TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty-Two — Natalie Wood

•August 21, 2020 • 1 Comment

Unforgettable star.

It’s not often that a popular child star makes a successful transition to screen fame. From the Golden Age of Hollywood, I can only think of a few off the top of my head – Judy Garland. Mickey Rooney. Elizabeth Taylor. Bonita Granville. Roddy McDowall.

And Natalie Wood.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko was born on July 20, 1938, in San Francisco, the second of three daughters born to Russian immigrants Nikolai, who worked as a day laborer and carpenter, and his wife, Maria. Shortly after Natalia was born, the family moved to Santa Rosa, and when a movie was filming in the area one day, when Natalia was four years old, her mother took her to audition as an extra. Natalia landed a bit part in the movie, Happy Land, and director Irving Pichel was so charmed by the little girl that he vowed to one day “send for her.”

Adorable moppet.

Certain that Natalia was meant for a future on the big screen, Maria urged her husband to move the family to Los Angeles, and two years later, Pichel made good on his promise. After Natalia landed a part in Pichel’s upcoming film Tomorrow is Forever for RKO, studio exec William Goetz shortened her first name to Natalie and chose her last name in honor of his friend, director Sam Wood. The following year, Natalie was cast in three pictures (whose filming schedules often overlapped) – The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay, and the movie that would make her a household name, Miracle on 34th Street.

OTHER STUFF:

  • During a scene in the 1949 movie The Green Promise, a collapsible bridge threw Natalie into the raging waters below. Natalie broke her left wrist and almost drowned. The accident left Natalie with a bone protrusion that she masked with large bracelets – both on and off-camera – for the rest of her life.

    Natalie and Robert — the first time around.

  • When she was 15, Natalie appeared in an episode of the live anthology series General Electric Theater opposite 23-year-old James Dean. On the show, Natalie got her first kiss. A short time later, she was cast with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1954).
  • Natalie was married twice to actor Robert Wagner, from 1957 to 1962, and from 1972 until her death in 1981.
  • Wood had a longtime fear of water, particularly dark water, and often dreamed of drowning. Sadly, she died at the age of 43 after reportedly falling off of the yacht she was aboard with her husband, Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken. While her death was originally ruled an accidental drowning, her cause of death was modified by the L.A. County Chief Coroner in 2012 to “’drowning and other undetermined factors.”
  • Pallbearers at Natalie’s funeral were Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Elia Kazan, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and Frank Sinatra.

MY SUTS PICK:

See it.

With no Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, or even Miracle on 34th Street to gum up the works, my choice for Natalie Wood Day was a cinch: Love with a Proper Stranger (1963), where she stars with Steve McQueen. Natalie earned her third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (the other two were for Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass), playing a Macy’s store clerk who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a musician. Whether you’ve seen it already, or this will be your first-time viewing, you’re in for a treat. Trust me.

And join me for Day 23 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty-One — Diana Dors

•August 21, 2020 • 6 Comments

Don’t call her the British Marilyn Monroe.

Some said that Diana Dors was England’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. (She resented the reference.)

In an interview with famed journalist Mike Wallace, he described her as a “bosomy blonde bundle with a flair for publicity that is extraordinary even by American standards.”

She was known for a time as Britain’s Number One Sex Symbol.

I notice that none of these labels refer to her acting talent. But she had it. Find out for yourself when TCM celebrates her first-time appearance on Summer Under the Stars.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Diana Mary Fluck was born on October 23, 1931, in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, the daughter of a railway clerk. Educated at a small private school, she fell in love with the movies as a child, when her mother took her to local movie theaters, and her favorite film stars were Veronica Lake, Lana Turner, and Jean Harlow.

Young Diana.

Even in her adolescence, Diana looked and acted older than her age, and at the age of 14, she was offered a spot in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). After appearing in several LAMDA theater productions, she was spotted by a casting director and given a small part in her film debut in The Shop at Sly Corner (1947). It was around this time that she adopted the name “Dors,” the maiden name of her maternal grandmother.

