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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Spooktacular

Ava Gardner stars in: Halloween 2010!

In preparation for every actor's favorite holiday, I give you a presentation in Spook-e-Vision! As all of Hollywood is haunted by the macabre tragedies of its past, and as every glittering star seeks to hide a hideous face he or she wants no one to see, Halloween seems the most fitting celebrity celebration. Accepted truths are hidden behind ghoulish masks, the dark corners of life we normally deny are openly indulged in, and all the world salivates over disturbing and heart-pounding stories of violence and terror just for kicks-- to feel alive while indulging in death. This ain't no Christmas. Therefore, amidst the rest of the black-hearted mayhem, let us summon a few more spirits from the ugly bowels of Movieland's history and bring forth the ghosts of Tinsel Town's gruesome past. (Mwah ha ha ha)! The theme of this group of tales is the curse of foresight. The supernatural, the uncanny, but mostly the unfortunate will greet you in what follows. Say your prayers for the lost souls.

-- "Romeo & Juliet," Shakespeare

~  ~  ~

Choosing the most horrific of all La La Land's tragedies is no easy task; there is too much blood, drugs, deception, and death to sift through. However, the disturbing tale of a vulnerable beauty sacrificed by a gang of deluded psychopaths under the tutelage of (nearly) the Devil himself remains perhaps the most haunting. I refer, of course, to the sad end of Sharon Tate. Charles Manson's distorted God complex induced a killing spree via his family of lemmings in 1969. All of the victims were innocents, but the best remembered is Sharon, due to her growing celebrity, her marriage to director Roman Polanski, and the fact that she was pregnant (left). Murder was never darker. There can be no experience more petrifying than to watch your own life being violently wrenched away in the most obscene of fashions. Sharon endured even worse than this, for she saw it all coming...

A few years earlier in 1966, Sharon was staying with her friend, Jay Sebring, when she had a bone-chilling experience. The house Jay lived in was at 9820 Easton Drive and used to belong to Paul Bern and Jean Harlow (both at home, right). It was the house in which Paul supposedly committed suicide, though speculations and theories have continued to grow over the years. The more the evidence is put together, the more it looks like Paul's death in 1932 was the result of foul play, which was hastily covered up to protect his association with MGM and one of its biggest stars. It was rumored that Paul Bern was tormented by his inability to satisfy his sex-pot wife, due to his underdeveloped genitalia. The public chose to believe this extreme story and overlook evidence, which pointed in the direction of a jealous former lover of Paul's-- his common law wife, Dorothy Millette. Whatever the case, Jean was heartbroken at losing the only man who ever loved her for who she truly was. She quickly moved out of the house, unable to inhabit the same building where Paul's crumpled, bloody body was found on her bedroom floor (below). Paul, it is rumored, never left.

More than one have seen Paul's lonely ghost roaming the various rooms of his old home. During Sharon's stay there, she would come face to face with him. Lying in bed one night, all alone in the house, she woke to see Paul's dark, transparent figure looming over her. She was terrified! She ran from the room and down the stairs to the first floor. As if that shock wasn't enough, Sharon then had a premonition: she saw herself tied up at the foot of the staircase, covered in blood, with her throat slashed open. Then as quickly as the phenomenon occurred, it was over. Sharon was shaken. She stumbled upon a hidden bar in the wall, which she previously had no knowledge of but was naturally led to, and had a nice, stiff drink. She told Jay about her experience the next day, and he calmed her down, but the images she had seen continued to plague her. Three years later, in her house on Cielo Drive, which was just down the way on Benedict Canyon from the Bern home, Sharon would lose her life when some unexpected visitors came calling. Ironically, Jay was visiting her at the time and was another victim. Had Paul been trying to warn her? Did the curse of Easton Drive rub off on both Sharon and Jay, who had died trying to protect her? Even Roman caught a hint of the tragedy to come when he said goodbye to Sharon for the last time (before he left for a shoot). Feeling her pregnant belly pressed against his own, a great weight of danger fell on his shoulders. He shrugged it off, but her sad fate was not to be denied. It would be written in blood.

Sharon at the Easton Drive house in 1966.

~  ~  ~

Sharon was not the only actress to have a premonition of danger. Kathryn Grayson (left) was a beautiful and talented singer and movie star when Howard Hughes set his sights on her. He had collected many beautiful women into his stable, and very few women were able to say "no" to the man who seemed to have it all, not to mention the power and money to give them anything they wanted. Kathryn would become one of many to be engaged to Howard. Despite his oddities and quirks, he was a good guy underneath it all. She wanted to believe that they could truly be happy together... Something inside her told her otherwise.

