Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes: Each Other’s Muse…

As I was unsure of what “symbiotic” meant in the context of actors and directors,  I began to travel to the land of the “lexicons,” a green, fertile place found only in the imagination. Sometimes there’s a pot of gold, and sometimes there is a cold, hard fact that cannot be ignored.

Biologically speaking, symbiotic refers to any diverse organisms that live together, but in some cases, the relationship is not necessarily beneficial to both. Symbiosis, the living together of two dissimilar organisms in more or less intimate association or close union, and often in a mutually beneficial relationship, is obviously a more positive description. Cinematically speaking, a successful collaboration in a more or less intimate association or close union might apply to Gena* Rowlands and John Cassavetes because an “intimate association” can’t become much closer than a married couple. Their “symbiotic” professional relationship involved the creation of 10 movies together; their personal union, three children.

 

“When I started making films, I wanted to make Frank Capra pictures. But I’ve never been able to make anything but these crazy, tough pictures. You are what you are.”

“I always, always wanted to be an actress. It came from reading so much.” Gena Rowlands

As for classic symbiotic relationships, the fine line between the classic era, classic films, and just plain classy collaborations is often a subject for debate among professional cinema critics, social media aficionados and gainfully employed members of the entertainment  profession. For me, though, interpretation of film is more personal. I always evaluate movies on the basis of how they resonate with me personally, and how they relate to my experiences and relationships with people and events that I have experienced. When I first knew  of Gena Rowlands, the movie actress, she immediately reminded me of my mother, who loved watching  Rowlands’ appearances on televsision’s Peyton Place.  The actress’s strength and vulnerability in Lonely Are The Brave (1962) with Kirk Douglas made that connection for me when I first saw it on the afternoon movie. I also found that one of her lesser known performances in Charms for the Easy Life (2002), a television film from HBO, was also another dimension to her range as an actress, and another personal favorite of mine. Her conventional and unconventional characterizations with and without the influence of  her husband, director, and collaborator always intrigued me.

But before the classic symbiotic collaboration occurred, Rowlands landed initial steady employment.  According to her comments to Andy Warhol in his Interview magazine in December of 1992: “My first-ever job was in New York ushering in a little art theater. I was 21, maybe. I can’t remember. I saw Marlene Dietrich 38 times in Der blaue Engel (1930)—The Blue Angel—and I just sat there and held my flashlight, or stood there and held my flashlight. But she was wonderful.”

Rowlands’ parents had been supportive. Warhol asked Rowlands if she had any regrets, but she reponded that she didn’t. “I’ve been awfully lucky. I really have. My parents were the greatest parents in the world about encouraging me to do whatever I wanted. After school and three years at university, I went home and said, ‘I would like to quit and go to New York and be an actress.’ My mother said, ‘That sounds like something very interesting.’ And I said, ‘What about Daddy?’ And she said, ‘Ask him.’ I went [to my father]: ‘Dad, would you be okay if I left school and went to New York and became an actress?’ He said, ‘I don’t care if you want to be an elephant trainer if you really want to.’ So I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to be an elephant trainer…’ I grabbed them while they were all smiling and got on an airplane and went to New York and auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I went there and then I was auditioning for things.”

Of Greek heritage, Cassavetes was “educated at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and auditioned for The Actors Studio when he was beginning his career, but was initially rejected.” In Ray Carney’s Cassavetes on Cassavetes book, Cassavetes confessed to his parents that he wanted to be an actor. His father wasn’t initially thrilled at the idea of his son being an actor, but told him that he had to work hard because he would be portraying human emotions truthfully. Cassavetes’ friend and actor Peter Falk once stated that “Every Cassavetes film is always about the same thing. Somebody said ‘Man is God in ruins,’ and John saw the ruins with a clarity that you and I could not tolerate.”

In 1954, Rowlands and Cassavetes married, and the personal and continuing professional union lasted 35 years until Cassavetes’ death in 1989. The pair had three children, Nick, Xan, and Zoe, all of whom have sought careers in the entertainment field.

