Screen Couples

We all know them: the Stoneses, the Andersons or the Stephenses. For some, they may be a guilty pleasure, for others a mere necessity to get a story told. For me, they are the cherry on top of any tale: fictional couples and their personal stories. On the fringes of drama, comedy and mayhem, romantic innuendo has always been my favorite treat. From Date with the Angels and Family Ties to Murder She Wrote or Babylon 5, I have a weakness for double entendre paired with a healthy sense of humor, smarts and mutual respect.

Della and Perry1) Perry Mason and Della Street, for example, have been my favorite couple for more years than I care to admit. On paper, radio and screen, the lawyer and his secretary know how to put a smile on my face. Committed to their work as much as to each other, the true nature of their relationship has always remained a mystery. For some fans, they are the best of friends while others suspect some hanky-panky behind closed doors. For me, they have long been married, the epitomized working couple who combines independence with traditional values. And that’s the beauty of those characters and their story. They ignite your imagination and tease you to the point of sizzling frustration with a simple look, remark or smitten smile. It is a tradition Erle Stanley Gardner himself started in The Velvet Claws in 1933 and lasted until 1994 when the last Perry Mason TV movie aired on NBC. Perfected by its signature cast, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, Perry and Della have since lived on in the hearts of many fans, the flame of their romance burning more and more brightly towards the series’ end.

Jennifer&Jonathan2) The second couple I have loved for as long as I can remember are Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. Sophisticated, rich and charming, the Harts had everything including a mutually executed interest in solving mysteries. Following in the footsteps of TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, they dug up trouble where it’s usually hard to find but their love for each other made their cases stand out from others. Together, they were invincible and (much like Della and Perry) have stood the test of time. A mere decade after Hart to Hart was canceled on ABC, the couple returned to television in 1993, matured, refined, and every bit as committed to each other as they had always been. Today, the Harts are still a dream couple for their fans, a twosome who showed their audience the ingredients of true love and how it beautiful life can be even if you are denied to have your desired offspring.

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Myrna Loy

Yesterday, Myrna Loy would have celebrated her 107th birthday. In loving memory of a beautiful performer and one of my all-time favorite actresses, I make it short and bring you four treats to have a good start into this first August weekend. Enjoy!

 

 

Magnificent Obsession

Talkie of the Week: Magnificent Obsession

USA 1954, 104 minutes, color, Universal International Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Written by Robert Blees and Wells Root, Based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas. Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Agnes  Moorehead, Otto Kruger

Plot summary: When Bob Merrick learns that he survived an unnecessary accident that indirectly took the life of celebrated humanitarian Dr. Phillips, the millionaire decides to change his life and follow the doctor’s example of taking care of others and their struggles. Rejected by Dr. Phillips’ family for his attempt to help them in times of hardship, Bob ultimately manages to prove his sincerity and falls in love with Helen, the late doctor’s widow, despite her initial rejection.

Review: Based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsessions had already been adapted for the silver screen in 1935 when Douglas Sirk decided to pick up the story for his technicolor remake. Originally starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, Sirk’s version from 1954 presented Jane Wyman and and a practically unknown Rock Hudson in the leading roles. Commercially successful in theaters, the film received mixed reaction from critics for the emotional story and the director’s choice of material. While Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson conquered the screen with a chemistry that resulted in another collaboration of the two stars in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows one year later, reviews often stressed the sappy quality of the motion picture, a fact that didn’t stop the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences to nominate Jane Wyman for an Academy Award for her performance.

Recorded for radio several times before Magnificent Obsession re-entered with stars such as Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert and Myrna Loy, the story itself grew into a classic story about loss, love, grace and altruism. Rock Hudson’s first significant movie role brought him well-deserved recognition and kicked off a career as one of Hollywood’s most charming leading men. It was the fourth Oscar nomination Jane Wyman received for her portrayal of Helen Phillips, an honor Grace Kelly in The Country Girl ended up winning that year.

Magnificent Obsession is a film that works the emotional scale of its audience by merging drama with romance in a way that is now a lost art. Be prepared to stock up your supply of tissues before you watch it, the score and moving performances will make you sob if your heart beats for this kind of gem.

Available on DVD. Magnificent Obsession trailer

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.

What’s My Line?

TV classics: What’s My Line?

USA 1950-67, 17 seasons,  876 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Presented by John Charles Daly. Panelists: Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Louis Untermeyer, Hal Block, Steve Allen, Fred Allen, Mystery celebrity guests: Julie Andrews, Eve Arden, Desi Arnaz, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Candice Bergen, Polly Bergen, Carol Burnett, James Cagney, Claudette Colbert, Sean Connery, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, Errol Flynn, Joan Fontaine, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, James Garner, Bob Hope, Grace Kelley, Gene Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Hedy Lamarr, Angela Lansbury, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Myrna Loy, Allen Ludden, Paul Newman, Debbie Reynolds, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sothern, Jimmy Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Tierney, Lana Turner, Robert Wagner, Betty White, Joanne Woodward, Jane Wyman, Robert Young et al.

Game summary: Four panelists are trying to guess the occupation of their guests and the identity of the mystery celebrity of the week.

Review: What’s My Line? was one of the longest running and most popular game shows on American TV. Launched as early as in 1950, the show was broadcast weekly on CBS for seventeen successful seasons until it was continued on a daily basis in syndication. Transferred to radio as well as to audiences worldwide, the format was a big success and didn’t go off the air until 1975. In its history, What’s My Line? featured a lot of famous mystery celebrity guests such as Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Elizabeth Taylor or Robert Young, some of whom appeared more than once.

