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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Has Anybody Seen... James Dean???

It is commonly accepted that James Dean appeared in only three films. Accepted, but untrue. One of James's first big breaks came when he was featured in the film Has Anybody Seen My Gal (left)? A bit part, his big screen moment amounted to him ordering a sundae from Charles Coburn. Hardly groundbreaking... In fact, after Dean's death, the film's star, Piper Laurie, had no idea that she had even been in a film with the late, great James Dean until it was pointed out to her. However, the film's other star, Rock Hudson, would remember Dean when they were cast together once more in Giant. Rock was not amused at the reunion, and (despite gossip to the contrary), he and James did not get along. Mutually threatened by the other's presence, Rock and James rarely conversed and constantly competed for the attention of Elizabeth Taylor, a friend to both. Perhaps it was a simple clash of egos; perhaps the more congenial Rock simply couldn't get around James's idiosyncratic behavior. But, perhaps Rock was a little jealous of the fact that the runt, bit player he once towered over had grown exponentially in popularity since Has Anybody Seen My Gal, and was now stealing scenes from him to boot!

James also did a lot of television work, which isn't popularly recalled. His television debut came via an Easter special-- "The Family Theater: Hill Number One" (right). In it, he played John the Apostle. His first professional part on film and he was cast opposite both struggling actors and seasoned thespians alike, including Raymond Burr, Ruth Hussey, Roddy McDowall, Gene Lockhart, and Leif Erickson. A struggling nobody at the time, his fame would surpass them all within 4 years when he made Elia Kazan's classic East of Eden. But, he did get some notice at the time. His first foray into film acting also spawned his first small fan club, whose meetings he gladly attended! After all, the boy loved attention...

After her days in the Hollywood limelight had faded, which was just fine with her, Jean Arthur (left) had some intermittent bouts teaching dramatics. One gig found her at Vassar in the spring of 1968 as co-instructor with Clint Atkinson. The odd-ball lady's teaching skills were often reported as sub-par, but her students normally fell under her spell nonetheless-- that is, after they realized who she was. In the days before Cable, DVDs, and Netflix, becoming familiar with celebrities of the glory days was not as easy as it is in present society. In fact, it seemed at times that Jean herself had forgotten her stature. The once famous screwball queen of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town no longer saw herself as anyone of import, and she  always remained humbled by other performers. Never recognizing her own talents, it wasn't uncommon for her to become tongue tied around someone she found truly gifted. For example, she once went to one of the plays Atkinson directed, "Miss Julie," and was so blown away by the lead female's performance that she forgot her own status and gushed: "It was just like watching a movie star!" It was a prophetic moment, for the young drama major Meryl Streep went onto a very healthy and groundbreaking cinematic career.

Meryl, as she appeared in her Vassar days.

Jean wasn't the only one responsible for accidentally spotting one of Hollywood's predestined diamonds in the rough. In 1944, actor Ronald Reagan (right in Knute Rockne All American) was already dabbling in politics and matters of state when he was made a Lieutenant of the army's First Motion Picture Unit. Coincidentally, he had the idea to boost the war effort by sending photographers out to take pictures of women doing their part for battle. As such, photographer Corporal David Conover was sent to Radioplane at the Glendale Metropolitan Airport to photograph pretty girls hard at work a la Rosie the Riveter. Conover was particularly taken with one beauty, whom his camera truly seemed to favor. After the pictures were printed, it was clear that the rest of America favored her too. Before she knew it, she was working steadily as a model for Emmeline Snively. Soon after changing her name from Norma Jeane Dougherty to Marilyn Monroe, and getting a divorce, she would work her tail off in the film biz and become a famous movie star. I wonder if she ever thanked ol' Ron for the boost?

This Norma Jeane had a long way to go before
she became Marilyn Monroe.