When she was 15, Diana signed a contact with the Rank Organisation, England’s largest film production, distribution and exhibition company, founded by J. Arthur Rank. Diana joined Rank’s “Charm School” for young actors. She appeared in numerous films over the next few years, including Rank’s adaptation of Oliver Twist (1948), directed by David Lean.

OTHER STUFF:

  • In a much-ballyhooed publicity stunt at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, Diana sailed down Venice’s Grand Canal in a gondola, clad only in a mink bikini.

    Dors in Venice. In her mink bikini.

  • In summer 1961, Diana shot an episode for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” based on a story by Robert Bloch (who wrote Psycho). It was deemed to be so gruesome that it never aired on network television, and was not seen until the series was sold into syndication. The episode co-starred Brandon DeWilde.
  • Diana’s second husband was actor Richard Dawson, perhaps best known for his role on Hogan’s Heroes, appearances on the Match Game show, and his longtime hosting of Family Feud. They had two children together before divorcing after seven years of marriage.
  • The actress once said that she was asked by the Rank Organisation to change her name, explaining, “I suppose they were afraid that if ‘Diana Fluck’ was in lights and one of the lights blew . . .”
  • Diana died of ovarian cancer at the age of 52. Five months later, her third husband committed suicide.

MY SUTS PICK:

Check it out.

I’ve only seen one Diana Dors film – Yield to the Night (1956). It’s excellent but, sadly, it’s not airing on her Summer Under the Stars day. (If you every get a chance to see it, be sure you take it.) So my pick will be based strictly on the description on the TCM website and comments from viewers – The Long Haul (1958). It stars Victor Mature (always a plus in my book!) and it’s about a veteran who is lured into crime by his boss’s mistress. If you have any other recommendations, please share!

And join me for Day 22 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty — William Powell

•August 20, 2020 • 5 Comments

William Powell: The embodiment of sophistication.

Just picturing William Powell makes me smile. I can’t think of a single performance of his that doesn’t bring me joy, in one way or another – from Double Harness (1933) to How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and from My Man Godfrey (1936) to Mister Roberts (1955).

Suave and sophisticated in his demeanor, he was as adept at drama as he was at comedy, and he never failed to deliver.

IN THE BEGINNING:

William Horatio Powell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 29, 1892. His father, Horatio, was a public accountant who moved his family to Kansas City, Missouri, when Powell was 15. In high school, Powell became interested in drama, but his father envisioned a path leading toward law for his son, and he enrolled him in public speaking classes. Ironically, it was his public speaking teacher who encouraged the teen to try out for the school’s Christmas play and he never looked back. When Powell graduated from high school, he attended the University of Kansas, but he left after a few weeks, moved to New York, and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His classmates included future fellow film stars Edward G. Robinson and Joseph Schildkraut.

Young William.

The first couple of years after he graduated from the American Academy were lean ones, but Powell managed to find jobs in vaudeville and with stock companies in Pittsburgh, Portland, and Buffalo, New York. He also made his Broadway debut in 1912 playing three bit parts in The Ne’er Do Well, but the play closed after only a few weeks. Finally, in 1916, Powell returned to Broadway in small roles in The King and The Judge of Zalamea. Both plays starred a German-born actor-director named Leo Dietrichstein, who took the 24-year-old under his wing. Powell later said that Dietrichstein “taught me all I know about acting.”

Powell spent the next several years in a variety of stage roles, including Spanish Love, for which he was praised by one reviewer for his “touching emotional sensitivity and thrilling range.” His performance led to an offer in his big screen debut, a silent version of Sherlock Holmes (1922) starring John Barrymore.

OTHER STUFF:

  • Powell was in 15 films with Myrna Loy, including the Thin Man series, Manhattan Melodrama (1934) and The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

    Powell with his third wife, Diana “Mousie” Powell.

