A Radio Treat

Two days ago, I listened to a radio broadcast from 1950, a live recording from March 23 to be exact, the day of the 22nd Academy Awards. Presented by Paul Douglas at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood with radio comments by Ken Carpenter, Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan, the show was a good two hours in length and filled with lots of joyful moments.

The show – although already exciting for any classic movie buff without great names such as James Cagney, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Stewart, Dick Powell and June Allyson, Anne Baxter and John Hodiac, Cole Porter, Ruth Roman and Barbara Hale – was entertaining from the start and blessed with a beautiful score presented by Gene Autry, Dean Martin and other wonderful performers. Despite the many differences in presentation compared to the lengthy ceremony I’ve long stopped watching each year, it amused me to find one announcement already existed back in 1950: the request for the winners to cut their thank you’s short. And trust me, the few people who said more than a heartfelt thank you, didn’t take center stage to present a short story about their lives. How refreshing to hear there once was a way to go about this differently, when recipients were in tears about their accomplishment without dwelling on it. How surprising to hear a young boy thank his parents and God – at least by today’s standards.

I know not everyone will share my sentiment, but I loved the mix of glamor and simplicity, such a charming combination. Stars and winners aside, the radio hosts also won my heart for their lively presentation and supportive attitude. Without making a fuss, they added to the style of a show that still showed signs of gratefulness and modesty towards their peers and audience. A different world, Hollywood in 1950, both good and bad, and so much fun revisiting with your eyes closed.

The Art of Film-Making

I just recently had a conversation with my aunt who reminded me, once again, how little people know about the art of film-making. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing essential, but for an industry that lives on creating images and myths, I find it interesting how inadequate a picture it draws of its most crucial bees in the hive. We all know that actors are important, that they put a face to a story and fill it with life, but who would they play without a script, who would they be without a director who guides them through it?

I know, during awards season, certain names are mentioned from time to time – directors more often than producers, editors or cinematographers. Thing is, it’s a process to create a film and takes a village to carry it from that first sparkle of an idea to an actual theater near you. It often takes years to raise the necessary money and many films are never made for many different reasons – from the studio system until today, some things never change.

Generally speaking however, film-making is hard work and requires skill, sweat and imagination. You need enthusiasm, a thick skin and dedication, no matter what position you are working in. From the set runner to assistants or the wardrobe department, if you don’t love your job, it will affect the production. And while that may be true for any job, be sure to know that film people rarely work on a regular schedule and are constantly looking for a new project to sink their teeth into. So if you don’t love what you do, why bother? Why put up with the hassle of possibly never seeing your project come to life?

If you’re working in the creative industry, failure, disappointments and frustration are as common as the flu. If you can’t deal with it, it’ll eat you up. So no matter how, if you want to write, compose or act, direct, produce or design, find your coping mechanism, because success is not easy to come by. Surround yourself with supporters, not with people who like to bathe in the possibility of meeting celebrities. Casting shows and gossip paper articles about actors and their supposed fairytale lives have shaped many people’s perception of an industry that has always relied on reinventing their own achievements and popular faces. Don’t buy into what they tell you and learn by doing what it means to make a film. And if you can spare a minute, sit down and imagine how different your favorite movie would’ve looked like with a different cast, score or coloring – it may give you a perspective of all the jobs that were pivotal to make it. Just look at Perry Mason, at Warren William’s portrayal in the 30s compared to Raymond Burr’s two decades later. The same character performed in such a different style and manner. Both perfectly cast if you ask me, but still so unalike in their delivery.

And while I’m at it, I’ve always thought that Barbara Hale would’ve been a beautiful Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m convinced that Raymond Burr would’ve tackled Stanley Kowalski in a hauntingly impressive way. Daydreaming aside, I also appreciate the wonderful casting we’ve seen in both projects and give kudos to the casting directors who managed to merge talent with chemistry. The Donna Reed Show is another example of a job well done and so is I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, and Our Miss Brooks. For my dream project, I always cast Bill Williams for the lead in The Adventures of Tintin, a film I would have loved to make had I been alive back in the 40s – a film that was released as an animated feature last year and is a great example for the art of film-making.

One Touch of Venus

Talkie of the Week: One Touch of Venus

USA 1948, 82 minutes, black & white, Universal Pictures. Director: William A. Seiter, Written by Harry Kurnitz  & Frank Tashlin, Based on the novel The Tinted Venus by F. Anstey. Cast: Ava Gardner, Robert Walker, Dick Haymes, Eve Arden, Tom Conway, Olga San Juan, James Flavin, Sara Allgood

Plot summary: Eddie Hatch locks lips with a Venus statue and thus awakens the real goddess who stirs up his life.

