Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

For More L.A. La Land, visit my writing/art/film appreciation site on Facebook at Quoth the Maven and follow me on Twitter @ Blahlaland. :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The latest addition to the L.A. La Land blog is the article category "Didja Know?" This quick-takes column of cinema trivia will hopefully introduce little known facts and miscellaneous brain food for the ever-hungry, movie-savvy devotee. Dig in!

Didja know, on this famous "I Love Lucy" episode, the co-worker Lucy is left 
alone to work with was an actual candy maker, cast by Desi. In the scene, the
 focused, yet inexperienced, bit player was not acting when she slapped Lucy. 
She really let her have it, and left Lucy seeing stars 
(with chocolate running down her face).

TV Loves Desi:
Though the success of "I Love Lucy" is accurately credited to the zany performance of Lucille Ball, her paramour and partner Desi Arnaz had a great deal to do with the show's popularity, as well as some new innovations that he introduced, not only to "I Love Lucy," but to television in general. Firstly, CBS insisted that the show be filmed before a live audience-- which in itself was a first for a sitcom. Consequently, the now familiar cue cards were invented for the audience: "APPLAUSE," CHEERS", and "LAUGHTER." However, it was quickly noted that the 'LAUGHTER' card was unnecessary. The audience guffawed ably enough on their own thanks to the comedic sensibilities of the entire cast: Lucy, Desi, William Frawley, and Vivian Vance. Desi added his two cents to this novel idea by stipulating that each episode be filmed with three cameras filming simultaneously, thus cutting down on shooting time. It was not an easy sell, but with Karl Freund's photography, it worked so efficiently that the three camera setup became a staple of the televised situation comedy. Another added piece that Desi contributed related to the commercials. After watching the first season's episodes, he concluded that the transition between the show and the advertisements was too awkward. Thus, he contrived to have an animated segue added before each commercial break to inform the viewer of the brief intermissions. So, one now sees in re-runs the cartoon versions of Lucy and Desi smooching at the drive-in or playing with the camera before the interruption of the latest miracle toothpaste, cleaning fluid, or (at the time) cigarette brand.

Rasputin and the Jury:
Ever wonder where those annoying disclaimers in the opening credits come from? You know, the ones that say, "Any resemblence to persons alive or dead is complete coincidence..." yadda yadda yadda? Well, we have director Richard Boleslawski's Rasputin and the Empress to thank for that. When the film-- which dramatizes the notorious Grigori Rasputin's relationship with the last Czar (et familia)-- was released in 1934, MGM was sued by Princess Irina Alexandrovna Youssoupoff for libel when she claimed to recognize herself  in the character Princess Natasha. In the film, John Barrymore's character too represents Prince Chegodiefl, who had a direct part in Rasputin's (played by Lionel Barrymore, with John right) murder. It was not this macabre revelation that bothered Chegodiefl and his wife-- he in fact took pride in his part of the assassination; it was the idea that the Princess, or rather her character, was presented in the film as having been seduced by Rasputin, like the many other Russian women of the time. Because of this, the disclaimer was added, and to protect their backsides from future financial attacks, MGM and other studios started adding these shields of dissociation to all films based upon biographical material. Another interesting tidbit about the film is that it is the only time all three Barrymores appeared together onscreen. Though Lionel and John would work together in films like Dinner at Eight and Grand Hotel, Ethel (portraying the Empress in this film) was too attached to the stage to be wooed into too many Hollywood pictures, with her brothers or not.

The "Dirty" Lie:
Since I have been on a bit of a gangster kick lately, I thought I would introduce the following tidbit. Many of us have heard the phrase, "You dirty rat..." which we associate with mobster flicks. Commonly, this derogatory exclamation is attributed to the eternal Movieland hood, James Cagney. However, this credit is undeservedly bestowed, as Cagney himself would attest. The true source of the now iconic utterance is none other than Lon Chaney, whose Black Mike Silva said it, albeit silently, in the 1920 Tod Browning picture Outside the Law (left with Priscilla Dean and Wheeler Oakman). Before Lon became associated with his outlandish makeup concoctions and the macabre and sometimes monstrous performances that would become his token, he popularly played the character heavy and bad guy in a slew of early silent films that explored the dark underbelly of city life. His contribution to the slowly evolving genre of the gangster pic set the groundwork for later cinematic derelicts like Cagney, Robinson, and Raft to tread upon. Other films depicting Lon in a similar vein are The Blackbird, The Wicked Darling, and The Penalty.

