The Roaring Twenties and Now – Our Decadent America Problem

 

Watching this video I was reminded that some things never change. Progressives trying to build a better country while others, threatened by change, desperately clinging to the past.

Fear and hate are destructive motivators.

Experience Universal Horror – The Golden Age of Movie Monsters!

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For a comprehensive and what I consider a definitive history of one of the original Hollywood Studios – Universal, check out the Documentary – “Universal Horror.”  Universal was founded in 1912 by Carl Laemmle and is the world’s fourth oldest major film studio.

Originally airing on Turner Classic Movies in 1998, “Universal Horror” showcases the golden age of 1930’s movie monsters. The film also highlights Carl Laemmle’s family and Carl Laemmle, Jr’s game-changing vision of producing films based on classic horror tales.

 

 

The studio is known for such horror classics as Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931), the Universal monster franchise. Dracula is a 1931 American Pre-Code vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The film was produced by Universal and was loosely based on the novel by Bram Stoker.

Casting for the film became problematic initially since Laemmle was not at all interested in Lugosi, in spite of good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other popular actors of the day, including Paul Muni and Chester Morris.

 

Frankenstein is a 1931 American Pre-Code horror monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale. The film stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff and features Dwight Frye and Edward van Sloan. Trivia: Bela Lugosi turned down the role saying the monster was just a hulking beast.

In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Throughout the documentary, we hear personal accounts and behind-the-scene stories from early stars such as Rose Hobart – co-star in the original film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Gloria Stuart – The Invisible Man (1933) and Lupita Tovar – Dracula (1931) Spanish Version.

 

 

Forrest Ackerman, (November 24, 1916 – December 4, 2008) was editor and principal writer of the science fiction magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and recalls his experiences in the documentary of seeing these films first hand. Ackerman’s magazine would provide inspiration to many who would later become successful artists, including Joe DantePeter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, George LucasDanny ElfmanJohn Landis and countless other writers, directors, artists, and craftsmen.

Also affectionately called “Forry,” Ackerman was central to the formation, and spread of science fiction fandom, and a key figure in the wider awareness of science fiction as a literary, art and film genre. Famous for his wordplay he coined the genre nickname “sci-fi”.

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Universal Monsters Tribute

 

The end of Universal’s first run of horror films came in 1936 as the Laemmles were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops due partly to censorship and a temporary ban on American horror films in Britain. The release of MGM’s Mad Love and The Raven (both 1935) were the final nail in the coffin for monster movies, being too strong for 1935 tastes, with its themes of torture, disfigurement, and grisly revenge.

 

The monster movies were dropped from the production schedule altogether and would not re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime, a theater owner revived Dracula and Frankenstein as a double feature, resulting in an immediate smash hit and leading to the original movies being re-released by the studio to surprising success.

Be sure to checkout these films and experience the original horror classics from the original horror classics studio – Universal!

 

Stepping into the Light – 20 Feet From Stardom!✨

(Prince and Judith Hill. CreditPhotographs by Karrah Kobus/NPG Records, via Getty Images)

Mourning the 1 year passing of music legend Prince, I was amazed to learn about his relationship with the powerhouse singer-songwriter Judith Hill as her confidant and musical collaborator.

Ms. Hill was a contestant on the 2013 season of “The Voice” (the TV singing competition) and later that same year appeared in the Academy Award-winning documentary about backup singers, “20 Feet From Stardom” earning a Grammy for her performance.

Judith Hill

(“I was with Prince the last two years of my life,” Judith Hill said. “Now he’s gone, and I realize I was leaning on him a lot,” she said. “And that’s what’s scary. I’m on my own.” Credit: Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times)

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I cheered for Ms. Hill on “The Voice” and was shocked when she didn’t make the cut. Her voice is phenomenal and once before she had been so close to blowing up as a recording star when she was paired as a featured vocalist with Michael Jackson on his ill-fated tour “This is It”. On “The Voice” I thought, maybe this time she’ll get her shot.

