Monday, August 3, 2015

The Second Mustache Ode : MORE Movie Pencil Thins

I believe my original Ode to A Pencil Thin Mustache post is still my most popular post. I love that so many movie mavens get my sense of humor and share my love of pencil thin lip fuzz. And so in the furtherance of movie mustache love, here is my second Pencil Thin post created after I realized that I was, WAY overdue in the Pencil Thin Stakes. And also because I was chastised by a reader for leaving Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. off the original list.

Speaking of which:

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is looking particularly elegant and fetching in this gorgeous photo by George Hurrell. Son of a silent film giant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. never did quite rise to the stardom level of his iconic dad, but did quite good enough career-wise. (He was also a highly decorated Naval officer.) I loved him best in SINBAD THE SAILOR with Maureen O'Hara.

Fairbanks remains one of the most elegantly groomed and tailored stars of that era (in fact, of any era). He is also one of the very few actors whom I could have seen playing in The Thin Man movies had William Powell not been available.

In my view, John Hodiak, an actor who died too young (at just 41) was one of those leading men called into action when a slight oddity in the lead or secondary role was needed. He somehow managed to radiate strength and weakness in equal amounts - not that easy to do. And he usually looked as if he were hibernating some godawful truth. There's just something about his face that tells you this is not a man to turn to for cozy warmth. Without the 'stache his face just looked all at sea and kind of awkward. Opposite Judy Garland in THE HARVEY GIRLS, he intimidated almost without meaning to and yet somehow made it work. Though in truth he looked better alongside statuesque Angela Lansbury who played the tough saloon girl he dumps for diminutive Judy.

Tyrone Power, always an underrated actor, never looked quite right minus his mustache - he was too beautiful, too vulnerable and fragile looking. Here he is in THE MARK OF ZORRO (in which he is both insouciant and dangerous), playing both the foppish dilettante and the athletic righter of wrongs in old California. Power also wore a mustache when going the swash and buckle route, which he did in several films. But Power was not physically imposing where one would expect a pirate to be - think Erroll Flynn. Actually neither was John Payne (who also played at pirates), but that's a story for another day. Power died young at the age of 44 of a heart attack while filming SOLOMON AND SHEBA in Spain.

Well, we all loved the very elegant Clifton Webb as the eccentric and mean-spirited Waldo Lydecker in LAURA, but he played a variety of roles in his long and varied acting life, usually with mustache in place. Webb had one of those larger-than-life personas that tended to take over the screen even in a group scene and don't think he didn't know it. I loved him best as the doomed, aging writer in THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN alongside Dorothy McGuire - both actors make the most of a lackluster script and manage to steal the film away from their younger and very bland co-stars. I also loved Webb in the film about marching king, John Phillip Sousa, which I kind of remember seeing in the theater. I'm a big fan of marching music.

The oh-so-wonderful Erik Rhodes (no, not the porn star - be warned if you google the name) was a tremendously funny actor who practically stole any movie he was ever in for more than ten minutes. He managed to hold his own opposite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in THE GAY DIVORCEE and TOP HAT, in one as a paid divorce co-respondent (dues paying member of the co-respondent union) and in the other a fashion designer who refers to himself in the third person. Two hilarious performances which must be seen to be believed - Rhodes' onscreen persona was that of a foreign fellow slightly at sea, language-wise and the mustache was part of his slightly sleazy on-screen charm - so hard to imagine him without it.

Academy Award winning actor, Melvyn Douglaswas the best first and second banana leading man in the business. A very enjoyable screen presence, he had the kind of face that simply begged for a mustache so he was rarely seen without it - at least that I can remember. He always entertained with his performances but most of the time I got the impression that he'd stopped off at the studio for a few scenes on his way to somewhere else. In fact, I read that he resented the lightweight roles he was offered in the early part of his career. (Though he tended to be awfully charming in those roles.)

 In my view, the older Douglas got, the better his acting. Most especially memorable were his Oscar winning supporting roles in HUD (1963), playing Paul Newman's father and later in BEING THERE (1979) with Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine for which he won his second Oscar.

In my biased view, John Russell was one of the handsomest men in the history of movies; his hard, chiseled good looks defied categorization. He also had a rich, deep speaking voice - swoon. Russell never became a Movie Star in the sense that some of his contemporaries did though during the early days of television he starred in the Warner Bros. show LAWMAN, as a wooden faced marshal who kept the peace in his town with the help of youthful Peter Brown as his deputy. In films Russell mostly played bad guys and to my eye, always seemed out of place in modern day clothing.

