Sunday, June 28, 2015

1936 - A Grand Year in Film

Silent Screenings and Once Upon a Screen have teamed up with Movies Silently to revive their popular Classic Movie History Project Blogathon covering all of the major periods in film history. We have decided to tackle 1936 for the Golden Era of this event. Many critics tout 1939 as the wunder-year of Hollywood film and that is quite true, but if there was one year that was pivotal in the operation of each of the five major film studios it was 1936. 

There was a notable difference in quality in the releases of 1936 compared to those made prior to 1935. Technical advancements were made in the sound departments, make-up was no longer being caked on as heavily as it had been ( men stopped wearing lipstick, thank goodness! ) and directors were experimenting with new filming techniques. The title cards of the silent-era, which were used to explain plot changes or passages of time, were slowly being discarded for dialogue-driven story-telling. 

Though the Depression was but a not-so-distant memory, life had improved for many with employment on the increase and families now having money to spare. This, naturally, effected the movie industry and on a whole it was doing phenomenal business with grosses up $250 million dollars from 1935.

Major Hollywood Happenings

Deanna Durbin made her film debut in Three Smart Girls, a frolicsome feature in the vein of The Parent Trap. She soon became the No. 1 money maker for Universal studios and just in the nick of time, for the studio nearly went bankrupt in the summer of 1936. Charles Rogers took over production of the studio after Carl Laemmle Jr. raked up substantial debts in the creation of prestigious productions throughout the early 1930s. Rogers reduced the number of productions ( and the quality ) of Universal's output for the coming decade. Indeed, aside from Durbin's films there were meager pickings among the Universal crop in the years to come. 

Dorothy Lamour became a star overnight when she appeared wrapped in a sarong in The Jungle Princess, a routine jungle yarn from Paramount. Prior to this film she was a minor band and radio singer.

Mervyn LeRoy made his last major production for Warner Brothers - Anthony Adverse. Beginning with the acquisition of A Midsummer Night's Dream the previous year, Warner Brothers hoped to present themselves to the public with a new image as a prestigious film company and acquired the rights to a number of best-selling novels. Anthony Adverse was a huge financial success for the studio and helped to promote this new image. Losing Mervyn LeRoy was a major loss for the studio but, on the other hand, they signed composer Max Steiner ( who had left RKO ) over the summer. Steiner was one of the top music-makers in the industry. You win some, you lose some.

The Boy Wonder, Irving Thalberg, died at age 37. His wife, actress Norma Shearer, was devasted and vowed to never remarry. But she did. In 1942, she wed a ski-intructor from Sun Valley. Thalberg had forged MGM into the studio that it was and, after his death, production came to a standstill - for one day. Then Louis B. Mayer took the reigns as king of the Lion's lair and gave birth to a new era of wholesome top-notch productions. He was not entirely cold towards his former boss however, and ordered the erection on the MGM lot of a vast new multi-million dollar Irving Thalberg Administration Building named in honor of the Boy Wonder. Thalberg did not live long enough to see his pet-project, The Good Earth, completed. 

Walt Disney signed a distribution deal with RKO. Even though it would be two more years before Disney released his first full-length motion picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he had the foresight to recognize television as being a major factor in the entertainment industry of the future. RKO had close ties with RCA, then the leading sponser in the video development field, and so Disney made his bid early. that's what I call thinking ahead! Television may have been years away but it was often talked about in the media and even Columbia Pictures released a film in 1936 entitled Trapped by Television about a television pioneer ( Lyle Talbot ).

Warner Brothers attempted to break new ground with their release of The Green Pastures, basically a re-telling of the Bible as seen through the eyes of black children in an out-of-the-way Sunday school. Today, the film is considered racist for its portrayal of blacks as shuffling simpletons.

Silent film star John Gilbert died of a heart attack at the age of 38. Garbo's former lover never did learn how to "talk" for talkies and so the advent of sound put an early end to his career.

Bette Davis sued Warner Brothers for putting her in crummy low-budget films and they, in turn, sued her right back for breaking her contract and signing with producer Ludovic Toeplitz. Politics, politics......Anyway, Bette got the better end of the deal and Jack Warner decided to give her some better productions.

Historic epics were all the rage and the studios vied to outdo each other in splendid extravagance. Warner Brothers released The Charge of the Light Brigade, a G. A. Henty style yarn set in the North West Frontier; 20th Century Fox premiered Lloyds of London, the story of the famous insurance company; and MGM undertook the destruction of a city in San Francisco, featuring an earth-shaking finale.

Humphrey Bogart made a name for himself as a hood in A Petrified Forest. This was a role originally slated for Eddie G. Robinson.

The release of My Man Godfrey cemented Carole Lombard's reputation as one of the most beautiful and accomplished comediennes of the 1930s.

Biographical films were big box-office. The Story of Louis Pasteur not only became one of the top films of the year but it earned star Paul Muni an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the imminent doctor of medicine. Other biographical films released in 1936 included Mary, Queen of Scotland; The Great Ziegfeld ( Best Picture of the year ); Rembrandt; and Sutter's Gold.

William Powell and Myrna Loy continued their box-office success teaming up in three more great films, After the Thin Man, The Great Ziegfeld and Libeled Lady.

