It is cold outside. Or better: it’s freezing. And I don’t like to be cold, nor do I like anything to be cold. Least of all the weather when I have to get up in the morning and go to work. Give me cold, crispy air on a prolonged weekend I can spend in bed. Now that’s my kind of cold. That I can live with. Especially when I can wrap myself in a cozy blanket, have food in bed, enjoy a pot of hot tea and have a pile of films or a new TV show to binge-watch. Of course, I have some favorites but new gems always find a way on my shelves in mysterious ways. So here it is, my list of recommendations for anyone who, like yours truly, is in touch with her inner bear and craves to hibernate in a comfy cave. Don’t give freezer burn a chance and enjoy a good flick instead!
TV classics: Hotel
USA 1983-88, five seasons, 115 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: James Brolin, Connie Sellecca, Nathan Cook, Shari Belafonte, Michael Spound, Heidi Bohay, Shea Farrell, Harry George Phillips and Anne Baxter.
Plot summary: For the hotel staff, life is busy at St. Gregory’s, for the guests, it’s pure leisure and luxury.
Review: Based on Arthur Hailey’s novel from 1965, Hotel focused on the lives and loves at St. Gregory, a fictional five star hotel located in San Francisco. Led by Anne Baxter as hotel owner Victoria Cabot, the show predominantly featured the professional and personal lives of general manager Peter McDermott (James Brolin), his assistant manager Christine Francis (Connie Sellecca) and their staff. Supported by a colorful collection of guest stars, including Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Joan Fontaine, Beverly Garland, Leslie Nielsen, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Betty White, Shelley Winters, Jane Wyatt and many others, the show met the standards of Love Boat, a comedy hit also produced by Aaron Spelling on ABC at the time.
Although originally featuring Bette Davis as the head of St. Gregory who was soon replaced by Anne Baxter for health reasons, Hotel faced a lot of dramatic changes in characterization and plot. Speaking to an audience who enjoyed the mix of soap opera and celebrity appeal, the show had the perfect time slot on ABC, following an equally dramatic Dynasty. With season one available on DVD since 2009, fans of the show are invited to revisit the glamor and allure of St. Gregory’s, its sympathetic staff and matriarchal owner beautifully portrayed by Bette Davis’ 1950 on-screen nemesis Anne Baxter. A shining example of the prime time soap genre celebrated to perfection in the 1980s, the show also has the quality to appeal to those who may still be unfamiliar with the program but enjoy a cast of well-known faces and a regular dose of emotional mayhem. So for anyone who was happy about the recent comeback of Dallas on TV, this show could be the perfect treat.
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).
With the new year fast approaching, I’ve decided to have a look at 2012 because I may love vintage but I rather look ahead than back. So what’s cooking?!
On January 17th, America’s sweetheart Betty White is going to complete another decade. She’ll be turning ninety. I know she just recently said that’s not an accomplishment but that it just happened, bless her for counting her blessings like that. But still. Ninety is quite a milestone. And with her popularity, filmography and attitude she definitely outshines an entire studio full of performers less than half her age.
On April 18th then, my personal Tinseltown darling, RKO’s 1940s starlet and Perry Mason‘s renowned girl Friday, Barbara Hale, will join Ms. White, my N Hollywood grandma and their club of Fabulous at Ninety. Although long retired, well-deserved and (apparently) happily so, Ms. Hale is still fondly remembered by Della Street fans and classic cinéastes from around the globe. More and more of her work has been published on DVD or online in recent years and I sincerely hope that 2012 will reveal more of her bubbly warmth for us all to enjoy.