  • Powell dated actress Jean Harlow for two years, until her untimely death at the age of 26. Powell purchased her crypt at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, which was reserved for Harlow, Powell, and Harlow’s mother. In August 1957, Powell signed a document which stated his wishes that he not be buried there – but also that no other person be buried there except Harlow and her mother.
  • In 1968, Powell’s only son, William Powell, Jr., committed suicide at the age of 43, reportedly despondent over a chronic kidney ailment that prevented him from continuing his career as a television writer and producer.
  • After his 1955 appearance as Doc in Mister Roberts, Powell retired from acting.
  • Powell married his third wife, actress Diana Lewis, in January 1940, three weeks after meeting her. They were married until Powell’s death in 1984 at the age of 91.

MY SUTS PICK:

Don’t miss it.

This was a tough one. Two of my most-loved Powell films are airing on his day – Libeled Lady (1936) and Life With Father (1947). Ultimately, I decided on Libeled Lady, for the sheer delight that it delivers every time I see it – and I’ve seen it many times. This screwball comedy focuses on a former reporter who’s hired by a newspaper to woo an heiress who is suing the newspaper . . . well, just watch it. It’s so good. It stars Powell, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow, and they make a perfect foursome. Tune in and you’ll see what I mean.

And join me for Day 21 of Summer Under the Stars!

 

 

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Nineteen — Dolores del Rio

•August 18, 2020 • 3 Comments

One of the most beautiful things in the world.

She was beautiful. She was elegant. She was sophisticated.

She was Dolores del Rio.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Dolores del Rio was born María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete on August 3, 1904, in Durango, Mexico. Her family was part of the local aristocracy; her paternal grandfather was director of the Bank of Durango, and her maternal grandparents were among the richest families in the country. Her family’s wealth was lost during the Mexican Revolution; her father escaped to the United States, and Dolores and her mother fled to Mexico City, dressed as peasants. The family was reunited in Mexico City, and Maria enrolled in a college operated by French nuns. After seeing a performance of famed ballerina Anna Pavlova, Dolores decided to become a dancer.

Young Dolores.

At the age of 17, Maria met Jaime del Rio Vinent, an attorney who was 18 years her senior, and married him after a whirlwind courtship. After a two-year honeymoon in Europe, the couple settled in Mexico City. A few years later, while visiting Mexico for the wedding of Bert Lytell and Claire Windsor, American filmmaker Edwin Carewe saw Dolores dance at a dinner party given by a local artist. Carewe, a director at First National Studio, convinced Dolores that he could make her a star, and he put her under personal contract. Credited as Dolores Del Rio, her first film was Joanna (1925), followed by High Steppers (1926). In both, which were directed by Carewe, Del Rio’s footage ended mostly on the cutting room floor. But she fared better with her next two films, Pals First (1926), again directed by Carewe, and The Whole Town’s Talking (1926), helmed by Raoul Walsh.

OTHER STUFF:

She had a tumultuous relationship with Orson Welles.

  • Del Rio was married for 10 years to MGM set designer Cedric Gibbons. Her marriage ended after she became involved with actor-director Orson Welles, according to Welles biographer Barbara Leaming.
  • While involved with Welles, Del Rio appeared in his film, Journey Into Fear (1943). After this film, her relationship with Welles ended. She left Hollywood and returned to Mexico, where she continued her film career, becoming one of the most important stars of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
  • In 1954 del Rio was supposed to appear in the 20th Century Fox western Broken Lance, but the U.S. government accused her of being sympathetic to international Communism and refused to allow her to work in the United States. She was replaced by Katy Jurado.
  • An advocate of the arts, del Rio was the first woman selected to sit on the Cannes Film Festival jury.
  • Author George Bernard Shaw once said that the two most beautiful things in the world were the Taj Mahal and Dolores Del Rio.

MY SUTS PICK:

Check out Cheyenne Autumn.