"B" films became the norm. For years cinemas had been experimenting with what to give audiences as an extra treat at the theatres. They tried live shows, shorts, newsreels, double features - until they hit on the "big/little" scenario. Audiences enjoyed seeing one minor film and one quality production. B films were being made by all the major studios to support their A productions, and they used these B films to test out new directors, actors, and special effects. 

Director Frank Capra got his name put above the title in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Capra believed that movies could have a social conscience and he struck a cord with post-Depression audiences in his latest retelling of his little-man-pitted-against-the-world philosophy. 

Irene Dunne makes her comedic debut. Dunne had scored a hit with Show Boat earlier in the year and then was cast, against her wishes, in a comedy - Theodora Goes Wild. She did not consider herself to be a comedienne but audiences certainly thought so and many more comedies soon followed. 

Technicolor Pictures hit theatres. Well, officially Becky Sharp, released in 1935, was the first full-length Technicolor film, but it wasn't until 1936 that the process was really perfected. Paramount released Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the first Technicolor picture filmed outdoors and United Artists featured Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer in blazing spectrums in The Garden of Allah.

Notable Releases of 1936

  • The Charge of the Light Brigade 
  • The Prisoner of Shark Island 
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • Trail of the Lonesome Pine
  • The Great Ziegfeld
  • Modern Times
  • San Francisco
  • Libeled Lady
  • Follow the Fleet
  • Swing Time
  • Mary, Queen of Scotland
  • My Man Godfrey
  • The Petrified Forest
  • Lloyds of London
  • Theodora Goes Wild
  • Three Smart Girls
  • Anything Goes
  • The Plainsman
  • Show Boat
  • The Milky Way
  • Desire
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Dodsworth
  • The Big Broadcast of 1937
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy
  • These Three
  • The Garden of Allah
  • Things to Come

Top Box-Office Films

1. San Francisco

2. Modern Times

3. Strike Me Pink

4. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

5. A Midsummer Night's Dream

Popular Actors of 1936

Every year since 1932 Quigley's International Motion Picture Almanac polled movie exhibitors across America to determine the Top Money Making Stars - those actors who consistently bring in audiences - and these were the results from 1936's poll. 

1) Shirley Temple 
2) Clark Gable 
3) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers 
4) Robert Taylor 
5) Joe. E Brown 
6) Dick Powell 
7) Joan Crawford 
8) Claudette Colbert 
9) Jeanette MacDonald 
10) Gary Cooper 
11) Jane Withers 
12) James Cagney 
13) William Powell 
14) Jean Harlow 
15) Wallace Beery

Friday, June 26, 2015

3-D Films of the 1950s

" A Lion in Your Lap! A Lover in Your Arms!"

So heralded the publicity posters for Bwana Devil, the first full-color three-dimensional feature film to be released in the United States and the film that was instrumental in launching the 3-D craze of the 1950s. The picture itself was a routine programmer with a lackluster story line, however, because it featured the new technology that took audiences into the third-dimension, tickets to Bwana Devil quickly sold out upon its premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood on Nov. 26, 1952, with lines of people spanning several blocks. This film, along with the horror classic House of Wax, created such a demand for 3-D that Hollywood studios churned out nearly 50 films within the following year, creating what many critics now term as the "golden age of 3-D"

The Creation of an Illusion

3-D image processing was not as modern as audiences in the 1950s may have believed. It was demonstrated as early as 1856 when J.C d'Almeida showcased before the Academy of Sciences his method of projecting, in rapid succession, two stereoscopic magic lantern slides - one colored red, one colored green - while the viewer wore goggles fitted with the same two color lenses. The slides were of the same image shot at slightly different angles but when combined at a fast speed the viewer's brain would process the image as one three-dimensional picture. 

William Friese Greene made several advancements to this 3-D process in the late 1800s when he created the first motion picture camera to film three-dimensional anaglyphic images. On June 10, 1915, audiences at the Astor Theatre in New York City previewed three reels of test footage filmed by Edward S. Porter and William E. Waddell of oriental dancers, rural scenes, and even Niagara Falls. Audiences were amazed with the process and in the coming decade several more short films were produced, creating a small boom in the 1920s. 

Film maker and inventor Harry K. Fairall enthralled silent movie audiences with the release of the first full-length 3-D movie - The Power of Love - in 1922 at the Ambassador Hotel Theatre in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this film is now believed to be lost. 

The Polaroid 3-D Films

All of these short subject novelties utilized cardboard anaglyph ( red and green or blue ) viewers that a person would hold by hand up to their eyes. It was not until 1939, when Edward Land demonstrated the use of his Polaroid sheets as a filter in stereoscopic presentations, that the two-colored lenses of the past changed and the era of cardboard "glasses" began. Land had conceived of the Polaroid filter to reduce glare from car headlights. It just so happened it made a superior 3D filter! 

At the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, Chrsyler Corporation showed a 15-minute short titled In Tune With Tomorrow which used the new Polaroid 3-D projection method. This film showed a Chrysler Plymouth magically assembled in sync with music and was an instant hit at the fair where over 1.5 million people viewed it. It was so popular a year later the film was re-shot in color and re-released as New Dimensions

During World War II stereoscopic photography was prioritized for military applications and so most producers turned away from the new process. It was not until 1952 that it made its way back into popularity. Earlier that year, director Arch Oboler was approached by the Gunzberg brothers who demonstrated a new camera rig that they had invented for use in 3D filming entitled "Natural Vision". Oboler thought Natural Vision would be the wave of the future and decided to scrap the 10 days worth of "flat footage" he shot of his latest film The Lions of Gulu and re-film it in 3D. He also retitled it Bwana Devil. 

