Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Funday: Here Come the Brides (and Grooms) Redux

Another Sunday Funday of celebrity nuptuals!  Which couple is your favorite?  Which bride has the dress you'd want to wear?

Alma Reville and Alfred Hitchcock, 1926

Ava Gardner and Artie Shaw, 1945

Ava Gardner and Mickey Rooney, 1942

Barbara Hutton and Cary Grant, 1942

Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon, 1930

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, 1945

Mary Pickford and Charles "Buddy" Rogers, 1937

Oona O'Neill and Charlie Chaplin, 1943

Dolores Costello and John Barrymore, 1928

Mary Lee and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., 1939

Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd, 1957

Esther Williams and Ben Gage, 1945

Ginger Rogers and Lew Ayres, 1944

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainer of Monaco, 1956

Hedy Lamarr and John Loder, 1943

Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot, 1938

Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, 1958

Jean Harlow and Paul Bern (with best man John Gilbert at far right), 1932

Jeanne Biegger and Dean Martin (flanked by Patti and Jerry Lewis), 1949 

Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., 1929

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, 1958

Lana Turner and Artie Shaw, 1940

Linda Christian and Tyrone Power, 1949

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, 1940

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., 1920

May Britt and Sammy Davis, Jr., 1960

Nancy Barbato and Frank Sinatra, 1939

Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan, 1952

Maria Ellington and Nat King Cole, 1948

Norma Shearer and Martin Arrouge, 1942

Rita Hayworth and Prince Ali Khan, 1949

Shirley Temple and John Agar, 1945

Wanda Hendrix and Audie Murphy, 1949
Pier Angeli and Vic Damone, 1954
Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller, 1922 (with Doug & Mary next to the bride and Chaplin behind)
Carole Landis and Thomas C. Wallace, 1943

Linda Darnell and J. Peverell Marley, 1943

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, 1954

For the first bride and groom Sunday Funday, go here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Now Playing: "Private Lives" (1931)

As fair warning, spoilers may lay ahead!

Private Lives is one of those Pre-Code films that is often neglected and overlooked, which is a shame.  It defines so much of what Pre-Codes stand for and it absolutely would never be made, at least not in its entirety, after the Hays Code went into effect.

Based on a Noel Coward play, Irving Thalberg - - the film's producer and husband of Norma Shearer - - thought a movie adaptation would be good for MGM and the lead role would suit nicely for his wife.  He sent a camera crew to New York to film the first act of the play (starring Coward and Gertrude Lawrence) so that the cast could see the excellent timing needed for laughs.

Unlucky newlywed #1
Norma was indeed cast and was joined by Robert Montgomery in the lead roles. Shearer and Montgomery had first appeared together in 1929's Their Own Desire. While the film didn't set the world on fire (although it did score Shearer an Academy Award nomination; she lost to herself in The Divorcee), the studio liked the pairing well enough to cast both in The Divorcee and Strangers May Kiss.  Although Montgomery played a supporting role to Shearer in both films, they projected a strong and undeniable chemistry.

In Private Lives, they played former spouses who find themselves remarried to others and at the same Swiss hotel, with new spouses and on their respective honeymoons.  So far, it sounds very much like the plot you'd find in one of the screwball comedies that would become so popular in the mid to late thirties.  Private Lives veers, and veers a lot, from the screwball tract though.

Unlucky newlywed #2
First and foremost is that both Amanda (Shearer) and Elyot (Montgomery), upon meeting each other at the hotel, exchange a few barbs before realizing the flame is still there.  They go in for a passionate kiss and then elect to run off together, abandoning their new marriages.  They also choose not to inform their new spouses.  And run off they do. Although we do see them sharing a room and bed with others, it's not long before Amanda and Elyot are on their own and shacked up in a room with Elyot saying "You know you adore being made love to," to Amanda.  Racy stuff for the time, especially given that both Amanda are Elyot are married to others.

Secondly, Amanda and Elyot both admit to being physically abusive with the other. Amanda tells her husband Victor that yes, Elyot struck her but she hit him back and broke four gramophone records over his head. Elyot admits to having struck Amanda but rather than apologizing, he simply looks sheepish; he also says that certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.

