Sunday, June 29, 2014

Helen Deutsch - Screenwriter

After watching several hundred MGM films, one begins to pay attention to the credits; and when one pays attention to the credits, one begins to notice that a number of names crop up recurrently, such as Clarence Brown, Wally Westmore, Cedric Gibbons, and Douglas Shearer. For us, Helen Deutsch is another one of those names. At first we thought she was a hairdresser ( getting her innocently mixed up with the great Helen Rose ), but when we sat down and watched National Velvet ( 1944 ) recently her name stood out in blazing lights.  Helen Deutsch was a screenwriter at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1944-1955, and in addition to being a screenwriter, she was also a short story writer, a songwriter ( penning tunes with Jay Livingston, Bronislau Kaper and Bernard Green ), and an avid bibliophile. For those who would like to know a little bit more about this fascinating woman, read on dear reader, read on. 

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Helen Deutsch was born on March 21, 1906 in New York City, New York. While in her senior year at Bernard College, she worked as a play reader for the Provincetown Players in Greenwich Village. After the group disbanded, Deutsch collaborated with Stella B. Hanau to write a history of the famed theatre, "The Provincetown: A Story of the Theatre", first published in 1931. 

This successful book inspired her to take up freelance writing and she began writing short stories for the now defunct Brooklyn Eagle, the Saturday Evening Post, McCalls, Ladies Home Journal and Redbook magazines. These short stories caught the attention of Hollywood, and Deutsch was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to rewrite Theodore Reeve's screenplay adaptation of the Enid Bagnold novel, National Velvet ( 1944 ). Deutsch was faithful to the novel and yet added many subtle touches that heightened the films appeal and bits of dialogue that gave added depth to the characters. 


"That'll be a dispute to the end of time, Mr. Brown : whether it's better to do the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason "

That same year she was put to work on an screenplay based on the novel, The Seventh Cross, which told the story of a man escaping from a Nazi prison camp. Spencer Tracy gave one of his best performances in this film of the same name. Most of the scripts she did for MGM were adaptations of other works, including Golden Earrings ( 1947 ) from a novel by Yolanda Foldes and Rudyard Kipling's Kim ( 1950 ). 


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Deutsch worked on a diverse range of scripts, including adventure films ( King Solomon's Mines, Golden Earrings ), dramas ( I'll Cry Tomorrow, Plymouth Adventure ), and fairy tales ( The Glass Slipper ). 

This was also the decade that she wrote what some consider her best film - Lili ( 1953 ). Based on a story by Paul Gallico ( The Three Lives of Thomasina ) it tells the delightful tale of an orphan, played by Leslie Caron, who joins a traveling circus. It also featured a memorable song, "Hi-Lilli-Hi-Lo", which was penned by Deutsch. The film earned her a Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America award, as well as an Academy Award nomination. "Hi-Lilli-Hi-Lo" was considered to be a front-runner to win an Academy Award for Best Song as well, but it was deemed ineligible because some of the lyrics had previously been published and did not receive a nomination....which is just as well since Deutsch herself dismissed the song as being "dreadful". 

By 1956, Helen Deutsch was tiring of the old Hollywood grind, and the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz comedy, Forever Darling, was the final film she made for a major studio...at least for a while. She switched to the small screen and obtained a contract with NBC which stated that she work on three specials over the next three years. Deutsch uprooted herself from California and headed back to Manhattan at this time where, in between writing for these productions ( Jack and the Beanstalk, The General Motors Fiftieth Anniversary Show, and The Hallmark Christmas Tree ), she spent her days pursuing her old love of the stage. Deutsch took on many roles in show business including helping to run a theater company, working as an assistant to the executive director for the Theatre Guild, helping to co-found the NY Drama Critics Circle ( as a protest to the Pulitzer Prize selections ), and working as a publicist and theatre critic for the NY Herald and New York Times. 

In the early 1960s she was once again in the spotlight when "Carnival", based on her screenplay for Lili, was turned into a Broadway production and won a Tony Award. She also worked with Meredith Wilson in adapting his stage musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for the big screen. This brought her back to Hollywood temporarily and also led to her being selected as one of the writers for Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls ( 1967 ). Deutsch was not pleased with the final film version released to the public and disavowed any association with the film. All writers have a few works that they are ashamed of, and obviously Deutsch was no different. 

Writing and her love of the theatre must have absorbed quite a significant amount of her attention, but nevertheless her personal life was not devoid of romance. Helen Deutsch was briefly married to educator Spencer Pollard and then she went on to have several relationships with high profile figures ( cough-cough ). The most notable of these being Clifford Odets, the playwright. 