The major studios had all turned down the Gunzbergs invention because they felt that it was another "novelty" not worth pursuing. Also, many were already heavily invested in the Cinemascope process which featured wall to wall screens and stereophonic sound. It was only after Bwana Devil's success that the major studios decided to ride with the crowd and create 3D films. And they wasted no time getting down to business! Bwana Devil had premiered on November 26, 1952 and between January and October 1953, the major studios released 48 three-dimensional films. 

Televisions were slowing finding their way into the average American's home and, because of this, movie attendance was on the decline. 3-D was a fabulous method of bringing them back to the theatres. Humans have long held a fascination for in-your-face action and with the advent of 3D technology, some of their favorite stars were practically within arm's reach. These stars included Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan, Arlene Dahl, Vincent Price, Jane Russell, Rock Hudson, John Wayne, and Grace Kelly. Even the movie posters at the time appeared to grab the audience and pull them into the theatres. 

Highlighted below are some of the best and most memorable 3-D classics of this golden age : 

Bwana Devil ( 1952, United Artists ) 

The film that started it all. The 3-D lion may have jumped into audience's laps, but the story itself was a sleeping bear. Robert Stack portrays a lion hunter sent to Africa to kill off a pair of vicious man-eaters who are attacking workers during construction of a rail line. Robert Stack, Barbara Britton, Nigel Bruce.

Devil's Canyon ( 1953, RKO )

A marshal is unjustly convicted and sent to an Arizona prison in the 1880s. Westerns were an ideal feature for the 3-D process making the vast landscape of the West seem even more impressive. Dale Robertson, Virginia Mayo, Stephen McNally.

Flight to Tangier ( 1953, Paramount ) 

Three people, including a female FBI agent, follow a three million dollar letter of credit beyond the Iron Curtain into Communist territory. Joan Fontaine, Corinne Calvet, Jack Palance. 

Fort Ti ( 1953, Columbia )

A platoon of Roger's Rangers marches north to defend their territory against Indians during 1759. Before William Castle ventured into the realm of horror films, he directed westerns for Columbia Pictures. Once 3-D became popular, Castle was one of the first directors to try the new process and - like most of his films - he exploited it for its gimmickry. As he once said himself "I threw everything I could find at the camera". Virginia Mayo, Dale Robertson, Stephen McNally.

The French Line ( 1953, RKO ) 

"J.R. in 3-D!" Now that's an eyeful to see! Jane Russell went out with her limbs into the audience as a cheery Texas oil heiress who ropes herself a husband while on a trip to France. Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland, Arthur Hunnicutt.

The Glass Web ( 1953, Universal )

Edward G. Robinson portrays a TV executive who kills a blackmailing actress and then allows a young scriptwriter to be accused of the crime. This film was a not so subtle jab from the movie industry towards the television industry. Edward G. Robinson, John Forsythe, Marsha Henderson.

Gun Fury ( 1953, Columbia ) 

After an outlaw gang ambush a stagecoach, a Civil War vet takes off in hot pursuit to bring back his bride-to-be whom they have kidnapped. Raoul Walsh directed. Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey. 

Hondo ( 1953, Warner Brothers ) 

Geraldine Page makes her film debut in this exciting western which is undoubtedly one of John Wayne's best pictures. The Duke stars as a half-Indian cavalry scout defending a woman and her son who live on an isolated ranch in unfriendly Apache territory. Geraldine Page, John Wayne, Ward Bond. 

House of Wax ( 1953, Warner Brothers ) 

Outside of Cinerama, House of Wax was the first time American audiences heard stereophonic sound. Considering that the film was put into production so quickly after Bwana Devil's premiere, it's a wonder that the film is as great as it is. Vincent Price was nicknamed "The King of 3-D" because he was the only actor to appear in four 3-D features ( The Mad Magician, Dangerous Mission, Son of Sinbad ). Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk.

Inferno ( 1953, 20th Century Fox ) 

Film critic Leslie Halliwell proclaimed that Inferno was "an outdoor melodrama which made better use of 3-D than any other film". Indeed, he is right. The film centers around a millionaire who is abandoned by his wife and her lover and left to perish in the desert after he breaks his leg. Keep an eye out for the excellent fire sequences. Robert Ryan, William Lundigan, Rhonda Fleming.

It Came from Outer Space ( 1953, Universal )

If sci-fi films weren't a drawing feature on their own, this was one of the first to combine aliens with shocks in three-dimension. It was also Universal's first film in the new process. Richard Carlson stars as a young astronomer who sees a spaceship land in the Arizona desert and finds that they can adopt human appearances at will. Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake.

Kiss Me, Kate ( 1953, MGM ) 

Even Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, one of the most prestigious film studios in Hollywood, couldn't resist creating a 3-D film and they topped them all by making it a musical! William Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" was boisterously brought to the screen in truly eye-popping color. Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller.