The date was set, and Kathryn was preparing for her long walk down the aisle. But before she could say, "I do," she panicked. She couldn't do this. Something was wrong... A warning light kept flashing in her mind. She couldn't shake her ill feelings, so she called it quits with Howard. He was not happy, and Kathryn at first chalked her misgivings up to cold feet. It all turned out for the best, since marriage to Howard Hughes would not be what any woman could refer to as a happy ending, but it turns out that Kathryn's third eye saw something coming beyond a shoddy union. At the very hour that her marriage was to have taken place, her nephew would have a fatal accident. After learning this, Kathryn realized the true source of her premonition of doom... But she never reignited her relationship with Howard.

~  ~  ~

James Dean prepping for a race.

The celebrity intuition continues.... The slogan "Live fast; die young" was coined for James Dean, the poster boy for discontented adolescence. In his film work, Dean was always clawing his way through existence, searching for some deeper meaning or some greater truth than his parents or peers could offer. Rebellion was the name of the game, and the unhappy sorrow that naturally accompanies the unfulfilled revolutionary was his cross to bear. Off screen, his true life was not much different. Jimmy always carried that tragic air about him, which drew women (and men) to him like moths to a flame. The pain behind his eyes, the uncertainty, made him even more desirable: the typical boy everyone wanted to save because he couldn't save himself. The particulars of his life, the pains he suffered, sent him into an almost reluctant spiral of self-destruction. He showed his contempt for society and himself by tempting fate, usually behind the wheel of a car or in the seat of a motorcycle. Just how fast did one have to go until he could outrun his demons? He was determined to find out.

Dean loved racing and loved going fast. He got a kick out of the adrenaline-- the feeling of being in and out of control at once. Friends used to enjoy watching him pick the gravel out of his tousled main from his latest race. His proximity to danger only served to make him more exciting. However, not everyone was jazzed about his lifestyle. When he met Alec Guinness on September 23, 1955 outside of a restaurant, Jimmy showed him his brand new Porsche 550 Spyder, which he had dubbed "Little Bastard" (right). Alec took one look at it and said, "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week!" A good actor's instincts are apparently never wrong, in front of the camera or not. In seven more days, on Sept. 30, James Dean would be killed when another car coming from the opposite direction came into his lane on US Route 46. He had been on his way to a race in Salinas. The other driver, Daniel Turnupseed (turn-up-speed?), was speeding and unable to see Jimmy's nearly translucent, silver car in the cascading sun of the desert. Ironically, it would be the one time Jimmy wasn't speeding. Jimmy's friend and mechanic Rolf Wutherich, was in the car with him during the accident, but was thrown clear and survived. Rolf said Jimmy's last words before impact were, "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."

Little Bastard in the aftermath.

~  ~  ~

When Tony Curtis was filming The Defiant Ones, he worked with actor Carl Switzer (left) who had obtained fame as a child as Alfalfa in the Our Gang/Little Rascals series. Tony enjoyed getting to know the legendary performer and found him to be an interesting guy. They often played poker between scenes and Tony loved to hear all of Carl's stories about his adventures as a child actor. The light-hearted little boy had developed into a troubled adult. Carl's career had expectedly declined as he aged, so having his participation on the project was a positive on both sides. In the movie, Carl had a small part as a hunter who helps to track down Tony and his fellow escapee Sidney Poitier. His character had little to do, other than get into an argument with the police sergeant over his hunting dog. After the film wrapped, Tony said his goodbye to the cast and crew-- Carl included-- put the pleasant experience in his pocket, and set about looking for his next gig. He would soon hear that Carl had been shot to death-- he had barged in on a friend in a drunken rage. His friend must not have taken too kindly to the late night invasion, and after a lengthy, brutal fight, he aimed, fired, and took Carl's life. Strangely, the entire argument revolved around... a hunting dog. There's life imitating art and then there's just the inexplicably eerie. Carl was but 31-years-old.

Alfalfa, in better days...

~  ~  ~

Carole: "flighty" in more ways than one...

