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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NOW THAT'S FUNNY: Part X



Unlike most starlets, Jean Harlow liked to pal around with the
 crew in between takes. Indeed, she did them many favors...


Barbara Stanwyck (left) had a reputation around Hollywood. A good one. She was the consummate professional on the set and consistently impressed her director and co-stars. Members of the film crew were too fans and always gave her a big, warm greeting when she appeared on the sound stage every day. But, Babs went through a rough patch after her separation from Robert Taylor in 1952. She still put on a brave front, but the entire episode had been taxing to her mentally and emotionally. Her sense of self was at a low and her sexual confidence too was not what it used to be. As a result, while she was still hard-working on the set, she was also not herself. She didn't seem to trust herself as she used to. Fritz Lang, who directed her in Clash by Night, was one of many who recognized this. Her angst came to the fore when Babs uncharacteristically took umbrage with a particular scene, insisting that it was badly written and that she didn't want to do it. The plot of the film revolved around a sexually undernourished woman who cuckolds her husband. Fritz drew a connection between the plot and Babs's personal life-- in which she had been cuckolded-- and decided to use it to his advantage, and hers. While discussing the scene, Fritz asked if he could speak honestly. "Naturally," Babs replied. Fritz then stated that he felt nothing was wrong with the scene nor the writing, but that Babs-- via the material-- was being reminded of recent events in her own life. It was thus she that was "off," not the script. This information seemed to take her by surprise and knock her off balance. Babs took a long look at Fritz, drew in a  breath, and seemed to come to a realization. She finally replied: "You son of a bitch." With that, she took but a moment to get in character, hit her mark, and filmed the 2 1/2 page scene perfectly in one take. Babs was back. Good thing Fritz was a smart son of a bitch!


Clearly, Barbara's down to earth, straight-shooter demeanor was what ingratiated her to the people she worked with, and to her fans as well. However, this non-diva persona would ironically also get her into trouble. Babs was far from a glamour goddess. This may have had a lot to do with her harsh upbringing, where she simply valued the integral over the superficial. She also, like all women, was secretly self-conscious and did not have a great deal of confidence in her beauty. As a result, it would take her awhile to find her footing in terms of Hollywood fashion, though with the help of designers like Edith Head, she would eventually prove to not only wear gorgeous clothes but wear then well. Of course, this was only on the screen. In reality, she was still the same old Babs. This is what landed her in trouble. She would be riding on a high when she wrapped on Stella Dallas in 1937. Proud of her performance, she was ecstatic about seeing the finished product at its premiere. When she approached the theater, however, she was man-handled and kept at bay by one of the policeman, who was acting as a security guard. He wouldn't let her pass! In her casual garb, he mistook her for one of the screaming fans, not believing that someone so simply dressed could be a movie star, let alone the star of the film! Luckily, Babs finally got past the brute, who certainly felt like a horse's ass after he realized that he had been detaining the Barbara Stanwyck. Babs learned a valuable lesson that day: fame is the key, but fashion is the ticket. (She shows her lighter side, right).


The Kennedy family nearly established the long abiding relationship between film and politics. The tradition Joseph Kennedy started with his  formation of RKO Pictures and his affairs with Gloria Swanson and Marlene Dietrich was continued by his son John, who made no qualms about his determination to go to Hollywood and... "introduce himself" to Sonja Henie. His list of conquests would come to include a fairly public affair with Marilyn Monroe and a bromance with Frank Sinatra. Both pairings would end badly. Another lady who had temporarily fallen into his trap was Gene Tierney (left), remembered today as one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen. While separated from husband Oleg Cassini, Gene began filming on Dragonwyck and met JFK, who made an impromptu visit to the set. Now, Gene was a smart lady, but in her vulnerable state, it wasn't difficult for the charming future president to seduce her. All of his compliments and attentions worked like a tonic on her, and soon enough they were enjoying an affair. At the very least, she was able to enact a little revenge on her philandering husband, Oleg. However, the tryst only lasted a year. Gene was head over heels in love, but-- as with most politicians-- Jack's intentions weren't honorable. He had aspirations toward the White House and considered a marriage to a film star to be in conflict with these ambitions. Like his father, he considered Hollywood to be his own private brothel and little more. Gene was broken hearted and betrayed. She managed to temporarily patch things up with Oleg, though the marriage was not to last. Just as she was getting her divorce, Jack was marrying his ideal mate, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. By 1960, he was running for President. The entire country seemed to be falling under his spell... except Gene. She knew the man on intimate terms, and thus knew that what he promised and what he did were two different things. She voted for Nixon.