In addition to being a talented writer, Deutsch had a number of  interesting hobbies, the best of which was being an avid bibliophile. She amassed a tidy amount of rare books and manuscripts, which she generously donated to Boston University. She was also a student of medieval English, French, and German, and a Sanskrit scholar. Deutsch had a multi-faceted life indeed.  She passed away at the age of 85 but left behind quite a memorable array of screen work. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Brief History of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

"It was the great film studio of the world," actress Helen Hayes recently recalled of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1930s, "not just of America or of Hollywood, but of the world".

Every time the magnificent head of the lion appears and his menacing roar is heard it conjures up images of MGM's golden age...the musicals, dramas, comedies, epic films, and the stars ( "More stars than there are in heaven!" ) that the studio represented. Ben-Hur, one of MGM's earliest great successes, and its 1959 remake, often are the noted as being the key bookends between the peak years of MGM's reign as the King studio of Hollywood. Join us as we swiftly skip along the yellow brick road of MGM's history, from its start in 1924 up until 1959.


The Early Years ( 1924-1930 )


In the early 1920s the number one form of entertainment across America, vaudeville, was beginning to dwindle and the new fad  "moving pictures" was becoming the latest rage. Marcus Loew, who owned one of the biggest theatre chains in New York, realized the long-lasting potential of these moving pictures and decided to throw all his interest and capital into the medium. Loew wanted a steady supply of bigger and better films for his ever-increasing audience, so in 1919 he purchased Metro Pictures, a newly created motion picture making company on the western coast. With this acquisition, Loew hoped to be more competitive with other theater rivals, such as William Fox and Adolph Zukor, by producing only top-quality, first-class films for his customers.


In April of 1924 Loews Incorporated completed a merger that was to unite Loew's theatre chain, Metro's distribution network along with its newly acquired Goldwyn Pictures studio, as well as Louis B. Mayer Productions. And, included in the $5 million deal, was the Goldwyn trademark....a roaring lion encircled in a banner with the words "Ars Gratia Artis" ( Art for Art's Sake ). Marcus Loew put his trusted assistant, Nicholas Schenk in charge of the eastern theatre chains, while Louis B Mayer was given the pill-poppin' task of being the new studio chief. He was not without help though, for the 24 year old "boy wonder" Irving Thalberg became of the head of production along with the no-nonsense Harry Rapf, as production supervisor.

The newly created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios launched with tremendous success when their first silent film, He Who Gets Slapped, became a critical and commercial hit. Within two years time, MGM became the most profitable film company in Hollywood releasing such films as the epic Ben-Hur, The Big Parade, and The Flesh and the Devil. By 1928 MGM could already boast of having the greatest stars in Hollywood within their studio gates, notably the newly discovered Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Marion Davies and the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney.

In 1928 MGM released its first sound film, White Shadows in the South Seas. The film was originally a silent picture but with the success of Warner Brother's altered talkie The Jazz Singer, MGM quickly added sound effects to the film, and for the first time, audiences were able to hear Leo the Lion roar. The advent of sound created big changes at the studio. For many silent stars, it was their ticket to oblivion, while for others, the launching of a long career. The talkies also hearkened in a new genre - one that MGM would transform into a veritable gold mine : the musical!

Notable Feature Players of the Decade: John Gilbert, Jackie Coogan, Greta Garbo, William Haines, Anita Page, Norma Shearer, Buster Keaton, Bessie Love, Marion Davies, Ramon Navarro.

The Lion Roars ( 1931-1939 )


The Broadway Melody was the first MGM musical ever produced and it went on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. That same year the stock market crashed and America was thrust into a depression that quenched the picture business for many studios, causing ticket sales to plummet. The dream team at MGM, however, knew what the public wanted to see when their pockets were empty and they threw their best talent and production crews into the making of happy-go-lucky musicals, extravagant and sophisticated comedies....and plenty of glamour productions. While their rival studios were suffering, MGM was breaking record profits every year throughout the 1930s. They were making 50 films a year for Loews to distribute and had created so many "stars" that other studios were left in the wake, merely trying to imitate the glamour and allure of a MGM film.

"More Stars than there are in the Heavens!" 

Grand Hotel ( 1932 ) became the first film to feature an "all-star" cast for the studio with such stars as John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo ( uttering the immortal "I Vant to be Alone" ), Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore all gathered together. Other popular films of the early 1930s included Anna Christie, The Divorcee, Trader Horn, Private Lives, Dinner at Eight, and A Free Soul, starring one of MGM's most appealing new leading men, Clark Gable. Within six years he would be voted The King of Hollywood in a nationwide poll ( another MGM lady, Myrna Loy was voted the Queen of Hollywood that same year ).



The Boy Wonder, Irving Thalberg, had married one of MGM's most popular leading ladies, Norma Shearer, and together they were the ideal couple of Hollywood, but their happiness did not last long. Thalberg's frail health was in a steady decline and in 1936 he passed away at the age of 37. Thalberg's memory was honored by the construction of a huge new administration building on the MGM lot, The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Building. 