First it's love 
It's crystal clear that they have a severely dysfunctional and abusive relationship.  Where's a good therapist when you need one?  As expected, they get into it once they are alone together - - Amanda breaks a record over Elyot's head and he slaps her, leading her to scream like mad and throw herself into the sofa and kick her feet. They call each other a "pig," a "bully," a "cad," a "slattern," a "fishwife."  Like I said, after the summer of 1934, you would never see the likes of Private Lives.  Amanda runs off to the bedroom, screaming like a banshee, and Elyot ends up sleeping in a chair.  When morning breaks, we see the damage done to the room - - dawn isn't the only thing that's broken. Romeo and Juliet, these two aren't.

Then it's destruction
My first viewing of Private Lives, I thoroughly disliked the film.  I found both Amanda and Elyot unlikable, a realization that pained me greatly because I adore Shearer and Montgomery.  This is a different role for Shearer; she must have been given a lot of space by director Sidney Franklin because she goes for the scenery like a rabid dog in some scenes. She is normally more subtle and less hammy; if you don't believe me, watch the scene in the hotel room she and Elyot are in, just prior to their fight, when she applies her lipstick.

However, TCM being what it is and my stubborn streak being what it is, I gave the film another chance and upon my second viewing (and those thereafter), I found a certain charm to the movie.  The chemistry between the two leads truly sells it but looking at it as a comedy, a pre-screwball comedy before there was such a thing, shines a new and improved light on it.

Both Reginald Denny, as Amanda's jilted husband Victor and Una Merkel as Elyot's jilted wife Sibyl are perfectly cast in their parts.  Sure, Sibyl's a whiny thing but she's meant to be; the polar opposite of the cool and ready to brawl Amanda, Merkel delivers.

Of course we know from the start that neither Victor and Amanda nor Elyot and Sibyl are right for one another (mainly because Shearer and Montgomery are the stars) but the indicators start at their respective weddings.  Sibyl, in her formal church wedding, looks absolutely terrified.  Victor, in his less formal wedding at the French justice of the peace, is annoyed that children are making a ruckus, while Amanda laughs it off.   In their honeymoon suites, Victor is shocked and embarrassed to find Amanda in her lingerie at the dressing table while Sibyl needs constant kisses and reassurances that Elyot loves her.  Both of them bring up their new spouse's former partner ad nauseum.  Sibyl even asks Elyot if Amanda is prettier than she and Elyot tells Sibyl that Amanda is!   All this is within the first fifteen or so minutes of the movie.
Awkward . . . 

My favorite scene, however, is when all four newlyweds are sitting around the table in the hotel room Elyot and Amanda have battered, having breakfast. That scene alone, with its comedic timing, is worth watching the picture for.

Private Lives would become the seventh most popular movie in the U.S. in 1931.

Interestingly and yet not surprisingly, Noel Coward disliked this film (as he disliked all Hollywood films adapted from his plays.)  Also of interest is that Robert Montgomery claimed that Norma Shearer had one heck of a left hook and knocked him out cold during the fight scene.  Don't mess with Norma!

Would I recommend Private Lives to viewers?  Absolutely.  It's heavier on the fighting than on the romance but you'll not see another Pre-Code like it.  Heck, you may not see another film like it.

Warner Archives has Private Lives available; the film shows up on occasion on TCM's rotation.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Forgotten Pickfords

Mary, Lottie and Jack

If you're new to Hollywood history or keep yourself to films and film history post-silent era, you may not realize that the infamous and oh-so-intimidating Mary Pickford was not the only working Pickford, although the family's actual surname was Smith (no, really, it was.)  The eldest Smith child, Gladys (the future Little Mary)  had two younger siblings - - Charlotte (known as Lottie) and Jack.

It couldn't have been easy to have Mary as a sister.  Bright, talented, fiercely ambitious and preternaturally beautiful with blonde curls and big blue eyes, she set a bar for her younger siblings that they would never be able to reach.  Was it any surprise that dark headed Lottie and Jack would become the troublemaking siblings, the reported polar opposites to the dainty, demure and angelic "America's Sweetheart" ?  Poor Lottie was initially believed to have been a boy upon birth by her father, who then nicknamed her "Chuckie."  She would become her father's favorite, much to the annoyance of her older sister.  Anyone think that annoyance didn't become resentment and last?  Didn't think so.

