Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Weirdland: "Remember the Night"

"As long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, Christmas is." -Eric Sevareid

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in "Remember the Night" (1940) directed by Mitchell Leisen

From DeMille’s Irish postmistress at end of track to Clifford Odets’s worldweary “tramp from Newark,” Barbara, in her next picture, was to play a seen-it-all, light-fingered jewel thief on trial in New York for shoplifting a blindingly sparkling bracelet. Mitchell Leisen, one of Paramount’s leading directors, was assigned the picture. Each of Leisen’s fourteen pictures had been a box-office success.

Leisen was in great demand with actors. He was Paramount’s answer to George Cukor. Leisen wanted Barbara for the part of Lee Leander, jewel thief. He felt the part was written for her. Fred MacMurray was to be the hard-driving assistant district attorney prosecuting the case who, instead of sending her to jail, falls in love with her. Leisen thought MacMurray a goodlooking actor —with a beautifully built body and great legs, six feet four, tall and lanky —but MacMurray was quiet, genial, modest, and inexperienced. Though Preston Sturges came from the top and Barbara from the bottom —he from a European bohemian aristocracy and she from a showgirl street life— Barbara felt a great compatibility with Sturges. She thought him enormously talented and his script one of the best she’d ever read. “What’s on paper is on the screen,” she said. Sturges and Leisen were an interesting combination of sensibilities. Sturges wrote comedy with flashes of feeling and warmth; Leisen directed pictures that were warm with bursts of comedy.

The DA (Fred MacMurray) is getting ready to drive home to Wabash, Indiana, for the holidays to the family farm to see his mother and aunt. In the spirit of Christmas, he bails out the girl he’s about to prosecute so she won’t have to spend the holiday behind bars. The bondsman delivers her —with his compliments and a wink— to the DA’s apartment, the last thing he wants or expects (“What are you doing here?” he asks her. “I don’t know,” she says, “but I’ve got a rough idea”). Now he’s stuck with her; she’s been locked out of her hotel; she’s got nowhere to go, and she’s in his custody.

In the scene in which the family has gathered in the parlor around the Christmas tree, MacMurray plays the piano and sings “Swanee River,” and Barbara plays “A Perfect Day” on the piano as Willie (Sterling Holloway) sings. Leisen knew how to use visual business in a scene to create character, mood, story. His subtle eloquence and deftness was called the Leisen magic. Barbara teased MacMurray for being shy about filming love scenes. Barbara handled it by saying to the crew, “This is really going to be something, I am supposed to be kissed passionately by Fred.” She kidded Fred about it, as did the crew. When the day arrived, MacMurray gritted his teeth, determined to show them he wasn’t such a bad lover, and did the scene perfectly.

Barbara never looked more beautiful, more luminous, than she does in Remember the Night. In the end of Sturges’s script, “love reformed her and corrupted him, which gave us the finely balanced moral,” said Sturges, “that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, or caveat emptor.” In Remember the Night, Barbara is both classy and shopgirlish. Sturges was a loner, as Barbara had been before Bob Taylor came into her life. Barbara operates on many levels in 'Remember the Night': she is a believable crook; believably vulgar; believably sensitive and vulnerable; rebellious (in the scene with her mother, it is clear her defiance is bonded to her mother’s take on her). What Sturges gives Stanwyck is her longing for roots, her longing to go home for Christmas.

The combination of Barbara and MacMurray works: he is light and a good egg; she is breezy, grounded, larcenous, with a heart of gold and a yearning for home, like Sturges himself, who had such an uprooted childhood. “As it turned out,” said Sturges, “the picture had quite a lot of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz to make it box office.” It was Leisen’s best picture to date and Barbara’s best performance. -"A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True (1907-1940)" by Victoria Wilson