While Thalberg was alive he enjoyed selecting novels for film adaptation...some of these great literary films included Mutiny on the Bounty ( 1935 ), The Good Earth ( 1936 ), Captains Courageous ( 1938 ), and his crowning achievement, Marie Antionette ( 1938 ). After the death of Thalberg, Mayer took the helm and became determined that all films MGM would be producing should bear a stamp of moral excellence. 


The 1930s saw the launch of some of MGM's most successful "series" films ( Andy Hardy, The Thin Man, Dr. Kildare, Tarzan, and Maisie ) and was also notable for the release of some smaller, but no less great films such as Libeled Lady, Born to Dance, Saratoga, Three Comrades, Ninotchka ( in which audiences got a chance to glimpse Garbo's comedic talent ) and Maytime ( 1935 ), which introduced audiences to the splendid duet singing talent of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. But 1939 was undoubtedly the golden year for the studio. This was the year that The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, The Women, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Babes in Arms, and The Marx Brothers At the Circus were all released. It was a beautiful send-off to a glorious decade of glamour and roaring good success.

Notable Feature Players of the Decade : Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Mickey Rooney, Robert Montgomery, Freddie Bartholomew, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Eleanor Powell, Myrna Loy, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, William Powell, and Luise Rainier.


The Golden Era ( 1940-1949 )


The 1940s were indeed MGM's shining years. Leo the Lion never looked so good in Technicolor and the stars, the studio system, and the films were all at their peak. Meanwhile overseas, Britain was being blitzed and men were fighting in Europe against the onslaught of the Fuhrer, but once again MGM knew the tastes of their audience and the war did nothing to damper their film-making enthusiasm. Americans on the home front would be flocking to the picture houses for two main reasons - to forget the troubles of the war and to be reminded of why their soldiers were fighting overseas. 


MGM broke record breaking profits throughout WWII dishing out colorful period films which showcased their biggest star Judy Garland ( Meet Me in St. Louis, Little Nellie Kelly, The Harvey Girls ); patriotic flag wavers for the women at home ( Mrs. Miniver, The White Cliffs of Dover, The Clock ); and chunky slices of Mayer-made American apple pie ( The Andy Hardy series, The Human Comedy, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes ). These films celebrated family values and were filled with scenes that made audiences weep, laugh, smile and cheer all at the same time. 

When the war came to a close in 1945, returning soldiers either faced adjustments at home ( as highlighted in Samuel Goldwyn's The Best Years of Our Lives ) or a sense of happy relief to be back home with their families, sweethearts, and their old pals. MGM catered to the latter audience primarily and the sense of euphoria that most of the soldiers felt made the studio's pockets bulge as the audiences indulged in their favorite past time - going to the movies.  

Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, and James Stewart were all home from the war and new script material was being purchased for their comeback films. Some were instant hits, while others - such as Adventure - were downright bombs. Robert Montgomery scored a hit with Lady In The Lake which also reinforced MGM’s reputation as a risk taker, when in 1946, it became the first film to be shot entirely from its lead character’s perspective. 

Comedies, melodramas, and romances were all the rage. Musicals were booming as well, thanks to the talented members of the Freed Unit, a special group of music makers who were appreciated and gratefully left alone by the big brass at the studio. Arthur Freed, a former vaudeville performer and theater owner, joined the studio at the coming of sound in Hollywood as a composer. In the mid-1940s, along with the team of individuals which he brought out from Broadway ( Vincente Minnelli, Irene Sharaff, Adolph Deutsch, Gene Kelly, Betty Comdon, Adolph Green, Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane ) he turned to producing and reinvented the musical, interweaving the music and dance numbers with the plot to help move the story along. Freed even lured Fred Astaire out of retirement to star alongside Judy Garland in one of MGM's great musicals, Easter Parade ( 1948 ).

Notable Feature Players of the Decade : Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams, Elizabeth Taylor, Roddy McDowall, Margaret O'Brien, Greer Garson, Robert Taylor, Walter Pidgeon, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Ronald Colman.

The End of the Reign ( 1950-1959 )


The mid-century decade launched with a grand start as MGM released The Asphalt Jungle ( which gave birth to a new genre - the heist picture ), Father of the Bride, Summer Stock, and their biggest musical moneymaker of all time - Annie Get Your Gun. 

1950 was also a year of change for the personnel at MGM - the leading stars of the 1940s ( Greer Garson, Katharine Hepburn, William Powell, Spencer Tracy ) were taking a graceful step down from their royal thrones as the studio lavished attention on the latest crowd pleasers ( Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Ava Gardner, Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Jane Powell ). Even Louis B. Mayer decided to call it a day after 27 years of overseeing operations at the studio. Much to his chagrin, MGM thrived perfectly well without him. Just after Mayer left, production on Singin' in the Rain began and upon its release it was deemed one of the greatest musicals to come out of the Freed unit. An American in Paris was also making a splash at the theatres, as was Quo Vadis? one of the studios first biblical films since the making of Ben-Hur in 1925. 