The Maze ( 1953, Allied Artists )

Some actors have to really stoop low to hold onto their film careers. Richard Carlson had a great run of films in the 1940s, but was relegated to horror and B films throughout the 1950s. Here, he "toad"ally hit bottom ground as a Scottish heir who inherits a title, a fortune, and the family curse to boot. Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery. 

Sangaree ( 1953, Paramount  )

When a plantation owner wills his wealth to the son of a slave, troubles ensues between two families. Patricia Medina was so popular with audiences that she was the actress they enjoyed having in their lap the most. Along with Rhonda Fleming, she shares the honor of being the actress to appear in the most 3-D films. Fernando Lamas, Arlene Dahl, Patrica Medina. 

Second Chance ( 1953, RKO ) 

If this poster doesn't lure you into a theatre then you need to take a second glance at it. The producer of this film knew how to catch an audiences attention. For women, Robert Mitchum was the draw..and for men, Linda Darnell. The plot has something to do with a killer and a gangster moll in South America but the highlight of the film is the cable-car sequence at the end. Robert Mitchum, Linda Darnell, Jack Palance. 

Taza, Son of Cochise ( 1953, Universal ) 

The king of melodrama, Douglas Sirk, was level-headed enough to realize that a domestic drama had no 3D potential and so he attempted a western. This one was a sequel to Broken Arrow and featured the Rock as an Indian chief. Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Gregg Palmer. 

Creature from the Black Lagoon ( 1954, Universal ) 

A group of scientists discover a terrifying prehistoric monster whom they dub "Gillman". When they disturb his tranquil lagoon he attacks them. Creature of the Black Lagoon and House of Wax remain two of the most memorable 3D films of the 1950s. It also spawned two sequels - Revenge of the Creature ( also in 3D ) and The Creature Walks Among Us. Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning.

Dial M For Murder ( 1954, Warner Brothers ) 

Aficionados of 3-D consider Dial M for Murder to be one of the best examples of the process. Hitchcock utilized just the right proportion of pie-in-your-eye gimmickry and just plain ol' beautiful depth of vision. Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings. 

Gorilla at Large ( 1954, 20th Century Fox )

"He's in the aisles! He's in the balcony! He's EVERYWHERE " Yikes! Three murders occur at an amusement park and a young law student, who works part-time in a gorilla suit at the park, is accused. It takes a real gorilla to catch the killer. Corny plot but darn good dimension. Cameron Mitchell, Anne Bancroft, Lee J.Cobb. 

Other 3-D films included Drums of Tahiti, Dragonfly Squadron, The Nebraskan, Louisiana Territory, Phantom of the Rue Morgue, Cat-Women of Outer Space, Cease Fire, Money from Home, The Command, The Mad Magician, Southwest Passage, The Moonlighter, Those Redheads from Seattle, Wings of the Hawk, The Stranger Wore a Gun, Man in the Dark, Hannah Lee, Robot Monster, Arena, The Charge of Feather River, Jivaro, Top Banana, Jesse James vs the Daltons, Son of Sinbad, Gog, The Diamond Wizard and The Bounty Hunter. 

Although 3-D films had been popular throughout 1953, by the end of the year exhibitors noticed a decline in attendance. Many of the major 3-D feature releases were issued by the studios in both 3-D and flat versions and there was not a remarkable difference between attendance of the two. In fact, some films performed better in their non-3D version. Revenge of the Creature, released on March 23, 1955 was one of the last 3-D films to be released in the 1950s. 

The Polaroid method was difficult for theater owners to display with two prints having to be simultaneously projected and an intermission required for changing the film reels. Two projectionists often had to be employed to keep sync working properly, otherwise the picture could become unwatchable. Polaroid released a "Tell-Tale Filter Kit" for the purpose of recognizing and adjusting out of sync 3-D but, even so, exhibitors felt uncomfortable with the system and were turning their sights to Cinemascope instead. All of these factors led to the decline of one of the most magical exhibition techniques of the 1950s. 

Nearly every one of these films have been preserved and, while a large number are not released in 3D format on DVD, a handful of the best titles are available to purchase on 3D Blu-Ray. These include Dial M for Murder, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Kiss Me Kate. All you have to do is pop on your dimensional shades, sit back and have a bowl of popcorn, and watch gilly monsters and tight-clad dancing men leap into your living room. 

This post is our contribution to the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon being hosted by Movies Silently, Silver Screenings, and Once Upon a Screen and sponsored by Flicker Alley who, incidentally, have released a stellar compilation of 3D Rarities on Blu-Ray. 

Also, be sure to check out the 3D Film Archive website for a complete overview of the process and Silent Screenings post "Better Living Through 3D" reviewing the new 3D Rarities collection. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Like Father, Like Son - Celebrity Father/Son Look-Alikes

Happy Father's Day to all the proud papas of the world! This Father's Day we thought we'd pay tribute to some of the famous actor dads of yor through the legacy they left behind them in their sons....their facial legacies! 

Here is a selection of some of our favorite lookalike fathers and sons: 

Leslie Howard and Ronald Howard 

Ronald Howard was a true-blue Brit like his father and especially resembled him during the 1950s when he starred in the television series "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" taking the role of the famous detective that his father never had a chance to play. 

Robert Walker and Robert Walker Jr. 

If there ever was an actor who gave birth to a mini-me it's Robert Walker. And he didn't do it once, but twice! Brother Michael Walker also resembled his father with his mop of curly brown hair. 

