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Thursday, February 21, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: Super Stars


Just as "Superman" could only pretend to be "Clark Kent," George Reeves could only
pretend to be Superman. Yet, many film stars seem more heroic for performing
 superhuman acts off camera.

Despite evidence to the contrary, including the glossy sheen of celebrity gossip mags, movie stars are just people-- hence their appearance on the cover of People. We sometimes forget this, as their alleged humanity is hidden like a shameful secret behind publicist bodyguards and airbrushed elegance. The fact that some of their bodies withstand the effects of unconscionable amounts of barbiturates is also puzzling. However, word on the street is, our heroes aren't any different or any more impenetrable than you or I. George Reeves made this point vividly when he proved that he was not faster than a speeding bullet. True, true-- being famous does not make one "big" nor important. You have money: congratulations. God gifted you with a perfect profile: hallelujah. What else have you got? What makes you so damn special? The stars that really turn the head are the ones who, in the words of the incomparable Anthony Kiedis, "Give It Away." Those who use their celebrity and fortune to help others always seem to transcend the narcissism attached to the film profession, particularly when their good deeds are not performed at a press junket or a well-publicized benefit. When these acts come off the cuff, in the heat of the moment, and out of the spotlight-- sometimes before the celeb is even a celeb-- one can be assured that the individual performing various acts of decency is in fact a decent human being. Only then, does one seem superhuman. FYI:

Audrey Hepburn (left) would garner a lot of respect throughout her life, particularly in her later years when she donated so much of her time and effort to UNICEF-- an organization once championed by Danny Kaye. However, Audrey's acts of courage actually began quite young. In 1944, Audrey was living just outside Arnhem in Velp-- a town in the Netherlands. Thus, she would be very close to the ensuing chaos brought on by WWII when Arnhem became the target of one of history's most notorious bombing raids. Her extended family, some of whom were staying on her grandfather's property in Oosterbeek, actually filmed home movies of German and British soldiers battling on the lawn and dropping from the sky in their parachutes. The Arnhem Bridge alone was a major focal point of Axis versus Ally gunfire. The most that the scattered citizens of this area could do was duck and cover, keep their heads down, and wait for the storm to pass. However, Audrey and her mother Ella did more, often providing lodging and food for Allied soldiers. It was a risky venture, and while Ella made certain not to put her own daughter's life in too much danger, they participated when they could.

One example of Audrey's fortitude occurred during the September raid. It was discovered that an English soldier had parachuted from the sky and landed lost and isolated in the woods near Audrey's temporary home. When patriots learned of his presence, and the fact that he was surrounded on all sides by German soldiers, Audrey-- with her impeccable English-- was sent to deliver a message of warning to him. Legend would have it that Audrey led the soldier to food and shelter, where he was at least able to rest and recuperate as much as possible before he was finally captured as a prisoner of war. He too was rumored to have given her a silver medal with the Lord's Prayer on it, which was his only possession at the time. However, this is a bit embellished. It seems that the extent of the action was thus: Audrey took a brisk walk through the forest, under the guise of a bored teenaged girl getting some air, and traded information with the soldier. She then picked some flowers and skipped home as if everything was hunky-dory-- a good move, since she passed a German soldier, at whom she smiled and handed her bouquet. The dumb cluck never suspected a thing. It may seem like a small thing in retrospect, but had her agenda been discovered, Audrey may have been captured... or worse. In any event, her efforts assuredly saved the English soldier's life. (Don't let the sweet face fool ya'-- she's deadly! Audrey right in Paris When It Sizzles).

During his reign as the ultimate Hollywood cowboy, William S. Hart (left) would be viewed as a hero to many. However, one of his most impressive and selfless deeds would be performed long before he ever got in the saddle at Triangle Film Corp. with filmmaker Thomas Ince. Back in 1895, when flickers were still just starting to flicker in the public imagination, Bill was traveling with Madame Rhea and her acting company performing in such plays as "Much Ado about Nothing." It was a rough life traveling from city to city, state to state, and during this particular run, Hart and the troupe trekked all over the Great Lakes region. While passing through Michigan, life went from uncomfortable to downright tragic. Due to some unknown glitch or mishap, the train carrying Bill and his actor comrades derailed and actually flipped over! Luckily, Bill made it out ok with the expected cuts and bruises. However, the engineer and the train fireman were both trapped! Bill could hear them screaming from their place in the cab. Although his vision was blocked by clouds of steam, he was able to follow their voices to their location where he had to actually bend steel to free them and pull them to safety. The engineer fortunately survived, taking home a broken arm as his trophy. Unfortunately, despite Bill's efforts, the fireman was not so lucky-- he passed away with Bill's coat wrapped around him. It was certainly a moment that Bill would never forget, and it prepped him for his future work, in which he did more than one scene on a moving train.