However, by the mid-1950s MGM's decline was evident due to the collapse of the studio system and the approach of a new medium - television. The studio was dipping into their archives in the hopes of bringing past successes to new life but other studios were competing successfully against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, thanks to good scripts, fine talent, excellent cinematography and wider genres. 

Vincente Minnelli decided to branch out from musicals and directed the melodrama, The Bad and the Beautiful, which earned 5 Academy Awards. MGM also added more thrillers, science fiction films ( notably Forbidden Planet ), and 3D films ( Kiss Me Kate ) to their annual output in the hopes of luring television audiences back to the theatres. It didn't help. Audience attendance was at an all time low in 1955 ( the lowest since 1923 ) and in 1957, the studio struck a loss for the first time in its 23 year history. Even the hip-swinging popularity of Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock, couldn't help sales. 

In 1958, MGM squeezed out a hit with the screen adaption of Tennessee Williams's play The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. The film dealt with issues that MGM would never have tackled had Louis B. Mayer been in charge and the Hayes code still in existence. It was indeed changing times. That same year the Freed Unit produced their last musical - Gigi. It was the end of the genre and the studio said farewell with a glorious swan song. Gigi scooped ten Academy Awards and became Freed's highest grossing musical. Even today, it is still regarded as one of the best musicals ever made.  

Although 1958 had been an improvement on the year before, MGM decided it needed to prove it was still the leading studio in Hollywood, and that the film which had established its name back in 1925 was long overdue a remake: Ben-Hur.


William Wyler took the helm as director and with its stellar cast, beautiful Miklos Rozsa score, and magnificent cinematography Ben-Hur earned its place in film history as one of the greatest epics ever made. After the film was released, the curtains would draw to a close on the golden era of MGM's reign as the kingpin studio in Hollywood; independent producers, freelancing actors and smaller studios would usurp the mighty giant and never again would it bask in the sunshine of its former glory. 

This post is our contribution to the MGM Blogathon, Silver Scene's celebration of the 90th anniversary of one of the grandest studios in Hollywood. 

The MGM Blogathon : A 90th Anniversary Celebration

Kick up your heels and start singin' in the rain, for the MGM Blogathon is finally here!! 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, founded in 1924, is celebrating their 90th anniversary this year and to celebrate the occasion we are hosting the MGM Blogathon, a three-day event featuring wonderful posts about the talented people that called MGM their home, and the marvelous films that they made. Come join us in celebrating this great studio....we're going to be popping the corks all throughout the year and this blogathon is just the beginning! 

A fantastic array of posts have been submitted from the four corners of the classic film fan world and, which we are pleased to say, do indeed highlight some of the greatest films and actors of MGM's illustrious past.  We have also arranged the posts in chronological order below or, if you'd rather, you can view them by date here

If you want to add a post during, or after the blogathon has ended, just shoot us an email and we will be glad to add your post to the lists! Unlike most blogathons we will be collecting posts about MGM throughout the entire year. Our main goal is to celebrate the studio and provide fans with a hub where they can find writings on some of their favorite films, stars, and behind-the-scenes stories....so we don't quibble about dates and such. 

So without more ado.....here are the entries! 


He Who Gets Slapped ( 1924 ) - Nitrate Diva

The Golden Years

Katharine Hepburn and Louis B. Mayer - The Great Katharine Hepburn


The 1950s 

Ben-Hur ( 1925 ) and Ben-Hur ( 1959 ) - Phantom Empires


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As a special thank you to our participants we will be giving away three original MGM photographs from the Silverbanks Pictures Archive. Originally we were going to award them to the best written posts, but then we thought that rather competitive and so now we will resort to that tried and true method of fairness....hat drawing. 

At the close of the blogathon we will draw three names from our magic top hat and award the The Champ, the grand chockee of them all, with this behind-the-scenes candid of Mickey Rooney, Peter Lawford and Van Johnson at MGM ( or you can pick from any in our store )....



...while the first prize winner may select their choice of these two original photos : 



Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Happiest Millionaire ( 1967 )

After having completed Mary Poppins in 1965, Walt Disney's enthusiasm for musical films was at an all-time high, and with the recently purchased rights to Cordelia Drexel Biddle's book/play "The Happiest Millionaire" in his hands he couldn't resist turning the story into a musical in the vein of Poppins. And how fortunate that he did! With a 172 minute run-time - Disney's lengthiest feature film to date - it allowed for over 80 minutes of musical sequences ( 14 different songs ). Every principle player got to showcase their talent with a song and dance routine - many who never sang before. 

