Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 )

"You don't always wait for an invitation to follow the brave music of a distant drum"

It's not often when a man is clever enough and quick enough to capture a leprechaun. While travelling in Ireland, Steven Fitzgerald ( Tyrone Power ) does just that and then, having done so, lets the leprechaun free...without claiming his pot of gold! 

'Tis a rare man indeed who would do such a thing, and the leprechaun knows it. He feels a debt of gratitude to this American and, leaving the comfort of his homeland and his secluded waterfall, he follows him into the "cold, inhospitable city" of New York to serve him and to help him realize his heart's desire. 

"You are a proud, free man, and it is for that reason that I am proud to serve you"

Fitzgerald is a news reporter who believes in writing the truth to the public, but the lure of acquiring wealth by working for power-hungry publisher-turned-politician Augur ( Lee J. Cobb ) proves to be irresistible, even if it costs him his integrity as a free-thinking man. Egging him on in his decision to accept this position is Augur's daughter ( Jayne Meadows ), a woman who wants to be by Fitzgerald's side as he climbs the ladder of success, no matter what it takes. 

The Luck of the Irish is a dramatic fantasy filled with many whimsical moments. It does not have the sugary sweetness of a children's fable, making it all the more satisfying. Instead it has a lasting charm which makes it ideal for annual viewing on St. Patrick's Day, or any time of the year for that matter. 

The first half of the film parallels Michael Powell's I Know Where I'm Going ( 1945 ) in that we see a city dweller stranded in a small village, anxious to escape on the next boat available, and frustrated with the local people's slow and inefficient ways. It is not until the opportunity to escape becomes available that these characters begin to have doubts on whether they truly want to leave. In both films, it is the romance they find in these villages which make the characters wish to remain, not the lure of the tranquil community. 

In The Luck of the Irish, Fitzgerald meets and falls in love with Nora ( Anne Baxter ), a quiet innkeeper's daughter, and upon his return to New York he sees her once again, by chance, on a subway. He has a notion that the leprechaun may have had a hand in bringing her to New York but he struggles to relinquish his dream of wealth in place of returning to Ireland with Nora.  

"You brought Nora here, didn't you?" 
"No, you brought her yourself...in your mind, long ago."

Steven Fitzgerald is an ageless character - working men are forever torn between following the dreams of their heart or selling out their ideals ( and sometimes their morals ) to other men for the sake of financial stability. He is a cynical man and does not easily get himself beguiled into believing in leprechauns or other folklore but, in this situation, his belief becomes his blessing. 

The Luck of the Irish is not your traditional fairy-tale story and the irascible leprechaun with his proverbial pot of gold is not portrayed as a cultural image but instead becomes the incarnation of Fitzgerald's conscious and a vehicle of divine influence in changing his circumstances. The moral of film is summed up in its tagline "Choosing good is the real pot of gold". 

"I offered you gold. 'Tis not my fault that you prefer a pebble"

The Luck of the Irish premiered on September 14, 1948 and for its original showing featured a wee bit o' something green - all of the Ireland sequences were tinted the color of the Irish landscape itself. Indeed, the opening sequences of Ireland are so pleasant that it is a shame when, midway through the film, its focus shifts to New York City. 

A roster of 20th Century Fox's regular talents gathered together to make this a stand-out picture : director Henry Koster, who was an old hand at filming humorous dramas; Lyle Wheeler, Fox's resident art director extraordinaire; Philip Dunne, who hammered out on his magical typewriter this whale of a grand adaptation ( from the novel by Guy and Constance Jones ); and producer Fred Kohler, who had footed the bill for that other excellent romantic-fantasy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, one year prior. The strains of traditional Irish and English melodies can be heard in the background thanks to the musical wizardry of Cyril Mockridge.

Cecil Kellaway steals the film with his performance of "Horace", the leprechaun turned manservant, and he nails the Irish accent and mannerisms of one of the little people. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal. James Todd also co-starred as Fitzgerald's wise-cracking pal Bill Clark, and J.M. Kerrigan and Phil Brown round out the stellar cast. 

