The Golden Age of Hollywood was also the golden age of film scores. While in the silent era, a lone pianist or a quartet may be at hand to lend incidental music to punctuate certain moods (dark! sad! suspenseful! romantic!), the talkies ushered in “optical sound”. It was reliable and mimicked the experience of real theatre – where sound was physically recorded onto the filmstrip as a waveform.
TCM and Bonhams had a very interesting auction this past Tuesday. I went to the Bonhams auction house on Sunset Boulevard to check it out. There was a lot of really cool science-fiction and fantasy items as well as classic Hollywood memorabilia. The Forbidden Planet was heavily featured. There were a lot of set pieces and costumes from that iconic movie.
One of the things that interested me was the replica prop of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The card said that it came from the Forrest J Ackerman estate. Just speculation on my part, but I think a lot of the items may have originated from Uncle Forry’s Ackermansion, especially the lobby cards and posters.
The centerpiece of course was the life-sized Darth Vader costume. Unfortunately it was withdrawn on the very last day as part of an agreement between the owner and the upcoming Lucas Museum. Hopefully that means it’ll be on display for Star Wars fans some day!
I really wanted to see a door knocker from MGM Studios in the shape of the MGM lion, but alas, that too was withdrawn. The owner probably had second thoughts about selling it. I would too – what a great part of movie history!
Check out the catalog!
It began on Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn was new to film and Edith Head was the de facto queen of costumes. She was not, as some would mistakingly call her, a fashion designer; Edith Head was a costumer. She made wardrobes that looked right on the big screen – that were framed right, shot right, lit right.
Head’s dissatisfaction with Audrey Hepburn’s physique was immediate. She thought the starlet too gangly. That her shoulders were too narrow, neck too long, arms frail, legs knock-kneed, waist obscenely slim, teeth too big. She believed in the post-WWII return to sensual allure. It was the hourglass figure, ample bosoms, and provocative skin of Dior’s New Look that Head honed onscreen. Grace Kelly was Head’s idea of the nonpareil. In the costumes of Roman Holiday, all these “imperfections” were covered by jewels, scarves, and long skirts. Her costumes weren’t meant to be fashionable or trendy, they were meant to be timeless – timeless in an unremarkably un-couture way.
On Sabrina, director Billy Wilder decided that Sabrina Fairchild needed a true Parisian designer if her transformation was to seem realistic.
There was much to celebrate at the TCM Classic Film Festival this year, and of utmost was its spectacular 10th anniversary. For the first time, the festival sold out of all its passes and filled even the biggest of theaters to maximum capacity.
Despite having done an impression of James Cagney my entire life, I had never seen a single film of the famous gangster. Yankee Doodle Dandy may have been playing behind my back on TV at some point, but never did I ever sit down and watch an entire Cagney film the entire way through.
Boy, was that a mistake.
Cagney’s performances are something to behold. Not only did he epitomize the classic Hollywood gangster, but he managed to wriggle out of that archetype and dominate the old-fashioned song-and-dance hoofer too. His acting style was uniquely his own. A combination of energy and theatrical “back-of-the-room” projecting, but never ham-fisted or exaggerated. You couldn’t say that about any other actor. If they were theatrical, they were over-acting, and it showed. Cagney’s voice, his cadence, that devilish snarl, that wink of the eye as he dared to dazzle you – that was the great weapon of his acting methods.
For the 2nd Marathon Stars Blogathon, I split my viewings of five essential Jimmy Cagney pictures into those two faces of his performances: the gangster and the hoofer.
Virginie Provonost from The Wonderful World of Cinema nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award, which – holy cow! – I sure wasn’t expecting. I had the good fortune to contribute to her 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon back in November, where I wrote about the history of the Hermès Kelly Bag, so I have to thank Virginie again for being a great host and nice person.
The rules of the award are pretty fun, and a charming way to give shout-outs to some blogs that I’ve enjoyed keeping up:
Since I’ve joined this community a few months back, I’ve discovered so many blogs with interests similar to mine. So many of these writers have already been nominated, so I’ll try to keep this brief. In no particular order, here are some folks with great tastes!
- Champagne for Lunch
- Pale Writer
- Film Perspective
- Cinema Catharsis
- Typewriter Review
- The Blonde at the Film
- In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
- Grand Old Movies
And if anyone’s much interested in my trivia, here are seven random facts:
- I’ve never been to Paris, but I harbor dreams of living at Shakespeare & Company.
- Like George Constanza, I can tell you the best public restroom in any major neighborhood in Manhattan and Los Angeles.