Charles "Buddy" Rogers is recalled as being the adorable boy next door-- albeit maybe in better shape, (see right). A simple, down-to-earth guy, he was surprised to find himself making films in Hollywood when all he'd ever wanted to do was devote his life to jazz-- he played the trombone and various other instruments. At one time, he even led his own orchestra, which included the legendary drummer Gene Krupa. Yet, with his father's half-teasing suggestion, he did find himself before the camera and is today cemented in history as not only a star of the first Oscar winner for Best Picture--Wings-- but as the third and final husband of none other than Mary Pickford. Someone has to be pretty special to steal "America's Sweetheart" from Douglas Fairbanks, let alone keep her, but Buddy did that with his natural, sweet temperament and generous heart. However, an act worthy of true admiration occurred a mere month before his became the new Emperor of Pickfair. In May of 1937, he was in his hometown of Olathe, KS getting ready to perform with his swing band. It just so happened that the hot jazz singer Connie Boswell was playing at the same venue. This fact would prove very fortunate for her. See, Connie liked her ciggs: so much so that she accidentally fell asleep in her dressing room with one still ablaze in her hand. The couch caught fire! Buddy, who must have smelled the smoke, rushed in and was able to pull her from the burning furniture and beat out the flames before they literally snuffed her out! Good thing, or else her fans would be singing "Say It Isn't So" about her untimely death! (Ironically, Buddy's debut song on Broadway was "Hot-cha!").
Charlie Chaplin would play the accidental hero in many of his films. From saving the drunken millionaire from suicide in City Lights to rescuing Jackie Coogan in The Kid, he always found a way to save the day-- amidst much comedy, of course. However, he performed some actual life-saving daring-do in August of 1917. Following the release of his latest hit, The Immigrant, Charlie and his film company were shooting his next feature, The Adventurer, on the Sierra Madre coast. Of course, the presence of a major movie star caused quite a stir among the locals, who made their way to the seaside to watch him and his crew as they made magic on the beach. Unfortunately, one little girl became a little too absorbed in the action. Sitting on a large rock in the water, she was knocked from her seat when a huge wave came crashing over her. Though he was a very fastidious and focused man while working, Charlie couldn't help but notice that! In fact, he dived into the waves to save her. He pulled the shaken girl ashore, and she was soon warmed and back to normal-- though she certainly remained in a bit of shock, first from the near-death experience, then from her unexpected meeting with the Tramp (left). It was big news, of course, and made all of the local papers. Little Mildred Morrison had come to the beach that day to see her hero. Little did she know that she would actually be heroically saved by him!

Despite his occassional, diabolical on-screen performances, Lon Chaney represented to some a guardian angel. His countless acts of kindness and charity over the years did not go unnoticed by his peers, though he always maintained anonymity when giving himself to any cause or helping any person in need. It was the deed that mattered, not his personal reward. In 1926, he would perform in one of his favorite films-- with no make-up-- Tell It to the Marines (right). However, he'd had a brush with the military a few years prior when he met Sgt. Frank McClouskey. The Sergeant was a veteran of The Great War whose own heroic deeds in serving his country, and in effect the world, had ended tragically with severe injuries. The mental effects upon returning from the devastation of battle is one thing, however McClouskey too had to handle the physical results-- he had been rendered partially paralyzed. One need only watch Lon's performances in The Shock, West of Zanzibar, or The Black Bird to realize that he had a particularly soft spot for the crippled and "infirm." So, he made it his mission, out of respect for the Sergeant and his bravery, to pay for an operation that would correct the malady. The operation was a success-- a fact that was proven at Lon's own funeral in 1930: Sgt. McClouskey paid his respects and showed his eternal gratitude to his own hero by standing at attention and guarding Lon's casket for the entire three day wake. In a room filled with family friends, many of whom were deaf-mutes like Lon's parents, McClouskey's statement conveyed more than words possibly could.

2 comments:

  1. thanks Meredith for illustrating that some of our celluloid heroes are just that! Audrey really walked the walk! Lon was so revered by the Marine Corps, they made him an honorary member. Semper Fi Lon!

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    1. Yes, I love that bit of trivia. It makes me happy!

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