On The Set Of Turner Classic Movies With Ben Mankiewicz…

I was lucky enough to spend December 6th at the Turner Studios in Atlanta watching Ben Mankiewicz film some of his segments for our favorite cable channel, Turner Classic Movies, which will be twenty years old in 2014, and it is still commercial free.

Where else can classic film fans view their favorite films ad-free and with in-depth commentary by Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz?

My good friend Alexa Foreman, Senior Researcher at TCM, took me on a short tour of the offices of TCM personnel concerned with the responsibilities of the day-to-day operations, and I met the lovely Holly Harper, a sweet lady who just happens to be Programming Director. Harper also happily admits to reading the “Sue Sue” TCM Film Festival columns on the TCM Message Boards from time to time, some of which are archived on this blog, with more scheduled for updating by 2014. (The “Sue Sue” TCM Festival columns have a combined readership of over 100,000 views on three different blogs, one of which is The Silver Screen Oasis, host of a popular Guest Author Series highlighting authors concerned with classic film subjects.) Harper reads the TCM Message Boards every day and appreciates TCM viewers and their comments, and is enthusiastic about her dedication to TCM. I also was able to say hello to Tim Reilly, the director of my Fan Perspective Video filmed in 2010 on the roof of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, and watch the elusive but adorable Sean Cameron as he directed Ben Mankiewicz’s segments, as well meeting many other hard-working and dedicated staffers.


Senior Researcher Alexa Foreman hard at work…

I was most curious about how each introduction and final comments were written, reviewed, and filmed, and it is obvious that much detail and detective work accompanies scripts prepared for Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, and Mr. Osborne still reviews all the scripts used in the wraparounds.

A small portion of the TCM Research Library…

Ms. Foreman, as “The Keeper of the Flame” of accuracy and detail, reviews content, checks facts, and monitors a shoot while it is being filmed from her office outside of the studio. Foreman also reviews the video feed from the studio to modify any changes Ben Mankiewicz or Robert Osborne might make to a segment.

In order to research each script, Foreman has access to a huge library of film-related books, compilations, filmographies, encyclopedias, and biographies of actors, actresses, directors, technicians, photographers, and screenwriters, a roomful of digital files and interviews, and various other electronic sources in order to develop scripts for Osborne and Mankiewicz.


One of the many hallways leading to the studio where Ben Mankiewicz films his segments contains highlights of Turner Studios through the years…


When I arrived on the set before Ben had entered, I was immediately offered a sumptuous breakfast prepared by a local Atlanta caterer who had steam tables filled with hot biscuits, sausage, bacon, cheese grits, and eggs. Also prepared for the staff on set included coffee, tea, and sodas, fresh fruit, granola bars, and other yummy snacks. Since the action on the set is fast-paced and allows for a short lunch break and a ten-minute turnaround between sequences, TCM ensures all the breakfast and lunch needs of crew members to keep everyone happy!

Pat Segers, in charge of makeup and hairstyling on the set, is another sweet lady who has been with TCM since the beginning of operations, and has been privy to many of Robert Osborne’s Private Screenings as well as many of Osborne’s own wraparounds.

Segers shared that she met Betty Hutton, Robert Mitchum, Ann Miller, Jane Russell, and many other Private Screenings subjects, and marveled at how Osborne has been able to elicit such candid comments from many of Hollywood’s stars of classic films. Segers claimed Betty Hutton was quite nervous on the set, but Osborne’s manner helped to calm her for the cameras, and Hutton clutched her rosary for much of the filming. Ann Miller was very “polished” both in her appearance and her manner, and Robert Mitchum was laughing and joking with the crew, but was very ill at the time of his taping. Segers has her own personal styling business, and reveals that she “airbrushes” on all the foundation before her subjects are ready for their moment on the screen

When Ben arrived on the set, he smiled, and we started chatting about the last festival. He was happy to see I was there to chronicle his day in front of the camera.

Ben being prepped by a staffer for the next segment…

The first few moments before filming a segment, Ben reviews the scripts, and plans how he will pace his descriptions of each movie, sometimes repeating a name or phrase that he might be unsure of as he laughs and jokes with crew members in between preparation time and shooting the script. Ben also told me that he checks all his “scripts in the wraparounds” and receives copies several days prior to the shoot, editing and/or reviewing “every single one of them,” and often adding some of his personalized comments. On the day of filming, he reads through them again in order to make additional changes if necessary. With such detailed preproduction for the Mankiewicz and Osborne programs, Turner Classic Movies continues to be a cable channel whose personnel are all focused on accuracy and professionalism.

