Unfortunately, my post has been delayed due to a death in the family.
Dateline: HOLLYWOOD, Tuesday, March 24
Meeting my dear friend, the Countess De Lave, on my first day back in LA since 2014 afforded us a joyous reunion. I met her at the very first TCM Film Festival in 2010. She has a rental car, and a very comfortable ride it is. As she zooms away from our good friend Mark at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Valet Portico, she has a devilish smile, and I realize she has been up to something. What that something is definitely constitutes a lovely surprise.
As she tools down Orange St., away from the hubbub of arriving TCM Film Festival 2015 passholders, I am experiencing the excitement of a new adventure.
“I’ve made reservations,” she coyly reveals as we wait at the first of several stoplights.
“You have made reservations. Hmnn. That means we are going somewhere special!” I delighted.
“Yes, we are,” she said.
“And will you tell me where we are going before we get there, or will you keep me in suspense like a Hitchcock mystery? Where will we find our maguffin?”
“I have made reservations for us to lunch at….Chateau Marmont!”
I squeal in delight. I know not how she wrangled such special treatment for two gadabout gals who love to laugh, dine, and discuss the events of the day with a wink and a cocktail or two.
As we drive, I wonder who will be there. The Chateau Marmont is the Bide-a-Wee hideaway for some of the actual movers and shakers of the film industry currently and during it’s heyday, and a serious stop on the way up or down from the peculiar pecking order established by A-listers and B-wannabes. Will Michelle Grammer be there plotting her next reality show? As well-dressed tourists, we don’t have to worry about where we fit in. We just need to have enough cash to tip and cover the bill.
As we drive through the traffic, the Countess and I discuss how much fun the first festival had been. That’s when we met, the very first night. As we chatted about the first festival, I looked up the list of all the celebs that graced the stages, attended the parties, and chatted during panels at Club TCM:
* Actor Jean-Paul Belmondo
* Editor and author Peter Biskind
* Film director and historian Peter Bogdanovich
* Film historian and author Donald Bogle
* Academy Award-winning actor Ernest Borgnine
* Actor, producer, director and writer Mel Brooks
* Producer and director Frank Capra III
* Noted filmmaker John Carpenter
* Author Cheryl Crane
* Actor Tony Curtis
* Producer and Director Stanley Donen
* Emmy-nominated actress Illeana Douglas
* Photographer, writer and editor Curtis Hanson
* Screenwriter and actor Buck Henry
* Actor, writer, director and producer Darryl Hickman
* Award-winning actress and director Anjelica Huston
* Award-winning actor Danny Huston
* Writer and editor David Kamp
* Editor and writer Sam Kashner
* Actor Martin Landau
* Actor, director and producer, Jerry Lewis
(Due to unforeseen circumstances, we regretfully announce Jerry Lewis has cancelled his appearance.)
* Actor, producer and director Norman Lloyd
* Film historian and author Leonard Maltin
* Actress Nancy Olson
* Actress Luise Rainer
* Director, producer and writer Richard Rush
* Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint
* Academy-Award winning visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull
* Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight
* Actor Eli Wallach
My first Thursday in LA found me atop the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel anxiously awaiting my Fan Perspective Interview conducted by TCM’s Tim Reilly and photographed by FX’s premiere cinematographer currently working on the Syfy network’s Face Off, Bruce Dorfman. I was nervous. I told stories. I sang a song. I couldn’t hardly see a thing as the sun was in my eyes. The handsome assistant attaching my mike got awfully frisky, and I asked him if he needed a medical degree for what he was doing.
My friend, Lynn Zook, kept giving me the “thumbs up.” I stopped chatting and asked director Tim Reilly what to do, and he laughed and smiled, and said, “just keep talking.” For some reason, when I’m nervous in LA, it just doesn’t feel the same as when I’m nervous in Texas.
Here’s the youtube link to my interview that is still periodically screened on TCM: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yddHfhbr4J4
Lynn and I had met previously in Las Vegas in 2007 when I was presenting a seminar at the National AP Conference at the Venetian. We had known each other online for quite some time because of our association on the TCM Message Boards, and her enthusiasm for classic film and her encyclopedic knowledge is so inspiring. The first festival ensured that we connected with all our TCM Message Board crew like Kingrat, Filmlover, and Kyle in Hollywood. What a joyous, well-versed group of friends to be met! And I’m happy to say we all still connect online and in person.
The only member of our group who no longer can celebrate with us is the late Kyle Kersten, who unfortunately has passed away. But all of his threads created on the TCM Message Boards are archived on the site here:
The very first Gala Premiere at the TCM Film Festival in 2010, saw Judy Garland on the screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre tantalizing the audience with her songs, dances, and genius. Robert Osborne introduced the film, and Joey and Lorna Luft, who were in the audience. Afterward, Alec Baldwin joined Robert Osborne on stage for some cute banter and schtick.
Afterwards, I quietly slipped out of the screening to head to the Hollywood Roosevelt Pool.
Then I went to the Esther Williams and Betty Garrett pooside bash. Ben Mankiewicz introduced them and had a short discussion with those lovely ladies before the film began. Unfortunately, Esther Williams was in a wheelchair but seemed in good health and quite perky. She was wearing a cranberry red sequined jacket, and sparkled when she spoke. Still a feisty gal, and still has her bathing suit business because the Aqualillies were sporting her little red swimsuits. They had a great show, doing some of the same Esther Aquatics we’ve known and loved.
Betty Garrett was having a little trouble speaking due to a cold or something, but she was so cute, too, and seemed quite energetic. Esther left shortly thereafter, and so did Betty. But after the movie started, and the double duets of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Esther and Ricardo Montalban, and Betty and Red Skelton came on, Betty stepped back out on her patio from her private cabana at The Hollywood Roosevelt, and Garrett wistfully watched this sequence. As many of the viewers around the area saw her standing there, they turned and gave her a round of applause, and it looked like she teared up, and disappeared again into her suite. Besides meeting many new friends at the 2010 festival, the moment when Betty Garrett received applause during one of her greatest screen scenes while she stood on her cabana patio was my favorite moment during the first festival in 2010.
In 2015, I was chosen to be one of the premiere TCM Film Festival Social Producers, and had to miss the wonderful premiere of the 50th Anniversary edition of The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer introducing the film, but I was finally able to see The Man Who Shot LIberty Valance with my good friend Lynn, and her husband Jon. Keith Carradine sported a quick but enthusiastic introduction, and I cried at all the same places that I always do, especially when Vera Miles, as Hallie, reflects on her first love. The flowering cactus resting atop Tom Donafan’s casket still reaches deep into my soul, and elicits those liquid reflections of my appreciative emotions. It was a film I had longed to see on the huge silver screen of my dreams.
The first Vanity Fair party I attended in 2010 was held in Kress & Co., and I was the date of a very sweet man from D.C. whose wife was ill with cancer, and couldn’t accompany her husband. As we were walking in, I ran into Eva Marie Saint and her husband as they were exiting the festivities. Cher had come and gone in a white leather ensemble, and Hugh Hefner had made an appearance with a blond beauty. (Isn’t that the same newsflash from 40 years ago? )
Diane Baker had been escorted to the Vanity Fair party by her good friend, Robert Osborne, and I had a few moments to chat with her, as well as Jaqueline Bisset. There was even an Alec Baldwin moment when he told me “Hi, how’s it going?”