Cinematically speaking, as the “successful collaboration in a more or less intimate association or close union” evolved between Rowlands and Cassavetes, they engaged in creating 10 movies together: A Child Is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Gloria (1980), Love Streams (1984), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), Opening Night (1977), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Machine Gun McCain (1969), Two-Minute Warning (1976) and Tempest (1982). Cassavetes, hailed as one of the innovators and pioneers of the independent film movement beginning in the late1950s, and Rowlands, an actress whose credits include such notable performances asThe Notebook(2004),  directed by her son Nick Cassavetes, and her Oscar-nominated portrayals in Gloria (1980) and Woman Under the Influence (1984) directed by her husband, John Cassavetes.

For writer Alex Simon, Cassavetes was “primarily known to most of the public as a veteran character actor,” but he “left behind his greatest artistic legacy as an independent filmmaker with a unique voice and vision.” in 2004, Simon interviewed Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands, whom Simon calls Cassavetes’ “widow/muse,” for Venice Magazine.

Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, and Cassavetes

Actor Ben Gazzara’s first colloboration with Cassavetes as his director began in 1970 on the pre-production to Husbands, also starring Peter Falk, and Rowland’s brother, David.

“John and I became dear, dear friends.” According to Simon’s discussion with Gazzara, Cassavetes had a specific approach to preparing a film. “A lot of people had the misconception that John improvised his films, which wasn’t true. We rehearsed for two or three weeks before we shot. Occasionally a scene would be completely improvised, but only occasionally. The rehearsal was in order to give the impression of it happening for the first time, and also for the purpose of rewriting. John loved to rewrite on his feet. He’d just tear things apart, and try six, seven different ways of doing things. So by the time you got on the floor, with the camera present, you were pretty secure with where you were. John’s films were made through his actors. He loved being surprised during rehearsals and wanted you find things within yourself that would even surprise you.”

Gazzara wasn’t intiimidated on his first professional collaboration with Cassavetes in Husbands as Cassavetes “wasn’t afraid of taking any trip you wanted to take. The only thing John hated was if you didn’t try, if you didn’t ‘put it up,’ as he used to say. ‘Put it up!’ So I felt right at home, because that way of working was my idea of joy: where everything is open and everything is possible and nobody can do wrong. There is no wrong. It might not be right, but it ain’t wrong.”

Falk, Gazzara, Cassavetes, and Rowland’s  brother David in a scene from Husbands…

Peter Falk, best known as television’s Columbo, wearing a beleagured trenchcoast and an attitude of perseverance, also collaboraed with Cassavetes first, in Husbands, and then in A Woman Under the Influence, playing Gena Rowlands’ beleaguered spouse. Falk and Cassavetes remained close friends after Husbands (along with Ben Gazzara). In the interview, Simon stated that he felt Cassavetes’ films were like “jazz,” and Falk responded candidly:

“That’s very interesting, because Elaine May once said that the difference between ad-libbing and improvisation is that when jazz musicians improvise, they do so off a pre-existing theme. So if you are ad-libbing, and you’re just throwing out words that aren’t in the script, you’re not improvising off any kind of theme. So true improvisation has to do with improvising off something that exists. And that’s the difference between boring, realistic ad-libbing, which is spontaneous, but it has no shape. It has no form. But real improvisation, the kind you see in Cassavetes films, is related to a pre-existing theme.”

 

Cassavetes on Cassavetes…

 

“There’s a difference between ad-libbing and improvising. And there’s a difference between not knowing what to do and just saying something. Or making choices as an actor. As a writer also, as a person who’s making a film, as a cameraman, everything is a choice. And it seems to me I don’t really have to direct anyone or write down that somebody’s getting drunk; all I have to do is say that there’s a bottle there and put a bottle there and then they’re going to get drunk. I don’t want to tell them how they’re going to get drunk. I don’t want to tell them how they’re going to get drunk, or what they would do, and I don’t want to restrict them in being able to carry out a beat, to fulfill an action. You can’t say somebody’s drunk, or in love.”  John Cassavetes

During Rowlands’ discussion with Simon, the writer revealed  that Gazzara felt he’d been “set free”  when he began to work with Cassavetes, and Rowlands agreed.  “I think that’s very true for all of us. There was such freedom. The way other pictures are set up, there isn’t quite that freedom. They’re set up in a much more businesslike way.”