Ben also wanted me to share a photo with everyone…

The Atlanta set is decorated with Rookie’s leash and other pet related items, and Ben was wistful talking about Rookie, and was deeply impressed that his fans cared so much about his beloved furry friend. Since there had been such concern during the last festival about the death of Rookie, he wanted everyone to see his current pals–Petey, Lewey, and Bob, and he said that Bob is actually a girl!

More in Part 2 …

Many thanks to Ben Mankiewicz, Alexa Foreman, Sean Cameron, and the crew of Turner Classic Movies for a fabulous day in Atlanta!

Pat Segers has her own make-up and styling business and can be contacted at pat@patsegers.com.

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THAT DARN SMACK!

(A DUELING DIVAS BLOGATHON ENTRY!)

Joan Collins was never one to veil the truth as she perceives it, especially in her autobiography entitled Past Imperfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed her frankness during her TCM “Word of Mouth” segment when she describes the whack that June Allyson awarded her during the filming of their encounter backstage at the “Footlights Home Benefit” during the second act of The Opposite Sex (1956), a partially musical remake of Clare Booth Luce’s The Women (1939).

The only version for purists is the original, The Women (1939), with Joan Crawford as Crystal and Norma Shearer as Mary Haines…

Now The Opposite Sex certainly has its detractors, but I am not one of them, and The Opposite Sex doesn’t seem to be as vilely regarded as the remake in 2008 starring Meg Ryan and Annette Benning, but I guess in some circles it could be. No other version, however, has the fabulous Helen Rose gowns as in 1956!

Dolores Gray (in a fabulous rose pink “mermaid” gown designed by Helen Rose), June Allyson, and Joan Collins imperfecting her past…


Joan Collins, Dolores Gray, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Joan Blondell, Agnes Moorehead, and Jeff Richards
(Hmm…..Joan Blondell is in this photo, but June Allyson isn’t.)

Link to the trailer for The Opposite Sex (1956):http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/16618/Opposite-Sex-The-Original-Trailer-.html

According to Collins, the slap delivered by June Allyson as “Kay Hilliard” thwacked Collins so soundly that her head jerked back and little “Junie Bug” (as husband Dick Powell nicknamed Allyson) sends Crystal’s earrings flying. Collins’ face was so red that she couldn’t prance in front of the cameras for at least 24 hours.

BEFORE ALEXIS COLBY, THERE WAS….CRYSTAL!
Here’s a publicity still of the staged slap while June Allyson and Joan Collins are wearing their gowns for the final scene, not the scene during the “Footlights Home Benefit Show when the smack actually occurs…

No one wants to miss what really happens next when Crystal tells Kay “If Steven doesn’t like what I’m wearing, I take it off!” so follow the link to see the real slap in real time: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yeCIjd2J32c

Personal animosity wasn’t involved, just an overzealous June. At least she didn’t knock Joan Collins out cold like Jane Fonda did in 1977’s Julia when Fonda punched poor John Glover as “Sammy.” Glover rolled backward in his chair and didn’t move when he landed on the floor of the bar. There wasn’t any animosity involved between Fonda and Glover either, but these are probably two of the toughest injuries ever inflicted by actresses in the course of their “responsibilities to their craft.”

Don’t miss Diva Dolores Gray as Sylvia Fowler when she does her best Joan Collins/Crystal Allen imitation: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yeCIjd2J32c

Other dueling divas on the set of The Opposite Sex were certainly apparent in front of the camera. Ann Miller as “Gloria” and Dolores Gray as “Sylvia” clang around the cupboards and cha-cha-cha around the cabinets before they roll around on the kitchen floor pulling hair and ripping shoulder pads that even Joan Crawford would be proud to sport. Meanwhile, Agnes Moorehead and June Allyson tackle damage control as pots, pans, fruit, and eggs are much worse for wear before the fur finally settles, and I’ve always felt that Texan Ann Miller relished her part in the fracas a lee-tle bitty-bit more than Dolores Gray.

But the cold, icy river running through it all wasn’t even part of the Fay Kanin script of the Luce play. There were two women on the set who both had very intimate knowledge of the same man, and this time Joan Collins wouldn’t be a culprit, either on or off screen.

When Joan Blondell made six films with James Cagney at Warner Brothers in the 1930s , she appeared onscreen with him more than any other actress.

Later, Cagney would claim that the only other woman he ever loved other than his wife was Joan Blondell, but Blondell was never married to Cagney.

Blondell did claim, however, that she loved all three of her husbands and that George Barnes, her first husband, provided Blondell with her first real home.