I’ve only seen one Dolores del Rio film, Journey Into Fear (1943), but I have to be honest and share that (1) I wasn’t all that fond of the picture, and (2) I have no recollection of Dolores del Rio being in it! So I’m going out on a limb. In keeping with my current obsession with westerns, I’m going to recommend del Rio’s last film of the day, Cheyenne Autumn (1964). According to the TCM website, the film is about a reluctant Calvary Captain who is tracking a defiant tribe of migrating Cheyennes. All I know is that it stars two of my favorite actors – Richard Widmark and Karl Malden – and it’s directed by John Ford. So it’s gotta be good, right? Let’s find out together!

And join me for Day 20 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Eighteen — Warren Beatty

•August 17, 2020 • 3 Comments

Beautiful. And more.

Warren Beatty was, in my estimation, one of Hollywood’s most beautiful men.

But he was more than just easy on the eyes. He proved in countless films that behind that pretty face was not only a superb actor, but an outstanding writer, director and producer as well. (Talk about the complete package!)

IN THE BEGINNING:

Henry Warren Beaty was born on March 30, 1937, in Richmond, Virginia, the second of two children of Ira, a teacher and school administrator, and Kathlyn, who also worked as a teacher. Beatty’s older sibling is actress Shirley MacLaine. The family eventually moved to Arlington. Some sources say that Beatty first became interested in the movies during his adolescence, when his sister would take him to the theater.

Young Warrren

The summer before his senior year of high school, Warren worked as a stagehand at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. After his graduation, he enrolled in Northwestern University, but he left after his first year to study acting in New York at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. His career began on television, with appearances on shows like Studio One and Playhouse 90, and he was a semi-regular on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis during its first season. In his sole Broadway performance, in A Loss of Roses, Warren was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play.

Beatty made his big screen debut in Splendor in the Grass (1961) opposite Natalie Wood. For his performance, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor and won the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year – Actor.

OTHER STUFF:

Beatty and Bening and baby.

  • Beatty is the only person to have been Academy Award-nominated for acting, directing, writing, and producing the same film – and he did it twice, for Heaven Can Wait (1978) and for Reds (1981).
  • Much has been made about the beautiful and famous women Beatty dated before getting married. These included (but, as they say, were not limited to) Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Leslie Caron, Joan Collins, Mary Tyler Moore, Natalie Wood, and Madonna. (Incidentally, in 2015, singer-songwriter Carly Simon stated that the second verse of her 1972 hit song ‘You’re So Vain’ was about Beatty, who she dated at one time.)
  • Beatty has been married since 1992 to actress Annette Bening. When Beatty and Bening got married, he was 54 and she was 33. They have four children.
  • Beatty served as a pallbearer at the funeral of Sen. John McCain.
  • In 2000, Beatty was given the Irving G. Thalberg Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The award is given to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” In 2008, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

MY SUTS PICK:

Don’t miss it.

I couldn’t pick anything other than Bonnie and Clyde (1968). It’s one of my favorite films – one that I well remember seeing at the drive-in with my mother when I was a little girl. I’ve seen it many (many) times since, and its excellence, impact, and beauty haven’t diminished in the least; there are still scenes that leave me breathless. Produced by Beatty, the film, of course, is about the legendary Depression-era crime couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the Central United States robbing banks, small stores, and rural gas stations.

If you’ve seen it, treat yourself for a re-watch. And if you haven’t, I envy the experience you have in store.

And join me for Day 19 of Summer Under the Stars!

 

 

 

 

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Seventeen — Maureen O’Hara

•August 16, 2020 • 3 Comments

A tough Irish lass.

