Robert Wagner's autobio Pieces of My Heart

I'm reading Robert Wagner's autobio Pieces of My Heart: A Life. He tells what first interested him in acting:

" [When] I was seven years old... I began working at the Bel-Air Stables....
I was twelve years old when my future passed in front of me.... [One day in
1942, on a break from the stables,] I saw a foursome heading off the eleventh
tee....As they got closer, they came into focus, and I could see that the
foursome consisted of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable and Randolph Scott.
I was...transfixed! It was the most amazing experience,not just because I had grown up seeing these men at the movies....It was because they looked... freshly minted!....I realized at that moment that I wanted to be in that club; looking back, I see that this was when I made up my mind to be in the movies --- to be an actor."

Robert Wagner's motivations seem somewhat similar to that of George Hamilton [another autobio I've recently read]. Though they are both hard workers, Wagner and Hamilton admit that the craft of acting was a means to a certain lifestyle, belonging to a particular group and maintaining the position.

So far, much of Wagner's book has been about his exploits with the ladies, including his four year relationship with the legendary Barbara Stanwyck. I had no idea.

Now I'm up to the part years later when he has just married Natalie Wood. It seems the two ladies wore the same perfume - Jungle Gardenia.

"I asked Natalie about it, and it turned out that more than ten years before we
were married, when Natalie was a child actress, she had made a movie with
Barbara called The Bride Wore Boots, and she had fallen in love with Barbara's
perfume. She decided when she was an adult she would use Jungle Gardenia as
well. Well, okay, but it was a bit disconcerting to me. However, I knew that
when Natalie made up her mind... she got her way, so I didn't try to get her to

I wonder if he even told her about his discomfort?

I've also found out that Robert Wagner wanted the part of Martin Pawley in the great western (and my favorite John Wayne/ John Ford film) The Searchers. John Ford was adamantly against it because Jeff Hunter was already cast.

I'm trying to imagine Wagner as Marty. It might have worked. Marty is not carrying most of the film, John Wayne is doing that. Wagner wouldn't have had to worry about successfully shouldering the biggest burden [which I don't think he could have at this point in his career]. He probably would have been fine.

However, the story of this film might have been a bit overshadowed in subsequent decades by film fans (like me, for instance) who would focus on the fact that this was the first time that Wagner and Natalie Wood, who plays Debbie in The Searchers, would have worked together on film.

Haven't finished the book yet. It's interesting.

Quote of the Day: Orson Welles

"I passionately hate the idea of being with it; I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time." -- Orson Welles, director, actor

Casanova’s Big Night (1954)

Raphael, a duke, hires the world-renowned ladies man Casanova to tempt his fiancĂ©e in order to test her fidelity before the wedding. If Casanova succeeds he is to bring back the intended’s wedding gift (a special petticoat) to the Duke.

However, the real Casanova has skipped town and Raphael has mistaken Casanova’s tailor Pippo (Bob Hope) for the licentious lover. The duke offers 10,000 ducats to the poor tailor (who can’t resist) and the story begins.

As with many Bob Hope comedies, the script is just an excuse to watch Hope weasel out of hilarious scrapes while rattling off a lot of anachronistic one-liners. There are even a couples of scenes where Pippo as Casanova is treated like a 1950s rock star, complete with screaming fans.

This time he is joined by Joan Fontaine as his love interest; Basil Rathbone as Casanova’s valet and Pippo’s coach in all things suave; and Vincent Price makes a brief appearance as Casanova. Every one of Hope’s cohorts seems to be having lots of fun making this film. Joan Fontaine often looks on the verge of laughing at any moment.

Whether the tailor succeeds is completely immaterial; this film is all about the laughs.

Quote of the Day: Danny Kaye

"Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it." -- Danny Kaye, multi-talented performer

Bend of the River (1952)

Based on a Bill Gulick novel, Bend of the River (1952) , directed by Anthony Mann, follows a former outlaw named Glyn McLyntock (James Stewart) who wants to go straight, so he becomes a trail boss and helps settlers settle in the wilds of Oregon. Along the way, Glyn saves the life of another crook named Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy).

Like brothers. One just laughs a lot. Too much.

They have a lot in common and seem to become as close as brothers as the wagon train makes its way to its destination. They even seem to like the same woman, Laura (Julia Adams). Laura chooses Cole.

However, Glyn and Cole have a tighter connection with each other than either has with the love interest.

The lady is underdeveloped and nearly superfluous. There is no indication as to why she likes Cole, she just kind of does. Then we find that Cole is still a crook after all and will resort to murder for money. She then switches men pretty quickly. The woman loves her bad boys.
This guy is still smiling. It's creepy.