Anne Baxter is particularly fetching and these years were certainly the peak of her career. The brightness of Tyrone Power's star had been waning a few years prior to The Luck of the Irish and he must have sensed that his days of being the studio's No. 1 glamour boy were nearly over, even though he was as handsome as ever. Jayne Meadows related a story about this in the special "Jayne Meadows Remembers" included on the DVD: 

"[ in-between takes during the banquet scene ] he said, 'You see that tall man over there, the one with the grey hair? He was a star once. A very big star. Sad...now he is an extra'. And I said 'Isn't it wonderful that he's still working' because, you know, the man looked like he needed something to hold him up. When I later found out that Ty started as an extra, I thought 'isn't it interesting that his first reaction was to the old man who was a star and is now an extra'. " 

Perhaps Tyrone Power felt that eventually this would be his fate as well.

This post is our contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o'thon, being hosted by yours truly. To check out all of the grand posts about Irish actors and films, click here

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Luck of the Irish Blog O'Thon!

'Tis a grand day indeed for with that blessed of all saints days approaching fast around the bend, we be pleased to be announcing that on this very day no less, the Luck of the Irish Blog O'Thon be taking place. St. Patrick himself would be proud to hear of our wee gathering celebrating the talented folk of Emerald Isle. To be sure, Hollywood would no' be the same without the likes of the Fords, Nolans, Sheridans, O'Briens, Cagneys and Sullivans. 

We be wanting to thank all the fine folk who submitted, or will be submitting, posts for this event. Each one o' them is to the likes of a shimmering coin in this motley pot o'gold. And a hearty thank you to all you little people and doodeens who will be reading them. 

As the posts come tricklin' in, their respective links will be changing the color of the rainbow until the final day when they shall all be wearing the green! If you be wanting to see the posts by date, just scroll a wee bit further down. 

Ay, enough of the babbling....let the fiddlers play and we'll dance a jig and get on with the ceilildh! 


Their Blood Runs Green

Maureen O'Hara - Pure Golden

George Brent : A Nolan by Birth - Caftan Woman

Buster Keaton - Movie Movie Blog Blog

Maureen O'Sullivan - Girls do Film

James Cagney and Pat O'Brien - Old Hollywood Films

Dennis Morgan - Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

The Luck of the Irish 

Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ) - Classic Film and TV Cafe

The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 ) - Silver Scenes

Finian's Rainbow ( 1969 ) - The Stars are Ageless

In the Days of Yor 

The Lion in Winter ( 1968 ) - In the Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

Barry Lyndon ( 1975 ) - The Joy and Agony of Movies 

The Irish in America 

Paddy O'Day ( 1935 ) - Another Old Movie Blog 

The Irish in Us ( 1935 ) - Wolffian Classic Movies Digest

George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 ) - Once Upon a Screen

The Fighting Irish 

Juno and the Paycock aka The Shame of Mary Boyle ( 1929 ) Movie FanFare

Odd Man Out ( 1947 ) - Critica Retro

Angels With Dirty Faces ( 1938  ) - The Stop Button 

The Molly McGuires ( 1970 ) - Ramblings of a Cinephile


March 15th 

Paddy O'Day ( 1935 ) - Another Old Movie Blog 

Buster Keaton - Movie Movie Blog Blog

Maureen O'Sullivan - Girls do Film

George Brent : A Nolan by BirthCaftan Woman

March 16th 

Finian's Rainbow ( 1969 )The Stars are Ageless

The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 ) Silver Scenes 

George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 )Once Upon a Screen

The Irish in Us ( 1935 )Wolffian Classic Movies Digest

The Lion in Winter ( 1968 ) - In the Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

Angels With Dirty Faces ( 1938  ) The Stop Button 

March 17th 

Maureen O'HaraPure Golden

Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ) Classic Film and TV Cafe

Juno and the Paycock aka The Shame of Mary Boyle ( 1929 ) Movie FanFare

James Cagney and Pat O'BrienOld Hollywood Films

Barry Lyndon ( 1975 )The Joy and Agony of Movies 

The Molly McGuires ( 1970 ) Ramblings of a Cinephile

Odd Man Out ( 1947 )Critica Retro



Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Great Locomotive Chase ( 1956 )

Over at Wide Screen World, Rich is hosting the fantastic Cinemascope Blogathon along with Becky from ClassicBecky's Brain Food. It will be running between March 13-16th, so if you enjoy reading this post then head on over to their sites and check out all the wonderful articles about Cinemascope films. 

