Monday, February 29, 2016

Island at the Top of the World ( 1974 )

" Where the whales go to die. All those great creatures from every sea, lying there, from the beginning of time. "

Island at the Top of the World, an adventure film from Walt Disney Studios, has fallen into oblivion just like the burial grounds of the whales that the heroes of the picture are searching for. 

The arctic graveyard turns out to be quite an amazing sight...and so does the film, which combines a fun and thrilling plot with an amazing visual theme. It takes place at the turn of the century and tells the story of an English aristocrat who employs the aid of a French airship captain and an American scientist to go to the Arctic to find his son, who went missing during an expedition to find the legendary whale burial grounds. In their quest for him, they discover a hidden island of Vikings untouched by civilization. 

Walt Disney Studios had made some stellar adventure films in the 1950s and 1960s such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, and In Search of the Castaways. However, after Disney's death in 1966, the studio was captained by a committee and the production values of their films declined drastically. 

Island at the Top of the World was the studio's attempt to recapture the glory days of Disney's live-action films and create an entertaining adventure picture for children and adults alike. As far as that goal was concerned, they accomplished it...but it took a few decades before the film found its audience. Island at the Top of the World was a dismal failure during its initial theatrical release and, even today, few Disney fans count it as a favorite. 


The reason behind this? The timing just wasn't right. Critics and audiences during the early 1970s wanted something more than an old-fashioned steam-punk style adventure film. Also, the actors are not as engaging as they could have been, even though they handle their parts very well, and watching the film, you get a feeling that it was hurriedly assembled. Had Walt Disney been alive during its production the cast would have been top-notch, and the special effects made better. In truth, the film was six years in production, so time was not an issue. As far back as 1968 the studio was planning storyboard drawings to create this adaptation of Ian Cameron's 1961 book "The Lost Ones". 


The primary disappointment was the use of painted mattes throughout the film. In spite of being excellently painted by Peter Ellenshaw and Alan Maley, they hinder the realism of the picture during the action sequences. A less heavy reliance on the blue-screen, and the use of miniatures for the villages and volcanoes would have been better. These are the only major flaws in the film, however. The sequences of the airship "Hyperion" sailing through the foggy skies were extremely well filmed for its time and Maurice Jarre ( Lawrence of Arabia ) composed a memorable score for Island at the Top of the World, using ancient Nordic instruments to add to the film's authenticity. 


Donald Sinden, David Hartman, and Jacques Marin portray the principal characters with Mako playing a large supporting role as their Eskimo guide. David Gwillim and Agneta Eckemyr come in mid-way through the film to provide some youthful love interest as well. The characters travel high above icebergs, journey into a volcano, fight off killer whales, and are chased throughout the island by a mad and powerful Norseman known as the Godi, before they are able to escape back to Paris. 


If you are looking for an entertaining and action-packed film to watch on a Saturday evening, then don't steer away from Island at the Top of the World. It packs in more than its fair share of thrills and leaves you with the urge to set off on your own reckless journey into the skies with an airship. Great fun! 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

How the West Was Won ( 1962 ) ....and How it Didn't Win the Cinematography Oscar

There were some years in Oscar's history that were stellar. In those years no matter how good a film was, compared to all of the fine films it was competing with, it would be just on par with the average. In such years as these it is understandable when a really good film loses an Academy Award. The Quiet Man didn't win Best Picture in 1952 because it was going up against The Greatest Show on Earth. Bette Davis did not win Best Actress for what many consider her greatest role, that of Margo Channing in All About Eve in 1950. Her competition that year was Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.....but then Gloria didn't win either, because a little blonde stage actress - Judy Holliday - captivated audiences with her performance in Born Yesterday.

These are understandable losses....and another understandable loss would be Cleopatra losing the Best Cinematography Oscar in 1963 because How the West Was Won won that year. Over 50 years later, the filming of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's epic re-telling of America's migration into the West is still known for being one of the greatest achievements in cinematography. But that wasn't the case. Cleopatra took away the Oscar that year....and I, for one, think that the Academy made the wrong choice. 