Harpo Marx adored children. The product of a large family himself, it was only natural that the Marx boy with the biggest heart would want a huge brood of his own. He and wife Susan Fleming would eventually adopt four children, all of whom worshipped their Pops, who was more of a child than they were most of the time. George Burns, a good friend, was so moved by Harpo's paternal penchants that he asked why he felt the need to have so many kids? Harpo responded-- with actual speech-- that his dream was to leave the house in the morning and have a smiling face waving to him from every window. I guess he was one kid short, because when shooting Horse Feathers in 1932, he became completely enchanted with a young actress who was ambling about the set with her mother. Though a very pretty little girl, Harpo mostly admired her spunk and unique talent, particularly because it was presented in such a small package. He offered to adopt the sweet pipsqueak for $50,000-- probably in jest, but with Harpo you never know. Shirley Temple decline the offer and stayed with her biological parents. Whoda thunkit? She could have been Shirley Marx-- part of the act!  But then, she was probably too mature for the rest of that gang.

Shirley feeds her belly, while Harpo feeds her ego.

There's no business like show business and no business so tough. It certainly helps to have a few people on your side, especially when it's family. However, the delightful singing trio of The Andrews Sisters-- Maxine, Patty, and Laverne (right)-- still had to overcome the same hurdles, despite having each other to lean on. Their one-two-three punch wasn't as original a gimmick as they'd hoped either. When staying in Chicago, it just so happened that another triplet of singing sisters were staying at the same hotel. At first, despite the age difference between the two sets, there was a little rivalry. Maxine used to rush to the building's rehearsal space in the morning to secure it for her sisters and lock the other intruders out. However, the ice was broken when the youngest member of the other group, nicknamed "Babe," asked to listen to the Andrews rehearse. Unable to say "No" to the adorable little girl, the sisters agreed. After singing awhile, they in turn asked Babe to offer up a song. When Frances Gumm opened her mouth and belted out "Bill" like nobody's business, the Andrews girls were left with their mouths hanging open. Maxine was so moved, she cried! Immediately, the  rivalry between the Andrews Sisters and The Gumm Drops disappeared and they became fast friends and allies. The Gumms would soon disband, but Judy Garland's voice had no problem going solo.

The Gumm Drops: Mary Jane, "Jimmie," and Judy.

And finally, in recognition of a recent royal wedding: Powerhouse actresses Olivia De Havilland and Grace Kelly were not formally acquainted in 1955. Divided by a generation gap, Grace was but one of the younger actresses in Hollywood who was taking on roles that would have once gone to diva extraordinaire Olivia. There were no hard feelings. Olivia was happily married to husband number two, Pierre Galante, and excited about her new life in France (happy coupled pictured left). However, she hadn't completely waved goodbye to Hollywood and was still active in the biz. Pierre used this to his advantage when, as movie editor of Paris-Match Magazine, he was looking for a good scoop in the featured Cannes Film Festival article. Knowing that Grace had been wooed to the event, he decided to use the aid of his wife, luckily a fellow actress, to arrange a fantastic story: "Hollywood Princess Grace Kelly meets Prince Rainier III of Monaco!" With Olivia as his co-conspirator, the duo offered to show Grace around Monaco, and "oh, by the way," introduce her to the Prince. Grace, who was actually quite bashful, begrudgingly agreed, and Pierre set up the meeting. However, there were scheduling conflicts, and after both parties finally settled on a decent time, Rainier still kept them waiting while running late from another engagement. Luckily, Olivia was there to keep Grace occupied with conversation. Had she not held her, Grace probably would have shrugged her shoulders and returned to the festival. Luckily, just as Grace was rising to leave, Rainier appeared, and offered her a tour of the palace, which she had already seen but out of kindness perused again. Afterward, Grace mildly reported to Olivia: "Well, he's very charming." Mission accomplished. The captured pictures were a sensation and the article was a hit. Little did Olivia and Pierre know that they had not only scored a scoop but had too shot the arrow of love.

Kate and William who??? Grace and Prince Rainier are wed just shy
of a year after their first meeting, thanks to O de H.