With its easy format, the game show was an entertaining half hour of guessing what the weekly guests were doing for a living, for the panelists as much as for the TV audience. Broadcast live in the beginning, What’s My Line? lived of the chemistry between its regular panelists and their host John Charles Daly. Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf stayed with the show the longest while the fourth spot on the panel was usually given to a famous incoming guest. The thrill of the show lay in the variety of professions the panelists had to guess by asking funny as well as witty “yes-and-no only” questions. The mystery celebrity guest was always the cherry on top of each episode when the blindfolded panel of four queried its way to revealing who was sitting next to their host.

Like so many of the classic game shows, What’s My Line? is a lot of fun to watch these days. The panelists, guests and celebrities are entertaining and hilarious at times. The program is innocent for today’s standards, classy and polite. The game is harmless and relaxing, a perfect show to watch at the end of a hectic day.

Selected clips available on youtube (see links above).

Wife vs. Secretary

Talkie of the Week: Wife vs. Secretary

USA 1936, 88 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: Clarence Brown, Written by Faith Baldwin, Norman Krasna, John Lee Mahin, Alice Duer Miller. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, May Robson, George Barbier, Hobart Cavanaugh, John Qualen

Plot summary: Van is happily married to Linda until she suspects her husband of having an affair with his gem of a secretary called Whitey.

Review: Wife vs. Secretary is a stellar film with a stellar cast. Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and James Stewart in one movie – the names alone promise a good eighty-eight minutes of excellent entertainment. And if you enjoy the work and style of only one of these Hollywood legends you won’t be disappointed.

As the leading man of this heavyweight ensemble, Clark Gable carries the basic storyline without any trouble. He’s charming, sympathetic and looks innocently guilty when he faces his celluloid wife and secretary. Jean Harlow is Whitey, Gable’s beautiful office gem who goes beyond her usual sensual poise and charm. She is capable, willing and able, but on a much different note than Loy’s Linda or the audience may assume. Myrna Loy is a wonderful counterpart to Harlow’s peppy character: she’s sophisticated and full of trust until her husband starts telling lies. She’s the perfect loving wife who’s scorned when the gossip seems to match the truth. And her scenes with Jean Harlow spark of the fireworks that go much deeper than any of those contemporary cat fights. The two actresses show class and composure, wittily supported by a subtle script and a beautiful wardrobe. James Stewart adds additional spice to this mix of salt, pepper and chili. He plays Whitey’s boyfriend who’s honest and nice to the bones. He stands for the direct opposite of Van Stanhope’s (Clark Gable) world of big business, fancy dinner parties and a spoiled life. He’s a decent character who offers Whitey a simple but  righteous life.

To sum it up, Wife vs. Secretary is a well-rounded film that never leaves you bored. The storyline is hilarious but doesn’t miss to delve into a moment of poignancy. The dialogs are concise and mildly suggestive, much to the benefit of the spirit and tone of the film. The movie rarely goes over the top but always keeps its characters believable and likable, leaving the audience undecided about who to side with until the very end.

Wife vs. Secretary is a brilliant showcase for the talents of its three leading actors, James Stewart in one of his early roles and an excellent supporting cast. It is the right kind of film to cheer you up on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a perfect addition to a movie marathon of classics led by two of Golden Hollywood’s most memorable women. And although the versus in the title suggests competition, it is the way those two leading ladies work together that makes this movie really great.

Available on DVD. Wife vs. Secretary trailer

Autobiographies

I’m a big fan of biographies, especially autobiographies – the kind that explores the essence of a person’s life (personal as well as professional) with a deep sense of self-reflection, irony and/or playful nostalgia.

Today, I am going to recommend some of my personal favorites, in alphabetical order because I couldn’t possibly decide which one I like best for they are all so intricately different in content and style (not that that should be surprising, after all, each book describes very diverse and unique personalities and their genuine careers and lives).

  • Allyson, June – “June Allyson”, 1983
  • Andrews, Julie – “Home – A Memoir of my Early Years”, 2008
  • Bacall, Lauren – By Myself and Then Some”, 2005
  • Ball, Lucille – “Love, Lucy”, 1996
  • Burnett, Carol – “One More Time: A Memoir”, 2003
  • Burnett, Carol – “This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection”, 2010
  • Davis, Bette – “The Lonely Life: An Autobiography”, 1962
  • Davis, Bette – “This’n That”, 1987
  • Hepburn, Katherine – “The Making of the African Queen OR How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Houston and Almost Lost My Mind”, 1987
  • Hepburn, Katherine – “Me: Stories of My Life”, 1991
  • Loy, Myrna – “Being & Becoming”, 1988
  • MacLaine, Shirley – “Dance While You Can”, 1991
  • McClanahan, Rue – “My First Five Husbands… And the Ones That Got Away”, 2007
  • O’Hara, Maureen – “‘Tis Herself: An Autobiography”, 2005
  • Palmer, Lilli – “Change Lobsters and Dance”, 1974
  • Powers, Stefanie – “One From the Hart”, 2010
  • Redgrave, Vanessa – “An Autobiography”, 1991
  • Taylor, Elizabeth – “Elizabeth Taylor”, 1964
  • White, Betty – “In Person”, 1987
  • White, Betty – “Here We Go Again”, 1995

I do realize that I failed to list autobiographies by men, but most of my favorites never wrote about their lives: Raymond Burr, Bill Williams, Robert Young, Spencer Tracey, Larry Parks or Cary Grant. Thus my negligence and probable ignorance. I do have Robert J. Wagner’s book “Pieces of My Heart: A Life” from 2008 and Rock Hudson’s “His Story” from 2007 on my reading list though – if that placates those of you who wonder if I, as a woman, may be a little biased towards female life stories and voices.