As I sat with Countess DeLave in the lovely Chauteau Marmont restaurant enjoying the canned music, and the “lightning-fast service” reminiscent of Harmonia Gardens in Hello, Dolly, I laughed and laughed. I couldn’t believe we were actually enjoying these delicious salads, and flavorful entrees in such an emotionally-charged atmosphere of the Hollywood pecking order. The moment when we walked inside the restaurant area, about 65% of all the diners turned toward us, looked to see if we were “anybody,” and then slowly resumed their conversations and appetizers.
We even were allowed to see one of the suites just in case we decided to stay there in the future. Riding up in the elevator is even a transparent adventure in the “Who is that?” culture of the “in crowd.” Both elevators have windows in them so passengers can see who is riding up to their rooms or down to the lobby. If I ever stay here, I think I’d be afraid to walk down the hall in my bathrobe without makeup to find the ice machine in the middle of the night.
Best Advice: Always keep a lipstick in the pocket of your jammies when you stay at Chateau Marmont. A girl always needs to perk up her look, and she might want to leave a message on the mirror. :D
The Story of G. I. Joe is a movie heralded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower as “the finest war film” he had ever seen, and it is indeed heartwarming that The Story of G.I. Joe is screened during the annual 31 Days of Oscar on TCM because it is one of those films that is not necessarily a blockbuster, but it based on historical moments written about and recalled by Ernie Pyle. It is one of those films that tied together the horrors of war, such as they could be revealed in the 50s, to the forefront of American sensibilities in the dark security of the neighborhood cinema. Men who had just returned from WWII wanted a film they could connect with, a film they could pin all their memories on, and The Story of G.I. Joe gave them one of those social events to connect with their pasts in the hedgerows, on the battlefield, on the PT Boats and in their hearts. In the fifties, going to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night was a celebration of the end to the work week, and many folks would go out to dinner, and then to a movie.
In 1944, Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote to his wife Geraldine Seibolds Pyle and told her: “Of course I am very sick of the war and would like to leave it and yet I know I can’t. I’ve been part of the misery and tragedy of it for so long that I’ve come to feel a responsibility to it or something. I don’t know quite how to put it into words, but I feel if I left it would be like a soldier deserting.”
In the homey style of a personal letter to a friend, Ernest Taylor Pyle wrote articles about off the beaten track and remote places across America and the people who lived there. In 1940, he went to London in time to witness the great fire bombing at the end of December. When America entered World War II, he became a war correspondent for Scripps-Howard newspapers. He accompanied Allied troops on the invasions of Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France, using his homey reporting style to tell the story of the beaches and foxholes of World War II. Ernie Pyle humanized the most complex, mechanized, destructive war in history and told the stories of the men and women who fought it with empathy, humor, and sensitivity.
One of Ernie Pyle’s most widely read and reprinted columns, “The Death of Captain Waskow,” appeared when the Allied forces were bogged down at the Anzio beachhead in Italy in January 1944. Ernie wrote about the death of Captain Henry Waskow of Belton, Texas, an exceptionally popular leader in January 10, 1944. His men brought his body down from a mountainside by mule and placed it next to four others, but the soldiers didn’t want to leave Captain Waskow.
“The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave … one soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, ‘God damn it.’ That’s all he said and then he walked away …
“Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said: ‘I sure am sorry, sir.’
“Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand in his own, he sat there for a full five minutes … looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there. “And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of the uniform around the wound and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.”
—Excerpted from the blog “History Because It’s There” by Kathy Warnes.
The story about “The Death of Captain Waskow,” however, almost couldn’t find the director it actually needed to help bring the poignant Pyle moments to the screen. Director William A. “Wild Billl” Wellman just happened to be a fighter pilot in WWI and had a deep-seated hatred of the infantry. His rigid aversion to directing a film about the infantry in WWII forced producer Lester Cowan to finagle and cajole him with Christmas presents for his children, invitations, and other tricks of a producer’s trade, but it was meeting Ernie Pyle himself at his home in Albuquerque and spending several days with him that actually convinced Wellman to saddle himself with the directorial duties.
The Story of GI Joe begins as Pyle joins C Company, 18th Infantry in North Africa, and the correspondent becomes close to the men and often writes about their exploits in his columns and would mention soldiers by name, which was much appreciated by both the soldiers and the soldier’s families back home. Pyle often followed and wrote about other units, but meets up again with C Company in Italy. Using actual American GIs in the film also added to the realism of the action.
After the film, the American veterans of the North African and Italian campaigns were transferred from the European Theatre to the Pacific, and many of them were killed in the fighting on Okinawa, the exact same battle in which Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese machine gunner. Pyle, hired as a consultant on The Story of GI Joe, and the transferred GIs never saw the film in which they had appeared. Pyle was one of the 36 American war correspondents killed in World War II.
Burgess Meredith, a protegee of playwright Maxwell Anderson (Anne of the Thousand Days) who hand-picked Meredith to star in Winterset, Meredith’s first screen role, stars as Ernie Pyle, and brings his war-weary eyes and quiet observance to the front as he slogs along and writes and feels what the men feel that he’s writing about.
Meredith’s performance in this film resonates in his eyes. Watch them react, watch them disbelieve the painful realities, and watch them empathize with the men he has chosen as the subject of his craft.
When William Wellman dragged Robert Mitchum onto the screen from obscurity in Westerns like “Hoppy Serves a Writ,” he also gave us an actor to be reckoned with. Mitchum, as the man in charge of C Company, has already absorbed the painful moments of seeing men wounded in action or die while trying to advance to a new position closer to the enemy. His cynical nature is never uncaring, but always realistic. His death in the movie is the story of Captain Waskow.
Mitchum’s screen roles would flirt off and on with World War II scenarios, like John Huston’s Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison in 1957, until the lalte 80’s when he apppeared as Victor ‘Pug’ Henry in The Winds of War and War and Rememberance.
But Mitchum never again would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor or Best Actor at the Academy. The Story of G.I. Joe was nominnated for three other Oscars: Ann Ronnell for Best Song, “Linda”; Leopold Atlas, Guy Endore, and Phillip Stevenson for Best Screenplay, and Ann Ronnell and Louis Applebaum for Best Music for a Drama or Comedy.
To listen to the Oscar-nominated song, “Linda,” here’s a link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6dJF7royh8c
Note: Wally Cassell, who played PVT. Dondaro in The Story of GI Joe is 99, and is considered the second oldest actor alive from the era of Classic Hollywood at the time of publication.
(The theme of the Turner Classic Film Festival 2015 is “History According to the Movies” and The Story of GI Joe would be an excellent choice for a screening this year, expecially with an introduction by Bill Wellman, Jr.)
(Also excerpted from Kathy Warne’s excellent references collected in her article about Ernie Pyle on the “History Because It’s There” website: http://historybecauseitshere.weebly.com/ernie-pyle-homespun-journalist.html )
Boomhower, Ray E. The soldier’s Friend: A Life of Ernie Pyle, Indiana Historical Society Press, 2006.