 

And now, with the passing of Prince, Judith would once again be denied the major exposure that could have skyrocketed her to the top of the musical ladder instead of her forever feeling – “20 feet from stardom”.

 

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Judith Hill, Michael Jackson

 

Here’s a look at the Oscar-winning documentary about the incredible backup singers and the travesty of how their careers have always been “20 Feet From Stardom”.

 

20 feet from stardom

 

2014 Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature,  “20 Feet From Stardom” is directed by Morgan Neville and inspired by producer Gil Friesen’s quest to reveal the untold stories of the phenomenal voices behind some of the greatest artists in American music.

 

 

The film takes a backstage look at the lives and experiences of backup singers Darlene Love ( Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), Judith Hill (The Voice), Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega and Jo Lawry among others.

 

 

The Ladies Speak:  Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Judith Hill

 

Merry Clayton performed that killer background vocal on The Rolling Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter”

Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. I was thrilled when this film was released to showcase these gifted women that for whatever reason remain in the shadows. It’s a sad fact but, nevertheless, they stayed in the game and they are legends!

 

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It was the Jazz age. It was an age of Elegance and Violence.

  “The Cotton Club” (1984)

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“The Cotton Club” is a 1984 American crime-drama film centered on a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s, the Cotton Club.

The film was co-written by Francis Ford Coppola with William Kennedy, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and produced by Robert Evans. Choreographed by Henry LeTang, the movie starred Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, and Lonette McKee. The supporting cast included Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Nicolas Cage, Allen Garfield, Laurence Fishburne, Gwen Verdon and Fred Gwynne.

Despite performing poorly at the box office, the film was nominated for several awards, including Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Picture (Drama) and Oscars for Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, George Gaines) and Film Editing. (Wikipedia)

 

 

I remember looking forward to screening this film.  I understood the significance of The Cotton Club during the Harlem Renaissance of the 20’s and 30’s and wanted the 1980’s audience to be curious about the history of the real club and incredible level of talent that appeared there between 1923 – 1940.

Some of the original performers at The Cotton Club included:

Lena Horne

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Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

 

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Count BasieBillie Holiday,

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Cab CallowayThe Nicholas Brothers

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Cab Calloway

 

Among many others.

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The movie is intense. Producer Robert Evans originally wanted to direct the project but later asked Coppola.  There are definite similarities to “The Godfather” in the film due to its violent nature and also the fact that Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather) wrote the original story and screenplay.

Gangsters, racism and love, this film exposes them all.  I do, however, wish more of the movie focus was on The Cotton Club itself and the lives of those characters.

 

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The story centers around the dangerous love affair of Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) and Vera Cicero (Diane Lane).  She “belongs” to mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar).  Dutch is a straight up psychopath   We also follow the budding romance between Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) and Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee).  He wants to get married.  She wants to be a “Star.”  (She’s also hiding a secret about her “other life.”)

Watch and listen as Lonette McKee, also from the movie (“Sparkle”), delivers a taste of the film’s 1930’s Harlem.

The song: “Ill Wind (You’re Blowing Me No Good)”  Composed by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ted Koehler.  It was written for their last show at The Cotton Club in 1934.

 

 

 

One of the most memorable scenes is between the real life and onscreen brothers – Maurice and Gregory Hines.  Clay (Maurice Hines) and Sandman (Gregory Hines) have had a major falling out and at this moment we get to share in their reunion.

 

Growing up, this old school tap dancing duo was compared to The Nicholas Brothers. Gregory Hines remarked in an interview that after seeing The Nicholas Brothers perform that “nobody was going to be the next Nicholas Brothers, least of all my brother and I.”

 

 

Explore the 1984 film but more importantly explore the controversial history of The Cotton Club and the entertainers and music that fueled the Jazz generation.

 

 

Feud 😒 Bette and Joan -Whatever Happened?