The film focuses on the family life of Anthony J. Drexel Biddle ( Fred MacMurray ), one of Philadelphia's most prominent citizens, albeit a bit eccentric... you see, he likes to keep alligators in the house ( the eldest, George, has a habit of escaping ) and he teaches boxing to students through his Biddle Bible Class. Within the walls of his ornate mansion resides a household of non-conformists; a beautiful family united in their belief that one should be true to oneself and not change to satisfy Society's expectations.

Before we meet the family, we are introduced to John Lawless ( Tommy Steele ), a newly arrived Irish immigrant, who obtains the not-so-coveted position of Biddle butler, and he becomes our on-and-off narrator throughout the movie. 

After a brief appearence from the two sons ( Paul Peterson and Eddie Hodges ) performing the 'Watch Your Footwork' number, they are sent off the school and we see them no more. But this is where our heroine Cordy comes in ( the lovely Lesley Ann Warren ). The Biddle's only daughter, she is at the age of doubting whether being independently-minded is worth the price of being labeled a social outcast, for she's beginning to realize that boys do not like girls who can throw a left-hook. So naturally Cordy is enthralled at the idea of attending the finishing school her strait-laced Aunt Mary (Gladys Cooper ) suggests she attend. While there she receives instruction in the art of 'bye-yum pum-pum', that oh-so mysterioso quality of making yourself alluring to men. But it seems that her first suitor Angie (John Davidson ) finds her attempt at this laughable. In fact, he likes her just the way she is - different! Now isn't that how it always works out?


Besides, she shows an interest in automobiles, his true passion in life. It is the year 1916, and with automobiles in their formulative stage, there is a world of innovation in the future. Angie wants to go to Detroit and be apart of this age of mechanical wonder, and Cordy stands by him in this belief... now if only his mother would consent. Angier Buchanen Duke just happens to be the heir to a great tobacco fortune and his mother, the socially prominent Mrs.Duke ( Geraldine Page ) expects him to follow in his father's footsteps.

And this is where we come to the basis of the film - to do or not to do. Hold on to your beliefs or follow what others tell you. Stick to your guns or bear the white flag. Yes, this is the underlying theme of the picture. If you are a Disney fan then the outcome is easy to guess.

BEHIND THE SCENES

The Happiest Millionaire opened at the Lyceum Theatre in New York on November 20th, 1956 starring Walter Pidgeon and Martin Ashe. Kyle Crichton and Cordelia Drexel Biddle's play was based on her novel, 'My Philadelphia Father' published in 1955.

Shortly after the premiere of Mary Poppins work began on The Happiest Millionaire and many of the Poppins production team were brought together again to work on this movie, including choreographers Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood, cinematographer Edward Colman, songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, art director Carrol Clark and special effects maestro Peter Ellenshaw. Keep an eye out for the beautiful title card backdrops in the opening credits. These were painted by Alan Maley, who later became a famous artist of Victorian scenes.

Having a tremendous budget with which to work with, the team freely used it : over 3,000 complete outfits were made for the production, valued at $250,000, and an entire replica of Biddle's Philadelphia mansion was built, filled with more than $450,000 worth of furnishings and antiques.


When the The Happiest Millionaire was released in theatres, close to 30 minutes of footage was cut; much of which was the overture, entracte, and closing credits. But one notable scene that ended up on the cutting room floor was the ending - Mr. and Mrs. Biddle ( Greer Garson ) are feeling down in spirit, now that their children are either married or away at school, and they sing the beautiful song, "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas". This was a lovely scene so fortunately it ( and various other segments ) were reinstated in the DVD roadshow version released by Disney Studios.

The Happiest Millionaire did not fare well at the box-office upon its release and it is not really a surprise, for the script lacks a focus. Unlike Mary Poppins, The Happiest Millionaire features a story that would not appeal in the least to children and yet its production and the advertisements for the film have a bright look that seem to be geared towards youngsters. It's also much long for one sitting, so we'd recommend spreading it out over two nights, but overall it is a charming movie...colorful sets and costumes, lively tunes, bravado performances by talented actors, and an air of "fortuosity" hovers throughout it all. The movie also holds the significance of being the last live-action film Walt Disney saw completed before his death.


If you have the opportunity to see The Happiest Millionaire then by all means do so. Regardless of what some critics say about it, we thoroughly enjoy watching this film... over... and over... and over again... and "What's wrong with that?"

This post is our contribution to the highly entertaining 1967 in Film Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and The Rosebud Cinema. Be sure to check out all the other great posts on your favorite films of that pivotal year in Hollywood, 1967. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hollywood Home Tour - Clark Gable

"Here we come to one of the most famous of movie star homes - the ranch shared by Clark Gable and his wife Carole Lombard from 1939 -1942.... 


4525 Petitt Street, Encino

"The spacious nine-room white brick and wood ranch was nicknamed "The House of Two Gables" when the couple moved in. While Gable was off making Gone With the Wind, Lombard had the interior completely re-done in a beautiful Early American style, renovating two of the first-floor bedrooms into an office for Gable and a room to showcase his ever-growing firearm collection. Outside, on the grounds were citrus groves, fields of oats and alfalfa, stables, a hen house, cow barn, and a pig-less pigsty. I'll pull up to the curb here, so you folks can get a better look at the place."