 

Rowlands went on to explain how Cassavetes process was different. “For example, most films are shot out of sequence, usually scheduled according to cost. John would always shoot his films in sequence with the script, and that made such a big difference for the actors. You never felt as though someone was about to come down on you when you were working with John. He would never let you stop yourself during a scene.” For me, all of Rowlands on screen performances have meaning, but her collaborations with her husband elicited a depth that didn’t seem apparent in some of her other characerizations, and perhaps the freedom she felt with his guidance settled into her soulful appearances in her later work after Cassavetes passing in 1989. Her give and take with James Garner in  The Notebook and her women who march to the beat of a different drummer in her films and  her made-for-television movies unabashadely force the viewer to experience her point of view. The freedom Cassavetes gave her, like the freedom he gave Falk and Gazzara, filtered through her interpretations like snowdrops on a touchstone, crystallizing moments in time.

Simon’s article also revealed how Cassavetes’ intense focus would affect a production.. “Oftentimes,” Rowlands claimed, ” a plane will go overhead during a shot, and the actor will just stop, because he or she knows that they’re going to cut. John insisted that you keep going always, until he said “cut.” What happened was that you kept your concentration and pretty soon, you didn’t hear the plane, or the fire engine, or whatever it was. It was a very valuable way of working. He did so many things that were unique. His use of body mikes for sound were great because you didn’t have to hit any marks, you could just go more or less where you wanted. And the lighting was such also that you could move quite freely. He lit in a very flat way that was more natural. You didn’t get to have a good light or a bad light, and most actors know what that means. We all had to work in the same light.”

In trying to elicit a more definitive comment from Rowlands, Simon found he couldn’t budge her from a committed perspective on her husband’s process when she revealed that “John always said ‘Don’t give interviews about what I was thinking, or what I was doing. If anybody wants to know me, let them look at my work. That’s it.'”

The most effective method of experiencing the Rowlands/Cassavetes symbiosis is to “look at” the work, like Cassavetes cautioned Rowlands. Viewers won’t be disappointed at the smooth, organic connection between actress  and director, or husband and wife.

LINKS And RESOURCES….

Reuben Guevara’s article for Thompson on Hollywood: http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/watch-set-to-receive-honorary-oscar-gena-rowlands-reflects-on-literature-and-film-20151109

“What Movies Mean to Me,” Gena Rowlands for Academy Originals: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3ih9G2GnKRs

IMDb-Gena Rowlands: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001687/?ref_=nmbio_sp_1

IMDb-John Cassavetes: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001023/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

Q & Andy: Andy Warhol interviews Gena Rowlands in 1992 for Interview Magazine: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/film/andy-warhols-interview-interview-savannah-film-festival-2014-gena-rowlands

John Cassavetes–An Appreciation by Alex Simon: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-simon/john-cassavetes-an-apprec_b_7058880.html

John Cassavetes and Gena Rowland Make Movies the Hard Way–With Their Own Money!; http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20088841,00.html

A thirteen-year-old girl from Argentina has also been inspired by the symbiotic relationship between John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Here’s a link to her blog, Silver Velvet Sky: https://silvervelvetsky.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/constant-forge/

This article has been prepared specifically to celebrate Classic Symbiotic Collaborations: The Star-Director Blogathon. Go to CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch to read more fabulous entries!

Follow me  on Twitter: @suesueapplegate

 

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Don Beddoe, “Everything But Pattie de Foy Grass”*

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Joyce and Milton...

Joyce and Milton…

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.”

As 'The Meddler' in "Cyrano De Bergerac"

As ‘The Meddler’ in “Cyrano De Bergerac”

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.”

With Shelley Winters, Eveyln Varden, Sally Jane Bruce, and Mitchum...

With Shelley Winters, Eveyln Varden, Sally Jane Bruce, and Mitchum…

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

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Silver Screen Oasis.

