Happy 97th Birthday Leonard Bernstein

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Today is the 97th birthday of the musician and composer that contributed the soundtrack to the America experience:  Leonard Bernstein.  His work spans four decades and is immediately recognizable and adored.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Leonard Bernstein
OCCUPATION: Pianist, Songwriter
BIRTH DATE: August 25, 1918
DEATH DATE: October 14, 1990
EDUCATION: Harvard University, Boston Latin School, Curtis Institute of Music , Berkshire Music Center
PLACE OF BIRTH: Lawrence, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York

BEST KNOWN FOR: Leonard Bernstein was one of the first American-born conductors to receive worldwide fame. He composed the score for the Broadway musical West Side Story.

One of classical music’s most influential figures for the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein was born to Jewish immigrants and raised in Boston, where he attended both the Garrison and Boston Latin schools. His musical training began on the piano and his first attempts at composition were made at a young age, although he initially faced the opposition of his middle-class parents in the pursuit of such a frequently-unrewarding career. It was while attending Harvard that Bernstein was given his earliest opportunity to undertake what would eventually become the primary source of his fame, when he assumed the role of conductor for some incidental music he had composed for Aristophanes’ The Birds. After Harvard he studied piano, conducting and orchestration at the Curtis Institute of Music, as well as attending the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Institute. At the age of only 25 he landed an assistant conductor’s position with The New York Philharmonic, and after serving as a last-minute replacement for a performance (and associated radio broadcast) at Carnegie Hall in 1943, the demand for his talents took off like a bat out of hell. The following year, Bernstein publicly established himself as a composer with the premier of Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah, performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Also in 1944 was the premier of the ballet Fancy Free, created in collaboration with choreographer Jerome Robbins; such was its success that its authors were inspired to adapt it into a Broadway musical, and before the year was over On The Town was packing in audiences. A two-year tenure as music director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra was initiated in 1945, after which followed various conducting assignments, including events in Tel Aviv and Milan, as well as extensive teaching work at Tanglewood and Brandeis University. By 1956 Bernstein had landed a contract with the Columbia Masterworks label, with whom he remained extremely productive until a move to Deutsche Grammophon in the 1970s. The peak of his career was to arrive in 1958, however, when he assumed the directorship of the New York Philharmonic: a position that was subsequently maintained across 11 years, nearly 300 recordings, and countless performances. It was with the NYP that he created his popular Young People’s Concerts, a musical series broadcast on CBS that endured for fourteen seasons.

Over the course of his career, both Bernstein’s output and impact were enormous. In addition to works for orchestra and ensemble (Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949), Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers (1971), and Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games (1989) amongst them), he composed two operas (Trouble in Tahiti (1952) and A Quiet Place (1983)), two additional ballets with Robbins after Fancy Free (Facsimile (1946) and Dybbuk (1975)), a film soundtrack for On The Waterfront (1954), and four Broadway scores in addition to On The Town (Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), his best-known work West Side Story (1957), and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976)). Both On The Town and West Side Story were adapted into feature films, with Story earning an Academy Award in 1961. Four books of Bernstein’s writings on music were published between 1959 and 1982, and a lecture series at Harvard in the early 1970s was both televised and transcribed. Honors and awards of ridiculous variety were piled upon the conductor from sources all around the globe.

This must be the mission of every man of goodwill: to insist, unflaggingly, at risk of becoming a repetitive bore, but to insist on the achievement of a world in which the mind will have triumphed over violence.

Some of the more notable events in the later decades of Bernstein’s career were centered around humanitarian concerns. On the 40th anniversary of the atom bomb in 1985 he staged the Journey for Peace, realized with the European Community Youth Orchestra on a tour that included performances in Athens and Hiroshima. In 1987 he established a fund to benefit Amnesty International in memory of his wife Felicia Montealegre, having been a long-standing supporter of the organization. A series of “Berlin Celebration Concerts” were staged by the conductor during the dismantling of the Berlin Wall at the close of 1989, which featured musicians from all of the nations associated with the original partitioning. In the final years of his life, his focus remained on his role as an educator, and he established counterparts to the Tanglewood Institute in Europe and Japan — the latter being inaugurated just months before his death.

Happy Birthday Gene Kelly

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Today is the 102nd birthday of the dance and Hollywood film legend Gene Kelly.  You should absolutely watch his films again.  Watch them today.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Gene Kelly
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Dancer
BIRTH DATE: August 23, 1912
DEATH DATE: February 2, 1996
EDUCATION: University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State College
PLACE OF BIRTH: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
PLACE OF DEATH: Beverly Hills, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Gene Kelly was a dancer whose athletic style transformed the movie musical and did much to change the American public’s conception of male dancers.

Athletic and energetic, Gene Kelly was the king of the musicals in the 1940s and ’50s. Not only did Kelly star in some of the genre’s most famous films, he worked behind the scenes, breaking new ground with his choreography and direction.

One of five children, Kelly was born on August 23, 1912, and grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While his friends were playing baseball, he was taking dance lessons. Kelly put his lessons to good use in college, teaching at a local studio to help him pay for his education. He also performed with his brother, Fred.

In the late 1930s, Kelly made his way to the Broadway stage. He had small roles in Leave It to Me! starring Mary Martin, and One For the Money. In 1940, Kelly played the lead in the popular musical comedy Pal Joey. MGM executive Louis B. Mayer caught Kelly’s stellar performance and offered him a movie contract with his studio. In 1942, Kelly made his film debut opposite Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal.

While he often was compared to another famous film dancer, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly had his own unique style. He brought dance into real life in his movies, performing largely in regular clothes and in common settings. “All of my dancing came out of the idea of the common man,” Kelly once explained. He also produced some of film’s most innovative and enthusiastic dance numbers, pushing the limits of the genre.

In Anchors Aweigh (1945), Kelly danced a duet with Jerry, a cartoon mouse—a feat that had not been seen before. He had sailors performing ballet moves in On the Town (1949), in which he starred with Frank Sinatra. Working with director Vincente Minnelli, Kelly continued to take dance on film into uncharted territory with An American in Paris (1951). He choreographed the movie, including its groundbreaking finale—a lengthy ballet sequence. For his efforts on the film, Kelly received a honorary Academy Award “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”

Kelly starred in one of his most famous films the following year. Accompanied only by an umbrella, Kelly put together one of the most joyous dances ever filmed in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). He explained that his inspiration for the famous street dance scene was the way children like to play in the rain.

As interest in the movie musical began to fade in the 1960s, Kelly turned to television. He starred in two short-lived programs—Going My Way, an adaptation of the 1944 Bing Crosby movie, and a 1971 variety show called The Funny Side. Kelly fared better with the 1967 television movie Jack and the Beanstalk, which he directed, produced and starred in. The children’s telefilm netted him an Emmy Award. To promote and preserve the great film musicals of the past, Kelly also helped host the documentary That’s Entertainment! in the mid-1970s.

In the 1980s, Kelly largely retreated from acting. He made his last film appearance in the 1980 musical fantasy Xanadu with Olivia Newton-John, which proved to be a box-office dud. On the small screen, Kelly had a few supporting roles and guest spots on such series as The Muppet Show and The Love Boat. He often appeared as himself on tribute specials.

In 1994 and in 1995, Kelly suffered a series of strokes. He died on February 2, 1996, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Many Hollywood stars mourned his passing, including his Singin’ in the Rain co-star, Debbie Reynolds. “There’ll never be another Gene,” she told the press. “I was only 18 when we made that movie, and the hardest thing was keeping up with his energy.”

In July 2012, New York City’s Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted a month-long program in honor of Kelly, showing nearly two dozen of Kelly’s films.

Happy 122nd Birthday Dorothy Parker

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Today is the 122nd birthday of Dorothy Parker.  Her poem “Telephone” is something everyone has felt, if they want to admit it or not. She had the wit of three people and the alcohol tolerance to match.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

dorothy parker

NAME: Dorothy Parker
OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Journalist, Poet
BIRTH DATE: August 22, 1893
DEATH DATE: June 07, 1967
PLACE OF BIRTH: West End, New Jersey
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York

BEST KNOWN FOR: Dorothy Parker was the sharpest wit of the Algonquin Round Table, as well as a master of short fiction and a blacklisted screenwriter.

Resumé
Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live.

Journalist, writer, and poet. Born Dorothy Rothschild on August 22, 1893, in West End, New Jersey. Dorothy Parker was a legendary literary figure, known for her biting wit. She worked on such magazines as Vogue andVanity Fair during the late 1910s. Parker went on to work as a book reviewer for The New Yorker in the 1920s. A selection of her reviews for this magazine was published in 1970 as Constant Reader, the title of her column. She remained a contributor to The New Yorker for many years; the magazine also published a number of her short stories. One of her most popular stories, “Big Blonde,” won the O. Henry Award in 1929.In addition to her writing, Dorothy Parker was a noted member of the New York literary scene in 1920s. She formed a group called the Algonquin Round Table with writer Robert Benchley and playwright Robert Sherwood. This artistic crowd also included such members as The New Yorker founder Harold Ross, comedian Harpo Marx, and playwright Edna Ferber among others. The group took its name from its hangout—the Algonquin Hotel, but also also known as the Vicious Circle for the number of cutting remarks made by its members and their habit of engaging in sharp-tongued banter.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Dorothy Parker spent much of her time in Hollywood, California. She wrote screenplays with her second husband Alan Campbell, including the 1937 adaptation of A Star Is Born and the 1942 Alfred Hitchcock film Saboteur. In her personal life, she had become politically active, supporting such causes as the fight for civil rights. She also was involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s. It was this association that led to her being blacklisted in Hollywood.

While her opportunities in Hollywood may have dried up, Dorothy Parker was still a well-regarded writer and poet. She even went on to write a play entitled Ladies of the Corridor in 1953. Parker returned to New York City in 1963, spending her last few years in fragile condition. She died on June 7, 1967.

The Flaw in Paganism

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

 

Happy 93rd Birthday Gracie Hansen

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Today is the 93rd birthday of Gracie Hansen:  exactly what Seattle needed.  She famously said “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”  Take that to heart.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Gracie Hansen
DATE OF BIRTH: August 21, 1922
BIRTHPLACE: Shreveport, Louisiana
DATE OF DEATH: January 9, 1985
DEATH OF PLACE: Los Angeles, CA

The irrepressible and brash Gracie Hansen — best remembered for presenting shapely showgirls in her glamorous Las Vegas-style burlesque nightclub at Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World’s Fair) in 1962 — was a most improbable individual to fulfill that role. She was a divorced, backwoods gal, with poor health, a garishly frumpy style, and no detectable musical skill. Yet she won friends easily. Fondly described once by Seattle Times  veteran reporter Don Duncan as “short, stout, big-busted,” by Seattle magazine as “short-necked and dumpy, the despair of dress designers,” and by Northwest historian Murray Morgan (1916-2000) as “short, raucous and witty” — the woman’s charm was largely based on that latter attribute. The easily underestimated but extremely well-read Hansen was also a nonstop font of homespun quips, sly double-entendre jokes, and ribald witticisms. Her Paradise International Club on the fairgrounds packed in crowds — in good part because of Hansen’s knack for generating newspaper headlines in the mildly scandalized town — while rumors of police raids, lawsuits, and Hansen’s own background as a Madam (untrue), kept gossips chattering endlessly. It was all a publicity agent’s dream come true — just as it was the Cinderella moment of Gracie Hansen’s difficult life — one that saw her move on to hosting another club in Portland, where she eventually launched a humorous campaign for mayor and later one for Governor of Oregon.

Quiet Desperation in Morton

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on August 21, 1922, Gracie Diana’s Sicilian father, Sam Diana, moved his family to Longview, Washington, where he opened a barbershop. After his death in 1930, she and her mother moved into an apartment above the Columbia Movie Theatre and young Gracie fell in love with Hollywood movies. After about eight years her mother married George Barner and they moved to Centralia where he was mayor. It was there that the ambitious Gracie converted her family garage into a theater and began producing shows with her new neighborhood pals. After high school, her mother refused to let her follow her dream of studying acting in New York City, and so Gracie eloped with a logger named Leo Hansen. They moved to the tiny rough-and-tumble logging town of Morton and in 1948 adopted a boy named Sam.

Her new hometown was a less than inspiring spot to live. It was a lonely place — one that Hansen talked about years later in an interview with Bellingham‘s KVOS-TV, where she quoted no less than Henry David Thoreau in recalling that “I once read where ‘the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation’ — and until you’ve lived in a little town like this you’ll never know what desperation can be. Everybody is searching for something to do. And I think that’s how I became involved … of course I’ve always been a frustrated ham, and loved to do anything connected with shows —  when I was a child I wanted to be a movie star”.

