaran Creagh to write the quintessential movie script about this beautiful and talented young actress, who garnered a salary of $10,000 a week in the 1950s, then ended up on skid row little more than a decade later. It was O'Dowd's dedication to telling the whole poignant tale of Barbara's life, with integrity and empathy, that allowed him to write the full story in a way no previous author had done.

After years of working to get his book made into a screenplay worthy of production, O'Dowd joined forces with Creagh. The pair have worked diligently to transform O'Dowd's two books on Payton – the biography and his exquisitely crafted second book "Barbara Payton – A Life in Pictures," into the new screenplay, which they hope to bring to the big screen very soon. O'Dowd, a native of New Jersey, first encountered Payton as a small boy watching her film "Bride of the Gorilla." He was captivated by her beauty and began what would become a lifelong journey to learn about and tell her story. As he grew up and became a celebrity interviewer and biographer, he set out to write the consummate book about the rapid rise and downfall of the blonde beauty. Creagh discovered Payton similarly by watching one of her films. This time it was her performance with Gregory Peck in the western "Only the Valiant." Creagh found O'Dowd's works about the fallen star. Creagh, whose latest film "Ann" is gaining acclaim and awards, has helped lift O'Dowd's work on the Payton story to a whole new level as they teamed up to co-write this screenplay. Currently his feature “Cry from the Sea” has just wrapped shooting in Ireland. Source: 

“What seems like it might be a flippant topic to study, hairdressers cutting off too much hair, is actually quite serious,” said Danielle Sulikowski, a senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University and president of the Australasian Society for Human Behaviour and Evolution. “The hairdresser scenario is just a vehicle for asking questions about how women sabotage in subtle, barely detectable ways. Female aggression tends not to manifest as physical violence. Rather, female aggression is well-known to take the form of reputation damage. In adolescence this involves scurrilous rumors that can be socially devastating. In adulthood, it can involve malicious allegations which if taken seriously, can destroy reputations, livelihoods, marriages and relationships.” The researchers found that women who reported higher levels of intrasexual competitiveness were more likely to recommend that clients have more hair cut off. The reason behind this recommendation might be to subtly diminish the physical attractiveness of other women. The study, “Off with her hair: Intrasexually competitive women advise other women to cut off more hair“, was authored by Danielle Sulikowski, Melinda Williams, Gautami Nair, Brittany Shepherd, Anne Wilson, Audrey Tran, and Danielle Wagstaff. Source:

MGM generously included Joan Blondell into the snazzy all-star fashion farce The Opposite Sex in 1956 and cleverly invented a logical way to include her fuller figure by being pregnant and the family mother with other kids. There was no point in having her compete with the much younger glamourpuss actresses in their spectacular outfits, and so Joan was wisely and generously fitted as 'the mother hen' character. One sly joke is at the theatre watching a musical number about Bananas where she says she feels pregnant sick and clearly has had enough of 'that banana'. The film was praised by Variety; Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote that June Allyson did an excellent job, but the film was not a box office success. Allyson has a one-on-one scene with Joan Blondell who plays Edith. 

Allyson reported that the latter scene was very awkward since Blondell had called Powell to say his wife had tried to keep her out of the film. Allyson said this was not true; she didn’t even know that Blondell wanted to be in it. Allyson thought Blondell was great in the film. Blondell was also reportedly insecure because she had not been in a film since 1951’s The Blue Veil. Except for Joan Blondell's irrational dislike of Allyson, all the actresses boosted and praised each other on the set. Blondell asked that Allyson not be on set to read lines off-camera for her in their scene together. Allyson insisted that she do it, and later Blondell thanked her for it. Despite June Allyson's good intentions towards Joan Blondell, Joan would try to convince herself that Dick and June both had extramarital affairs; the latter June Allyson denied in her autobiography, claiming Dick Powell never gave her any motive for suspecting of his unfaithfulness. ―Source: June Allyson: Her Life and Career (2023) by Peter Shelley