Cinemascope was the first widescreen filming process which through the use of a simple lens attached to a regular 35mm film camera was able to capture panoramic scenes not previously possible. The final result was an image that was two-and-a-half times as wide as it was high and resulted in an aspect ratio closely resembling that of human eyesight. The first film to utilize this sumptuous technique was The Robe in 1953. It was a grand and beautiful new way of seeing a film and, within a year, others were being shot using the widescreen lens and theatres across America were being converted to accommodate the new process with a wider, slightly curved projection screen. 

Of all the hundreds of wonderful Cinemascope films released between 1953 and 1967, we chose The Great Locomotive Chase for our post because of its great use of location settings which were really emphasized by the wide-camera lens and, of course, because it is a Disney film...only the second Disney production to use the new process. 

Fess Parker was making a hit with younger audiences in his role of Davy Crockett on television and in the live-action film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier ( 1955 ), so Walt Disney decided to cast him as the lead in his latest project about the Andrews Raiders and their daring theft of the locomotive, The General, during the Civil War. 

James J. Andrews was a Union spy who, along with a regiment of volunteer soldiers, was ordered to penetrate the South. Pretending to be Kentucky civilians on their way to join the Confederate army, they were to board a train, abscond with it and, then, chugging along on the track northward, burn all the bridges behind them. It was an excellent plan and, had it succeeded, would have made fools of the Confederates and have thrown a major wrench in the war, for the South was receiving supplies from this one main railroad line. 

However, Andrews did not reckon with the dogged persistence of a young conductor, William A. Fuller ( portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter ), who certainly was not happy to find his train stolen from under his very nose! 

Buster Keaton had filmed a humorous version of this famous event in his 1926 silent classic The General, but Walt wanted this version to be more serious and to bring the history and adventure of the circumstances alive to his viewers. The production team accomplished this quite admirably and The Great Locomotive Chase brims with excitement, especially throughout the chase sequences. 

Selecting Cinemascope for this production was a wise choice because it allowed the camera to capture much more of the beautiful scenery of Northern Georgia during the autumn months, and the striking scenes of the vintage locomotives passing along the entire length of the picture. Oddly enough, the best background sceneries were not filmed at all, but were drawn by that talented matte artist Peter Ellenshaw. 

Walt Disney was busy with the construction of Disneyland during the making of The Great Locomotive Chase and so he did not have an opportunity to oversee the production as much as he hoped. However, he left the film in good hands under the capable eye of screenwriter Lawrence Edward Watkin. This would be his first, and only, outing as a producer. Watkin wrote the story for this film and went on to write the screenplays for several other great Disney productions including Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ). 

Walt was a great train enthusiast and, for this film, he went to great lengths to obtain authentic railroad cars used during the Civil War. These were eventually acquired through the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum and the credits acknowledge their "generous cooperation". 

In addition to Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter, the cast includes Jeff York as a hot-headed Union soldier who is more trouble than help, John Lupton as William Pittenger, a level-headed schoolteacher and the narrator of the story, and a supporting cast which included Kenneth Tobey, Claude Jarman Jr, Slim Pickens, Harry Carey Jr, Eddie Firestone and a young uncredited Dick Sargeant. 

When The Great Locomotive Chase was released in theatres on June 20, 1956, critics praised it and audiences loved it. Because of its success,Walt Disney continued to procure stories of historical significance for use in his upcoming live-action films, and Fess Parker went on to star in other productions of a similar vein. 

To read more about the Cinemascope process, check out the Widescreen Museum's reproduction of a 1953 article which explains this simple technique: The Cinemascope Process.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Leonid Kinskey - The Mad Russian

Step aside Clark Gable....Leonid Kinskey has entered the room, and woe to any man who has to battle with him for center stage! This scene-stealer will win any match hands down. 

Kinskey did not have the gentlemanly charm of Cary Grant, or the rugged physique of Johnny Weissmuller, or even the crooning voice of Ol' Blue Eyes, but what he did have was confidence....heaps and bounds of the stuff. And with enough of that, and a good dose of vodka in your system, you can go anywhere. 

It doesn't matter that Kinskey didn't have good looks, he thought so and whether you did or not made no difference. In real life, he knew how to flatter like a Frenchman and how to cater to a woman's inner desire, so it comes as no surprise that Ladykiller Kinskey was married three times. Why, even when he was 80-years old he turned on that old-fashioned Russian charisma and fetched himself another mate. 