A string of jobs as a waitress, cook, and bank clerk didn’t satisfy Hansen’s thespian urge and neither did the dozens of community groups she joined. But then in 1953 she masterminded what became the town’s annual variety show presentation, the Morton Follies. Produced as a fundraising benefit for the local Parent-Teachers-Association, she organized and staged the two-hour show, which was humorously credited with this line: “Written, Borrowed, Stolen, Directed, and Produced by Gracie Hansen.” It was “a typical variety show using all the home talent. Most of the time we had a hundred people in the cast. Everybody’s got a little bit of ham in them! And geez those people would just get up there and give the most terrific performances. They were wonderful. We had a chorus line: we had ten of the young housewives (I think one time we figured out that they had about 26 children between them). I would get a dancing teacher to teach them how to dance and they worked real hard and they were terrific”.

Morton Liquor Agency

Hansen suffered a divorce and also acquired the license to operate Morton’s liquor shop — which probably was a relatively thriving business in a boom-and-bust timber town whose economy fluctuated, as she admitted, “like the weather.” But alcohol also seems to have played a role in the demise of her role with the Follies. Word is that in time the shows began to get edgier, but Hansen attributed that to booze-fueled improvisation by amateur cast members rather than to her own scripting: “Some of these people would get carried away [laughter]! They’d say ‘Gee whiz Gracie, I’ve gotta have a little bit of fortification before I can get up there and make a fool of myself.’ And I sometimes wished I was clever enough to write some of the things they came up with — but some of the things were just too adult for the PTA. [laughter] and so we kinda just stopped it”.

Seattle magazine noted that the 1959 show was to be the last: “As the years progressed … the dialog became racier and racier; when finally one logger, attired as Queen for a Day, hiked up his skirt and showed he had nothing on underneath but his boots, church groups closed down the show”. And, even years later, one Morton resident (schoolteacher Geneva Partridge) confessed that “Opinion of Gracie is divided. Some are against her”.

Hansen counted only one person in Morton as a real friend. She got sick, endured several bank-busting medical operations, and while healing grew extremely bored and depressed just moping around her house. “You see, I used to work all winter on them. This was my project for the winter. And then that winter I had nothing to do and was very ill, and very broke, and feeling very sorry for myself. And I had this friend who came over and gave me this pep talk: ‘Gee look what you did with the Morton Follies. Why don’t you go up to the Seattle World’s Fair?’ Of course, I thought she was absolutely right!’. That advice from her friend Esther Lester really got her to thinking about a new future.

Showgirls vs. Science

By the late 1950s there was already plenty of news coverage of the massive planning efforts  and construction projects that would ultimately result in the Century 21 World’s Fair. And that got Hansen to thinking that maybe there would be opportunities for her there. Her first step was to jump into her battered old Buick and drive up to the fair’s planning offices up in the old Civic Auditorium. She arrived in the big city with high hopes, plenty of confidence and “Morton mud on my shoes. They were very amused [laughter]. And I just went in cold and said I wanted to put on a show. You see everybody has a mission in life and I decided that my mission must be to save the fair from Science. Well they were very amused and said ‘Well Miss Hansen don’t you call us, we’ll call you'”.

Hansen returned to Morton and mailed off a few letters to Seattle and Olympia still seeking to gauge any possible interest in having her produce an expanded version of her naughty little Follies show. In April 1960, Al Rochester (1895-1985), Executive Director for the Century 21 Commission, sent her a letter (mailed to the liquor store in Morton), which stated that an “Administrative Assistant to the Governor [Albert D. Rosellini], wrote me that you had some interest in participation of some kind … . Would you be so good as to drop me a line and outline in some detail what you thoughts are on the matter. Then I shall be very pleased to follow through in any way possible.”  At the bottom of that still-surviving letter are clues to Rochester’s thoughts: inscribed in ink pen there are these handwritten notes: “Appointment 4-14-60 11:00 am ‘Girlie’ Show — I told her it was too soon …” (Rochester letter to Hansen, April 11, 1960).

Next Stop: Seattle

Hansen made the decision to head where the action was and, after finding a job at Seattle’s United Savings and Loan Associates, she moved here. “Then I made up this list … of all the people I’d ever heard of in Seattle who had money. And I began checking them off.  I would go and call on them on my lunch, or after work, or on Saturdays, and I would give them this pitch: ‘Have you ever been to a World’s Fair, or know anyone who has? And, if so, what do you remember?’ ‘Cause you know what they all remember: Little Egypt, Sally Rand, Billie Rose and some of those things. And no one can tell you about an exhibit they saw any place! So I formulated my pet theory that: Science will never replace sex or cotton candy”.

One of those wealthy folks, Robert Chinn (625 S Jackson Street) — her boss at the bank and a gentleman quite prominent within the town’s Chinese community — agreed to help. In an hour-and-a-half on the telephone, he rounded up 18 friends who each invested $5,000 in Hansen’s dream to produce a big-time show at the fair. Of course, when the ecstatic would-be showbiz entrepreneur ran back to the fair’s offices, they didn’t believe her until they laid eyes on a bankbook showing the $90,000 she’d raised. “So, of course,” she recalled, “then they were very interested in talking about this”.

Sedate Seattle vs. the Censor Board

Meanwhile, as planning for the fair progressed in Seattle, there were conflicting notions about what hosting such a huge cosmopolitan event might mean to the community. Seattle’s raucous past as an 1850s frontier village — a Wild West town that featured rowdy dancehalls and liquor bars, box theaters (in which male patrons fraternized in small rooms with female employees behind curtains), and houses of ill-repute like the infamous one supposedly operated by Madam Damnable — was a history many upstanding members of the community would like to have forgotten by the 1950s. And they sure didn’t want the fair to revive any of that wildness.

On the other hand, some interested parties figured that the town — soon to be sizzling under the glare of international media and the entertainment needs of worldly tourists — really ought to consider installing an “adult-entertainment” component to the fair’s offerings. It was in 1961, according Murray Morgan, that “State Senator Reuben Knoblauch [d. 1992] complained to the World’s Fair [C]ommission that too much emphasis and space was being devoted to an art exhibit which he said would not draw the crowds that high class entertainment or a skin show would attract. State Representative Len Sawyer, a member of the Commission, agreed and added that a cadaver in a medical exhibit in Canada was outdrawing an art exhibit” (Morgan).  So, Hansen’s “pet theory” obviously had other adherents. And, though the fair would boast plenty of high-brow culture (as well as a generalized futuristic high-tech science ambiance), plans were now underway to also accommodate more base attractions. Although the fair wouldn’t be able to boast of having a morbid cadaver on display, there would ultimately be opportunities to view “heavenly bodies”.

Sin Alley

Initially the fair contracted with Hansen to produce her show in a venue on the Boulevards of the World strip. As general planning progressed though, they discussed relocating her still-unnamed showplace to a discreet area underneath the north stadium stands — a zone they imagined might be marketed as Sin Alley.

Meanwhile, Hansen forged ahead by getting professional assistance — and she reached for the stars. “Being the frustrated ham that I am,” Hansen admitted, “I always read Variety and the show business papers, and I knew that there were two big names in the business that did first-class shows: Don Arden and Barry Ashton. And so I made a trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles [in the summer of 1961] and I talked to Don Arden and Barry Ashton”. At the time Arden was committed to producing the famous Lido Shows in Paris and at the Stardust in Vegas, but Ashton was interested in possibly serving as choreographer.

On November 3, 1961, The Seattle Times published an item showing Hansen with Ashton and his partner reviewing blueprints for a World’s Fair “Theater-Cafe.” Interesting, then, that documents from the fair’s internal archives seemingly reveal that the exact nature of Hansen’s participation still wasn’t fully nailed down. A November 15 letter from George K. Whitney (the fair’s Director of Concessions and Amusements) shows him touching base with San Francisco’s Hotsy Totsy Club, in which he states a desire to see someone bring in a “theater-restaurant night club similar in scope and program” to that city’s Bimbo’s 365 Club (which Ashton staged). It is mentioned that prime space is available, that Ashton has been hired, and even suggests that the program “would be the hit of Show Street.” The stipulation was that, with the time-clock ticking away towards a Grand Opening in April, the Hotsy Totsy folks needed to make an immediate decision. Intriguingly, on the November 16, The Seattle Times reported that just one day prior, Hansen had delivered a $90,000 check to the fair as an “advance guarantee against receipts.” And with that, it appears Hansen’s involvement — on Show Street — was locked in.

Show Street

From there things must have fallen into place at a rapid pace: A month later, on December 21, 1961, Time magazine reported that, yes, worry not, “the fair will have its undraped girls, in a ‘Las Vegas-type revue’ to be produced by one Gracie Hansen, an entrepreneuse who promises ‘a daring show with some nudity, but all in good taste.'” And that would take place within Show Street — the titillation zone of the fair located at the northeast corner of the grounds (where today’s KCTS-TV station is based). That same day saw a groundbreaking ceremony on the construction site — one in which Hansen (wearing a feathered hat) began charming the media saying: “This is my dream some true. I’m just a country girl from Morton. Very naive. Why, I didn’t know there were press agents until a few months ago.” Then, using a “gold-plated” shovel to turn a load of “diamonds,” she said “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend — but I’ll never knock rubies, emeralds or pearls” (The Seattle Times, December 21, 1961).

Show Street was a U-shaped complex of buildings, each containing a distinct “Adults Only” attraction — including the Polynesian Playhouse, the Diamond Horseshoe (and its Gay Nineties theme), the Galaxy (and its Girls of the Galaxy show), the Le Petit Theatre (and its naughty puppet show), and Backstage U.S.A. (and its risqué “Peep” show). Some of these offerings, ranging “from bad to indifferent, were organized to slop up the lascivious overflow” of people who arrived too late to get tickets to the highest profile feature of all. And that was Hansen’s mildly controversial Paradise International restaurant-theater which survived official scrutiny only because the “Seattle Censor Board was persuaded to raise its eyes to the heavens while the girls bared their breasts”.

A Night In Paradise

On the fair’s opening night of April 21, 1962, Hansen’s plush, 700-seat Paradise International drew large crowds. Advance publicity of the controversial sort helped, but so too did the building’s attention-grabbing exterior neon sign: it was designed like an apple with a missing bite — an unmistakable visual allusion to traditional biblical notions of original sin. Or as Hansen pitched it to The Seattle Times in December 1961: “The apple tree in Paradise will be our symbol.” Although a certain segment of Seattleites was mildly scandalized, the Seattle Censor Board miraculously gave it the nod — possibly because, as Hansen would helpfully inform: Even though “‘some of our showgirls are nude from the waist up. It’s not thrust upon you. In fact, sometimes you have to look for them in there. And, as yet, no one has objected and found it distasteful, so I guess it’s a matter of presentation”.

Hansen began each “A Night In Paradise” show — as staged by Ashton and supported by a pit-band led by Seattle’s aging 1920s bandleader, John R. “Jackie” Souders (d. 1968) — with a pure jolt of Mae West-like red-hot-mama irreverence, greeting her audience with a shout-out (that had actually been a trademark of West’s stylistic predecessor, Texas Guinan): “Hi-ya, Suckers!” After some joking around Hansen even sang a tune or two in her own endearing manner — which was “like a poor man’s Sophie Tucker, belting out red-hot chestnuts and always getting the biggest hand of the evening”.

Than, after that aural assault, the real action began — although as one scribe noted years later: “It was a ‘Vegas-style’ show that by today’s standards would probably look like a Daughters of the American Revolution luncheon but was then the ultimate in slap-and-tickle sophistication” (Palmer). True, those four floor-shows per night offered — to employ an old, old joke — two main points of interest: the bevy of buxom beauties (who sang and paraded their admirable physiques) and their over-the-top, and occasionally topless, costumes (all made in Hollywood by Lloyd Lambert) in ridiculous productions like the “Women of Mars.”

Spice Girls

Before long, the fair’s Performing Arts Director, Harold Shaw, stated that a few underperforming Show Street attractions needed to be overhauled from “stem to stern.” The problem, surprise surprise, was that he felt that they were not yet “spicy enough.” He lamented how “I could make that street hop if I had a free hand for two weeks.” What the place was lacking was “showmanship” and more nudity: “There isn’t a show worth doing unless it is keeping the censors busy. The censors would have to be on roller skates to keep up with me … . I don’t say I have all the answers but I am willing to help if they ask me” (The Seattle Times, June 6, 1962).

All this helpfulness only sparked the inevitable backlash from social conservatives, and even moderate politicians who also made known their objections to Hansen’s Paradise International and the other questionable Show Street venues. Longtime reporter Don Duncan noted that St. Matthews Catholic Church in Northeast Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood mailed in a letter of complaint which stated that “Such Pagan displays will show the world what they already suspect — that Americans are amoral, materialistic, sex-conscious, pleasure-seeking people. What an impression!” It was also reported that a Mr. H. H. Hill had written about his concerns that “Century 21 is becoming primarily a bawdy show or is it to be a science fair citizens were taxed to support” (The Seattle Times, June 27, 1962).