Miller, Lee Graham. The Story of Ernie Pyle. Greenwood Press, 1970. Nichols, David. Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Disptaches. Simon & Schuster, First Touchstone Edition, 1987.
Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II. Modern War Studies. University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Pyle, Ernie. Brave Men. Bison Books, 2001.
31 Days of Oscar Blogathon:
Once Upon A Screen: http://aurorasginjoint.com/2015/01/05/31-days-of-oscar-blogathon-2015/
Outspoken and Freckled:http://kelleepratt.com
Paula’s Cinema Club:http://paulascinemaclub.com/2015/01/05/call-for-posts-31-days-of-oscar-2015/
History Because It’s There, a blog by Kathy Warnes: http://historybecauseitshere.weebly.com/ernie-pyle-homespun-journalist.html
A History of G.I. Joe–the doll created by Hasbro: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1915120,00.html
This post is part of the third annual What a Character! Blogathon hosted by three classic movie bloggers: Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee Pratt (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Frecked, and Paula Guthat (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club. The Blogathon is devoted to those wonderful actors who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading players wished they had.
Not everybody was a glamourpuss back in the 40’s and 50s, and not everybody wanted to be.
The ticket to steady employment and a crisp, new paycheck may not have been through the doors of Sidney Guilaroff’s MGM salon. It might have been through tending bar in a saloon, or running the general store, or even pecking out the latest update from the teletype, and Don Beddoe was obviously one of those even-keeled, level-headed professionals who took the road less traveled by the publicists and the power mongers.
Don was raised in Cincinnati where his father, the famous Welsh tenor Don Beddoe, spearheaded the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and his initial career began as a journalist.
Enjoy Beddoe’s father, tenor Don Beddoe (1863-1937) in a 1913 recording of “A Moonlight Song” here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=06OJQ_eJTyY
But something lured Don away from the typewriter and the heady aroma of freshly-inked front pages, and Cincinnati. Even though he intended a career in journalism, he began working with amateur and community theatre companies, and there is evidence that he appeared in a few silents. Somehow his journey from wordsmith to boards-stomper landed him on Broadway where Beddoe made his debut in a play starring Spencer Tracy.
In 1937, he appeared as an uncredited District Attorney’s aide in the first release of 20 that year from the newly-formed Monogram pictures, which became Allied Artists in 1952. Perpetual Gunsmoke “Doc” Milburn Stone also appeared in that first Mongram release entitled The 13th Man, directed by William Nigh and starring Inez Courtney and Weldon Heyburn. Beddoe would eventually appear on an episode of Gunsmoke with Stone.
Beddoe then began playing all sorts of roles on camera -doctors, reporters, barbers, deputies, sherriffs, clerks, mousy-husbands, attorneys, detectives, jockeys, majors, process servers, professors, police chiefs, chaplains, judges, and junk dealers. His acting credits include over 297 film and television roles, and his last was as a popuar fellow named “Kris” on a Christmas-themed Highway to Heaven episode in 1984.
Married to first wife Jessie Evelyn Sebring in 1943, their marriage lasted until her death in 1974. Soon after, Beddoe wed actress Joyce Matthews, and Beddoe obviously settled her down a bit.
Matthews had been married six times to four other men–twice to Milton Berle, who commented after their remarriage that Joyce reminded him “of his first wife.”
Matthews also married and divorced showman Billy Rose –twice. So Beddoe obviously knew how to treat someone like Joyce as they were married until Beddoe’s death, and Joyce never remarried. Alas, Beddoe had no children, but Joyce had her daughter, Victoria, that she had adopted while married to Berle.
One of Beddoe’s most high-profile roles in the 1950’s was as Walt Spoon in Director Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Beddoe was paired with Evelyn Varden, a burlesque and Broadway actress who had many high-profile films in her repertoire, too. When recalling Don Beddoe, Producer Paul Gregory stated that Beddoe was a “dear man,” and asked author Preston Neal Jones to give him that message. Beddoe’s response to Gregory’s comment? “Isn’t that nice.”
Beddoe supported many of Hollywood’s stars like Peter Lorre in The Face Behind The Mask, with Robert Mitchum in River of No Return as Ben, the owner of the general store, and with Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
Author Preston Neal Jones visited with Beddoe shortly before Beddoe passed away when Jones was interviewing all the principals in his book, Heaven and Hell To Play With-The Filming of Night of the Hunter.
During Jones interview with Beddoe, he related celebrated British film historian Leslie Halliwell’s comments that he felt Beddoe was a “character actor with a genial, sometimes startled look.”
Beddoe responded “that means when I’ve blown my lines.”
Beddoe’s memories of working with Gregory and others on the set of Night of the Hunter are happy ones as he felt that Laughton was “always on his best behavior, completely friendly and warm.” Delighted that Laughton was able to direct the film, Beddoe recalled that “it came through so well. And it didn’t come through like a first attempt, at all. It was really professional, directorially.”
According to Beddoe, Laughton’s biggest problem was handling Mitchum, but all went well between the director and the actor with the “bad-boy” reputation as “there was a complete rapport between the two.” Beddoe also worked on “River of No Return” with Mitchum and claimed “it’s been a very cordial relationship.”
Recalling his visit with Don Beddoe and reminiscing about his pairing with Evelyn Varden in Night of the Hunter, author Preston Neal Jones revealed more about the endearing Beddoe when he participated in a visit at the classic film website, The Silver Screen Oasis:
Beddoe & Varden, that great team, were certainly appreciated by the film’s creators. Producer Paul Gregory enthuses in my book about their casting, adding, ‘You’d think they’d been married always.’ Davis Grubb, author of the original novel, felt that “they (the production company) should have paid her extra” for her contribution as Icey Spoon. As it happened, she and Grubb viewed the HUNTER answer print together at United Artists’ Manhattan screening room.”
Varden “was so anxious that he like it, Grubb recalled, that she kept a tight squeeze on his hand the whole time. I’ll tell you a touching anecdote about Don Beddoe, which I don’t think I put in the book. One of the great joys, you know, of meeting and conversing with these wonderful character actors is the opportunity it affords to learn about not just the subject at hand but many other films as well. (Mr. Mitchum had a lot to say, for instance, about CAPE FEAR.)
One of the famous movies in which Mr. Beddoe appeared was The Best Years Of Our Lives, in which he portrayed, if memory serves, the father of the bride,Teresa Wright. In any case, BEST YEARS was as we all know a rather long picture, and it necessitated a suitably long (and therefor expensive) shooting schedule. As the final film stands, Beddoe’s character really isn’t seen very much, but he originally had one important father/daughter scene containing a significant speech. He worked hard to prepare his monologue, only to be crestfallen when he went to the set and learned that the scene had been dropped.
William Wyler explained to the disappointed actor that they had already shot a lot of footage, and the director had agreed with the budget-conscious Sam Goldwyn that the film could get along without that scene. Poor Don Beddoe asked Mr. Wyler if he could at least do the speech for him, so he could show how he would have done it if it had been filmed, but the busy director turned him down.”
