WEIRDLAND: August 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Dark Waters" (Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone), André de Toth Interview

André de Toth: Dark Waters (1944) was my second film in this country—the third actually, but we don’t want to talk about the first one. Alex Korda called me about that picture, so I knew it was some special occasion. He wanted to ask me a favor. I was afraid he might want to borrow money, because he was up and down all the time, but I said, “Sure.” He told me that, although she was his ex-wife, he still wanted the best for Merle Oberon; but he had been offered a project for her that was horrible. He wanted to send me the script, to have me take a look and see what I could do with it.

He proposed that if I would agree to direct the picture, he would let Merle act in it. There were seven producers on the picture, and none of them knew what they were doing. The only professional in the bunch, who was like an eighth producer, was Joan Harrison. They had only a short amount of time to fix this script and prepare this picture because of the financing contracts. Joan had a relationship with John Huston. John always needed money—he was very irresponsible in certain ways—so he agreed to do a rewrite; but he wanted one hundred thousand dollars. The producers were astonished. They had only spent twenty thousand for all the rights and screenplay drafts to that point; and the entire budget was only five or six hundred thousand. “Okay,” he said, “then pay me by the page.” It was an unusual approach, but I thought it was fine; so they agreed.

Of course, John expected that by the time he finished, he would end up making more than one hundred thousand; and he got a substantial advance. So we went forward and started shooting [before the rewrite was done]. As we shot, John and I would get together and discuss which scenes we were going to do next; and somewhere between two hours and two days later, the pages would arrive. And, if I approved them, he got paid. Now as one weekend approached, there was a big day of racing scheduled for Hollywood Park, and John sent in 22 pages. I needed five pages. The next morning, on the way to the track, John was at my door with his hand out. So we compromised on the number of pages, and I paid him.

AS: Of course, film noir is not a term that was in use back then, but how did you characterize this movie at the time?

ADT: It’s very funny that some writers about pictures discovered film noir. I must tell you, I never heard of it until years later. That’s fine, of course. Dark Waters was Gothic. Louisiana was just the right background to suggest that the house in the bayous was a Gothic prison. But that had to come out of the characters, out of the actors in the story not from any vistas of location. There were just a few shots of expanses, the car driving to the house, for example; but mostly I wanted everything to be tight on the people. Because, you know, in any film but especially in a dark film, a film of atmosphere, these pretty pictures of locations are just distracting. A little bit maybe, some real locations, some daylight here and there, so you wonder about it; but not much.

The character that Merle Oberon plays, Leslie, this character had been rescued after being in a lifeboat at sea for two weeks. So I didn’t want the usual glamour look. I wanted her to look as if she had had this ordeal. This was an important story point, she looked tired, worn down, and she was trying to recuperate both physically and mentally. On the first day of shooting with Merle, on the first set-up, I said, “Print” on the first take. It seemed like a good start. Merle turned to me and asked shyly, “Bundy, could I have it once more?”

I always assume that actors are looking for the best performance, so, “Sure. One more.” We did it, “Fine. Print.” Then again from Merle, “May I have one more?” The crew looked at me, and I thought about it, and decided I would honor her requests this first time. We did 40 takes. I discovered that [her boyfriend, cameraman] Lucien Ballard was in a doorway and until he nodded to her, she wanted one more. So after 40 takes, I went over to the camera, opened up the magazine, and pulled out a hundred feet of film. I handed it to her saying, “You wanted this, Merle, take it home with you.” I had no further problems with Merle or Lucien Ballard after that. You know, the line on the set is a fine one. If you lose control on a tight schedule, you’re finished.

AS: How many days did you have to shoot Dark Waters?

ADT: I think it was about 25 days, which was not too short a schedule for that time and that budget. And Lucien Ballard understood what that meant. He wanted to protect Merle but he understood that, for the performance to work, she might have to look awful, like she was exhausted and helpless. And the picture had to be dark.

AS: Did you cast all the other actors?

ADT: Yes, only Merle had been cast when I came on the project. I had seen Elisha Cook, Jr. in a couple of things such as The Maltese Falcon; and he would give me what I needed on screen, a little, pitiful slime. We had two villains really, Mitchell and Cook.

AS: Franchot Tone was a rather unusual hero, rather ominous himself. The first time you see him, after Leslie faints at the train station, is a low angle and he seems almost menacing.

ADT: Tone was one of many people up for the part of the doctor. The producers wanted a happy ending. But I wanted something else. I had to create an atmosphere, like an orchestrator, of anxiety, not just from Cook and Mitchell but also from Tone. I had imagined a final scene of them, [Leslie and the doctor], together somewhere else. She would be at the piano inside, and outside it would be snowing. A band would be playing carols, on the corner a man would be selling chestnuts, and Tone, [the doctor], would be walking home. And on the corner, a little girl and her mother would be buying chestnuts. And suddenly the little girl would run over to Tone, yelling “Daddy, Daddy.”