Maureen O’Hara was a green-eyed, titian-haired beauty whose personality and splendor practically leapt off of the silver screen. She starred in such beloved classics as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and The Quiet Man (1952), and enjoyed a career that spanned from the 1930s to her final appearance in 2000.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Maureen FitzSimons was born near Dublin, Ireland, on August 17, 1920, one of six children born to Charles, a clothing merchant, and Marguerite, a former actress with the Abbey Theatre. A chubby tomboy as a child, Maureen took classes in ballet and acting, put on family shows with her brothers and sisters, and decided to become an actress after performing on a local radio show. She studied drama at the Apprentice School of the Abbey Theatre, and at the age of 15, she was the youngest student to complete the Guildhall School of Music’s drama course. She also excelled in academics, receiving a medal as the leading honor student for the entire British Isles in an annual scholarship competition.

In late 1937, Maureen was in attendance at a civic celebration in Dublin where American entertainer Harry Richman was the featured guest. Maureen’s beauty caught his eye and Richman mentioned her to his producers when he traveled to London a few days later. A short time later, Maureen was invited to London to do a screen test, and she was promptly cast in a small role as a secretary in Richman’s new picture, Kicking the Moon Around (1938). While still in London, Maureen was cast in the title role of My Irish Molly (made in 1938, but not released in the U.S. until two years later).

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Shortly before Maureen was scheduled to return to Dublin, she was invited to meet with German film producer Erich Pommer, who, along with actor Charles Laughton, had formed a production company called Mayflower Pictures. Sources differ as to whether it was Pommer or Laughton who first spotted Maureen (both claim to have discovered her), but the reality is that she was judged to be perfect for a role in Mayflower’s upcoming production of Jamaica Inn (1939), and she was cast in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed film. Before the release of the film, her stage name was changed to “O’Hara.” Later that year, she signed a contract with RKO Studios, moved to Hollywood, and made her American film debut as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

OTHER STUFF:

With husband, Capt. Charles Blair.

  • O’Hara was reportedly the first choice to play Anna in The King and I, but composer Richard Rogers put the kibosh on the plan because he didn’t want Anna played by a “pirate queen” (a reference to O’Hara’s many roles in swashbucklers).
  • O’Hara was having lunch with actress Lucille Ball when Ball met her future husband, Desi Arnaz, for the first time.
  • O’Hara’s daughter, Bronwyn, was named after the character played by Anna Lee in How Green Was My Valley (1941).
  • In 1978, O’Hara became the first woman to be president of an American airline with scheduled flights after the death of her third husband, aviation pioneer and pilot Charles Blair. The airline was Antilles Air Boats, located in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • In 2014, O’Hara – who never received a competitive Oscar nomination – was given an honorary Academy Award for her on-screen roles that “glowed with passion, warmth and strength.” The actress died in her sleep the following year at the age of 95.

MY SUTS PICK:

See Sitting Pretty.

My Maureen O’Hara pick was surprisingly easy – Sitting Pretty (1948) is a delightful film starring O’Hara and Robert Young as a married couple with three lively sons. When the couple hires a woman, “Lynn” Belvedere, to serve as a housekeeper and nanny, they are stunned to learn that Lynn is a dapper older gentleman who winds up turning their household upside down. If you’ve never seen this one, do yourself a favor and check it out. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

And join me for Day 18 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Sixteen — Cary Grant

•August 16, 2020 • 9 Comments

Sophistication, personified.

Cary Grant. The very name conjures up an image of suave sophistication, and impeccable elegance. But beneath the debonair veneer was an actor with talent and depth.

It was an unbeatable combination.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, England, on January 18, 1904 to Elsie and Elias Leach, a pants presser. Elsie suffered from clinical depression; she’d had another son who died shortly before his first birthday and reportedly never got over the tragedy. One day, at the age of 10, Archie came home from school to find his mother gone – his father had had her committed to a mental hospital. She remained there for the next 21 years.

When he was 14, Archie was expelled from school for peeking into the girls’ bathroom. It was the end of his formal education. His life took on a new direction after a chance backstage visit to Bristol’s Hippodrome Theater. He got a job calling performers to the stage, and within a few weeks, he’d joined Penders Knockabout Comedians, where he learned pantomime, acrobatics, and walking on stilts. When the troupe traveled to New York two years later, Archie went with them, and when the tour ended, Archie stayed behind.