Even though Beddoe was momentarily crestfallen at Wyler’s rebuff, his 297 film and television credits attest to his 47-year popularity among those who hire and fire seasoned and reliable character actors in LA. As a fan of Beddoe, I am always on the lookout for one of his roles in classic film and television programs. His sweetness, his down-to-earth qualities, and his compassion can be found in the man who hands you your program when you go to the symphony, or the doctor who smiles at his patients, or the detective who won’t let somebody get away with murder.
Beddoe also supported his acting salary in real estate, and was active almost up until the time of his death at 87 in 1991.
* Beddoe’s line as Ben in River of No Return
Follow me on Twitter @suesueapplegate or as Christy Putnam on Faceook.
Sue Sue Applegate is also on the TCM Message Boards Festivals Forum and The
Silver Screen Oasis.
My article is part of a month-long celebration of Hispanic Heritage and culture and is a homage to Hispanic contributions to American Classic Cinema for Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon.
I have to admit I fell in love. I was only 7 or 8, but the first time I saw The Little Princess on our black and white Philco, Cesar Romero, as Ram Dass, took my heart away and always kept it. He saved little Shirley Temple as Sara from all the people in the film who tried to keep her from her father. When she was about to give up, he furnished her little attic room with luxurious clothes, delicious, hot food, a comfy cover on her bed, and the warm feeling that she wasn’t alone in her daily struggles. How could I not admire and adore Romero after seeing how kind he had been to a little orphan girl? I hoped that if I was ever in such circumstances that I would find someone to protect me like that if my Daddy were to disappear from my little life.
I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.
And for the cruel one whose blows
Break the heart by which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I give:
For him, too, I have a white rose.
Poet, teacher, and revolutionary Jose Marti’s poem, “I Have a White Rose” in some ways symbolizes the generosity of spirit that Cesar Romero, as Ram Dass, shares with little Sara (Shirley Temple) in The Little Princess. Ram Dass gives sustenanace to a little lost child so that she can share in the joy he knows is still part of her heart even though adversity surrounds her. But Marti’s poetry is not perhaps the only connection to Romero.
“A violet duchess careens
In the arms of a red coat:
A painted viscount of note
Keeps time on a tambourine.”
(Translated Excerpt from “Estoy en un baile extrano” by Jose Marti.)
Cesar Romero, born to Cuban parents in New York City on February 15, 1907, went to Collegiate and Riverdale County Schools before beginning his foray into the entertainment industry as a ballroom dancer. First appearing on Broadway in the 1927 production of Lady Do, and then in Strictly Dishonorable, his first film role came in The Shadow Laughs (1933), and he then garnered more favorable exposure in The Devil is a Woman (1935). In 1937, he appeared first with Shirley Temple in Wee Willie Winkie, and again teamed with Temple in The Little Princess in 1939, the film that inspired me to choose Romero as my topic for Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon. Romero’s kindness and generosity in the role always reminds me of my father’s willingness to help others.
According to several sources, Romero’s maternal grandparents were exiled Cubans Carmen and her invalid husband, Manuel Mantilla. Their daughter, María Mantilla — Romero’s mother — is generally believed to have been the daughter of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero José Martí, who wrote the verses used in “Guantánamera” (“Yo soy un hombre sincero…”).
Romero’s versatility lent his talents initially to the stable of stereotypical Latin lotharios in Hollywood, but many of his more in-depth roles began to reveal his ability to play drama, comedy, and a mixture of the two. His popularity had many phases, which illuminate how intrinsic his international characters were to plot development in Hollywood from the 1930’s to the 1990’s, as his roles changed from the sexy, well-dressed “eye candy” of his early years to more definitive roles like that of Hernan Cortes in Captain From Castile. Cortes would never look that good again on screen or off.
Romero’s supposedly savvy deal for the production of the 50’s television program Passport to Danger, where Romero played an international courier dodging bullets and secret agents, had him playing opposite such guest stars as Carolyn Jones, Frank Wilcox, Ted DeCorsia, and Paul Picerni as he cavorted and cajoled his way through weeklly intrigue for four years. (It also allowed him to care for many of his extended family members through the ensuing years, and would not be the only clever business deal he made.) His participation in the series left him financially well-fixed and allowed him to stock his closet, which some say held upwards of 500 suits and tuxedos. Romero believed in dressing welll and living well, and his reputation as a “confirmed bachelor” did nothing to disturb his decades-long popularity with celebrities, and the camera, both in film and television.
The audience’s initial response to Cesar Romero’s appearance on What’s My Line reveals how popular and well-liked Romero’s film, television, and radio appearances have made him to American audiences. As one of the most entertaining appearances on What’s My Line reveals, Romero’s sense of humor belies his ability to entertain. After he disguises his voice to a deep, raspy, whisper, the panel continues to allude to the fact that they think Romero might be a seal as a continuing rhetorical device to elicit laughter from the audience. When Dorothy Kilgallen asks Romero if he ever had a signature laugh, it is more than a decade before Romero’s signature laugh as Batman’s The Joker appears on the American television scene: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ve3xrr-Y7oQ
After the heyday of the studios came to a close, Romero began becoming even more visible on primetime television, and his stint as The Joker on the 60’s Batman series left him a little perplexed at times, but certainly grateful and zesty as one of the tallest Jokers at 6’3″ to ever grace the screens.
According to a quote attributed to Romero, he was perplexed about one of his most visible roles and most enduring characters. “Why [producer William Dozier] wanted me for Batman (1966), I’ll never know, because I asked his wife, Ann Rutherford, ‘Why did Bill think of me for this part?’. She said, “I don’t know, Butch. He said he saw you in something, and he said, ‘He’s the one I want to play the Joker’.” I haven’t the slightest idea what it was he saw me in, because I had never done anything like it before.”
The signature Joker laugh also has its origins in a spontaneous moment that became a legendary calling card. His evil giggle as the Joker on Batman (1966) was created almost by accident. Shortly after being cast, Romero met with producers to discuss his role on the series. While waiting to meet with them, he happened to see conceptual art of the Joker’s costuming. Romero felt that the pictures almost look absurd, and as a result, spontaneously broke out into a playfully loud and almost manic laughter. A producer overhearing that laughter, responded by telling Romero “That’s it, that your Joker’s laugh!”.
To listen to Romero’s raucously riotous refrain, follow the link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=x5fX4quv7fw
The actor obviously had so much joy with the unusual character: “I had enormous fun playing the Joker on Batman (1966). I ended up doing something like 20 episodes of Batman, as well as the full-length feature film version [Batman: The Movie (1966)]. There was certainly nothing hard about that assignment! Even the makeup sessions weren’t too bad. It took about an hour-and-a-half to put the full makeup on, including the green wig. I didn’t mind it at all.”
As for being stereotyped, Romero stated that “I was never stereotyped as just a Latin lover in any case because I played so many parts in so many pictures. I was more of a character actor than a straight leading man. I did many kinds of characters — Hindus, Indians, Italians. There were very few pictures where I ended up with the girl.” He also played the popular Niarchos opposite Jane Wyman in Falconcrest in the 1980’s, and was cast as Sophia’s love interest in an episode of The Golden Girls that is a fan favorite.