Dina Shore: June Allyson explained it to me afterwards, when we were alone for a moment. The gossip columnists had been wagging their tongues about her marriage; she and Richard had been quarrelling, they had said. It wasn’t true. “We have our spats, of course,” Junie told me. “All married people do. But we never quarrel, why Richard is the sweetest, the most thoughtful man.” But that wasn’t what was worrying her. She and Richard were secure in their marriage; they needn’t care what the gossips said. Except, and this was what really hurt, June was afraid the rumors would hurt her chances of getting a baby. I know the helpless feeling you have when anyone writes something about you which may jeopardize a relationship or a situation. If only they really understood what damage just a few idle words can do. All I could say to June was that I was sure the agency wouldn’t pay any attention to malicious gossip. Five more long months went by, though, before June’s wish came true. Finally Richard gave in and they put their names on the waiting list at the Tennessee Children’s home. 

Then came the Hollywood gossip. There had been rumors before, but the Powells had shrugged them off. Now they threatened to do real damage. June had to go to New York for radio shows. Richard couldn’t go with her. And the rumors flew again. When they reached Richard he realized that they might cost them their baby. He knew that those in charge of the home might hear the irresponsible talk and postpone or cancel the adoption. He called Tennessee to reassure the officials that all was well. And he convinced them. “An advantage working with your wife,” Dick Powell says teasingly. “You can yell at your wife and you can’t at professional actresses. I'm joking here, June knows I love working with her anyway,” he adds. “She’s fun.” They had once hoped to co-star in a tender love story, “Mrs. Mike.” Their initial starrer, however, turned out to be a hilarious comedy and their love scenes were played with live lions stalking them in “The Reformer and the Redhead”  —Photoplay magazine (November 1956)

In Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir (2001), Eddie Muller recounts Evelyn Keyes showing him a film poster from Johnny O'Clock hanging on her bedroom's wall, "featuring a youthful golden-maned Evelyn being manhandled by Dick Powell." "What did you do to kill a man?" Harry Cohn had asked her when Keyes' first husband committed suicide. Evelyn Keyes alluded in her memoirs to a brief affair with Powell. While they shooted Mrs Mike in 1949, Dick Powell was reportedly burn-out due to the rumors spread by Confidential magazine of an affair between his wife June Allyson and Dean Martin. Robert Osborne on TCM said the camera liked more than loved Evelyn Keyes, but she could walk into a room and people would turn away from Hedy Lamarr and flock to her.

The London Film Review's film critic Derek Winnert (author of The Ultimate Encyclopedia of the Movies in 1995) mentioned in 2017 the affair between Powell and Keyes in his reviews of Johnny O'Clock and Mrs. Mike, writing: "Evelyn Keyes said Mrs Mike was her best film. She also admitted she had to fend off studio boss Harry Cohn’s advances during her career at Columbia. Among the many Hollywood affairs she recounted was one with Dick Powell." Some of Evelyn Keyes's best performances in film noir were: Face Behind the Mask, Ladies in Retirement, Johnny O’Clock, The Killer That Stalked New York, 99 River Street, and The Prowler. However, Keyes' favorite film was Mrs. Mike, co-starring Dick Powell, and directed by Louis King. Dick Powell was one of the co-producers of Mrs Mike through his company Regal Films. Powell had personally requested Evelyn Keyes for the leading female role of Kathy Flannigan, after their successful pairing in the previous Johnny O'Clock. Source:

Evelyn Keyes expressed her opinion that Mrs. Mike (1949) was her best film. Among her many love affairs in Hollywood she recounted in Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister, were those with film producer Michael Todd (who left her for Elizabeth Taylor), actors Glenn Ford, Sterling Hayden, Dick Powell, and Kirk Douglas. Keyes was married to businessman Barton Oliver Bainbridge from 1938 until his death from suicide in 1940. Later, she married and divorced director Charles Vidor (1943–1945), director John Huston (1946–1950), and bandleader Artie Shaw (1957–1985). Keyes said of her marriages in 1977: “With Artie Shaw, it was really a marriage.” About her four husbands and dozens of lovers, she said: “I wrote about them all with affection.” The only malice in the book, she added, was directed toward Fredric March, with whom she had a small role in The Buccaneer (1938). Except for March, Miss Keyes said she was careful not to mention explicitly the name of a man who was married at the time [Dick Powell] or who might be embarrassed by the notoriety [Harry Belafonte]. Source:

Evelyn Keyes showing her wedding ring to director Robert Rossen on the set of “Johnny O’Clock” (1947) after she returned from Las Vegas where she married John Huston on July 23, 1946. 