AS: You never got to shoot that ending, of course.

ADT: No. The producers wanted something safe. So I had to be satisfied with Mitchell. But with Mitchell’s white suit and his attitude, I did get something there, that sense of malaise. Source:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Laura's remake by James Ellroy, Sin City sequel

Classic Film Noir "Laura" Will Get The Remake Treatment From James Ellroy: It was only a matter of time before the Hollywood remake factory got their grubby little paws on a bonafide classic. It’s one thing to run films like Robocop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through the remake/reboot/sequel mill, but quite another to pounce on an unsuspecting film noir from the 1940s. That’s right: there’s a Laura remake in the works, and someone has got James Ellroy to write the script.

What is Laura, you ask? Sit down, children, and listen. Laura is film noir directed by Otto Preminger and stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price. It centers around the investigation of the death of Laura (Gene Tierney) by a tough-guy detective who begins to fall in love with her – posthumously, of course.

Tales are told of Laura, who she was, and why she died, and a picture slowly begins to build of the woman as told by those who knew her. Laura is a haunting, brilliant film noir, one that has influenced detective filmmaking ever since, up to and including David Lynch’s Twin Peaks TV series. James Ellroy’s presence on the Laura remake project is probably the best thing going for it; the only other piece of information that we have is that Stuart Till (The Tempest) will be executive producing. Granted, we do not know much more about what Ellroy’s take will be, or how he’s approaching the script, but at least he’s a writer that loves and understands what noir is all about. It’s a small conciliation, as I cannot imagine that a Laura remake will be worth anyone’s time.

Stranger things have happened, though. Perhaps Ellroy will provide a fresh view of a classic, or find a new way to adapt Laura‘s literary source material. But there is also a cast to consider, and anyone who has seen Laura must know that a cast like that one is difficult to approximate nowadays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see who they can get to fill Gene Tierney’s shoes. Source:

Lee said, "You want to catch the fight films at the Wiltern tonight? They're showing oldies- Dempsey, Ketchel, Greb. What do you say?" We were sitting at desks across from each other in the University squadroom, manning telephones. The clerical flunkies assigned to the Short case had been given Sunday off, so regular field dicks were doing the drudge work, taking down tips, then writing out slips assessing the tipsters and routing possible follow-ups to the nearest detective division. We'd been at it for an hour without interruption, Kay's "gutless" remark hanging between us. Looking at Lee, I saw that his eyes were just starting to pin, a sign that he was coming on to a fresh Benzie jolt. I said, "I can't." "Why not?" "I've got a date." Lee grinned-twitched. "Yeah? Who with?" I changed the subject. "Did you smooth it out with Kay?" "Yeah, I rented a room for my stuff. The El Nido Hotel, Santa Monica and Wilcox. Nine scoots a week, chump change if it makes her feel good." -"The Black Dahlia" (James Ellroy)

Years have passed. Wrinkles have crept into faces, bodies lowered into graves. Sin City, the stomping ground of evil wrapped in brightly hued darkness, hasn’t changed. We’re back in town, and we know what that means. Death, violent and opaque. Sex, lurid and omnipresent. Men, nursing broken hearts whose fractures spill out demons. Women, sexy deadly and deadly sexy. The world is black and white, the aesthetic of good and evil, brought to us by little men who sit in dark rooms and draw with machines.

Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) doesn’t gamble because it’s not gambling if you’re certain to win. His game is high-stakes poker and Johnny’s betting it all against Senator Roarke (Powers Booth), the baddest man in the baddest town on Earth. Johnny doesn’t gamble with his life because it’s not gambling if you are certain to lose. Dwight (Josh Brolin) snaps pictures, a peeping Tom with a license. His former flame needs his help and he can’t resist, gulping her sweet nothings like one more shot of whiskey.

She’s Ava (Eva Green), lust incarnate, a dame to kill for, her green eyes and red lips potent toxins an invitation one must accept. She needs Dwight to kill her husband, and who’s to say no to a dame in need? Source:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Joan Crawford: Glamour & Outsiderism

During the first year after her 1925 arrival at MGM, Joan Crawford's career was workmanlike but not spectacular. However, her special treatment continued. She was given a starring role in the film Sally, Irene, and Mary and small roles in a dozen others. But even with a light resume, publicity man Smith arranged for her to be named one of 1926s Wampas Baby Stars, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers' list of the dozen most promising newcomers. Among the others were Mary Astor and Fay Wray.