Would his rumored grandfather approve of what Romero did with his ilfe? According to an article written by Kim Ruehl, “Guantanamera” was originally written in 1929 as a patriotic song about Cuba, the rhyme scheme and structure of “Guantanamera” has always lent itself easily to evolution and adaptation – both things necessary for any good protest song. The tune has been evolved through the years and used in struggles for peace and justice across Latin America and the US, and has been recorded by a remarkably long and diverse list of artists, including Joan Baez, the Fugees, Jimmy Buffett, Jose Feliciano, Julio Iglesias, Los Lobos, Pete Seeger, and numerous others. It’s been recorded in Spanish, Italian, French, Welsh, English, and Dutch.
Originally, the lyrics to “Guantanamera” had a romantic spin. It was a song about a love affair gone awry – a story of a woman who gets fed up and leaves her man after being mistreated, possibly in the form of infidelity. Those lyrics quickly fell by the wayside as the song evolved to one about national pride. After all, the first verse of the song was taken from a poem by Cuban freedom activist Jose Marti, an adaptation which cemented it for future use among freedom activists and others struggling for some kind of justice.”
Those lines which open the song translate roughly to English as:
I am a truthful man from this land of palm trees
Before dying I want to share these poems of my soul
“Yo soy un hombre sincero,
De donde crece la palma,
Yo soy un hombre sincero,
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma”
For me, Cesar Romero, grandson of the Cuban poet, Jose Marti, will always be that “hombre sincero,” the Ram Dass of my soul, “de mi alma.”
*(Romero’s costume from Wee WIllie Winkie was sold at the Bonham’s auction last year for $1,125, higher than the original auction house estimate. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1937. A long red wool coat with elaborate gold embroidery and epaulettes, bearing a black-lettered United Costumers, Inc. Manufacturers label inscribed in black ink, “Cesar Romero.” Together with a red silk cummerbund to be worn over the coat, also with a black-lettered United Costumers, Inc. Manufacturers label inscribed in black ink, “C. Romero.” Accompanied by a reproduction still showing Romero wearing the coat. The film, directed by John Ford, is based on a Rudyard Kipling story set in Colonial India. Romero, a leading Latin heartthrob of the day, portrays Khoda Khan, an Indian leader who befriends Shirley Temple’s character.)
Christy Putnam received a prestigious Council For Basic Education Fellowship of $3,000 for her article “Malinalli: Cortes’ Mistress and Interpreter” in the 1990’s. She is bilingual, and has traveled to 19 states in Mexico, and Madrid, Spain. She wrote, produced, and directed a young adult play entitled “Origins of Spanish Poetry” in 2008.
Sources include: Cuba Then/The Monacelli Press, Kim Ruehl article, Poemhunter, IMDB, Wikipedia, “Amor con amor se paga” por Jose Marti, El Jardin de las Orquideas, and others.
“Marti found American society to be so great, he thought Latin America should consider imitating America. Marti argued that if the US “could reach such a high standard of living in so short a time, and despite, too, its lack of unifying traditions, could not the same be expected of Latin America?” John M. Kirk, Jose Marti, Mentor of the Cuban Nation
For more information on the familial relationship of Jose Marti and Cesar Romero, follow the link: http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/funfacts/CesarRom.htm
Certain diacritical markings, like the accent, have not been added in some sections due to technical constraints. The “E” in Jose and the “I” in Marti should have an accent mark, as well as the “I” in Orquideas.
OAKLAND CEMETERY: IN THE HEART OF OLD ATLANTA…The film receiving the most Oscar awards in 1939 has been scheduled for venues all over the United States in 2014 to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of “Gone With The Wind,” but Atlanta seems to hold the greatest allure both for its historic connection to the film and the star-studded parade and premiere on December 15, 1939.
While attending the 75th Anniversary of Gone With The Wind at the Marietta Gone With The Wind Museum, I took some time to visit with friends and enjoy several days of fun in Atlanta and its environs.
I met with Texas friends Deal and Janice in Marietta, and we stayed at the Marietta Hilton where we met author Anne Edwards, who shared a ride with us to one of the many events.
An important stop on the Gone With The Wind Trail has been luring fans of the film and novel to the heart of Atlanta for decades in order to visit the graves of author Margaret Mitchell, her husband, John Marsh and others, but Historic Oakland Cemetery began modestly as just six acres in 1850 when the population of the city only included about 2,500 residents.
Kimberly Krautter, a dear friend of Dennis Millay, who suggested we visit Oakland, gave us a unique, and personal tour of the fabulously appointed cemetery whose statuary, and landscaping make a stroll through its brick-paved walkways an unending journey to the fascinating back stories shared by a professional guide who has spend her whole life learning and sharing the unique snapshots of time that make a visit to Oakland a timeless experience of personal connection with the history of Atlanta. Krautter is just one of the many popular tour guides who volunteer as docents for Oakland Cemetery and whose expertise enhances a trip to the area.
By 1867, 42 more acres had been added to the original site to accommodate casualties of the Civil War who had been hastily buried on area battlefields.
In 1872, the cemetery was christened “Atlanta Graveyard” or “City Burial Place.”
Two historical markers illuminate the importance of the site during the Civil War according to the Oakland Cemetery website:
The first reveals that “in 1862, Union operatives known as Andrews Raiders commandeered a locomotive at present-day Kennesaw and raced north to cut telegraph lines. They were captured and condemned as spies. Seven were hanged near Oakland’s southeast corner and interred in the cemetery before removal to the National Cemetery at Chattanooga.”
The second marker commemorates “high ground north of the Bell Tower, a two-story farmhouse stood in the summer of 1864. It served as headquarters for Confederate commander John B. Hood during the Battle of Atlanta, which was fought to the east of the cemetery on July 22.”
Other famous Oakland residents include golfer Robert T. “Bobby” Jones, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, ex-slave Carrie Steele Logan who established the first African-American orphanage, and Moses Formwalt, Atlanta’s first mayor.
The solitude of the surroundings and the lovely garden spots are always part of Oakland’s charm.
As tourists gather in Atlanta to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of “Gone With the Wind” and visit theme museums in Marietta and Jonesboro, the cemetery expects more visitors, and popular tour guide Kimberly Krautter will be busier than ever. A special Margaret Mitchell and “Gone With The Wind’ tour is available on selected Saturdays through October 4, as well as the ever-popular Halloween tours and exclusive events.
(The photograph used for the header of this article was taken on the evening of June 5, 2014, from the veranda of the Marietta Hilton after a heavy thunderstorm. Even hotel employees stepped out to see it and snap photos for their Instagram accounts!)
For a list of all venues included on the GONE WITH THE WIND TRAIL, follow this link: http://www.gwtwtrail.com/GWTW_TRAIL/GWTW_TRAIL_HOME.html
Oakland Cemetery website: http://www.oaklandcemetery.com/plan-your-visit/special-topic-tours/
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He was a guy with plenty of trouble, but maybe I like ’em that way. His case reminded me of my father’s, and I spent everyday at his trial. Wrongly convicted, he’s been San Quentin Quail since they waltzed him out of court with those free bracelets they seem to give everybody traveling in a government car with an escort.