As a teenager I fell madly in love with John Russell when he played the Hunkpapa Sioux Indian chief, Gall (sans mustache, naturally) in YELLOWSTONE KELLY, a western starring Clint Walker who was not a bad looker himself. The problem with Russell was that he had limited acting scope but oh, who cared, he was so broodingly good looking. One of those rare few who didn't need the mustache to carry the day, though it did add a certain warmth to his often cold film persona.

Robert Taylor was a huge star when being a huge star meant something. In the beginning he was almost as good looking as Tyrone Power (evidence: see CAMILLE where Taylor played opposite Great Garbo and it was hard to tell who was the better looking), but his looks seemed to be cast in a slightly more rugged vein than Power. Though his acting chops were not of top caliber form, he often managed to overcome a tendency to emulate wood. Under questioning during the outrageous (and unfair) McCarthy Hearings (meant to roust Communists from the Hollywood movie community, but all it did was ruin lives and careers) Taylor apparently named some actors he said he 'thought' were communists because of their behavior during SAG meetings. He didn't age well and died relatively young, at the age of 57, from lung cancer.

Robert Preston didn't always wear a mustache, but when he did I think he looked much more dashing onscreen than when he didn't. Preston was most famous, I suppose, for playing the lead in THE MUSIC MAN on Broadway, for which he'd won a Tony (he also played the role in the film adaptation). I remember him most as Centauri, the endearing, other-worldly guide who helps turn a young, trailer-park teen into a warrior in THE LAST STARFIGHTER - a wonderful part which he played with obvious relish. I also loved him as the flamboyant gay impresario in VICTOR, VICTORIA.

Oh look at this sinister picture of Cesar Romero - Latin lover extraordinaire and gay icon. A charming man and competent actor who over the years squired a bevy of beauties to all important Hollywood events only to remain a 'confirmed bachelor' all his days. Of course he spent most of his life in the closet, self-protection in the days when being gay meant the death of a career. Romero aged wonderfully (amassing a gorgeous head of white hair) and always seemed to me to be a true gentleman delighted with life. I know he played The Joker in the Batman series on early television with Adam West, but I remember Romero best as the sulky gigolo groom in THE THIN MAN with William Powell and also as the elegant psychic in CHARLIE CHAN ON TREASURE ISLAND.

Mandrake the Magician back in the day when men slicked their hair and flexed their eyebrows in the most alarmingly fetching way. (Nobody does this anymore - have you noticed? Slicking and flexing are lost arts.)  This is such a gorgeous drawing that I had to include it on my list even if the movie version was live action starring Warren Hull WITHOUT a mustache - obviously a major tonsorial faux pas. I'm not sure who the artist of this particular drawing was, perhaps Phil Davis or Fred Fredericks.

First created in 1934 by Lee Walker (who also created The Phantom), Mandrake and his cohort, Prince Lothar, were an unlikely but very popular crime stopping duo, a strip which continues to the present day. In 1939 the characters' adventures were turned into a serial by Columbia Pictures. And later, an unsold television pilot filmed mostly in Bermuda starred real life magician Coe Norton WITH mustache and the always imposing Woody Strode (who later went on to a Hollywood career) as Prince Lothar.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: DROPPED NAMES (2012) Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them by Frank Langella

The actor Frank Langella (I always remember him from Mel Brooks' long lost classic, TWELVE CHAIRS though perhaps he's more well known for playing Nixon and Dracula - not at the same time) turns out to be a pretty terrific writer of memoirs - if DROPPED NAMES is anything to go by. Reveling in his own star-studded history and memorable encounters with the very talented and the very celebrated and occasionally with those of near mythic status, Langella coyly reveals almost all and leaves us wanting just that little bit more. Not only is the book full of engaging encounters between Langella and a whole host of entertainment lovelies, but the book is well designed - each person profiled in his or her own essay, the sort of thing that makes reading this sort of thing easy and fun and perfect for the beach.

 I think Langella understands what readers of this type of book are looking for. It's not rocket science.

And yet, there's nothing to sneer at in such a perceptive, well-written and occasionally wicked memoir of past times and beautiful people who captured our imaginations, our admiration and from time to time broke our hearts. Langella shares his opinion of a whole slew of stars and celebrities he interacted with and observed over the many years of his career. He doesn't spare us his dislike of Rex Harrison (whose unpleasant reputation was no secret) and Charleston Heston and Yul Brynner's egos also come in for a bashing. Still you don't get the feeling that Langella is out merely to bash, he is not especially mean-spirited or over the top in his observations.