Physical Fitness

It didn’t help matters when the Shaw announced plans to introduce regular Monday “father-and-son” nights at Hansen’s shows — which had initially been advertised as a “break for dear old dad.” A week later, the fair’s great advocate, Governor Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011), weighed in. In a letter written to a local Lutheran minister, he admitted that he was shocked by the idea. Rosellini’s office asserted that they’d already received 1,200 letters from an outraged public — and he informed the fair that they ought “to assure a more adequate regard for morality” (The Seattle Times June 27, 1962). That same piece from The Seattle Times informed that the fair’s manager, Ewen C. Dingwall (1913-1996), responded by noting that “every activity on Show Street must be approved by either the State Liquor Control Board or the Seattle Board of Theater Supervisors” (known informally as the Seattle Censor Board), and that “No activity is tolerated by us which does not have the approval of both agencies.”

Amid the simmering furor, the dads-and-lads concept apparently faded away but Shaw got in a parting shot by saying: “It’s time we shed our false puritanical morals and commence to beautify the human being — and make him beautiful as God created him.” Then, perhaps stretching things just a bit too far, Shaw told another newspaper that even more nudity at the fair would “be a boost for President Kennedy’s physical fitness plan. Americans don’t have beautiful bodies. The best way to stimulate beautiful bodies is to see them” (Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 28, 1962).

In hindsight, Morgan reckoned that, business-wise, the Show Street had been a disappointing mixed bag: “the puppets made a mint … and some of the other attractions were around for the last hurrah. But throughout the fair, Show Street was a financial embarrassment, in such trouble that not even well-publicized, carefully rehearsed trouble with the police could produce a profit” (Murray Morgan).

Initially Hansen had been delightfully glib about her club’s chances at success, telling reporters that “We may go broke, but we’ll never be flat-busted” (Halpin). Truth be told, although Hansen’s Paradise did manage, in the end, to pay off all its debts, its original investors remained rather bitter about not making a profit — and Hansen herself moved on with an empty savings account. But George Whitney may have been correct when — before the fair even opened — he predicted that “There is no question that when Century 21 has passed in limbo, the main feature to be remembered will be Gracie Hansen’s Paradise International” (The Seattle Times, December 21, 1961). Well, that, and maybe the Space Needle and Monorail…

Hansen’s Transformation

Part of Hansen’s secret for success was her state of self-awareness. As Seattle magazine once reported: “She has no illusions about the quality of her voice. ‘I have no voice at all,’ she rasps in a whisky bass that sounds like a fire roaring in a wood stove. ‘But if I don’t sing good — at least I sing loud” (Halpin, p. 36). And it wasn’t only her voice that was loud — so was her wardrobe. To start with, there were the absurd “thick false eyelashes, wigs, and enormous finger rings” (Duncan, 1985). Then too, the mink stoles, outrageous hats, and “richly brocaded velvet dresses” whose “outlandish ruffles would shame Liberace” (Halpin, p. 36).

Considering that Hansen also whirled around town in her (borrowed) gold-plated Buick — she instantly become “the most talked about woman in Seattle.” Indeed, “Gracie’s transformation into a siren was a remarkable example of mind over matter” — but she accomplished that with a combination of old-fashioned moxie, drive, and a heart of gold (Halpin, p. 36). All things considered, Hansen proved to be exactly what Century 21 needed — she “added just the right touch of humor and earthiness to Seattle’s science-oriented fair” (Duncan, 1985).

Morton Reunion

The 20th annual Logger’s Jubilee festival in little ol’ Morton welcomed Hansen back in a triumphal return appearance as their fair’s Homecoming Queen. On August 12, 1962, she, as Grand Marshal, rode on the back seat of an open convertible car in their parade down the town’s Main Street. One newspaper account of that day’s activities noted that her earlier showbiz activities there had made her “the talk of the town. Not all of the talk complimentary” (Charles Dunsire).

She arrived like a big city star in a chartered bus accompanied by “Show Street personalities, and a retinue of newsmen, photographers and press agents. Also aboard to keep things lively were a guitarist and clarinetist.” Hansen wore a silver sequined dress — one that “contrasted with the other elements of the parade, which included a long line of fully loaded logging trucks” (Charles Dunsire). But that didn’t stop fair officials from awarding Hansen with the, presumably coveted, golden ax.

A Heart of Gold

Then in 1977 it was discovered that for the past two years Hansen had been volunteering anonymously at Portland’s Volunteers of America senior center, serving meals to the elderly. Hansen told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that she labored there as a way of “working off a guilt complex. I feel guilty about all the things I didn’t do for my parents when they were alive.”

Those who knew Hansen were not surprised by this news — Hansen had long before entertained patients at Children’s Orthopedic Hospital while dressed in a Santa Claus costume, and she also gave inspirational talks to most any community group that tendered an invitation to speak. Also in 1977 Hansen announced that she and her husband were selling their home and moving to Seattle where she wanted to “spice up the campaign” that the Paradise International’s former head of security — City Councilman Wayne Larkin — was launching in a run for mayor (Evans).

Say Goodnight, Gracie

Long plagued with poor health — she had been diagnosed as a diabetic in the mid-1950s — Hansen (who was last based in North Hollywood) endured at least six medical operations for various circulatory problems, and had a leg amputated in 1980. Then, finally, on January 9, 1985, Hansen died in Los Angeles after a last round of surgery. It was two full decades after she’d made her initial big splash in Seattle, but that news of her passing still merited front-page coverage in The Seattle Times.

The town still had a soft spot for the hick from the sticks who defied all odds to become an outrageous glamour icon — and one who never forgot where she came from. The ever-humble Hansen once freely admitted to that newspaper that Century 21 had been a career highlight: it was the “Cinderella point in my life … . I came barreling in from Morton and my whole life changed. I’ve been enjoying it ever since” (The Seattle Times, January 11, 1985) — and way back in 1966 she shared this inspirational thought with Seattle magazine: “I was fat and 40 and I came out of the hills and I made it. My message is this: if I could, who the hell can’t?”

 

Happy 132nd Birthday Coco Chanel

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Today is the 132nd birthday of the woman that said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”  Coco Chanel.  I admire a person that creates their life how they wish it to be.  Determination, focus, drive and perseverance.  Her life is as beautiful as her designs.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Coco Chanel
BIRTH DATE: August 19, 1883
DEATH DATE: January 10, 1971
PLACE OF BIRTH: Saumur, France
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: With her trademark suits and little black dresses, fashion designer Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today.

Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

Fashion fades, only style remains the same.

Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.” Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,” according to an article in The Atlantic.

Around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his even wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.

It is always better to be slightly underdressed.

Opening her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes. Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she once told author Paul Morand.

In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” Chanel once explained.

In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. Her designs were revolutionary for the time—borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions. She helped women say good-bye to the days of corsets and other confining garments.

Another 1920s revolutionary design was Chanel’s little black dress. She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for eveningwear. In addition to fashion, Chanel was a popular figure in the Paris literary and artistic worlds. She designed costumes for the Ballets Russes and for Jean Cocteau’s play Orphée, and counted Cocteau and artist Pablo Picasso among her friends. For a time, Chanel had a relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky.

Another important romance for Chanel began in the 1920s. She met the wealthy duke of Westminster aboard his yacht around 1923, and the two started a decades-long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!”

When I find a colour darker than black, I’ll wear it. But until then, I’m wearing black!

The international economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company, but it was the outbreak of World War II that led Chanel to close her business. She fired her workers and shut down her shops. During the German occupation of France, Chanel got involved with a German military officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. She got special permission to stay in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz. After the war ended, Chanel was interrogated by her relationship with von Dincklage, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Some have wondered whether friend Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes on Chanel’s behalf.

While not officially charged, Chanel suffered in the court of public opinion. Some still viewed her relationship with a Nazi officer as a betrayal of her country. Chanel left Paris, spending some years in Switzerland in a sort of exile. She also lived at her country house in Roquebrune for a time.

At the age of 70, Chanel made a triumphant return to the fashion world. She first received scathing reviews from critics, but her feminine and easy-fitting designs soon won over shoppers around the world.

In 1969, Chanel’s fascinating life story became the basis for the Broadway musical Coco starring Katharine Hepburn as the legendary designer. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and lyrics for the show’s song while Andre Prévin composed the music. Cecil Beaton handled the set and costume design for the production. The show received seven Tony Award nominations, and Beaton won for Best Costume Design and René Auberjonois for Best Featured Actor.

Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz. She never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” Hundreds crowded together at the Church of the Madeleine to bid farewell to the fashion icon. In tribute, many of the mourners wore Chanel suits.

A little more than a decade after her death, designer Karl Lagerfeld took the reins at her company to continue the Chanel legacy. Today her namesake company continues to thrive and is believed to generate hundreds of millions in sales each year.

In addition to the longevity of her designs, Chanel’s life story continues to captivate people’s attention. There have been several biographies of the fashion revolutionary, including Chanel and Her World (2005) written by her friend Edmonde Charles-Roux.

In the recent television biopic, Coco Chanel (2008), Shirley MacLaine starred as the famous designer around the time of her 1954 career resurrection. The actress told WWD that she had long been interested in playing Chanel. “What’s wonderful about her is she’s not a straightforward, easy woman to understand.”

Double Indemnity – Required Viewing

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I recently ‘discovered’ a classic film blog called The Blonde At The Film:  A Fresh Look At Old Films and I cannot get enough of it.  You absolutely have to add it to your reader.  Below is her write up of Double Indemnity, a brilliant film and a brilliant write up.  She has a Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.  You should add/follow her to get immediate updates [click on those
hyperlinks to be sent to her profiles].Double Indemnity 43

In honor of TCM’s “Summer of Darkness” Film Noir Festival and online course, here’sDouble Indemnity (1944), an undisputed masterpiece of the genre.

But first, what is film noir? Can we even call it a genre? And what does a movie need in order to belong to this notoriously slippery category?

Film noir literally translates to “black film,” and was first used in 1946 when French critic Nino Frank wrote an article called “A New Police Genre: The Criminal Adventure.” Frank wrote about the Hollywood films Laura (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Double Indemnity, among others, noting their brutality, darkness and cynicism, and labelling them “film noir.”  (The term had been used in France in the late 1930s to describe poetic realist movies like Le Quai des brumes (1938), but most agree that Frank was the first to use it in its modern, Hollywood sense).

It is perhaps surprising that it was a French critic who called attention to the dark tendencies of these American movies, but it’s not actually that strange. After all, Hollywood films had not been shown in France during WWII, but when the war ended, French theaters were flooded with a backlog of Hollywood imports. This circumstance helped critics like Frank detect themes and tendencies that were less noticeable to Americans who didn’t have the option of watching Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon back to back, for example.

Anyway, the term film noir stuck, though it remains an incredibly sticky, contested label. Some scholars and critics refuse to grant film noir the status of “genre,” preferring terms like “tendency,” “category,” “mood,” “phenomenon,” “cycle” or “style.”

Part of the problem with the term film noir is that it was only applied retroactively; unlike musicals or gangster films, Hollywood studios did not have a category of “film noir,” and the filmmakers never described their films as such. Instead, most canonical film noirs were called “melodramas” when they were produced.

Double Indemnity 153Another complicating factor is that the modern canon of film noir (which is itself a highly contested group) is far from a cohesive collection of movies sharing clear cut characteristics. For instance, we know that a movie is a western by its setting, and a musical is easy to spot because the characters sing and dance. But film noirs can differ hugely one to the next.

That being said, there are certain characteristics that shout (or suggest) film noir: an urban setting, a private detective, a femme fatale, an anti-hero, crime, a mood of cynicism and pessimism, corruption, moral ambiguity, fatalism, violence and brutality, erotic elements, a hardboiled style of narrative and dialogue, flashbacks, voiceover narration, a dreamlike quality, and sometimes a hopelessly tangled plot.

Film noir also has a certain visual style, which includes expressionist flair (composition, angles, etc., visitThe Lost Weekend for more on German Expressionism), and iconography like rain-slicked city streets, neon signs, Venetian blinds, and cigarettes. But perhaps the most salient element of film noir style is low-key lighting.

As Janey Place and Lowell Peterson write in “Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir,” “Noir lighting is ‘low-key.’ The ratio of key to fill light is great, creating areas of high contrast and rich, black shadows. [Click here to learn more about the terms key and fill.] Unlike the even illumination of high-key lighting which seeks to display attractively all areas of the frame, the low-key noir style opposes light and dark, hiding faces, rooms, urban landscapes—and, by extension, motivations and true character—in shadow and darkness…”

Compare a comedy, The Lady Eve, which is lit in the more typical high-key style, with a film noir, Double Indemnity, dimly lit in low-key:

Along with the various characteristics and visual style, the era of production is also important when classifying film noirs. The 1940s-1950s are generally considered the classic period of film noir, with later films taking on the “neo-noir” label, though that is a whole other can of shady worms.

Nearly every convention of the category/genre/cycle of film noir has several notable exceptions (many do not take place in cities, for example, or lack a private detective character), which is why various scholars and critics disagree so much over what the term means. What doesn’t help (but fascinates) is that film noir is by its very nature mysterious and malleable. The movies just have a certain atmosphere–film noirs present a shadowy, cynical, stylish world, but these qualities can be difficult to quantify and classify.