The best dialogue of the film occurs when Cole is about to leave Glyn to die in the cold.

Cole: I’ll be seeing you, Glyn.
Glyn: You’ll be seeing me. You’ll be seeing me. Every time you bed down for the night you’ll look back in the darkness and wonder if I’m there. And some night I will be. You’ll be seeing me.

Then comes the most interesting part of the film - Glyn tracks Cole and his gang and keeps up with them on foot . The concept is so impossible and superhuman that its just plain awesome. And you don’t even see Glyn throughout the sequence. Nice.

A sneer. Much more believable on this guy.

This is Stewart’s 2nd Western directed by Mann. It’s a unique vehicle for the time considering the hero and the villain are alike but just choose different paths.

The cover of the DVD announces Rock Hudson as the 3rd star, but actually he’s a minor supporting player whose character is virtually pointless to the story. According to, Stewart was so upset when Rock Hudson received more cheering and applause at the premiere that he vowed never to talk to or work with Hudson again.

This is the film to see if you just have to watch every James Stewart western, or you like an antihero, or you enjoy gorgeous location shots.

What 5 movie characters would you like to hang out with?

What 5 movie characters would you like to hang out with?

They can be villains or protagonists, supporting cast or the fly on the wall. Your choice.

In no particular order, mine are these:

1. I would like to talk to Batman about a few things. Tights and a bat suit? You're not some guy from another planet or who was bit by all kinds of weirdness; you're just an average man with millions! Quit with the cape already. And wearing your briefs on the OUTSIDE of your tights? I mean, really! We need to talk.

2. Mr. Bingley in any adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. Although Mr. Darcy's best friend would be too good to be true in real life, the actors who play this amiable man manage to make him seem so real (and so genuinely good). He'd be lovely to have around.

3. Jimmy Smith in Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has a zest for life and is looking for the next adventure. This character wouldn't be dull.

4. I would like to talk to a fly on the wall after Bill and Margo finish their argument off screen in All About Eve. What did they say?

5. Prof. Magenbruch in Ball of Fire (1941). S.Z. Sakall plays the gleeful professor with a slightly risque sense of humor. He would be fun.

Commenting About Commentaries - All About Eve - Beverage At Awards Ceremony

Twentieth Century Fox released All About Eve (1950) as a two disc set a while ago. It has plenty of special features, including two audio commentaries. The first commentary is a compilation of audio featuring Celeste Holm, Ken Geist (Joseph Mankiewicz biographer) and Christopher Mankiewicz. The second commentary is from author Sam Staggs.

This blog entry concentrates on the latter one solely because of a gaffe that I was surprised to hear fairly early on in Mr. Stagg’s commentary.

All About Eve follows age-obsessed theater star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) who believes that her life is being usurped by a newcomer. The film begins by showing principal characters at a dreary theater awards ceremony, narrated in voiceover by theater columnist Addison deWitt (George Sanders).

Here is what Mr. Staggs has to say about the first shot of Margo [4:00 - 4:31]:
“Notice this look that Bette Davis is about to give to a waiter. It says so much without ever saying anything. When he offers to pour her more champagne and she gives him a look and a brush off, it rather defines Bette Davis as Margo Channing - the scornful down-turned mouth, the world-weary eyes, the heaviness of it all, the been-there-done-that quality. And yet you always love her no matter how jaded she comes across as Margo.”
Mr. Staggs understands what the scene is saying in general about the character, but he inadvertently cuts down his own comment when he misidentifies the beverage.

What leads me to believe Mr. Staggs is mistaken about the drink?

1. Margo pours her drink from a bottle that looks closer to something like a Scotch bottle, not a champagne bottle.

2. The 2nd liquid is not, as Mr. Staggs suggests, more of the same beverage. Margo is clearly refusing a lighter liquid from a smaller bottle. This seems to be water.
3. These are elegant characters of the 1950s who drink beverages appropriately - e.g. from the proper glasses. Margo is drinking from a highball glass.

So what? Why is this beverage important?

Since this is the first shot of a principal character and it is pantomimed, we are made to concentrate on Margo’s look, her clothes, her movements and her props, all of which are deliberate and establish this decided, no nonsense character . Margo seems bored with the long-winded speaker at this awards ceremony and is refusing to have her strong drink diluted. It’s a common joke that does not work with champagne since people do not generally dilute champagne with anything.

Also, champagne is for celebrating. Margo would certainly have no reason to celebrate here. As we discover after the flashback has revealed everyone‘s journey to this ceremony, there are numerous reasons why our star would want hard liquor, including the fact that the theater is awarding the nemesis who is taking over Margo's spotlight. Champagne for Margo here would make no sense at all.