Pre-Cary.

Archie made ends meet by selling ties and stilt walking, and gradually started landing roles in local stage productions. In 1929, he managed to get a screen test at Paramount Studios, but he was rejected because he had “bow legs and a thick neck.” Two years later, he tested for Paramount again. This time, he wound up with a contract and a new name – Cary Grant. His first film under his new contract was This is the Night (1932), starring Charles Ruggles and Thelma Todd.

OTHER STUFF:

  • Grant became a U.S. citizen in 1942.
  • In July 1942, Grant married his second wife, heiress Barbara Woolworth Hutton, prompting the tabloids to label the couple as “Cash and Cary.”
  • The actor donated his entire salary from his 1944 film Arsenic and Old Lace, to the U.S. war relief fund.

    Grant with his only child, Jennifer, and her mother, Dyan Cannon.

  • Grant has only one incisor (front tooth), instead of two. As the story goes, he knocked out a tooth while ice skating as a boy, and went to a local dental college, where his teeth were gradually pushed together to fill in the gap.
  • Grant was 62 years old when his first child, Jennifer Grant, was born. Jennifer’s mother was Cary’s fourth wife, Dyan Cannon.

MY SUTS PICK:

Don’t miss it.

Selecting my pick for Cary Grant day was surprisingly easy – His Girl Friday (1940) has been one of my favorite films since I first saw it decades ago. A (superior, in my opinion) remake of the 1931 film The Front Page, His Girl Friday stars Grant as a single-minded newspaper editor who is determined to keep his ex-wife and former star reporter from leaving the newspaper business. Grant is hilarious in this film – not to mention gorgeous. I can never see it too many times. I hope you feel the same!

And join me for Day 17 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Fifteen — Nina Foch

•August 15, 2020 • 5 Comments

Ice-blonde beauty.

Nina Foch isn’t exactly a household name.

She was a chic, blonde beauty who suffered through a spate of inferior film vehicles in her early career, but who possessed a superb acting ability that catapulted her from obscurity to become one of Hollywood’s most highly respected actresses.

And if you don’t know who she is now, you will after she’s celebrated on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars.

IN THE BEGINNING:

Nina Consuelo Maud Fock was born in Leyden, Holland, on April 20, 1924, the only child of Dutch composer and symphony conductor Dirk Fock and Consuelor Flowerton, an American silent film actress. When Nina was two, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to New York. Once there, at her father’s insistence, Nina received an exhaustive musical education, and debuted as a concert pianist at Manhattan’s Aeolian Hall while she was in her early teens. She also studied painting and sculpturing, determined to pursue a career as a pianist or a painter. However, as she later stated, “I was a failure in both professions at the age of 16, so I decided to try acting.”

With Bela Lugosi in her film debut.

In 1942, Nina enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and eventually would study acting with such notables as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. But landing her first stage role was difficult – she was repeatedly turned down because she had no experience. Finally, she decided to try a new tactic – when asked by a producer about her past stage experience, she replied that she’d been featured in Life Is Like That. “It was a big lie,” the actress recalled later. “[The producer] believed me and gave me my first job, summer stock. But the joke is there never was any such play. And what makes it funnier is that number of biographies have listed that play as the one in which I made my stage debut!”

After appearing with several small theater groups in New York, Nina landed a small part in the touring company of Western Union, Please, starring Charles Butterworth. When the play closed, Nina was unable to find work, but during these lean times, she was looked after by her agent, Lester Schurr. (“He saw to it that I never went hungry for long,” Foch said.) Finally, in 1942, Schurr secured a six-month deal for Foch with Warner Bros. studio that took her to Hollywood. Although Warners dropped her after only two months, her option was picked up by Columbia, which signed her to a seven-year agreement. She made her screen debut in 1943 in Columbia’s The Return on the Vampire, starring Bela Lugosi as the nocturnal count.

