Halloween is my favorite holiday! It’s a day for self-expression. A day for fun and fantasy. A day for taking control of phobias and fears and turning your back on Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Where’s your power now Fred? Way to shut that mess down.
It’s also a day to indulge in all your favorite classic, creepy, monster, sci-fi horror films.
Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween, let’s pay homage to the original man of horror. The “Man of a Thousand Faces”- Lon Chaney.
Lon Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930), born Leonidas Frank Chaney
Born to deaf parents, Lon learned to express himself and communicate visually. He took his desire to become an actor and created an art form and space for himself that was revolutionary to the motion picture industry. His makeup artistry allowed him to transform and become grotesque characters in films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). He’s regarded as one of the most important character actors of the silent film era.
The original “monster maker”, he would scout out the daily call sheets for a studio finding out what types of extras were needed for that day’s shoot. He created a make-up toolbox of possibilities for him to achieve the look and characterizations needed to be chosen for a role. This talent was the impetus for his unparalleled reputation in the burgeoning film industry.
Chaney’s alliance with Director Tod Browning was inspired! Browning was into the macabre and best known for his films Dracula (1931) and the cult classic Freaks (1932) and Lon Chaney had the acting and makeup skills to realize any twisted character the director could come up with.
My favorite movie line is from their 1927 silent film The Unknown – “crack of your ass”. (okay, I can’t swear that’s what he said) But, seriously, as Alonzo the Armless, he threatened his co-star Joan Crawford with bodily harm if she did not bend to his will. Remember Grandma Klump from Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor(1996)? “You might walk over, but you limpin’ back! “Chaney totally went there. Check it out:
Let’s talk about the level of twisted in this movie:
A word of advice, if you’ve got a thing about someone that’s all consuming and you’d do anything to get with that person, forget about it!
Plot: This crazy man, Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney) has a knife throwing act using only his feet and is in love with Nanon (Joan Crawford) who”can’t bear to be touched.” He has arms but pretends not to for his act and so Nanon will talk to him. When it’s discovered that he indeed has arms, he blackmails a low-rent surgeon to amputate them. Sick!
Nanon and Alonzo
After his surgery, Alonzo returns to the circus and his knife throwing act. Hoping to rekindle his relationship, he strolls over to Nanon’s circus wagon to see his rival Malabar, the circus strongman, (Norman Kerry) with his hands all over his love. Holy crap, it’s on! Alonzo schemes to get his girl back by rigging the speed of Malabar’s horses in his act which will dislocate and sever his arms during the live circus performance.
Alonzo’s sick plan is working until Nanon realizes what is happening and tries to stop the performance. And then boom! The”crack of your ass” line. As you saw in the clip, things didn’t really work out the way he saw it play out in his mind.
This documentary, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces is a great biography for more in-depth background information and presents a great opportunity to discover your own Lon Chaney gem.
Here it is, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces
Lon Chaney is also the father of Lon Chaney, Jr best known for his role in Universal’s The Wolfman (1941).
I was working on a post the other day and the TV show Nothing but Trailers was on in the background. It got me thinking about some of my all-time favorites and what constitutes a great trailer.
First of all, it can’t just be a series of scenes from the movie. That really irks me! What’s the point of me going if you’ve already given me your best shots? Just lazy.
An excellent trailer peaks your curiosity gets your heart-stirring and demands that you’re first in line to see it. An incredible trailer gives you minimal information but builds the anticipation with atmospheric music, punctuation shots, and an ending that elicits the core emotion of the film.
This is the criteria I applied to the following trailers and is the basis for them being some of the most memorable.
Number One has got to be the 1979 sci-fi classic – Alien. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Starring Sigourney Weaver, director Ridley Scott scared the crap out of me and the little boy sitting in front of me at the theater. Oh, and to make matters worse, I was pregnant at the time. Yikes! (if you’ve seen it you understand if you haven’t, what?? You must!) And my girl Sigourney Weaver showed the world what a badass woman in space looks like.
This is the epitome of an incredible trailer. Little bits and moments and truly haunting music. My heart was racing and I had no idea of what I’d just seen.
