Judy Holliday, Gone Too Soon

 

If you remember Judy Holliday, you would know there was really no one like her. She only did a handful of movies, but was simply unforgettable on stage, on screen and in person. She was acting for a few years when she got the role of Billie Dawn in the Broadway debut of Garson Kanin’s play, Born Yesterday. Garson Kanin and his wife, writer/actor Ruth Gordon were very good friends of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and they came and saw her in the play and thought she was wonderful. Katherine felt duty bound to get this actress noticed on the silver screen in the film adaptation of the play, and Judy badly wanted to recreate the part in the movie, but the rights were purchased by Columbia Pictures, and production chief Harry Cohn, thought Judy to be a “fat, jewish broad”. Garson Kanin was going into production on a movie of his own, written by himself and his wife Ruth Gordon. When Garson Kanin complained about Cohn’s opinion of Judy to Katharine, she suggested casting Holliday as Doris Attinger in his movie.Holliday1

Doris Attinger is the attempted murderess on trial and defended by Katherine Hepburn’s Amanda Bonner in what became one of my all time favorite films, Adam’s Rib in 1949. She literally does steal the show, thanks to the likes of Katherine and her onscreen husband, Spencer Tracy who plays the prosecutor Adam Bonner, but she turned down the role at first. Finally Hepburn got the real reason out of her. Sensitive about her weight, Holliday didn’t want to be called “fatso” on screen, as written in the script they had given her. Hepburn assured her that the Kanin’s would gladly rewrite the line: “They’re writers. They know lots of words.” Finally, Holliday agreed. Later she insisted that the word “fatso” be restored because it was the best way of playing the scene.adamsrib

This film was her big break, but it didn’t change the fact that she was going to be sharing the screen with two legends. In her early monologue scene with Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday can be seen trembling. This was not acting, but nervousness. The inexperienced Judy Holliday was terrified of performing with Katharine Hepburn. But she soon realized that Katherine was Judy’s biggest fan. To help build up Judy’s image, particularly in the eyes of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, Katharine reportedly urged director George Cukor to focus the camera on Judy during a number of their shared scenes, and Katharine deliberately leaked stories to the gossip columns suggesting that Judy’s performance in Adam’s Rib was so good that it had stolen the spotlight from Hepburn and Tracy. This got Cohn’s attention and Holliday won the part in Born Yesterday (1950), also directed by George Cukor.  This to me is a great example of what a great friend Katherine Hepburn could be. Hepburn would later explain her generosity to Kanin: “It was the kind of thing you do because people have done it for you.” Garson Kanin, by the way, would go on to write a fantastic book about Hepburn and Tracy called “Tracy and Hepburn: an Intimate Memoir”, published in 1971 by Viking Press.Judy Holliday Broderick Crawford William Holden in Born yesterday

Regarding Born Yesterday, there’s even more to the story that makes this that much more sneaky.  Apparently, Garson Kanin claimed that he modeled the part of the obnoxious junk dealer Harry Brock after Harry Cohn, but that the studio chief never realized it. Kanin sold Born Yesterday to Columbia Pictures for $1 million, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for a film property. In his autobiography, Kanin wrote that Cohn paid the record $1 million for the films rights because he had heard that Kanin said he “wouldn’t sell the rights to Harry Cohn for any amount – not even a million dollars.” The part of Billie Dawn was originally written for star Jean Arthur and even hired to play the role on Broadway, but left during tryouts and was replaced by Holliday. Judy would go on to win the Golden Globe and the Oscar for her performance in the film. Jean Arthur never won an Oscar.holliday

Later, she was cast in George Cukor’s It Should Happen To You (1954), again written by Garson Kanin and costarring Jack Lemmon. Up-to-that-point, Lemmon had only done mostly television, and had a tendency to overact for the camera but Cukor soon convinced him that “less is more.” Lemmon later remarked, “I’ve learned my craft from that advice. It’s the hardest thing in the world to be simple, and the easiest thing in the world to act your brains out and make an ass of yourself.” A perfect example of Cukor’s approach to acting was demonstrated to Lemmon during a restaurant scene where Pete and Gladys argue. Cukor recalled, “They rehearsed it and did it very well, but I said, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe one damn thing. Jack, what do you do when you get angry?” He said, “I get chills and cramps, I get sick to my stomach, but can’t use that.” “Oh,” I said, “do that!” So in the height of fury he suddenly clutches his stomach, and it makes all the difference.”it-should-happen-to-you