Kinskey was a native-born Russian, stemming from the great city of St. Petersburg. Unlike his acting comrades who portrayed characters of other nationalities as well as their own, Kinskey took pleasure in playing just pure Russians. Alright, a few French, German, and South American characters can be thrown in the mix, but primarily it was Boris, Ivan, Vladimir, Gregor, or Mischa that he was playing. And why not? He was proud of his heritage and enjoyed sharing the characteristics of his culture with the American public. Even the United States government relied on his thoroughly good Russian taste and, during WWII, chose him to select the Hollywood films to be shown in the USSR. 

For this post we want to select a few of our favorite characters that Kinskey often played and share them with you: 

The Gallant Gigolo

Kinskey loved to flash that enormous grin of his in roles where he had to woo the women. He rarely snagged the Betty Grables, Alice Fayes, or Sonja Henies onscreen but that never bothered him. Afterall, he was the fellow that was out looking for a good time...and for a rich woman who could afford to give him one. But in the end Kinskey's characters were just as happy to settle for the Charlotte Greenwood-types and make a day of it. Off-screen, he was more particular and remained true to his wives...taking them one at a time of course. His second wife loved him so much that she married him four times over. "It started in Mexico City", he explained, "and then over 20 years of our happy marriage we celebrated every five years by taking a new marriage license in a different country".

The Creative Genius :

Whenever Kinskey played a composer or an artist, he couldn't keep it straight, but loved to exaggerate the mannerisms one associates with the artistic set. Mussed up hair, flailing arms, temper tantrums, baggy pants, wrinkled tails....these were all the little cliches that Kinskey resorted to when creating the master effect. Cafe Metropole (1937 ), On Your Toes ( 1939 ), Broadway Limited ( 1940 ), and Presenting Lily Mars ( 1943 ) were just some of the films where he played an artist or composer. Too bad Leonid was never selected for the part of a magician, it would have suited him to perfection. 

The Professor :

When Kinskey wasn't chasing women or chasing the elusive creative thought, he was chasing down students as a college professor. In Ball of Fire ( 1941 ), Professor Quintana ( Kinskey ) was one of the ivory-tower profs who rescues the nightclub singer from the mob. He was Professor Vladimir Smitken in Cinderella Swings It ( 1943 ) and years later, after he retired from film, portrayed Professor Overbeck in the Batman television series ( 1966 ) and Professor Hammerschlag in My Favorite Martian

And of course...as Sascha! 

After seeing Rick fix a roulette game so that a young Hungarian couple could win enough money to pay for an exit visa, bartender Sascha kisses him and exclaims "Boss, you've done a beautiful thing!" Rick snarls back, "Go away, you crazy Russian".

During the making of Casablanca ( 1943 ), it was decided that Leon Mostovoy, the actor cast as the bartender at Rick's Cafe, needed to be replaced because he did not have that added touch of humor that the role required. The producers needed a man like Leonid Kinskey...and a man like Kinskey is what they got. Leonid just happened to be a drinking buddy of Humphrey Bogart and so he pulled him into the cast midway through production. Leonid Kinskey was great for the part of the "crazy Russian" and it remains his most famous role to this day. 

This post is our contribution to the Russia in Film Blogathon being held over at Movies Silently and sponsored by Flicker Alley. To read more about Russian actors and films, head on over to Movies Silently and check out all the posts! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Felix Bressart - A True Comrade

Even though some viewers may not know his name, Felix Bressart is a face that many will recognize. His performances were unmistakably unique and each and every one of them was genuine, humorous and heartfelt. We feel a particular fondness for this beloved actor because he reminds us so much of our late grandfather, Mathias Metzinger, both in appearance and character. Both men led simple lives, just doing their jobs with a quiet diligence common of European workers, and all the while leaving a profound effect on those around them through their kindness and good deeds. 

One of Bressart's endearing qualities was that he often portrayed true down-to-earth friends, always there to give you a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on in your hour of need. A good comrade through and through. Mr. Kralik and Klara ( James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan ) certainly thought so, and they valued his friendship and his humble opinions very much in A Shop Around the Corner ( 1940 )....especially when it came to deciding whether a cigarette box should play "Ochi Tchornya" or not. 