How the West Was Won was filmed in Cinerama which was the greatest movie-going experience ever created. It was the "Metropolitan Opera of the movies" and only selected theaters across America had the facilities to project the triple film onto specially built curved screens.
Cinerama cameraman Peter Gibbons explained the process for an American Cinamatographer article published in Oct. 1983 : 

"The Cinerama camera was actually three cameras in one. There were three synchronized movements, three separate 1000-foot Mitchell magazines and three separate lenses. Each camera was set at a 48° angle to the next, so the center movement photographed straight ahead, the right movement captured the left portion and the left was aimed to the right.... When projected, the three images blended into one, covering an astounding 146 horizontal angle of view..... Those lenses were fantastic. We discovered that 27mm was a very close approximation of the focal length of the human eye. Each camera had three [lens], each covering one third of the field of view." 
The whole process was conceived by Fred Waller for the purpose of re-creating, in film format, a human eye's peripheral vision. It was a difficult process and no "close up" shots could be made, because, like the human eye, there will always be something in the right and left lens for the camera to pick up. Because of this, entire scenes had to be planned out for the benefit of the camera. Even the actors had to be taught to look two-thirds of the way into the camera and react to other actors, standing feet away, as though they were directly in front view. 

Cinerama made a sensation across America when the first full-feature Cinerama film was released - This is Cinerama in 1952. In spite of its popularity, only two dramatic feature films were ever shot in this very cumbersome three-camera process : The Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won, both released in 1962. 
Four of Hollywood's best cinematographers handled the cameras for each of the production units of How the West Was Won ( three directors filmed the five differently themed sequences of the story ) : Milton Krasner, Charles Lang, Joseph LaShelle, and William Daniels. And what a magnificent job each one of them did. 

How the West Was Won had so many great scenes that remain memorable even after the film ends. That is one of the main reasons why it should have won over Cleopatra. If you ask someone who has seen Cleopatra, "What was the best 'shot' in the film?", they probably could not answer that, even after several viewings. 
But who can forget the opening aerial sequence of the majestic Rocky Mountains in How the West Was Won? There was the beautiful scene of the Mississippi riverboat cruising down the river in the moonlight and the sweeping panorama of the railroad when it first came into town. Then there was that magnificent shot of the horses stampeding while pulling the covered wagons : the camera started at ground level, capturing the hoofs pounding the ground, and then it moved upwards till it was level with the horses' eyes, and then it continued moving upwards until it was high above them and the audience could see all of the wagons at once rushing like mad towards the promised land. Marvelous. 

Who also can forget the scene of Zeb ( George Peppard ) heading off to the Civil war, walking down the dirt road all by himself with his pet dog wanting to follow. It was a sequence reminiscent of Alida Valli's approach in the final sequence in The Third Man ( 1949 ). 

But Cleopatra won. 

Cleopatra ( photographed by Leon Shamroy )

Cleopatra was the top grossing film of 1963, reaping in nearly $58 million at the box-office. It was highly publicized as being the greatest epic film produced to date and, indeed, it was. What stands out about the film, however, is not its cinematography ( although it was beautifully shot ) but its art direction. A film is not classified an epic for its length but for its grandeur. The costumes of Cleopatra, the acting, the music, were all magnificent; but it was the immense size and beauty of the sets that transported audiences into the era of Julius Ceasar and Ancient Egypt. For this, Cleopatra justly won an Oscar for Best Art Direction. 

The other nominees that year included : 

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World ( photographed by Ernest Laszlo )

The classic Stanley Donen all-star comedy was slated to be filmed in Cinerama. After seeing the hassles involved in setting up the scenes for Cinerama in How the West Was Won, the studios decided to use 70mm film instead, releasing the film throughout Cinerama theatres.  

Irma La Douce ( photographed by Joseph LaShelle )

Joseph LaShelle did a great job filming Irma La Douce, but compared to How The West Was Won and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, it didn't have much of a chance at winning Mr. Oscar. 

The Cardinal ( photographed by Leon Shamroy )

This film tells the story of an Irish Catholic priest ( Tom Tryon ) and the events leading to him becoming a Cardinal. It features beautiful location footage of Boston, Rome and Vienna, but, like Irma La Douce, it just couldn't compete with the three epic films that year. 