Jean Harlow was a sweetie-pie. If there was one thing the world at large could agree on, it was this. An inhumanly beautiful woman with an honest disposition and warm temperament, she didn't seem to have a cruel bone in her body. And what a body! Jean wasn't modest or ashamed when it came to her sexuality, as could be seen in her nude pictorial taken at the popular Griffith Park by photographer friend Edwin Bower Hesser. It was just the human body, what was the big deal? (You've seen one ass, you've seen 'em all). Of course, her controlling mother often coaxed her into displaying her more sensual side, because that was what drew attention and-- in Hollywood-- acting roles. Still, at the very least, Jean was able to maintain a sense of humor about it. If destiny decided to make her sexual joke, then by damn she was going to be the one laughing the loudest! Because she was able to make such fun of herself, she endeared herself to many of the men around her, who quickly saw the little girl beneath the erotic facade. As such, she was able to become chums with men like Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, who otherwise would have been more inclined to seduce her. Instead, she won her way into their hearts and became like a sister to them. Clark in particular was protective of her, especially while filming Red Dust, portions of which had to be done after the "suicide" of Jean's husband, Paul Bern. Clark and director Victor Fleming, along with the rest of the male-heavy crew, were very supportive of her during her grief. This was their way of saying "thank you" to the girl that had brought so much sunshine into their lives-- an example of which occurred before the Bern tragedy. Jean was filming her infamous bathing sequence in a barrel with Clark (right). As the cameras rolled, before Victor called "action," Jean stood up from the barrel, topless, and shouted out: "This is for the boys in the editing room!" She then plunged back into the barrel, laughing hysterically with the rest of the very appreciative male crew. Unfortunately, the 'boys in the editing room' never got to see Jean's present. Victor immediately removed the film from the camera and destroyed it, knowing that if it ever got out it would be a publicity nightmare for her. Well, at least she tried!


Carrol Baker's (left) relationship with producer Joe Levine was not a happy one. They had a lengthy work relationship that spanned several films and, as she was under contract to him, he acted more finitely as her agent. Levine and her husband of the time, Jack Garfein, often behaved as an offensive team in pressuring her to take jobs she wasn't interested in. As such, over time, her antipathy for Levine grew, and she came to resent his boorish manners and at times underhanded business tactics. At one point, she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the brutal work regimen and constant mental and emotional stresses the men in her life were putting her through. A tough cookie, she eventually pulled herself together, crawled out from under her husband-- whom she had been supporting nearly their entire marriage-- and exorcised herself from Levine's control. In time, she let bygones be bygones and-- having reached a much better place in her life-- decided to not look back on her relationship with Levine with bitterness. After all, she had not been the only person to suffer under his tyranny. Later, she found herself in Rome on St. Patrick's Day, celebrating at the Irish Embassy. Suddenly, she felt herself being grabbed from behind. Before she knew it, she was spun around and was being bent backward in a passionate kiss from none other than Peter O'Toole! She had never met Peter, so she was obviously flabbergasted. "I love you!" he exclaimed. "Isn't this rather sudden?" she laughed. Peter explained that he had loved her ever since he had learned that she too had "suffered under the producer of a thousand broken promises, Joseph Levine!" Peter had worked with the obviously unmannerly Levine on The Lion in Winter. While the picture was a phenomenon, Levine's less than stellar reputation had sullied at least Peter's opinion of him. For her part, Carroll was finally grateful that Levine had come into her life, if only because he had earned her a smacker from the tall Englishman with piercing blue eyes!

John Gilbert was the Lothario of the silver screen. Handsome, gentlemanly, passionate, intelligent... and humorous. He definitely hit all the marks on a lady's checklist, including that of his good friend and neighbor Colleen Moore (right). Colleen had watched John indulge in and survive several romantic relationships, including that with second wife Leatrice Joy and his lengthy, tumultuous affair with Greta Garbo. Yet, while Colleen found him charming, she had never succumbed to his charms, if only because she didn't think their friendship worth the sacrifice. It's not like she wasn't tempted, though. Colleen would recall throwing a party for some of her more elite, straight-laced Hollywood friends. It was a classy affair, and as a gracious and down-to-earth lady herself, quiet nights like this-- enjoying conversation with articulate friends-- was much more enjoyable than the rag-tag benders that some of the other stars decided to indulge in. Yet, the peaceful harmony of her modest soiree was surreptitiously interrupted. Colleen happened to notice out of the corner of her eye that her maid was making exaggerated hand motions to get her attention. Colleen politely excused herself and asked her housekeeper, "What's the haps?" Her maid then explained that there was an unexpected visitor waiting for her. Upstairs. In her bed. "What?!" Colleen quickly made her way to her bedroom only to find John Gilbert lying in wait. He sat on her bed, under the covers, with a big grin on his face: "Well, here I am, you lucky woman!" Colleen couldn't help herself. She burst out laughing! This seemed an offer too good to refuse... But what to do about her uptight guests? Colleen stumbled back downstairs, her face probably still red from cackling, and quickly ushered her friends out the door. All this time, she wasn't quite certain whether she was going to accept John's seductive offer, or merely laugh off the incident as another one of his intoxicated blunders. However, he made the decision for her. When she returned to her bedroom, he had already gone. Oh, missed opportunities... In any case, this remained one of her favorite, hysterical memories of her troubled, boyish, and always adorable friend.


John tries his moves on Lillian Gish instead, in La Boheme.

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