Lottie would get less public wrath than Jack, mainly because she would become more focused on marrying, drinking and becoming a socialite. She wanted to live the life of Hollywood royalty without owning any of the ambition that her older sister had.  For what it's worth, neither Lottie nor Jack got the memo about putting professional success above and ahead of anything else.  Their sister not only lived it but wrote that memo.

Absolutely not pretty enough, right? 
Actress Linda Arvidson stated that Mary did not believe Lottie was pretty enough for films and did her best to keep her younger sister away from her first studio, Biograph.  True or not, it is fact that Lottie was defensive of her sister and once jumped on famed director D.W. Griffith during a heated argument he was having with Mary.  She and Jack also took on the surname "Pickford" once Mary changed her name. In turn, Mary had contractual stipulations, at least in her early career, that her sister and brother be given contracts as well.  That said, when Mary decamped for California from the East Coast, she left alone, leaving her mother and siblings behind.  (They would follow later.) Dysfunction, thy name is Pickford.

Lottie's first cinematic effort without appearance by or association with Mary ended in failure. The film was The House of Bondage, released in 1914, and Lottie portrayed a prostitute. The public was horrified, finding the movie "crude." It's more likely that movie-going America simply would not accept Little Mary's sister being such a basic and morally, as well as physically, spoiled character.  She attempted to mend fences by appearing with Mary and brother Jack in the film Fanchon the Cricket, the only movie in which all three would appear.  It was well received, of course, and probably led to Lottie being cast in the serial The Diamond From the Sky; she was not the original choice for the serial and only got it after the first choice rejected it.  The first choice, naturally, was Mary Pickford.  This coincided with Photoplay declaring her "Pickford The Second."  No wonder Lottie never truly tried.

In any event, The Diamond From the Sky did well and could have given Lottie her own career path but she met and married New York broker Alfred Rupp, shortly before the film was released on May 3, 1915.  She was either already pregnant when she married or became pregnant immediately after because their daughter, Mary Pickford Rupp, was also born in 1915.  Lottie's pregnancy jeopardized her continuing role in the Diamond serials and as a result, she suffered professional backlash, appearing in only five films between 1915 and 1918. Compare that to the thirty films that both Mary and Jack appeared in during the same three year span.

Lottie marries actor Allan Forest in 1922 with Mary (l) and Doug (r)
Lottie, during the intermittent periods she would work or attempt to work from 1915 until 1924, would often take self-imposed breaks - - something that must have been anathema to Mary, who would be called the most ambitious person in Hollywood.  Not most ambitious woman, most ambitious person.

In between Lottie's career "return," first in 1921, then again in 1924 and, finally, in 1925, with her final role being opposite her brother-in-law, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in Don Q, Son of Zorro, she divorced Rupp and created much gossip when she allowed her mother, Charlotte, to legally adopt her five year old daughter and change her name to Gwynne.  It seems that no one knows exactly why Lottie would relinquish custody of her daughter, unless she had enough insight and self-awareness to realize that she probably wasn't mother material.  Gwynne would live with her grandmother until Charlotte died in 1928, at which time she would then go to live with her aunt Mary until 1939, when Gwynne married for the first time.

In between and during her marriages - - three more that would follow, despite her proclamation to the press after divorcing Rupp in 1920 that she would never remarry - - Lottie made news not for her career but for her parties, which became legendary in Hollywood, often lasting until the next day.  Alcohol flowed freely, reportedly as well as drugs, and clothing was shed often. Her maid would later recall that when the disapproving Mary was heard pulling into the drive (as all the adult Pickfords lived together for a time), it was a mad dash for Lottie and her guests to "jump into their knickers."

Like her brother and eventually her sister, Lottie drank.  A lot.  Due to her copious consumption, her health began to fail around 1933, the same year she divorced husband number three and married husband number four.  On December 6, 1936. she suffered a heart attack and died at the age of forty-three.  She never achieved her sister's success but she appeared to have a good time while she was here. She was remembered by most for being friendly, unpretentious and down to earth, despite  the Pickford name and the alcohol abuse.