Oh yes. And the script says it hard liquor :
“The CAMERA follows … MARGO CHANNING. She sits at…. [Addison] deWitt's right. An attractive, strong face. She is childish, adult, reasonable, unreasonable - usually one when
she should be the other, but always positive. She pours a stiff drink.

Addison holds out the soda bottle to her. She looks at it, and at him, as if it were a tarantula and he had gone mad. He smiles ….. ”
My observations may seem picky - it’s a stiff drink instead of champagne, big deal. It is a big deal for accuracy's sake and because this published author and cinema historian is indirectly making a living from the sales of this particular film but makes mistakes about pertinent establishing details of a principal character.

[By the way, it also matters that it is not a waiter who passes the soda, but Addison deWitt, since at this point deWitt is our guide - the camera sometimes follows his gaze, and what not, as he introduces the characters. But I do find this mistake secondary to the above mentioned Margo gaffe.]

First Love (1939)

First Love (1939) stars Deanna Durbin in a modern adaptation of Cinderella.

Orphaned Connie (Durbin) graduates from an all-girls' school and goes to live with her Uncle (Eugene Pallette), his wacky wife (Leatrice Joy), his bossy daughter Barbara (Helen Parrish) and his lethargic son Walter (hilariously played by Lewis Howard). Connie finds love amid the madness.

The film also stars Kathleen Howard, who plays Connie's music teacher, Miss Wiggins. This character is a gruff sort of fairy godmother. Indeed, the film has several somewhat down-to-earth characters who keep this tale from becoming too treacly.
Miss Wiggins: "Crying your eyes out just because you don't have a home of your own to go to, or a mother and father to tell you how pretty and clever you are. Hmmph!"

Optimistic Connie greets the family in a simple traveling coat.
But Connie is surrounded by furs and elegance. This class difference is repeatedly played up.

Barbara, the socialite, uses Connie to trap an eligible guy named Ted Drake (Robert Stack's film debut) into marriage.
Barbara's activities

There are lots of mirrors in this movie. Not the least of which are the full length ones in Barbara's room, which we get to see since she's often primping for some event.

Why do the villainesses have great clothes and hairstyles?
Barbara's hair is cute.

In another mirror, the physical manifestation of Connie's conscience sticks its tongue out at her if she's having a pity party. It also provides Connie with a way to tell the audience what she's thinking when in private. This "magic" mirror also introduces the fantasy element that people expect of this classic story.

Connie does everyone's bidding....
Lazy Walter won't even hold his own cigarette. Hilarious.

... and is sort of caught in a web.
Connie finally fits in with everyone else in the house when the servants buy her an outfit for the ball.
I love Barbara's dress. The aunt is kind of kooky and so she gets the weird dress.

Connie has fallen for Ted, so Barbara makes sure her cousin doesn't go to the big ball to meet him. Our heroine shows up anyway while her friends on the police force detain the rest of the family.

Connie sings a song and Ted finds her irresistible.

They dance as Connie imagines the crowd doesn't exist. Nice bit of special effects.

Love that fake 1930s cityscape in the background.

Barbara discovers Connie has gone to the ball anyway and tells her cousin that Ted was just teasing.
Another mirror for Barbara

Believing Barbara, Connie goes back to the school as an instructor. She has also resigned herself to the life of "old maidenhood."
Miss Wiggins: "I'm a character - a crotchety, lovable old character. I hate being a character. Do you like cats?"

Miss Wiggins finds a way to tell Ted everything as Connie sings one last song then runs down the aisle into the arms of her love interest.

Just to put a button on the fairytale, the filmmakers end with this:

Deanna Durbin sings several songs, of course, including "Un Bel Di (One Fine Day)” from Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and Johann Strauss' “Spring in My Heart” (lyrics by Ralph Freed).

In a banner year for Hollywood creativity, with such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, etc., First Love was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography, Black and White; and Best Music, Scoring.

This film is also noted for
Deanna Durbin's first screen kiss, which tends to be a big deal in a young actress's career (whether she wants it to be or not). I've often found the media and public interest in such things a little prurient and creepy. Still, I mention it here since the incident is reputed to have knocked the European Crisis off the front page; Deanna Durbin's star power was remarkable.

Parting Shots:
Lewis Howard's idle and acerbic Walter is a hoot. He's either leaning or lounging and only walks to get to the next resting spot. Fun stuff.