MGM's cautious stance on "talkies" continued into early 1928. During that time MGM turned out some of its finest movies, such as Garbo's Woman of Affairs, Crawford's Our Dancing Daughters, and Lon Chaney horror films like London after Midnight. In 1926 Crawford also caught Paul Bern's eye. Like Barbara LaMarr before her, Crawford became a target of what John Gilbert called Bern's "Mary Magdalene complex; he does things for whores."

Paul Bern sent Crawford gifts like a $10,000 ermine coat and made sure Thalberg became aware of her. He got her bigger films in 1926 and 1927 and more money, raises from $75 to $500 a week. MGM people knew Crawford was sleeping with Bern. In late 1926 Mayer ordered an $18,000 loan for Crawford to purchase a house at 513 Roxbury Drive. Owning their stars' homes gave MGM even more leverage in disagreements, but it was unusual for the studio to do it for a young actress at such an early point in her career.

Joan Crawford momentarily grabbed everyone's attention when she surprisingly married Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. During the previous year she had risen from small roles to marquee status, and as stardom grew so did stories of Crawford and sex. There were rumors the studio "encouraged" the Fairbanks union. Her image needed scrubbing; she had been named in two divorce suits for alienation of affection.

Fans thought the June 3, 1929, marriage made her part of Hollywood's royal family, but Fairbanks was on the outs with parents Doug and Mary. At the time an old rumor raged through Hollywood that Crawford had starred in a pornographic movie made in New York when she was called Billie Cassin. Harry Rapf heard the story soon after he met her and it had enough credence that he engaged MGM's local offices to search for copies. Eddie Mannix took charge of the project, and according to Maurice Rapf, son of Harry, the studio later had to buy the negative. Fairbanks told friends that during his Paris honeymoon he tried to find a copy. The Fairbanks story ran in Confidential magazine, an early tabloid.

When Crawford eventually left MGM in 1943 she paid the studio $50,000, which was extremely unusual. She was obviously paying back something. The only real evidence that the film did not exist is that a copy never turned up publicly. Her sexual antics were a problem for Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling during her entire career. She had lovers of both sexes and slept with virtually all of her costars and had a long affair with Tallulah Bankhead that began in New York and lasted into the late 1930s, through marriages to Fairbanks and Franchot Tone. In an interesting coincidence, Bankhead also had affairs with Fairbanks and Tone. When Tallulah met Joan Crawford and Doug Fairbanks Jr. Tallulah said to Joan, "Darling you're divine. I've had an affair with your husband and you're going to be next."

Mayer never liked Bankhead. When he called her into his office in 1932 to fire her, she told him she was "done with MGM. I slept with your six biggest stars." She told a mortified Mayer that Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck were among the half dozen. During a dinner party later in her career Crawford told Mayer that Bankhead was telling the truth. Joan’s bisexuality was also confirmed by Adela Rogers St. Johns, Ruth Waterbury, Hedda Hopper, and others. -"The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine" (2004) by E.J. Fleming

Joan Crawford reminded Larry J. Quirk (author of Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography) that she played heterosexual characters with which the general public could more easily identify. Quirk pointed out that while the characters she played may have been heterosexual, they were often outsiders from the wrong side of the tracks. “They were looked down upon by girls from the middle class, girls who laughed at the cheap clothing and perfume” —as Joan had herself been laughed at by the girls of her youth.

“Outsiderism takes many forms, but it does help create a kind of identification. That’s what gays are identifying with, in many of your movies. Being out of the mainstream but fighting for happiness in spite of it.” Despite her friendship with William Haines and his long-time partner, Joan wondered if gays were generally as romantic as all that. “Think of all the kids,” Quirk told Joan, “who come to big towns like New York to get away from small-town prejudices and meanness. They get off at Grand Central or the Port Authority Bus Terminal. They are raw, fearful, roughly defensive, just like the vulnerable girls in your earlier movies. They weather the comeons of predatory older men, they bond in mutually supportive friendships with others like them —just as your girls did—

they meet Mr. Right, they love him and lose him, and so on.” Joan agreed that many of her films had a gay-identification element to them, but more importantly, Quirk noted, they reflected the universal verities of the human condition. -"Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography" (2002) by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell

Paid (1930) directed by Sam Wood, starring  Joan Crawford and Robert Armstrong. The role of Mary Turner was initially given to Norma Shearer, however when she found out she was pregnant, her husband, Irving Thalberg wouldn't allow her to do another film until after the baby was born. It was Norma Shearer's 'delicate condition' that opened the door for Joan.

Joan Crawford and Walter Huston give powerful performances in this drama "Rain" (1932) directed by Lewis Milestone. Controversial for its time, the film tells the story of prostitute Sadie Thompson and the lustful preacher who tries to 'save her' when their ship makes an unscheduled stop over on the South Sea island of Pago Pago.