They go out to eat and talk about their situation. “Sounds like a play, doesn’t it?” asks Lee, which is Sturges acknowledging the whole “movie pitch idea” of his basic screenplay, then mocking it when John replies, “Sounds like a flop.” In 'Remember the Night,' this exchange leads us directly into the most important scene in the film, where Lee tries to explain her concept of right and wrong to John. Mrs. Sargent, who knows the truth about her, gently warns Lee that she might spoil John’s career if they were to get married. Lee is standing in front of a mirror, and when Mrs. Sargent puts her hands on Lee’s shoulders, Stanwyck freezes, with her mouth wide open, one arm up holding a comb, a vision of complete Mouchette-style awkwardness. Mirrors always bring out Stanwyck’s deepest feelings. Leisen films the hushed parting between John and Lee with real tenderness, but the complexities of the early scenes get politely swept under the rug. In many ways, it was a kind of holiday movie for Stanwyck. She said that the atmosphere on a Capra set was “like a cathedral,” while on a Sturges set it was “a carnival.” -"Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman" (2012) by Dan Callahan

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas with Barbara Stanwcyk & Robert Taylor

During production on The Gorgeous Hussy, Joan was impressed with Bob Taylor’s easy, graceful naturalness as an actor, but she was baffled by Barbara and Bob as a couple. Joan knew what Barbara had been through with Fay, and he and Bob were different in so many ways. Joan didn’t see Bob as Barbara’s type.

Metro was touting Robert Taylor as the “most sensational box-office draw since Clark Gable first leaped to fame.” Taylor’s role in His Brother’s Wife was that of a young research scientist, Chris Claybourne (it was Taylor’s fourth role in a year as a doctor), the playboy son of an acclaimed medical doctor, about to embark on his first expedition to the jungles to find a serum for spotted fever. Barbara was Rita Wilson —a professional “mannequin” —worldly, beautiful, out for a lark, who meets the young scientist just before he is to set sail for South America.

Their high romance is a fling, days and nights of nonstop fun and high jinks. No questions asked, no attachments. At the end of ten days, each has been drawn into a web of feeling for the other, and hours before his departure Chris decides to abandon his mission, and the promising career that will come from it, and marry Rita. Later, Rita seduces Chris’s brother into falling in love and marrying her and walks out on her vows minutes after the ceremony. The righteous Tom Claybourne —earnest, responsible, hardworking— is desperate, unable to work or think of anything but Rita, and his own rising star as a brilliant doctor is suddenly in free fall.

Barbara and Bob went to the studio together by car. He sent flowers to her dressing room, as he had with Janet Gaynor and Joan Crawford. He lunched daily in Barbara’s dressing room and left with her at the end of the day. On Saturdays they went riding in the late afternoon or early evening and ate at the Brown Derby or at a drive-in sandwich stand near Bob’s house. When not filming, Barbara and Bob stayed in their dressing rooms. Bob brought a Victrola to the set and kept it there during the fourteen-day shoot so Barbara would be able to listen to her favorite records, among them Ray Noble, the Ambrose and Hylton orchestras, and Ellington’s and Goodman’s bands.

After four months of seeing each other, Bob thought Barbara “one of the great women of the Twentieth Century, a great woman and a very great actress.”

Stephen Dallas surprises Laurel on Christmas Day and asks Stella if Laurel can spend the day with him. Stella and Laurel have planned to open presents and then “take in a show.” Stella is glad to see Stephen, and when he asks her to join them for dinner before they are to catch the train back to New York, Barbara’s Stella sees in Stephen the man she fell in love with. When shopping for her resort wear before she and Laurel go off to the Mirador, Stella buys the kinds of tacky shoes no one but a nineteenth-century London trollop would wear, and not the modest Stella who greets Stephen on Christmas Day or who tells Ed Munn she doesn’t have feelings for anyone but Laurel. Stella at the resort, getting out of her sickbed all dolled up to go and find Laurel, has put on such an assortment of clothes, jewelry, and makeup to toddle across the manicured lawn that one young man remarks, “She isn’t a woman; she’s a Christmas tree.”

“I had to indicate to audiences, through the emotions shown by my face,” said Barbara, “that for Stella, joy ultimately triumphed over the heartache she felt. Despite her shabbiness and loneliness at that moment, there was a shining triumph in her eyes, as she saw the culmination of her dreams for her daughter.”