In Blossoms in the Dust ( 1941 ), Dr. Bressler ( Bressart ) brought Edna's ( Greer Garson ) child into the world and when this little boy tragically died, his friendship was pivotal in giving Edna hope and helping her fulfill her purpose in life. Even Shirley Temple benefited from Bressart's sage advice, when, in Kathleen ( 1941 ), she needed a kindly paternal friend to pour out her troubles to. 

For his Hollywood productions, Bressart played a wide range of European characters including Russians,  Hungarians, and Germans; not surprisingly since he bore the classic profile of an Eastern European Jew with that prominent hook nose, those soulful eyes that saw much persecution, and the timid stance of one accustomed to submitting to authorities. Felix was in fact born in Eydtkuhnen, East Prussia ( what is now Chernyshevskoye, Russia ). As a young man he qualified as a medical practitioner but somewhere along the way, turned his attention to acting. His wiry frame and bespectacled appearance were not leading man attributes and, like Mary Wickes, remained a character portrayer all his life.

In Berlin, Felix studied acting and honed his skills in musicals and comedies in the theatres of Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna. By the early 1930s he was a respected film personality, having performed in popular films such as Die Drei von der Tankstelle ( 1930 ) and Die Privatsekretärin ( 1931 ). 

When the Nazis came to power Bressart and his wife Frieda found safety in neutral Switzerland and, later, in Paris. While in Europe, he befriended Joe Pasternak and Ernst Lubitsch who both offered him plentiful work upon his eventual arrival in Hollywood. One of his first parts in America was that of Buljanoff in Lubitsch's sparkling comedy Ninotchka ( 1939 ) where he played with his Landsmann and frequent co-star, Sig Ruman. 

Because Bressart was himself a refugee, fleeing from the Nazi regime, he often portrayed men aiding others in their flight to freedom. During wartime it was difficult to determine friend from foe; Bressart's kind face and transparent nature made his character's undeniably trustworthy. When Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray were seeking an unknown contact in Salzburg in Above Suspicion ( 1943 ), it was Mr. Werner ( Bressart ) who passed on to them information needed to rescue a scientist from the hands of the Nazis. In The Seventh Cross ( 1944 ) Bressart was once again helping his fellow man as an undercover resistance fighter forging documents for a concentration camp escapee ( Spencer Tracy ). 

However, the tables were turned in Comrade X ( 1940 ) when Bressart portrayed a desperate father pleading to a reporter ( Clark Gable ) to take his daughter ( Hedy Lamarr ) out of Communist held Russia.

Felix had great depth in his acting ability and one can easily tell that his performances stemmed from personal experience. In his eyes and in the tone of his voice, he evoked pathos which made audiences sympathize with the plight of Europeans during the war. Even in comedies this naturalism came through. This was especially evident in one of Felix's greatest roles, in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be ( 1942 ), where he portrayed the hired Jewish actor Greenburg who yearns to perform his favorite role, that of Shylock from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", before a full house. The zenith of his performance is his delivery of the "Hath not a Jew eyes?" monologue which becomes one of the most poignant moments in a film strewn with scenes of light-hearted zaniness. 

Bressart's characters were often the pillars of strength for others to lean on for support and like most of the meek men of the world, they were the ones who were willing to defy authority and stand up to protect those whom they love. Just like all the other Jews in Germany at the time, he displayed the fortitude and cheerful optimism they shared amidst their surrounding hardships.  

Bressart also exemplified the "everyman"....the common hardworking bread-winner. He was an old trusted servant in Escape ( 1940 ), a fellow lab worker in Edison, the Man ( 1940 ) and a poor music maestro in Three Smart Girls Grow Up ( 1939 ), Ziegfeld Girl ( 1941 ), Greenwich Village ( 1944 ), and Without Love ( 1945 ). He always came across as a happily married man and a proud papa-bear of a large family, blissfully content. 

It is amazing that Bressart's career in Hollywood lasted but a decade, for by the end of the 1940s he was in failing health and during the production of My Friend Irma ( 1949 ), Felix passed away at the age of 57 from leukemia. 

We never had the opportunity to capture our "opa" Matthias on videotape before he passed on, but when we watch Felix Bressart in any of his films it is like seeing our grandfather come to life again and for that alone we are grateful that Bressart chose acting as his profession and shared his talent with so many.