It doesn’t stop people from trying, though! There are more books than you’d imagine presenting arguments for a certain definition of film noir, and it seems that each scholar’s canon differs from the next. Those championing a narrow definition of film noir might set out a canon of only several dozen films, whereas those who take a broader view might make room for hundreds of movies in their “definitive” lists.

Double Indemnity

Basically, there is no consensus and noclear canon, which is one reason that film noir is so intriguing! I’m not even going to get into the various influences of film noir, nor the reasons why it arose when it did/looks how it does. This post is already a monster, and it would never end if I tried to cover all of that.

But if you’d like to jump into the film noir morass, check out TCM’s free online course from Ball State University, or take a look at two of my favorite books on the topic: Film Noir Reader and More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts.

Despite all of this critical confusion, no one disagrees with Double Indemnity‘s categorization as film noir. As scholar Carl Freedman wrote, “Though the genre is too varied and complex for any particular film to be completely typical, it would be difficult to name another that comes closer to providing a paradigm for noir” (“The End of Work: From Double Indemnity to Body Heat,” in Neo-Noir).

Double Indemnity is the standard against which other film noirs and thrillers are judged, but it’s not just interesting in an academic sense. The film’s themes of betrayal, murder, and lust don’t go out of style, and this film still sucks you in eighty years after it was made. It somehow strikes a weird balance between highly stylized, very “of-its-time” but also timeless, which not many films manage.

Double Indemnity titlesHardboiled author James M. Cain, who also wroteThe Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce, penned Double Indemnity in the mid-1930s. It was published serially in Liberty Magazine in 1936 before Cain included it as part of a collection of stories in 1943.

Cain was inspired by a sensational real-life murder: in 1927, a woman named Ruth Brown conspired with her married boyfriend Henry Judd Gray to kill her husband. She took out a hefty insurance policy on her doomed hubby, and with Gray’s help murdered the poor man. They were caught, found guilty, and executed. See the parallels to Double Indemnity?

Cain’s story was first submitted to the Production Code Administration (you can read more about that process and entity here) back in 1935 by MGM head Louis B. Mayer. But the PCA chief, Joseph Breen, shot down MGM’s hopes, writing that the story violated the Production Code and was “almost certain to result in a picture which we would be compelled to reject.”

Breen listed some of the violations, including the fact that “the leading characters are murderers who cheat the law and die at their own hands; the story deals improperly with an illicit and adulterous sex relationship; [and] the details of the vicious and cold-blooded murder are clearly shown.” Such a strong denial from the PCA shelved the story–without a Production Code certificate of approval, theaters wouldn’t show the film, so it wasn’t worth making.

Just to make sure the studios knew where Breen stood on Double Indemnity, his memo was sent to Warner Bros and Columbia, too. It would also make its way to Paramount eight years later when that studio began preparing to make the film in early 1943.

Despite the PCA’s strong objections, writer-director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, author of The Big Sleep and other hardboiled novels, went to work adapting Cain’s story for the screen. Rather amazingly, Breen approved their treatment, writing in September, 1943 that it appeared acceptable, so long as the towel wrapped around Phyllis in her first scene “properly cover[s]” her and falls beneath her knees: “There must be no unacceptable exposure.” Also, the “whole sequence of the detailed disposition of the corpse is unacceptable…as a too detailed exposition of crime…We strongly urge, therefore, that you fade out after they take the body from the car…”

PCA files are fascinating. Breen and his staff handled the huge themes and issues, but tiny details (like the exact length of Phyllis’ towel) were dissected almost gleefully, too. When you’re guarding a nation’s morals, nothing can be overlooked!

via: http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/film-screening-double-indemnity/

Stanwyck and MacMurray hanging out between takes via:http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/film-screening-double-indemnity/

Now that the script had preliminary approval, Paramount went to work. Barbara Stanwyck was cast as Phyllis Dietrichson, though Walter Neff was harder to find. Alan Ladd declined the part, so Wilder went to George Raft, who is most famous for his gangster roles and for passing on an extraordinary number of iconic movies.

When Wilder told Raft the plot of Double Indemnity, Raft asked him “Where’s the lapel?” The actor was convinced that at the end of the movie Neff would reveal himself as a policeman or FBI agent by flipping his lapel to display his badge! Raft wanted the character to be a true hero, and when Wilder told him there was no “lapel moment,” Raft turned down yet another legendary role.

Often Raft’s discarded roles went to Humphrey Bogart, but this time it was Fred MacMurray who took the part. Wilder thought MacMurray would be an intriguing choice because he typically played nice guys in light comedies.

But MacMurray wasn’t sure it was a good fit. He told Wilder, “I’m a saxophone player; I do little comedies with Carole Lombard.” (You can read about two of those “little comedies” here: The Princess Comes Across and Hands Across the Table.) But Wilder persuaded him, and MacMurray would later claim that Walter Neff was his favorite role. Fun fact: about fifteen years later, Wilder personally convinced MacMurray to play another anti-hero in The Apartment (1960).

Edward G. Robinson, who was wisely transitioning from his notorious gangster roles into a more diversified career, formed the third point of the unusual triangle as the claims investigator Barton Keyes. And off they went!

The film opens with a car careening recklessly down the nearly empty Los Angeles streets in the predawn darkness.
Double Indemnity opening

The opening of this film is so noir that it almost feels like a spoof. But that’s only because the dark, wet streets and a lonely city sparsely lit by piercing headlights and streetlights have become such strong markers of the style.

The car stops in front of the Pacific All-Risk Insurance Company and Walter Neff (MacMurray) gets out. He limps into the building and stays mostly silent despite the kindly conversation of the elevator operator. Walter makes his way through the dark office and goes in a door marked “Barton Keyes, Claims Manager.”

Double Indemnity MacMurray office

He sits at the desk, gingerly sets up the dictaphone, and begins his confession. He says it’s July 16, 1938, he’s 35-years-old, and he killed Dietrichson. “I killed him for money. And for a woman. But I didn’t get the money…and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”

Double Indemnity MacMurray opening

It’s an amazing line and a great scene. You can watch it here.

Cue the flashback as Walter says, “It all began last May.” We cut from the office to a neighborhood in Los Angeles. Walter walks up to a Spanish-style house, and his voice continues to narrate what we’re seeing. (We’ve got murder, voiceover narration and a flashback narrative already. Check, check, and check.)

Walter walks into the house and explains that he is an insurance salesman. He has stopped by to renew an auto policy with Mr. Dietrichson. He isn’t home, but his wife is…

Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck meeting

There’s that towel. And it does indeed fall just below Stanwyck’s knees. Walter flirts shamelessly with Mrs. Dietrichson (Stanwyck), and she gives it right back to him. Immediately we know that neither of these characters is an upstanding, moral person. And that’s one reason this movie is so fun.

Phyllis Dietrichson tells Walter to wait for a moment–she was sunbathing but will put on some clothes and be right down. Walter grins as he waits for Phyllis. He’s a heel, we realize, and has no problem at all flirting with a married woman.

Double Indemnity 20

When Phyllis comes down the stairs, we get a shot of her high-heeled slippers and anklet. Whenever the camera lingers on feet like this, you know the character is bad news. It’s a fantastic trope.

Phyllis is still buttoning her ruffled dress as she walks into the living room. It’s yet another clue that she is iffy, morally and sexually speaking. After all, a nice lady always makes sure her clothes are properly fastened before engaging with a strange man.

Phyllis slouches sensually in her chair and plays with her huge cocktail rings and bracelets as Walter starts his insurance pitch. But he doesn’t stay on topic.Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck anklet

Phyllis casually rebuffs his more aggressive efforts, but it’s perfunctory, at best. At one point she rises from her chair and paces, clearly pondering something. Then she asks Walter if he sells accident insurance, too. Her husband works in the oil fields and she worries about him so!

Walter doesn’t buy the “worried little woman” routine. There’s something awfully calculating and predatory about Phyllis. She seems excited yet contained, like a crouching panther, when she starts talking about accident insurance.

Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck meeting 2

This is an amazing scene packed with double entendres, sexual tension, and desire. Eventually, Phyllis tells Walter that he can come back tomorrow evening. Her husband will be there and can sign the renewal, and she’ll be there, too, of course. Walter asks, “Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?” She says, “I wonder if I know what you mean.” He replies “I wonder if you wonder.” It’s great. You canwatch the scene here.

Fun fact: John Seitz, the cinematographer, achieved the look of “waning sunlight” in the dark, dusty house using “some silver dust mixed with smoke.” (Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck).

Another fun fact: Bosley Crowther, the reviewer at The New York Times, found MacMurray’s immediate attraction to Stanwyck difficult to believe, writing “Mr. MacMurray is a bit too ingenuous as the gent who falls precipitately under her spell. And the ease of his fall is also questionable. One look at the lady’s ankles and he’s cooked.” It’s pretty true–but I buy it.

As he leaves the house, Walter’s voiceover breaks through the sultry flirtation with this hardboiled, utterly film noir line:Double Indemnity honeysuckle

Goosebumps!

Now for a costume appreciation break and wig discussion. We’ve got to get that out of the way. Stanwyck looks different in this film, mostly because of the brassy blonde wig. It’s an odd, clearly fake hairstyle with heavy sausage curl bangs and a platinum glow.

Double Indemnity 26The wigs’ strangeness is not the result of changes in style, either; even when the movie was released people thought the wig was weird. Reportedly, an executive at Paramount said, “We hire Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington” after he saw some of the early footage!

Critics mentioned it, too, for example,Variety’s review of the film included this line: “Miss Stanwyck is not as attractive as normally with what is seemingly a blonde wig, but it’s probably part of a makeup to emphasize the brassiness of the character.”

As Variety noted, the wig was intended to make Phyllis look trashy and inelegant, and perhaps to allude to her deceptive character and general boldness, which it certainly does. But that effect is somewhat overshadowed by the basic weirdness, though the wig did make it easier for Steve Martin to step into Phyllis’ place in his wonderful noir spoof, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982). I’ll have more on that in a moment.

To Phyllis’ costume! Her clothes are especially interesting in this movie, so I’ll be paying extra attention to them. Paramount’s head designer Edith Head created the costumes for this film. She had first dressed Barbara Stanwyck in Internes Can’t Take Money (1937), but the relationship between designer and actress really took off on The Lady Eve (1941).

TheLadyEve Stanwyck Jean outfits all

Stanwyck’s costumes in The Lady Eve

Before that film, Head remembered that “As for fashion, [Stanwyck] couldn’t have cared less,” but The Lady Eve changed her mind.

Stanwyck agreed, recalling that for The Lady Eve, “…Edith made the most beautiful clothes I had ever worn.” From then on, Stanwyck requested that Head design all of her costumes, and she had the designer’s name “written into every contract, no matter what studio [she] was working for.” Head and Stanwyck would go on to work on more than 25 films together (Edith Head and Paddy Calistro, Edith Head’s Hollywood.)

When Head designed for Stanwyck on films at other studios, she would only create Stanwyck’s outfits, and the studio’s designer would dress the other actresses. This was not an uncommon arrangement for powerful stars; Carole Lombard had a similar arrangement with Travis Banton, for example. For more on the relationship between Head and Stanwyck, and the various “tricks” Head used to make Stanwyck look her best, visit my post on The Lady Eve.)

Head worked her magic on Double Indemnity, though the goal for Phyllis was slightly different than for other characters who just needed to look beautiful.

Double Indemnity Stanwyck dressThe ruffled dress Phyllis wears in this scene is fussy and cheap looking, but, like the wig, it serves a purpose. Phyllis is not a classy lady, and her costumes contribute to that characterization.

The material is slinky and falls in easy folds when she settles into a dark chair, seductively revealing her knees. The shiny buttons, belt buckle, large jewelry, and platinum hair glitter as she moves, giving her a “cheaply manufactured, metallic look” (James Naremore, More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts.)

Phyllis appears tawdry, cold, and inelegant, an effect which was very much intended. Wilder “wanted to make her look as sleazy as possible,” and Head made it happen (Ella Smith, Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck.)

Her costume also serves another purpose tailored to film noir. I propose that one reason Head chose a light color for this dress, and for others in the film, was due to the low-key lighting used throughout the movie. The dim light pools and shimmers along her dress and jewelry, turning her body into a sort of noir landscape of shadows and highlights. The pale dress and the blonde wig make Stanwyck practically glow, and keep her visible in the shadowy room.

Edith Head and her fellow designers would have been well aware of the cinematography and overall look of each film they worked on. The various departments (set, art, costume, makeup, etc.) worked together to create a cohesive movie, and smart designers like Head learned what worked on screen and what didn’t.

via: https://sartorialsilverscreen.wordpress.com/double-indemnity-barbara-stanwyck-as-phyllis-dietrichson/

Head explained this collaborative process, remembering how during her early years at Paramount she: “learned to buck what a Hollywood designer must try to buck: first the star who puts herself in your hands but knows exactly what she wants, then the producer and the director, either of whom is likely to say, ‘I want a square neckline, my wife always wears one,’ the sound man who doesn’t like the rustle, the color consultant who worries himself sick about plaids and tweeds…”

“…the art director who insists, ‘You can’t use blue, the interior of my room is blue,’ the set decorator who screams, ‘Oh, my God, you can’t use a black dress for this scene, I’ve planned a black sofa!’…or the front office reminding you, as the day of economy came in, ugliest of all words, WE CAN’T AFFORD…or, finally, the censor who may decree that mousseline de soie is too diaphanous… ” (Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore, The Dress Doctor.)