Lloyd Bridges with sons Beau and Jeff

Lloyd Bridges made a ton of films, it's a wonder he had time to raise a family! Beau and Jeff made a name for themselves as actors starting the now famous Bridges family acting legacy. 

Desi Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. 

From his marriage to Lucille Ball, the father of Babaloo had only one daughter and son ( and his name wasn't Little Ricky ). Both children took after papa with those big Cuban eyes really popping out in Junior as he got older. 

Kirk Douglas and sons Joel and Michael

Michael Douglas is always touted as being the twin boy of Big Daddy Kirk but we hold that Joel bore more of his facial features. Just look at that chin!

John Wayne and Patrick Wayne

When it came to looks, little Pat topped his father to whom he owes that prominent square-jaw, just ripe for punching. All Pat was missing was his dad's hip-swinging walk. Makes you wonder if brother Ethan and him ever imitated their dad growing up. 

Charles MacArthur and James MacArthur

Screenwriter Charles MacArthur once encouraged his son "To pursue anything you like, just don't become a's a fate worse than death!" Well, he followed his old man in the acting industry and made an even bigger name for himself than Charles did. 

Robert Mitchum and James Mitchum

One bad boy breeds another. Little James got his start in acting at the age of 8 but it wasn't until Thunder Road ( 1958 ) that girls started swooning over him just like they did with his famous dad. 

Errol Flynn and Sean Flynn

The spirit of adventure carried over from Errol to his son Sean. After a brief stint as an actor he tried his hand at big-game hunting in Africa before becoming a photojournalist, eventually being killed in Cambodia.

Jose Ferrer and Miguel Ferrer

Miguel Ferrer was the son of Jose and Rosemary Clooney but he doesn't look anything like Mom. Not only did Jose pass down that famous schnozz but he gave his son his giant ears too! Too bad he didn't give him hair.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

New Book Release - Ann Blyth : Actress. Singer. Star

If you thought of Ann Blyth as just another actress, think again. In her latest book, "Ann Blyth : Actress. Singer. Star ", New England author Jacqueline Lynch has compiled a thorough analysis of the beautiful Ann Blyth's extensive career which encompassed not only motion pictures, but theatre, radio and television. And of course, we all know how she can sing! 

Ann Blyth began her career in Hollywood as a child star in the early 1940s. She gave a stand-out performance in Mildred Pierce ( 1945 ) which garnered her an Academy Award nomination ( at sixteen years of age, she was the youngest actress to be nominated for a Best Actress award ), but it was her exquisite voice which endeared her to fans across the world. The lovely soprano's career peaked in the early 1950s when she was making as many as 4-5 films per year, ranging from comedies ( Katie Did It ), and musicals ( The Student Prince, Kismet ), to dramas ( The World in His Arms, One Minute to Zero ). 

Author Jacqueline Lynch began her research into Ann Blyth's life and career in 2013, when she spotlighted Ann Blyth for a year-long series of posts for her blog, Another Old Movie Blog. This project led to Lynch to discover that very few of Blyth's films were available to the public and worse yet, hardly any information was available about this talented lady's career. 

Unlike many biographies which delve too deeply into an actor's personal life, Lynch's new biography puts the full spotlight on Blyth's multi-faceted career. The book is a comprehensive review of Ann Blyth's films, radio work, live concerts and television appearances. In short, it's a must-have addition to any film fan's library!

To purchase a copy of Ann Blyth : Actress. Singer. Star head on over to, Createspace, and Lynch's Etsy shop

The book is also available as an ebook through 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

James Algar - Imagineer and Director

James Algar worked 43 years with Walt Disney, was involved in every imaginable type of film production and earned three Academy Awards for his work on film, and yet he remains one of the most unrecognized of Disney’s talented roster of employees. 

Simply put, he was the director extraordinaire behind such memorable documentaries as Grand Canyon, The Living Desert, and the True Life Adventures, but beyond his directorial duties he worked as a producer, writer, animator, and creative consultant for projects in Walt Disney’s vast empire of television, film, and theme park productions, many of which remain just as impressive now as the day he first created them. 

Born on June 11, 1912 in Modesto, California, James Algar got his start down the yellow brick road of creativity when he gained a following as a campus cartoonist at Stanford University. His skill with the pen attracted the attention of the Walt Disney Studio recruiters who hired him upon graduation in 1934 as an animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs


Shortly thereafter, he became animation director of the cartoon feature Fantasia and went on to direct sequences in Bambi, Victory Through Air Power, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  However, by the late 1940s he wanted to expand his range of skills and experiment with live subjects versus painted ones and so he conceived a documentary short entitled Seal Island. Walt liked the idea and gladly let him direct it for the studio. 

After reviewing hundreds of reels of Alaskan seal footage brought back by nature photographers Alfred and Elma Milotte, he cut it to a tight 27 minutes and released in 1948 a documentary so compelling it not only spawned the internationally acclaimed True-Life Adventures series but earned the Academy Award for Best Two-Reel subject. 


Throughout the next decade James Algar focused his skills on writing and directing nature and wildlife shorts such as Beaver Valley, Bear Country, The Vanishing Prairie, and White Wilderness; in total sharing in the winning of nine Academy Awards, culminating with the magnificent Cinemascope production of 1958…Grand Canyon.  This stunningly photographed nature short seamlessly blended image to music ( “Grand Canyon Suite” by composer Ferde Grofe ). 

