The latest batch of trivia tid bits and humdingers. Didja know...
... that Babs wore blackface?
It was only once, and I assure you not for any sort of racist intent. While filming Ball of Fire, cinematographer Gregg Toland was hoping to punch up the style on a romantic scene between Barbara Stanwyck (left) and Gary Cooper. In the script, Coop's "Professor Potts" comes to Barbara's "Sugarpuss O'Shea" the night before their wedding to profess his love for her. She, in the meantime, is trying to finagle a way out of the matrimonial plans and escape with her gangster boyfriend, "Joe Lilac" (Dana Andrews). However, when the poetic yet understated Potts comes to her dark room, her emotional internal battle is supposed to come to the surface, and as his words reach her, the audience is meant to realize the depths of her feelings for him. In order to pull this off, Gregg got creative. He wanted Sugarpuss's eyes to shine out of the darkness as she silently watches Potts and listens to his heartfelt plea. Babs would thus be left to show the metamorphosis of predator to pussy cat through only her oculars. A novel concept, but one not easy to film. In order to create the illusion wherein Sugarpuss's eyes would truly pop from the blackness, Gregg had her put on blackface, so her skin would blend with the shadows, leaving only the whites of her eyes to be lighted. The plot worked, but the result was a bit odd. It became one moment in a screwball comedy that was somewhat terrifying, like something out of a horror movie. Instead of seeing a woman caught up in emotional turmoil, the audience is left with the impression of a dangerous feline stalking her prey: will she pounce on her victim, or embrace him? In any case, it made the final cut, as incompatible as it was with the rest of the light-hearted film. As ever, Babs would do anything for her work.
... that in silent films, there were no blue eyes allowed?
In the early process of filmmaking, there was a strange bigotry that manifested itself in the casting process. More often than not, brown-eyed actors were preferred as performers and thus had the upper hand when it came time to choose a cast. This wasn't personal; it was purely business. Lighter colored eyes simply didn't register as well in early films, due to the novice lighting procedures and orthochromatic film stock of the still infantile artistic medium. For example, you can see in Stan Laurel's early films that his eyes appear almost translucent, which gives him an unintentionally creepy effect. Since eyes are the windows to the soul, directors wanted players whose peepers would photograph well. Blue eyes came off a bit vacant and blank, whereas darker eyes were captured in all their detail. Dark eyed Mary Pickford was thus an ideal actress, as was Lon Chaney. As times improved and technology picked up the pace, this eye issue was an issue no more, but for a time it was a hassle-- particularly for a perfectionistic director like Cecil B. DeMille. He was dying to have the great opera star Geraldine Farrar (right) in his romantic and erotic (of course) production of Carmen, but this saucy songstress had gray eyes. What was he to do? Improvise, of course. When filming Carmen's precursor with Geraldine, Maria Rosa, Cecil discovered that if her eyes were focused on a dark piece of cloth, her eyes appeared darker, (due to the expansion of the retinas). This meant that they photographed better. Thus, Cecil kept a piece of black velvet out of camera range and in her eye line, where Geri could gaze... and dilate. Voila! Her eyes were captured perfectly. Geraldine used this trick for the rest of her career.
... that Lulu wrote for Times?
Louise Brooks (left) may be remembered as one of the most beautiful silent film actresses of all time, but this woman had brains too. After she left Hollywood behind with 13 years worth of cinematic experience, she had plenty to say about Tinsel Town. What followed was a surprising career with the pen, writing film criticism and historical analyses of celebrity, which were printed in several publications, particularly in the foreign market. Of course, there is her notable biographical effort Lulu in Hollywood to take into account as well. However, those who were shocked at her brazen literary skills would perhaps be further surprised to learn that she had a 50-odd year head start in the profession of scripture. When Louise was working as a dancer in NYC, she was dating Herman Mankiewicz, then a drama critic for the "New York Times" (and today better known as being Joseph L's brother). On one of their outings, Herman took Louise to the opening performance of "No, No, Nanette." Louise played hooky from her gig at the Ziegfeld Follies to attend on her new beau's arm. Unfortunately, Herman liked liquor even more than he liked Louise, and by the time they arrived at the infamous Globe Theatre on Broadway, he was already schnockered. He promptly fell asleep, which-- apart from being rude-- was a poor career move, for he was expected to write a review of the performance. Louise, deciding to make the most of a bad situation, used this courting mishap to exercise her brain cells. She soaked in the play, took notes, and dutifully wrote Herman's review for him-- and did a bang up job of it too! She referred to it in overall positive terms, calling it "a highly meritous paradigm of its kind." Herman turned in the piece, and no one on staff at the illustrious paper ever knew that they had printed a review by an 18-year-old chorus girl!