Joan Crawford "Always The Star" 1996 Documentary uploaded by The Concluding Chapter of Crawford

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How Franchot Tone Directed – and Lived – Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’

“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” -Anton Chekhov

This summer marks the 110th anniversary of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov’s death (he died July 15, 1904), and the 115th anniversary of the debut of the play Uncle Vanya, one of his most popular works. One of the greatest authors and dramatists, Chekhov loathed despotism and liars. His traumas arose from a materially deprived and stern youth rife with paternal abuse and financial misfortune through which he witnessed first-hand how random vicissitudes could so suddenly finish someone’s life. This became an obsession that would characterize Chekhov’s search for purpose through literature. “Medicine is my lawful wife,” he once said, “and literature is my mistress.”

Uncle Vanya, which premiered by the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899, was first adapted for the screen in an American translation in 1957 by a bravely committed Franchot Tone, whose fourth wife Dolores Dorn played Elena Andreevna in the film. Tone invested his savings, $250,000, in this complicated production which he co-directed with John Goetz. Tone’s aim was to replicate his Obie-winning 1956 Off-Broadway performance of Uncle Vanya, bringing the same cast to the screen (except for Signe Hasso who had played Elena on stage).

Sadly, the film disappeared for 53 years, finally released on DVD in June 2011. Despite Tone’s disappointment over the lukewarm reception of Uncle Vanya when the film opened at the Baronet Theater in New York, his fascination with Chekhov’s classic drama about a country doctor’s unrequited love would make a notable difference in his career. Variety magazine qualified it “probably the best work Tone has ever done.” The Village Voice in 1958 termed Tone’s performance “highly intelligent and sympathetic, maybe the best thing he’s ever done,” and The Age newspaper affirmed that Tone’s film represented a “painstakingly accurate translation,” “a literal photograph of a stage play,” and “undistilled Chekhov.” Ironically, Chekhov (unlike Dostoyevsky) considered most of his plays disguised comedies, and Tone’s character Dr. Mikhail Lvovich Astroff was actually the playwright himself. Tone thought of Uncle Vanya as “Chekhov’s best comedy.”

However, The Age‘s critic Nigel Jackson called Chekhov “the supreme master of disappointment in European literature.” That special blend of failed dreams, ordinary sadness, and comedic stoicism defined Chekhov’s fulminant vision: “Haven’t you noticed if you are riding through a dark wood at night and see a little light shining ahead, how you forget your fatigue and the darkness?” Dr. Astroff asks Sofia (Peggy McCay) hopefully. That final impulse to accept bitter truths and simply to keep going is displayed in the last Act by the splendid Peggy McCay. Her character has been in love with Dr. Astroff for a long time and she learns she’s not his ideal woman. George Voskovec in the title role (Voinitsky/Uncle Vanya) is equally excellent, particularly in his most desperate moments. This central character has served Professor Serebriakoff (Clarence Derwent) all his life and now feels emotionally drained and betrayed, his spirit devastated in the face of his impossible love for Serebriakoff’s wife Elena.

Having said that, this is Franchot Tone’s film, especially because Tone connects to Chekhov’s and Astroff’s high level, not only in his astounding characterization, but also in a deeper personal sense. Although Laurence Olivier famously played Dr. Astroff (along with Michael Redgrave as Vanya) in a later film version (1963) and Olivier was beyond brilliant, Tone’s heartfelt rendition hits harder and more lastingly. What lay behind Tone’s long-standing infatuation with Uncle Vanya? Chekhov’s outlook on relationships and Tone’s crumbled marriages share a nexus through the character of Dr. Astroff, who, as the play’s philosopher, observes in Act I that new generations of people forget the great achievements of the past, and that life is “a senseless, dirty business, and goes heavily.” Yet he also remarks in a contradictory speech that “I feel that if mankind is happy a thousand years from now I will have been a little bit responsible for their happiness.”

Similarly, Franchot Tone expressed in 1936: “I’m optimistic enough to believe the perfect state actually exists somewhere. We’ll have universal plenty in a few hundred years, only I won’t be here to see it… You can’t tell me that sometime I won’t find a Pitcairn’s Island. No taxes, no money, no politics. I’ve dreamed about a place like that since I was old enough to read Sir Thomas More.” A similar wounded idealism is reflected in Astroff’s tirade of disenchantment: “Everyone about here is silly, and after living with them for two or three years one grows silly oneself. It is inevitable. Yes, I am as silly as the rest, nurse, but not as stupid. Thank God, my brain is not addled yet, though my feelings have grown numb.” Franchot Tone often felt the same alienation in Hollywood’s star factory. In Act III Astroff deplores the increasing destruction of wildlife, “an unmistakable picture of gradual decay,” as a metaphor for an untenable future in store for a neglectful mankind. Astroff relates how his sentiments have become dead to the world, how he no longer loves anyone. This numbness is tantamount to a kind of anesthesia, and he gets his “feelings back again” only when one of his patients dies. Astroff confesses: “I was tortured so much by my conscience I felt that I’d deliberately killed him.”