Feud

 

Bette Davis is at the top of my list of incredible actresses of classic film and her infamous relationship with Joan Crawford is legendary. So, when I heard Ryan Murphy’s 2017 series “Feud” was recreating their tumultuous battles in the film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” I had to check it out. Susan Sarandon (Davis) and Jessica Lange (Crawford) bring back old Hollywood and pull back the layers of the complexity between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

 

 

Director Robert Aldrich’s cult classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” (1962) is brilliant! It’s not fair, but to the powers that be, women in Hollywood age but men are considered “salt n pepper” hot. Aldrich’s production capitalized on the star power of the “past their prime” celebrated divas and the result is a glimpse into the real-life feud between the stars.

 

Bette Davis (L) Joan Crawford (R)

 

Not to be too biased😄 but, Ms. Davis literally kicked Joan’s behind! Crawford was way over her head onscreen and off as Bette outperformed and out strategized her nemesis. Bette is my hero because she took on roles other actresses wouldn’t touch because of their image.

 

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Bette Davis in “Of Human Bondage”

 

She wasn’t afraid to go there and if the role required her to look unattractive she was game. An original in a class by herself, in “Of Human Bondage” (1934) her appearance was shocking to audiences of the time as she portrayed a callous woman dying of tuberculosis; not a pretty sight.

 

 

“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a 1962 American psychological thriller-horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, about an aging actress who holds her paraplegic sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion.

 

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Alfred Molina as Aldrich (L)   Robert Aldrich (R)

The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film’s release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White. (Wikipedia)

 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? bette and joan

Bette Davis (L)  Joan Crawford (R)

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Susan Sarandon (L)  Jessica Lange (R)

In true Bette Davis fashion, she came up with her own makeup for the role. She said that Jane was someone who never washed her face but just added more makeup.

In “Whatever Happened…” The young neighbor was played by Davis’ daughter B. D. Merrill who, followed in the footsteps of Joan Crawford’s daughter Christina, and wrote a scathing memoir, “My Mother’s Keeper”, that depicted her mother in a harsh light. However, unlike Christina who waited until after Crawford’s death to publish “Mommie Dearest”, B.D. published hers in 1985 while Davis was still alive but in poor health.

 

"Feud"

B.D (Davis’ daughter-L)   Kiernan Shipka portrays B.D in “Feud”

 

It was an open secret that Davis and Crawford loathed each other, and filming was contentious as their real-life hatred for one another spilled over into the production, and even after filming had wrapped.

 

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The film’s success spawned a succession of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women, later dubbed the psycho-biddy subgenre, among them Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? and What’s the Matter with Helen?. It was parodied by the Italian comedy film What Ever Happened to Baby Toto? (Wikipedia)

Shaun Considine’s 1989 book Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud chronicles the actresses’ rivalry, including their experience shooting this film.

 

 

Both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had incredible and challenging careers and personal lives. If I’ve peaked your interest and you’d like to learn more, check out this eye-opening documentary.

 

 

 

Without Lying Down – Women of the Golden Age!🎬

The Early Visionaries of American Film

star wars galaxy

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…Women were the driving force behind Hollywood and the movies. Today we pay homage to the women who broke the glass ceiling and wrote and directed the films that gave birth to the “Golden Age” of cinema and the motion picture industry.  Unfortunately, when the men realized the gold mine films were becoming, the women faded away thanks to the Hollywood studio system. Well, as the saying goes, “that’s the way they do you.”

 

Frances Marion 1918

Frances Marion 1918

 

Frances Marion was a trailblazer. becoming one of the most powerful screenwriters of the 20th century. With a career that spanned decades, she became the first female to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1930 for the prison life film The Big House, starring Robert Montgomery, Wallace Beery and Chester Morris.