During the 1960s, he wrote and co-produced several animal-starring dramatic films – The Legend of Lobo, the Incredible Journey, and later Rascal. But not satisfied with mere nature films, he branched out into directing many episodes of The Wonderful World of Color and even tried his hand at comedy – quite successfully too, with The Gnome Mobile ( 1967 ).

In spite of all these directorial achievements, his greatest legacy is for his writing/producing work of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, a 24 minute Animatronics based production which came to life at the Illinois Pavilion of the 1965 New York World’s Fair. The show enjoyed a decades-long run at Disneyland and later inspired The Hall of Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971. This patriotic script was also one of Algar’s writing achievements. Many people continue to ponder which of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches they are listening to, when in fact it is four separate speeches the Lincoln fanatic had compiled into one. 

Throughout the end of his career Algar worked on several projects which interestingly enough, spotlighted his own prior successes – The Best of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures ( 1975 ) and The Bluegrass Special ( 1976 ), a true life story of a racing horse.

James Algar was never a desk-bound producer, but loved being at the forefront of action along with his crew. He was considered one of the best-informed American natural scientists and he put himself right smack in the middle of the habitats of wild animals to bring us insightful motion pictures which entertained and taught us new things about the lives of the creatures he studied and the world around us.  
During the making of The African Lion, he lived among the lions of Kenya, he battled the raging white-water rapids of Colorado river to film Ten Who Dared, and he participated in the filming of the buffalo stampede for The Vanishing Prairie. 

James Algar passed away at the age of 85 in his home in Carmel, California with his wife and four children by his side.  He had a rich and full career throughout his 43 years at Walt Disney Studios and his life was indeed a True-Life Adventure.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Back to the Beach ( 1987 )

Speakeasy and Silver Screenings have kicked off the cowabunga Beach Party Blogathon over at their sites and we staked our claim of hot turf with Back to the Beach ( 1988 ), one of the best of the Frankie Avalon beach party films which included Beach Party ( 1963 ), Bikini Beach ( 1964 ), Muscle Beach Party ( 1964 ), Beach Blanket Bingo ( 1965 ), and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini ( 1965 ). In most of the films, Frankie portrayed a young surfer who had to continually create schemes to protect his gal Dee-Dee ( Annette Funicello ) from other surfing suitors. They were zany teen films to be sure and Back to the Beach fits right in among them even though it was released 22 years after the last beach film. James Komack ( The Courtship of Eddie's Father ) dreamed up a plot as wild as the originals, this time telling the story of what happens to surfers after they curl their last wave. 

It was fairly easy for the audience to guess that Frankie and Dee-Dee tied the knot after their flings in the California sun. As their punk son Bobby explains in the beginning of the film: 

"25 years ago my parents were the most popular teenagers in America. It's true. My dad was a teen idol. Girls threw themselves at him, but it being 1962, he had to throw them back. When dad wasn't singing he spent his life on a surfboard. They called him the Big Kahuna. When I was born my dad wanted to call me the little Kahuna - luckily he settled for Bobby. As for mom, she joined that strange cult called the Mouseketeers. She became the first pin-up queen for boys under twelve. Anyway, they got married and moved to Ohio right after the accident....20 years ago, while surfing, this humongous wave knocked the Kahuna right out of dad and he's never been the same since. The closest he gets to the water now is to play the surf king in order to sell cars on TV. Yep, the Big Kahuna now owns Friendly Ford, the largest dealership in Ohio". 

Eventually, Frankie finds himself stressed out with work and the family decides to take a vacation in Hawaii. En route they make a stop in Los Angeles to check on their grown daughter Sandi, portrayed by Lori Laughlin ( Full House ) in a Kim MacAfee style role. While in LA, Frankie meets up with his former flame Connie ( Connie Stevens ) and the old Beach Party jealousy plot shifts into gear once again. 

What makes this beach bash so entertaining are all of the references to past films and Frankie and Annette's careers. It becomes a nostalgic - and highly amusing - look at the old California beach cult. To entice youngsters, the film explodes with New Wave color and characters. There is a sub-plot aimed at teens involving Sandi and her fiancee ( Tommy Hinkley ) who are shacking up on the pier, and one for the kids with Bobby getting himself initiated into a leather-clad surf gang. Also, Frankie has to take to the waves once again to prove that he isn't clucked and is still the true King of the Surf. 

"He'll be back. I know that in my heart."  Annette
"You know, you're awful sweet Mom" Bobby
"And then I'll make him suffer." Annette

Great guest stars include Don Adams as the harbor patrol master, Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr. reprising their Gilligan's Island roles, Ed "Kookie" Byrnes ( still valeting ), Barbara Billingsly, Tony Dow, and Jerry Mathers.

The film also features some hip-swinging musical numbers. Dick Dale and at least two of the Del Tones make an appearance performing "California Sun" with Frankie and "Pipeline" as a duet with Stevie Ray Vaughn; Pee-Wee Herman goes wild with the "Bird is the Word", and Annette gets to sing the best number - "Jamaica Ska" - along with Airhead. 