I was up in the hills above the bay all morning, doing a bit of painting with my oils, and as I packed up, and started the engine, I heard about Vincent Parry making a break for it on the car radio. So I headed toward the county road where he might have gone.
As I stepped out of the car into the bushes by the open coupe with the carnival-tent seat covers, the driver’s seat door had been left open, and as I looked over the car, I raised my eyes and saw Parry. The look of fear and desperation in his eyes had frozen his features, and made me take a quick breath, but somehow I convinced him to hide in the back seat of the wood-paneled wagon and cover himself with the canvas I had used to protect my paintings.—Irene Jansen
Maybe that’s how Irene Jansen would have explained to the police how she happened to find Vincent Parry that day, but as her cards played out, she ended up on an extended excursion South of the equator. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Dark Passage, a film written and directed by Delmer Daves from a David Goodis novel, was only the second prominent film of the forties to make use of the first-person camera to tell a tale of lies, corruption, justice and redemption. (Lady in the Lake with Robert Montgomery was the first.) Daves fought with the studio powers that be to film some of the major scenes outside of the studio, all the way up in San Francisco, and fans still trek to the sight of Irene Jansen’s apartment. And that wasn’t the first time Jack Warner threw a fit about Dark Passage.
The next time Warner steamed up happened when he realized one of his biggest stars, Humphrey Bogart, wouldn’t appear on screen until after the first 62 minutes. “I can just hear Jack Warner scream,” Bogie said.
Why does this film still attract me with my daily cravings for good storytelling? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just funny that way, but Dark Passage, a film Leonard Maltin calls “not great” but “good,” has my attention the minute the credits quit scrolling by.
On the back of a truck leaving San Quentin sits a barrel with someone’s fingers curling over the edge ever so slightly in a desperate grasp for freedom and for courage to roll the barrel off of the back of the speeding truck and down a bumpy ravine. As its rolling, the camera reveals what the man in the barrel must be seeing while it’s gaining momentum falling down by jerks and tumbles, and it lands with a thud.
A man crawls out of the barrel, weaving to and fro, obviously stunned by the rough journey. He ducks into a huge concrete pipe to avoid being seen. (The 80’s film Foul Play featured an similar sequence as an homage, planned or otherwise, to Dark Passage.)
Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) helps Parry (Humphrey Bogart) with money, clothes, and a place to hide out until a little bit of the heat wears off, and when he leaves, he gives a touching goodbye to Jansen. Just then, he takes a cab to leave, and the cabbie (Tom D’Andrea) helps Parry find a doctor to perform plastic surgery on him so that he can hide. So guess where Parry goes to recover? Yes, that gorgeous Art Deco apartment of Irene’s.
She even has a glass tube for him to sip his orange juice with because he isn’t having dinner for awhile. Just plenty of liquid refreshments until the bandages come off.
And there are so many coincidences, scuffles, and near-escapes that viewers sometimes have to work a bit to suspend their disbelief, but it’s all worth it.
If director Delmer Daves had a “Paranoia” trilogy like Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor), Dark Passage would be there right along with The Petrified Forest, The Red House, or maybe Destination Tokyo. Lauren Bacall said during her Private Screenings with Robert Osborne on TCM that “Del Daves was a very emotional man.” When Bacall was watching Bogie leave after his recovery as Parry, Bacall was teary-eyed, and she said Daves was crying all during the filming of the scene.
The Characters “Straight From Characterville”
I think several bloggers and some critics have made a good case for claiming one of the main characters of this film is actually….San Francisco. A murder occurs under the Golden Gate Bridge, Bogie is seen traipsing through several famous parts of town, and San Quentin looms from the very beginning. The Filbert Steps lead up to Irene Jansen’s apartment, which is located on 1360 Montgomery Street at Filbert Street. (The cast stayed at Nob Hill’s fancy Mark Hopkins hotel while filming, and the family atmosphere extended itself into the film as Daves used his son and daughter in the train station sequence as Parry makes his last stateside call to Irene.)
When Jansen crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in fear of being caught, and passes through the toll booth, actor Vince Edwards (Ben Casey) is supposedly manning the booth, and we see him for a few seconds on screen.
Rory Malinson as Parry’s best friend, George, immediately sounds just like Randolph Scott, and he even appears a little like what Scott’s brother might look like, but it’s the moment when George allows Parry into his apartment that we see just how kind a friend George really is, and that moment creates in the viewer even more sympathy for Parry. When Parry finds George dead, it breaks what’s left of his heart.
Tom D’Andrea as the cabbie, has some of the dialogue that supplies a little comic relief amid all the paranoia. “Up we go, slippety-slop” as he describes driving a fare all the way to the Pacific Ocean holding a bowl with two goldfish. “But I like goldfish. I’m gonna get a couple for the room–you know. Dress it up a little bit. It adds class to the joint. Makes it a little homey.” D’Andrea’s comic timing makes his moments on screen thoroughly enjoyable.
As the counterman who calls Parry on his untimely request for information on Bay Meadows, Tom Fadden makes us feel how unhappy he was to alert a detective to Parry’s trail, but he is as memorable in his role, as D’Andrea was as the cabbie.
Agnes Moorehead, however, steals the show with her catlike manner. Her first moments on screen occur as she is ‘rapping’ on the front door of Irene’s apartment, and we hear her voice as it is grating on our sense of peace and tranquility. This moment reminds of so much of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Once Madge Rapf appears (and yes, it’s after much ‘rapping’ and a possibly subtle play on words), I keep hearing the word “Nevermore” reverberate in my 9th-grade consciousness, almost in sync with Madge’s frenetic knocking on Irene’s door.
After Madge lets Parry into her apartment, unaware of who he is, she picks up a pillow and drops it right down in front of Parry so that she can sit on her knees to open the box of candy he has brought her, almost surrounding Parry as her prey. Then she gently caresses the face of Parry’s watch, with her perfectly manicured nails as she reveals to him how she is ready to caress Parry on the face. At that moment, she recognizes Parry’s voice. “What is it? Is it the eyes that don’t quite go with the face?” Parry asks.
Madge’s venomous spiel about Parry, his wife, and Irene precedes her own self-destruction. But Moorehead looked fabulous in the striped dress that had a dark, satiny sheen that reflected light right before Madge takes the ultimate cop-out– a bully who’s a coward at heart. Madge jumps to her own grave, but looked fabulous right before she yanked the heavy silk curtains back, and took her final, miserable leap into what surely must have been considered 1947’s version of automatic doom and hell.
Thank you, Bernard Neuman, brother-in-law of Ruby Keeler. Lauren Bacall looks absolutely stunning in all of her ensembles, as does Agnes Moorehead in a striking leopard ensemble in her first appearance in the film. Neumann was previously responsible for all the gorgeous gowns in Roberta.
What else is there?
The fabulous art and set direction, stalwart Bruce Bennett, smarmy Clifton Young as Baker, the psyche-stirring dream sequence when Parry is under sedation for his plastic surgery operation in a seedy back alley office, and more. I just need more time to tell about it all.