How the West Was Won was nominated for eight Academy Awards in total, winning three. There was some great competition for the Best Cinematography Oscar in 1963, but the film should have gone away with a win in that category as well. 

For those who have not seen How the West Was Won, watching screenshots of it, or small clips on Youtube, does not do this film justice. Viewing it on a large screen in Blu-ray is eye-boggling, and only then can one imagine how tremendous it was on a Cinerama screen, seen the way it was meant to be seen. How the West Was Won had to be filmed in Cinerama for that was the only way to pay proper tribute to America's great history of the West - in GRANDEUR.

This post is our contribution to the Oscars Snubs Blogathon being hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and yours truly, Silver Scenes. Be sure to check out all of the great articles defending films that should have won awards. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Oscars Snubs Blogathon Has Arrived!

The 88th Annual Academy Awards will be taking place this Sunday night and, like most years, when they announce the winners for the coveted golden statuette there will be mixed feelings of whether the Academy awarded the Oscar to the right recipient. 

Film fans often disagree on who deserved Oscars in any particular year, but we rarely sit down to discuss the reasons behind these beliefs. Well, beginning today, you can read arguments from a variety of fans who express their outrage over some famous snubs made throughout the years. 

We are proud to be co-hosting The Oscars® Snubs Blogathon along with Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In.



The Oscars® Snubs Blogathon Roll Call 

Copied from The Midnite Drive-In, be sure to check out Quiggy's site for the latest updates. 


Silver Scenes presents a solid case for Debbie Reynolds in The Unsinkable Molly Brown


There's a riot in the cell block over Joe McDoakes' snub by Movie Movie Blog Blog.


Silver Screenings proves it's not such a wonderful life when It's A Wonderful Life was snubbed.


Robert Preston gets his well-due praise from A Person in the Dark for Victor/Victoria.


Angelman's Place says Auntie Roz was robbed in Auntie Mame


 Yours truly (The Midnite Drive-In) makes a case for Peter O'Toole in The Stunt Man


Cinemaven's Essays from the Couch presents some excellent points on Sunset Boulevard's snubs. She also covers nine other great performances that have been passed over by the Academy.


Gary at MovieFanFare makes a case for six-time snub victim Thelma Ritter. 


Little Bits of Chaplin gives us an overview of the Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin, and his hits and misses at the Academy Awards.


Sometimes They Go to Eleven tells us why The Lost Weekend should have lost Best Picture and why Mildred Pierce should have won.


The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog ponders about "Missy" Barbara Stanwyck's frequent misses at the Oscars. 


William Powell's snubs is the subject du jour for Phyllis Loves Classic Movies


100 characters were not enough for Peter Sellers to win an Oscar, Critica Retro opines. 


Margaret Perry enumerates several Oscars Katharine Hepburn should have received. 


A Shroud of Thoughts has some thoughts on the Beatle's snub. 


Silver Scenes thinks How the West Was Won should have won the Best Cinematography award...but it didn't. 


The Movie Night Group feels an injustice was served when Charles Laughton lost the Best Actor award for Witness to the Prosecution.


The Love Pirate is frustrated that Master and Commander : Far Side of the World did not command all of the Oscars it was nominated for in 2003.


 Defiant Success covers the many snubs of director Sidney Lumet. 

Check back each day as we update the roll call! 

Disclaimer : Silver Scenes and The Midnite Drive-In are in no way affiliated with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science. This event was organized purely for the enjoyment of readers and the sharing of thoughts. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Debbie Reynolds in The Unsinkable Molly Brown ( 1964 ) - An Oscar Snub

"I Ain't Down Yet!"

Molly Brown hollered and bucked like a wild bronco anxious to jump the rural fence and prance into Denver society, but she was constantly being reined in by discouraging circumstances. She lost a fortune, lost her friends, lost her husband, and finally found herself sailing on the doomed ship Titanic, but each time you think circumstances would get her down, she would rise again shouting "I Ain't Down Yet!". Indeed, she was unsinkable. 

In her role as Molly Brown in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Debbie Reynolds gave it her all in a bravado performance that breathed life into a woman that would have become just another obscure character in history. She justly deserved her Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1964. But she didn't win the golden statuette that year...and that surely must have got Debbie down. 