Bob gave his mother a Christmas present of a trip to Idaho Falls to spend the holiday with relatives. Barbara referred to her as a “miserable old bitch” and started arguments with Ruth who didn’t know what to say or how to respond. Ruth often complained to Bob that she was frail and sickly; she controlled her son through her constant illnesses and the threat of her imminent death. Before she left for Idaho, Ruth and Bob and Barbara had Christmas dinner and unwrapped presents around the tree. Among the presents Bob gave Barbara was a cow that mooed when its tail was pulled. Barbara gave Bob a set of magic tricks. On Christmas Day, they went with Marion and Zeppo to the fourth annual Christmas Stakes at the Santa Anita racetrack on the old Lucky Baldwin ranch. Dion stayed at home with Nanny, as he usually did. Santa Anita was the place to be on Christmas: Spencer Tracy, Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Raymond, Anthony Quinn and his new bride, Katherine DeMille, were there, as were Edward Arnold and his son; Virginia Bruce and her husband, the writer and director J. Walter Ruben; George Raft and Virginia Pine. -"A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True (1907-1940)" by Victoria Wilson

Monday, December 23, 2013

Myrna Loy - Christmas Morning (with William Powell)

Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man- Christmas Morning: It's Christmas morning. Detective Nick Charles is lying on the couch in his bathrobe, shooting ornaments off the tree with his brand-new air gun, using the bottoms of his slippers to aim. "This is the nicest present I ever got," he tells his wife, Nora, who's sitting in a nearby chair, wearing a fur coat. Then, trying to aim using a mirror, he misses an ornament and shoots out a window, at which point he curls up into a ball and pretends to be asleep. He opens one eye to glance over at his wife. She just looks bemused and goes back to stroking her new coat. Instead of talking about property damage, they reminisce about the criminal who almost killed them the night before. And then they have another drink. While Loy herself was divorced four times, she had a pretty great life (1905-1993), and an incredible career. A pre-feminist feminist who has yet to be rediscovered by the third wave, Loy demanded the studio pay her as much as William Powell. She fought for civil rights. She and F.D.R. had an extended, unconsummated romance. Spencer Tracy, Clark Cable and John Barrymore all pursued her.

No actress of today radiates the sheer sexual wisdom of Myrna. No actor ever achieves the quirky lust she brought out in William Powell. As Nick and Nora, they bring something rare and precious to bear on marriage: a sense of humor. He makes her swoon with the wise figure he cuts, and makes her laugh with wry lines like, "This case is putting me way behind on my drinking." One time at a New Year's Eve party, the lights go out and when they come back up, Nick is kissing someone else. "Ahem," Nora says. Nick tips his hat to the other woman and apologizes for his mistake, then resumes kissing his wife. Every time they run into an old friend of Nick's, the friend assumes the beautiful Nora is his mistress and Nora, amused, doesn't correct him. I remember reading an Anna Quindlen column many years ago about the difference between boyfriends and husbands. She says she's always liked boyfriends better, so when she married, she picked a boyfriend type. It's the difference between security and freedom. And '30s screwball comedies like The Thin Man are all about the latter. Nora understood that it's important to be the wife and the mistress at the same time. Nick understood that it's important to be both the husband and the boyfriend.

Oh, there were times when Bill had a crush on me and times when I had a crush on Bill, but we never made anything of it. We worked around it and stayed pals. In this world today, nobody seems to understand how you can just be terribly close and love somebody a whole lot and not sleep with him. If Bill and I had been lovers, then we would have had fights. And if we’d been married, it would have been even worse. —Myrna Loy

Jean Harlow and William Powell in "Reckless" (1935) directed by Victor Fleming

Myrna complained in her autobiography about the way Harlow was distorted beyond recognition and maligned in the press, as well as in sensationalized biographies and biopics. Just as she would jump to Joan Crawford’s defense after Christina Crawford’s tattle-tale book Mommie Dearest came out, she stood up for Harlow, who was indeed subjected to tabloid-style smears too many times. But Myrna’s defense went overboard. She sanitized Harlow, overlooking the frank sexuality that had catapulted her to stardom and the questions that Paul Bern’s probable suicide raised. She characterized her friend as the good-girl victim of exploiters and gossipmongers bent on tarnishing an idol. Myrna’s cleansed Harlow is intelligent, well-mannered,joyful and easy to be with, “a sensitive woman with a great deal of selfrespect”, not the cheap sexpot she’d often been taken for. But in her zeal to protect her friend, Myrna denied Harlow’s zesty essence.