The visuals were outstanding! There was absolutely nothing familiar in the images coming off the screen. The Alien and its accompanying elements were designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger. (I don’t know how he slept with those images in his head) The film received both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Number Two is the sci-fi thriller –The Dark Knight (2008) – “Why So Serious?”
First of all, Heath Ledger. Second of all, Heath Ledger!! Even in the trailer, his intensity shines thru. He draws you in and you’re compelled to see more. His Oscar-winning performance was incredible and the most talked about that year.
Ledger almost made a complete sweep of over twenty awards for acting, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Unfortunately, we lost him, but his genius as The Joker lives on. Starring Christian Bale as the caped crusader and directed by Christopher Nolan, when I saw this trailer I knew where I was going to be on opening night. Totally lived up to the hype.
And, Now Presenting… “The Master of Suspense”!
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked the world with his groundbreaking thriller. Unsuspecting moviegoers stood in lines that wrapped around the block with no one being allowed admittance after the movie began. Intensifying the anticipation, each patron’s directive was to NOT reveal the ending.
Watch this legend pull on your tension string. From the “Master of Suspense”, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s – Psycho (1960) “…she just goes a little mad sometimes.”
This trailer shows Alfred Hitchcock taught the world just how horror is done. Fits all my criteria for an incredible movie trailer and then some. Starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, my heart is racing right now re-visiting this magnificent piece of cinema.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock – (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980)
Hitch’s stylistic trademarks include the use of camera movement that mimics a person’s gaze, forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism. In addition, he framed shots to maximize anxiety, fear, or empathy and used innovative forms of film editing. (Wikipedia)
To quote me, “An incredible trailer gives you minimal information but builds the anticipation with atmospheric music, punctuation shots, and an ending that elicits the core emotion of the film.”
An unquestionable classic!
Now that I’ve shared some of my faves, I’d love to hear some of yours! 😎
Produced in 1943 at MGM by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincent Minnelli, “Cabin in the Sky” is the 1st all Black film produced by a major studio in Hollywood. “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and sung by the film’s star, Ethel Waters.
This musical take on Faust pits Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) against Luther Jr. (Lucifer’s baby boy). Enter temptress Georgia Brown (Lena Horne). Does Little Joe’s wife, Petunia (Ethel Waters) even stand a chance or will Joe be condemned to Hell?
“Cabin in the Sky” in featuring an all-African American cast was an unusual production for its time. In the 1940s, movie theaters in many cities, particularly in the southern United States, refused to show films with prominent black performers, so MGM took a considerable financial risk by approving the film. (Wikipedia)
Some remember “Cabin in the Sky” for its intelligent and witty script, which some claimed treated its characters and their race with a dignity rare in American films of the time. Others described Cabin in the Sky’s racial politics as the same “old stereotypes of Negro caricatures”.
Ethel Waters, Kenneth Spencer, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Rex Ingram
According to liner notes in the CD reissue of the film’s soundtrack, Freed and Minnelli sought input from black leaders before production began on the film.
When I first saw this film as a kid in the 60’s I was absolutely floored. This was during the civil rights era and I had no idea that in the 1940’s a major production company had taken on the issue of the lack of black representation in film. I understand the point about the stereotypical characterizations – Lena Horne, the aggressive, hypersexual black woman. Ethel Waters, the dutiful, prayerful housewife and “Rochester”, the buffoonish and no account lazy black man.
My feelings of the film are mixed because to some extent, it feeds into the political narrative that some black folks aren’t worthy of equality because they wouldn’t know what to do with it if they had it. But on the other hand, there was finally a film with all black faces, the most gifted entertainers of all-time – Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and their stories. These characters weren’t just sprinkled in, they were integral to the plot and couldn’t be cut out in racist southern theaters.
As a black woman, it both breaks my heart and angers me that we even needed to have this conversation, not only in the ’40’s but as an ongoing fight for all aspects of African-American representation on-screen.
After years of unavailability, Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment released “Cabin in the Sky” on DVD on January 10, 2006. I recommend checking it out with this backstory in mind. These legendary artists deserved to have worldwide exposure the same as their white counterparts of the day.
We’ve come along way, but the truth is we still have a long way to go.