OTHER STUFF:

  • Columbia Studios wanted Nina to change her name, but she refused, consenting only to change the ‘k’ in her last name to an ‘h’ – “For obvious reasons,” she said. (“Foch,” incidentally, rhymes with “gosh.”)

    Foch and her first husband, James Lipton.

  • Nina’s first husband was James Lipton, then-star of the CBS-TV soap opera The Guiding Light, and later the longtime executive producer, writer, and host of the Bravo cable television series Inside the Actors Studio.
  • Nina was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Executive Suite (1954). She lost to Eva Marie Saint for On the Waterfront.
  • One of Nina’s most memorable roles was in The Ten Commandments (1956). She played Bithia, the Egyptian pharaoh’s sister who finds the baby Moses in the bulrushes and raises him as her own. Despite the popularity of the film, Nina wasn’t a fan; in a 1980 interview, she called it a “rotten picture.”
  • In 1975, the actress founded The Nina Foch Studio, where she provided private coaching to actors, pop artists, producers, directors, and screenwriters, as well as consulting services for trial lawyers, corporate executives, and government officials in preparation for their public appearances. “The reason I’m a good teacher is because I love it and because I’m tough,” she said.

MY SUTS PICK:

See it.

This was a total no-brainer: my pick is none other than My Name is Julia Ross (1945). In this film, directed by Joseph Lewis, Nina plays the title role of a Londoner who takes a too-good-to-be-true job as a live-in secretary to a wealthy matron, only to find that she has been abducted and that the world thinks she’s the mentally unstable wife of the matron’s son. Although she was only 21 when she played the part, Foch turns in a first-rate performance. If you’ve never seen this one, do yourself a favor. Don’t miss it.

And join me for Day 16 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Fourteen — Steve McQueen

•August 13, 2020 • 4 Comments

The King of Cool.

I had a conversation the other day with an old movie pal, and he happened to mention that he didn’t understand the appeal of Steve McQueen.

“He was cool,” I told him, trying but failing to keep the tone of incredulity out of my voice. “He was just cool.”

IN THE BEGINNING:

Terrence Stephen McQueen was born on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. His father, a barnstorming pilot, left his son and wife, Julian, when Steve was six months old. During his adolescence, Steve bounced between his uncle’s farm in Slater, Missouri, and the home of his mother and his new stepfather in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his stepfather had a violent streak, and beat Steve on numerous occasions, once even throwing him down a flight of steps. Steve began hanging around with a local gang and committing petty crimes.

Shortly before his 15th birthday, Steve was sent to the Boys Republic in Chino, California, a school and treatment center for troubled youngsters. The actor later credited the school with setting him back on the right path. After his release, he planned to rejoin his mother, only to learn that his mother had a new boyfriend and expected Steve to live with a neighbor. When he was 17, Steve joined the Marines. He got into a bit of trouble at the outset, but he was honorably discharged in 1950.

Young Steve.

Using funds provided through the G.I. Bill, Steve began taking acting lessons at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. (Actor/director Mark Rydell, who met Steve around this time, said that Steve was torn between using his G.I. Bill money for an acting school or to learn to lay bathroom tile. He chose acting, Rydell said, because “there were women in the acting profession”). After a few small roles on stage and TV over the next few years, Steve made his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play A Hatful of Rain. He was fired from the play after six weeks, but he was seen in a bit part the following year in his big screen debut, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and two years later, he starred in the sci-fi cult classic The Blob (1958).

OTHER STUFF:

  • Notwithstanding the popularity of The Blob, Steve’s real big break came when he was cast in the lead of a TV western, Wanted Dead or Alive.
  • Steve was offered a role in The Magnificent Seven (1960), but the shooting schedule conflicted with his TV series and the producers of Wanted wouldn’t release him. Determined to take the film part, Steve crashed his car into the side of a bank, faked a neck injury so he would be given time off, and then hightailed it to Mexico to film The Magnificent Seven.