Whereas Lottie may have gotten a pass from some who chose to look the other way when it came to her parties, her lack of clothing and her drinking, Jack Pickford was gossip column fodder and continues to be so to this day, when he's remembered. Early on in his life he was introduced to the two things that he would become passionate about - - booze and women.  Being devastatingly handsome, insanely charming and the baby of the family that possessed the last name Pickford only exacerbated the problems.

Often unfairly cited as a classic case of nepotism, Jack was in fact a good, and sometimes excellent, actor. D. W. Griffith was quoted as saying that Jack was the best natural actor he ever saw.  Remember, this was the director that worked with not only Mary but also Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. I agree with Louella Parsons who felt that Jack would have become one of the screen's great actors if he had not been Mary's brother.

But he was and, like Lottie, knew he couldn't compete with his eldest sister's drive.  So he didn't always bother.  He made features, some eighty of them during his twenty year career period - - hardly lazy although that charge was and continues to be leveled at him and often.  What many people tend to overlook or forget is that Jack Pickford was a star back in the 1910s and 1920s and not just because of his sister.  Mary certainly helped him secure jobs in the beginning but his films made money and it wasn't because Mary was putting patrons in the seats.  Even Jack's detractors, of whom there were many, admitted that his movies were successful and that was due to Jack's charisma.

Jack in a clip from Seventeen, around the time he married Olive
Jack played Boy Next Door types on screen, which obviously meshed well with Mary's casting of the eternal Little Girl Next Door; busting out of Pickford type didn't go over well - - just ask Lottie.  By 1919, the dapper and always nattily attired Jack was called "America's Boyfriend," even while he was drinking hard and driving fast around Hollywood.  Like Lottie, he abused alcohol but he was allegedly never a drunk, always pleasant and always good company.

His meeting of and eventual marriage to actress Olive Thomas was the stuff of which legends are born and fluff writers dream of.  Olive was a gorgeous dark headed, brilliantly violet blue eyed former model from the east who started out as a Ziegfeld Girl before hitting up the movies. They reportedly met while dancing on the Santa Monica Pier and felt an instant attraction.  They shared a lot of similarities; both were impulsive and fun, liked fast cars and believed in grabbing life by the balls.  They married in 1916 but kept the news of their betrothal under wraps until 1917 because Olive did not want anyone to think her burgeoning success in films was due to her connection with the Pickfords. Smart lady.

August 1920. Olive and Jack leaving for destiny in Paris
While the press may have labeled Mr. and Mrs. Jack Pickford as having an ideal marriage - - and surely they were the Crown Prince and Princess of Hollywood, with Mary and her future husband Douglas Fairbanks as the top royal couple - - the union was not without its issues.  Both were young, Jack only twenty-one when he married the twenty-two year old Olive. Both were known to enjoy parties and drink.  And both were kept apart for stretches due to their shooting schedules, which could oftentimes be on opposite coasts. Their decision to take a second honeymoon in August of 1920 would be the end for Olive and the beginning of the end for Jack.

Olive would die in Paris in September of 1920 after ingesting poison. There have been many theories throughout the years about her death but the most obvious and simple explanation is that she ingested the poison accidentally, with no intention of killing herself and not being killed by anyone else; i.e., Jack.

The press had a field day with Olive's premature demise and that jubilation continued for many years. Jack was accused of possibly killing Olive; she allegedly planned on leaving him.  Or she was unfaithful and he killed her for it. Or he killed her because he needed her life insurance money to continue to fund his deplorable and hedonistic lifestyle. He was indirectly accused of pushing her to suicide because she had found out that he was unfaithful.  Or given her syphilis.  Or was a drug addict.  Or was a drug addict with syphilis who expected his wife to score him drugs on the streets of Paris and she couldn't deliver.

The truth was that Jack was devastated by Olive's horrific death.  He found her screaming in agony, called for help and performed life saving techniques until help arrived.  Not exactly what you'd expect if he intended to cause her exit from this world. He watched her suffer for five days while her organs shut down and she lost the ability to speak, see and hear, before she mercifully slipped away.

Like the rush to judgment that would befall Roscoe Arbuckle almost exactly a year later when bit actress Virginia Rappe died after a rowdy party in his hotel suite in San Francisco, the public believed they knew what happened and were okey dokey with labeling Jack Pickford a monstrous louse who caused his lovely young wife's death, either directly or indirectly. Unlike Arbuckle, Jack didn't care enough to fight for his reputation.  At least not much.