Who were her competitors for the Best Actress award? 
  • Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater 
  • Kim Stanley in Seance on a Wet Afternoon
  • Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins
  • Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style

Let's take a look at these performances. Sophia Loren had earned her first Best Actress Oscar just three years prior for her portrayal of an Italian widow who gets raped in Two Women. Another Oscar-winning actress, Anna Magnani, was intended to play the part but turned it down. Loren proved that she had acting talent in addition to a busty figure and that made quite a large splash in the Hollywood scene. Also Italian films were all the rage during the late 1950s-early 1960s so, while Loren did a great performance in Marriage Italian Style, getting a nomination may have also been the "in" thing for the voters to do.

Anne Bancroft's performance in the highly-depressing The Pumpkin Eater, was not nearly as good as her portrayal of Helen Keller's teacher Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker ( 1962 ) for which she did win the award as Best Actress. End of that argument. Kim Stanley did a really good job in Seance on a Wet Afternoon, and she had plenty of laurels for that part - she was nominated for a BAFTA award, won the New York Critics Circle award and won Best Actress for the National Board of Review. She could have gone for a sweep with the Oscar too, but compared to Debbie Reynold's part, it just didn't cut the grade. 

That leads me to the final competitor, and the winner of the 1964 Best Actress Award - Julie Andrews. You won't find a more devoted fan of Mary Poppins then myself but, as much as I loved Julie Andrews performance, it wasn't Oscar-worthy. Her singing was beautiful, as was Julie herself; her comradery with the children adorable, and her final-parting look touching....but it still wasn't a performance that would make you say "I hope she won an Oscar for this, because she was fabulous!". 

But that's exactly what would be said about Debbie Reynolds' performance as Molly Brown. Debbie raised a ruckus in one hell of a great performance. She hollered till her voice went hoarse, swung from a tree, was bellyed up to the bar in a rousing dance sequence, was stomped on, kicked about, and shouted at, and yet she still managed to give a touching and sympathetic performance of a rough country bumpkin. She transformed Molly from being a young illiterate backwoods girl into a glamorous world-travelling society woman with backbone. 


Molly Brown was a part that Tammy Grimes had made popular in the Broadway version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, co-starring with Harve Presnell. Presnell reprised his role in his screen debut, but Grimes did not have a name with movie audience drawing-power. Producers Roger Edens and Laurence Weingarten wanted Shirley MacLaine for the part, but Shirley was locked in a contract at the time for another film, so Debbie was offered it. However, director Charles Walters was hoping Debbie would turn it down and even asked her to decline it. When she asked "Why?", he commented that she was too short. Like Molly Brown would have done herself, Debbie retorted "Just how short is the part?" and ended the discussion. 

Throughout the film she fought to prove the part suited her, and did it ever! Even non-fans of Ms. Reynolds can't help but agree because Debbie and the real Molly Brown share a lot in common: they are both hard-working, tough-as-nails, glamorous, spunky women, and when the going gets tough that's when they really shine. Debbie considered this her favorite film and, after she lost the Oscar to Julie Andrews, you can imagine her telling herself "I Ain't Down Yet"  

This post is our contribution to The Oscars Snubs Blogathon being hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and yours truly, Silver Scenes. Click here to read more posts on films, stars, and craftsmen who have been snubbed at the Oscars. Enjoy! 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Helen Rose - Costume Designer

For Behind the Screen : The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking, our continuing series of profiles on the men and women who worked behind the cameras, we have chosen to aim the spotlight on Helen Rose, an extremely talented costume designer of the 1940s-1960s. Since the Oscars are approaching, our choice is especially apropos considering Helen Rose was nominated for no less than ten awards for Best Costume Design, including The Merry Widow ( 1952 ), Executive Suite ( 1954 ), and I'll Cry Tomorrow ( 1955 ).

Like her fellow female associate, Edith Head, Helen Rose had risen from staff designer to become chief costume designer of a major film studio. Head worked at Paramount and Irene at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer up until 1949, when she left the studio. Shortly thereafter, Helen Rose became the new chief designer. Her style was elegant and innovative, and some of the dresses she created were the most beautiful seen on film. 