Review: Originally purchased by Mary Pickford to bring the musical version of F. Anstey’s novel The Tinted Venus to the screen in technicolor for United Artists, the project did not come to life until Lester Cowan secured the rights for Universal in 1947. He hired William A. Seiter to direct a black and white version of the story with Robert Walker, Ava Gardner and Dick Haymes as leading actors. The diverting plot worked beautifully without the musical numbers, first and foremost due to its excellent cast. Ava Gardner was a fantastic choice for Venus, the goddess of love, who comes to life through Robert Walker’s kiss. Together, they made for a handsome couple who knew how to tackle the comedic ups and downs of a lightweight story. They were supported by Tom Conway and Eve Arden who added maturity to One Touch of Venus beyond the lines they were given. As a secretary who’s secretly in love with her boss, Eve Arden played an endearing stereotype whose best moments, like Ava Gardner, are saved for the end of the film.

All in all, the movie is a romantic comedy for three couples who give their best at entertaining their audience. Dick Haymes and Olga San Juan are as cute a pair as Ava Gardner and Robert Walker and every bit as hilarious as RKO’s ex-Falcon Tom Conway and Our Miss Brooks‘ Eve Arden. Today, the actress would have turned 104 and One Touch of Venus is a great treat for anyone who’s interested in seeing some of her big screen work. Lighthearted and funny, the comedy will also lift you up and prepare you for warmer weather – it’s every bit as delightful and silly as spring fever season.

Available on DVD.

PS: Review also published on MovieFanFare.

The Eve Arden Show

TV classics: The Eve Arden Show

USA 1957-58, 1 season, 26 episodes, 30 minutes each, CBS. Created by Emily Kimbrough, from the novel It Gives Me Great Pleasure. Cast examples: Eve Arden,  Allyn Joslyn, Frances Bavier, Gail Stone, Karen Greene

Plot summary: Liza Hammond, a widowed writer, lives with her mother and set of thirteen-year-old twins in a nice apartment in New York where she is trying to keep her career going with a little help pf her literary agent George Howell.

The Eve Arden Show – pilot episode “It Gives Me Great Pleasure”

Review: Following her long-lasting success as Our Miss Brooks on radio, television and the silver screen, Eve Arden starred in her own show created by Emily Kimbrough. Loosely based on her book “It Gives Me Great Pleasure”, The Eve Arden Show circled around the life of fictional Liza Hammond, a widowed mother and writer whose career changes when her agency pressures her to increase her popularity by giving public lectures. Scared of public speaking at first, Liza soon grows into her new job which secures her a steady income. Living with her mother and her thirteen-year-old twin girls Mary and Jenny, Liza’s private life is frequently stirred up by her profession and the literary agent who comes along with it.

Allyn Joslyn played George Howell, the intermingling agent whose interests in Liza often bordered the personal. Always butting heads with Liza on a friendly level, he was a good match with Eve Arden’s natural comebacks and genuine comedic skills. Her timing worked especially well with co-star Frances Bavier, aka Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show. Supported by an entertaining team of performing youngsters as the show’s teenage twins, Eve Arden and Frances Bavier created memorable grandmother-mother-daughter moments that still tickle my risible muscles today.

With its twenty-six episodes, The Eve Arden Show is a real gem to (re)discover for anyone who likes 1950s comedy and the hilarity of the program’s leading lady. It is unfortunate that not all original episodes are available for us to savor these days, but don’t let that stop you from giving it a chance. The cast is fantastic and the writing diverting. A truly funny show that will relax you with style and wit.

Selected episodes available on DVD and online.

Personal Note On Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year again: spring has finally arrived and I feel like cleaning out my cupboards, closet and shelves. I look at new (vintage) dresses and dust off my heels, I start looking for flowers and I’m back to cooking leaner meals.

When I grew up, I have to admit, I never grasped the meaning of spring cleaning. I knew my grandma did it with abandon and what was important to her has always mattered to me, but somehow the rejuvenating effect escaped me until a few years ago. I don’t know what started it, maybe I’ve just been getting older (and a little wiser I would hope), but now, spring cleaning starts my new year like I was always taught it would.

So along with scrubbing my floors and clearing out my basement, I also go through my boxes and files, my pictures and books, my movies and shows. And each year seems to awaken something new: a project, a friendship or a journey.

The funny thing about my spring cleaning is that it’s a process – though joyful and humbling at times, it also comes with a melancholy side. Last year at this time, I was mending my heart that had started to break the year before. This year, I feel like striking roots while looking for a change, a feeling that ties in with something I once read when I was still a kid, that most women have two hearts beating in their chest, that they have ambiguous feelings about marriage, career and motherhood.