We could argue that Astroff, at the instant of “killing” (accidentally) an anesthetized patient, is trying to eliminate his own anesthetized self in order to feel something again, albeit a feeling of guilt. The occasionally destructive fights between Tone and his wives (starting with his physical and verbal abuse of Joan Crawford) indicate how the actor may have seen himself reflected in Astroff’s (and by extention Chekhov’s) anguished soliloquies. Uncle Vanya‘s characters are trapped in their insufficient existences and harbor permanent resentment towards those around them, blaming each other for their shortcomings, at some moments utterly drowned in their narcissisms. Tone was frequently resentful during his seven years as a contract player at MGM, usually pigeonholed as blasé gentleman.
In Act III Sofia says that her father’s provincial state is going to “rack and ruin” and describes Elena’s idleness as “infectious.” More ominously, in Act IV Astroff casts Elena as a harbinger of disaster, precipitating the ruin of both the household and the forests. In addition, Astroff is stubbornly convinced of Elena’s desire for him, although she appears terribly bored by his oratory. Astroff passionately kisses Elena and she momentarily relents, but untimely Vanya catches them in the act. This scene is profoundly erotic in the film because of the natural chemistry between Tone and his then wife Dolores Dorn who, despite lacking Signe Hasso’s gravity, is very effective in her role, so much so that she was to win “Best Actress” at the San Francisco Film Festival.

Chekhov had been a bit of a philanderer and was labeled “Russia’s most elusive literary bachelor” from his favoring of liaisons with prostitutes. In 1901 he had married Olga Knipper, a young actress whom he had first met at rehearsals for The Seagull and who would act in his plays regularly. During the winters Olga stayed in Moscow alone. Anton Chekhov died in 1904 of tuberculosis. Franchot Tone would die of lung cancer in 1968. Astroff’s fixation on beautiful women (“I am not capable of loving any one, I only love beauty”) mirrors exactly Chekhov’s, and, by the same token, Tone loved feminine beauty in almost a purist way, pursuing Barbara Payton despite her mental instability. Likewise, in the film Astroff ignores his responsibilities towards his sick patients and his duty to replant trees. Instead, he begins to drink heavily as he plans to seduce Elena.

Dolores Dorn reminisces in her autobiographical Letter from a Hollywood Starlet (2013) how in Tone’s pronounced alcoholism (exacerbated by his incapability of finding a distributor for Uncle Vanya in Europe) he succumbed to enraged reproaches and accusations of infidelity against her, almost veering into a Jekyll/Hyde duality. When not affected by ebriety, Tone was an impeccably charming partner and friend, and what struck me the most about Dolores’ memoirs was the depiction of Tone’s nervous breakdown when he didn’t manage to find any alternative to overcome his art’s helplessness. Vanya talks about art too, corrosively denouncing Professor Serebriakoff’s hypocrisy: “You write about art, but you don’t understand the first thing about art. All those works of yours which I once loved so much are not worth a penny.”

In America, Chekhov’s importance increased with the implantation of Stanislavski’s system of acting and its notion of subtext: “Chekhov often expressed his thought not in speeches but in pauses,” wrote Stanislavski. The Group Theatre (co-founded by Franchot Tone) developed specifically the subtextual approach to drama, influencing generations of American actors and playwrights such as Stella Adler and Clifford Odets, and among them Franchot Tone’s lifelong friends the theater pioneers Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg.

Uncle Vanya takes place during a vatic and memorable autumn day. The malaise and the purity of our dreams are both all there, conjured by Chekhov, Vanya, and Franchot Tone. Summer will pass and we won’t escape the arrival of autumn. Article first published as How Franchot Tone Directed – and Lived – Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ on Blogcritics.

Clip from "Uncle Vanya" (1957)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Howard Huges: The Untold Story (Harlow, Crawford, Davis, Hepburn)

Howard Hughes approached sex in the same scientific manner he would utilize to conquer the skies. An elevator flight down was the Cocoanut Grove, where he shyly looked on at the starlets under the papier-mache palm trees-props left over from The Sheik. He would soon do more than look, courting former flapper Joan Crawford; Constance Bennett, who was looking to marry a millionaire; and Madge Bellamy, a fellow Texan whose most recent films were The Reckless Sex and Havoc.