Helen Rose began designing stage and nightclub costumes when she was but 15 years old for the Lester Costume Company who specialized in costumes for vaudeville. In the late 1930s she was hired as head designer for the skating spectaculars, the Ice Follies.

Love Me or Leave Me
It was in 1941 that she was hired to create costumes for musicals over at Twentieth Century Fox. This tenure lasted only two years, when Louis B. Mayer beckoned her into the lion's den at MGM. Their chief designer, Adrian, had resigned and the studio was looking for fresh talent in their wardrobe department. Helen Rose assisted Irene for the next five years, helping work on such productions as Two Sisters from Boston ( 1946 ), Till the Clouds Roll By ( 1947 ), The Courage of Lassie ( 1946 ), Cynthia ( 1947 ) and Julia Misbehaves ( 1947 ). 

MGM was churning out musicals, comedies, and dramas in such quantity during the late 1940s to satisfy the demands of post-war audiences that, even though Irene was still head of the costume department, Helen Rose had a chance to exercise her creative couture skills in a number of fine productions. 

For The Harvey Girls ( 1946 ), Rose designed a plethora of beautiful period gowns. In addition to the traditional waitress wardrobe of the Harvey girls, Judy Garland sported over seven different outfits including a cream-colored puffed-sleeved dress, a wedding gown, a light-blue chiffon nightgown, and a lovely white ballgown with ruffled tulle on the shoulders. However, it was Angela Lansbury, as feisty saloon gal Em, who wore the most eye-popping Technicolor creations. The golden gown Rose created for Em, studded with beads, deserved an Oscar nomination in itself but, unfortunately, the entire film was overlooked for the costume design category. Oddly enough, almost all of the films that showcased Helen Rose's best work were overlooked. 


In The Unfinished Dance ( 1947 ), Rose designed not only the principal actors' wardrobe but many of the ballerinas dresses as well. Mademoiselle Ariane Bouchet ( Cyd Charisse ) was the prima-donna ballerina who wore fashions as chic as her name. One of the most memorable gowns she wore was a velvet dress ( which fetched $2,750 during Debbie Reynolds' major wardrobe auction in 2014 ). 

The velvet gown seen in The Unfinished Dance ; Good News

For Good News ( 1948 ) Helen Rose help transport audiences back into the roaring 1920s with her authentic college garb of the period. 

Annie Get Your Gun ( 1950 ) was another career highlight for Helen Rose. The western costumes that Betty Hutton wore combined the bright colors of the 1950s with the rugged utility that the real Annie Oakley would have needed as a sharpshooter touring across the world with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Rose's designs were undoubtedly inspiration for much of the western wear for men, women, and children that were sold in catalogs throughout the decade. 

Helen Rose had a knack for creating costumes that perfectly suited the style of the wearer. Jane Powell's dainty hourglass figure was emphasized in the dresses she wore in A Date with Judy ( 1948 ), Luxury Liner ( 1948 ), Nancy Goes to Rio ( 1950 ) and Two Weeks with Love ( 1950 ). 

Lana Turner had a figure all women would envy and her petite height made her an ideal model for below-the-knee skirts and dresses. For The Merry Widow ( 1952 ) and Latin Lovers ( 1953 ), Rose designed some beautiful Spanish-inspired evening gowns. Years later, for Bachelor in Paradise ( 1961 ), Turner wore Helen Rose creations again...and surprisingly, her glam figure was unchanged!

Period costumes from Two Weeks with Love

Esther Williams created many of her own swimsuit designs when she launched her own swimsuit company, but during her reign at MGM, she and Helen Rose worked together to create swimwear that looked stunning both wet and dry. Duchess of Idaho, Pagan Love Song, Texas Carnival, Million Dollar Mermaid, Easy to Love and Dangerous When Wet all featured costumes designed by Rose. 


The costumes seen in Father of the Bride ( 1950 ) were also some of Rose's best work. Elizabeth Taylor adored the wedding gown that she wore in the film so much that she asked Helen Rose to design her wedding gown for her marriage to Nicky Hilton that same year. 