Head’s awareness of the various factors from sound to censors, and her habit of collaboration influenced her designs and would serve her well in an expressive movie like this one. Although she would not have called Double Indemnity a “film noir,” as that term did not yet exist, she would have known that it would be shot in a very dark, low-key style, and she certainly seems to have taken the lighting into account when designing the costumes.

The white costumes and light colors worn so frequently by Phyllis also play an interesting game in terms of characterization. In the popular, and occasionally scholarly imagination, femme fatales appear draped in black, sparkly dresses that ooze sexuality. Gilda’s iconic black strapless gown in Gilda (1946) and Kitty’s sultry, one shoulder number in The Killers (1946) have come to represent “the femme fatale dress,” but both of these black dresses are signaled as “costumes” worn to perform songs within the world of the movie.

Despite this, the gowns have become part of the iconography of the femme fatale, although Phyllis and other film noir dames are more often seen in modest white clothes than black dresses. (ps. I really enjoyed this article on Double Indemnity‘s costumes from the great Girls Do Film site.)
Double Indemnity Robinson MacMurray officeBack to the movie. Walter leaves the house and returns to his office. Barton Keyes (Robinson), who is a legendary investigator who never lets a phony claim sneak by, is yelling at a man who set fire to his truck in order to collect the insurance money.

After the confrontation, Walter and Keyes chat, and you can tell that they are very close. It’s sort of a father-son dynamic.

We also hear about the “little man” in Keyes’ gut who alerts him when something isn’t quite right. (It’s proto-Stephen Colbert and truthiness.) Keyes’ hunches are famous, and he’s a bloodhound when it comes to tracking down the truth.

This scene is important to get the relationship between Keyes and Walter, and to understand what a great investigator Keyes is (he plays the “private eye” role in this noir). But it’s also fun to see the mid-1940s decor in the office. All those tiny drawers! You can watch it here.

Walter gets a call from Phyllis later that day rescheduling his evening appointment to an afternoon visit. So Walter goes back later that week, but–shock!–Mr. Dietrichson isn’t there! Walter isn’t fooled by Phyllis’ fake-surprise at remembering that it’s the maid’s day off, too…

Phyllis starts with an innocent act, but the conversation soon turns to that accident policy and her troubled relationship with her husband. But it’s still full of great lines.

Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck chat 1For instance, Phyllis tells Walter that her marriage is so dull she spends her evenings knitting. Walter says, “Is that what you married him for?” She answers, “Maybe I like the way his thumbs hold up the wool.” And Walter for the win: “Anytime his thumbs get tired…Only with me around, you wouldn’t have to knit.”

Eventually, Phyllis asks about the accident policy, and Walter is happy to explain. He becomes suspicious, though, when she starts talking about how her husband doesn’t want one, and would it be possible to get one without his knowledge?

Walter had no problem flirting (which seems a far too innocent word for these two scoundrels) but he’s not okay with a secret insurance policy. He says, “You want to knock him off, don’t you?” (there is such great slang in this movie!) She acts shocked and insulted, but Walter doesn’t buy it, and he’s happy to leave. He’s not interested in such underhanded dealings. At least not yet.

Costume appreciation break. Just a typical afternoon dress for receiving insurance salesman, right? Notice how the waist of the dress dips in the back. Stanwyck had a “figure problem,” a long waist and a low, wide bottom that stumped designers. Until Edith Head came along…

Double Indemnity Stanwyck flowered dress

Head solved Stanwyck’s “problem:” “By widening the waistbands on the front of her gowns and narrowing them slightly in the back, I could still put her in straight skirts, something other designers were afraid to do, because they thought she might look too heavy in the seat. Since she wasn’t the least bit heavy, I just took advantage of her long waist to create an optical illusion that her derriere was just as pertly placed as any other star’s” (Edith Head’s Hollywood).

This dress is also a great example of the peculiarities of costume design for black-and-white films. Head later explained that: “When you do a black-and-white picture, you have to depend upon two things: extreme contrast, to get variation in light and shade, and then you have to be much more intricate in construction of clothes and much more elaborate in accessories, decoration, embroidery, and things of that sort” (Edith Head qtd. in Sam Staggs, Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream.)

The intricacy of the designs was important because “A red sheath which might be magnificent for a scene in color would have looked like a gray sack in black and white” (The Dress Doctor.) For example, a dress like this pink one from Easy to Wed (1946), which is stunning on Esther Williams in high-key Technicolor, would look awfully dull, like a “gray sack,” in black and white. But Phyllis’ flower print dress has the extreme contrast and the elaborate detail that makes it pop in the black and white world ofDouble Indemnity.

Easy to Wed

Back to the movie. Walter goes to a drive-in where he drinks a beer in his car (!) and then bowls a few frames to quiet his mind. Just the typical activities one does when a customer solicits one’s help in murdering her husband.Double Indemnity MacMurray beer bowling

But he can’t get Phyllis out of his head. You can watch the scene here.

That night, Phyllis shows up at his apartment. She wants to clear up their “misunderstanding.” Of course she doesn’t want to kill her husband!Double Indemnity 43

Phyllis and Walter stand at the window watching the rain dance down the panes (of course it’s raining!), and soon they profess their “love” for each other with mutual “I’m crazy about you, baby.” Kiss. They have known each other for about fifteen minutes at this point, so it was about time, right?Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray kiss

Talk turns to Phyllis’ mean husband. He hits her and he never lets her do anything, plus he’s leaving all of his money to his daughter from his first marriage. He won’t ever grant Phyllis a divorce, so she’s stuck. Walter listens, but basically tells her that she can’t murder her husband because everyone gets caught sooner or later. And insurance companies “know more tricks than a carload of monkeys,” so they would be all over her if there was a big insurance payout. Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray apt

Significantly, there’s never any mention of the evil of murder, no “you shouldn’t kill him because it’s bad to kill people.” Walter and Phyllis’ reservations are all very rooted in selfish consequences, which is one reason this movie feels so brutal, so dark, and so very noir.

Things look bleak for Phyllis and she begins to cry. They embrace, and a cross-dissolve takes us to Walter recording his confession. Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray cross dissolveThe cross-dissolve signals that Phyllis and Walter are going to have sex, but since this is a 1944 film that had to contend with the Production Code, we can’t watch it.

In the office, Walter talks about how he was partly interested in Phyllis’ plan because he wanted to pit his skills and inside knowledge against the insurance company and the police. He was in a perfect position to carry out insurance fraud, and he sort of wanted to see if he could do it! Again, there’s no real mention that he will be killing a human being as part of his game. That’s film noir for you.
Double Indemnity 59Another dissolve takes us back to the apartment. Walter is sprawled on the couch smoking, and Phyllis is touching up her makeup. These are more codes for “the characters just had sex.”

Movies like this are so fascinating because of all the codes and shorthands the filmmakers employ to abide by the letter of the Production Code while still including crime, sex, and other no-nos. It can seem really tame by today’s standards, but it’s all there if you know how to read it.

Before Phyllis goes home, Walter pulls her in for another kiss. By this point he’s completely under her spell, and he tells her that he has changed his mind. He will help her kill her husband. They’re going to do it right and plan out everything so that they won’t get caught. They’re on the same trolley car to murder, taking it “straight down the line,” a metaphor that will crop up quite often.

Costume appreciation break. Phyllis wears a light colored coat over a white sweater and a slim dark skirt in this scene. It might seem counterintuitive to wear a white sweater to a seduction, but it really works. The sweater is so thin you can see Phyllis’ bra underneath, and it clings quite tightly to her figure.

Double Indemnity Stanwyck sweater

The white sweater signals both demure (long sleeve, crew-neck) and sexy (very tight and slightly sheer). Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper focused on its vampy side, writing “Stanwyck broke all the Hays [Production Code] rules, including the ban on sweaters, in DoubleIndemnity” (Hedda Hopper, “Looking at Hollywood.Chicago Daily Tribune. 12 June 1944.)

This costume is likely another instance of Edith Head working with Wilder and Seitz’s vision for the scene. It is one of the darkest interiors in the film, and most of the shots are from the waist up.  Walter, also in a white shirt, and Phyllis remain visible partly because of their white tops as they pass in and out of shadows.

A few nights later, Walter comes by the house to get Mr. Dietrichson to sign the auto insurance forms/his secret accident policy. Phyllis and her step-daughter Lola (Jean Heather) play Chinese checkers while Walter goes through his sales pitch. It’s obvious that Lola and Phyllis are not pals.

Double Indemnity 64

This scene is a notable example of costume design and the idea of a “foil.” As I mentioned earlier, not every femme fatale is always dressed in black sequins. Most often, the femme fatale is coded relatively within each film, usually as the counterpart to a “good woman.” This juxtaposition helps to easily separate the different types of women in that old binary of good/bad, or virgin/whore.

Edith Head employs this juxtaposition in her costume design; after all, femme fatales can’t always be in strapless black dresses, but they can be subtly coded as “sexier” than the other women in the film. That’s what is going on here: Lola is in a pale, modest dress with a bow at the collar, and Phyllis is garbed in a low-cut, black fringed number with a large brooch at her décolletage.

The styles and the colors set the women apart; as Edith Head said later: “I think you see colors before you see details, and certain clichés will work—virginal white for a girl, black for a vamp” (Deborah Landis,Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design.) In this film, Head uses both clichés, sometimes playing with and sometimes against the standard connotations. She goes with them in this scene.

Anyway, Walter gets Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) to sign the accident policy, which he thinks is the auto insurance renewal. So far, so good. For Phyllis and Walter. Not for Mr. Dietrichson.

Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray 2

Phyllis walks Walter to the door and they have a brief whispered conversation before he takes off. Phyllis watches him go, a peculiar smile on her face. You can watch the scene here.Double Indemnity 72

Walter’s night isn’t over yet, though. Lola has been waiting for him, hoping that he will drive her into the city. She told her father that she was meeting a friend, but she’s actually meeting a boyfriend, Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr.) Lola’s father doesn’t approve of Zachetti, so Lola has to sneak around. Once we meet Zachetti, it becomes clear why Mr. Dietrichson isn’t a fan. He’s hostile and aggressive, and scarily possessive of Lola. He’s upset that she rode with Walter, for example. Double Indemnity Heather MacMurray

Besides the general excellence of this masterpiece, it is fun to watch just for the views of Los Angeles and the general 1940s environment. Many scenes were shot on location; for example, the exterior of Walter’s apartment was shot at 1825 North Kingsley Dr., the garage was in the El Royale building on Rossmore Avenue, Jerry’s Market was at 5330 Melrose Avenue, and scenes were filmed on Sunset Boulevard, Western Avenue, and Hollywood Boulevard.

Now that the accident policy has gone into effect, Walter and Phyllis set the rest of their plan into action. Although this movie does give some elements away beforehand, it doesn’t show the audience every detail of the plan, which makes it extra-exciting when we watch our two “heroes” execute their intricate plot.
Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray market 1Walter and Phyllis are extremely careful. For example, they don’t call each other (that could be traced), but instead meet at Jerry’s Market near Phyllis’ house when they need to talk.

Despite their precautions, they’re highly noticeable when they both stop in front of the baby food and stand there for minutes at a time speaking in low voices.

Fun fact: this scene is used extensively in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) with Steve Martin as Phyllis. You can watch that version here. Another fun fact: Edith Head designed the costumes for that film, too. Her expertise in 1940s style and the fact that she designed many of the original outfits came in handy! It was her final film in a career that spanned nearly sixty years.

Walter wants to make it look like Mr. Dietrichson died on a train because the accident policy has a “double indemnity” clause that pays double on certain rare accidents, like deaths on trains. As luck would have it, Mr. Dietrichson’s Stanford reunion is coming up, and he plans to take the train. Walter and Phyllis want to murder him on that trip, thus doubling the $50,000 payout. It’s all coming together…

But then Mr. Dietrichson breaks his leg! The trip is cancelled, so Walter and Phyllis have to think of another plan. But the wait is taking its toll. They don’t dare see each other, and their enforced distance is very frustrating. Also, Phyllis’ powerful hold over Walter seems to weaken when she’s not around, and he starts vaguely second-guessing the entire thing.