Jack Mulhall and Greta Nissen in "The Butter and Egg Man" (1928)

Bringing sound to Hell's Angels meant bringing dialogue to its actors. That wasn't a problem for the two male leads. Ben Lyon and James I fall, playing brothers in the Royal Flying Corps, sounded stalwart. But statuesque Greta Nissen, playing the English hussy who comes between the brothers, had a thick Scandinavian accent. Because of the cost of the sound conversion, Hughes couldn't afford a star name as a replacement. So he launched a search for someone new-and sexy. The rush was on. Starlets and extras paraded past Hughes. He screened dozens of tests of up and comers, made by Metro-GoldwynMayer, Paramount, and Warner Brothers. Nubile young actresses June Collyer, Thelma Todd, and Marian Marsh were considered, as was future star Carole Lombard, who was even announced for the role, then rejected several weeks later.

Actually, the part might have gone to Lombard if a pushy young agent named Arthur Landau hadn't stumbled onto the Hell's Angels set one Friday afternoon. On his arm was a brassy blonde wearing a cheap organdy dress and a splash of Jungle Gardenia toilet water. Thick mascara and Betty Boop lips completed the portrait of a girl who had looked just perfect in her last picture, opposite Laurel and Hardy. "My God, she's got a shape like a dust pan!" said Joseph Moncure March, the Hell's Angels dialogue writer. "In my opinion, she's nix," Hughes told her agent. Landau pleaded with him: "She's a broad ready to put out for flyers. But she knows that after she's made them forget the war for a little while, they still have to take off and they might never come back. So her heart's breaking while she's screwing them." Hughes, who had grown bored with the casting dilemma, countered, "But can she deliver this?" "A cinch. She's just nervous now," Landau replied.

Hughes took a chance and cast Jean Harlow in her first major role. "I suppose Howard Hughes was just so sick of looking at blondes, he was in a mood to give up," said a philosophic Harlow, who received the Guild minimum of $1,500 for six weeks' work and, it turned out, stardom.

Just nineteen, Harlow was at first uneasy in the role of the Hell's Angels temptress who is supposed to ooze wanton bliss. At one point she desperately turned to James Whale, who was directing her scenes, and asked, "Tell me exactly how you want me to do it." Whale cruelly retorted, "I can tell you how to be an actress, but I cannot tell you how to be a woman." In what would become a peculiar Hughes trademark, he got involved in the design of Harlow's costumes, including a gown so skintight that there were gasps when she sauntered on the set in it. Backless, it had a low-cut bodice held up by only the wispiest of rhinestone-studded straps. Hughes finally booked the prestigious Grauman's Chinese Theater, the most expensive venue in America. Opening night was set for June 30, 1930.

The car ahead carried an uncertain Jean Harlow, almost buried in the cascade of white orchids and gardenias Hughes had showered upon her. Because of the crush of the limousines and the pushing, surging crowd of fans, it took the Hughes contingent more than an hour to reach the boulevard. When Hughes was a mile from Grauman's, he sent a message via radiophone, cueing an aerial pageant unequaled in Hollywood history. A squadron of vintage airplanes roared in from the San Fernando Valley, diving, zooming, and tumbling in mock warfare. Nine hundred gallons of liquid smoke left vivid ribbons of red, gray, and ocher in the foggy sky above the theater. The beams of the retreating sun glinted off the swirls so that, according to Jean Harlow, "they resembled streaks of oil paint."

For a few frantic years Howard dated girls by the score, as if sheer numbers could compensate for the intimacy he had lost when Billie Dove deserted him. From 1931 through 1933, Hughes's name was linked to more than fifty actresses, debutantes, party girls, and chorines on both coasts. In Hollywood, he was spotted in the company of actresses Dorothy Jordan (Ramon Novarro's frequent costar, she went on to marry King Kong director Merian C. Cooper), Lillian Bond (who was often cast as a marriage-wrecker), and starlet June Lang (who went on to marry gangster Johnny Rosselli). He once sent MGM musical queen Jeanette MacDonald a note across a Hollywood dance floor.

And he put the move on Joan Crawford, even though she was married, promising her "a very big present," if she would date him. Joan Crawford once said: "Howard Hughes would fuck a tree."

He dated actress Marian Marsh, who remained a platonic friend until the forties. She saw Howard undergo his transformation. "I saw him start to change," confessed Marsh, who attributed Hughes's growing girl-craziness to the company he kept. On his way to the Cocoanut Grove one evening in early 1932, Howard stopped by Dietrich's office to complain about an eternal subject, women. "I'm through with the actresses ... I need to find me a nice girl outside this business and marry her."