Grace Kelly was another great admirer of Rose's sophisticated taste. She wore Rose creations in Mogambo, High Society, and The Swan, and like Taylor, also hired Rose to design her wedding gown. Over 25 yards of vintage Brussels rose point lace and silk faille was used in the gown, and it was a creation that was admired the world over. 

Elizabeth Taylor's wedding dress was less memorable, but the simple and elegant white chiffon Grecian gown that she wore in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ( 1958 ) became an iconic dress. That same year Rose launched her own label featuring ready-to-wear clothing accessible to the public through high-end department stores such as Bonwit Teller, Marshall Fields, and Joseph Magnin. Some of her more simple designs were also available as patterns distributed through Advance and Spadea. 

Chiffon was Helen Rose's material of choice and she especially liked the way it moved and picked up light. An example of one of her most beautiful chiffon dresses was the simply white ensemble worn by Shirley Jones in The Courtship of Eddie's Father ( 1963 ). Dina Merrill also wore a gorgeous light blue chiffon dress in the same film, as well as this elegant business "suit". 

Dina Merrill and Shirley Jones in The Courtship of Eddie's Father

During the 1960s, Debbie Reynolds fashioned some of the best of Rose's creations in The Gazebo ( 1959 ), and Goodbye, Charlie ( 1964 ). Helen Rose probably never realized that so many of the dresses, gowns, and suits she designed for actors in all of those MGM films would end up in Reynolds' personal collection of costumes. 

Goodbye, Charlie! ( 1964 )

In 1966, Helen Rose left MGM to open up her own design business, catering to wealthy clients. She also kept busy writing a fashion column and penning two books, one being her autobiography "Just Make Them Beautiful"....a fitting title, for that's just what she did. 


This post is our contribution to the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon being hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen. Head on over to any of these sites to read more about the actors, films, and craftsman who were awarded Academy Awards.

To read more profiles in our Behind-the-Screen : The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking, click here! 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lillian Bronson - The Sweetest Spinster

So often we see character actors on the screen doing their parts with such wonderful finesse and ease that we never stop to think much about the real actor behind the character. They are often not the people that they play onscreen. Lillian Bronson was one of those actors. She portrayed teachers, librarians, devoted secretaries, servants, and other "old maid" roles quite frequently. Each of these characters displayed a quiet gentle nature and all seemed quite lonely and pitiable. The real Lillian Bronson, however, had a large family and was loved by many. She was also known by many, many people outside of the film community when, in 1974, her portrait was painted as a 30ft tall mural and displayed on the Los Angeles freeway. 

Lillian Bronson was born in 1902 in Lockport, New York. Her family was well-to-do since her father designed and built carriages for a living. Ms. Bronson acquired a taste for the stage in her school days when she acted in a high school play. Her English teacher gave her such encouragement that she attended Bryn Mawr and the University of Michigan studying dramatics. Finding a job as an actress was no easy task during the Depression, so she and her sister instead exercised their fingers and opened the Bronson Studio, designing and making toy animals and pillows. 


It was not until the early 1930s that she landed small parts in a handful of Broadway productions including Camille starring Lillian Gish. Then in 1939, it was off to Hollywood. Her first role was in the Deanna Durbin musical First Love where she played a violinist. It was a small uncredited part and, like most character actors, it paved the way for a lifetime of small, but nonetheless important, parts. 

Ms. Bronson specialized in portraying several different kinds of characters, which we have spotlighted below. In the 1940s, during the peak of her career she was making up to twelve films a year. Steady employment for sure! 


Maid/Housekeeper -


Bronson played a wide variety of different occupations on film and, while she didn't have the face or demeanor for your usual maid ( she seemed much too educated ), she found herself portraying domestics quite often. In The Pearl of Death ( 1944 ) she has a brief part as Dr. Harker's housekeeper who plays along with Sherlock Holmes in setting a trap for the Creeper. She also had a part in another Sherlock Holmes entry, Dressed to Kill,  as a minister's wife. 

In Junior Miss ( 1945 ), she was the maid to the surly J.B Curtis.  Ms. Bronson also played maids in The Brighton Strangler ( 1945 ) and Sleep, My Love ( 1948 ). 