Carole Lombard may have had her dizzy head in the clouds, but she also had her feet on the ground. She was a worldly dame and a realistic one. Her mother, on the other hand, was much more spiritually curious-- she was fascinated in numerology and incredibly superstitious. For this reason, "Bessie" begged her daughter not to take the flight home after a bond rally for WWII. Carole was in a hurry to get back to her hubby, Clark Gable, whom she heard was getting a little too cozy on the set of Somewhere I'll Find You with Lana Turner, but Bessie tried to persuade her to take a more lengthy train ride instead. The number three was an important one in Bessie's life, as she considered it unlucky, and her heart filled with foreboding as they prepared to take off. Threes were popping up everywhere. There were three in their party-- Carole, Otto Winkler, and herself-- they were taking TWA Flight 3, and there were 3 members on crew (along with 19 passengers). Carole too was 33 years old. The stubborn screwball refused to hear of such nonsense. She was exhausted after a long fundraising tour, and she just wanted to go home. Enough is enough, she decided! She would flip a coin, that way they could stop arguing and the decision would be fair. Carole tossed and won... and lost. The plane Bessie was desperately trying to keep them out of would crash into Mount Potosi in Nevada on January 16, 1942, 23 minutes after taking off. (All good girls should listen to their mothers). Carole's last film, To Be Or Not to Be, was in post-production when she died. Director Ernst Lubitsch immediately cut out a scene in which Carole was to say, "What can happen on a plane?"

~  ~  ~

Long reign the screwball Queen!

And so sweet friends, be careful this weekend while the ghosts are out, protect your children and loved ones, and trust your guts. There is no more loyal and trustworthy companion than one's own instinct. I hope it serves you well. Happy Halloween!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MENTAL MONTAGE: Life and Death in the Movies

Doug Fairbanks and Julanne Johnston
fearless and fancy free in The Thief of Baghdad

It only makes sense that a few accidents occur in the ramshackle process of turning a script into a film. As in any workplace, there are mishaps and mistakes, but there are also some outright dangers. The early silent days were the most fatal. Renegade filmmakers at the very advent of cinema knew nothing about stunt doubles, safety harnesses, or trick photography. They would simply point and shoot. For this reason, it was not an uncommon phenomenon for neighborhood people in New York or Los Angeles to see a cameraman treacherously dangling from a truck as it rushed past. Actors too were put in constant peril. Back in the days prior to special effects, in order for a thing to look real, it had to be real. People dove off cliffs, ran through fire, fell off horses...Mary Pickford recalled performing a scene in the water where she nearly lost her life when a boat came speeding at her head. Douglas Fairbanks also had his share of troubles, of course he looked forward to all of the death-defying feats he would become famous for.

Though these incidents often produced entertaining and wild stories to recall after time had replaced fear with laughter, there have been numerous tragedies involved with film. Florence Lawrence, the "First Movie Star, "Biograph Girl," and "IMP Girl," knew this better than anyone (right). During one of her first major films, The Despatch Bearer of 1907, Flo had to ride rapidly on horseback through a forest. She nearly ran straight into a thick tree trunk, missing it by mere inches! It left her shaken up, but the sassy Flo was an experienced horseback rider and actually enjoyed the thrill somewhat. Another incidence would not be as gratifying. When she was filming The Pawns of Destiny in 1914, there was a scene in which she was forced to carry her incapacitated lover, Matt Moore, down the stairs and out of a fire. No big deal for a dainty woman scaling in at about 5'. During this scene, which she had to perform three times, Flo actually did catch on fire and suffered minor burns that left her hospitalized for a brief period. Because her career faltered after this setback, many rumors were started suggesting that she had received horrible scarring that marred her appearance and left her unable to perform as before. This is false. Flo's beauty remained and the burns, once healed, did not hamper her acting chances. Her back, however, had been injured when suffering a fall while trying to lift Moore, and she would suffer painful aches and spasms for the remainder of her too short life, which did affect her ability to work.

Another person who had issues with her back was Linda Blair. The set of The Exorcist was said to be cursed, and several accidents occurred either while filming or off set to others somehow related to the film. Coincidence or demonic intervention? Who knows. Linda (left) was put through the ringer in this movie in more ways than one, but it was the scene where she is being flung up and down on the bed that still haunts her to this day. The special effects wizards devised a contraption that would send Linda flying forward, so that it seemed her body was uncontrollably bending up and down over her supine legs. The only problem was that to do so, Linda was constantly hit on the back with the apparatus, which repeatedly smacked her violently forward. As a young child, she didn't complain and thought nothing of it, but she still has severe back pain to this day.