Then the fates smile on our evil pair. Phyllis calls Walter with good news: her husband has decided to go on the trip after all. He’s catching the 10:15 train that very night. It’s a wonderful scene because Walter is with Keyes when she calls, and Walter has to pretend it’s just some random lady on the phone, not his murder accomplice. There’s an extra layer of betrayal built into Walter’s actions, since he and Keyes are so close, and Keyes just finished asking Walter to come work with him in his department when Phyllis called!Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray phone

The pair swing into action. Walter heads home, careful to make his presence known to as many people as possible because he needs an alibi for the evening. He asks the garage attendant to wash his car, calls a co-worker, and puts a piece of paper in his doorbell and phone box so that he will know if anyone stops by or calls. He needs people to think he was at home all night.Double Indemnity MacMurray car phone

Then he changes into a suit to match Mr. Dietrichson, grabs a towel to serve as a cast, and walks to the Dietrichson house. He sneaks into the garage and hides in the backseat of their car. Phyllis and Mr. Dietrichson arrive soon after, and Phyllis and Walter lock eyes as she puts her husband’s suitcase in the back. It’s creepy.Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray car

Phyllis drives to the station with Walter hidden in the back. It’s incredibly suspenseful. Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray car 2

Phyllis turns down a very dark street and honks the horn three times to signal Walter. He rises from the back and kills Mr. Dietrichson right there in the car. We don’t see the murder; instead, the film lingers on Phyllis’ face. Although this was partially mandated by the Production Code, (remember that Breen didn’t want to see the murder nor the corpse), it’s a masterful choice, and more effective than seeing Walter kill Mr. Dietrichson, in my opinion.

Our eyes stay fixed on Phyllis as we listen to her husband’s dying gurgles and groans. She doesn’t say a word, and she barely changes expression. There is certainly no pity nor remorse in her face, and she actually seems to grow stronger and ruthlessly happy as he dies beside her. It’s chilling.Double Indemnity Stanwyck faces

The murder was just the beginning of the plan. Now they need to get “Mr. Dietrichson” on the train. When they get to the station, Walter puts the body in the trunk, grabs the crutches, and follows Phyllis to the train pretending to be Mr. Dietrichson.Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray train

Phyllis says goodbye to her “husband” and heads back to the car with the corpse hidden in the back. Meanwhile, Walter makes his way to the observation platform on the caboose. But he’s not alone. Obviously Walter can’t have a witness!

Double Indemnity MacMurray train

So Walter asks the friendly man (Porter Hall) to fetch his cigars from his compartment. Once he’s gone, Walter jumps off the slow-moving train and waits for Phyllis to meet him at the appointed spot. Then they throw the corpse on the tracks and run back to the car.Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray train 2

It’s all very neatly done. Clever, cold, and ruthless.

When Phyllis tries to start the car, the engine sputters and dies. Uh oh. She tries again and again without any luck. The seconds tick by, and the suspense is crazy. Finally, Walter is able to start the engine, and the pair make their getaway. Although we know that Phyllis and Walter are doing something very bad, we still root for them. We’re glad their car finally started because we really don’t want Phyllis and Walter to get caught.

Fun fact: the car scene wasn’t in the original script. Wilder’s own car wouldn’t start after a day of shooting, and he liked the idea of adding something similar to the movie. It’s funny that this wasn’t part of the master plan because it is one of the most memorable moments in the film.

Another fun fact: contemporary reports note that some night scenes were filmed in Phoenix, AZ because Los Angeles had blackout regulations which made it difficult to shoot at night. This film was in production in September through November 1943, as WWII was raging, so such regulations were the norm. But since the movie is set in 1938, there’s nothing about WWII in the film.

Phyllis drops Walter off near his apartment. He is glad to find that no one called nor came by, though it’s unclear what he would have done if someone did try to get in touch with him during those hours. Then he walks to a nearby drugstore for some food and more alibi support, which gives him the opportunity for some more amazing noir moments.

His voiceover comes back as he walks down the dark, deserted street. He explains that although the plan had gone off perfectly, he was suddenly overcome with a sense of dread: “I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.” He feels that everything will go wrong.

But it doesn’t. Days pass and no one gets suspicious. It seems perfectly reasonable that a man with a broken leg could have lost his balance, fallen off the train, and broken his neck. But then the president of the insurance company hears that they are on the hook for a $100,000 payout (a little over 1.3 million in 2015 dollars) and takes a look at the case himself. Mr. Norton (Richard Gaines) then calls in Keyes and Walter and tells them that he thinks Mr. Dietrichson committed suicide, which, of course, negates the accident policy.

Double Indemnity Robinson Gaines MacMurray

Walter stays quiet, but Keyes comes to the rescue. He destroys Mr. Norton’s theory in a magnificent monologue. Actuarial tables and suicide statistics have never been so dramatically fascinating! Keyes’ conclusion is that there is no way Mr. Dietrichson committed suicide. The company will have to pay. (It’s terribly ironic and poignant that Keyes, who is Walter and Phyllis’ most dangerous foe, actually helps their case.

Then things get even more interesting. Mr. Norton asked Phyllis to come by to discuss her husband’s policy. She walks in wearing her dark suit and mourning hat, and plays the part of grieving-wife-shocked-to-learn-about-the-accident-policy-and-also-insulted-by-the-suicide-theory perfectly. Double Indemnity Stanwyck Gaines MacMurray Robinson

Walter and Phyllis barely look at each other in this scene, but you can feel Walter’s terrible tension. Phyllis seems quite cool, though. Deception is her thing, after all.

Double Indemnity

Phyllis rocks that veil, and she naturally has a handkerchief at the ready.

Despite Keyes’ assertions to the contrary, the president refuses to pay the double indemnity on the grounds of suicide. Phyllis fully intends to sue.

That evening, Phyllis stupidly calls Walter to ask if she can come to his apartment to talk about their options. He stupidly agrees. As he waits for her, guess who stops by unannounced? Keyes! He’s been thinking about the Dietrichson case, and his “little man” is performing somersaults in his gut. Something isn’t right.

Walter is in a tough spot. If Phyllis walks in, which she will at any moment, the game is up. But clever Phyllis hears Keyes from outside Walter’s door and waits in the hallway.

Walter listens to Keyes’ theories, calm on the outside but churning within. Keyes is getting closer to the truth, though he harbors no suspicions about Walter.

Double Indemnity MacMurray Robinson Stanwyck hall

It’s another suspenseful scene, and it only gets crazier once Keyes leaves the apartment. Fortunately for Phyllis, the door opens out into the hall (unusual), so she hides behind it as Keyes and Walter step into the hallway.Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray Robinson door 1

She tugs almost imperceptibly on the doorknob to let Walter know where she is. He stands in the hallway and makes sure not to close the door until Keyes is safely in the elevator. Whew!Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray Robinson door

I love this door gag. It’s used a lot, as when Cary Grant hides behind the door in The Awful Truth (1937), but never with this level of suspense.The Awful Truth triangle

Now that Keyes is gone, Phyllis and Walter can discuss their next moves. First, they really can’t see each other for a while. Now that Keyes is investigating, they need to be crazy-careful. And Walter doesn’t think that Phyllis should sue the insurance company. He is certain that a lawsuit will only end up exposing the murder. But Phyllis doesn’t like that, not at all. She wants that money!

Walter is starting to wish they’d never killed Dietrichson, whereas Phyllis seems energized by the crime. But there is not much either one of them can do. Things have changed between them, but they’re inextricably bound together by the murder. There’s no getting off the trolley. It’s straight down the line.Double Indemnity 120

Things just get worse for Walter as the days go by. Lola shows up in his office with her own suspicions. She tells Walter that she saw Phyllis trying on a black hat and veil days before her father died, and she thinks that Phyllis had something to do with his death.

Double Indemnity Heather MacMurray office

Her suspicions are based on more than premature mourning attire, though. She tells Walter a terrible story about how her mother died. She was so sick that her father hired a full-time nurse, and they all went to Lake Tahoe together in the middle of winter.

One night Lola walked into her mother’s room to find that all the windows had been thrown open and the blankets taken from the bed. The room was freezing cold, and her poor mother was terribly ill and delirious with fever. Lola was covering her up when the nurse walked in and gave Lola a look she never forgot.

Her mother died soon after–guess who the nurse was?

Phyllis. Of course.

Lola thinks that Phyllis killed her mom so she could marry her father for his money. Lola was too young to do anything back then, but now that her father has died she can’t sit by and let Phyllis get away with it.

This is not what Walter wanted to hear. His most immediate problem is Lola going to the police, so he decides to wine and dine her to keep her mind off of the murder. (He must think she’s really dumb and shallow if a few dates will erase her suspicions about her father’s death.)

Double Indemnity MacMurray Heather fun

He’s right, though. Lola has such a lovely time with him that she doesn’t seem concerned about Phyllis killing both her parents! He must be a wonderful conversationalist.

Meanwhile, Keyes is still working away at the Dietrichson case. Walter gets a nasty surprise when he comes by Keyes’ office and sees Mr. Jackson (Porter Hall), the man from the observation platform, waiting outside. Keyes tracked him down and wants to ask about his encounter with Dietrichson. Double Indemnity MacMurray Hall Robinson

Keyes has a new theory: Dietrichson was murdered before he ever got on the train. The theory is bolstered when Mr. Jackson looks at a picture of Dietrichson and says the man he talked to definitely wasn’t him. (But he doesn’t recognize Walter as the imposter.) Keyes is thrilled. He’s getting close to the truth! He tells Walter that he is sure that Phyllis was in on the murder, though she must have had an accomplice. Keyes still doesn’t suspect his protege of being that man, though.

Walter and Phyllis call an emergency meeting at Jerry’s Market. Walter once again tries to convince Phyllis not to sue. Keyes is closing in, and they will both hang. But she refuses to back down. Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck market 3

Her final lines to him invoke their “down the line” metaphor, but now it’s not a profession of love. It’s a doom-filled threat: “We went into this together and we’re coming out at the end together. It’s straight down the line for both of us. Remember?” And off she goes after giving him a terrifying look.Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck market 2

Walter’s voiceover joins in with this dark line: “Yes, I remembered. Just like I remembered what you had told me, Keyes. About that trolley car ride and how there was no getting off until the end of the line where the cemetery was. And then I got to thinking what cemeteries are for. They’re to put dead people in. I guess that was the first time I ever thought about Phyllis that way. Dead, I mean. And how it would be if she were dead.”

Things are getting serious.

But remember, it’s just a movie. Here are Stanwyck, MacMurray, and Wilder between takes of this scene in Jerry’s Market:

via: http://filmnoir.mx/resenas/pacto-de-sangre/

The shoot was a relatively easy one without huge personality conflicts or troublesome elements. Stanwyck had a good deal to do with that, as she was one of the most professional, least temperamental actresses of the classical era. Wilder remembered that Stanwyck was “as good an actress as I have ever worked with. Very meticulous about her work. We rehearsed the way I usually do. Hard. There were no retakes.”

Wilder’s opinion of Stanwyck was shared by many in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera. Stanwyck had risen to movie stardom after a long, difficult career dancing in vaudeville and working on the stage where she had developed great working habits and an easy-going attitude. She’d been in films since 1927, but retained her trouper roots and never acted like a diva despite being a huge star. For example, Stanwyck had a habit of learning not only her lines, but everyone else’s, too, and her impeccable preparation meant that everyone on set performed better. For more on Stanwyck, you can read Victoria Wilson’s massive biography, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940. I’m currently waiting for the second volume.
Double Indemnity Heather MacMurray bowlBack to the movie. Phyllis seems prepared to kill Walter, Walter is thinking about killing Phyllis, Keyes is closing in,and Walter still has to romance Lola! They meet up again and go sit high above the Hollywood Bowl, but Lola isn’t enjoying it.She starts to cry, but it’s not about her dead parents nor her murderous stepmother. No, she’s upset because Zachetti is seeing someone else. Guess who?

Phyllis, of course! Walter sits, stony-faced, as he hears the news.

After his date with Lola, he sneaks into Keyes’ office to figure out just how much the investigator knows. Turns out, quite a lot.

Walter listens to Keyes’ dictaphone recording of his notes and finds out that Keyes is certain that Phyllis and a partner murdered Mr. Dietrichson. He’s had someone surveilling Phyllis for days and thinks he’s found her accomplice: Zachetti. Lola’s unfaithful boyfriend has visited the Dietrichson house for several nights now. Lola was right!

Just to twist in the knife even further, Keyes’ voice intones that he did check up on his colleague Walter Neff, but Neff has an alibi for the night of the murder. So that’s good?

Double Indemnity 141

Walter calls Phyllis from Keyes’ office and asks if he can come by that night. He needs to end this.

Cut to Phyllis preparing for his visit. She wears flowing white lounging pajamas, which is fortunate because the house is so shadowy that we can barely see her. She hides a gun under the seat cushion and lights a cigarette as she waits in the empty, dark house. This is not going to go well.Double Indemnity Stanwyck preparation 1

Walter arrives and they start their old flirty chit chat, though it’s not nearly as playful as before. After all, this time they’re being casually cool about how they’ve murdered someone, how Phyllis has used Walter and betrayed him, and how they’re both terrible people. “Rotten” through and through.

Walter asks Phyllis about Zacchetti, and she tells him that she kept him around just to fill his mind with poison about Lola two-timing him. She hoped that Zachetti would eventually snap and kill Lola, thus transferring all of Mr. Dietrichson’s money to Phyllis. She’s a real charmer.Double Indemnity MacMurray Stanwyck ending

Walter tells her that Keyes is on to her but that he thinks Zachetti was her accomplice. He tells her that he can still get away with it, but it’s too late for her. Then he gets up to close the curtains, and that little silver gun comes out. She shoots him.