"Did Gable actually farm the property?" 

"Yes, he really did enjoy being on the ranch and especially loved to give reporters the grand tour of his mini-farm - it was 20 acres - often posing for photos on his tractor or milking cows for them. It was a peaceful respite away from the hustle of Hollywood for him"

"The was the former residence of director Raoul Walsh. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had previously visited the home and were admirers of the property, so when they got wind that it was up for sale in the fall of 1938, Carole put up $50,000 to purchase it. In March of 1939 the couple were married and moved in shortly after...however, this was only to be a temporary residence. The lovebirds were planning on starting a cattle ranch and were looking to purchase a large piece of land either in Arizona or Wyoming. Carole Lombard's death in an airplane crash put an abrupt end to their dream plans and, brokenhearted, Gable put the Encino ranch up for sale, not bearing to stay there any longer. A good friend of his, Al Menseco, changed his mind and while Gable was fighting overseas during WWII, he had the ranch kept running by a few house servants and a caretaker. After the war the King again put it up on the market and pulled it off shortly thereafter. Gable currently lives on the ranch with his fifth wife, Kay Spreckles Gable. "

Up-to-date Note : In 1973, his wife Kay sold the ranch and it was subdivided into a housing development called Gable estates. Today, the house still stands although it sits on less than an acre of property. Click here to view images of the interior of the home at this great Carole Lombard website.

Monday, June 16, 2014

On the Homefront : MGM and the War Effort

Sunlight streams through the shattered roof of a country church. There are empty places in the pews where, only a few weeks earlier, parishioners had sat - the local stationmaster, a choirboy, the young daughter-in-law of a much loved family. They are gone now, dead from the bullets or the bombs of an enemy they didn't know, in a war they hardly understood. 

Framed by the wreckage of his church, the vicar delivers a ringing sermon : "Why, in all conscience, should these be the ones to suffer? I shall tell you why! Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is a war of the people - of all people - and it must be fought not only on the battlefield but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom...This is a people's war! It is our war! We are the fighters! " 

The camera pans upward, through the sundered roof of the church.  "Onward Christian Soldiers" rises on the soundtrack as British fighter places - like a gathering flock of graceful birds - wing overhead, toward the enemy. 

So ends Mrs. Miniver, MGM's most popular and award-winning film of World War II. Moviegoers around the world thrilled to it, and with good cause. MGM was at its best during the war years, making movies to build the morale of fighting men and women, and the families awaiting their return. 


It was a time of pure patriotism, the fan club, the screen magazine, and the star system. MGM's male stars traded costumes for khaki and marched off to war. Clark Gable, James Stewart, Robert Taylor, Gene Kelly, Jackie Cooper, Stewart Granger, Van Heflin, Robert Montogomery, and Robert Sterling all served in the armed services. 

Other stars of both sexes went overseas to perform in USO shows; some washed dishes, served food, or danced with lonely GIs in the Hollywood Canteen. And still others traveled around the United States,  selling war by the thousands, sometimes quite creatively. MGM, for instance, conducted a "Tanks for Yanks" campaign that featured Johnny Sheffield, the "Boy" in the Tarzan series, touring the country and speaking, from the turret of a tank, about "A Boy's Place in America". 

In another promotion, MGM conducted a contest in several cities to pick seven girls who were "...doing the most to promote the war effort on the homefront". Their prizes were corsages and dinner with seven sailors, all paid for by MGM. 

Meanwhile, back at the studio, the sound stages busily produced war-related short subjects, such as National Defense, a documentary honoring all of the Rosie the Riveters and Max the Mechanics in the country. One of Pete Smith's lighthearted short subjects, Victory Vittles, advised home-front housewives to make do with leftovers, while an intriguing series on the medieval prophet Nostradamus revealed his provocative predictions for the advent and end of the war. Don't Talk and Mr. Blabbermouth warned home-front warriors about the consequences of rumor-mongering and spilling war secrets to unsuspected spies. 

For the young and the young-of-heart, the studio's cartoon department penned, among others, The Blitz Wolf, in which Adolf the cartoon wolf, who bore a "striking resemblance to Adolph the Phewrer" was ultimately defeated by the three little pigs of Pigmania - once they abandoned isolationism and fought together for the common good. 


Still, MGM's most effective weapons were its stirring home-front feature films. "Motion pictures are of the utmost importance to....build up mroale", said General Dwight Eisenhower in 1942, "...feature productions bring home their country vividly to the memories of soldiers. Let's have more motion pictures!" An MGM obliged, with multi-star musical extravaganzas such as Thousands Cheer ( 1943 ), Family musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis ( 1944 ), comedies such as Swing Shift Maisie ( 1943 ), and, most movingly, tributes to the family values the Allied forces were fighting to defend. 