    The actor frequently returned to Boys Republic to speak with the students there.

  • Steve visited the Boys Republic several times a year to make a donation and talk with the students about the impact the school had on his life.
  • Steve received his only Academy Award nomination for The Sand Pebbles (1967). He lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons.
  • Steve was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in December 1979 and died less than a year later. He was 50 years old. His cancer was linked to asbestos exposure from the time he spent in the military.

MY SUTS PICK:

See Papillon.

I’ve never seen the films that TCM is airing on TCM day, but I’ve always wanted to see Papillon (1973), so I’m making that film my pick. The film focuses on two criminals who plot their escape from the island on which they are imprisoned.  I’m looking forward to finally seeing it. If you have any other recommendations, please share with the group!

And join me for Day 15 of Summer Under the Stars!

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Thirteen — John Barrymore

•August 12, 2020 • 3 Comments

The Great Profile.

John Barrymore was one of the most respected acting talents in the history of the stage and screen. He also lived an often tortured and scandalized existence, typified by highly publicized romantic entanglements and a struggle with alcohol abuse for most of his life.

IN THE BEGINNING:

John Sidney Blyth was born into a family of actors on February 15, 1882, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Maurice Blyth (or Blythe) was a popular stage performer under the name Maurice Barrymore, and his mother, Georgiana, was an actress whose grandparents, parents, and brothers were actors, as were John’s two older siblings, Ethel and Lionel.

Barrymore attended various schools, including Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he was expelled, reportedly for being caught entering a brothel. He tried to avoid the stage – he wanted, instead, to become a painter, and studied for a year at the Slade School of Art in London. He also worked for a time as a freelance artist, and did sketches for the New York Evening Journal. Eventually, though, he wound up following in the footsteps of so many in his family. He first appeared on stage with his father in 1900, and then with his sister the following year. By 1909, he was a major star on Broadway.

Young John.

In the early 1910s, Barrymore made his screen debut, but he also continued his stage work, playing to great acclaim in Hamlet in 1922. He played the role for 101 performances on Broadway before touring the U.S. with the play for the next two years. After the end of the tour, Barrymore signed a contract with Warner Bros. and began his film career in earnest.

OTHER STUFF:

  • Barrymore was known as “The Great Profile.” In 1940, instead of leaving his hand and footprints in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Barrymore imprinted his profile into the cement.
  • The actor had a beloved monkey named Clementine.

    With third wife, Dolores Costello.

  • Barrymore was married four times; the love of his life was reportedly Dolores Costello, his third wife, perhaps best known for her role in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Costello is the grandmother of actress Drew Barrymore.
  • A heavy drinker from the time he was a teenager, Barrymore died at the age of 60 from cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia.
  • Although both of his siblings were Oscar winners, Barrymore was never nominated. Of this oversight, he once remarked, “I think they were afraid I’d show up at the banquet drunk, embarrassing both myself and them. But I wouldn’t have, you know.”

MY SUTS PICK:

Pay a visit to the Grand Hotel.

With John Barrymore’s Summer Under the Stars Day, I found myself facing my greatest dilemma to date: Grand Hotel (1932) or Dinner at Eight (1933)? He was outstanding in both, and both are among my favorite films. Ultimately, I decided on Grand Hotel, primarily for the range of talent he displayed in his role. This film focuses on the lives and loves, tragedies and triumphs of a series of individuals who pass through the doors of Berlin’s Grand Hotel. Barrymore plays Baron Von Gaigern, a broke aristocrat who is desperate to raise a certain amount of cash and who’ll do just about anything to do so. Barrymore is incredibly appealing in the part – charming, funny, and poignant. (As a bonus, his brother Lionel is in the film, and it’s lovely to see them acting together.)

Do yourself a favor and visit the Grand Hotel on John Barrymore Day. You’ll be glad you did.

And join me for Day 14 of Summer Under the Stars!