Jack returned to Hollywood to continue making films, some of which were very well received, but his popularity, already sliding, would fall off with the advent of sound.  He remarried twice.  First to Marilyn Miller in July of 1922, in a big bash hosted at Pickfair, Mary and Doug's infamous residence. Miller had become a widow the same year as Jack, in 1920, when her husband had died following a car accident.  Miller was famous in her own right, as a celebrated Broadway musical star.  The marriage to Jack wouldn't take and the two would divorce in 1927.  Miller would die young, at age thirty-seven, following nasal surgery; she would be the inspiration behind Norma Jean Baker taking on the first name "Marilyn," at the start of her film career.

As for Jack, he had been roundly thrashed by the press when he married Miller, accused of betraying Olive's memory.  It should be clear by now that Jack simply could not and would not win.  Upon his separation from Marilyn, rumors started that he was abusive to her.  However, this sounds like nothing but something being rotten in the state of Denmark, so to speak.  Those who worked with Jack, who associated with him, described him as a jolly, pleasant fellow, even when perpetually intoxicated.  Accounts of being an abusive drunk, however, sold more papers and went hand-in-hand with the suggestion that Jack had betrayed his first wife's memory - - that wife that he clearly must have killed in some fashion - - by remarrying two years later.  And it gave the papers another reason to dig up the Olive Thomas scandal.

At the same time Jack was being roasted on the regular, the press was fawning over Doug and Mary, the perfect film and real life couple. Of course the public didn't know or didn't want to know that Doug and Mary had far from a perfect marriage and that their relationship had begun while both were married to others.  Any faults of Mary's were glossed over and/or quickly swept under the rug while Jack's were magnified and exploited. Nobody said life was fair for Jack or Lottie.

In August of 1930, nearly a full decade after Olive's tragic death, Jack married for a final time to a twenty-two year old former Ziegfeld girl (just like Olive had been.)  He was not destined to be happy, at least not maritally.  This marriage would survive only two years before his new bride left Jack, claiming that she was mistreated. She would file for divorce but Jack would not live to see it granted.

By 1932, his lifestyle and the stress of being Jack Pickford, had caught up with him. He began to appear emaciated and ill, with his formerly jaunty clothing hanging off him.

Jack died on January 3, 1933, at the young age of thirty-six; ironically enough, it was at the same Paris hospital where Olive had died back in 1920.  Even in death, Jack was not remembered for his successful films, his good heart or loyal friendship.  Instead, articles incorrectly referenced his "short" "never highly successful" career and rehashed the thirteen year old Thomas tragedy.

Doug, Mary, Charlotte, Jack, Gwynne and Lottie in 1922

Since their deaths, Lottie and Jack have come to be characterized by the scandals and rumors that dotted their lives; they have been relegated to footnote status by many, as those less talented and lazy siblings of Mary Pickford who did not deserve the fortune and good luck handed to them.  While some of that may apply to Lottie, who was lazy when it came to acting, it's a brutal and unfair assessment of Jack and minimizes the very real popularity he had in the late teens.   The blanket statement against both younger Pickfords does a huge injustice to them personally as they were both considered kind, sweet and enjoyable people to be around.  Mary was an amazing and astute businesswoman and a talented actress but she was strung so tight in her desire to grab those professional accolades that she was probably rarely, if ever, described as a fun-loving person.

Of course, it was Mary in the end who outlived them all.  She would survive to see her mother, her sister, her brother and her former husband Doug all pass on.  While her career would peter out with sound pictures and her desire to leave the little girl image behind, she would retreat to Pickfair, which she retained after her divorce from Doug, and become a virtual recluse. She too would become dependent on alcohol but, being out of the public eye, she managed to hide it better.  When she died in 1979 at the age of eighty-seven, she left behind a legacy as a pioneer of the film industry, a female dynamo who controlled her career with an iron fist and will of steel and who was determined and strong enough to found United Artists with four men.  Mary was interred in the Pickford family plot at Forest Lawn with her mother, sister and brother.  Her niece, and Lottie's biological child, Gwynne Rupp, would only outlive her famous aunt by five years, dying herself in 1984.

The final resting place of the Pickfords