In 1971 Keyes wrote a novel loosely based on her life, I Am a Billboard, about a southern girl named Christabelle Jones who becomes an overnight star in Hollywood. It's no coincidence the model that editor Lyle Stuart chose for the cover resembled Joan Blondell. Eddie Muller: "Perry Bullington worked in casting at Canon Films. One night a book fell off the shelf above and conked him: it was Evelyn Keyes's novel I Am A Billboard. Perry knew a good thing when it hit him on the head. He raved to Glaser-Hunter Productions about the story, and once Allan Glaser and I read the thinly veiled memoir about a young Georgia girl's coming-of-age in the 1930s and her journey to Hollywood, we agreed it would make a terrific movie. The screenplay was re-named Blues in the Night and Allan Glaser rekindled interest by engaging Four Seasons Entertainment to possibly produce it. Peter Bogdonavich was invited to a dinner as a potential director. Bogdonavich was anxious to meet Evelyn, but she wouldn't see her story reflected on the silver screen."

Evelyn Keyes: "I was voted N#1 Star of Tomorrow in 1946. I was ranked as one of Columbia’s most reliable leading ladies. “Johnny O’Clock” (1947), Robert Rossen’s first directorial job, became another highlight in my career. Dick Powell played an honest gambler in trouble and I was his girlfriend. During the shooting of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948), Betty Bacall and I hung around on the set, went shopping, or were sunbathing near the swimming pool. I really liked Betty, and I envied Bogart’s devotion to her. Betty used to call John [Huston] ‘The Monster.’ Variety described my performance in “Mrs. Mike” in its review of December 12, 1949, as a ‘portrayal that has excellent emotional depth and just the right touch of humor.’ So Louella Parsons thought I should have won an Oscar for “Mrs. Mike and lobbied for me.” Source:

Unlike Joan Blondell, who clearly came to detest Mike Todd (whom she divorced in 1950), Evelyn Keyes described Todd as attentive, generous and ambitious. In 1953, Evelyn Keyes became the constant companion of the brash, flamboyant and often volatile producer Mike Todd, who lavished Evelyn with attention, gifts and journeys to far-off locales. Soon she was head-over-heels in love with him. She worked very little during her time with Todd. Evelyn Keyes states in her memoirs: "Thanks to Mike Todd, I never had to worry about money again. He gave me a 15-carat diamond engagement ring while we worked on our wedding details [late 1956]. All was going well, I thought, until the day I picked up the phone and before I could say anything, Mike blurted out: 'I'm in love with Elizabeth Taylor'. Anyway, I always maintained a fondness for him." Keyes compared Todd favorably over John Huston ("an irredeemable womanizer") and she thought Todd's main faults were his poor manners and a streak of jealousy.

Maybe was Dick Powell the love of her life? Difficult to fathom, since Evelyn Keyes always remained skeptical of the opposite sex, as their memoirs (specially I'm a Billboard) indicate. What is known is her odd obsession with Mrs Mike and her vague allusions to a courteous romance with Powell seemingly out of a fairly tale (with references to a Hollywood bungalow and a Murphy bed), in stark contrast with her other lovers. "I said I didn't want to be a lady. I wanted to be a billboard." But Philip [Dick Powell's I'm a Billboard stand-in] assures her she always will be a lady in his eyes. Keyes stated to Eddie Muller for Dark City Dames: "I never had to hustle in Hollywood. I always had someone taking care of me. I never learned to fight. If the men close to me didn't disappear, I'd pick the ones who would do. And if they didn't go, I would do things secretly to ensure they'd go and let me alone." 