Stopping on the Gone With The Wind Trail…

OAKLAND CEMETERY: IN THE HEART OF OLD ATLANTA…

According to some reports, Ms. Howard might have been the 'Belle Watling' of her times...

According to some reports, Ms. Howard might have been the ‘Belle Watling’ of her times…

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.
Scarlett on the Square in Marietta...

Scarlett on the Square in Marietta…


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.
Author Kendra Bean at the Marietta Gone With The Wind Museum in June...

Author Kendra Bean at the Marietta Gone With The Wind Museum in June…

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.

Author Anne Edwards and Museum Director Connie Sutherland

Author Anne Edwards and Museum Director Connie Sutherland


Houstonian Deal Newberry with Miss Georgia at the Bazaar Ball in Marietta, Georgia...

Houstonian Deal Newberry with Miss Georgia at the Bazaar Ball in Marietta, Georgia…

Historical marker near the entrance of Oakland...

Historical marker near the entrance of Oakland…


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.

Friends Dennis Millay, Janice Milstead, and Deal Newberry that warm June afternoon at the entrance to one of the most fascinating cemeteries in the country....

Friends Dennis Millay, Janice Milstead, and Deal Newberry at the entrance to one of the most fascinating cemeteries in the country….

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.

Kimberly's fascinating tales of  specific moments in Atlanta's extensive history reveal her expertise and her enthusiasm to Deal and Janice...

Kimberly’s fascinating tales of specific moments in Atlanta’s extensive history reveal her expertise and her enthusiasm to Deal and Janice…


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.
No matter how many times I visit a cemetery, I always feel someone is watching...

No matter how many times I visit a cemetery, I always feel someone is watching…


In 1872, the cemetery was christened “Atlanta Graveyard” or “City Burial Place.”
A quiet grave appointed by blue hydrangeas invites visitors for a closer look...

A quiet grave appointed by blue hydrangeas invites visitors for a closer look…

Intricate masonry and architecture mix with the scent of wild lavender while strolling through the brick-lined walkways in the heart of Atlanta...

Intricate masonry and architecture mix with the scent of wild lavender while strolling through the brick-lined walkways in the heart of Atlanta…


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.”
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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.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson is buried here...

Former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson is buried here…


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.
What would this famous Atlanta businessman have to say about his wild life? We just had to let Kimberly tell us....

What would this famous Atlanta businessman have to say about his wild life? We just had to let Kimberly tell us….


Oakland Cemetery attracts international visitors like these from Russia, London, Uruguay, and ...Texas!

Oakland Cemetery attracts international visitors like these from Russia, London, Uruguay, and …Texas!


Mother and daughter statuary elicit the grace of a bygone era...

Mother and daughter statuary elicit the grace of a bygone era…


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.

Unusual statuary and unique stories are around every turn...

Unusual statuary and unique stories are around every turn…

(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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Exclusive Interviews Celebrate Thelma Ritter’s Legacy

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, an executive with Young and Rubicam,  was also Ritter’s agent, and they had two children, daughter Nikki, who also was an actress and appeared with her mother in a production of Barefoot in the Park 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.”


Actor Marvin Kaplan in a scene from A New Kind of Love

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”


Thelma Ritter wears a hat to celebrate St. Catherine’s Day during an event in A New Kind Of Love

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 Wives when 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.”

Fans of Thelma Ritter can immerse themselves in many of her stellar performances on Wednesday, August 20, all day on Turner Classic Movies. Some of her films will also be added to the TCM Mobile.


A few of the many blog articles focusing on Thelma Ritter:

http://bettesmovieblog.blogspot.com/2011/10/spotlight-on-character-actress-thelma.html

http://aurorasginjoint.com/2012/09/22/thelma-ritter-what-a-character/

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/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christy.putnam.5?ref=tn_tnmn
The Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/article/exclusive-interviews-celebrate-legacy-of-actress-thelma-ritter?cid=db_article

Christy Putnam is currently working on Thelma Ritter: Hollywood’s Favorite New Yorker to be published in late 2018 by the University Press of Mississippi. 

