Still A Giant

The long awaited chronicle of the personal and professional journey of a 20th Century template for quintessential Hollywood male has arrived. The quest of Rock Hudson for acceptance and recognition has long since ceased, but the fascination with such a “gorgeous hunk of man” continues. All That Heaven Allows, the ultimate biography of Hudson by Mark Griffin and the title of one of Hudson’s more successful Hollywood films, is just the solution for readers and fans who still happen to be hoarding those Christmas and Valentine’s day gift cards. Those fans seeking a delicious read to fill those boring moments between the latest social media frenzy and a visit from the Sandman is just a click away on Amazon or a jaunt to the local page proprietor.

In-depth interviews with Hollywood insiders, friends and family of Hudson, and historians hold court to tell a tale of the rise to the summit of world-wide fame. Like one of the Rocky mountains of Colorado, Hudson’s professional summit was well-served by his own physical height and personal magnetism. Griffin’s research and details remind us of Rock’s charisma with onscreen partners like Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor, and colleague John Wayne, and explores his more difficult moments on screen with the queen of clean, Julie Andrews. Detailed research and polished prose float the reader along the waves of Hudson’s peaks-and-valleys existence in the forefront of media hype and behind closed doors.

Hudson’s difficult childhood, his burgeoning, complicated sexuality, and his private life peopled with sybaritic sycophants spurred the late TCM host and friend Robert Osborne to frankly comment about Hudson’s final years. Piper Laurie, a close friend of Hudson’s for many years, reveals aspects of Hudson’s character to endear him even further to his fans.

In George Stevens’ film of Edna Ferber’s Giant, Bick Benedict, a thinly veiled alter ego of the larger-than-life Houston wildcatter Glenn McCarthy, lived large, but espoused a more traditional family man’s attitude, tempered with more acceptance by his wife Leslie, portrayed by future long-time friend Elizabeth Taylor. James Dean, as Jett Rink, played the darker, more emotionally plagued persona embedded in McCarthy’s complex personality.

It was no fluke that Hudson aligned with Benedict in the collective mind of Hollywood casting as he also lived large, albeit in varied social circles. Hudson initially charmed all he met, yet he continually struggled to become a success and stay one. At the end of his life, he still worried about his career, and refused to accept his own infallibility, just like any other traditional American hero.

 

Mark Griffin is the author of A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli.  Griffin, whose writing has appeared in scores of publications, including The Boston Globe, recently appeared in the documentary Gene Kelly: To Live and Dance.  He lives in Maine.

 

Mark Griffin’s website.

Interview with Mark Griffin on Vincent Minelli…

Interview with Mark Griffin on Rock Hudson and All That Heaven Allows on PBS’ Fresh Air….

All That Heaven Allows is soon to be a major motion picture!

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Gary Cooper: “Peaches and Champagne in the middle of the day!”

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This post may see me in hot water; however, I hope it’s sprinkled with shrimp boil and fresh lemon juice following an afternoon of busy deveining and chopping okra to prepare the gumbo and jambalaya of my memory.

I often understood Anne Rice’s choice of New Orleans as the setting for her vampire novels, and the Southern Gothic tradition still lingers in film, books, novels, and music. But since I lived in and around New Orleans for a few of my formative years, the allure of the sights, sounds, and smells of the French Quarter are continually lingering somewhere in my soul. One of the films so evocative of the languid but volatile nature of the people grabbed my fear by it’s hinges and shook it around in my core.
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The opening scenes of Saratoga Trunk, even though they were filmed on the back lot of Warner Brothers’ Studios, coalesced and complimented my memories of walking along the brick-lined streets with gas lamp replicas and wrought iron balustrades as merchants hawked their wares to tourists with phrases like “Fresh pralines, fresh as New Orleans.” The forbidden lairs of the voodoo queen, Marie Laveaux, still beckon and tempt, and the stories of the ghosts of tortured slaves and murdered innocents perpetuate my nightmarish memories of childhood anxiety.