I remember soaking up those words without understanding them, after all, I’d been taught that we could have it all. But when I was little, my mother was a housewife and my grandma retired, and I greatly cherished their presence. My mother returned to work as I got older, working part time without leaving the house before I’d been off to school. When I came home, she was always there with steaming food on the table and open ears to hear about my day. Now, I often remember how safe a feeling that was, how cushioned I felt, and I’m beginning to crave to create the same kind of haven for a family of my own. At the same time, however, I love to work and cherish having a career. Or to say it in my words: do I want to be a Barbie Hale or Della Street?

So far, I haven’t minded walking on the Della Street side of life (without having found a darling boss like Perry Mason or excelling at secretarial duties as naturally as his perfect girl Friday – fiction aside). But what if I’m craving to have more in life than that? How do I adopt that Babs Hale attitude I am so fond of, that “I chased him till he caught me” poise to use it on the Bill Williams of my heart who seems to be as shy as Our Miss Brooks‘ Mr Boynton? How do I get to be a Lucille Ball with a spoon of Lucy Ricardo, or a Donna Reed with a dash of Donna Stone? How do I learn to walk that tightrope Ms Hale and Hearty once described, that fine line between devoting yourself to having a family and being your own woman who leads a creative life?

You see, I’ve always taken great comfort and found inspiration in reading about female lives in times so different from ours today and yet so alike. My love for vintage was born this way, instilled by my grandma and our close-knit relationship.

My grandmother was born in 1916, a working mom of two girls who lost her son early on. She was married, of course, and yet juggled the household, her kids and the job she had been trained to do all on her own. By law, she wasn’t the head of her family, but she sure had to act as one. And when her health was troubling her, she didn’t have time to complain or rest, nor did she want to burden her family. What she really loved was cooking for us and our extended family, a whole apartment full of people at times. She never tired of running around to get more dishes, to serve more booze or cigarettes (yes, those were the days).

As a kid, I remember marveling at her in her apron dress, getting up early to follow a tight schedule every day. She always put her loved ones first and herself last without ever subordinating her personality. Like me, she loved Perry Mason and together we watched the TV movies with great pleasure (and a conjoint crush on Ray Burr), one of my favorite memories because Della Street has always reminded me so much of my grandma’s humble, demure attitude, her commitment and quiet joy.

I was truly blessed to have someone in my life who was always there for me, who understood me so deeply, who spoiled and loved me no matter what. I’ve been missing that a lot since she’s passed away -  the values and the trust she raised me with, her concept of family, love and community. I suppose that’s the question for me to answer this year, how to (re)create something that has been lost?

Now that’s my personal note on spring cleaning – apart from cupboards, sewing and dishes.

Does class have a comeback?

I just stumbled upon an article about a comeback of classic hairdos: the Beehive, the Victory Roll, the Pin Curls, the Head Scarf look – and my immediate reaction was about time!

I mean, personally, I can do without the Beehive (and other exaggerated hairstyles from the 1960s for that matter), but generally spoken I couldn’t be happier. For me, there’s nothing better than those classy, curly dos – from the housewifely head scarf wrapped around a bobby pin covered head to the glamorous long curls of the 1940s.

Lasting well into the early 60s, curly hairstyles were supremely feminine. They embellished women’s faces of all ages, in all styles and at all lengths. Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe or Rosie the Riveter – all iconic names that trigger memories of a certain do and trend.

Here are a couple of my favorite dos from the 40s and 50s, modeled by Barbara Hale:

See how her Della Street curls even held up a book they were so swell?! Or how Jimmy Stewart couldn’t resist hugging his on-screen wife because the head scarf looks so darling?! Now don’t say these curls aren’t versatile.

Glamorous, cute or homey, it really doesn’t matter: with curls (or Victory Rolls), there’s a style for every occasion. And trust me, getting these looks is not as much work as you may think – at least not if you’re not a total stranger to hot curlers, curling irons or bobby pins. It may sound shallow, but people do appreciate the effort. All dolled up and pretty you advertise yourself differently, show a new sparkle. You may even end up feeling like your favorite star, in my case Ms. Hale, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck or Eve Arden.

So if you’re like me and are excited about the return of hairdo class, do embrace your inner silver screen goddess, homemaker sweetheart or Rosie the Riveter. There are lots of manuals out there, pictures and videos to help you get the look you adore the most. Years after pulling off long rich curls in high school (unknowingly resembling Barbara Hale’s in the fourth picture above) and then going for the exact opposite, I finally returned to my favorite style last year – shorter now but still elegantly fluffy. Della Street inspired one of my friends suggested – I really don’t know what gave her that idea, but I’m digging it.