What happened to the free spirit notorious for going without underwear, the secret drinker, or the promiscuous blonde who’d dallied with the married Max Baer and Howard Hawks? Harlow grew up a lot during her last few years and evolved into a brilliant screwball comedienne, but she was never prim. If Myrna found Harlow’s death hard to bear, Bill Powell found it totally devastating. Behind dark glasses, and leaning on his mother’s arm, he sobbed without stint at her Forest Lawn funeral, an MGM production at which Jeanette MacDonald broke down while trying to perform “Indian Love Call” and Nelson Eddy sang “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” L. B. Mayer sent a heart of red roses five feet tall pierced by a golden arrow. Bill Powell strode up to the coffin to place a single gardenia on her breast. Carole Lombard muttered that she hoped there would be no such superproduction when her turn came. "Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood" (2011) by Emilie W. Leider

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Robert Taylor: The Man with the Perfect Charm

“There was a style of living and making motion pictures which no longer exists. It has been coldly modernized into something very factual … For some of us who were fortunate enough to have been a part of the Golden Age, however, the memory lingers on.” -Robert Taylor (in Variety Magazine, 1966).

Charles Tranberg’s biography of Robert Taylor (available in kindle ebook, 2013) presents a good opportunity to take another look at the career of one of the brightest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In the chapter 8 “Post-War Slump,” Tranberg summarizes part of Linda J. Alexander’s revelations exposed in "Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood & Communism" (2008).

Robert Taylor was born in Filley, Nebraska on August 5, 1911. Son of Spangler Andrew Brugh (a farmer turned osteopath doctor) and his invalid wife Ruth Stanhope, he grew up in Beatrice once the Brughs had settled. At Beatrice High School, he started to take advantage of his magnetism with young ladies, dating a dozen of blue-eyed girls (Helen Rush being his first sweetheart). Later, he enrolled at Doane College under Herbert Grey’s tutelage to become a concert cellist. When Grey was transferred to Pomona College, Taylor followed his steps to the West Coast. After having discarded other options such as medicine, music, psychology and business, Taylor seriously considered a career in acting, joining the Pomona College’s production of ‘Journey’s End’ where he was spotted by a MGM talent scout in 1932.

Taylor made his first screen test for Sam Goldwyn in 1933 which was reportedly unmemorable, but MGM (with Louis B. Mayer at the helm) saw enough promise to groom him as a screen presence. Taylor had his first leading role in "Society Doctor" (1935) with Virginia Bruce (their off-screen affair was stifled by Mayer, adamant that Taylor’s public image continued to be perceived as an eligible bachelor).

In 1936 he starred in "Camille" (which is 33 on the American Film Institute list of Best Romances) with his idolized Greta Garbo. Taylor was named ‘Second King of Hollywood’ after Clark Gable (Taylor remained dubbed ‘The Man with the Perfect Profile’ by MGM’s publicity head Howard Strickling until the demise of the studio system. Holding the record for the longest contract in MGM from 1934-1958, Taylor outlasted ‘The King’ Gable).

Margaret Sullavan was his co-star in Borzage’s classic "Three Comrades" (1938), which includes the only screenwriting credit of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Taylor’s flair for comedy was allowed escape when in 1938 he co-starred with Vivien Leigh in "A Yank at Oxford". The pair appeared again in both actors’ favorite title: "Waterloo Bridge" (1940). Taylor remarked at the time, “I felt surer of myself in scenes with Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge than I have in any dramatic role.”

From 1941 on, Taylor continued to diversify his range of roles, unearthing darker facets in "Billy the Kid" (Taylor just “loved that picture”), "Johnny Eager" (Taylor was enraptured by Lana Turner whilst Johnny toyed with her emotions on-screen) or "High Wall". With Audrey Totter also playing against type, Taylor successfully switched off his suave persona, reinventing himself as a tormented war vet who is confined inside a psychiatric hospital. In "Bataan" he gives a gritty portrayal as Sgt. Bill Dane. Director Tay Garnett recalled: “Bob Taylor was one of the world’s great gentlemen… In spite of his astounding good looks, he was determined to be a fine actor.” "Song of Russia" (1944) was controversial due to its sympathetic portrait of communist peasants, which clashed with Taylor’s traditional Methodist upbringing (Taylor felt the film was blatant communist propaganda). His role as psychotic husband in "Undercurrent" led his leading lady Katharine Hepburn to note Taylor as one of the underrated actors in the business.