Back to the Beach was released on August 7, 1987, and was received with mild reception at the box office. Annette Funicello was diagnosed with MS shortly after filming wrapped and her part as the Skippy-loving mother in Back to the Beach became her final film role. It was also the final film appearance of Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr.

"We tried to figure out where to take you last night, but you kept saying, 'Why oh, why oh, why oh, did I ever leave Ohio?'" - Michael
"That's a damn good question" - the Big Kahuna

For us, the film has a special place in our memory box. Growing up, we had no cable television and the only films we saw were those that were playing in the theatres, the drive-in ( suitable for youngsters ), and the VHS tapes that our parents rented from the local library. Two tapes our mother continually brought home for us from the library were Back to the Beach and Grandpa's Music Box. Even though the film was PG-rated and most of the wisecracks eluded us, we loved the feel of the film. It quickly became our favorite and within a few viewings we learned enough surf-talk to last us a lifetime. 

To us, Back to the Beach will forever conjure up memories of childhood, hot summer days, homemade popsicles, carefree Saturdays, and pink Barbie clothing. We live only two short miles from the beach but on days when we don't feel like burning in the sun, all we have to do is watch Back to the Beach and the surf will practically be washing into the house. 

Duuude, ready to get amped about the surf and sand?? Click here to check out rad posts on all of your favorite beach films of the past. Cowabunga!!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bing Crosby's Wild and Carefree Days

For our latest addition to the Movie Magazine Article Collection, we have unearthed this very entertaining article from a great issue...the December 1935 edition of Modern Screen magazine. In addition to this juicy write-up, other articles in this issue included "Women with Careers Should Be Shot!" Says Bette Davis; Mary Carlisle's Tips on Catching a Beau; The True Story Behind Loretta Young's Illness; and a contest from Ruby Keeler ( one of the prizes is a Buffeteer Toaster Service diggity! ). We've included some of the ads in this post, just to spice it up a bit. 

Obviously Ms.Walker disapproves of Der Bingle's flippant attitude in life, although we wonder how much of this is really true. This article paints a different picture than the ones told about Crosby in his later years and his children's strict upbringing.

To read the article in its full context click here, otherwise read on dear reader, read on. 

Success a la Crosby

By Helen Louise Walker

Most successful actors have had some definite ambition, some goal, some plan of life. Circumstances or their own limitations may have frustrated them, altering their courses sometimes, but they have known, if not where they were going, at least where they wanted to go. But Bing Crosby's career seems to have just happened to him, like measles. He has broken every copy book maxim for success and neither his growing maturity nor professional eminence seem to have improved him one bit. He is, if anything, growing worse! 

You doubtless know the story of how, at an early age, he set out from Spokane for Los Angeles to try to get a job pounding his beloved drum . . . and how he ran out of money before he arrived and had to sell the drum. So there he was, broke and drum-less. But a job caught up with him anyhow . . . and that's the way things have always gone for Bing. 

As for his present business and professional methods ... well, he recently sold his Toluca Lake place to Al Jolson as a home for Ruby Keeler's mother. He promised to vacate the property by the first of October. But he didn't because, he averred, he couldn't find another house big enough to accommodate two careers, three young sons, a brace of nurses and the sizable staff of servants he maintains. 

At this writing the Crosby family is, to all intents and purposes, homeless. They are living in Ruby Keeler's mother's house and, I must say, Mrs. Keeler is being pretty nice about it. But what if she should decide to turn them out into the California climate at this point? The evenings have been right chilly. . . . And what does Bing mean he can't find a house which is "large enough" when I have heard a dozen film luminaries wailing lately that they couldn't find buyers for their dwellings because those dwellings were too spacious? I know where there is a very pretty hotel for sale, too. 

One doesn't know whether to cry, "Oh come now, Bing! Be your age!" or to hope that, for his own sake, he will keep on being the irresponsible playboy until he is eighty. Maybe it's partly that quality in him which makes you and you and you . . . and me ... enjoy him so much on the screen. There is something attractive, to all of us plodding folk, about the fellow who breaks all the sober rules and still comes out on top. 

Years ago he obtained a release from his contract with Paul Whiteman because of a sudden whim to remain in Los Angeles when the Whiteman orchestra was going east. He refused several promising radio offers for the same reason. Then suddenly he became panicky, thought he was getting nowhere and couldn't imagine why. In his frantic search for advice, he signed with numbers of shrewd gentlemen, who volunteered to manage him for a percentage of his potential salary. When he decided, at last, to accept the radio offer which was to bring him sudden fame and fortune, he found himself thirty-five thousand dollars in debt for advice which he had not taken. 

His own account of that episode is characteristic. "My brother, Everett, took charge of me then and the first thing he did was to pay off the thirty-five thousand dollars. With this off my mind, I decided to go fishing. I forgot to tell anybody about that." 

One wonders whether Brother Ev was able to dismiss that transaction so lightly from his mind, since it was his thirty-five thousand dollars which had gone to pay for the unused advice. Three days later Bing walked into Brother Ev's office to find that worthy fit to be tied. He had accepted a pretty spectacular offer for Bing from an Eastern broadcasting company . . . and then he hadn't been able to find Bing! 