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Broadcast on February 16, 1967, the storyline was written by Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilber, and directed by Marc Daniels. The plot explored the concept of Eugenics,”super-intelligence and the result of creating a group of “super people” (from Earth’s past) bred to conquer the world.
The subsequent 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khanwas a brilliant sequel to “Space Seed” as we find out what subsequently happened to Khan and his people on the planet to which Kirk banished them.
The film ratcheted up the intensity of the television episode proving to be a full-out sci-fi thriller which I give two, very enthusiast, thumbs up!👍🏼👍🏼
Khan: To the last, I grapple with thee. From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.
Wow, what a statement! In 1966, an authentic representation of an international crew. Radical stuff which showed the brilliance and social awareness of creator, the late Gene Roddenberry.
Set in the 23rd century, the series would evolve to follow the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew who were charged with solving intergalactic conflicts without interfering in the planet’s culture. This vehicle was Gene Roddenberry’s method of initiating dialogue around controversial human and sometimes not so human, issues such as racism, technology, war.
(Front to back – William Shatner (center) DeForrest Kelly (L) Leonard Nimoy (R) James Doohan (back L), Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei)
I’ve always been of the mind that art is revolutionary. The great Renaissance masters like DaVinci, and Michelangelo, were considered subversives in their time. They had to hide their political messages inside their remarkable works to keep from being prosecuted. In his way, Gene Roddenberry could be considered a “Renaissance Man”.
(August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991)
Roddenberry had a vision that we can co-exist in a multicultural, multinational world and, as an eleven-year-old black girl from the east side of Detroit, I was right there with him. I had the same dreams and beliefs for my future.
The series was produced from September 1966–December 1967 by Norway Productions and Desilu Productions, and by Paramount Television from January 1968–June 1969. Star Trek aired on NBC from September 8, 1966, to June 3, 1969, and was actually seen first on September 6, 1966, on Canada’s CTVnetwork.
“Trouble with Tribbles”
Star Trek‘s Nielsen ratings while on NBC were low, and the network canceled the show after three seasons and 79 episodes. Several years later, the series became a bona fide hit in broadcast syndication, remaining so throughout the 1970s, achieving cult classic status and a developing influence on popular culture.
Star Trek eventually spawned a franchise, consisting of five additional television series, thirteen feature films, numerous books, games, toys, and is now widely considered one of the most popular and influential television series of all time. (Wikipedia)
Ethel Waters was American blues, jazz and gospel singer, and actress. Her best-known recordings include “Dinah,” “Stormy Weather,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Heat Wave,” “Supper Time,” “Am I Blue?” and “Cabin in the Sky,” as well as her version of the spiritual “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”
Waters was the second African American, after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Academy Award. She was also the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award, in 1962. (Wikipedia)
Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on October 31, 1896, and by the age of 17 was singing professionally in Baltimore. It was there that she became the first woman to sing “St. Louis Blues” on the stage. In 1925 she appeared at the Plantation Club in Harlem, and her performance there led to Broadway. In 1927 she appeared in an all-black revue Africana. Thereafter she divided her time between the stage, nightclubs, and eventually movies. (Wikipedia)
Ms. Waters had a troubled childhood. Born as the result of rape, she was raised in poverty and never lived in the same place for more than 15 months. Waters said of her difficult upbringing, “I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.”
After her start in Baltimore, Waters toured on the black vaudeville circuit. As she described it later, “I used to work from nine until unconscious.” Despite her early success, she fell on hard times and joined a carnival, traveling in freight cars along the carnival circuit and eventually reaching Chicago.
Around 1919, Waters moved to Harlem and there became a celebrity performer in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. In 1921, women blues singers were among the most powerful entertainers in the country and Waters became the fifth black woman to make a record, on the tiny Cardinal Records label.
As her career continued, she evolved into a blues and Broadway singer, performing with artists such as Duke Ellington and starring at the Cotton Club.
She had a featured role in the wildly successful Irving Berlin Broadway musical revue As Thousands Cheer in 1933, in which she was the first black woman in an otherwise white show. She had three gigs at this point; in addition to the show, she starred in a national radio program and continued to work in nightclubs. (Wikipedia)
Ms. Waters was the highest-paid performer on Broadway starring as Petunia in the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky. In 1942 Ms. Waters reprised her stage role of 1940 in the film, directed by Vincente Minnelli; it was a huge success.