The varied characters and events equalled my experiences of the actual people and places I’d seen and heard. I’d walked on Rampart Street, just like Clio Dulaine did in the film. I’d seen the traffic up and down the Mississippi as it flowed out to the Gulf, and a visit to the Madame Tussaud’s in the Quarter is still white-hot in my memory with the beating heart of Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed and the torture chambers created by madmen who imprisoned their slaves for imagined slights. Jazz music floated everywhere and a funeral cortege with a marching band of somber players made me stop dead in my own tracks, mesmerized by the notes and the spectacle.

As I walked through the uneven streets and looked in the shops, I was given a small sack of herbs to ward off the evil eye so others wouldn’t be tempted to send evil thoughts my way, and as I found myself drinking a cup of chickory coffee and delighting in three beignets dusted with a lightening streak of confectioner’s sugar, I looked skyward and saw the Cabildo guarding the plaza like a fortress.

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For all it’s character-driven dialogue, Saratoga Trunk still might be considered the bastard sister of Gone With The Wind (Max Steiner also did the music for Saratoga Trunk), but for me, it’s characters seem more real because of the part of my life lived in New Orleans. Ferber’s book arrived in 1941, but Margaret Mitchell’s had preceded it by several years. When Saratoga Trunk was filmed in 1943 (but not released until 1945), war-rationing made the fresh vegetables unavailable, so most of the produce viewers see in the market are fakes. What isn’t fake is the singing voice of Ingrid Bergman, which enchants us as well as Gary Cooper in his role as gambler Clint Maroon. Bergman’s vocals in this film are also one of its rarities. And every dimestore cowboy as well as Governor Goodhair, or former Texas politician Rick Perry, has done some form of imitation of the Texas cowboy Cooper portrayed in Saratoga Trunk, but none can compare.
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Flora Robson, who was honored with an Oscar nomination for her role as Angelique Pluton, had also played Queen Elizabeth I in The Sea Hawk, and was adept at many kinds or roles, but she was one of many actors through the ages who have portrayed characters of other races. Her language and phrasing reminded me of the language I’d heard spoken as a child. French phrases and inflections peppered with a verbal sauce spicy as a bottle of Evangeline perpetually floated like curious clouds of conversations all through the French Quarter of my childhood. (In Saratoga Trunk, it was the first time I’d ever heard the word “zumba!” on the silver screen.) The French phrases and Cajun intonations made Robson’s interpretation easier to believe, even though her eyebrows were some of the severest ones Max Factor, or in this case, Perc Westmore, ever created. Bergman’s eyebrows were also darker than in most of her other roles, and if scrutinied closely, a continuity issue exits from scene to scene. (Westmore touched up Bette Davis in Elizabeth and Essex, created the makeup for Quasimodo portrayed by Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Robson’s own look as Queen Elizabeth I in The Sea Hawk.) Angelique, a creation of Ferber’s and screenwriter’s Casey Petersen’s design, was ultimately an exotic persona crafted by the talents of Flora Robson, who evinced a complicated soul of a former slave, and mother of a son who was afflicted with dwarfism, but was nonetheless beloved.

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“Tell them there is someone on Rampart Street  now who is not afraid of them. Clio Dulaine, that’s me! I’m as good as they are.”

Jerry Austin, who plays Angelque’s son, Cupidon, was born in Russia, and had an uncredited part in Todd Browning’s Freaks, but his part in Saratoga Trunk was probably his most famous role.

Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Jerry Austin, and Flora Robson in Saratoga Trunk Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Jerry Austin, and Flora Robson in Saratoga Trunk.

Cupidon’s friendship with and admiration of Clint Maroon makes him endearing, and this film fascinated me because of his energetic performance and his ability to tweak the heart strings of viewers. His injuries in the film make it the peak of emotional turmoil as his death seems imminent. But there is a happy ending, and Austin is an integral part of the drama, which is unusual for character actors of his stature at the time. As one of the “little people” of classic cinema, Austin packs a powerful emotinal punch, and his moments on screen will charm you.

So for all it’s political correctness of its times, it is most probably incorrect for ours, but the unusual characters and the animal magnetism of Gary Cooper as a Texas gambler make this film one of Cooper’s most memorable because of the unique group of stock characters who defy the usual roles.

Lena Horne was seriously considered for the part of Clio Dulaine, but was ultimately unavailable as her studio would not lend her out for this part. I have no doubt she would have made Clio Dulaine as memorable a role as Ingrid Bergman did.