But some rancor is to be expected in books of this sort. Not everyone can love everybody - not everybody is worth loving - and if they did, it wouldn't make for an especially entertaining book. Langella is most kind to the women who flitted in and out of his orbit - as is to be expected of a gentleman.

Overall I get the impression that Frank Langella is comfortable enough in his own skin and basically satisfied with his long-lived career. Plus the older he gets, the more attractive he gets. Nothing wrong with that.

"Langella's book celebrated sluttiness as a worthy - even noble - way of life. There was so much happy sexuality in this book that reading it was like being flirted with for a whole party by the hottest person in the room. It was no wonder Langella was invited everywhere." Ada Calhoun in the New York Times.

I don't know about the sluttiness aspect, but certainly the reader knows almost right off the bat that Langella is having a ball. And yeah, he was usually the hottest guy in the room. I don't mind that ego plays a part in this as it must do in any memoir of this sort. Don't read a memoir (especially from an actor) if you don't want to confront a huge ego. But ego with charm is often a delight, especially if you get the sense that the guy speaking is maybe not such a bad guy and best of all, he is someone with whom the reader wouldn't mind spending time with.

Though on screen Langella often gives the appearance of a deep, dark intensity (the man played Dracula after all), this is not apparent in his writing and isn't missed at all. He very wittily describes (and maybe embellishes) moments with Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Jackie Kennedy, and others of the glamorous set to whom he was introduced or worked alongside as he established his stage and film career. Not bad for a star struck Italian boy from New Jersey.

It's funny how happenstance and luck can play such an important part in someone's life and career. It was through an early friendship with Bunny Mellon's daughter, while both were at the Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts, that Langella was introduced to the grandiose, outsize life of society and celebrity. From then on there was no stopping him.

Two favorite chapters:

The one on the wonderful Billie Burke who seems to have been a total delight - remember her as the Good Witch in THE WIZARD OF OZ and also as Topper's slightly ditzy wife? In fact, she played slightly ditzy almost always and almost always won our hearts. Langella clearly adored her.

And the one on gifted Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia who was most famous, I suppose, for playing Gomez in the THE ADDAMS FAMILY film, though he was a brilliant stage actor as well. There is an element of homo-eroticism in Langella's dealings with Julia (Langella eagerly admits he was 'in love with Raul Julia', but gives the impression that their relationship didn't go beyond the 'bromance' stage). Who knows? At the time Julia was married and a father and had the Latin man's fear of being thought less than a manly man. Langella tantalizes and leaves us wondering.

I recommend DROPPED NAMES if you are the sort of reader who likes their Hollywood/Celebrity memoirs clever, inviting, well-written and chock full of charm.


Since it's Friday, we would normally check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today. But since Patti's away, the links this week will be corralled at Evan Lewis' blog, here

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Forgotten Film: SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) starring Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde.

Thanks to Vienna whose comment and movie expertise comes at the perfect time, I've learned that SO LONG AT THE FAIR, one of my all time favorite movies, is currently running on youtube. And in the interest of spreading joy wherever, wherever I can, I've embedded the link and you can watch the movie here or at youtube. But you know how this goes, you have to move quickly before the movie is stricken from the site and disappears again.

SO LONG AT THE FAIR stars a very young and very beautiful Jean Simmons and an equally young and beautiful Dirk Bogarde. I first saw this on television once upon a time in my youth and knew instantly, even as a kid, that this was a very special movie. I watched it as often as it was on.

Then to my horror, the film simply disappeared from view for many MANY years. I'd even begun to think it was lost forever.

And now, thanks to Vienna, to find that it's available after all, well, m'dears, I am staggered with delight. But I'm not waiting for next Tuesday's Forgotten Film, etc. meme to recommend it, oh no, it might be gone by then and then where would we be?

So here it is for your enjoyment and don't say I never gave you anything:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: DANGEROUS CROSSING (1953) starring Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie

Stumbled across this film on youtube the other day and when I saw the magic name of English actor Michael Rennie, that's all it took. I am a HUGE fan of actor Michael Rennie's cheekbones. I mean, if you remember THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Rennie usually looked as if he had, indeed, come from another world. He was so soothingly charismatic and never quite seemed to mesh within any given cast of any given movie (well, except for the above named one ), and as the future Saint Peter in THE ROBE he was - unintentionally, I'm sure -  super sexy, putting lead actor Richard Burton in the shade. Rennie always stood out in the crowd. As an actor he was quietly unique, elegant, and exceptionally sexy and my dears, those cheekbones. I mean, swoon. Rennie was also, one of my mother's favorite actors, so there's that in his favor as well.