There too have been outright deaths in cinema. John Gilbert (right) was quickly made accustomed to the rigors of filmmaking when he reported for his first projects as an extra at Inceville. He was doused with water for "rain scenes," which chilled him to the bone, he was physically beaten in action sequences where he would have to fall, battered and bruised, over and over again, and of course he endured the too-close-for-comfort contact with fire. His hunger for his work made him get through this, but not everyone was so lucky. A girl that John had been in love with, Effie Stewart, was killed on the set of Civilization when the set piece she was standing on collapsed right out from under her. She was not the only casualty. John was devastated, even more so because he had decided to end their relationship on the bus ride to the set that day! It's one thing to break a girl's heart, but to have to live with the knowledge that you did so right before she lost her life??? He never really got over it.

These accidents became such common occurrences during the silent days, that actors began suing their studios for their constant injuries. So frequent were such mishaps that newspapers and magazines would report on them under casual headlines such as "This Week's Crop of Accidents." In the early 1910s, silent players such as Charles Murray, Herbert Brenon, Ruth Hoyt, and Eugenia Besserer were all hurt during filming. Certain performers enjoyed the thrill of the physical work, women included, such as Helen Holmes, Cleo Madison, and Helen Gibson, however the adrenaline wasn't always worth the aftermath. Go-getter Gibson, for example, was nearly killed when she fell from a speeding train during filming and was hospitalized for a month! So too were there deaths. In 1914, both Grace McHugh and Owen Carter drowned during the filming of Across the Border in Colorado. Talk about sacrificing for your art...

Later, these accidents seemed to occur much less often as we became more knowledgeable about the dangers and how to protect ourselves. But sometimes, the unexpected still happened. On the set of Mogambo, three men were killed when their land rover went over a mountain cliff. One of the deceased was a 26-year old production assistant and the others were local African guides. Star of the Month Ava Gardner seemed to get out of this movie unharmed, despite the fact that she was interacting with wild animals (see left). She was nearly overturned in her canoe by a hippo one day, and she and Clark Gable were rammed in their jeep by a rhino on another! The worst she got was being pushed over by an elephant-- an unplanned moment that John Ford captured on film and used in the final cut. But the aforementioned debacles and some future disturbances surrounding Ava's movies make it seem like those who worked with her were cursed!

When making The Snows of Kilimanjaro, there was a scene where Ava's truck turned over in the midst of battle. Her long lost lover, (and real life pal), Gregory Peck swooped in to save her and drag her from the twisted metal (right). Ava wasn't a heavy woman, but when Greg tried to lift her, he somehow twisted his leg and tore a ligament. He struggled through the rest of the take like a pro before letting anyone know that he was in intense pain. He had to recuperate for awhile, which put a hitch in filming. Perhaps it helped his character, who was ironically chair-bound due to a leg injury for the majority of the film, which is told in flash back.

Ava's bad luck also wore off on co-star and drinking buddy Richard Burton during The Night of the Iguana (together, left). At one point during the shoot, Richard was electrocuted! His character was symbolically supposed to set an iguana free into the Mexican wilderness. All went well, except that when the lizard was untied, it didn't run away. John Huston decided to add a little juice, shocking the iguana with a 110-volt charge to send it scurrying away. It worked, but unfortunately, Dick was touching the iguana when it was electrocuted! He was sent into the air and landed on his back on the hard ground. He eventually shrugged it off like the tough Welshman he was, but he was... well, shocked! Not only this, but assistant directors Tom Shaw and Terry Morse were both hurt when they fell from a crumbling balcony and landed on their heads on the earth below! Morse awoke with his head in Deborah Kerr's lap, and Shaw was at first assumed dead! Luckily they both recovered. The shoot was so arduous, drunken, and chaotic, that the entire cast and crew was going crazy. At one point, Dick passed out for a nap. When an assistant came to wake him, he asked, "Where am I?" When the assistant told him he was still in Mismaloya, Dick replied, "God, no!"

These days, directors don't ask their performers to do anything too risky. After all, if they lose one of their leads, they would have to start the film all over again with another actor! Sometimes they do take chances, and there are certain actors that like to do their own stunts. During the filming of True Romance, Dennis Hopper was not one of these people. During the scene where Christopher Walken is supposed to shoot Dennis, dir. Tony Scott asked that the prop gun be held right up to Dennis's head when fired. Dennis was not having it. He didn't like the feeling of a gun being held to his head, let alone a dummy gun that would literally be fired. Tony, to calm his nerves, told him not to worry, that it was harmless, and even volunteered to do the stunt first himself for assurance. So, he sat, the gun was fired into his temple, and out trickled a line of blood from a new dent in his forehead. Dennis's response, "See, I told you."