MGM's Mrs. Miniver gently dissolved class distinctions in England and celebrated the enduring power of the family - itself a miniature world at peace. Its American counterpart was The Human Comedy ( 1943 ), William Saroyan's semi-autobiographical story about the Macauley family of Ithaca, California. In his own, spun-glass way, Saroyan created a town and a family with whom practically every American could identify and sympathize. 

The Macauleys are poor in terms of money but affluent in the abundant, boundless love they have for each other. Since his father is dead and brother Marcus ( Van Johnson ) is in the army, young Homer Macauley ( Mickey Rooney ) works at a postal telegraph office to support the family. At the beginning of the film, Homer is a boy; by its end, the war has made him a man, as it has the American soldiers overseas. The telegraph office where he works receives and delivers wires from the War Department announcing the deaths of sons on the battlefield. Inevitably, it receives the news of the death of Homer's brother Marcus. As Homer tries desperately to cope with his terrible loss, the voices of Marcus and his father - like the vicar's words in Mrs. Miniver - comfort him, and the theater audience, too : "You are what we're fighting the war for. You are what we have left behind - to live the hopes we only dreamed ". 

This post is an excerpt from Peter Hay's excellent book on the history of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, "MGM: When the Lion Roars" published by Turner Publishing in 1991. For those who have not yet read it, it is the authoritative book on the studio and a truly delightful read, packed with over 700 photographs from the MGM's golden era. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

The MGM Blogathon : The Master List

The big day is about to arrive! In two weeks the MGM blogathon will be making its grand entrance. 

READ all about the big stars! 
            READ all about the big films! 
                        SEE all the big pictures .....

from the biggest studio in Hollywood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Are you thinking BIG yet? 

Our celebration of the 90th anniversary of MGM will be taking place from June 26-29th. We have had a fantastic response from bloggers wanting to participate in this epic event and have gathered together the posts and participants so far in a Master List, organized by date. 


June 26th


June 27th


The Asphalt Jungle ( 1950 ) - Ramblings of a Cinephile
Katharine Hepburn and Louis B. Mayer - The Great Katharine Hepburn
Mutiny on the Bounty ( 1936 )  - Classic Film Freak

June 28th

He Who Gets Slapped ( 1924 ) - Nitrate Diva
Ben-Hur ( 1925 )  and Ben-Hur ( 1959 ) - Phantom Empires

June 29th



If you are not happy with your scheduled post date, then just let us know and we'll shuffle them all around! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

TV/Movie Set: The Parent Trap Ranch

It's that time of year again....when summer begins to peak its head around the corner then our brains start to buzz with new ideas. One of them you're seeing right now : a new series featuring the houses, apartments, cabins and cottages from our favorite movies and television shows. We're not to going to limit it to just our favorites though, we'd love to hear your suggestions on houses we should feature in the new future. 

Actually, this idea isn't all that new. Diana and I have been huge fans of architecture ever since we were kindergarten age, when we use to draw out plans for our dream house, vacation cabin, tree-house or that ideal ice cream stand. Today, we're still sketching house plans whenever an idea crops up ( usually in the middle of the night ) or, more frequently, when we see a perfect house on screen. Instead of hoarding all these designs to ourselves, we just decided to share them! O you lucky people you. 

Over the weekend we were watching The Parent Trap ( 1961 ) and so we picked it to be our very first house in the series. And what a house it is. 

In order to put the place in perspective, it's always best to see a floor plan. Here's my sloppy sketch of the place along with a few mistakes thrown in. If anyone knows where we can get a hold of the original set design plans, let us know! 


Before we get started on the picture tour, I'd like to give special mention to Julia who runs the very entertaining blog Hooked on Houses. She took most of these fab screenshots and - since we're lazy - we snitched them ( don't shake your head just yet, her website stated that people are more than welcome to borrow her images ). Anyway, she has a great selection of TV/Movie houses in her own series, with some classics scattered among the lot, but I think she stopped posting and so we're taking up where she left off...only with Silver Scenes you'll see strictly classic film sets and nothing else. 

Let's get together now and start the tour:  

THE EXTERIOR


Walt Disney's The Parent Trap tells the story of twin sisters, separated at birth, who meet accidentally at summer camp and decide to switch places in order to meet the parent they've never seen before and reunite them both. 


The lovable Hayley Mills plays duel roles in the part of Sharon/Susan, with Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith playing their divorced parents, Maggie and Mitch. 


The film opens up with the girls at Camp Inch where they first discover that they are the spitting image of each other. Later this summer we'll post images of the cabin that they share, as well as the Boston house that Sharon lives in, but for now we want to focus strictly on the ranch that Susan's dad, Mitch, owns. 