- My favorite weekends are spent at estate sales and flea markets.
- All throughout college, I went to Disneyland every Sunday.
- One night in Elgin, Illinois, I witnessed a UFO hovering in the sky 👽
- I have a passion for aviation and I’d like to learn to fly some day.
- If I could time-travel back to one historical event, it’d be either the 1889 Exposition Universelle or the 1966 New York World’s Fair.
I hope everyone’s having a good New Year so far. Any resolutions? I’ve been hibernating from the winter this past December and now that I’ve a little down-time in real life, the regularity of my posts will resume. Lots of old movies to talk about. G’day all!
Now an expensive status symbol, such was the popularity of Grace Kelly in the 1950s that the luxurious Hermès bag she carried with her everywhere became rechristened with her name, ensuring the late Hollywood actress-turned-princess a lasting legacy in the fashion world. It would make Grace Kelly, an actress of only seven professional years, a cultural icon.
The Sac à dépêches bag, as it was then known, was created in 1935, eleven years after the invention of the first leather handbag. Its earlier incarnations included high handles and smaller designs than most handbags of the day. It wasn’t until Émile-Maurice Hermès’s son-in-law Robert Dumas redesigned the bag that it became the Sac à dépêches we know today. With a little more glamor, a memorable trapezium shape, and studs on the bottom allowing the bag to stand, the Sac à dépêches was born.
Its uniqueness laid in its craftsmanship. Each bag is hand-designed, quite literally, by a single artisan, requiring a total of 18 to 25 hours of over 2,500 hand-stitches. For that reason, the Kelly bag holds its high retail price.
It was Alfred Hitchcock who introduced Grace Kelly to the Hermès bag. In the ’50s, she became his new muse – and he sought to use Kelly to bring elegance into his thrillers. With enough guidance from Edith Head, the Sac à dépêches bag became Kelly’s weapon of choice in To Catch a Thief, the picture that made Kelly fall in love with Europe. Her choice of preference was crocodile skin, either brown or navy blue, the two most popular colors to this day.
It was the birth of paparazzi. Elio Sorci was photographing Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Years later, Marlon Brando would punch Ron Galella in the jaw. Grace Kelly was no exception to high-profile scrutiny. Her engagement to Prince Rainier III was the talk of the town. She would be the first American princess – famous in her own right. She used her handbag to shield her pregnant belly from the paparazzi. In 1956, Life magazine featured such a photograph of her bag, and so iconic was that image that the public began referring to it as the “Kelly” bag.
And the name stuck.
Phil Hartman was one of my favorite comedians. Funny, satirical, and a great impressionist. He was best known for his Bill Clinton impression, but I always loved his brief stint as Reagan.
In this SNL cold open, President Reagan – political knowledge limited by old Hollywood films – name-drops John Wayne, Tyrone Power, and even Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still in an attempt to impress Gorbachev. For classic movie fans like me, it’s always fun to think back to Reagan’s Hollywood years. King’s Row, Bedtime for Bonzo, the General Electric Theater – as a Disney fan, I even remember Reagan co-hosting the opening day of Disneyland in 1955.
This week I wrapped up my reviews on five Old Hollywood books. Because I’m a creature of comfort (and I wanted to read up on subjects I knew I already loved) my books ranged from Chaplin to Hepburn, Welles to Fitzgerald. Familiar ground, but solid too.
- “My Lunches with Orson” Book Review – by Peter Biskind
- “The Love of the Last Tycoon” Book Review – by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- “My Autobiography” Book Review – by Charlie Chaplin
- “Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.” Book Review – by Sam Wasson
- “Footlights” Book Review – by Charlie Chaplin
- “The Pat Hobby Stories” Book Review – by F. Scott Fitzgerald
While we’re on the subject of Orson Welles, as I read through the conversations between the director and Henry Jaglom, I remembered watching a late-70s talk show pilot he filmed during that era and the interview he did with Jim Henson and Frank Oz. I asked director Frank Oz via Twitter about working with Welles on that pilot and The Muppet Movie. To my great pleasure, Mr. Oz shared a nice remembrance of the maestro.
It would be easy to dismiss The Pat Hobby Stories as mere fodder for magazines – cheap laughs to sell issues. Even Fitzgerald himself might’ve dismissed them as such. They were loose, quick, and always ended in a punchline. The author might have even considered himself a punchline at that point in his life. But despite everything, The Pat Hobby Stories might have concluded the fizzle of life in F. Scott Fitzgerald more accurately than any of his other writings.