Jeanne Crain and the dangerously suave Michael Rennie

Between you and me, besides the fact that DANGEROUS CROSSING takes place on board a luxury ocean liner and Michael Rennie plays the sympathetic ship's doctor, there is NO other reason to see this movie. Unfortunately Jeanne Crain is spectacularly awful in the part of a young bride whose hubby disappears even before the luggage is unpacked in their stateroom. Her scenes of frantic hysteria border on the laughable, the kiss of death in a supposed thriller. Ms. Crain (ordinarily a decent actress) is so over-the-top that you really do not blame the captain of the ship for wanting to lock her up.

But in a perverse kind of way, it's sort of fun to watch Crain emote, especially alongside the always calm, cool, and collected Michael Rennie.

Willis Bouchey as the harried ship's captain, a man with zero tolerance for loony ladies.

Are you very sure you're married?

DANGEROUS CROSSING is a 1953 film directed by Joseph M. Newman with a screenplay by Leo Townsend based on a radio play by the American mystery writing great, John Dickson Carr. The film co-stars Carl Betz (who went on to play Donna Reed's hubby on the popular Donna Reed Show for years). In this film, Betz oozes with sleaze, cast as the boyish hubby (with a penchant for disappearing) on his honeymoon. (She should have pushed him off the gangplank.)

Carl Betz, so slimy as a young married.

Since this is a thriller of a certain sort, there are almost constant billows of fog, creepy passengers lurking - seemingly concerned with the heroine's flights of hysteria - there's even a passenger with a cane that tip-taps ominously as he walks the deck. Uh-oh.

 (Lots of red herrings crossing the Atlantic on this trip.) There also a very annoying fog horn which blows almost constantly through the night scenes. No wonder the bride is terrified. Jeez.

Searching for hubby in all the wrong places.

If you, like me, are a fan of Michael Rennie's cheekbones (or, for that matter, have a deep appreciation for the sound of foghorns), then you must watch this film, available (for now) on youtube. (See link below.)

Let me tie up your sandals, m'dear.

It is hard not to like a film which is overloaded with shadowy atmospherics and all the action takes place on board a luxury liner AND you get to watch the leading lady and Michael Rennie play shuffleboard and other shipboard games.

PLUS there's a Halloween night dance in which the heroine gets to make an emotional fuss.

DANGEROUS CROSSING's story-line has a slight resemblance to the British classic (at least, classic to me) SO LONG AT THE FAIR which starred the fabulous duo of Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. A marvelous film that I can't recommend highly enough and which, unfortunately, is not available to watch - anywhere. I live mostly on the memories.

John Dickson Carr's radio play, CABIN B-13 on which the screenplay is based, was apparently part of a series of stories in which the ship and the doctor were the only constants. You can learn more about the film, in terms of relevant details and more about the radio productions including a listening link, from Sergio's terrific post at his blog, TIPPING MY FEDORA. I've just realized he wrote about DANGEROUS CROSSING three years ago. 

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television or Other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Forgotten Books: Staircases and Murder - Perfect Together.

Can we all agree that vintage book covers were/are a visual treat (even the lurid ones)? Good. Dissenters cover your eyes.

This particular post is about staircases as instruments of evil. Why is it that staircases are features of choice on so many vintage mystery book covers? (Possibly because staircases feature so prominently in the actual books, Yvette. ) Asked and answered. I know I did a blog post about staircases prominent in movies once upon a time and I know I did one with book covers too, but damn if I can find it in my archives. (Maybe I accidentally deleted it?) So what the heck, let me do it again for the first time.

Staircase. Murder. The two just seem to go so nicely together. When you think of one, naturally you think of the other. Ergo:

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A note.

I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right.   

Sherlock Holmes - A STUDY IN SCARLET

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Salon: I Thought We'd Stay Inside Today

Contemporary French painter Do Fournier - via

Contemporary American painter Kim English - The Back Room

Danish painter Carl Budtz-Moller (1882 - 1953) - via

Contemporary American painter Paul Schulenburg - via

Irish painter Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941)- 'The Red Hat' - via

Contemporary South African painter (now living in Carmel, Calif.) Cecilia Rosslee 

Contemporary Greek painter Giorgios Rorris 

Canadian Impressionist painter Helen Gallaway McNicoll (1879 - 1915)

Contemporary French painter Do Fournier - via 

Contemporary American painter Lea Wight 

French painter Edouard Vuillard (1838 - 1940)- via

Contemporary American painter Kenny Harris - more

Canadian Contemporary painter Larry Bracegirdle - 'The House We Stayed In' 

American Contemporary painter Kurt Solmssen 

Contemporary American painter Jon Redmond - The Hotel Room, 2009 - via