The director of Airport, the biggest Universal blockbuster in 1970, whose $45 million in earnings wouldn’t be topped until Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, and a character actress with 6 nominations had a connection that made history for both of them.
George Stenius, whose family hailed from Stockholm, grew up in Detroit, and he was determined to be an actor and not go to college, so he joined a stock company and also dabbled in radio. Credited with creating the “High Ho, Silver!” sound byte glorifying The Lone Ranger on radio because he couldn’t whistle, Stenius, who had changed his last name to Seaton because it was easier to pronounce, had the pluck to send his play to none other than MGM’s Irving Thalberg.
Thalberg may not have been as interested in the play as he was in the creative potential of young George, whom he hired as a $50 a week assistant to Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur so George could learn more about his craft, which was not a bad place to start for a newbie. Unfortunately, the MGM team Hecht/MacArthur soon parted company and George didn’t see Hollywood for awhile.
But George Seaton kept plugging away as a gag writer, a fixer, and a man with creative stories. His uncredited days were soon to be behind him as Groucho Marx liked what he came up with for A Night At The Opera, also starring Kitty Carlisle. Marx took him on board for the next Marx Brothers project as a collaborative writer on A Day at the Races, and soon after, he worked for a short while at Columbia and became affiliated with producer William Perleberg, who latched onto Seaton as a protege. Perleberg then joined 20th Century Fox in the early forties and Seaton went with him.
One of Seaton’s first assignments at Fox was the screenplay for the box office hit, The Song of Bernadette which initiated his long career as a successful screenwriter, director and producer.
Various projects followed, and eventually he worked on a period comedy with Betty Grable, but unfortunately, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim was a shocking failure even though it sported songs from George and Ira Gershwin. But as with all failures, everyone usually learns something.
For Seaton’s next project, he wrote the screenplay, and it more than made up for the failure of his last picture. Viewers still scream for it every year in December because of the story, because of the characters, and because of its endearing charm. And one of those endearing charmers was someone agent Meyer Mishkin found named Thelma Ritter. “Meyer was my agent, and he found Thelma for George,”according to actor Marvin Kaplan, who also appeared with Ritter in A New Kind of Love, a film that starred Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward. TCM Host Robert Osborne also commented during Thelma Ritter’s Summer Under The Stars comments prior to The Model and The Marriage Broker on Wednesday, that Ritter and Seaton were friends.
Officially uncredited in the cast of Miracle on 34th Street, but unforgettable in moviegoer´s memories as “Peter’s mother,” Thelma Ritter elbowed her way to the focal point of viewers’ memories, especially as she told her son something like “Momma wants to talk to Santa, now” after Edmund Gwenn, as Kris Kringle, had promised Peter a fire engine that his mother knew she couldn’t deliver by Christmas morning. Ritter has charged through cinematic history like a a steam roller ever since she had been given her big cinematic break by Director George Seaton, the man who was plucked from obscurity by Irving Thalberg, and cut his writing chops with none other than Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, of Front Page fame.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1902 on St. Valentine’s Day, Thelma Ritter’s auspicious entrance on the day heralded as the most romantic day of the year meant to many classic cinema fans that she would be loved for her endearing, no-nonsense charm, and for telling it all like it is.
Ritter also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and trained there as an actress. Her husband, Joe Moran was a popular talent agent, and they had two children, daughter Nikki, who also was an actress and appeared with her mother in a road show production of Bye, Bye Birdie in 1966, and son Joseph Anthony Moran, who liked to be called Tony.
In my exclusive interview with Tony last year, he revealed that “I just saw Miracle on 34th Street a few weeks ago,” and for the few moments that his mother was in the film, “she just jumped off the screen,” and “took over the whole show.”
In a recent interview with actor Marvin Kaplan (It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), he reminisced and revealed that Ritter was never “on” when she was present at a production, but was always prepared and a “pro,” indicating that she was confident about her part and thoroughly prepared. Kaplan claimed that “whenever Thelma was in a movie, I made sure that I went to see it.¨
On the set of A New Kind of Love, Kaplan got to know Ritter well, and was also close to Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, with whom he still keeps in contact. When Maurice Chevalier came on the set to work, Kaplan remembers that Ritter “didn´t make a big deal” about Chevalier, and she was “shy and quiet” when not performing, but also occaisionally would “let loose with a zinger.”
Once, while dining at the Paramount Commissary during the production of A New Kind of Love, Kaplan, Woodward and Ritter had finished eating, and Kaplan had been laughing and giggling loudly. He claims that John Wayne came over and asked him to leave, and shortly thereafter, Woodward and Ritter, in a moment of solidarity with Kaplan, walked out with Kaplan and left the commissary area.
Ritter mainly participated in dramatic endeavors while living and working in New York and appearing on television and in theater, but when she came out to Hollywood, ¨she mostly did comedies.” Kaplan also remembers that screenwriter and playwright Paddy Chayefsky “especially wanted Ritter” for the Goodyear Playhouse production of A Catered Affair in 1955.
In 1951, she appeared in All About Eve, and writer, producer, and director Joe Mankiewicz admitted that he liked real people “like Thelma Ritter,¨and believed that ¨Thelma Ritter was the best. I wrote Birdie Coonan in All About Eve for her. A wonderful person and a fine actress. I loved her, bless her. Do you remember that scene in Letter to Three Wiveswhen Ritter and Connie Gilchrist are playing cards? I loved that.¨
Special attention from Joe Mankiewicz anointed Ritter as the go-to-gal to keep audiences focused on the silver screen, and when Ritter appeared in Sam Fuller’s Pickup On South Street, Richard Widmark recalled in Lee Server’s book, Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground, that “I liked Thelma very much” as he “knew Thelma from the radio days back in New York. She was always a wonderful actress and a terrific lady.”
According to actress, singer, and comedienne Debbie Reynolds, the next SAG/AFTRA Lifetime Achievement Recipient in 2015, Thelma Ritter was one of the greatest scene-stealers that she ever worked with. In Reynolds updated autobiography, Unsinkable, Reynolds claims that Walter Brennan, Walter Matthau, and Thelma Ritter were all in a class by themselves and that “you couldn’t turn your back on any one of them…I’d say it was a three-way tie for who could get the most out of their camera time.” Ritter’s son Tony also revealed that “Debbie and she were very close, and when my Mom died, she called and called and wanted to know if there was anything she could do.”
In an exclusive interview about Thelma Ritter with Christa Fuller, Director Sam Fuller’s widow, Christa states that “Sam adored her. She should have won an award for her touching portrayal in Pickup On South Street.” Filmmaker Samantha Fuller, the director’s daughter, has recently screened A Fuller Life, the ultimate documentary on the life, work, and times of her father at MoMA from August 6-16.
According to esteemed Senior Researcher Alexa Foreman from Turner Classic Movies headquarters in Atlanta at Turner Studios, Thelma Ritter “is one of our ‘unsung heroines’ of movies. She never gave a lackluster performance and was nominated for an amazing SIX Academy Awards. One of the all time great character actresses.”
Ritter’s son, Tony Moran also shared that “evidently, everybody identified with my mother. She would tell it like it was. She was like that in real life.”