Despite what he said, however, the next woman to attract him would be up-and-coming star Ginger Rogers. Had she been less levelheaded, she might have become the next lady at Muirfield. But she kept him at a comfortable distance. A former vaudeville performer and former Broadway ingenue, Ginger was less than a year away from superstardom as Fred Astaire's partner in Flying Down to Rio. She was a Texan, given to wisecracks, with platinum hair and a sassy, brassy demeanor. Ginger Rogers blew a gust of reality into the jaded life of the young heir, told him what she thought, told him his wealth was nothing special, and intrigued him to such an extent that he would chase her, off and on, for seven years. With Ginger on his arm and his hat tipped cockily over his face, Hughes looked every inch the successful film producer at the Paramount Theater premiere, where a curious crowd gave the movie a standing ovation. Ginger would keep him at bay, however, and his endless hunt for fresh faces continued.

Bette Davis and Franchot Tone in "Dangerous" (1935)

Before Ginger's train even pulled into Union Station, Hughes leaped into an affair with Bette Davis, the least likely of his star lovers. They collided at the Tailwagger's Ball, a canine charity close to Davis's heart. Wearing a tightly bodiced pink dress and framed by waves of lace, Bette was the star attraction in a roomful of star attractions such as Mary Pickford, Lupe Velez, and Norma Shearer. Like Howard, Bette was on the rebound from an affair with "the love of her life," director William Wyler. Unlike Hughes, she was still very married to her childhood sweetheart, advertising man Harmon "Ham" Nelson.

"I expected Hughes to look at my breasts," she recalled. "Instead, he looked directly into my eyes. I won't say there was magic, but there was warmth." He bought "scads of raffle tickets" and arranged for the first of a series of rendezvous. Within days they were nestled in bed, listening to waves pounding outside Howard's rented Malibu hideaway. They slept together ten times during a brief but idyllic affair. "Howard brought out the maternal instinct in me, which no other man had ever done. He was such a quiet, shy man. But when we were alone, he evolved into a very romantic lover." She continued, "I used to cook for him at the beach, and as we sat by the fire, he would stroke my hair."

Hughes was once in the midst of a haircut at Muirfield when Hepburn stormed in and demanded they play golf. Off Hughes went, with only half his hair cut, leaving behind a befuddled barber. "She's brilliant, she's kind, perhaps the most totally magnetic woman in the entire world." Kate was equally overcome. "I admired his verve and his stamina. He was sort of the top of the available men in the world and I of the women. And we both had a wild desire to be famous." Like Hughes, Hepburn didn't use clothes to impress. Her shirts were sometimes frayed, her shoes scuffed, and she was one of the first notable women who dared to wear trousers in public. Hughes and Hepburn were also physically similar. Both were lean, with angular features. She was five-foot-seven-and-a-half, about 115 pounds, and seldom bothered to cover her copper-colored freckles with makeup. Hughes was six-foot-three, with darkly hypnotic eyes and a broad grin. Both had been freed of marriages of convenience. Hepburn was divorced from a family friend, stockbroker Ludlow Stevens.

Columnists had dubbed her "Katharine of Arrogance" only a month before her life collided with that of Howard Hughes. After a sensational film debut in A Bill of Divorcement (1931), which had earned her an Oscar nomination, she'd turned in a series of triumphant performances in films such as Alice Adams and Morning Glory, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. But a series of pretentious commercial failures such as Mary of Scotland and Quality Street landed her on a list of stars who Harry Brandt, head of a powerful theater owners group, labeled "box office poison." Ever indefatigable and lofty, Hepburn shotback, "If I weren't laughing so hard, I might cry." -"Howard Hughes: The Untold Story" (2004) by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske

Saturday, August 16, 2014

'Reckless' Actors: Franchot Tone & Jean Harlow

Franchot Tone will never have to sacrifice "his rugged individualism" to marriage.
Interview by George Kingsley to Franchot Tone for Photoplay magazine, 1936: "Franchot's marriage to one of the most beautiful and famous of today's screen ladies [Joan Crawford] will not in any way affect his personality, his dreams for the future, his ambitions and his philosophy of life.

I had developed a whole-hearted curiosity about this reserved, drawn-into-his-shell young actor. I wanted to peer into that mask of his, discover and understand the intricate processes of his character and imagination. I wanted, if it were humanly possible, to get his formula on paper. By the time I found him, relaxed, smoking a cigarette on a pile of cast-off planks, Franchot stretched his legs out and put his head back and talked. Out of the life he lives on this earth he must have, first, a glimpse of Utopia - and this is idealism. "I'm optimistic enough to believe the perfect state actually exists somewhere," he said. "We'll have universal plenty in a few hundred years, only I won't be here to see it... You can't tell me that sometime I won't find a Pitcairn's Island! No taxes, no money, no politics. I've dreamed about a place like that since I was old enough to read Sir Thomas More."