Then several films and TV shows will celebrate their anniversaries. Here are some examples:
- Ironside (1967-75, NBC)
- The Lucy Show (1962-68, CBS)
- My Little Margie (1952-55, CBS & NBC)
- Perry Mason TV show (1957-66, CBS)
- A Likely Story (1947, RKO, directed by H.C. Potter, starring Barbara Hale and Bill Williams)
- The First Time (1952, Columbia, directed by Frank Tashlin, starring Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale)
- Ivanhoe (1952, MGM, directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor)
- The Miracle Worker (1962, United Artists, directed by Arthur Penn, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke)
- Pat & Mike (1952, MGM, directed by George Cukor, starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey)
- Singin’ in the Rain (1952, MGM, directed by Stanley Donen, starring Gene Kelley and Debbie Reynolds)
- That Touch of Mink (1962, Universal, directed by Delbert Mann, starring Cary Grant and Doris Day)
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Warner Bros., directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis & Joan Crawford)
Of course there are many many more, e.g. Bambi (1942), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Mrs. Miniver (1942) or To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Also other TV shows like The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78) or The Flying Nun (1967-70).
The legendary Barbara Stanwyck had her screen debut as a fan dancer in Broadway Nights eighty-five years ago. She would’ve turned one-hundred and five on July 16th, Raymond Burr ninety-five on May 21st.
I could continue this list ad infinitum. But I rather wish you a smooth start into the new year and hope you’re looking forward to all the vintage treats that will be revisited and adored on this blog in the up-coming leap year.
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.
Although it may sometimes seem as if remakes are a contemporary idea, they actually go back to the 1920s (e.g. The Battle of Sexes, made in 1914 and then again 1928, each directed by D.W. Griffith) and the 1930s when talkies became more popular than silent movies. When studio bosses decided to re-do successful films. Hollywood, after all, has always been an industry.
But as old as its core motivation, the discussion of remakes has also remained the same – is it necessary to re-tell a story that has worked before? Can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas? New characters and plots?
Well, in times of reshaping and relaunching TV shows from the 1970s and 80s, I guess the answer is clear. It is often cheaper to pick up on an already established franchise. May seem more sensible. Almost like an homage – although how could it be if everything that used to work and made a product genuine is being replaced, updated and beautified?
Opinions will always differ on remakes. I myself was thrilled when I first heard about a new version of The Women back in 2008. Annette Benning’s name truly pleased me when I saw it listed for the project. Then I saw the movie. And in spite of Ms Benning, it paled in comparison to the original movie from 1939 on all levels.
But remakes can work. There are examples, sometimes unknown to us today. Love Affair from 1939 for example, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade by the same director, Leo McCarey, in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, called An Affair to Remember. And then again under its original title in 1994, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, plus Katherine Hepburn.
The Window from 1949 (see Talking Classic‘s first “Talkie of the Week” entry) was also remade in 1966, under the title of the short story the film was originally based on, The Boy cried Murder. I have not yet seen this version but would love to see how and if they made it work.
Father of the Bride and Father’s little Dividend from 1950 and 51, directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett, were also remade in 1991 and 95. Then with an all-star cast led by Steve Martin and Diane Keaton.
What’s striking about the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Women though is the almost screwball-like quality paired with hysterics. Although equally well cast, the films don’t live up to the originals. It may be a reflection on the 1990s and 2000s, but the adaptations seem to lack a sense of sincerity in their otherwise entertaining and comedic plots. Steve Martin is not a Spencer Tracey, Diane Keaton is no comparison to Joan Bennett, nor is Meg Ryan a Norma Shearer. How could they be? They live in different times and so do the stories that were told so beautifully in their own time, with their original cast.
Now another remake is being discussed, green-lit by Warner Bros. The Thin Man is supposed to be redone, starring Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz. I personally adore the original six movies which came to theaters between 1934 and 1947. William Powell and Myrna Loy. What better a pairing could you find? I am not convinced that you could replace them. Or that the plot will work in a new movie with a contemporary perception of Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Mind you, it worked to base a couple on Nick and Nora on TV in the 1980s. Hart to Hart was a good success. But William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are so iconic – just have a look at the screen version of Bewitched from 2005. Another example for an over-the-top version of a classic hit franchise. It disappointed fans and didn’t exactly score with the critics. However, the film did bring in some money, so if that’s the old motivation, I better keep spending it on the originals. And hope for more of them to be released on DVD.