Brother Ev must have his troubles, even today. Bing dislikes to go to the studio unless he is actually working on a picture and one gathers that he goes rather grudgingly even then. One of the executives of his studio wished to see him on important business and Bing, notified of this fact, sent the executive an invitation to play golf. The "conference" resulted in a pleasant golf game but an unsatisfactory (to the busy executive) interview which sent that gentleman back to his office in something of a pet. (An executive in a pet is really something to contemplate. I saw one once and I've been a little jumpy ever since.) But Bing won whatever point he was trying to make, so there you are.

He won his initial success playing traps with an orchestra, his later success singing and his latest, combining singing with acting. Every rising actor I have talked to in the past two years has expounded to me about how one must work hard, study, strive, struggle, learn and grow . . . lots of things like that. It all sounds so grim. But Bing, who is one of the most highly paid singers in the country, never had a voice lesson in his life and can't read a note of music. He scarcely knows the names of the instruments which accompany him. 

Having proved to his employers' satisfaction and that of the public that he can act passably well, he doesn't mind telling you that he never had an elocution lesson in his life, never read a: volume of Shakespeare and has seen very few plays. He doesn't waste time studying in his spare moments. He plays golf, goes fishing or fusses 'round his racing stables. 

Other actors diet, exercise, and equip elaborate gymnasiums to keep their figures fit, their tummies under control. Steam baths, massage, tossing heavy balls about . . . all an uncomfortable and strenuous part of pursuing their careers. 

A year or so ago Bing began to take on weight in a really alarming fashion. His employers were agitated. His brothers were agitated. Critics raised concerted eyebrows and opined that here, unless something pretty drastic was done about it at once, was the beginning of the end of the Crosby career. Whereupon the imperturbable Bing, declining to take any steps at all about this growing front of his, strolled to the studio, excess weight and all, and made his most successful picture to date, Mississippi. There is no use in anyone's getting into a lather over a guy like that!

Years ago, doctors told him that he had a growth in his throat which should certainly be removed at once. Bing didn't like the idea of having any snipping done about his tonsils and declined firmly to permit anything of the sort. Now, eminent specialists tell him that it is that very same little growth which has given him his special and individual style of singing. His chief capital! 

No wonder he indulges his whims and behaves like a spoiled child upon occasion. Recently he had Mae West's pet cameraman, Carl Struss, on his picture, Two for Tonight. The company was a bit behind schedule and had not finished when it came time for Mae to start her new opus, Klondike Lou. Mae wanted her cameraman. Bing, apparently, decided that he liked to be "photographed pretty" too, so he declined to relinquish Mr. Struss. There was considerable tartness apparent on the Paramount lot while production on Mae's picture was delayed until she, at last, consented to content herself with George Clemens, Mr. Struss' assistant. Meanwhile Mae lost her leading man. Owing to the delay in starting, we understand, it was necessary to recall Victor McLaglen to the Fox lot to prepare for Professional Soldier. Bing, of course, was completely within his rights . . . but, dear me! We do expect him to be a handsome so-and-so in the forthcoming picture! 

Recently he notified the studio that he would like to be free of all picture assignments while the horse races are in progress at the Santa Anita track. If any assignments come up, however, one imagines that Brother Ev will take steps about that! 

When he planned the house at Toluca Lake, he called an architect. "What type of house do you want, Mr. Crosby?" he was asked. 

"Oh, I don't know. Just a house, comfortable and big enough for my family." 
 "No choice of period or style, or expense?" gasped the architect. 
 "My brother will tell you how much I can spend on it and I'll leave the rest to you." 

The architect had never encountered so delightful a client before, nor had the interior decorator, who followed him and received a similar carte blanche order. The results, one must say, did credit to both architect and decorator, and Bing, in his easy way, has enjoyed the whole thing very much. It's really a pleasant way to live, when you think of it! 

He has consistently broken Hollywood's most inviolable copy book maxim, which says that, in order to succeed, you must cultivate important people who may advance you by their favor. Bing does little entertaining. He has a few cronies with whom he likes to play cards, frolic or sing. None of them is likely to "advance" him. He will NOT make public appearances at which he must wear evening clothes, be gaped at or sign autographs. Despite his long experience as a public figure, he is really inherently shy. He used to have to do those things to earn his living. He doesn't have to any more . . . so he goes fishing. 

He sulks and becomes downright pettish if anyone or anything interferes with his whims or his convenience. He was arrested a day or two ago for driving forty-two miles an hour in a twenty mile zone on a Hollywood thoroughfare. The arresting officer found a revolver in his car and Bing had left his gun permit at home. So the cop trundled him off to the station to explain these matters. 

"It's a pity," Bing complained afterward, "a downright pity that I can't just drive down the street without some officer picking on me!" 

Well, there you are. You and I drive our careful twenty miles an hour, smile prettily at the big shots, eat our spinach, remember that haste makes waste and that the only way to succeed at your job is to work, study, struggle and strive. And where do we get? And where is Bing? 

I was a little impatient with Bing when I began to write this piece . . . but now, I dunno. I think I'll sleep until noon tomorrow, thumb my nose at the first cop I see and maybe at the first important producer. Maybe even at Will Hays  I'll let you know what happens ... if I live through it!

Movie Magazine Articles, our newest series, will feature articles like these reprinted for our reader's entertainment. Links to the original sources are available within the body of the text. In the future, simply search "Movie Magazine Articles" to find more posts in this series or click on the tag below.Enjoy!