Monday, March 31, 2014
Unfortunately, it's been awhile since I've written a thorough essay for this blog, but what better reason to buck up and ravenously tap on my laptop than to celebrate the ultimate cinematic heroine, Katharine Hepburn! Indeed, I have been coerced (gratefully) to enter the Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, which will feature multiple essays on the woman, her work, and her life, during the days surrounding her birthday. I have a little over a month to put the pedal to the metal and come up with something that I hope will illuminate this illustrious warrior of women in a different and interesting way. My theme: the duality and androgyny of Kate the Great in her art. I'll let you know when it gets posted next month!
For those interested in entering themselves-- entering the contest themselves, not literally entering... nevermind-- pick your topic and visit MargaretPerry.Org with your name, theme, blog, and website, and get t'work. Can't wait to see what everyone comes up with. :) Long live the Queen!
Thursday, March 20, 2014
|Clark takes a reading break.|
Many would be surprised to know that Clark Gable was quite the lit' lover. As a young, struggling actor, he even performed poetry readings. Naturally, in order to maintain his tough guy persona on the big screen, he did not broadcast his appreciation of poetry and prose. As such, many people mistake the following story as a revelation of Gable's ignorance and not his humor.
Gable was hunting pals with director Howard Hawks, (a national pastime I don't exactly dig, but this was before the days of... Who am I kidding, we still suck). Anywhoodle, on one of their outings, this guy named William Faulkner tagged along. To josh with him, Gable put on his best ignoramus face and performed this little scene with the acclaimed author:
Gable: Mr. Faulkner, what do you think somebody should read if he wants to read the best modern books? Who would you say are the best living writers?
Faulkner: (pause) Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself.
Gable: Oh? Do you write, Mr. Faulkner?
Faulkner: Yes, Mr. Gable. What do you do?
Needless to say, Gable was well acquainted with William's writing, however, most particularly due to Hawkes revised descriptions of the event-- half concocted in fun and half to uphold Gable's rough and tumble, man's man reputation-- many identify Gable's line of questioning as being emblematic of his ignorance. In either case, the Clark kinda got verbally bitch-slapped by William Faulkner, didn't he?
Deanna Durbin was Universal Studios' answer to Judy Garland. Actually, that's reversed. Judy Garland was scooped up by MGM after Universal passed her over for Deanna! This may seem like a bad business decision based on Judy's remaining allure, but Deanna's voice and talent was just as big as that of her contemporary. What Garland had in brass and innocence, Deanna had in grace and surprising sophistication, particularly considering that her onscreen career began at the age of 13.
With an elegant, soprano voice that had a range and power above and beyond her years, Deanna also possessed the intelligence and maturity that would make her a sharp as a whip, though miniature, leading lady. While the youngest member of the cast, she always stole the show in her productions, including the Three Smart Girls films. Audiences responded whole-heartedly to her adorability, her voice, and her personality-- which was part angel, part rebel. While she was always looking to solve a problem, her characters often mucked things up in the process. Still, she always sang people back to her side.
Unfortunately for Hollywood, Deanna grew up. The awkward years between adolescence and adulthood always pose problems for young women in the industry. The studio wanted to maintain her public draw but feared that she would lose her audience if she started becoming a woman and not the innocent teen whom they had fallen in love with. Slowly, she made the transition with films like First Love opposite Robert Stack, and by the time she starred in It Started with Eve opposite Robert Cummings, she was accepted as classy yet feisty adult, her career continuing undamaged. However, Deanna wanted more out of her career than the standard good girl roles that she had been given.
Naturally, Hollywood as ever was loathe to allow for any change in her screen persona. As such, Deanna bowed out, determined to experience a full, rich life outside the spotlight. After all, she'd been working since she was a teenager. There was much more to her identity than she had ever been given the privilege to truly exhibit. So, she ditched town and moved to France where she lived out the rest of her days in privacy with her family, passing away just this past April (2013). Her song lives on.
|Constance "Dutch" Talmadge|
The Talmadge sisters were three: Norma the glamorous, Natalie the silent, and Connie the clown. Constance Talmadge was one of silent cinema's original firecrackers. Unlike the elegantly postured Norma or the shy and depressive Natalie, Constance-- nicknamed "Dutch"-- was a buoyant woman of energy and fun. Raised to be assertive and strong-- all the Talmadge women learned to fend for themselves when their alcoholic father abandoned them-- Connie embraced the absurdity and harsh realities of life and combatted them with her humor and independent spirit. Embarking on a career in cinema almost as a gag-- "Well, why the Hell not?"-- she may not have taken the craft as seriously as the more ambitious Norma, but she possessed an even more charismatic presence that would draw contemporary audiences to the flame of her warmth and vivacity.
Constance was a staple in what would be known today as the Romantic Comedy wherein she naturally transitioned her bright personality to that of the hammy but attractive buffoon, perhaps not going as far as fellow comedienne Mabel Normand but packing her emotional sentiment with an equal blend of hilarity. Her most recognizable role remains that of the Mountain girl in D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, but she performed as the leading lady in many popular films of the time including both shorts and features: Her Night of Romance, The Love Expert, A Pair of Silk Stockings, etc. When the talkies intruded on the family profession, the sisters opted to bow out, probably predicting that their Brooklyn accents wouldn't translate well into sound. Constance had no regrets and let bygones be bygones.