This is our contribution to the Russia in Film Blogathon being hosted by Fritzi over at Movies Silently. This превосходный event celebrates Russian films, Russian-born actors and films with Russian settings. So rush-on over there and check out all the wonderful posts!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Art of Keye Luke

Keye Luke, who is best known for his portrayal of Number One son Lee Chan in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan series, was one of the first Asian film stars to have a successful career in Hollywood, a career which lasted for over 50 years. Becoming an actor, however, was something Keye Luke had not intended on doing. His ambition in life was to pursue a career as an artist. This he accomplished with great success and even when he was busy with film work he always found time to practice his artistic ability. 

Luke was born in Canton, China ( now known as Guangzhou ) in 1904 while his parents were on vacation in the capital city. Luke's father operated an art store in Seattle, Washington and while at a young age Keye decided that becoming an artist was something he wanted to do. 

He attended the Chouinard Institute, studying under Richard Munsell and Carl Beetz, and while in his early twenties became a commercial artist, receiving a large commission from Graumann's Chinese Theatre. It was Keye Luke who painted the fairy tale gardens and the massive ceiling mural inside the legendary Hollywood theatre. 

Illustrations for the Franklin High School yearbook

Private commissions like this led to Luke building a name for himself doing press work for newspapers promoting current and upcoming film releases, one of which was RKO's King Kong. Luke drew many of the ape drawings that appeared in the newspaper ads for the film. 

In 1934, Luke received a call from a good friend working in the publicity department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and before he knew what he was called for he was appearing in the Greta Garbo film The Painted Veil....not as an illustrator, but as an actor! Luke received positive reviews for his performance and this brief uncredited appearance led to a prominent role in Charlie Chan in Paris, released just a year later. 

One of the murals at Graumann's Chinese Theatre

Keye Luke was cast as Detective Chan's Number One Son "Lee" in this highly entertaining film. Luke brought his youthful American optimism to the role, making Lee an indispensable character in the series.  He got on admirably with Warner Oland, the actor who portrayed the honorable detective, and they teamed up for seven more Charlie Chan films within the next two years. 

Richard Munsell and Keye Luke

Luke was kept extremely busy at many of the studios appearing in just about any role that called for a Chinese man. In 1935 alone he appeared in nine different films. During the outbreak of war in the 1940s Luke was cast in not only Chinese roles, but that of Japanese as well. Some of these films included : The Good Earth, Mr. Moto's Gamble, Mr. and Mrs. North, Across the Pacific, and Lost City of the Jungle. He also co-starred as Kato in The Green Hornet serials of 1940. 

Sketches of Warner Oland and Mark Sandrich

During this time he continued to draw Hollywood caricatures for weekly newspapers and create artwork for books and private commissions. In 1938 he also had his own show and critics from the L.A Times raved that his artwork "formed a bridge between Asian and Western art"

Luke's style of art was very much influenced by ancient Asian art and philosophy as well as by the art of British painter Aubrey Beardsley. 

Illustrations for Blessed Mother Goose by Frank Scully

After the death of Warner Oland, Keye Luke was given a choice of continuing on with the Charlie Chan series as Lee or backing out. He had looked on Warner Oland as a father-figure and decided that no one could take his place. However, Luke did return to appear in two Charlie Chan films released in 1949. 

During the 1950s Keye Luke tried his hand at acting on Broadway and scored great success in Flower Drum Song. He also appeared in guest roles on television series such as The Ray Milland Show, My Little Margie and December Bride. 

Sheet music art for a 1923 song and Luke painting a swimsuit

Luke was quite a versatile talent and even his voice became as popular as his face : he was heard on many Hanna-Barbera productions of the 1960s and 1970s, one of which was The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan where he voiced Charlie Chan. At Disney World his voice was heard narrating the Wonders of China film.

Self-portraits from The Good Earth and Flower Drum Song

Another one of his more popular roles was that of Master Po in the 1972 Kung Fu television series starring David Carradine. Luke kept active with television guest appearances and movie parts up until his death in 1991. Just a year prior he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a star he justly deserved. 

Today, his artwork is quite scarce with only a handful of the books that he illustrated appearing on online auctions. Hopefully, in the near future someone will compile a printed biography spotlighting Keye Luke's varied talents. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TV/Movie Set : Herbie Rides Again ( 1974 ) - The Firehouse

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the city of San Francisco is the home of Mrs. Steinmetz. On the outside, it appears to be a vacant ramshackled tower, but on the inside it is a cozy home tastefully decorated and filled with happy memories.