Adding to her list of accomplishments, Ms. Waters was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the controversial film “Pinky“ (1949) about a light-skinned black woman passing for white; directed by Elia Kazan.
In 1950, she won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for her performance opposite Julie Harris in the play The Member of the Wedding. Waters and Harris reprised their roles in the 1952 film version, Member of the Wedding.
Ethel Waters, Julie Harris
In 1950, Waters starred in the television series Beulah, becoming the first African-American actress to have a lead role in a television series. However, she quit after complaining that the portrayal of blacks was “degrading.” She later guest-starred in 1957 and 1959 on NBC’s The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the 1957 episode, she sang “Cabin in the Sky”. (Wikipedia)
Despite her earlier successes, by the 1950’s Ms. Waters remarkable career was fading. As her health suffered, she worked only sporadically. In 1950–51 she wrote her autobiography His Eye Is on the Sparrow with Charles Samuels, in which she wrote candidly about her life.
His Eye Is on the Sparrow was adapted for a stage production in which she was portrayed by Ernestine Jackson. Her second autobiography was titled – To Me, It’s Wonderful.
American feminist and jazz historian Rosetta Reitz called Waters “a natural … [Her] songs are enriching, nourishing. You will want to play them over and over again, idling in their warmth and swing. Though many of them are more than 50 years old, the music and the feeling are still there.”
Both the Oscars and Black History Month are recognized in February which gives me the perfect opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Artists in Hollywood.
2015 and 2016 were standout years for the lack of Black filmmakers nominated for Oscars. However, 2017 breaks that record and will make African-American Oscar nominee history.
Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer “Hidden Figures” (2016)
1. “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, 37, is the first African-American filmmaker to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
2. “Fences” star Viola Davis, 51, is the first Black actress to be nominated for an Oscar three times (Doubt in 2009, The Help in 2012) with her Best Supporting Actress nod.
3. “Arrival” cinematographer Bradford Young, 39, is the first African-American to be nominated for the Best Cinematography award. (Young is the second Black man; British cinematographer Remi Adefarasin was nominated for Elizabeth in 1998.)
4. A Black actor is nominated in all four acting categories for the first time in history:
5. This is the first time that six African-American actors and actresses have been nominated in total. (The previous record was five in 2005 and 2007.)
6. “Moonlight” editor Joi McMillon is the first Black woman to be nominated for film editing.
7. This is the first time that three Black people have been nominated within a single category (Best Supporting Actress, in this case):
Viola Davis in Fences, Naomie Harris in Moonlight, and Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures. (Carolyn L. Todd)
Let’s keep up the good work Oscars!
The 12th Academy Awards is historic for being the 1st Oscar nomination for an African-American and 1st Oscar win. In 1940, Hattie McDaniel accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in “Gone With the Wind” for the character – Mammy.
However, if David O. Selznick (Producer, film studio executive) hadn’t pulled a favor, she might not have been able to deliver her acceptance speech at all. At the time, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub (located in the Ambassador Hotel) was segregated so Ms. McDaniel wasn’t even allowed entrance. Selznick pulled another favor so she could be seated at a table at the very back of the room with her agent. To add insult to injury, Hattie McDaniel wasn’t allowed to speak her own words, the acceptance speech was written by the studio.
Despite all the prejudice, Hattie McDaniel – who at the time was one of the biggest African-American actors in the world -promoted herself for the nomination. After the release of the movie, she placed a stack of outstanding film reviews on O. Selznick’s desk and the rest is history. (Wikipedia)
First Best Actress Oscar
In 2002, Halle Berry became the 1st (and to date) only African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. The Oscar was for the film “Monsters Ball”.
Halle Berry 2002 Best Actress
Dorothy Dandridge – (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) is the 1st African-American actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1954 for her performance in “Carmen Jones.” She has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was married to dancer Harold Nicholas. Check out my previous post on the Nicholas Brothers here.