Copyright 2014

Maureen O’Hara and John Ford’s Way With Women

Maureen O'Hara at the Turner Classic Film Festival 2014 in April....

Maureen O’Hara at the Turner Classic Film Festival 2014 in April….


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.
This image must be one of Maureen O'Hara's favorites as she chose it for the cove of her 2004 autobiography...

This image must be one of Maureen O’Hara’s favorites as she chose it for the cover of her 2004 autobiography…

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.

As Esmeralda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Charles Laughton...

As Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Charles Laughton…


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.”
Fans crowd around O'Hara and TCM Host Robert Osborne in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in April for her interview during the TCM Film Festival...

Fans crowd around O’Hara and TCM Host Robert Osborne in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in April for her interview during the TCM Film Festival…

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.

Mildred Natwick and John Wayne in "3 Godfathers"

Mildred Natwick and John Wayne in “3 Godfathers”


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?”
Honoring the request from the mother...

Honoring the request from the mother…


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.
Forming a plan...

Forming a plan…


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.

Ma Joad facing yet another hardship...

Ma Joad facing yet another hardship…


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.

Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner in "Mogambo."

Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner in “Mogambo.”


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.

'Tis her favorite scene in "How Green Was My Valley."

‘Tis her favorite scene in “How Green Was My Valley.”

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.

The triumvirate...

The triumvirate…

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.”

"Lightning in a bottle...."

“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.
Tough...

Tough…


Not tough...she adored Tyrone Power's wicked sense of humor...

Not so tough…she adored Tyrone Power’s wicked sense of humor, and here they are together in “The Black Swan”…

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.

On the Red Carpet at the Turner Classic Film Festival with her grandson, Conor Fitzsimons...

On the Red Carpet at the Turner Classic Film Festival with her grandson, Conor Fitzsimons…


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.
'Tis all there is to say or write or think about the matter....

‘Tis all there is to say or write or think about the matter….

Sources, Links, and Websites:
David Meuel’s Women in the Films of John Ford:
http://www.amazon.com/Women-Films-John-David-Meuel/dp/078647789X

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
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maureen-OHara-Magazine-Website/131269913567989?ref=ts&fref=ts
Fan Website: http://moharamagazine.com
Wikipedia:http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maureen_O’Hara
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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
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Follow me on Twitter @suesueapplegate
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christy.putnam.5?ref=tn_tnmn
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
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The Examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com/classic-film-in-national/christy-putnam

Miss Kitty’s Long Branch of the Law

This review is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here: http://classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com/2014/05/announcing-2014-summer-of-metv-classic.html to check out this blogathon’s complete schedule.

Grand Central Station, Kansas, 1874

The Long Branch Saloon actually existed, but as far as I can tell, it wasn’t managed or owned by anyone named “Miss Kitty.”


Front Street, Dodge City, KS, 1874, with Robert Wright and Charles Rath’s General store, Chalk Beeson’s Long Branch, George M. Hoover’s liquor and cigar store, and Frederick Zimmermann’s gun and hardware store.

The actual “establishment” hosted many well-known figures from the heyday of the Old West like Bat, Ed, and James Masterson, Doc Holliday, Clay Allison, Frank Loving, and Wyatt Earp. The fictional establishment inevitably seemed the home away from home for such characters as Matt Dillon, Festus Hagen, Doc, Chester, Newly, and many others seeking retribution, steady employment, a stiff drink, or a friendly game of cards.

Built in Dodge City, Kansas, the saloon was erected as a result of a bet between soldiers and cowboys playing ball. (Maybe that was what started that popular game for children’s recess, “Dodge” ball.) The soldiers agreed, if they lost the game, that they would provide building materials to construct a saloon.