Perhaps the most recent tragedy has been the death of Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee and star of the cult phenomenon The Crow. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the film and its leading man, who many agreed was on his way to super-stardom. Unfortunately, the "Lee family curse" would follow him to work one day. While filming his murder scene, a piece of a dislodged bullet became wedged in one of the prop guns. When the blanks were fired, it propelled the actual bullet forward, striking Brandon in his right side and killing him. Everyone thought he was just acting when he fell, and they didn't realize that he was truly injured until he remained lying on the floor after "cut." Fortunately, enough of the film had been made so that it could be released, for a double was used to finish shooting the remaining scenes. The Crow was sadly Brandon's swan song, but it remains a macabre masterpiece.

The stories go on and on: stunt man (and Errol Flynn buddy) Buster Wiles nearly drowning when he got stuck upside down in a lake after a faulty dive, Jennifer Aniston allegedly being saved by Jim Carrey on the set of Bruce Almighty when she was nearly crushed by a toppling crane, Josh Hartnett and Harrison Ford getting into a car crash on the set of Hollywood Homicide... Buster Keaton, the unbreakable clown, would literally break his neck during the filming of Sherlock Jr, though he wouldn't discover it until years later.The things people did and do to keep us entertained is mind-boggling! No wonder they make the big bucks. At least the most fatal cases are less frequent these days. But as this ghoulish month comes to a close, let's tip our hats to our fallen soldiers, who literally forfeited their lives to get one "in the can." May they rest in peace, may their films flicker on, and may we always remember them and their brilliant work.

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr:
His middle name is Danger!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Ava Gardner (above) has long been labeled as one of the loveliest women to grace the silver screen. In a town full of beautiful girls, it is no surprise that she occasionally came gorgeous face-to-gorgeous face with one of her fellow competitors for the title of "Most Beautiful." One instance goes way back. When she was making her initial train ride to Hollywood in 1941, she was unaware that another MGM starlet was on board: Hedy Lamarr  (below).  However, while LB Mayer let Ava keep her melodic sounding name upon her arrival, Hedy had not been so lucky. When she was first signed at MGM, LB changed her name from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, having decided to name her after Barbara La Marr-- one of Movieville's greatest forgotten beauties. Ava and Eva, who knew? Both girls had been plucked from their native homelands by MGM-- Ava from North Carolina and Hedy from Hungary-- to be made into stars, though Ava was a complete unknown, and Hedy had already appeared in several foreign films (including the notorious Ecstasy). In fact, when Ava first made the rounds in Los Angeles, Jimmy Fidler said she "looked like Hedy Lamarr, only better." Interestingly, the two women would cross paths again after they became famous, this time in Mexico when Ava was on her honeymoon with Frank Sinatra, and Hedy just happened to be vacationing in the same place! It's a small world for Goddesses.

~ ~ ~

A similar parallelism happened to Norma Shearer (left) and another struggling actress. Back when Norma was a model in NY, playing the piano at local movie theaters to get by, she constantly bumped into another ingenue at casting calls. However, while years later people would recall the ambitious and passionate beauty that Norma was even then, they struggled to remember the other girl in their midst: Jean Arthur. Jean (below) was too shy and awkward to draw much attention behind the cameras, but Norma? As photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston put it: "Now... there was an outstanding personality!" The two ladies were very soon off to Hollywood, but they would not share a train. Norma made it out west in early 1923, and Jean followed a few months later. Strangely, people are more familiar with bashful Jean's movies than Norma's these days (thanks to the former's work with Capra and Stevens). Yet, while Norma's acting style seems a bit outmoded in these modern times, the eternal diva lives on in her celluloid kingdom as the dangerous, free-wheeling Prima Donna of her generation.

~ ~ ~

Once upon a time in New York, a young dancer was being instructed on new  choreography for the "Embraceable You" number in her upcoming stage production, Girl Crazy. The man teaching her the new moves was a skinny, scrawny sort of fellow, but he also had a strange sort of charm and an amazing talent to boot. An initial curiosity was sparked, and they went out on a date-- dancing of course. Though they liked and respected each other a great deal, romance was not on the menu. Instead, they went their separate ways, working on their own individual entertainment careers. Years later, they would be re-teamed in a major motion picture in which their dance routines stole the show: Flying Down to Rio. Though the magic never happened between them in real life, in reel life they were electric, and audiences would savor them together on the screen nine more times. They would enjoy one of the most enduring romances of cinematic history despite their lack of attraction those years ago.  Back when Fred Astaire was polishing Ginger Rogers's technique on that NY stage, he had no idea that he had just met his professional soul mate!