A fiercely independent and complicated woman, Evelyn Keyes probably scared off Dick Powell, who had already endured a previous volatile marriage to bombshell Joan Blondell. In the mid-30s, the press took notice of the odd pairing from Warner Bros, giving them nicknames such as "Floozie and Dopey." But Powell was no dope, as his career as a producer, director and tough guy star would prove later. Accustomed to neurotic and possesive partners, Dick Powell appears in I'm a Billboard as that rare specimen who didn't ever try to manipulate Keyes, a chivalrous old-fashioned man who was so gentle with her (intimately and profesionally) that she didn't know how to respond to that kind of man. Philip Grimes (the producer whose company has purchased the rights of a best-selling novel) is probably the stand-in for Dick Powell. Grimes displays "a deep sincerity, the kindest smile." "Every morning the coffee was ready on her personalized mug when Christabelle arrived. She never let him know she disliked coffee in the mornings." —I Am A Billboard (1971) by Evelyn Keyes

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

CBK: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life in Fashion


Seemingly measured and thoughtful in her fashion life, color actually had Carolyn’s full attention. Her wardrobe was a deliberate “absence of color,” a term coined by fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel when explaining the absolute beauty in black and white. Carolyn had once advised a former Calvin Klein colleague that if you can’t afford expensive fabrics or designs then you should stick to black. She even spoke about color during her brief interview with Glamour magazine in 1992, saying, “I like very classic colors, black, navy, grey and white. If I want to add some impact, I’ll do it with texture.” She didn’t mention beige though. Countless times, however, she chose to wear it in the form of pants, skirts, dresses, and coats while walking her dog Friday, running errands, or attending evening events, but she never publicly mentioned her love of the color. Privately, according to designer Stephan Janson, she expressed her preference for black and shades of brown while shopping for her Milan trip in 1997. 

There can be no doubt that beige seemed to be the color she chose to break and redirect her stream of black consciousness. At Calvin Klein, where Carolyn worked from 1989 to 1996, beige and all shades thereof—brown, khaki, camel, and ecru—were considered a color standard for the house. Calvin Klein archivist Jessica Barber says that most people associate black with the brand; she reasons this was because most leading fashion photography was being shot in monochrome leading to the mistaken color conclusion. The designer went as far as owning a Mercedes in brown; his stores all reflected similar shades, a natural, organic side to his vision. Beige as a color has long been synonymous with heritage, think a Burberry trench coat or riding jodhpurs. The color evolved from army camouflage to function for aviator Amelia Earhart, and by the time Richard Avedon lensed model Veruschka in 1968 wearing a beige YSL safari jacket complete with dagger and rifle, the color had accrued plenty of “maverick/explorer” connotations to it. 

Camouflage, adventure, and heritage are solid tags for beige and its variations. Carolyn never wore a full look in the color, but her equation of black plus beige or camel was a regular feature for her. It was significant enough for it to be chosen at her formal press introduction as the new Mrs. John Kennedy. She chose Prada, wearing a full look including runway model hair. In that moment, she was a picture of completeness, an authority, as her own woman who happened to marry a Kennedy. She is the one you are looking at, not John. It became a memorable image that she knew would be shared globally. Her colleagues at Calvin Klein were not surprised by the choice, affirming that everyone was wearing Prada or Calvin Klein in the office at the time. She stuck to what she knew and didn’t go off-piste for her first photo op. Just as Carolyn had opined on the color black and its ability to disguise cheap fabric, beige is the opposite. The color relies solely on garment construction and the silhouette it creates. Tacky textiles, flashy patterns, cheap textures, or insipid design elements do not belong to the house of beige; it is the epitome of luxury, and Carolyn, ever the keen curator of her image, knew that.