Dick Powell, her second husband and king of the noirs, provided her with security, and Michael Todd, who lived lavishly and spent all her savings before he married Elizabeth Taylor, was the man Blondell claimed as her “passion,” even though Powell had adopted her son Norman from her first marriage to Barnes. During Blondell’s divorce from Powell in 1944, she claimed cruelty as there were always visitors coming and going in their home, and when she complained of this to Powell he told her “if you don’t like it, you can get the hell out!” Blondell’s novel, Center Door Fancy, a thinly disguised account of some of her experiences, was published in 1972. In the latter part of her career, Blondell appeared in the briefly popular television program Here Comes The Brides from 1968-1970, and made periodic appearances on various television programs until 1981.

Blondell revealed in her memoirs that she had been raped in 1927 by a police officer as she was closing the library where she worked, but through all of her life she maintained a good sense of humor and a belief in herself and her talent.

She had one daughter with Powell, Ellen, and June Allyson became Ellen’s stepmother in 1945.


June Allyson, born Eleanor Geisman in 1917 in New York, was eleven years younger than Blondell, and had taught herself to dance by watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movies. She got her first big break when Betty Hutton was ill with the measles and took over Hutton’s part in a Broadway play, Panama Hattie, and was awarded a studio contract with MGM shortly thereafter. Dick Powell was Allyson’s first husband, and they adopted a girl because it was thought that Allyson couldn’t conceive due to a childhood accident when a tree crushed her while she was riding a bicycle, but two years later in 1950, Allyson became pregnant with their son, Dick Powell, Jr.

Unfortunately, June and Dick didn’t seem much happiier than Joan and Dick because Allyson also separated from Powell and had a very public affair with Alan Ladd in 1955.

Joan Blondell had a wonderful sense of humor, and enjoyed teasing her friend Bette Davis about her husbands. Since they were all Gentiles, Blondell called them “The Four Skins.” But things were not as jovial around June Allyson, especially on the set of The Opposite Sex. It seems Blondell and Allyson did not socialize on the set at all because of some of the issues surrounding Blondell’s divorce from Powell and June’s reluctance to involve herself socially with her husband’s ex-wife, as well as issues arousing from the care of Ellen, Blondell’s daughter with Powell. Allyson also had to fight her own mother for custody of her children after Powell’s death, so there were some obvious parenting issues that Allyson continued to deal with which may or may not have been due to her admitted alcoholism.


June and Joan are not sitting very closely to each other, and it just may be that the girls are reclined in order of their importance in the script, but they are still far apart…

Their only scene as two of the principle characters…

In 1956 on the MGM lot, there were a few more “Dueling Divas” than the ones appearing in front of the camera, and somehow all those costume fittings, the on-set antics, actresses’ accusatory looks that shoot daggers…

Dolores Gray, Alice Pearce, and Ann Sheridan at Sydney’s “Groomopolis”

…and one of the most lambasted musical numbers ever, “Yellow Gold,” a song sung by a man praising the joys of being a “Bananyonaire” are all possible subjects for those who must sharpen their more critical senses on a simple film from the 1950s.

June Allyson, Joan Blondel, and Joan Collins all wrote about their experiences in novels and autobiographies which detail some of their The Opposite Sex experiences. But for me, I will write about how much this film is still a guilty pleasure, and I still find something to enjoy when I revisit the film, even if it is just former baseball-player-turned-actor Jeff Richards as Buck Winston…

MANY THANKS TO LARA GABRIELLE AND BACKLOTS FOR ORGANIZING THE DUELING DIVAS BLOGATHON!

READ ALL THE ENTRIES FOR THE DUELING DIVAS BLOGATHON HERE: http://backlots.net/2013/12/20/dont-forget-dueling-divas-this-weekend/
Read more about some of these divas:
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
Center Door Fancy by Joan Blondell
June Allyson by June Allyson
Past Imperfect by Joan Collins
Passion For Life by Joan Collins
An Interview with Ray Hagen on the Remembering Ann Sheridan Blog: http://www.ann-sheridan.com/Ann_Sheridan_Interviews/Ray_Hagen_Interview.html
Both Ann Miller and Ann Sheridan are Texas gals!

It would be so much fun if Joan Collins could introduce this guilty pleasure of mine, The Opposite Sex, at the Turner Classic Film Festival, but if Shirley Jones is there plugging her recent book, she and Joan Collins might not be speaking since Collins won her lawsuit against Jones! Follow the link to read more about it: http://tinyurl.com/mtqg65w

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