12 More Random Movie-Related Tidbits About Java

12 More Random Movie-Related Tidbits About Java

12. For a long time I didn't know that Fred Astaire was bald. Then I read that infamous comment about Astaire's screen test: "Can't act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little." Astaire had some very convincing rugs.

11. Like lots of other people, I did not recognize Rita Hayworth in her Blackgama Ad.

10. I despised Turner Classic Movies during its early days, because it was trouncing my favorite channel, American Movie Classics, in the ratings. I got over it when AMC began slicing movies with commercials and showing non-classics.

9. Tyrone Power & Linda Darnell and Jean Arthur & James Stewart are two of my favorite onscreen couples.

8. Had a huge crush on Audie Murphy for a while.

7. And Richard Todd (still do). Todd is my favorite Robin Hood (sorry, Flynn).

6. I'm not trying to be mean, but sometimes I find myself laughing when guys take off their shirts in classic films. It looks like trousers swallowing an oak barrel.

5. I wish that more of Marge & Gower Champion's stage work had been filmed. They are just the best!

4. When I first saw Kurt Browning, Olympic figure skater, performing an outstanding rendition of "Singin' In The Rain," set to Gene Kelly's playback, I hated admitting how good it was. I might have been envious.

The Angelina Jolie/ Brad Pitt/ Jennifer Aniston sandwich reminds me of the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds fiasco.

2. Taking tap classes helped me to appreciate classic movies even more. Suddenly there were names for those moves my sister and I would do when watching musicals. Still, I learned the time-step trying to imitate Gene Kelly, et al.

1. Some of those supposed historians on classic movies commentaries for DVD are inaccurate and it just makes me sick. There is this one guy who deserves a full rant because he describes what's going on in the scene and it's clear to anyone with sight that what he's saying isn't happening. Make it stop!

The Bad Seed (1956)

The Bad Seed (1956) is a thriller which follows Christine (Nancy Kelly) as she discovers that her only child, Rhoda (Patty McCormack), has some hereditary disorder which makes her daughter remorseless. Rhoda will stop at nothing (including murder) to get what she desires.

The Bad Seed
is based on Maxwell Anderson’s 1954 Broadway hit of the same name, and employs most of the play’s principal actors. Unfortunately, the actors bring broad gestures with them from the stage (which tend to look overwrought on the big screen), making this thriller unintentionally funny.

Eileen Heckart as Mrs. Daigle (the mother of one of Rhoda's victims), practically steals the show with only two scenes. Half drunk, yet somehow lucid, Mrs. Daigle investigates when no one else seems able or willing to discover what really happened to her son.

Henry Jones, as the maintenance man with the mind of a child, is a perfect foil for little Rhoda. He constantly tries to outsmart Rhoda and frighten her, but the little girl has the mind of a gangster.

Evelyn Varden as Monica Breedlove, the amateur psychologist next door, is a perfectly foul and funny snob.

The problem with all this craziness is that there should be someone who is sensible, a job that falls to Christine. However, the mother is just as kooky as the rest with her odd pauses, weird wailing and, in one scene, repeatedly slamming the back of her hand on the table.

It's one of those movies to watch on a rainy afternoon when you want a good laugh.

Here's the original NYTimes review from 1956.

Quote of the Day: Eva Gabor

"I was the first actress in the family, and I am still the only actress in the family. I shouldn't be saying it, but it slipped out!" -- Eva Gabor, socialite, actress

Jonathan Winters' Interview the Archive of American Television

Comedian Jonathan Winters' film career begins late in my era of Classic Movies (1930s - mid 1960s). His first appearance on the big screen, in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), is his best. Anyway, I found his life story very interesting and, the way he tells it, hilarious.

You can watch his interview with the Archive of American Television here.

A Hayley Mills Photoplay Interview from 1964

I have just found this wonderful Photoplay interview of Hayley Mills on the set of MoonSpinners (1964). The interview was conducted by someone named Julia Corbin, who seems to be a fan of the star.

This interview is a nice little snapshot of Hayley Mills' career at the time. Apparently her transition from tomboy to adult female was a bit disheartening to Ms. Corbin. Still, the interviewer was ecstatic about the star's future.
"...if there is any doubt that Hayley has grown up, her dressing room at Pinewood puts an end to that. For one thing, it used to belong to Elizabeth Taylor, and not in her child-star days, either.
Asked how she felt about occupying Liz' former digs she answered, optically, 'I just hope some of it rubs off on me!'"
Have a look. It's a fun read.