Secretary -


Lillian was best in roles that asked for loyal characters. If one had a secretary like Ms. Bronson, you would feel certain that she would be a 100% confidential secretary and would never divulge a secret business deal. 

In Over 21 ( 1945 ) she played Irene Dunne's secretary, helping her organize all of the notes for her latest book. Miss Hammer kept Clark Gable's business papers in order and reminded him of all his appointments in The Hucksters ( 1947 ). He came to trust her judgement in personal matters too. In Here Come the Nelsons ( 1952 ), Bronson played Ozzie Nelson's cheerleading secretary Miss Tompkins, spurring him on to create a winning advertising campaign for a big client. Years later, Miss Bronson played one of the highest secretarial positions in America...that of presidential secretary to Polly Bergen, the first female president, in Kisses for my President ( 1964 ). 

Teacher -


Miss Bronson's gentle and patient nature made her an ideal actress for portraying teachers and librarians too. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ( 1945 ), little Peggy Ann Gardner visits the library and checks out a huge book on medical conditions. Miss Bronson inquires why she would be interested in such a book and the girl replies that she is reading every book in the library and this was the next book on the shelf. Miss Bronson gives her a kindly look and then sneaks in a small book of fairy tales for her to read as well. 

In I've Always Loved You ( 1946 ) she played a music teacher. In Father of the Bride ( 1950 ) she had an uncredited part as a schoolteacher, also invited to Elizabeth Taylor's big wedding. In Room for One More ( 1952 ) she was a teacher pleased with Cary Grant and Betsy Drake's decision to adopt two orphans and give them a welcoming home. 

Spinsters -


If there was one role that Miss Bronson really excelled in, it was playing spinsters. Although she was quite pretty she had the bird-like quality of a timid old maid. In Welcome, Stranger ( 1947 ) she played Miss Lennek, one of the townsfolk who has a sour opinion of the new doctor ( Bing Crosby ) until he wins the townsfolk over. In Family Honeymoon ( 1948 ) she had a large role as Claudette Colbert's maiden sister who handles all the details of her wedding and honeymoon. In The Good Old Summertime ( 1950 ) she was Judy Garland's aunt, another spinster we presume, whom she lives with.

That same year she played one of two sisters who were eager to marry a young William Holden in Father is a Bachelor, and she was one of the regular guests who attended the Catskills resort hotel in MGM's Two Weeks With Love. 


With the advent of television Miss Bronson found herself busier than ever, playing in such shows as Topper, Schiltz Playhouse, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, The Millionaire, The Rifleman, Peter Gunn, Thriller, and Have Gun, Will Travel. Westerns, dramas, comedies...she played in them all. On Perry Mason, she portrayed a female judge in three episodes. In Dragnet, she was a kindly old lady ( see color photo above ). She was the elderly Miss Cooper in the classic Haunted House episode of Leave it to Beaver and, on The Andy Griffith Show, she was Erma Bishop in The Beauty Contest. Her last television appearance was playing Fonzie's motorcycle-riding grandmother on Happy Days. 


Off the screen, Lillian Bronson raised a family which included two step-daughters. One of her daughters married actor James Whitmore, whom Bronson had appeared with in The Next Voice You Hear ( 1950 ) and The McConnell Story ( 1955 ). 

Ironically, Miss Bronson's greatest claim to fame came after she retired from acting. Artist Kent Twitchell was looking for the ideal model for a large mural he was planning on painting. He wanted a woman that resembled and reminded him of his grandmother and, flipping through a Screen Actors Guild catalogue, came across a photo of Miss Bronson. She graciously posed for him during a series of sketches and eventually Twitchell painted the final artwork which overlooked the 101 Freeway in Echo Park. It was the first freeway mural in Los Angeles and was an enormous success with commuters. Lillian Bronson was portrayed as a spry old lady, with her halo of white hair creating an other-worldly effect. The painting was dubbed "The Freeway Lady" and Miss Bronson's kindly face became known to many people who were unaware of her acting past. 


Check out this article about artist Kent Twitchell's painting of the New Freeway Lady, created in 2015. 

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