Miss Quoted:
Another incorrect quote credit involves Ginger Rogers (right), that saucy lady of steps. Beautiful, graceful, and possessing both acting chops and a biting humor, Ginge' made everything she did look seamless and easy. Obviously, this was not the case. Behind all of her street smart characters and effortless dance moves, opposite Fred Astaire, went a hefty bit of diligence, rehearsal, and training. For this reason, because of the woman she was and the success she was able to accomplish, she was in her time, and still today, a popular feminist icon. It is often recalled that she said: "I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels!" However, she never made this statement herself. The true source was the popular comic strip created by Bob Thaves, "Frank and Ernest," and in particular the cartoon printed in 1982. Yet, because it bore the ring of truth, the famous quote became one of the continuing slogans for girl power. Whether Ginger said the actual words or not, she did indeed live the example, for which women everywhere remain eternally grateful.

The famous Ginger comic strip.  

City Noise:
In the early days of the talkies, directors were trying to find new and innovative ways to not only record and synchronize sound appropriately, but also use it to a film's best advantage artistically speaking. All of a sudden, in addition to awkward staging to allow recorded dialogue, filmmakers began toying with sound effects, atmospheric sound, audio transitions, etc. It was all a little rocky, which explains why so many silent film players were certain that the latest invention was just another fad. Yet, the transition carried over, and slowly the kinks were ironed out and new ideas perfected. One such example comes via Rouben Mamoulian's City Streets (1931) starring Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney (left). Mamoulian is credited through the film of introducing the wonder of the "inner monologue." For the first time, a character's thoughts are heard by the viewer while the character herself remains silent. In this case, Sylvia Sidney ponders worriedly about her lover, Gary Cooper, and she hears his voice in her mind, as does the viewer. This technique was poo-pooed by many at the studio, who thought it came off as ridiculous and would never work, but it became a landmark moment. In the same year, Fritz Lang employed the same practice in his first sound film M, starring Peter Lorre as a twisted, child murderer. At one point in the film, Lorre covers his ears and rocks himself back and forth. The audience hears the whistling of "In the Hall of the Mountain King," which is occuring only inside the psycopath's head, both calming him and firing him up for the kill at the same time. This method was soon copied by others until it became a commonplace staple of cinema narrative. No longer does an audience have to guess what a character is thinking. We can hear it too! (Another interesting bit of info from City Streets is that originally, Gary's former lover Clara Bow was to appear in the picture, but she was replaced by Sylvia after she suffered one of the tragic nervous breaksdowns that would send her career on a downward spiral).


  1. Another great entry, Meredith! Ironic that the Barrymores are connected to the reason the disclaimer started in films. It may have settled some of Ethel's ire if the disclaimer was around when The Royal Family of Broadway came out! :)

  2. Too true, hahaha! Thanks for reading ;)

  3. Fun post!

    As to the myth about James Cagney saying "You dirty rat...", some sources say the origin of this was from impressionist Frank Gorshin, reportedly the first to say it when he imitated Cagney. I'm certain what info you found is accurate, but Gorshin's use of the phrase must be noted, too.

  4. Thanks, RAM! Very interesting. I didn't know about that. I'm guessing the line came from Chaney and the delivery from Gorshin, haha. :)

  5. You're welcome, Meredith!

    For many, Gorshin is more remembered for playing the Riddler than anything else, and not everyone has seen him doing impressions on '60s variety shows like Ed Sullivan.

    I almost thought he died SOONER than he actually did, but then I heard about him doing George Burns in that one-man show on Broadway!

    RIP, Frank Gorshin.