Marion’s research included visiting San Quentin to experience the atmosphere and lingo of the inmates. The movie gave audiences their first taste of hearing prison doors slam shut, tin cups clanking on mess-hall tables and prisoners’ feet shuffling down corridors.

 

 

Adding to her accolades, Frances received the Academy Award for Best Story for The Champ in 1932. The tearjerker chronicled the relationship between a washed out boxer (Wallace Beery) and his young son (Jackie Cooper). Marion was credited with writing 300 scripts and producing over 130 films.

 

 

Born Marion Benson Owens (November 18, 1888) in San Francisco, California, she worked as a journalist and served overseas as a combat correspondent during World War I. On her return home in 1910, she moved to Los Angeles and was hired as a writing assistant and actress by “Lois Weber Productions”, a film company owned and operated by another pioneer female film director Lois Weber.

 

Lois Weber

Lois Weber – Film Director

Frances was quite beautiful and could have continued as an actress but preferred to work behind the camera. She learned screenwriting from Lois Weber and went on to become the highest paid screenwriter, woman or man. Hollywood moguls competed for her stories and stars of the day Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valentino brought her characters to life on the screen.

From 1919 – 1939 her star was ascendant, born at the right place and the right time, honing her craft during one of the most liberating eras for women in film.

 

 

When Marion met Mary Pickford (actress, producer, screenwriter) they became best friends with Marion writing screen adaptations of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Poor Little Rich Girl for Pickford. As a result of the commercial success of “The Poor Little Rich Girl” in 1917 Marion was signed as Pickford’s “exclusive writer” at the salary of $50,000 a year, an unprecedented arrangement for that time.

Pickford was the celebrated “America’s Sweetheart” and in 1919 together with her swashbuckler actor husband Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., director D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation) and “The Tramp” Charlie Chaplin established “United Artists” pictures.

These four were the leading figures in early Hollywood and this was their stand for independence against the powerful studio system. Mary Pickford was also  one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

In 1921, Frances Marion directed a film for the first time with Just Around the Corner. That same year, she directed her friend Mary Pickford in one of her own scripts entitled The Love Light. Their relationship was more than just writer and star, they were collaborators and the friendship between Pickford and Marion lasted more than 50 years.

Married four times, Frances Marion had two children with third husband, actor Fred Thomson. This was her longest marriage, lasting from 1919 until Thomson’s sudden and tragic death from a Tetanus infection in 1928. Frances’ great friend Mary Pickford had introduced them. Frances said it was love at first sight.

 

Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

For many years she was under contract to MGM Studios, but, independently wealthy, left Hollywood in 1946 to devote more time to writing stage plays and novels. Frances Marion published a memoir Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood in 1972.

Frances died on May 12, 1973 leaving a legacy of innovation, independence and inspiration for future aspiring female writers. The documentary, Frances Marion: Without Lying Down,” is an insightful profile of her life and achievements in Hollywood.

 

Without Lying Down

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion

 

Narrated by “Pulp Fiction” actress Uma Thurman and Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, who gives voice to the screenwriter’s own words taken from her letters, diaries. and memoirs. The documentary also features footage from more than twenty of Marion’s movies, with commentary by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow, and film critic Leonard Maltin.

Available for purchase at Amazon.com, I highly recommend checking it out!

  frances marion lying

“I’ve spent my life searching for a man to look up to without lying down.” Frances Marion

 

It would take more than 60 years before women were once again present in meaningful numbers at every level of film production.

 

 

 

 

 

Pioneering Women Filmmakers

The Early Visionaries of American Film: A Series – Part 1

star wars galaxy

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…Women were the driving force behind Hollywood and the movies. This is the first part in a series paying homage to the women who broke the glass ceiling and wrote and directed the films that gave birth to the “Golden Age” of cinema and the motion picture industry.  Unfortunately, when the men realized the gold mine films were becoming, the women faded away thanks to the Hollywood studio system. Well, as the saying goes, “that’s the way they do you.”