Taylor had lost his sexual desire towards his dominant wife Barbara Stanwyck who constantly attacked his masculinity. They got married in 1939, precipitated by the studio’s response to the article “Hollywood’s Unmarried Husbands & Wives” by Sheilah Graham. Although various Stanwyck’s biographers (Axel Madsen, Dan Callahan) have portraited Taylor negatively, Barbara’s priority seemed to be her professional career to the detriment of her relationships.

Taylor’s personality had drastically changed after leaving the US Naval Aircorps in 1945, and Barbara couldn’t tolerate more of his infidelities. A divorce was granted in 1952, allowing her to collect 15 percent of Taylor’s earnings until he died. Despite of numerous interpretations of the Stanwyck marriage as a lavender union, film historian Laura Wagner gives a more plausible explanation: “The simple fact about the Taylor/Stanwyck marriage is that he was henpecked.” While filming "The Night Walker" (with ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck) Taylor observed: “It felt like we had never been married.”

One of Taylor’s most excruciating experiences during the infamous House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings, during which numerous actors, writers and directors were blacklisted for alleged Communist ties. Although touted as a “friendly witness” by the HUAC’s Chairman J. Parnell Thomas, Taylor would disagree. In fact, he had written a letter to the Committee begging not to be commanded to the witness stand. Taylor always considered himself an “unfriendly” witness, calling the hearings a “circus”. But his subpoenaed appearance was turned into a convenient publicity stunt by the committee. Although he would eventually name three people: Howard Da Silva, Karen Morley and Lester Cole, he never actually called them Communists explicitly. Taylor never talked about that difficult period. “It was a closed book,” said his secretary Ivy Pearson-Mooring. It pained him too much to discuss it.” Blacklisted screenwriter Marguerite Roberts remembered Taylor in a good light: “I had him in quite a few pictures: Escape, Undercurrent, Ambush, Ivanhoe and The Bribe. Robert Taylor was a stiff guy but a nice enough man, a reactionary who didn’t like my politics but he was all right.”

Aside from a magical amorous interlude with Ava Gardner, Robert Taylor was mainly linked romantically to Eleanor Parker. Doug McClelland made an analysis of their relationship (professional and personal) in his book "Woman of a Thousand Faces" – Of his on-set experiences with Ms. Parker, Taylor commented in a letter to his assistant Ivy Pearson-Mooring: “A little ‘location romance’ has developed which will end the minute I get home.” Taylor and Parker showed palpable chemistry in their three films together:

Above & Beyond (featuring one of Taylor’s finest performances), Valley of the Kings, and Many Rivers to Cross. According to Jane Ellen Wayne’s biography, Eleanor Parker was Taylor’s favorite leading lady and “complemented him on the screen more than any other actress”. Taylor dated Virginia Grey (Gable’s former lover) too: “I don’t think Bob liked himself very much and was not a happy man when I knew him. He was a real introvert when it came to a man and woman relationship,” Virginia recounted. Taylor probably felt disoriented in his love life until he met German actress Ursula Thiess -tagged “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” by Photoplay, 1952-. Taylor married Ursula in 1954.

Taylor excelled at playing shady types during the ’50s: a corrupt cop agonizingly trying to find his way of redemption in "Rogue Cop" (“Taylor handles his tough guy role with ease”, The New York Post reviewed), a sadistic buffalo hunter in "The Last Hunt", and a morally compromised lawyer in "Party Girl" -Nicholas Ray complimented his performance saying: “I saw Taylor working for me like a true Method actor.”- “Bob was an extremely talented artist,” Robert Loggia recalled, “he was also the ultimate gentleman and a true professional… but the critics really never gave him his due.”

In 1958, Robert Taylor founded his production company and launched a TV show for ABC: The Detectives (1959-1962), where he prolonged his tough guy act. “I ain’t proud no more!”, he jokingly complained to his buddy Tom Purvis about the lesser category of the films he was doing during the 60′s decade. Although his film career wasn’t flourishing anymore, Taylor’s personal life had blossomed into a pure family bliss.