The 1941 novel, Saratoga Trunk, by Edna Ferber, is highly praised by Pablito Tortuguita on Amazon, and since it’s been decades since I’ve read it, I though I would share an in-depth review:

‘Saratoga Trunk’ tells a love story while evoking all the richness of three eras–Paris and New Orleans of the 1850s-1870s, the Gilded Age (or the Robber Baron period), and the early 20th century. It’s the story of Clio Dulaine and Clint Maroon, who begin an unconventional relationship in an unforgettable scene bursting with detail.

That detail–immediate and sensory as well as historical and nuanced–makes the novel as effective as the best period romances, because it supports the excellent characterization to create a believable story from improbable characters , they travel to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York and meet the movers and shakers of the Gilded Age.

Masterful prose–sparely elegant at times and incomparably lush at others–combined with sharply-drawn detail and fully rounded characters leads to a truly pleasurable experience. I completely recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a writer from the Golden Age of 20th-century American literature at the top of her form. Even So Big, for which the same author won a Pulitzer in 1924, is merely the equal of this novel.

And the film, produced in 1943 and screened for servicemen overseas, was not officially released until 1945 because the glut of WWII films had overwhelmed the cinematic marketplaces. Currently, however, the cllimate for this film may be tenuous at best because of its subject matter and how it was developed in the 1940s.
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Ingrid Bergman, ever the actress seeking diverse roles to expand her repertoire and advance her career, played Clio Dulaine, an illegitimate half-black daughter of a Southern aristrocrat, and Flora Robson played Angelique, a mulatto servant, in blackface with eyebrows that would rival Margaret Hamilton’s in The Wizard of Oz. But for her valiant and effective efforts, Robson received the only Oscar nomination bestowed upon this film. The pairing of Bergman and Cooper, whose last pairing ran the Oscar nominations up to 9 in For Whom The Bell Tolls, repeated the same sort of electric chemistry that was, evidently, warmed over from their off-screen liasions.”

According to the TCM article on its website, ” In her autobiography co-authored with Alan Burgess, Ingrid Bergman: My Story, Bergman recalled being amazed at how close Cooper’s acting persona was to his real personality, though on-screen his true star potential was revealed. ‘The personality of this man was so enormous, so overpowering-and that expression in his eyes and his face, it was so delicate and so underplayed. You didn’t notice it until you saw it on the screen. I thought he was marvelous: the most underplaying and most natural actor I ever worked with.” And according to one comment Cooper made somewhere in my recollection, but as yet unverified for this article, after Cooper finished a film with Ingrid, he couldn’t get her on the phone. She just wouldn’t talk to him if they weren’t working together.

Considering the number Cooper did on Patricia Neal’s sanity, and the costumer Irene*, who committed suicide a year and a half after Cooper had died, that was a pretty savvy Swedish move.

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I can still remember the sighs my mother made when I saw this film for the first time as an unsure, wobbly teenager. The camera takes a long, slow, languid persual of Gary Cooper as Clint Maroon from tip of his boots to the top of his white hat. And women of a certain age and perusasion in the 40s, right up until now, still swoon. All the major female characters in the film are in awe of his stature and handsome features, and Bergman’s manic-depressive Clio was obviously bewitched by the Maroon/Cooper electricity. Don’t believe me? Check it out. If you don’t swoon, you just ain’t human. Watch the initial meeting between Clio and Clint, and when Clint says to Clio,”Trying to teach me the English language? I’ll learn anything you say” and if your blood pressure doesn’t change, switch the channel or move on to the next entry in your DVR queue. How much of this is acting? How much of this is acting?

Even perennial battle-axe Florence Bates as Mrs. Bellhop charms us as she is affected by his charmisma as well. “And those hips!”:

The lush costumes, period jewelry and millinery designs are credited to Leah Rhodes, and are fraught with detailed notions, lace, and ribbons. One of Bergman’s ensembles also includes one of the cutest pleated aprons I’ve ever seen on the screen.

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The sexually-charged, dramatic chemistry between Bergman and Cooper was part of the impetus for their second collaboration considering the fireworks they generated on For Whom the Bell Tolls, and you can’t take your eyes off of them while they adore each other in either film.