Chalk Beeson, all slicked up to have his picture took…


 Beeson also organized and led the famous Cowboy Band which entertained all over the west at cattlemen’s conventions, concerts, dances and in Washington, D.C. at the inauguration of President Harrison. (From legendsofamerica.com)



William Harris and Chalk Beeson, a wealthy rancher, purhcased that very same saloon in 1878. The Long Branch was named after Harris’ hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey, and it was a standard storefront bar with little ostentation, and it prospered until the railroad replaced the financial influx of silver dollars from the dusty cattle drives which had been fillin’ the coffers and emptyin’ the bottles in the storeroom. The Long Branch Saloon was unfortunately the victim of a fire in 1885 and wasn’t rebuilt until someone decided to resurrect it as part of the fictional set of Gunsmoke.


Inside the real Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas…the longest bar in the world!

Grand Central Station, 1970s, CBS…
Inside the real Long Branch Saloon on Gunsmoke


The Long Branch Saloon, featured in the longest running drama in television history for 19 years from September 14, 1955, to its final season in 1974, probably appeared in all 568 episodes, just as many as are credited to Miss Amanda Blake, who was born Beverly Louise Neill in Buffalo, New York. (Heck, yawl, ain’t that dangerously close to NEW YORK CITY?) Since ladies never give their age, you all will just have to google it, podners.

No one knew at the time that this lil’ gal would eventually become Amanda Blake who portrayed the apple of Matt’s eye, “Miss Kitty,” for 18 years on the longest running drama on television, Gunsmoke.

Blake left the penultimate year ‘cuz she just couldn’t stand to put on them curls, or reattach that derned bustle any more. She drew the line in the dusty dirt of Dodge City, and never crossed it again. But she sure did miss her friends. Blake told Mike Douglas that Milburn Stone, who played Doc, was kinda like her father figure.

(Amanda Blake tells it like it was on The Mike Douglas Show: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8KIDt27xEC4)

It tweren’t all smooth sailing in a prairie schooner, though. Blake needed a good friend on the set, too, ‘cuz Miss Kitty seemed to have at least one or two close calls ever year. She’d either get kidnapped as she was headed to the general store, or riding in an open buggy planning to have a picnic with Matt Dillon (James Arness), or she was headed back East fer a spell on the Overland Stage Coach, and it would get hijacked by a bunch of upstart poppinjays who were down on their luck. Real people who happened to live in Kansas, which is flatter than a buttermilk pancake made without bakin’ soda, just couldn’t understand those derned mountains up and down the trails on the t.v. set while they were a watchin’ the show. Why everbody in Kansas knowed that just tweren’t right. But Hollywood just had to show off them mountains in Califor-ny-yay whether it was geographically correct or not.

The real Long Branch was just as popular as the fictional one on T.V., and Old Chalky Beeson led a five-piece orchestra there that played dang near ever night. In addition to serving all kinds of alkyhol, and fancy champagne, and it wasn’t imported from Idaho, the selections also included beer, milk, lemonade, sasparilly, and tea. Dang. It was purty near as fancy as you could get in a dusty cow town.

When Gunsmoke began in 1955, Miss Kitty was just a working girl, but Matt took to her, right off….

But as things would happen, Miss Kitty bought a half-interest in the place, or won it in a game of poker or chuck-a-luck, and eventually she was able to buy the place outright and be the full owner after several years. Not bad for a workin’ girl.

And derned near everything happened in The Long Branch. Fights got started there, farms were won and lost at the poker table, purty gals just stood there a watchin’ when some cowpokes would be fightin’ over ’em, and Matt Dillon would stroll in, and keep the peace again and again, and if somebody got hurt, Doc would come and slap a bandage on whatever ailed ’em. Festus would just watch, or comment, but the best thing Festus did was speculate and worry.

Hear Miss Kitty sing “The Long Branch Blues” on Hee-Haw: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fGAly_oVO30

And if you miss that iconic song that always introduced an episode, watch it here:http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QYNuCsDrjK4
Or just tune in to MeTV and watch Gunsmoke all summer!

Amanda Blake’s filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0086469/?ref_=nmmd_md_nm


With Dennis Weaver….

Christy Putnam is the KKES Radio classic film expert.

Follow me on Twitter: @suesueapplegate
TCM Message Boards: http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topic/39646-sue-sue-ii/