Each passing day, his love for Ursula and the kids strengthened more. “My German heritage of celebrating Christmas rather dominated my family, and my husband was beginning to see it through my eyes,” Ursula wrote, “he had looked at it as commercialism… But once he appointed himself Santa Claus to his children, his whole attitude changed.” I recently had a conversation with Tessa Taylor and she remembers his father as a genuine 1950′s family man: “He played Santa Claus at Christmas. He barbecued with friends and percolated coffee in the morning and watched Ralph Story and Jackie Gleason at dinner time on TV trays.” Sadly, Taylor’s long-life habit of smoking took its toll on his health inexorably: he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1968. Robert Taylor uttered his last words -”Mutti, I love you”- in Ursula’s arms on June 8, 1969. Ronald Reagan gave a fine eulogy to his memory defining Taylor as ‘a truly modest man.’ Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin also attended the funeral.

In 1983, George Cukor had commented: “Robert Taylor was my favorite actor. He was a gentleman -that is rare in Hollywood.” Although they stripped Taylor’s name from the MGM Studio Lot (Lion’s Building) and changed it for “The George Cukor Building,” irony is not lost on those who see the big picture. Over the last decades, Taylor’s figure has suffered scorn for his conservative politics, and these prejudices have been somehow detrimental to his popularity in comparison with other more revered classic stars.

Charles Tranberg and Linda J. Alexander's biographies work out as the perfect antidote against these previous notions. We may or may not share Taylor’s obstinate beliefs, but he came to represent and exalt the premier ideals of the American Dream: perseverance, humility and beauty – and those values must be cherished, preserved and shared.

Taylor unfolded his invented on-screen personalities, hiding his natural shyness most of the time. We see in all of his characters a remanent charm that cannot be obscured by any fade-out: his dandyish demeanour in "Magnificent Obsession", tentatively wooing Stanwyck in "This Is My Affair", his romantic despair in "Camille", crying bitter tears after knocking down his best friend in "The Crowd Roars", crazily smitten with Jean Harlow in "Personal Property", waiting for eternity in "Waterloo Bridge", his ruthless suavity in "Johnny Eager", his spirited courage in "Bataan", his disturbing semblant in "High Wall", shooting bullets under a fireworks explosion in "The Bribe", his enigmatic malice in "Conspirator", commanding a battalion of Amazons in "Westward the Women", his staid conversation in "Above & Beyond", his limp gait in "Party Girl", his contemptuous remarks in "The Hangman", his cynical guilt in "Rogue Cop", crying distressed in "Johnny Tiger"…

Inside the star system, Robert Taylor constituted an entire galaxy of emotions. This is sufficient argument to restore his legacy, exemplarily defended by three inspired biographical works: “My Life Before, With, and After Robert Taylor” by Ursula Thiess, “Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism” by Linda J. Alexander, and “Robert Taylor: A Biography” by Charles Tranberg. Article first published as Robert Taylor: The Man with the Perfect Charm on Blogcritics.

Robert Taylor (The Object of My Affection) video from Kendra on Vimeo.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Robert Taylor: Barbara Stanwyck's one true love

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in "Remember the Night" (1940) directed by Mitchell Leisen

“It’s one of those quirky twists of fate that a film as exceptional as 'Remember the Night' has been so overlooked when it comes to great Christmas movies,” TCM host Robert Osborne was quoted as saying. “It’s our hope at TCM that our special Christmas Eve showing of this holiday gem, now fully remastered, will help give it a much-deserved new life.” "Remember the Night" marked the first of four on-screen pairings of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. (the other three are: Double Indemnity, The Moonlighter, and There’s Always Tomorrow.) In the film, MacMurray plays a prosecutor who falls in love with a shoplifter (Stanwyck) during a court recess at Christmas time." Source:

From the get-go, Barbara presented something of a sense of unease in Robert Taylor. She was his paradox. She could present that 'pal' sort of persona, but he wasn't sure she was going to be one to share his more masculine interests. She was attractive, though not extraordinarily feminine, a trait important to him. Taylor resented having to feel subservience in relation to his mother's domineering will, and that translated into his relationship with Barbara. History has repeatedly shown that Bob was decidedly heterosexual. Every interview conducted with people who had attempted to 'out' him in print boiled down to a rumor. Harry Hay was one of the most deliberate propagators of these rumors. Considered an early leader of the gay rights movement in America, as well as a closeted-gay member of the Communist Party of America, Hay was asked directly if he had proof of Bob's homosexuality. He sheepishly admitted he did not have an iota of corroboration. He acknowledged that there was nothing but gossip involved; none of the of-repeated fantasy was based on fact.