She gets him in the shoulder, but he walks towards her like a zombie spouting film noir gems: “You can do better than that, can’t you, baby? You’d better try it again. Maybe if I came a little closer? How’s this? Think you can do it now?”

Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray shot

She doesn’t move as he takes the gun from her and asks, “Why didn’t you shoot again, baby? Don’t tell me it’s because you’ve been in love with me all this time.” They’re practically embracing now in a wonderful representation of one of this film’s themes: the close relationship between love and hate and lust and violence.

Phyllis looks up into Walter’s face and says, “No, I never loved you, Walter. Not you or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said. That’s all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot. I never thought that could happen to me.”

He says, “Sorry, baby, I’m not buying.” And she wraps her arms tighter around his neck and says, “I’m not asking you to buy. Just hold me close.”

Then she feels him press the gun to her stomach and looks at him in shock. He fires two shots as he holds her, and the camera stays on her face until she slumps in his arms. He lays her down on the sofa and leaves the house. Double Indemnity Stanwyck MacMurray shot 2

 

Costume appreciation break. This is the darkest interior scene in the film, and the white outfit helps to keep Phyllis visible. Moonlight streams in through the venetian blinds and the shafts of light fall on her and create moody stripes on the fabric. In a dark outfit this effect would be minimized or lost, and she would blend into the dark room.
Double Indemnity Stanwyck white pantsuitAlso, dressing Phyllis in “virginal” white is a more complex choice that neither telegraphs the character’s evil, nor signals her goodness, but instead plays with her character more subtly.

Phyllis is super evil–no amount of white can counteract that. But I think this costume taps into the idea that femme fatales are deceitful and manipulative. One imagines that Phyllis knows exactly when to wear a feminine white dress and when to bring out the black fringe and sequins. Thus, although ending the film in flowing white clothes might seem out of character, it is actually quite in keeping with Phyllis’ ruthless nature.

And it’s not at all unusual. In fact, in three more film noirs (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946),Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), and The File on Thelma Jordan (1950), Stanwyck wears white when she dies. All of these films’ costumes were designed by Edith Head.

Back to the movie. Walter sees Zachetti approaching as he leaves the house. Walter gives Zachetti Lola’s address and tells him to go smooth things over. The young man hurries away.

Walter’s intervention in that romance keeps Zachetti from going in the house, and maybe ensures that Lola will have someone in her life, but it’s also a very questionable decision. After all, Phyllis said she was pretty close to getting Zachetti to murder Lola in a jealous rage, and we’ve been hearing throughout the movie about what a troubled, quick-to-anger guy he is. There’s a good chance that Lola is going to die a violent death at his hands. Maybe not immediately, but at some point. Thanks, Walter, for telling Zachetti where to find her!

Anyway, cut to Walter recording his confession in Keyes’ office. The flashback has ended, we’re in real time now. He’s almost finished his story when he hears something and looks over his shoulder. Keyes is standing in the doorway. He knows.Double Indemnity Robinson MacMurray office end

Walter chats with his mentor as he bleeds in the chair, never breaking his confident, caddish exterior. He asks Keyes not to call the cops right away, and not to bother with an ambulance. Walter plans to make it to Mexico, he just stopped by to tell Keyes what happened. Keyes lets him leave the office, but we hear him calling for an ambulance as Walter stumbles to the elevator. He doesn’t make it.

Double Indemnity MacMurray Robinson end

Keyes joins him on the floor and lights Walter’s cigarette in the cute way that Walter always used to light Keyes’. It’s a very tender moment. Keyes and Walter were almost father-and-son, and it’s very fitting and poignant that they are here together.

Walter tells Keyes that his investigation was top notch; the only problem was that “The guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from you.” “Closer than that, Walter,” Keyes says quietly.

And Walter smiles and says, “I love you, too.”

It’s unusual that the scene between the actual lovers was so horrifyingly cold compared to this sweet, tender one between coworkers, but it really works. The love between Walter and Keyes was far more real and good than anything that Phyllis and Walter shared.

The relationship between Walter and Keyes has led some to find homosexual undertones in the movie, though for me their love is much more familial and lacks a sexual element. Regardless, this final scene has been called “one of the most powerful images of male love ever portrayed on the screen: a pieta in the form of a surrogate father’s lighting the cigarette of his dying son.” (Bernard F. Dick, Billy Wilder).

Miklós Rózsa‘s score surges in as sirens echo, and the film comes to a stunning, ambiguous, gorgeous end. You can watch it here.

Fun fact: Wilder intended to have another ending showing Walter going into the gas chamber. They shot the scene knowing it was questionable in terms of the Production Code, and indeed, Breen wasn’t thrilled. He wrote in December 1943 that “We have read the balance of the script…As we advised you before, this whole sequence in the death chamber seems very questionable in its present form. Specifically, the details of the execution…seem unduly gruesome from the standpoint of the Code, and also will certainly be deleted by censor boards…”

Double-Indemnity-Gas-Chamber

Wilder ended up cutting the scene after preview screenings despite his co-writer Raymond Chandler’s protests. I think it was the right call. Here’s an interview with Wilder discussing the alternate ending.

The disagreement over the gas chamber scene wasn’t the only issue between Wilder and Chandler. Apparently Chandler’s alcoholism re-surfaced in a big way when he was adapting Double Indemnity to the screen, and Wilder watched him fall apart.

Chandler later wrote that “working with Billy Wilder…was an agonizing experience and has probably shortened my life, but I learned from it about as much about screen writing as I am capable of learning, which is not very much.” And Wilder said that Chandler “gave me more aggravation than any writer I ever worked with.”

Wilder also said that working with Chandler made him especially interested in his next project, The Lost Weekend (1945), a fantastic film about an author struggling with alcoholism. Wilder said he made The Lost Weekend in part to try “to explain Chandler to himself.

Double Indemnity Stanwyck preparation

Double Indemnity was released in April 1944 and was well received by critics and audiences. Daily Variety‘s review was full of praise: “As a piece of screen craftsmanship it is masterful, especially in the writing and directorial phases, with only one other crime tale of this general nature comparable for calibre, namely, ‘The Maltese Falcon.’” (It’s interesting that Variety linked those two films together back in 1944, as they generally top the lists of film noir.)

Variety continued: “…The brilliant and exceptionally literate as well as gripping screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, is done with the conciseness, the clarity, the suspenseful idiom of an ace police reporter…” and “The dialog is a delight. The mechanism of the narrative is novel. The suspense devices are cleverly used. The narrative always remains clear-cut and straightforward, but never approaches monotony, even though the audience is in on every development from the very first. The final result is as if the beholder had sat through a genuine case in a criminal court.”

Crowther at The New York Times agreed with that assessment, writing that Wilder “has detailed the stalking of the victim with the frigid thoroughness of a coroner’s report, and he has pictured their psychological crackup as a sadist would pluck out a spider’s legs. No objection to the temper of this picture; it is as hard and inflexible as steel.”

Weekly Variety called it an “absorbing melodrama” and mentioned the real-life murder that supposedly inspired Cain’s story (noting that the victim was “sash-weighted to death”?) Both reviews praised the cast, with Daily Variety writing “…all these items of cunning, guilt, emotional turmoil, dark passion and finally tragic recoil are given complete conviction and haunting reality by a superbly impressive cast.”

And “MacMurray establishes himself with the best of his profession in a flawless delivery, sustained across almost two hours of constant camera scrutiny through shifting shades of emotion from easy arrogance to frenzied fear. Barbara Stanwyck, her hair blonded, her behavior never out of kilter with her conscienceless role, is the ultimate wanton, consummately played. Edward G. Robinson musters his finest talent to give living reality to a fascinating character.” And despite the wig, Weekly Variety noted that Stanwyck’s performance “is consistent though the character in the final reel would have been stronger had not the scripters sought to reflect some sense of human understanding for her.”

Stanwyck’s performance of what Variety called a “mercenary, nymphic wife” won her a Best Actress nomination, though she lost to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. Today, Stanwyck’s Phyllis is considered to be one of the greatest villains and femme fatales of all time, coming in at #8 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Villains List.

Double Indemnity Stanwyck deathStanwyck acted in several more film noirs, and after finishing yet another dark film, No Man of Her Own(1950), she joked, “My God, isn’t there a good comedy around? I’m tired of suffering in films. And I’ve killed so many co-stars lately, I’m getting a power complex!” (Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck.)

Stanwyck has since come to be known as the “undisputed first lady of noir” (Scott Snyder, qtd. in Julie Grossman, Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir: Ready for Her Close-Up.) Her fame as a femme fatale would probably be amusing to her, but she was right when she said that “roles in which [actresses] play evil women sometimes make a deep impression” (Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck.)

Besides Stanwyck’s Oscar nomination, Double Indemnity also received nods for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (black & white), Best Sound Recording and Best Music (scoring of a dramatic picture). Amazingly, the movie didn’t win any of its eight categories!

Double Indemnity inspired several re-makes, including TV movies in 1954 and 1973, and 1981’sBody Heat (a loose re-make and prototypical neo-noir/”erotic thriller.”)

There are also some parodies of Double Indemnity, including Big Trouble (1985), a fantastic Carol Burnett spoof (see below), and of course Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

Well, this post got out of control and is ridiculously long, and yet I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of this complicated movie. If you’ve managed to make it this far, I applaud your efforts. Go get yourself a treat.

Happy 95th Birthday Maureen O’Hara

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Today is the 95th birthday of the living Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara.  Her career spans sixty full years, very few people can claim that, let alone in an industry as difficult to remain active in as filmmaking.  The world is a better place because she is in it.

NAME: Maureen O’Hara
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Singer, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: August 17, 1920
EDUCATION: Abbey Theatre School
PLACE OF BIRTH: Ranelagh, Ireland

BEST KNOWN FOR: Maureen O’Hara was an Irish-born actress who was billed alongside Hollywood’s leading men in a slew of swashbuckling features in the 1940s.

Maureen FitzSimons was a pretty redheaded tomboy who learned judo, fenced, played soccer, and showed a keen interest in performing. She was accepted for drama classes at the prestigious Abbey Theater School when she was only 14, and sang and acted on Irish radio through her teens. Her parents knew, though, that performers rarely earned a decent living, so they made sure she spent most of her time studying bookkeeping and stenography.

At 17, she landed a tiny role in her first film, The Playboy, filmed in London. Strikingly beautiful and a natural in front of the cameras, she was almost immediately offered her first leading role, oppositeCharles Laughton in Hitchcock‘s Jamaica Inn. Laughton suggested her stage name, and she became Maureen O’Hara. He also invited her to accompany him Hollywood and play Esmerelda to his Quasimoto in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Already an established star at 19, O’Hara was one of Hollywood’s favorite leading ladies through the next two decades. She stood apart from other starlets by virtue of her eagerness to perform unladylike scenes — fistfights, swordplay, even pratfalls, but always with attitude and intelligence. As color films came into vogue, her distinctive, fiery red hair made her stand out even more — she was nicknamed “The Queen of Technicolor.” And of course, O’Hara proved the perfect leading lady for John Wayne, a woman who came across every bit as tough as he did, in their five films together.

In some of her best films, she played the coal miner’s daughter in love with preacher Walter Pidgeon inHow Green Was My Valley, the schoolmarm loved by Laughton in This Land is Mine, Natalie Wood‘s mother in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, the housewife who hired famed butler-philosopher Mr Belvedere in Sitting Pretty with Robert Young, the Southern belle at odds with Wayne in Rio Grande, the Irish spinster he pursued in The Quiet Man, his estranged wife in McLintock, andHayley Mills‘ mother in the original The Parent Trap with Brian Keith. She also starred in a 1960 TV remake of the critically-acclaimed Mrs Miniver that some critics claimed was better than the Greer Garson original.

In 1957, O’Hara joined with Liberace to sue Confidential magazine — the National Enquirer of its time. The magazine had announced in shrieking headlines that she had been seen in a passionate embrace with a mysterious Hispanic man in the back row at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, but O’Hara offered her passport as proof she had been out of the country at the time of any alleged tryst. And why was Liberace involved? In a separate article, the magazine had alleged that Liberace was — brace yourself — homosexual, but the famed pianist somehow proved he too had been defamed, andConfidential was eventually driven out of business.

O’Hara left Hollywood in the mid-1970s, but returned to cinema as John Candy‘s ferociously overbearing mother in Only the Lonely, and also starred in a few TV movies through the 1990s. Her last performance was opposite Eric Stoltz, playing his high school Latin teacher in a terrific 2000 TV movie, The Last Dance. Now retired but still active, O’Hara frequently travels between her homes in Ireland, New York, California, and the Virgin Islands. Her autobiography, Tis Herself, was published in 2004.