Destined to Dance- Ginger and Fred

~ ~ ~

When gifted thespian Judith Evelyn (right) was performing in the play "Craig's Wife" in 1947, she had the privilege of working with a young ingenue whom she found to be quite mature for her years. The young blond was educated, ambitious, patient, and generous with her co-stars-- a real pro. Judith was impressed and was certain that the lovely young lady would carve out quite a career for herself. Of course, she had no way of knowing that the junior actress's notoriety would eventually surpass her own. Years later, the two were reunited on the set of Rear Window, in which Judith played the important role of Ms. Lonelyhearts. When Grace Kelly (below) discovered that her former co-star and hero would be working with her, she invited Judith to her dressing room to share a bottle of champagne and celebrate their reunion. They often met during the shoot to catch up and reflect on old times. Judith found Grace to be as humble and sweet-natured as ever. At least some things never change.

~ ~ ~

Now, for a bit of pre-Halloween spookiness...

Franchot Tone (left)was one of the handsomest leading men of his day. Though he is less remembered than some of his contemporaries, he was certainly man enough to win the affections of Joan Crawford, to whom he was briefly married. He was quite the Lothario-- a charming ladies' man. His position as a famous Hollywood actor only made it easier to impress women. One night in 1944, he was out at the infamous Formosa Cafe when he spotted a beautiful young woman with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Naturally, he singled her out as his lady of choice for the evening. They got to talking, and he discovered that she was an aspiring actress. She was quite fascinated with him. She asked him questions and was eager to learn how she too could get her own career going. In his head he thought, "This one's in the bag!" Franchot assured her that he could give her some advice, introduce her to the right people, etc. She was eating out of the palm of his hand by the time he got her into his car to meet an "associate." 

They drove to his swanky bachelor pad, and the young lady's attitude changed when she realized Tone had no associate waiting for her and instead had other things in mind. When Franchot tried to put the moves on her, she resisted completely, trying instead to change the subject back to her career. He realized that he had made a mistake. Despite her beauty and gorgeous curves, she was really a naive little girl at heart. She hadn't come to his room for a rendezvous;  she had really hoped to learn something from him. Feeling a bit embarrassed, Franchot dialed things down, and they talked for awhile before he put her in a cab. Less than 3 years later, he would receive quite a shock when he learned that her body was found beaten, mutilated, and cut in half, lying on a patch of grass at 39th and Norton in downtown LA. The papers were calling her "The Black Dahlia." He had known her only as Bettie Short (pictured below). Disturbed by the experience, he probably looked at every woman he tried to pick up a bit differently after that...

Hope your costume hunting is going well! Just two weeks to go!!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I've got a new category of interest for you all. Sometimes I come across a funny or strange story that I find entertaining, but which I find difficult to tie in with the other topics I present on this site. Thus, I have developed a new article formula for the misnomers, miscellaneous, and mystifying occurrences in celeb culture. Sometimes, these blurbs will reveal humorous moments, other times they will reference complete head-scratchers. In either case, they are movie star quips, flips, and conundrums that will make you go, "What? Really? Hahahaha!" At least, I hope so...

~ ~ ~

Let's kick things off with October's vixen, Ava Gardner. Ava is remembered among friends as having a vibrant energy and a wicked sense of humor. Her laughter was quite infectious, and her self-deprecation often left those around her in an uproar. For example, she frequently made herself the butt of the joke (literally) around paramour and husband #3, Frank Sinatra (together above). When Ava and Frank first got together, they went through a rough patch of public hatred. Frank was married to wife Nancy at the time, so he was labeled a philanderer and Ava a home-wrecker. In addition, Frank's career was in a steep decline, which would not pick up until he shot back to fame and appreciation for his performance in From Here to Eternity. For this reason, he was often down in the dumps. Ava's derriere was her most notable asset (pun intended), and she knew how much Frank liked it. So, when he was upset about his lack of movie roles or declining singing career, she would say, "Here, rub my ass for luck!" He always obliged. After their divorce, they would remain lifelong albeit tumultuous friends, and Frank would often tell her how much he missed her lucky rump.