Quote of the Day: Basil Rathbone

"When you become the character you portray, it's the end of your career as an actor." -- Basil Rathbone, actor

Film Fashion: Elizabeth Taylor in Elephant Walk (1954)

When rewatching Elephant Walk (1954) for this blog entry, I was hoping to find a progression of wardrobe that coincides with the growth (or even regression) of the characters. I didn't find it. As far as I can tell, clothes-wise, Elephant is simply a fashion show by Edith Head.

Edith Head was a costume designer with a long, illustrious career in films and outstanding marketing skills. In addition to marketing herself to the stars and gaining friendships with them (though I do not suggest that her acquaintanceships were for purely mercenary reasons), Ms. Head also penned a few books, giving advice to the "average" woman.
Edith Head

For Elephant, Ms. Head has put together a beautiful catalog of wasp-waisted outfits for Elizabeth Taylor, emphasizing the waist, of course, and the bust and hips - some of the star's most well-known physical features below the neck.

But first, we see Ms. Taylor's character, Ruth, at work in a bookshop, wearing some kind of smock or jacket to protect her work-a-day clothes. This is before she marries a wealthy plantation owner, John (Peter Finch) from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Even when Ruth is dowdy she's not really dowdy.

After this, the two get married, stop in Paris for a honeymoon and Ruth emerges with a beautiful wardrobe. Let the fashion show begin.

The honeymooning couple arrives at John's estate, Elephant Walk, wearing the same shade of khaki. You could say this means they are close and of one mind, but that might be pushing things; lots of people wear khaki in warm climates.
Here you get a look at the full outfit. She's dressed for the climate (flowing skirt, 3/4 sleeves), and is stylish as well.
Ruth exploring her new digs while wearing her traveling suit.

This is Ruth's first night at Elephant Walk. She has found that her husband keeps sycophantic friends of his father around the house and is a little depressed. It's kind of like when Millie discovers she has brothers-in-law in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers (1954), except these are wild, juvenile drunks that you wouldn't want to have around.
This bodice is so tight it seems she must have been sewn into it. The lovely white skirt suggests innocence. One could say that the purple atop the white suggests tainted innocence, she didn't know what she was in for when marrying the guy, etc., but that might be stretching an idea beyond plausibility. It's just a nice gown.

Ruth wears lots of light colors, including this peach nightgown that I would so totally wear. Her husband is downstairs playing with the guys instead of upstairs with his wife. He must be crazy. She's depressed.
Art is reflecting life again - Ms. Taylor's real first honeymoon trip was pretty horrible as well.

A full-skirted, shirt-waist, off-white dress, with short sleeves. For accent, a golden scarf at the waist and a lovely belt with a curly cue design that compliments her mansion's entryway. I'd be too afraid of soiling this one.

She's kind of waiting around for something to change in her life, but John insists on ignoring her. While waiting, she dons another lovely dress for dinner. A pink gown with halter-top and small golden belt emphasize her shoulders and waist.

You know, for someone who's so depressed all the time, she sure doesn't let her wardrobe go down. I'd probably walk around in this dressing robe all day. But even it looks lovely. There's no way she could reflect her blues in her clothes, other than rending them in two and wearing ashes.

I love the contrast of Ruth's white robe against the dark door, where family secrets are kept locked away. Innocence and darkness.
Ruth, the Sleuth

Absolutely gorgeous red and white striped dress with asymmetrical collar and matching red belt. Here Ruth is getting news from the doctor about her husband's condition after he has broken his leg while in a drunken stupor. She's dressed like a candy striper - those volunteers who used to work in the hospitals.
The couple is having an argument here, but they are still both dressed in the same color - blue.

After a "friend" makes a pass at Ruth, she feels uncomfortable when John tries to make amends. They are not wearing the same colors any more. Maybe there's something to the color scheme, maybe not.

The climax to her wardrobe is this white, one-shoulder gown with golden belt, which she wears at her late father-in-law's birthday party. It is very reminiscent of the earlier off-white day dress with the curlicues on the waist. This is possibly my favorite movie dress ever.
Husband and wife are again wearing similar hues, does that mean they have returned to each others' good graces? I doubt it; he's about to slap her.

The one piece of wardrobe that I can say, without fear of equivocation, furthers the plot is that elephant necklace she's wearing. It's a family heirloom that seems to be choking her.

After John slaps Ruth, she jerks the necklace off and throws it at his feet. She then seriously contemplates leaving the guy. Will she? Won't she? The 3rd act begins after that.

Though they are much maligned by some critics for a lack of depth, what-will-she-wear-next movies have their place in film history. If nothing else as pit stops for the stars as they wait for their next film. Elephant Walk is the warm up for Elizabeth Taylor's other new-bride-fights-old-family story - the smash hit, Giant (1956).
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