THE ENTRANCE FOYER


Mitch's house is decorated in this beautiful old Spanish missionary style with lots of interior stonework, heavy wood furniture, ornate carvings, and stained glass windows. The entrance door features beautiful decorative wood engravings, especially on the front side. 

THE LIVING ROOM


Once inside, this massive living room greets you. Just get a load of the fireplace on the far left side of the room. Two sets of french doors lead out to the courtyard while the steps take you to the upstairs bedrooms. 


We couldn't figure out where Hecky and Verbena live but it's probably in that separate section of the house just past the thru-way. You can see it in the top shot behind the white Thunderbird. If you were to take a right turn when you enter through the front door, you'd be in a short hallway that leads to the dining room. We pasted two screenshots together so a broader view could be seen. 


Mitch was wondering where his dinner was, when he was told that he will be eating out in the courtyard for a change. Nice as the courtyard is, it wasn't prepared for a dining table and so the gals got Hecky to move one in for them while they set up their "Let's Get Together" routine to entertain their parents. 

THE COURTYARD



If we grew up in this house I'd be throwing pennies down that old well every day making wishes on the future. Although with a life like Sharon had there really wouldn't be many wishes for a better future to make.... 


....unless you wanted a sister and a mother of course. And Maureen O'Hara makes one stunning mother! Here she is making her grand entrance to the courtyard and finds the set-up as amusing as Mitch does. We weren't able to figure out where that backdoor leads to, so we'll leave that up to your imagination. 


Let's take a look at the courtyard in these daytime shots before we move on to the upstairs bedroom. It looks like there is a little stone man with his legs crossed in the background. One thing this house certainly doesn't have a shortage of is flora and stonework.



The art directors who created the fantastic sets of The Parent Trap were Disney legend Carroll Clark ( stay tuned for a re-post about this talented man ) and Robert Clatworthy. Send Me No Flowers, Lover Come Back, That Touch of Mink, Psycho and Midnight Lace were just a few of the films that Robert Clatworthy was the art director on. 


Set decorators, Emile Kuri and Hal Gausman deserve as much credit for creating such a wonderful atmosphere with their decor. The second sheet of our floor plan features the upstairs rooms. Since most of the film took place in the lower level, we weren't able to take note of all of the bedrooms. Sharon and Susan shared a bed, so there must have been only one guest room but I would have loved to see Mitch's bedroom.

THE BEDROOMS


The entire Evers residence has this nice subtle light-tone color palette that carries over from the interior decor popular in the late 1950s. Parts of the house also foreshadow the style of the late 1960s, particularly the yellow glass windows in the living room. You just got to love those wide doors and hallways in this shot of Mitch's dressing room, and look at those horse watercolors. 


Walk through that doorway on the right and you'll end up right smack in the middle of Cleopatra's spa, complete with golden dolphin faucet handles. This bathroom connects with Sharon's bedroom, but oddly enough we see Maureen O'Hara using the bathroom instead. Her guest room did not have a one? Odd, for a ranch this size. But then again, that was probably just so the audience could enjoy that little scene where Mitch finds Maggie's bra hanging on the shower stall and thinks it belongs to Sharon. 


Maureen O'Hara was 41 years old when she made The Parent Trap, one year older than Brian Keith, but you'd never guess it from the way she looks. Maureen is one of the few actresses that really reached her prime ( as Miss Broooodie would say ) in her 40s. 



Here is Sharon looking inquiringly at her dad. This bedroom scheme reminds me of a great set from another Hayley Mills film, The Moon-Spinners ( 1964 ), with it's blue walls and thick white trim ( all stucco ). 


That's about all we get to see of the upstairs except for this brief scene of Verbena putting away the laundry. Anybody want to take a guess at what kind of room that back one could be? A dressing room? Guest room?

Anyway...now the piece de resistance...the kitchen! 

THE KITCHEN


This is one posh kitchen. The stonework is what really makes it stand out. That door in the back looks like it leads to the courtyard but actually it opens to a passageway ( carport? ) which enters into the courtyard. 


And see those great windows that look out to the wishing well? Well..they're not windows. They are just wooden frames. The summers in California are so warm, who needs windows? But in winter, I imagine they would put in the glass panes. 
_______________________________________________

The Parent Trap features several beautiful sets, but the Evers ranch is the best of them all. To this day, the Disney Archives still receive requests for the blueprints to the house, with other asking for directions to the house so they could see it in person. In truth however, there never was an Evers ranch. 

The exterior of the house was just a shell. The exterior walls and roof were erected on the Golden Oak ranch, a large piece of property that Walt Disney owned in Placerita Canyon Road, in Santa Clarita Valley. The interior was all constructed on sound stages, which is hard to believe considering all the "sunlight" that streams in. 

Well, that about wraps up our first TV/Movie Set post. Hope you enjoyed it and stay tuned for more to come! 
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