Bob and Barbara's relationship was not one of convenience. The attraction was real. Bob wanted that 'pal', that woman who would be with him whenever he needed a companion; he also wanted a woman to look to him as her provider and protector. Though Barbara wasn't traditionally seen that way, at her core she was an emotionally helpless creature in many ways. Hunting and fishing and flying trips were Bob's way of asserting his place as the head of their family.

Joel McCrea and Sam Goldwyn had a meeting and conversation turned to who would play the lead in Stella Dallas. McCrea suggested Barbara. "She's just got no sex appeal!", Sam Goldwyn blurted. "Well, you better not let Bob Taylor know that." McCrea laughed uproariously. "He's nuts about her, and he thinks she has sex appeal." That got Barbara a screen test. She hated to do them, but wanted this part so much she relented. Stella was rough, out of shape, a bleached blonde with a vulgar sex appeal. She was the sort of woman Barbara might have become if she hadn't found a place in Hollywood. Bob accompanied her to a Hollywood preview of the film on July 23, 1937. Sam Goldwyn had hired police officers to protect the stars in attendance.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor at the premiere of "Stella Dallas"

Bob's usual restraint was lost when he saw Barbara helpless and pinned in the arms of a burly cop. He glared at the policeman, struggling against those holding him back as he bellowed, "I'll punch you in the jaw!" Headlines the next day screamed, "Taylor Rescues Barbara Stanwyck From Officer!" Taylor was monogamous by nature. If he made a permanent choice, he'd be out of circulation. The specter of Bob's parent perfect marriage still stood in front of him.

Once Barbara had a party and 'allowed' Bob to invite his cronies. John Wayne was there and said Barbara retired early. "We were just a bunch of guys telling tall tales about the big fish we didn't catch and the bears that got too close to our tents, when she appeared in a nightgown at the top of the stair and yelled, 'Get up here to bed where you belong!' I can't repeat what else she said but it had to do with sex and what she wanted him to do. I might have told her where a wife belonged and how she should act, but I knew she would take it out on Bob. I felt very bad for him."

"Barbara was tomboyish, yet used sex like a loaded gun." Bob was a blatant sex symbol in his public life, and though he had a proclivity to be very sexually active in his private life, his attentions weren't always toward his wife anymore. Many of Bob's extramarital romances could be traced to his film credits.

Lana Turner said blatantly that Bob was exactly the sort of guy that attracter her. "I wasn't in love with Bob," Lana stated. Bob was determined, though. Whether he thought he was really in love, or the lust factor overtook all logical thought, Bob was ready to leave Barbara for Lana Turner. Common belief indicated that they did have a hot-and-heavy physical relationship. Stanwyck was riding the crest as an actress, but losing a grip on the man she loved. Taylor took the title role in "Johnny Eager", a gangster who destroys himself for his love of a girl. Taylor said to his best friend Tom Purvis, that he and Lana were 'bursting' with passion during production, but they did nothing about it until they finished filming. "I had to have her if only for one night." Bob's confessed love for Lana Turner and asking her for a divorce nearly killed Barbara.

About his performance in "Waterloo Bridge", Taylor would say: "It was the first time I really gave a performance that met the often unattainable standards I was always setting for myself."

Lia DiLeo was young, busty, long-legged, and she hardly spoke a word of English. She secured a part in "Quo Vadis", nothing more than a blip across the screen. She and Bob never appeared together onscreen but were seen as a couple nearly everywhere else in town. "There were hundreds of girls. I don't know why he picked me. He was very nice, a gentleman. He wasn't really a talker, just a few words... 'hello', 'goodbye', 'I love you.' He certainly was very macho, a very great, good lover. He wanted a divorce [from Barbara], I understand." He'd take her to dinner at the finer restaurants, and they usually went dancing afterward. Barbara arrived while filming was in progress.