 

Frances Marion 1918

Frances Marion 1918

 

Frances Marion was a trailblazer. becoming one of the most powerful screenwriters of the 20th century. With a career that spanned decades, she became the first female to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1930 for the prison life film The Big House, starring Robert Montgomery, Wallace Beery, and Chester Morris. Her research included visiting San Quentin for the atmosphere and lingo of the inmates. The movie gave audiences their first experience of hearing prison doors slam shut, tin cups clanking on mess-hall tables and prisoners’ feet shuffling down corridors.

 

 

Frances also received the Academy Award for Best Story for The Champ in 1932. The tearjerker chronicled the relationship between a washed out boxer (Wallace Beery) and his young son (Jackie Cooper). Marion was credited with writing 300 scripts and producing over 130 films.

 

 

Born Marion Benson Owens (November 18, 1888) in San Francisco, California, she worked as a journalist and served overseas as a combat correspondent during World War I. On her return home in 1910, she moved to Los Angeles and was hired as a writing assistant, and actress by “Lois Weber Productions”, a film company owned and operated by pioneer female film director Lois Weber. (more on Lois Weber in Part 2 of the series)

 

Lois Weber

Lois Weber – Film Director

Frances was quite beautiful and could have been an actress but preferred to work behind the camera. She learned screenwriting from Lois Weber and went on to become the highest paid screenwriter, woman or man. Hollywood moguls competed for her stories and stars of the day Mary Pickford, Lilian Gish, Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valentino brought her characters to life on the screen. From 1919 – 1939 her star was ascendant, born at the right place and the right time, honing her craft during one of the most liberating eras for women in film.

 

 

When Marion met Mary Pickford (actress, producer, screenwriter) they became best friends with Marion writing screen adaptations of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Poor Little Rich Girl for Pickford. As a result of the commercial success of “The Poor Little Rich Girl” in 1917 Marion was signed as Pickford’s “exclusive writer” at the salary of $50,000 a year, an unprecedented arrangement for that time.

Pickford was the celebrated “America’s Sweetheart” and in 1919 together with her swashbuckler actor husband Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., director D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation) and “The Tramp” Charlie Chaplin established “United Artists” pictures. These four were the leading figures in early Hollywood and this was their stand for independence against the powerful studio system. Mary was also  one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

In 1921, Frances Marion directed a film for the first time with Just Around the Corner. That same year, she directed her friend Mary Pickford in one of her own scripts entitled The Love Light. Their relationship was more than just writer and star, they were collaborators and the friendship between Pickford and Marion lasted more than 50 years.

Married four times, Frances Marion had two children with third husband, actor Fred Thomson. This was her longest marriage, lasting from 1919 until Thomson’s sudden and tragic death from a Tetanus infection in 1928. Frances’ great friend Mary Pickford had introduced them. Frances said it was love at first sight.

 

Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

For many years she was under contract to MGM Studios, but, independently wealthy, she left Hollywood in 1946 to devote more time to writing stage plays and novels. Frances Marion published a memoir Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood in 1972.

Frances died on May 12, 1973 leaving a legacy of innovation, independence and inspiration for future aspiring female writers. The documentary, Frances Marion: Without Lying Down,” is an insightful profile of her life and achievements in Hollywood.

 

Without Lying Down

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion

 

Narrated by “Pulp Fiction” actress Uma Thurman and Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, who gives voice to the screenwriter’s own words taken from her letters, diaries. and memoirs. The documentary also features footage from more than twenty of Marion’s movies, with commentary by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow, and film critic Leonard Maltin.

I was fortunate enough to catch it on Turner Classic Movies and it was very enlightening on women’s roles in Hollywood. It’s also available for purchase at Amazon.com. I highly recommend checking it out!

  frances marion lying

“I’ve spent my life searching for a man to look up to without lying down.” Frances Marion

 

It took more than 60 years before women were once again present in meaningful numbers at every level of film production.