A few of the many blog articles focusing on Thelma Ritter:
Thelma Ritter Filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0728812/?ref_=nmbio_bio_
Follow Christy Putnam on TWITTER: @suesueapplegate
TCM Message Boards: http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topic/ … ue-sue-ii/
The Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/article/exclusive-interviews-celebrate-legacy-of-actress-thelma-ritter?cid=db_articles
KKES Radio Classic Film Expert
Maureen O’Hara, 93, and still as feisty as ever, travelled from Idaho this year where she lives with her grandson and his family to attend the TCMFF 2014, introduce How Green Was My Valley with Robert Osborne, and have a short interview with Osborne in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Even though her career spans 62 years, Robert Osborne writes in this month’s Now Playing Guide for TCM that she has been filmed in Technicolor more than any other actress (34 times) and “she has lost none of her Irish spunk.” During her interview with Osborne prior to the screening of How Green Was My Valley at the Turner Classic Film Festival in 2014, Osborne asked her how it was working with director John Ford, and she proclaimed, “I thought we were here to talk about me!” She began her film career under contract to Charles Laughton and his production partner with the film Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Her conversation with Osborne also revealed her devotion to Laughton for nurturing her career (she would appear as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Laughton as part of her contract with him.) “What more can someone do for you,” she proudly stated, “than start you off in life.”
David Meuel’s new book, Women in the Films of John Ford, reveals how O’Hara’s development as an actress under the guidance of Ford paralleled some of the patterns of achievement that other actresses experienced under his astute on-set dictatorship. Mildred Natwick’s short, but pivotal scene in 3 Godfathers reveals how Ford could wield one shining moment into the fabric of the next half of a film.
As Natwick’s character lay dying after the birth of her son, she asks the three men gathered round her, “Will you save my baby?”
Then her final statement resonates throughout the rest of the film,” You tell him about his mother who so wanted to live…for him,” and her comments underscore all the ensuing motivations of the three godfathers.
Natwick’s comments in Meuel’s book reveal that “I’ve never forgotten that Ford seemed pleased with the scene and pleased that I’d done it.” She sensed from Ford how to play the role because ” you get things by osmosis from a wonderful director.”
Jane Darwell’s performance in The Grapes of Wrath also reveals how Ford inspired Darwell, already a well-known and well-respected performer, to greater acclaim.
Darwell’s career as a Hollywood character actress followed her many years as a devoted stage actress, but her most well-known role, besides that of being the bird lady in Mary Poppins, was that of Ma Joad in the successful screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. One reason of the enduring popularity of the character of Ma Joad, according to Meuel, is that Darwell’s characterization “has become a synonym for women who bear great hardship with great dignity.” Darwell also became “a favorite of Ford’s” as she appeared in My Darling Clementine, 3 Godfathers, and The Sun Shines Bright.
Initially, Ford wanted O’Hara for the role of Honey Bear Kelly in Mogambo, according to Meuel, and ended up with Ava Gardner, an actress “he didn’t think was all that good.” But in Mogambo, Gardner earned her first and only Academy Award nomination, and her performance is one of her best.
According to the TCM Database article explaining why Mogambo is an ‘essential,’ “Ava Gardner turned out to be a much greater beneficiary of Ford’s instruction on Mogambo. Her work as Honey Bear Kelly is marked by an ease, even a playfulness, that would seldom if ever surface in her following projects.”
So Ford could wrench an effective performance from someone he deemed initially as less successful at her craft than O’Hara. He elicited those sterling screen seconds in his own way, and made Natwick, Darwell, Gardner, O’Hara, and others the better.
But O’Hara’s opinions and comments, revealed through the years in interviews and O’Hara’s own autobiography that her relationship with Ford alternated from rocky to smooth, and her comments vacillated from his admiring pupil to a woman who always staunchly defended his directing, but sometimes questioned his motives.
Like the time Ford slapped O’Hara for talking to another director. The event strained their relationship, and she never understood why Ford had acted that way, but she eventually went back to engaging in conversation with him and working for him.
The Ford/O’Hara relationship spanned 20 years and began on the set of 1941’s How Green Was My Valley, the film O’Hara introduced at the Turner Classic Film Festival on April 12 in the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Her favorite moment in the film, documented in her autobiography, occurs when her character of Angharad is “outside the church after Angharad gets married. As I make my way down the steps to the carriage waiting below, the wind catches my veil and fans it out in a perfect circle all the way around my face. Then it floats straight up above my head and points to the heavens. It’s breathtaking.” She was obviously impressed with the way she had been showcased in her career-making initial role with Ford.
Her collaboration with John Wayne in three of Ford’s films, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, and The Wings of Eagles, also revealed that the romantic chemistry she had with Wayne was like “lightning in a bottle.”
But her fourth Ford collaboration, 1955’s The Long Gray Line, also starring Tyrone Power, had O’Hara revealing that “it was by far the most difficult” film she had made with Ford.
Setting many of his films in the past often saddled Ford with the label of being “old-fashioned” but as O’Hara has claimed in interviews and her 2004 autobiography, ‘Tis Herself, Ford loved anything Irish, and any way he could maneuver more Irishness into his films or his own personal life was a way to reconnect or reconstruct his life to his own more idealized version of itself.
O’Hara’s relationships with men who lived large on life’s stage, like Che Guevara, whom she deemed a “freedom fighter,”surprised her when she found out how much he knew about Ireland. Her last husband, Charles Blair, whom she adored, was a record-setting aviator and Brigadier General in the Air Force. The legendary John Wayne, for whom she lobbied Congress to award him a Congressional Medal of Honor, was also one of those connections that paired O’Hara socially and/or professionally with some of the most daring or famous men of the 20th century.
During her one of her festival interviews with Osborne, she finally stated that “Ford loved being Irish, and was thrilled when he could do something involved with Ireland. Anybody who is very talented and very good at their job… 90 percent of the time will treat you well.” And 90 percent seems to be the magic number Maureen O’Hara has designated for John Ford.
Sources, Links, and Websites:
David Meuel’s Women in the Films of John Ford:
Maureen O’Hara’s ‘Tis Herself: http://www.amazon.com/Tis-Herself-Autobiography-Maureen-OHara/dp/0743269160
The fabulous “Direced By John Ford” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Directedbyjohnfordcom/398684916875651?ref=ts&fref=ts
Moving tribute video by June Parker Beck with Robert Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”: http://t.co/er6MiUGoXY
IMDB Biography of Maureen O’Hara: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000058/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
Maureen O’Hara’s Star of the Month Celebration on TCM, TUESDAYS IN JULY: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/1008293|0/Maureen-O-Hara-Tuesdays-in-July.html
Fan Website: http://moharamagazine.com
I am so happy to be included in “The John Ford Blogathon” from July 7-13 hosted by Krell Laboratories: http://krelllabs.blogspot.com/2014_07_01_archive.html
Follow me on Twitter @suesueapplegate
The Silver Screen Oasis: http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=92&t=4260&start=840
KKES Radio Classic Film Expert, Sundays from 12-1p.m.: http://www.1027thehog.com
TCM Message Boards: http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topic/39646-sue-sue-ii/
The Examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com/classic-film-in-national/christy-putnam