Barbara stayed with her husband for six weeks. Once she left Italy, Bob was again back to his old ways, even seen frequenting a Roman whorehouse. Barbara dealt her last card in this scenario. She did not want a divorce; she wanted to keep hold of Bob forever. Once he had finished filming and was back in Los Angeles, their inevitable face-to-face happened. She gave Bob an ultimatum to behave in public, or she would meet him in court. He took her up on the divorce, and that turned out to be a challenge Barbara lived to regret, later calling her hasty move 'the biggest mistake of my life." She carried a torch for Taylor until the day she died. Robert Taylor was the one true love of her life, and she went to her grave avowing that love.

Sources: "Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood, and Communism" (2008) by Linda Alexander and "The Life and Loves of Barbara Stanwyck" (2009) by Jane Ellen Wayne

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Happy 33rd birthday, Jake Gyllenhaal!

Jake Gyllenhaal talks about his role in the film "Prisoners" (2013) at Charlie Rose's show

Happy 33rd Birthday, Jake Gyllenhaal!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Robert Taylor & Lana Turner: Electric Chemistry in Johnny Eager

“If this were serious drama one might complain that what makes Johnny Eager tick remains a mystery, that lovely students of sociology aren’t apt to embark on discussion with a parolee on Cyrano de Bergerac’s apostrophe to a kiss. But as pure melodrama Johnny Eager moves at a turbulent tempo. Mr. Taylor and Miss Turner strike sparks in their distraught love affair. Van Heflin provides a sardonic portrait of Johnny’s Boswell, full of long words and fancy quotations.” -Theodore Strauss, New York Times (1942)

Johnny Eager (1941) directed by Mervyn LeRoy - Full Movie -

Lisbeth, tortured by guilt over her "murderous" act, is on the edge of a nervous breakdown when Johnny finally comes to see her, and when he realizes what she's prepared to sacrifice because she loves him, something finally clicks inside of him. He confesses to her that the murder was a fake -- the gun was loaded with blanks, she didn't kill anyone, the man she shot is fine and walking around as if nothing happened. But she thinks he's just trying to ease her conscience, so he sets out to prove it to her.

Despite the hurried feeling of the last ten minutes or so, this is a well-crafted story with some very nice plot touches along the way. There is a recurring motif with an honest cop, Badge No. 711, who is troublesome to Johnny's gambling rackets. Lisbeth's reference to Cyrano early on in the film serves as a kind of thematic backdrop -- just as Cyrano denied his love to spare Roxanne, Johnny pushes Lisbeth away because he knows he's no good for her. Performances are all top-notch, from the leads on down to Connie Gilchrist and Robin Raymond in one brief scene as Johnny's aunt and young cousin. The only weak link might be Robert Sterling as the hapless cuckolded fiancé, but his role doesn't give him much to do but stand around and look like a martyr.

Lana Turner is breathtaking to look at, and her acting ability never fails to catch me off-guard. Robert Taylor is a commanding presence as Johnny and Edward Arnold does his typical rich-white-conservative guy -- if you've seen him in any other movie, you've probably seen him play the same role. But it's Van Heflin who marches off with the acting honors (and the Academy statuette) as the tortured, philosophical lush.

Director Mervyn LeRoy draws on his experience with gritty crime dramas such as Little Caesar and I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, and infuses it with typical MGM gloss. It's a cleaner, less dangerous-looking underworld, but what it loses in violent realism, it makes up for in an intellectual bent that Warner Bros. couldn't match. Source:

Robert Taylor: Lana Turner and Robert Taylor starred together in “Johnny Eager” (1941) and Cheryl Crane (Lana's daughter) said their chemistry was electric: “these two beautiful people got carried away during the filming.” This was one of the few times Lana ever got involved with a co-star, Crane said. However, Taylor was married to Barbara Stanwyck at this time so Lana tried to resist, but they “fell into a heavy flirtation.” Stanwyck heard about it and headed down to the set to tell Lana hands off. Taylor told Lana he was going to leave Stanwyck for her and Lana backed off completely after that, Crane said. Source: