Film fans endlessly discuss their own fascination with movies. What are the first experiences that filmmakers or actors have had at the movies? How did these early memories influence their later career? Java has plucked a few books from her personal library at random to share with you the thoughts of these famous people on the movie experiences of their youth.

Characteristic of Cary Grant's (b. 1904) blasé attitude towards his chosen profession, the actor focuses less on the movies themselves (he pokes a little fun at them) and more on the memory of being with his parents and how their tastes in movie theaters differed.

From Mr. Grant's autobiography Archie Leach [chapters 12 and 13]:
“As I grew older I was occasionally taken to the cinema by my mother and father. Though separately. My mother took me to the Claire Street Cinema, the town's most elite, where one could take tea while watching the films, and where I was first introduced to a pastry fork: a perplexing combination of fork and knife; who needs it?

"I saw my first so-called talking pictures in that theater. Two short subjects. One was of a woman singing an opera aria while she was trying to defend her honor, I think. She was being pushed back over a table by the villain, but while engaging his interest by singing in his face she surreptitiously stole a dagger from his belt scabbard and stabbed him right on her high note. It took him quite a long time to die, but while he did it he learned that virtue triumphed. So that's why I never play villains in pictures.

"The other short film showed a group of blacksmiths singing in chorus as they whacked away at their anvils. The sound, as far as I understood things then, came from a phonograph behind the screen. The forerunner of today's perfectly synchronized sound films.

"Now my father, on the other hand, since he respected the value of money, because he worked hard and long hours to get it, took me to a less pretentious, less expensive, though larger, cinema called the Metropole; a drafty barnlike (sic) structure in those days with hard seats and bare floors on which we could stamp at the villain and keep our feet warm at the same time. It smelled of raincoats and galoshes, and no tea or pastry forks. Yet it was, of the two, my favorite place.”

One of Cary Grant’s fans (and at one point a caddy at Grant's country club), actor Robert Wagner (b. 1930), has a different experience with movies. He focuses more on the actors themselves, especially the men. These were glamorous figures whom he wanted to emulate, but never dreamed he would one day join.

 From Mr. Wagner's autobiography Pieces of My Heart [Chapter 22 - “You Have to Have It”]:

“When I was a kid watching movies in Westwood, I was in the dark, looking up at the screen at people who seemed more than human - larger, grander than life. I wasn‘t talking to anyone… I was barely eating my popcorn, because I was totally involved in that glowing silver frame on the wall. You didn‘t actually imagine that you‘d ever see Clark Gable in the flesh - that‘s why I was so stunned that day at the Bel-Air Country Club.  The proper response to actually seeing Gable or Cary Grant was gaping awe.

"But when viewing habits changed, when more people started watching actors in their living room than in theaters… it signaled a sea change. As an actor , you were in people‘s living rooms, that meant you would be a part of their lives in a way that the great movie stars of my youth weren't.”

Sharing Mr. Wagner’s awe for film, movie star Ricardo Montalban (b. 1920), who started in theater and later went to television, recalls an early fascination with movies and the images that he saw.

From the Archive of American Television interview, conducted August 13, 2002  [Part 1, 5:28]:

“As a child, you know, the cheapest form of entertainment, the best, were the movies. Saturday matinees. They used to let me go [to] Saturday matinees, and so on. The Westerns. But I saw a lot of the Andy Hardy pictures which were [of] a family unit. It’s wonderful!

"That was my impression of the United States of America - a good family unit, a wonderful street with a lawn in front, neat. My impression. I really dreamt of perhaps being able to be transported to the United States and experience that.”
After becoming a movie star in Mexico and South America, Mr. Montalban would grace the silver screen in the U.S. for later generations of film-goers to enjoy.

A couple of actors’ generations behind Montalban came George Hamilton (b.1939). Mr. Hamilton recalls the movie theaters of his youth as being fun, but doesn‘t dwell on them much. His focus (as it is in much of his book) is more on the social opportunities in any given situation.

From Mr. Hamilton's autobiography Don't Mind If I Do  [Chap 2 -"Lovely While It Lasted"]:

“The neighbors down the street, the McCutcheons, owned two of the three movie theaters in town. Early on I made friends with their daughter Sally, who would invite me to go free to the movies. Even then I must have known that it‘s good to have friends in high places. In those days, your movie ticket (if you had to buy one) bought a lot. You‘d see the previews, a short, a double feature (one was usually a Western), and a cartoon.…

"In that more courteous era, the theater had a glassed-in crying room where moms with babies could enjoy the movie without disturbing everyone else. (I wish they had the same thing today for loud talkers and cell phone users.) I loved the movies, but it was beyond my wildest dreams to think I would be in them one day.”

Pretty soon the Hamilton family would be on the Hollywood social scene and would become a part of the movies. Mr. Hamilton’s mother and brother were film aficionados, loved Hollywood and baby brother George was along for the ride.  It's understandable that the actor would be relatively nonchalant about his early movie-watching experience - the Hamilton family's real life was more exciting and unpredictable than much of what you might see on the screen.

Like George Hamilton, actress Rosalind Russell (b. 1907) writes only briefly about watching films in her youth.This is due in part because the star of His Girl Friday was not allowed to watch very many films as a child, but the ones she did see made an impression.

From Ms.Russell's autobiography Life is a Banquet [Chapter 1 - “…Until the Strangers Come”]:

“I saw [Rudolph Valentino] as the Sheik in the movies, and he was wicked and marvelous, so Latin. I remember his taking the girl to his tent, carrying her in, doing marvelous depraved things to her... I was crazy about movies.

"We weren‘t supposed to go, but my brother John took me to a little theatre called the Princess, where they had the serials with the girl tied to the railroad tracks. And Birth of a Nation, I remember seeing that. I‘d sneak away as often as I could, but wasn‘t an addict because I wasn‘t allowed to be. A lot of actors say, ‘I lived at the movies, I was an usher,  I saw everything fifteen times,’ but they didn‘t have my father. The Russell kids were out every Saturday going to those fairs, riding those horses, or piling into  our Uncle Jim‘s car and chugging off to the  Yale Bowl for a football game.”

Like Ms. Russell, playwright/librettist/screenwriter Betty Comden (b. 1915) grew up watching early features and was impressed with the pantomime and lusty storylines which predated the Hayes Office codes.

From Ms. Comden's autobiography Off Stage [Chapter 8 "Movies, Movies, Movies"]:
“Having grown up on silent pictures, all my earliest images are in black and white, and of course, not knowing they would ever talk, we did not call them “silents,” nor did we refer to them respectfully as “films.” They were just “the movies."
"I remember sweeping into the Whalley [Theater] … to see the great double feature of two very grown-up sophisticated films, God Gave Me Twenty Cents with a siren named Lya de Putti plus The Crystal Cup with some hot current romantic team…[Later], in my aunt’s bedroom, I practiced slinking around like Lya, pretending to smoke a cigarette in a long holder, sure that Lya had a bedroom just like [it], with its apricot taffeta spread and curtains. I would receive imaginary phone calls from lovers on Aunt Leah’s phone, which to me was the height of glamour, housed as it was inside a porcelain doll. You could get your calls only by separating her apricot taffeta skirt and reaching inside for the phone, a French phone, no less, the only one in my experience.”

Ms. Comden would later lampoon the sultry sirens who slinked about in silence when writing for the movie Singin‘ in the Rain (1952).

Whether the movies made a strong impression on the show biz crowd in their youth, whether it encouraged them to pursue a career in Hollywood, whether they had unlimited or restricted access to films, one line runs through all these stories - they were entertained. When you boil out all the hogwash, the real purpose of the movies is just entertainment.

Cary Grant Goes to the Cinema (and other tales of film stars' early movie-watching experiences)

12/29 -  Anchors Aweigh - Lux Radio Theater (click here to listen at the Internet Archive)
Year: 1947
Starring: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson
Genre: Musical comedy
Summary: Attempting to impress a rising young singer, two sailors make a false promise that conductor Jose Iturbi will audition her.
Trivia: The principals reprise their roles from the 1945 film.

01/01 -  Holiday Inn  - Screen Guild Theater (click here to listen at the Internet Archive)
Year: 1943
Starring: Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore
Summary: The proprietor of an inn that opens only on holidays must woo the star of his floor show before she leaves.
Trivia: This broadcast is mostly musical highlights from the film, not much dialogue. It is more akin to The Railroad Hour in that respect.

This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Dec 26 - Jan 1

Thanks to commenter Mark R. for bringing this article to my attention.

The New York Times
Life Magazine 1938

March 26, 1939

With Special Reference to the Appeal of Deanna Durbin

By Frank S. Nugent

Spring seems to be a little late this year, so until it arrives we'll have to get along with Deanna Durbin, the closest thing to this side of the equinox. A couple of books could be written on Miss Durbin's
singular appeal, but none of them would contain the horrible epithet Universal's advertising staff fastened on the miss last week.

"Glamorous" was the word they dared employ and we haven't said a civil word to Universal since. It doesn't matter how the dictionary defines it--some literal poppycock about "a charm or enchantment working on the vision and causing things to seem different from what they are."

We know what Hollywood means by glamour and we won't have our Deanna playing in the same category as Hedy, Marlene, Greta, Joan, Carole, Loretta, Merle and Tyronne.

Glamour indeed! As if it had not been her very freedom from glamour, Hollywood style, that has endeared her to her millions. Glamour! as if that were a quality more precious than the freshness, the gay vitality, the artful artlessness and youthful radiance she has brought to the screen!

Glamour! as if that were what we wanted of the perfect kid sister (not that there really ever was one). Glamour forsooth! and was it glamour that made Judge Hardy and his brood, or glamour we found in the late Marie Dressler and Will Rogers, or glamour in Mr. Deeds or Zola or Pasteur, or glamour for that matter (though we hate to mention it) which keeps little Mistress Temple as the nation's four time box office champion? What is this thing, glamour, anyway, that it has grown so great?

Deanna, to put an end to the libel, is not the least bit glamorous in her latest delight "Three Smart Girls Grow Up," and she has not grown up so much herself. She leaves that, and the romantic troubles, to the older sisters, contenting herself with being the matrimonial broker of the family. Usually we dread these Little-Miss-Fixit roles. The brats are all so superior about it all and so right--like George Arlis as Disraeli or somebody. But Deanna manages to make even a half-grown meddler attractive. She is guilty of the most awful ---blunders; she quite forgets her manners; she sulks and has tantrums when her plans go agley; and eventually she has to call on father.

And that, of course, is the way it should be, and would be unless the Miss Fix It had been Shirley Temple. No, Deanna is all right, up to par or better, and when Universal next says 'G.....r' it had better smile.

Deanna Durbin Grows Up - 1939 NY Times Article on a Maturing Movie Star

12/20 -  Miracle on 34th Street - Lux Radio Theater (click here to listen or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1948
  • Starring: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Edmond Gwenn
  • Summary: A department store Santa claims to be the real thing.
  • Trivia: This broadcast unites the three principal actors of the 1947 film.

12/25 - The Wizard of Oz - Lux Radio Theater (click here to listen or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1950
  • Starring: Judy Garland
  • Summary: A girl is lost in the fantasy world of Oz and must find her way home.
  • Trivia:  The Oz film was released by MGM in 1939 and starred Judy Garland, winning her a special Oscar. The year of this broadcast, 1950, would see Garland’s last film for MGM - Summer Stock.

This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Dec 19 - 25

There are the Castles, the Murrays, Astaire and Rogers. And then there are the Champions - Marge and Gower Champion.  They are the last great dance team. The top.

Just a quick post about their memorable "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" number from Lovely to Look At (1952). 

The lady has resisted the gentleman's overtures until now, but everything - the music, the atmosphere, her own emotions - conspires against her and she gradually relaxes and goes with the flow. He has already told her that "dancing is the whistle stop before romance," so she knows what she's getting into here. In fact, it's her suggestion to dance in the first place.("You practically have me on the floor already. So why don't we do it the right way?")

After the fun little polka, after the kiss that transports them from a cafe and into outer space, they slowly sway. This little movement is one of my favorite parts of the number. It introduces a completely new dance and a new theme - romance among the stars.
How many times does Gower pick Marge up off the floor, making it appear as if they are both floating in the air? I haven't counted, but it's a lot of times. What strength they both have. What athleticism. 

And they do it all without forgetting to act, which is nice since, unlike onstage, we are seeing closeups of people who are supposed to be carried away by love. Grimaces, grunts and contorted faces would take me right out of the moment, thank you very much. But nope, we get beautiful faces on talented people. You feel as though you're right there with them, truly dancing with the stars.

I've just found this trailer for a documentary featuring Marge Champion and dance partner Donald Saddler. Released in 2009, the 21 minute film is called Keep Dancing.
Turnbaugh / Vander Veer Productions
 From the Keep Dancing website:

After celebrated careers, legendary dancers Marge Champion and Donald Saddler became friends while performing together in the Broadway Show Follies (2001). When the show closed, they decided to rent a private studio together where they have been choreographing and rehearsing original dances ever since. At 90 years old, they continue to pursue their passion for life through their love and mastery of dance. It is this passion that has allowed them to persevere through times filled with great joys and heartbreak....
Sounds great!

Dancing With the Stars - Marge and Gower Champion in the "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" number/ Update: Marge's Documentary

I've just written a review of That Certain Age (1938) at the Amazing Deanna Durbin blog.

Teen Deanna Durbin becomes infatuated with her parents' house guest (Melvyn Douglas) much to the chagrin of her neighborhood pal (Jackie Cooper).

As teen-girl-crushes-on-older-guy movies go, this is my favorite. Why? Because they give the scorned teen-aged boy as much face time as the girl. We get to know the guy in the corner, which is not common enough in this kind of film.

Melvyn Douglas' amused smirk is well-used as he, a stranger in town, takes in the eccentricities of exurbanites.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, "My Own."

That Certain Age (1938) - Deanna Durbin's First Film Crush

12/12 - The Scarlet Pimpernel - Lux Radio Theater (click here to listen or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1938
  • Starring: Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland
  • Summary:  A British aristocrat's effete facade masks his swashbuckling heroism as his rescues victims of the French Revolution.
  • Trivia: Here Howard reprises his film role from 1934. The two principals in this radio broadcast would both play in the Oscar-winning classic movie, Gone With The Wind which would be released the next year.

12/18 - Lost Angel - Academy Award Theater (click here to listen or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1946
  • Starring: Margaret O’Brien
  • Genre: Drama
  • Summary: A girl raised to be a genius gets lost and discovers the simple pleasure of life
  • Trivia: Margaret O’Brien reprises her screen role.

This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Dec 12 - 18

Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog has a 3 part series of reviews called "War Stories."
Hollywood’s interesting conundrum was to address The War through an industry that was largely devoted to fantasy and entertainment. Far from looked upon as good material from which producers could prospect for stories (too much political tightrope walking, too great a risk for offending the public), nevertheless Hollywood was forced to acknowledge the elephant in the room. But the movies interpreted The War on its own terms: the war as melodrama, the war as romance, the war as comedy.

She reviews Mrs. Miniver (1942), The More The Merrier  (1943) and Love Letters (1945).

Each of these reviews is detailed, encompassing not only the plot but conventions of the time and how they influenced what we see on screen.

The author also compares the three movies against each other, mentioning the perspective of the civilian in a war torn area, eking out survival; the wise cracks of civilians in Washington, D.C. who live in relative safety but must deal with shortages; the tragedies or romances that await in the aftermath of war.

Jacqueline has given me plenty of new stuff to think about.

War Stories from Another Old Movie Blog

Tom of the Amazing Deanna Durbin blog has invited Java to be co-blogger in all things Durbin. This is so thrilling!

Java's first contribution is this post on a Life Magazine Article from 1944 which explores Ms. Durbin's first dramatic film Christmas Holiday (1944). Life talks about how the public will be shocked, shocked! to find thier little child star all grown up ... and so serious to boot.

Life Magazine - Deanna Durbin reading fan mail at home in July 1944

Life Magazine July 3, 1944 - on Deanna Durbin's dramatic film debut

Sally at Flying Down to Hollywood is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas Movies Blog-a-thon. Here's Java's entry.

Plot - “It‘s all the same to you whether Sam kills me now or doesn’t open me ‘til Christmas.”

A small-time swindler (Bob Hope), who has a penchant for sour candies, needs to pay off his debt to mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark) by Christmas. He starts a ladies retirement home as a front for an illegal gambling den to raise the money. 

Based on a character in a Damon Runyon short story, the Lemon Drop Kid/Sidney Melbourne is even more crooked than Hope’s usual cads. Sidney steals change from Salvation Army charity buckets; impersonates a Salvation Army bell ringer to get donations and make money for his personal use; he even steals the sweater from a small dog to keep himself warm in a blizzard. Hilarious but unethical. He’s surrounded by charming seniors from the home, a lovely girlfriend (Marilyn Maxwell)  and the holiday season so that the audience will enjoy the character even more.

Will he get the money? Will he ever “go straight” so that his girlfriend will stop badgering him about his criminal habits? What will happen to the “old dolls” after Christmas?

It doesn’t matter. We’re here for the jokes.

Humor - “I‘ve always wanted to be a man-about-town, but not in little chunks.”
Claustrophobically set in studio back lots and sound stages, this comedy is, overall, not Hope‘s finest, but it is, of course, a must for Bob Hope complete-ists . Throughout this star’s many films, Hope usually rattles off funny one-liners or bumbles through hilarious slapstick set pieces. So we wait around for those choice bits.

And he does not disappoint here.

For instance, Hope often plays inept scoundrels with over-inflated egos, so it’s not unusual in his films for the character to pause and admire himself in the mirror. He does this in Lemon Drop while whistling and using comb, toothbrush and cologne. (“Ah. What a crime if you had to die.” “Aaahh! You doll you!”) He’s so gorgeous that he turns himself on. It’s ridiculous, but it makes me laugh every time.

Silver Bells - “It‘s Christmastime in the city.”

This is also a movie for Christmas song enthusiasts. The perennial favorite, “Silver Bells,” is introduced in this film. Award-winning songwriting team Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were under contract to Paramount and were instructed to write a Christmas song for Bob Hope’s film. They had not made a hit song in a while and felt a Christmas song in a world saturated with old standards was “doomed to fail.” Trudging ahead, they were inspired by a silver bell on Evan’s desk. They finally concentrated, not on snow, like Irving Berlin‘s “White Christmas,” but more on an urban atmosphere blended with the nostalgia of the old favorites.

“Ray and I stared at the bell and wrote a song we titled ‘Tinkle Bells,’” Livingston noted. “We thought we‘d insert it into the film and never hear it played again.” via1 via2

Mrs. Livingston pointed out a crude connotation with the word “tinkle” that the songwriters would not want associated with their song, so they redubbed it “Silver Bells."

Evans stated “the main reason this song became so successful is that this is the only song… that‘s about Christmas in a big city with shop lights and shoppers and the rest… we got that only because that happened to be the locale of the picture.” via

Lemon Drop makes no pretense that it’s anything other than a fluffy, feel-good, end of the year story. Even the credits are printed on gift cards hanging from a decorated Tannenbaum. There‘s the occasional firearm among the bulbs and confetti to remind the audience that there will be some shady customers in the film too. But the overture continues spiritedly - even when a gun is discharged on the tree - assuring us that none if this is serious.

More stuff

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies Blog-a-thon

12/05The Mikado - Railroad Hour (click here to listen or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1949
  • Starring: Gordan MacRae, Kenny Baker and Evelyn Case
  • Genre: Operetta
  • Summary: The Mikado''s son flees to avoid an unwanted marriage, only to fall in love with an engaged woman.
  • Trivia: Kenny Baker starred in the film version of this Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera ten  years earlier.

12/09 The Last of Mrs. Cheyney - Screen Guild Theater (click here to listen  or download at the Internet Archive)
  • Year: 1946
  • Starring: Joan Fontaine, Allan Marshall, Nigel Bruce, Gerald Moore
  • Genre: Drama
  • Summary: A jewel thief falls in love with one of her marks.
  • Trivia: Norma Shearer played the title role on film in 1929, Joan Crawford in 1937 and Greer Garson in 1951.

This Week in Classic Movies on the Radio, Dec 5 -11

Film star Deanna Durbin was born Edna Mae Durbin  in Winnipeg, Manitoba on December 4, 1921.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Durbin!
A Brief Bio
A singing sensation, Ms. Durbin grew even more famous as Universal Studios featured her in charming, family-friendly fare in the 1930s. As she grew up, the 1940s saw her break away just a bit from being Little Miss Fix It in her movies. Faced with 13 years of similar films, the star retired before her 28th birthday, married director Charles David  and moved to France.  Except for a few interviews early on in her retirement, a few missives to magazines to straighten out some misinformation and the 1983 interview with David Shipman, the star has not returned to public life. However, the Universal Studios glamor girl is still very gracious with her fans, sending them photos autographed "Deanna Durbin David."

To celebrate her eighty-ninth year, I would highly recommend viewing the comedy It Started With Eve (1941), featuring Ms. Durbin with Charles Laughton (Great chemistry with him.)  and Robert Cummings (They are fun together.). This is the tale of a struggling young singer who, for a little cash, finds herself pretending to be engaged to a stranger (Cummings) to please his dying father (Laughton).

The leading lady was only 19 when making this film. What a mature teenager! In  poise, looks, voice, everything. Because of that rather grown-up sound, Disney turned down the singing teen queen  for the part of Snow White in the classic animated feature. Deanna Durbin was considered for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but, again, sounded and appeared quite mature. Much like the tape used to flatten Judy Garland's womanly curves in Oz, Universal's story lines would often continue to suppress Ms. Durbin's obvious adult development in a rash of girl-ish (but charming) roles.

If you're in the mood for holiday fare with Durbin, get your hands on a copy of Lady On a Train (1945), which is a comic, murder mystery film that is set during Christmas time (our leading lady even halts the film to sing "Silent Night"). Or for darker fare, Christmas Holiday (1946), which is also peripherally about the holidays, and finds our star in a rather cynical movie about a young woman's loyalty to her convicted murderer husband (played by Gene Kelly).

Deanna Durbin Around the Blogosphere

Happy Birthday, Deanna Durbin

The Siren uses a picture of Joan Fontaine in Suspicion on her profile
Black Book Magazine has recently interviewed the author of Self-Styled Siren, a prominent classic movies blog.

 Ms. Farran Smith Nehme, the author, recounts how her blog became popular,  gives her opinion on what constitutes a classic film (“to be a true classic, you want something that has stood the test of time, that people still watch with pleasure. ”) and  recommends some of her favorite gateway movies for those who disclaim any interest in old films ( “…Double Indemnity because it‘s so…witty”).

Java follows  the Siren blog, but did not know that Ms. Nehme has done a bit of programming for TCM. That must have been fun. The Siren is also co-hosting a noir, film preservation blogathon in February.

Self-Styled Siren has an interview

...and other stories from this piece of prose written by Julie Andrews about Mary Poppins.

Ms. Andrews penned a rather breathless article in 1965 for Showtime Magazine on her exciting film debut as Mary Poppins. It's all sort of gossipy and flighty while sharing details like

...the author, Mrs Pamela Travers, was disenchanted with the idea of her book being filmed. She had seen the way Hollywood had dealt with other books! However, Walt Disney had strong convictions, too. He persisted and had a rough outline of his idea written for her. Mrs Travers was delighted with it. She was particularly pleased that he had not insisted on Mary having a romance with Bert, the happy-go-lucky-jack-of-all-trades. 

Excuse my French, but Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) gets royally flushed; everyone knows he's infatuated with Mary, but Disney won't allow him to express it. The chimney sweep is awfully lit up and happy about something when he's around this magical being, and it's not her ability to make chalk drawings come to life. There's an underlying sensual tension between them left over from - I believe -a long-standing affair, which probably involved handcuffs and (licorice) whips from that carpet bag of tricks. 

Or maybe I'm reading too much into their relationship.

Walt Disney Screws Dick's Bert...