Alonzo Hawk ( Keenan Wynn ) a ruthless real estate developer, wants to demolish this structure to plough the way for the foundation of his grandest building to date - Hawk Towers. He offers a generous buyout for Mrs. Steinmetz ( Helen Hayes ) but she will not sell her home to anyone, least of all to Hawk, who is simply intent on destroying it. Rallying around to support her is Nicole ( Stephanie Powers ) and Hawk's own nephew Willoughby ( Ken Barry ) but it is Herbie who saves the day when the firehouse becomes the target of Hawk's wrecking ball.

This is the plot to Herbie Rides Again, the 1974 Walt Disney sequel to its smash hit, The Love Bug. Unlike most sequels, the principal characters do not return in this film and so a new story had to be written around its one and only returning star - Herbie. Gordon Buford and Bill Walsh teamed up to weave this plot which made the Victorian firehouse the focal point of the film. 

It is in The Love Bug that we first see Engine House No. 3 as the garage where Herbie, the living Volkswagen, is kept and repaired on. Tennessee Steinmetz ( Buddy Hackett ) lives above this converted garage and, when he is not repairing on cars, he practices Buddhist spiritual enlightenment which contributed to his belief in the life of inanimate objects. 

Living with Tennessee is his friend Jim Douglas, a down-in-his-luck racer who later finds success on the track with the help of Herbie. To fulfill a long held dream of driving foreign race cars, Douglas eventually leaves San Francisco to tour Europe as a circuit racer. Tennessee journeyed off to Tibet to further his studies in Oriental philosophy but not before leaving his beloved Herbie and the engine house to his aunt, Mrs. Steinmetz. 

In its glory days during the late 1800s the firehouse was an operating branch of the San Francisco Fire Department. During the 1940s this Victorian painted lady was home to one of the city's finest firefighters - Captain Steinmetz. It was also at Engine House No. 3 that the Captain wed his beloved, Mrs. Steinmetz. 

We can assume that later, when the firehouse is about to become abandoned, Captain Steinmetz buys the engine house for nostalgia and it eventually passes into Tennessee's hands. 

The kitchen & dining room
The engine house is a lovely Victorian stick design and it was situated in a thriving community until Alonzo Hawk bulldozed the neighboring buildings. Living with Mrs. Steinmetz in the engine house is Nicole, her displaced neighbor, and a collection of other living objects that Herbie befriended over the years. These include an orchestrion and Old No. 22, a retired trolley car. 

The open foyer
Walt Disney's resident art director, John B. Mansbridge, was put in charge of redesigning the interior of the engine house that he had designed six years earlier for the making of The Love Bug. With the help of legendary art director Walter H. Tyler, he created a simple and cheerfully bright interior suitable to a fire chief's widow. 

Light wood paneling is abundant in Mrs. Steinmetz's abode and the floor is covered in old bricks. The stalls which most likely originally stored a chemical wagon, and later a fire engine, remain intact and act as a partition between the dining room and the living area.

Nicole resides with Mrs. Steinmetz at the firehouse but we are not shown her bedroom, however a brief glimpse of Mrs. Steinmetz's upstairs bedroom is seen when she is giving advice to Nicole on how to fetch a man. Note the brass firepole....it's a good thing Mrs. Steinmetz doesn't walk in her sleep! 

Handling the set decoration is Hal Gausman who also had a prolific 19-year career at the Walt Disney Studios. The set decor is very similar to the Biddles' stable interior in The Happiest Millionaire ( 1967 ) but, oddly enough, that wasn't one of Gausman's projects. 

In reality, Victorian interiors were generally very dark and depressing, but the art directors and set decorators of the Walt Disney films always took these painted ladies and gave them a bright colorful tone. A bold psychedelic poster in the kitchen and a few crocheted oven-mits are about the only elements in Engine House No. 3 that date the interior from being designed in the 1970s. 

The next time you take a gander at Herbie Rides Again, be sure to not overlook the timeless design of this converted firehouse and all the charming details that Hal Gausman included. It will almost make you want to restore a Number 3 engine house yourself! 
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