THE OPPOSITE SEX: Are You Going To Sydney’s?

img_6134Are You Going to Sydney’s?

In 1956’s The Opposite Sex, Sydney’s is the spa salon standing in for New York’s Elizabeth Arden, when miracles occur and ladies transform themselves into carbon copies of the latest style icons….

 

Olga, played by Bewitched’s Alice Pearce, is the nail filer who dips her brush into a vat of poisoned Jungle Red. She sets off the sexy series of events with her gossipy updates for nosy clients whose sideline is undermining the status quo of the sanctioned social set.

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Clients come to Sydney’s be coiffed, patted, massaged and dried in the upscale haven for hellions on heels. Like everyone’s favorite Maleficent,* Sylvia is ready to spread dirt like a dragster at a tractor pull and  doesn’t disappoint. Stepping out of Roz Russell’s role in the original The Women, Dolores Gray rebirths the part as the Marvel Comics version of the evil twin, more stylish and more venomous than originally conceived. Hiding behind slick crepe de chine, chilly chiffon, and Belgian Lace helps the naughty keep the haughty.

IMG_0597Ann Miller, in a role where she doesn’t dance or sing, manages to enthrall us anyway with her snappy dialogue delivery and her winsome, well-dressed ways. Agnes Moorehead connects with her love of lavender and lilac in her Helen Rose creations and doesn’t see such colorful ensembles again until she greets Samantha as Endora.

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Agnes Moorehead gown…

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The singing, dancing June Allyson elicits our pity as Kay, and Leslie Nielsen plays it straight as her wandering Broadway-producer husband long before his comedic successes in Airplane and The Naked Gun films. Joan Collins creates her first cold-hearted, sexy vamp, which she revealed to Robert Osborne became the precursor to her Alexis iteration in Dynasty during her introduction to The Opposite Sex on TCM.

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Don’t miss that “Yellow Gold” number!

Three New York ladies hop the train to Reno, Nevada, one of the few places in the 1950’s where a six-week divorce can be granted for those women who need to move on with their lives, their wardrobes and their new sparklers. Charlotte Greenwood makes her final screen appearance in The Opposite Sex as the owner of the guest ranch where divorcees go to stow away for the waiting period. It ain’t easy keepin’ them gals from derailing their locomotives, leaving behind a memento, or keeping their gloves off of a handsome, singing ranch hand, like Buck Winston, played by former baseballer Jeff Richards.

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Ooh. Jeff Richards!

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Ooh! Look! A Bananyanaire!

 

Screenwriter Fay Kanin, who scripted such films as Rhapsody (1954) and Teacher’s Pet (1958), also crafted award-winning television movies like Heartsounds (1979) , Friendly Fire (1979) and Hustling (1975) to her credit. Kanin, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1979-1983, reportedly didn’t much care for the final film of The Opposite Sex, but made an appropriate update of Clare Booth Luce’s play for the attitudes of 1950’s. An activist for film preservation and a leader of the cinema community, her legacy as a woman of conviction and an arbiter of good taste lives on.

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Comparing this film with 1939’s The Women is an easy exercise in sharpening a reviewer’s more critical sense, but enjoying the musical romps, the flouncy Helen Rose creations, and the landscapes of Leslie Nielsen and Jeff Richards allows viewers to accept The Opposite Sex on its own terms, the only way to unabashedly relish this film. Stylish back-biting, shiny, red nails, and the underbelly of the upper crust always contrasts well with mermaid gowns, cowboys, and well-dressed redemption.

 

It’s a party!

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See you at the poolside screening of The Opposite Sex on Friday night 8 p.m. on April 11. Illeana Douglas and Dennis Miller are scheduled to introduce the film.

“The smog will be so refreshing!”

*SLEEPING BEAUTY  (1959) is screening at the #TCMFF2019 at noon on Friday in the Egyptian, too!

Learn more about The Opposite Sex (1956) and That Darn Smack from Christy’s Inkwells here.

More about the fabulous Fay Kanin here.

The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York compares and contrasts the 1939 and 1956 films, the designers and the stars here. 

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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.

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 that Kanin wasn’t particularly proud of. 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 particulary jovial around June Allyson, especially on the set of The Opposite Sex. It seems Blondell and Allyson did not socialize on the set much 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. Ellen, however, supposedly approached Allyson to help her mother secure a role in Allyson’s latest film as Blondell hadn’t worked onscreen in several years. In the film, the two Powell lovers appear to have tabled their acrimony for the sake of their careers and the film.  Allyson, whose personal issues led to fighting her own mother for custody of her children after Powell’s death, created some obvious parenting issues that Allyson continued to deal with which may or may not have been due to her admitted alcoholism.

Designer Helen Rose’s creations en masse as the ladies await lighting and camera setups for the final party scene….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…

Blondell’s and Allyson’s only scene together 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 might have been staged, but contract commitments still had to be honored no matter what an actor or actress may felt about a fellow player.


Dolores Gray, Alice Pearce (eventually Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched), 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…”Mayummmmm………….”

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!

Joan Collins introduced this guilty pleasure of mine, The Opposite Sex, on the Turner Classic Movie Channel with late host Robert Osborne in October of 2015. Collins verified what I’ve thought all along—-her character of Alexis on Dynasty grew from the heart of her performance as Crystal Allen. Robert Osborne and Joan  look lovely, don’t they?

Shirley Jones 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.

©2018