Watching Halle’s acceptance speech again while researching this post, I burst into tears reliving her emotion as she tries to process the win and the historical significance of this moment. Looking forward to the acceptance speech of our second Best Actress Oscar Winner.
Halle and Denzel Oscars
This win also marked the 1st time two African-American performers won in leading role Oscars in the same year (Denzel Washington, Training Day).
Best Supporting Actress
First to Win: Hattie McDaniel “Gone With the Wind” 1940
Hattie McDaniel 1940 Oscars
Although known as an actress she was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star; she was the first black woman to sing on the radio in the U.S. and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.
Hattie McDaniel was also the oldest African-American actress to win an Academy Award (age 44).
Kirk Douglas’s personality has always been larger than life; with an incredible presence and life that has spanned these 100 years.
Kirk Douglas (born Issur Danielovitch; December 9, 1916) is an American actor, producer, director, and author. He is one of the last survivors of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Young Kirk Douglas
After an impoverished childhood with immigrant parents and six sisters, he had his film debut in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck. Douglas soon developed into a leading box-office star throughout the 1950s and 1960s, known for serious dramas, including westerns and war movies. (Wikipedia)
During a 64-year acting career, he has appeared in more than 90 movies and in 1960 (through his production company – Bryna Productions) helped end the Hollywood Blacklist by hiring blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to write “Spartacus” (1960) with an official on-screen credit. I gained a lot of respect for Douglas when I learned of this decision.
Kirk Douglas as Spartacus
Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted at the time as one of the Hollywood Ten. The ten writers and directors who were cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted after refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party.
Douglas publicly announced that Trumbo was the screenwriter of Spartacus, and President-elect John F. Kennedy crossed American Legion picket lines to view the film, helping to end blacklisting. The author of the novel on which it is based, Howard Fast, was also blacklisted, and originally had to self-publish it. (Wikipedia)
The film became the biggest moneymaker in Universal Studios’ history until it was surpassed by Airport (1970).
This scene from “Spartacus” is very apropos; rebels standing up for Spartacus the way Douglas stood up for Dalton Trumbo.
I love this cinematic moment reflecting the truth that when we stand together, we are a mighty force!
Douglas’s image as a tough guy and international star were established in his eighth film, “Champion” (1949) after producer Stanley Kramer chose him to play a selfish boxer. He received his first Academy Award nomination and the film earned six nominations in all. Variety magazine called it “a stark, realistic study of the boxing rackets.” (Wikipedia)
From that film on, Kirk decided that to succeed as a star, he needed to ramp up his intensity, overcome his natural shyness, and choose stronger roles.
Douglas’early films include Young Man with a Horn (1950), playing opposite Lauren Bacall and Doris Day; Ace in the Hole opposite Jan Sterling (1951); and Detective Story (1951). He received a second Oscar nomination for his dramatic role in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), opposite Lana Turner, and his third nomination for portraying Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). (Wikipedia)
As an actor and philanthropist, Douglas has received three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As an author, he has written ten novels and memoirs. Currently, he is No. 17 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema, and the highest-ranked living person on the list.
Wife Anne and Kirk Douglas
A birthday gala was held for Douglas in the Sunset Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel on December 9th. In keeping with his larger than life persona, he entered the celebration with the theme from “Rocky” blaring over the speakers.
Son, Michael Douglas kicked off the proceedings, saying that it’s not just about age, but about the life he’s lived and what he’s accomplished.
Kirk Douglas, seated left, holds hands with his wife Anne Douglas, seated right, as they pose with family members, their son Michael, standing second left with his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, and their children, Carys Zeta-Jones, left, and son DylanCREDIT:CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP
As clips from Douglas’ films played in the background, fun and poignant stories were shared about the legend from Don Rickles, Steven Spielberg, friends, and family.
“My wife Anne and I always use these happy occasions to give presents to the institutions we support through our foundation,” he wrote. “Giving is a selfish act, I maintain because it makes you feel so good. I am always asked for advice on living a long and healthy life. I don’t have any. I do believe, however, that we have a purpose for being here. I was spared after a helicopter crash and a stroke to do more good in the world before I leave it.” Kirk Douglas