Three Husbands

Talkie of the Week: Three Husbands

USA 1951, 77 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Irving Reis, Written by Vera Caspary. Cast: Eve Arden, Ruth Warrick, Vanessa Brown, Howard Da Silva, Shepperd Strudwick, Robert Karnes, Emlyn Williams, Billie Burke, Louise Erickson, Jonathan Hale, Jane Darwell

Plot summary: When Maxwell Bard, a desired playboy, dies, he leaves a letter to each of his three married friends, teasing them about the affairs he supposedly had with their wives.

Review: In 1949, A Letter to Three Wives was released by 20th Century Fox, starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Jeffrey Lynn, Paul Douglas and Kirk Douglas. The movie was loosely based on John Klempner’s novel A Letter to Five Wives and adapted by Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Director (Mankiewicz) and Best Screenplay, and was also nominated for Best Motion Picture. In 1951, Vera Caspary turned the tables of the plot and wrote the screenplay for a comedy version of the story called Three Husbands.

The film stars Emlyn Williams as Max Bard, a recently deceased playboy who was on very good terms with three of his best friends’ wives. Informing the husbands about the nature of these friendships in individual letters, he causes a stir in the married lives of all three of them until Max’ will exposes the reasons behind his postmortem honesty. In a surprising twist, the wives come out on top and stand tall without condemning their husbands, their attitude smoothing the impact of female victory without destroying its message: wives are happier when they are allowed to retain their independence.

Three Husbands is a comedy, pure and simple. It lives from its hilarious cast, the catchy dialogue and delightful outcome. It is a story about marriage, rumors and trust. It is also a good seventy-seven minutes of entertainment with a dash of innocent laughs. Eve Arden is my personal cherry on top in this film. Her qualities as a comedienne are so refined and work beautifully with Howard Da Silva and Emlyn Williams, it’s worth watching this movie for their scenes alone. But you should really give the entire film a chance. If you like classic comedies and a decent cast, I’m positive you won’t be disappointed.

Available on amazon and youtube, as well as in the internet archive.

Our Miss Brooks

TV classics: Our Miss Brooks

USA 1952-56, 4 seasons,  130 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Created by: Al Lewis. Cast: Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Jane Morgan, Robert Rockwell, Richard Crenna, Gloria McMillan

Plot summary: Connie Brooks is an English teacher who fights a daily battle of sarcasm and wits with her students and colleagues, landlady and principle while all she’s really after is love.

Review: Originally introduced on radio in 1948, Our Miss Brooks was a big comedy success for Eve Arden and her talented cast of fellow actors. Moving on to television in 1952, the cast remained almost completely intact as they continued to entertain their audience with great approval. On TV (and radio respectively), Robert Rockwell succeeded Jeff Chandler as Connie Brooks’ love interest Philip Boynton. He was later replaced by Gene Barry as Gene Talbot when Miss Brooks moved from a public on to a private school in 1955 to change the setting and tone (Miss Brooks switched roles from pursuer to pursued). These alterations were not particularly well received by the audience and ultimately broke the show’s neck. Philip Boynton’s mid-season return did not prevent cancellation but the character appeared in the follow-up movie in which he then finally got married to the leading lady in 1956.

Our Miss Brooks was one of the first hit shows on television, popularly rerun for several years. The show was praised by its audience and critics alike and lived on in its original form on radio until 1957. Our Miss Brooks was a witty, smart and entertaining show which introduced a female lead who was capable in her job, warmhearted and feminine. She was groundbreaking as a working woman on television, a teacher who did address many realistic issues of her profession in a comedic way. She was also competent, funny and independent in her job, a direct contrast to a predominance of housewives and mothers. Our Miss Brooks did not glorify teaching or working girls, nor did it belittle traditional homemakers. The program offered an insight into a woman’s life outside of the home, a lady who handled her students and colleagues with sarcasm and wit.

Today, fifty-five years after going off the air, Our Miss Brooks is every bit as entertaining as it used to be although our realities and perception of working women have changed. Eve Arden’s performance is still gripping and hilarious, her repartee genuine and priceless, the supporting cast supportive in the best of sense, adding to the program’s top notch quality. So if you’ve been unfamiliar with Our Miss Brooks so far but like to to be entertained in a smart and amusing way, then give Connie Brooks a chance to win you over. She’s a classy lady whose comebacks may knock you off your feet while she’s trying to allure her future husband.

Our Miss Brooks sample episode and Our Miss Brooks feature film

More info: Our Miss Brooks radio program and Our Miss Brooks website.