The “New Yawk” liberals and the politically correct may fry me in a hot vat of peanut oil because I still enjoy this film and these characters. I just hope they make sure I’m crisp.

*According to the IMDb entry for classic-era costume designer Irene, “Doris Day wrote in her 1975 autobiography that she got to know Irene quite well. One night after Irene had a few drinks, Irene told Day that the “love of her life” was Gary Cooper. On several other occasions Irene spoke about the intensity of her love for Cooper, and Day got the feeling that Irene had never mentioned this to anyone before her. Day wrote that today she honestly could not tell if they actually had or were having an affair, or if it was a one-sided love. Irene took her own life about a year and a half after Cooper’s death from cancer.”

Saratoga Trunk was not shown during Gary Cooper’s Summer Under The Stars Celebration 2015 on August 30, but was screened during Ingrid Bergman’s on August 28.

This post was created for Kristen Lopez’s Summer Under The Stars Blogathon on Journeys in Classic Film: http://journeysinclassicfilm.com

Resources:

IMDb
Turner Classic Film Database
Ingrid Bergman, My Story

Buzzfeed ignored Flora Robson in this article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/arianelange/10-times-white-actors-played-people-of-color#.pvbEVBvXR

Scott Rollins Film and TV Trivia Blog: http://cscottrollins.blogspot.com/2015/03/flora-robson-queen-of-character-acting.html

Flora Robson, This Is Your Life, and her championing of Paul Robeson: http://www.bigredbook.info/flora_robson.html

Amazon.com reviews

Christy’s Inkwells: Florence Bates-“It’s A Grand Feeling” : https://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/florence-bates-its-a-grand-feeling/

TCMFF 2013…JANE WITHERS INTERVIEW…

The Vanity Fair party, 2013. The big hit of the evening? When Lulu sang “To Sir, With Love.”

In April of 2011, I was fortunate enough to meet Jane Withers, Anne Jeffreys and the late Ann Rutherford at the Vanity Fair party after the Gala screening of An American in Paris. Jane Withers and I chatted for quite awhile about our families and our rings, and how much fun we were having.


In April of 2013, I found myself having an extended visit with the gal who started out taunting Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes, and had a featured role in the George Stevens epic Giant. Jane Withers’ faith in God and humanity has seen her survive Hollywood, a severe bout with rheumatoid arthritis which led to her featured role as Vashti Snythe in the screen version of the popular Edna Ferber novel, and allowed her good health to attend the Vanity Fair party after the Gala Premiere screening of Funny Girl on Thursday, April 25.

During her introduction of Giant at the Turner Classic Film Festival 2013, Withers discussed with TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz how she would wash James Dean’s favorite pink shirt because when he would send out his laundry, his shirts would “disappear.” So she volunteered to wash his favorite pink shirt every night, and the last evening before he left on hiatus, he stopped by to leave her the shirt, but he never returned to retrieve it because of the fatal accident, and Withers stated she has kept it ever since, as well as her lovely memories of the young man she befriended in Marfa, Texas, in 1955.

Evidently while Jane lived in Marfa, she had a house, and would have parties almost every night with food, cards, Monopoly, and bridge, and “almost everybody” from the crew would come and enjoy the evening. She said that Rock Hudson came most of the time, but Elizabeth Taylor only came once because she liked to go to a country club about sixty miles away. The only night she did drop by, she said how much fun it was, and why didn’t she come by more often. But Withers did seen to form a bond with James Dean. One night after almost everyone else had left, she went into her bedroom, and he was lying down with his hat over his head. “Is that you, Jimmy?” Withers asked. She wanted to know why he hadn’t come through the front door, and he said he didn’t want to see all those other people, that he came just to see her. Well, Withers claimed she always carried a tool kit with her, and took her hammer, and nailed the window shut while Dean was watching so that the next time he came, he had to come through the front door.

When Withers left California for Marfa, Texas, she knew that she might be gone for over a year, so she brought lots of books to read, as well as her tool kit, and Dean would come over and read books from her makeshift “lending library,” and they would read aloud to each other, many times it would be plays. One night she was reading The Bible and quoted Matthew 21:22 to him, and told him that she tried to live by that verse: And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. She repeated this verse to me during our conversation, and said that it was one of her favorites.