Her father, Charles FitzSimons, was an Irish shopkeeper and something of a local celebrity, as part-owner of the Shamrock Rovers soccer team, which now plays in the Football League of Ireland. Her brother, Charles FitzSimons, was a TV producer whose credits include superhero sagas The Green Hornet with Bruce Lee and the 1970s Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. Another brother, James, had a long but unremarkable career as a supporting actor; sometimes billed as James Lilburn and sometimes as James O’Hara; he played a priest in The Quiet Man and had a recurring role as a cop on TV’s Batman with Adam West.

At 19, O’Hara married George H. Brown, a film producer and occasional scriptwriter whose best works include the pre-Pearl Harbor call to war 49th Parallel with Laurence Olivier, and the first ofMargaret Rutherford‘s delightful 1960s ‘Miss Marple’ mysteries, Murder She Said. Their marriage ended when O’Hara’s parents insisted on an annulment, and although they had been married for more than a year, publicity at the time stressed that their union “had not been consummated.” O’Hara’s second husband was director Will Price, who helmed her romp with the Marines in Tripoli, but they divorced after he took to the bottle. Her last husband was Charles Blair, a man sometimes described as a real-life John Wayne — a retired Air Force Brigadier General, test pilot, and pilot for Pan American Airways who had, in 1951, flown the first solo flight over the North Pole. After quitting Pan Am, Blair ran Antilles Airboats, a commuter airline in the Caribbean. After his death she took over the company, which made Maureen O’Hara the first woman to serve as president of an American airline.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Last Dance (29-Oct-2000)
Cab to Canada (29-Nov-1998)
The Christmas Box (17-Dec-1995)
Only the Lonely (24-May-1991) · Rose
The Red Pony (18-Mar-1973)
Big Jake (26-May-1971) · Martha McCandles
How Do I Love Thee? (Oct-1970)
The Rare Breed (2-Feb-1966) · Martha Price
The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (26-May-1965)
Spencer’s Mountain (16-May-1963)
McLintock! (23-Feb-1963) · Katherine McLintock
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (15-Jun-1962) · Peggy
The Parent Trap (12-Jun-1961)
The Deadly Companions (6-Jun-1961) · Kit Tilden
Our Man in Havana (27-Jan-1960) · Beatrice
The Wings of Eagles (22-Feb-1957)
Everything But the Truth (1-Dec-1956)
Lisbon (17-Aug-1956) · Sylvia Merrill
Lady Godiva (2-Nov-1955)
The Magnificent Matador (24-May-1955)
The Long Gray Line (9-Feb-1955) · Mary O’Donnell
Fire Over Africa (29-Jun-1954)
The Redhead from Wyoming (2-Jan-1953) · Kate Maxwell
War Arrow (1953) · Elaine Corwin
Against All Flags (24-Dec-1952)
The Quiet Man (21-Jul-1952)
Kangaroo: The Australian Story (16-May-1952)
At Sword’s Point (1952)
Flame of Araby (19-Dec-1951)
Rio Grande (15-Nov-1950)
Tripoli (9-Nov-1950)
Comanche Territory (7-Apr-1950) · Katie Howard
Bagdad (23-Nov-1949)
Father Was a Fullback (30-Sep-1949)
The Forbidden Street (31-Mar-1949)
A Woman’s Secret (5-Mar-1949) · Marian Washburn
Sitting Pretty (10-Mar-1948) · Tacey
The Foxes of Harrow (24-Sep-1947)
Miracle on 34th Street (2-May-1947) · Doris Walker
The Homestretch (23-Apr-1947) · Leslie Hale
Sinbad the Sailor (17-Jan-1947) · Shireen
Do You Love Me? (17-May-1946)
Sentimental Journey (6-Mar-1946)
The Spanish Main (10-Sep-1945) · Francesca
Buffalo Bill (13-Apr-1944) · Louisa Cody
The Fallen Sparrow (19-Aug-1943) · Toni Donne
This Land Is Mine (17-Mar-1943) · Louise Martin
Immortal Sergeant (11-Jan-1943) · Valentine Lee
The Black Swan (23-Dec-1942) · Lady Margaret Denby
Ten Gentlemen from West Point (4-Jun-1942)
To the Shores of Tripoli (11-Mar-1942)
How Green Was My Valley (28-Oct-1941) · Angharad
They Met in Argentina (25-Apr-1941) · Lolita
Dance, Girl, Dance (30-Aug-1940)
A Bill of Divorcement (13-May-1940) · Sydney Fairfield
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1-Sep-1939) · Esmeralda
Jamaica Inn (15-May-1939)

It Happened One Night – Required Viewing

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It Happened One Night (1934) is one of the greatest romantic comedies in film history, and a film that has endured in popularity. It is considered one of the pioneering “screwball” romantic comedies of its time, setting the pattern for many years afterwards along with another contemporary film, The Thin Man (1934).

The Wiki:

It Happened One Night is a 1934 American romantic comedy film with elements of screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, in which a pampered socialite (Claudette Colbert) tries to get out from under her father’s thumb, and falls in love with a roguish reporter (Clark Gable). The plot was based on the August 1933 short story Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which provided the shooting title. It Happened One Night was one of the last romantic comedies created before the MPAA began enforcing the 1930 production code in 1934.

The film was the first to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), a feat that would not be matched until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and later by The Silence of the Lambs (1991). In 1993, It Happened One Night was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

 

Happy 103rd Birthday Julia Child

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Today is the 103rd birthday of chef, author, OSS international operative and television personality Julia Child.  I loved to watch her show on PBS when I was a kid.  If Meryl Streep plays you in a film about you, it is understood that you did a great job.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Julia Child
OCCUPATION: Chef, Television Personality, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: August 15, 1912
DEATH DATE: August 13, 2004
EDUCATION: Katherine Branson School for Girls, Smith College, Cordon Bleu
PLACE OF BIRTH: Pasadena, California
PLACE OF DEATH: Montecito, California
MAIDEN NAME: Julia Carolyn McWilliams

BEST KNOWN FOR: TV chef and author Julia Child adapted complex French cooking for everyday Americans, with her groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Popular TV chef and author. Julia Child was born Julia McWilliams, on August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California. The eldest of three children, Julia was known by several pet names as a little girl, including “Juke”, “Juju” and “Jukies.” Her father John McWilliams, Jr., was a Princeton graduate and early investor in California real estate. His wife, Julia Carolyn Weston, was a paper-company heiress whose father served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

The family accumulated significant wealth and, as a result, Child lived a privileged childhood. She was educated at San Francisco’s elite Katherine Branson School for Girls, where—at a towering height of 6 feet, 2 inches—she was the tallest student in her class. She was a lively prankster who, as one friend recalled, could be “really, really wild.” She was also adventurous and athletic, with particular talent in golf, tennis and small-game hunting.

In 1930, she enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, with the intention of becoming a writer. “There were some famous women novelists in those days,” she said, “and I intended to be one.” Although she enjoyed writing short plays and regularly submitted unsolicited manuscripts to the New Yorker, none of her writing was published. Upon graduation she moved to New York, where she worked in the advertising department of the prestigious home furnishings company W&J Sloane. After transferring to the store’s Los Angeles branch, however, Child was fired for “gross insubordination.”

In 1941, at the onset of World War II, Julia moved to Washington, D.C., where she volunteered as a research assistant for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a newly formed government intelligence agency. In her position, Julia played a key role in the communication of top-secret documents between U.S. government officials and their intelligence officers. She and her colleagues were sent on assignments around the world, holding posts in Washington, D.C., Kumming, China; and Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 1945, while in Sri Lanka, Child began a relationship with fellow OSS employee Paul Child. In September of 1946, following the end of World War II, Julia and Paul returned to America and were married.

In 1948, when Paul was reassigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris, the Childs moved to France. While there, Julia developed a penchant for French cuisine and attended the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. Following her six-month training—which included private lessons with master chef Max Bugnard—Julia banded with fellow Cordon Bleu students Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to form the cooking school L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Gourmands).

With a goal of adapting sophisticated French cuisine for mainstream Americans, the trio collaborated on a two-volume cookbook. The women earned a $750 advance for the work, which they received in three payments. The original publisher rejected the manuscript, however, due to its 734-page length. Another publisher eventually accepted the 3-lb. cookbook, releasing it in September 1961 under the title Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book was considered groundbreaking, and remained the bestselling cookbook for five straight years after its publication. It has since become a standard guide for the culinary community.

Julia promoted her book on the Boston public television station near her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home. Displaying her trademark forthright manner and hearty humor, she prepared an omelet on air. The public’s response was enthusiastic, generating 27 letters and countless phone calls—”a remarkable response,” a station executive remembered, “given that station management occasionally wondered if 27 viewers were tuned in.” She was then invited back to tape her own series on cooking for the network, initially earning $50 a show (it was later raised to $200, plus expenses).

Premiering on WGBH in 1962, The French Chef TV series, like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, succeeded in changing the way Americans related to food, while also establishing Julia as a local celebrity. Shortly thereafter, The French Chef was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America. For her efforts, Julia received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in 1964 followed by an Emmy Award in 1966. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Julia made regular appearances on the ABC morning show Good Morning, America.

Child’s other endeavors included the television programs Julia Child and Company (1978), Julia Child and More Company (1980), and Dinner at Julia’s (1983), as well as a slew of bestselling cookbooks that covered every aspect of culinary knowledge. Her most recent cookbooks included In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs (1995), Baking with Julia (1996), Julia’s Delicious Little Dinners (1998), and Julia’s Casual Dinners (1999), which were all accompanied by highly rated television specials.

Not everyone was a fan, however. She was frequently criticized by letter-writing viewers for her failure to wash her hands, as well as what they believed was her poor kitchen demeanor. “You are quite a revolting chef, the way you snap bones and play with raw meats,” one letter read. “I can’t stand those over-sanitary people,” Child said in response. Others were concerned about the high levels of fat in French cooking. Julia’s advice was to eat in moderation. “I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-O,” she said.

Despite her critics, Julia remained a go-to reference for cooking advice. In 1993, she was rewarded for her work when she became the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. In November 2000, following a 40-year career that has made her name synonymous with fine food, Julia received France’s highest honor: the Legion d’Honneur. And in August 2002, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History unveiled an exhibit featuring the kitchen where she filmed three of her popular cooking shows.

Child died in August 2004 of kidney failure at her assisted-living home in Montecito, two days before her 92nd birthday. Child had no intentions of slowing down, even in her final days. “In this line of work…you keep right on till you’re through,” she said. “Retired people are boring.”After her death Child’s last book, the autobiographyMy Life in France, was published with the help of Child’s great nephew, Alex Prud’homme. The book, which centered on how Child discovered her true calling, became a best seller.

Julia’s memory continues to live on, through her various cookbooks and her syndicated cooking show. In 2009, a film directed by Nora Ephron entitled Julie & Julia hit theaters. The movie, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, chronicled several aspects of Child’s life, as well as her influence on aspiring cook Julie Powell. For her performance, Streep won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, and received an Academy Award nomination.

 

Happy 130th Birthday Edna Ferber

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Today is the 130th birthday of the writer Edna Ferber.  If you see one film of hers, see Giant.  Everyone is beautiful and the film is perfection.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Edna Ferber
OCCUPATION: Writer
BIRTH DATE: August 15, 1885
DEATH DATE: April 16, 1968
PLACE OF BIRTH: Kalamazoo, Michigan
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York

BEST KNOWN FOR: Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edna Ferber wrote books and plays that became movies like Show Boat, Giant, and Stage Door.

American novelist and short-story writer who wrote with compassion and curiosity about Midwestern American life.

Ferber grew up mostly in her native Kalamazoo, Michigan, and in Appleton, Wisconsin (in between her family moved to several Midwestern towns). Her father, born in Hungary, was a merchant. She began her career at age 17 as a reporter in Appleton, later working for the Milwaukee Journal. Her early stories introduced a traveling petticoat saleswoman named Emma McChesney, whose adventures are collected in several books, including Emma McChesney & Co. (1915). Emma was the first of Ferber’s strong, enterprising women characters. Ferber’s characters are firmly tied to the land, and they experience conflicts between their traditions and new, more dynamic trends. Although her books are somewhat superficial in their careful attention to exterior detail at the expense of profound ideas, they do offer an accurate, lively portrait of middle-class Midwestern experience in 1920s and ’30s America.

So Big (1924)—about a woman truck gardener who provides for her son by her enterprise in managing the unsuccessful farm her husband left her—won a Pulitzer Prize. Show Boat (1926), the tale of a showboat trouper who is deserted by her husband and in the interests of survival becomes a successful singer, was made into a popular musical play by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. Critics hailed Ferber as the greatest woman novelist of the period. Her novels Cimarron (1930), Saratoga Trunk (1941), Giant (1952), and Ice Palace (1958) were all made into motion pictures. Her autobiographies, A Peculiar Treasure (1939), which focuses in part on Ferber’s pride in her Jewish heritage, and A Kind of Magic (1963), evince her genuine and encompassing love for America.

She was associated with the Algonquin Round Table of literary wits, and she collaborated with George S. Kaufman on a number of plays, including Dinner at Eight (1932) and Stage Door (1936).

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