"Reckless" (1935) directed by Victor Fleming, concerns the exploits of stage siren and songstress Mona Leslie (Jean Harlow), a flighty gadabout who seeks love, romance, and a daddy figure. She only gets the latter from longtime pal Ned Riley (William Powell), a sports promoter with a Henry Higgins complex.

That is, until the arrival of obscenely wealthy playboy Bob Harrison Jr. (Franchot Tone), the president and only member of the S.A.M.L. (Society For the Admiration Of Mona Leslie), a "charitable organization" that books Mona into lavish venues so she can perform her (outrageously excessive) musical numbers before an audience of one.

Oh it's all there, but remarkably stuffed into the last reel, following an hour or so of what might easily be mistaken for a meandering romantic comedy about an alternatively distinguished and disheveled middle-aged bachelor who chooses to forestall his inevitable coupling with the considerably younger, lip-synching, lead-footed, "singing dancing star" who's been right in front of him the entire time. Extras include the theatrical trailer and some interesting audio-only tracks, including a rebroadcast of "Leo On The Air," an MGM promotional tool that features Harlow actually singing the film's title song (her vocals are dubbed in the film by Virginia Verrill) and several soundstage rehearsals, also featuring the screen queen's unique warbling style. Source: www.dvdverdict

"Reckless" (1935) was originally supposed to star Joan Crawford under the title “A Woman Called Cheap.” However, producer David O. Selznick replaced Crawford with Jean Harlow before production to capitalize off of Harlow and William Powell’s real-life romance, according to the Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira book “Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937.”

-The film contains version of “Sing, Sinner, Sing” (1933) starring Leila Hyams and “Brief Moment” (1933) starring Carole Lombard.

-The film’s plot was very similar to a scandal that occurred two years earlier involving singer Libby Holman and her husband tobacco heir Zachary Reynolds. Similarly to the film, Reynolds drunkenly committed suicide. Holman threatened to sue for libel, but never did. Harlow was also uncomfortable, because the scandal in the movie was similar to the death of her husband Paul Bern. However, Powell convinced her to make the film.

-Jean Harlow’s singing was dubbed by Virginia Verrill. “She (Jean) realized that I couldn’t have credit for my singing, so she went out of her way to give me a hand whenever she could.”

-“Reckless” was the first Jean Harlow film to lose money.

Howard Hughes and Jean Harlow shown together in 1934 for the first time since making "Hell's Angels" (1930)

"The Carpetbaggers" is a 1964 American film directed by Edward Dmytryk, based upon the best-selling novel The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins. It was loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes, taking the reader from New York to California, from the prosperity of the aeronautical industry to the glamour of Hollywood. The Carpetbaggers (1961) was an international bestseller, a story of aviation, Hollywood, high finance, and Jonas Cord Jr., whose adventures must have amused Howard Hughes. Nevada Smith is Cord's childhood friend. Several other characters were also easily identifiable. Later Jackie Collins made successful use of this old narrative trick.

John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay for Edward Dmytryk's film version of the book, starring George Peppard, Carroll Baker, and Alan Ladd in his last film role. Where Love Has Gone (1962) again used Hollywood gossips and personalities. The "sculptress" of the story was a thinly veiled Lana Turner. This book did not go unnoticed by the actress, who answered Robbins and all scandal papers with her candid memoir The Lady, the Legend, the Truth (1982).

-'The truth,' I said. 'Can't any of you tell the truth? Do you always have to manipulate others doing your dirty work for you when the truth is so much simpler?'
-'That's show business,' Guy said glibly.
-'I don't like it,' I said.
-'You better get used to it if you're going to stay in it.'
(The Lonely Lady, 1976) Source:

“We have a one-cent sale on Love-Glo cosmetics,” he said. “Buy one lipstick and get the second for only a penny.” She shook her head. “I don’t think so.” “It’s very good,” he said. “You ought to try it. Just as good as Revlon or Helena Rubinstein or those other fancy labels.” “Maybe next time,” she said.  “Love-Glo has eye shadow and nail polish too. Same deal goes.” She walked over to the magazine rack while he was writing up the sales slip and picked up a Hollywood magazine. There was a picture of Clark Gable on the cover. Idly she leafed through it. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the boys outside still watching her. “All ready now, JeriLee,” the druggist said. She put the magazine back on the rack and picked up the package from the counter. -"The  Lonely Lady" (1976) by Harold Robbins

Franchot Tone ("Treat Me Nice") video from Kendra on Vimeo.
In 1965, when his film career was fading, Franchot Tone played Dr. Freedland on the "Ben Casey" television series. "I like my profession," he said. "Since there is not enough work elsewhere, I can work at it here. It's better to know you have a challenge than to sit and wait." — Los Angeles Times Sept. 19, 1968