Long before Withers ever signed a contract for Giant, she suffered a debilitating case of rheumatoid arthritis, and had to be hospitalized for a lengthy stay. While she was cared for at the hospital, she became friends with a young orderly, and he invited her to his graduation. Once Withers was well enough, she was able to attend his graduation ceremony, and after the ceremony, a man tapped her on the back, and as she turned around, director George Stevens introduced himself, and said that he had wanted to talk to her about a part in his next movie, Giant. The next week, Stevens called, but Jane was busy fixing lunches for her children to take to school, and said, something like, “right, you are George Stevens. Well, I have to finish fixing these lunches. I can’t talk right now.” Later the next day, Stevens’ secretary called and told her that Stevens wanted to take her to lunch to discuss with her a part he had in mind for her. It turned out to be Vashti Snythe, the quintessential no-holds-barred Texas gal from Giant. And she again stated how she knew God had a hand in it.

Withers, supportive of the effort of Turner Classic Movies to continue to broadcast films and original programming without commercial interruption, exclaimed that “I am so thrilled that these people at TCM continue to air classic films, and I want you to tell everybody how grateful I am to them for what they have done and accomplished. They are all so wonderful, and they have been so good to me.” (Her eyes were tearing up when she said this.)


Friend and actress Anne Jeffreys stops by to say goodnight to Jane Withers before she leaves and gives her a peck on the cheek…

Miss Withers was also elated about the reissue of several of her films from the 1930s and 1940s. Her starring role opposite Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (1934)was secured after Director David Butler had auditioned thirty young girls, but when he heard Jane Withers imitation of a machine gun, he chose Withers to play nasty Joy Smythe.

Withers had a hand in the discovery of another Hollywood heartthrob, a young lady by the name of Rita Cansino. While Withers was on one set filming Paddy O’Day, she went to another adjacent set and saw a young dancer who fascinated her, and she talked about how wonderful the dancer had been that she had seen on another set. Withers was impressed, and told her director and others how this young lady had “it” and she needed to have her own films because she was going to be a star. So at eight years of age, she recognized the luminous qualities and talents that helped Rita Hayworth become a world-wide film queen, and remained ever in awe of that talent she discovered, finally delivering the eulogy at Hayworth’s funeral in 1987.

As one of several high-profile Presbyterians, Jane (and she asked me to call her Jane!) was also happy to remember how every Wednesday evening, fellow Hollywood Presbyterians would come over for a prayer meeting. Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, June Haver and Fred MacMurray, and several others often arrived on a Wednesday, and Jane said that Jimmy Stewart, whose father was also Presbyterian, would usually say the prayer. Jane stated several times during the course of our hour-long conversation that her faith has sustained her in times of deep trouble, and she felt that all the opportunities she had and all the “luck” that came her way existed because of her religious faith.

Spending time with Jane Withers is energizing and exciting, and I only hope I have that much energy when I am 87! She reveals that she and her friends, like Ann Blyth, get together at least once a month to go to lunch. Our delightful conversation culminated in a discussion of one of our favorite topics, jewelry!

Jane’s last role was as the voice of the gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she had to take over the role following actress Mary Wickes’ death in 1996, imitating her voice exactly. (Producers claimed that during the editing, they couldn’t tell when Wickes’ voice ended and Withers’ voice began. Withers reprised the role in 2002 for the sequel.

For more information about her recently released films, follow this link: http://www.reellifewithjane.com/2013/05/20th-century-fox-releases-seven-classic-films-starring-jane-withers/

For another in-depth interview with Jane Withers, follow this link: http://www.reellifewithjane.com/2013/05/exclusive-interview-jane-withers-child-star-who-discovered-rita-hayworth/

Jane Withers and Anne Jeffreys at the TCMFF 2013 Vanity Fair party, bidding each other adieu as Anne had to leave a little earlier than Jane.

Jeffrey’s last role was as Susanna in 2012’s Sins Expiation, and she and Jane have known each other for quite a while. Jeffreys, Amanda Croft on Falconcrest, Marion Kerby in the Topper series, Irene Buchannon on Baywatch, and the Duchess of York in 2008’s Richard III, has also had a busy and varied career.