Wayne Scot Lukas (Celebrity fashion stylist): "Carolyn was larger than life. She made you feel like everything—she was like your big sister, your gay best friend. She would put pieces together in this “no fucks given” kind of way; it was incredibly sexy. When I first met her, she had this California girl look: curves, hair that tumbled down or was wrapped in a messy bun. She was just beautiful; she sucked the air out of any room she was in. She had a warm relationship with everyone. She would get close when she was talking to you—a master manipulatorbut you didn’t mind it happening to you. Carolyn created her looks so simply, but without her confidence and inner strength I feel like they would have been nothing. She dressed from the inside out and that’s what made her different. For the Met Gala in 1994 she wears this black slip dress; that’s it. For her, it was all in the details. She made fashion real and accessible, and no one could do sexy and pretty at the same time like her, no one. If she wore a CK wrap dress she would make it sit low and loosely tie it. Look at the tulle gloves she wore for her wedding—that’s Carolyn. The long tight boots with a long tailored coat—that’s Carolyn. You are either gorgeous or a master of minimalist style but usually not both unless you are her. She didn’t just break the rules of fashion minimalism. She rewrote them."

Sasha Chermayeff (Close friend of John Jr.): "We were in Martha’s Vineyard, and I was walking into the bedroom because John wanted to show me something. Carolyn happened to be lying there half asleep, curled up, her hair and face all crumpled up. She looked up and smiled at me—like this sleepy little kid, but innocent and beautiful at the same time. I couldn’t help it, and I breathlessly said, “Carolyn you are incredible.” John followed my stare, and said, “I know, she looks like that all the time.” I mean, when I remember that scene, she was like a reclining Velázquez, just so utterly beautiful, beyond words, almost unreal. Let’s not forget her inner beauty as well. My children found her eternally attractive."

In 1992, W magazine described twenty-five-year-old Carolyn as someone “with mannequin proportions,” and as a “sultry blue-eyed beauty” who sees herself as “merely a physically blessed real person, sort of.” She was just promoted to the Collection position at Calvin Klein at the time. She revealed how she decided against pursuing a career in teaching despite majoring in elementary education in college. “At the time, I felt a little underdeveloped myself to be completely responsible for twenty-five other people’s children, and to a large extent, I felt it wouldn’t be provocative enough for me.” The fairy tale of New York usually consists of the protagonist, a small towner, fervently dreaming of a better, starry life, packing their bags, taking the quantum leap and heading to the Big Apple. As her colleague Julie Muszynski remembers, “black leggings with a big red sweater—she could have worn a sack and it would look good on her.” Sue Sartor shared an office with Carolyn for a brief time and remembers “a super smart, stylish, compassionate, and very funny girl. She was always encouraging to everyone. I would ask her what pieces to spend my clothing allowance on, and she would always advise on the ones that would last, design and trend wise; she was a master stylist even then.”

Another staffer remembers that the designers in Zack Carr’s office wore Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto most of the time, an early brush for Carolyn with the Japanese avant-garde designers. Tony Melillo, a friend of Carolyn and Kelly Klein, remembers “people admiring her from day one. Calvin used her just like Kelly as a muse; he looked to them both to understand what was good and bad. As an insider I think he really enjoyed seeing Carolyn in her natural state—coming into the office, going out, different parts of her but still the same girl.” Clare Waight Keller, the former designer at Givenchy who started her career at Calvin Klein, recalls that Carolyn “would come into the office like she just rolled out of bed, and then when she had meetings, she would transform herself from this super cool street casual to the most elegant thing you have ever seen.”

Carolyn’s people, her friends and colleagues, echoed similar adjectives, smart, feisty, a force, kind, complex, witty, graceful, beautiful, and of course stylish; brush strokes used to paint a picture of their Carolyn, to us. She was a woman very much in her own right, the real deal, her sartorial choices were merely a mirror of this inner assuredness. A flicker of Carolyn passed my mind, her getting ready for an event; her Yohji Yamamoto armor attire in place, putting on her red lipstick to face the pack of photographers outside, a cacophony of shutters and flashing lights. It occurred to me that she wasn’t reclaiming her power in front of the cameras or to the public, she never needed too, she always had it. —"CBK: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life in Fashion" (2023) by Sunita Kumar Nair