Ava knew the bounty of her booty long before Frank came along, however, which brings me to the real point. When she was filming One Touch of Venus, her likeness was sculpted for the actual statue used in the film (left). Her luscious, nude form was so provocative that the studio had artist Joseph Nicolosi start over from scratch to make a less sexy, more clothed representation. Since the final product is pretty smokin', it makes you wonder what the original looked like! So too did the studio create a promotional scam to gain the audience's attention, making miniature Ava/Venus statues. Publicist Bob Rains brought the initial prototype into Ava's dressing room for her to look at. Ava held the little Venus in her hands and said, "That's not my figure." She then removed a chunk of clay from the chest and placed it on the statue's rear. "That's more like my ass!" she said.

~  ~  ~

When Anthony Hopkins was given the opportunity to work opposite Katharine Hepburn in one of his first major film roles, he was both ecstatic and nervous. To come toe-to-toe with a reigning movie queen-- who was indeed playing Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter (above) opposite himself as Richard the Lionheart-- was a dream he found almost impossible to believe. However, he found Kate to be completely down to earth, spunky, and generous. She gave him some of the best advice of his career, which was "Don't act, just say the lines." He was also quite taken with her voice, which was so powerful and unique. Her familiar New England drawl had become by that time as infamous as the lady herself. Attracted to the caricatured way she spoke, Anthony kept the memory of her natural yet calculated undulations in his pocket for future use. In his later career, he returned to good ol' Kate and her staccato accent for inspiration, adapting her way of speaking for one of his own characters: Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (below). You may not have noticed the resemblance before, but you definitely will now. Just imagine Kate asking for fava beans and Chianti. Uncanny.

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Speaking of Anthonies, Anthony Quinn (left) had a run in the with Grande Dame Mae West when he was a young, struggling actor. A friend got him a meeting with Mae when he heard that she was backing a play about John Barrymore. Anthony could do a heck of a Barrymore impression, so he thought maybe he could score a role. However, having heard the rumors about her, he assumed that she was a compulsive sex-goddess, who would certainly make a play for him. In his youth, he was known for his exotic masculinity and unconventional good looks, thus the he-man was a bit afraid of her! What if she made a move? Should he, could he, refuse? In his mind, he found the gender roles switched, with him the coy and nervous young thing and Mae the sexual predator with a lustful appetite. 

He was, therefore, surprised, when he entered Mae's abode and found her to be nothing but nice and surprisingly petite, (as seen right). She was sweet, accommodating, and listened appreciatively to his audition. Quinn got a bit uncomfortable when she gave him a tour of her home, which included her bedroom complete with mirrored ceiling. No moves were made, but when she showed him to the door, she asked to feel his bicep. Quinn blushed but obliged. "Very nice," she said. At that, they said goodbye. Years later, Quinn relayed this story to John Barrymore himself, whom he had befriended. John's response: "You mean with a come-on like that, you didn't do anything! That's not a very good impersonation of me." 

 But then, John (above) wasn't exactly a shrinking violet. In a separate bit of information, the notorious lecher once drunkenly entered the Ladies Room at a restaurant by mistake. When a matronly woman entered, she was quite shocked to see him standing in one of the stalls. "Sir, this is for ladies!" she said. John turned around, swung his "appendage" at her and said, "So is this."

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Greta Garbo (above) is notorious for being enigmatic and eccentric. Because she took Lon Chaney's advice to maintain an aura mystery with regard to the public, Garbo has remained as fascinating and alluring all these decades after her heyday. Our curiosity continues to draws us to her. She belongs in that small cluster of celebs that you can't quite figure out, such as Marilyn Monroe or Marlon Brando. What was it that made these odd ducks tick? I can't answer that one for you, so instead I'm going to throw another log on the fire.

Greta had a very small group of friends that she collected over the years. Every once in awhile, her shyness and aloofness would disappear at parties, particularly in her early Hollywood years when she was on the arm of her beloved John Gilbert. But in her later days, she kept a few friends close and everyone else a few thousand leagues away. One of her pals was Sam Green, an art dealer whom she respected and admired. Sam was used to Greta's "come here, go away, come here, go away" mentality-- keeping people at a distance and then calling them back when she was lonely. He would get frustrated with the game, but he had a soft spot for the strange, sad girl underneath the confusing facade. He too would spend a big chunk of his life trying to get to know Greta and coming up empty handed. The woman was... indescribable, as this next tidbit will exemplify:

The Aging Movie Queen

One day Green was visiting with Greta at her New York home, long after her days in the movies. The now elderly Greta left the room to mix some drinks in the kitchen. Sam grabbed a handful of peanuts off the coffee table, and he accidentally dropped a few on the ground. When he bent to pick them up, he saw a strange shock of color underneath the couch. Bending down farther, he saw a cluster of troll dolls, all standing in a row. He couldn't believe his eyes! What in the world would the Queen of Cinema want with all of these ugly little things? He shook his head, sat back up, and didn't say a word when Greta returned to the room. He never mentioned the dolls to her, but on every future visit, he would peek under the couch when he got a chance. Each time, he would see the dozen or so dolls, always in different positions. He never knew what exactly Greta did with them, but he always imagined that the aging madame brought them out when she was lonely and had them enact little plays for her. Who knows... Greta, you're a quandary.

Friday, October 1, 2010


The greatest crime committed against Ava Gardner was that she was denied her humanity. A combination of her beyond belief beauty and her raw and feral sexuality led to her on- and off-screen reputation as little more than a face and a body. She symbolized to the public the personification of the devil's most delicious temptation for man: a bad girl with dangerous curves and an unstoppable sexual appetite. This is evidenced in the fact that her perfect form was immortalized for film three times: twice in sculpture (One Touch of Venus, The Barefoot Contessa) and once in portrait (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman).  Too, she was the only choice to star in The Naked Maja, playing the woman who modeled for the infamous artist Francisco De Goya. Ava wasn't known for her warm heart, her surprising talent, or her heavily cloaked vulnerability. She was known for being violently sexy and absolutely wild. Indeed, she was not referred to as a human being, but was instead labeled "The World's Most Beautiful Animal." She was a sex-kitten, a lioness, a man-eater, but never a lady.

The good sport gives a little "cheesecake."

Ironically, on the inside, Ava was just a lost and shy little girl wondering how the Hell a "hick" like her wound up in the maelstrom of La La Land. She kept waiting for her invitation to be revoked, and she lived in fear of the day that she would be laughed right back to Grabtown, NC for her uneducated, low class, graceless errors. She was too different, too laid back, too unsuited for the pretentious and glamorous life that was thrust upon her. She could never meld, and the pressures of assimilation drove her a bit mad at times, forcing her to bring out the claws from her otherwise docile paws. But what do you expect when you try to domesticate a wild animal?

Ava with third husband and soulmate,
Frank Sinatra

Ava didn't think much of herself, and sadly her peers and the people who should have protected her didn't think much of her either. It was only her closest friends and most ardent fans who could see the sad depths of the woman peeking out from under her sultry exteriors. The rag-mags wrote about Ava the "party girl" and Ava the "avid drinker," while her friends knew the woman who hated the taste of liquor but forced herself to drink at parties, because she was too shy to talk to anyone otherwise. The world perceived a lustful tramp who disposed of men like used cigarettes and broke up marriages for sport, while friends saw a woman looking for a love she never found (and in all the wrong places). Constantly objectified, even Ava began to lose respect for herself. With all the garbage flung at her, it is hard to dig through the muck to get at the girl underneath, who was truly loving, scared, and victimized by the men, the system, and the circumstances surrounding her. 

Reason enough to be voted, "Healthiest Legs in Hollywood."

Ava didn't care about super-stardom. She kept things simple. She loved to sit on the floor and listen to music all day. She loved entertaining friends by cooking her mama's southern delicacies. She loved to travel to foreign places with more romance, mystique, and privacy than the prying eyes in America allowed. She loved being barefooted, just as the Contessa she played in her most famous role. She loved to dance most of all, and to read and expand the mind that she always considered inferior to others, though it ironically burned brighter than most. She loved people and excitement, and hated being alone. She wanted to belong, but found nothing to belong to, and thus spent her life whirling about like a dervish and never setting foot on solid ground. Men wanted to take her to bed but denied her her feelings. The studios put her in one-dimensional parts in flimsy films and denied her the incredible depth and honesty she was capable of giving. Ava rebelled by giving the people exactly what they wanted: "You want a crazy bitch, I'll show you a crazy bitch! You want a tramp? Here ya go!" Her identity and happiness was the forfeit. 

She continued running, trying to get back to a place she could never find and perhaps had never been to begin with. Finally, tired and lost, she collapsed under her own weight, and the weight of being THE Ava Gardner was heavy indeed. It is only after her death that she is starting to get the love and overdue kudos she deserves. Now watching her, you will still first think, "Damn, she's beautiful." But soon too will you recognize, "Man oh man, could she act."