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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Carole Landis, poised for laughs.

Carole Landis's fun-loving attitude made her an eager participant in many a good-natured joke or game. A warm person, her mere presence seemed to flip the happy switch and put people in a better mood. This came in handy most particularly when she started entertaining the troops during WWII. Her heart went out to the battling soldiers, and she would do anything to give them a little peace and joy in the midst of the chaos that they daily faced. And I mean anything... During the war, radio became a useful outlet for the boys fighting abroad, and a steady stream of broadcasts gave them comforting reminders of home. One particular show, Command Performance, was based upon this concept. It took random requests from the boys and put them into action, making the oddest desires come true. Hopefuls called in with strange petitions, asking for various sound mementos from home or-- more daringly-- celebrity performances. On one interesting occassion, a huge Carole fan asked for very small favor. All he wanted was to listen to her "sigh." Carole must have gotten a good chuckle out of such an odd inquiry, but she gamely agreed to do it. So, on June 14, 1942, Carole stood in front of the microphone and softly proclaimed to soldiers all over the world, "Ahhhhhhhh...." It was a sensation and one of the best remembered moments of the show, as well as one which earned the most requests for replay.

The next jest is too tied to Carole, but there is debate over whether it was she who indeed committed the whimsy or her contemporary Lana Turner (left). In either case, one of these two ladies was again entertaining the soldiers in wartime and dancing with one fellow in particular-- who found his gaze continually traveling downward to the damsel's low-cut neckline. The soldier then humorously asked if the plunging cut was supposed to symbolize "V for Victory?" Not to be outdone, the lady in question quipped back, "Yes, but the bundles aren't for Britain!" Carole would later attribute the punchline to Lana, but some argued that she had in fact said it herself. I guess we'll never know. Both ladies were certainly capable of that kind of brazenly, silly stunt.

Beyond the Forest is most memorable for being the line in which Bette Davis uttered the eternal quote: "What a dump." However, there is actually a rather funny story involving another quote from the film. See, Bette didn't want to do the film in the first place. She thought both the story and the character were beneath her. Having constantly battled with studio head Jack Warner in the past, her fierce, stubborn streak was old news at this point. It was clear that both Bette and Warner Brothers were growing tired of each other. She fought, begged, and pleaded to get out of the role, even offering up casting suggestions-- she thought Virginia Mayo was better suited to play Rosa Moline, which was probably a back-handed compliment at the actress, who was more notorious for playing sexy, gangsters' molls. In the end, Bette's tenacity did not get her out of the movie, but it did end her contract. She threatened to walk off the picture, which was only half finished, thus inducing an ultimatum from Warners: if she finished the picture, she would be free from her home studio. She agreed. Finally, liberated after eighteen years, Bette was ecstatic... Until she learned that she had to return to do some voice over on a badly recorded scene. Glumly, she trudged back to say her last line at WB: "If I don't get out of here, I'll die." (See iconic moment, right).

Gary Cooper (left) was a quiet sort of guy, but that was part of his charm. Where most celebrity males of the time, and in fact today, walked with a confident swagger, he more gracefully strolled. Where many were loud and boastful, throwing their masculine weight around, Gary was quiet and soft spoken. Many a person, particularly women, spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what was going on inside that pretty, silent head of his, and certain gals like Carole Lombard threw up their hands in defeat after trying to figure him out. In the end, Carole preferred the brashness of Gable, thinking Gary was, well, boring. However, this was not so. Coop too had a great sense of fun and naughtiness, as Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake would witness first hand... when they went on a bender together. This unlikely trio of shy outsiders banded together one fateful night while in Chicago on a War Bond tour. Determined to forget their stresses and throw caution to the wind, they soon found themselves at a strip joint watching the current female attraction on stage.

Gary, despite his bashful demeanor, was one of the notorious Hollywood "ladykillers," so it came as no surprise to Ronni and Rita when a girl plopped down next to him and started a conversation. Gary listened sympathetically, despite being schnockered, as this young woman explained that it was her sister who was dancing on stage and, "Oh dear, isn't it a horrible thing?" Veronica and Rita marvelled at the way Coop was able to draw the unsuspecting girl to him like a moth to a flame; how a complete stranger found herself babbling her innermost sorrows as he at least pretended to listen. He had such a wooing, calming effect. Eventually, having unburdened her conflicted heart, the girl made a drunken exit, leaving her stripping sister and famous cohorts behind, though she was probably not even aware to whom she had just been speaking. Feeling a bit guilty after this revelatory conversation, the three friends quieted their consciences by becoming equally inebriated and ambling down to another strip joint. And just who do you think should be dancing center stage? The very same girl who had just been mourning her sister's sad profession!  As eyes bulged and mouths opened, one can almost imagine Rita and Veronica looking at a surprised Gary and cackling at the twist of fate. The joke, it seemed, was on them! The girl recognized the coterie and humorously gave Gary a great deal of attention, for which he provided a generous tip. As they departed from their night of debauchery, the man of few words had, as usual, little to say. Smirking and shaking his head, he let it go with a: "Well, I'll be damned." (Gary and Rita reunite more soberly during They Came to Cordura).

Vicente Minelli, Judy Garland, and Kate Hepburn chit chat
on the set of Undercurrent.

After the disastrous shoot on Summer Stock, Judy Garland found herself permanently severed from her home studio MGM, which was bittersweet. Happy to be free, yet anxious without a home, her depression was only intensified by her deteriorating marriage to the homosexual Vicente Minelli. At the end of her tether, Judy disappeared into the bathroom and used some broken glass to slash her own throat. This suicide attempt was no laughing matter, of course, but it was typical of Judy, whose injuries were far from fatal. Mostly, she was crying for help, attention, and sympathy-- publicly proclaiming herself the victim of MGM's ruthless brutality. The message was received, and Louis B. Mayer, in a panic about what the negative publicity could do to his studio, sent for Hollywood's immovable pillar of strength, Katharine Hepburn, for help. She agreed to go talk to Judy and hopefully coax her out of the black hole into which she'd fallen. Kate arrived at Judy's home and was barraged by photographers, whom she told in no uncertain terms that if they took her picture, they would be punched in the face. Needless to say, the shutters stopped. In her typical, New England drawl, she then burst into Judy's room with a series of reprimands and supportive anecdotes. "Oh deah, you rally are in a bad way, ahn't you?" Kate offered Judy room and board at her place, where the patient could regain her strength and recuperate. Judy, grateful for the offer, was too terrified to accept. "Relaxing" with Kate surely would include swimming, jogging, and various other tough love rejuvenation tactics. Judy preferred to mope and enjoy the pitiful windfall of sympathy. Yet, Judy loved and respected Kate and felt truly victorious that one of Hollywood's biggest angels had been sent to help her. However, she was soon offered another consoling shoulder, which she did not find as appealing. During prayer at church, Jane Russell believed that she had been sent a divine message to reach out to Judy in her plight. So, she made a telephone call. Judy answered, at which point Jane went into Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd..." Judy, who-- despite evidence to the contrary-- was in no mood to face her maker, quickly and embarrassingly interrupted with a "Thank you" and abruptly hung up. Perhaps at her next prayer session Jane offered up an "Our Father, return to sender."

Talk about "V for Victory..." Jane in her Sunday best.


  1. Mer, thank you for introducing me to Carole Landis. I had heard of her but really didn't know that much about her and for the great story about Coop with a twist on his "aw shucks" demeanor. :^)

  2. So glad you enjoyed learning about her. I was fairly ignorant of her myself a few months ago, and now I absolutely adore her!