Constance's private life unfortunately dwindled in her late years. Once wooed by Irving Thalberg, Connie's need for personal liberty was not easy to be contained. She was married four times and her high-living ways-- her hopes of outrunning the past and making the best of things-- caught up with her when she became dependent on alcohol. Still, the tough old bird made it to the 1970s before her candle was finally snuffed out. Though nowhere near as popular as she was in her own day, her goofy, honest, and infectious performances inspired future funny females whose work allows her own to live on. Remnants of her own contributions can still be found in the blessed modern world of DVD and live streaming, where she continues to encourage her audiences to laugh it up. What else have ya' got in the end?
The fact that his greatest characters were conveyed in the days of utter silence only made them more eerie and effective. The horrors he was able to communicate with his eyes and body alone, as a student of the exaggerated but profoundly effective German expressionistic movement, were enhanced by the mystery of his wordlessness. He was a creature, a ghoul, an unhuman thing lurking in the corners, penetrating the walls of your safe home, and hiding under your bed. He was an infection, slowly entering the system and tampering with one's very sense of reality...
Of course, Conrad wasn't just about terror. His career in cinema was incredibly varied and his performances as one of the most revered character actors of his era run the gamut from the Devil to the Saint. His sensitive and curious soul gave him the courage to approach many odd ball characters and taboo subjects, including the homosexual-themed film Different from Others. He wasn't afraid of the repercussions. He wanted to tell stories. All of them. After performing in the first German sound film, he was forced to flee his own country when Nazism took over the film industry and his outspoken disdain for the movement put a target on his head. The rest of the world was glad to have him, especially Britain, to whom he continually donated a great deal of his wealth to the war effort. He later participated in many a sound film, including A Woman's Face and the iconic Casablanca.
However, just as he was beginning to reinvent himself in America, he passed away at the young age of fifty when he suffered a heart attack. Once describing himself as "Lucifer in a Tuxedo," his saga lives on through his remarkable work, which he always attacked with a passionate zeal few other actors can equal. A fascinating human being, a game changer, and a gentleman, he remains a riddle as multifaceted as the many different beings he brought to life on the big screen.
Colleen Moore is not remembered as well as the other flapper girls of the 1920s, including Clara Bow and Louise Brooks, but she was actually the first "definitive" flapper. After Olive Thomas gave birth to this cinematic presence in 1920, Colleen kicked things up a notch and solidified what such terminology meant with her performance in Flaming Youth. While Clara gave the flapper sex and Louise later brought mystery, Colleen brought the initial ingredients of fun, life, and liberty. The younger generations, particularly women, were embracing the rolling times of a new era, and Colleen was one of the pioneers to light the way.
Her charismatic onscreen presence and natural gift for acting were on prophesied in her adolescence. She knew she wanted to be a movie star, looking up to the first Miss Independent pioneer Mary Pickford as a guide. With her intelligence and burning ambition, it didn't take long for her to catch fire in Hollywood, after an initial boost from D.W. Griffith. Thus, the awkward, skinny girl with one blue eye and one brown became a major power player influencing the nation through her exciting and touching performances.
More than a flapper, Colleen could easily morph from her generation's power child to the comedienne, to the tragedienne, to the romantic. Lilac Time remains a poetic depiction of young love, the sentimental kind all long for in their memories. Her transition to sound film in works like The Power and the Glory and her final project The Scarlet Letter also show the drama queen at her most intense with her uncanny ability to convey both pain and courage. This intelligent, business-savvy lady would prosper through her 18 year career, save and invest her money, and build her dream house ("The Enchanted Caste" doll house which is now on display in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry).
She was a bit unlucky at love, marrying four times-- two of which ended in divorce, the other half ending in her spouse's death and finally her own-- but many believe that former lover King Vidor was the one who got away, (or was it she who escaped him)? Whatever the case, this role model of freedom, spirit, and grace continues to flicker on, burning the candle at both ends into eternity and bringing well needed life back into the universe when one is lucky enough to glimpse one of her few remaining films. What she gave will never deteriorate, will never be lost. It lives on in the 'flaming youth' of every generation.
Colin Clive produced one of the greatest sound bites in the history of film. The first thing people think of when they hear the word Frankenstein is, of course, the striking image of Boris Karloff as the Monster. The next, however, are those two infamous words repeated in absolute hysteria: "It's alive! It's alive!" With Colin's profoundly maniacal and disturbed performance as Dr. Frankenstein, it was hard to tell which creature to be more frightened of: Frankenstein's Monster or the monstrous Frankenstein?
Colin sought refuge on the stage after his injured knee disqualified him from military service. He found an important ally when he worked with director James Whale in "Journey's End." When Whale went to Hollywood to direct the film adaptation of the play for Universal, he brought Colin with him and the intense actor's cinematic career was born. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein followed, as well as compelling performances in Jane Eyre, The Stronger Sex, Christopher Strong, and Mad Love.
Unfortunately, part of Colin's unhinged and dangerous nature, which made his characterizations so interesting and raw, was due to the Achilles heel in his personal life: alcoholism. The pain instigated by his damaged knee, his estranged marriage to Jeanne De Casalis, and the mysterious demons that plagued him, both fueled his passionate performances and hindered his career. He was often intoxicated on the set and was even fired from certain projects when his drinking interfered with production. His addiction contributed to his hastening death, and he succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 37.
Like the tormented doctor grappling for power and meaning in a life at the mercy of chaos, he was defeated by the monster of his own creation. To fans, he is the brief lightning bolt that brought horror to life-- here and gone so quickly, but leaving a legacy behind him that continues to enthrall, inspire, and terrify.