Lemmon and Holliday would go on to act together again in 1954 on Phffft (terrible title…how do you tell people what movie you just saw?). Jack Lemmon had become a fan and admirer of Holliday’s, just as Hepburn had. He would later go on to say of her, “She was intelligent and not at all like the dumb blonds she so often depicted. She didn’t give a damn where the camera was placed, how she was made to look, or about being a star. She just played the scene — acted with, not at. She was also one of the nicest people I ever met. She was hardly the dizzy blonde. If she were alive today, she would’ve zipped right through the Mensa puzzles. ”  She was reported to have an IQ of 172, even though the characters she played onscreen were all dizzy blondes. She often said that it took a lot of smarts to convince people that her characters were stupid. According to biographer Gary Carey, in its search for subversives in the film industry, the House Un-American Activities Committee was flummoxed by Holliday. She essentially playing her Billie Dawn character on the witness stand. She ended up being the only person ever called before HUAC who was neither blacklisted nor compelled to name names.Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday

She continued doing movies, sparingly after the trials, but preferred the stage. She would go on to win Broadway’s 1957 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for Bells Are Ringing, a role that she recreated in the film version of Bells Are Ringing (1960) along with Dean Martin. The music in the film is amazing.  She proved to have a flawless singing voice and even released a few albums, during this time to join the broadway albums she performed in. In October 1960, Holliday started out-of-town tryouts on the play Laurette based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by José Quintero with background music by Elmer Bernstein and produced by Alan Pakula. Unfortunately, Holliday became ill and had to leave the show. It closed in Philadelphia without opening on Broadway. She had throat surgery shortly after leaving the production in October 1960.bells are ringing 1960 - judy holliday dean martin

Her last play was another musical, Hot Spot (1963) but was troubled from the very start. One of Broadway’s most well-known flops, it had 58 “preview” performances, setting a record by cancelling its official opening four times, and then running for only 43 “official” performances. According to Steven Suskin, “it was one of those big-budget, big-advance-sale bonanzas which go wrong and turn into highly public busts.” According to the review in Billboard, “Predictions of failure preceeded the show and these were confirmed when the New York Critics Circle passed a unanimous negative judgement.” She would go on to say, “You can only live through one or two Hot Spots in your life.”Bells-Are-Ringing-film

She would die of breast cancer only 2 years later, at the very young age of 43.  Gone too soon, this talented and hilarious actress and singer would have surely gone on to entertain us with her versatility and immense charisma for years to come. Jack Lemmon would add, “She was one of the greats, and her early death was one of the great tragedies.”

Terence Hill and Bud Spencer

 

A successful screen pairing usually last for 3 or 4 films. Some of the really great pairings did 15 or more films together, but most of these were comedy teams, not just actors who would come together every so often and do a film together.  Actors who did this that come to mind is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who did 10 movies together and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, who’ve done 4 movies together so far. It’s unheard of that Terence Hill and Bud Spencer performed in 18 films together over their lifetimes! My brother wrote a great post on comedy teams here.bud-Hill

They appeared together in a movie for the first time in 1967 for God Forgives…I Don’t. The movie has many of the elements that made them a popular pairing over the years, being a spaghetti western and having them “buddy” up, but it wasn’t until they were featured in a comedy that they really became popular worldwide.  This is, however, identified as a trilogy, as Terence Hill and Bud Spencer play the same characters Cat Stevens and Hutch Bessy again in Ace High (1968) and Boot Hill (1969) all directed by Guiseppi Colizzi. He would direct them one more time for the 1972 film, All The Way Boys, but it is not a western, but it’s a comedy and is considered a “Trinity” film.bud-terence

You may be wondering what that means…it’s important to note that after awhile all the films they did together would be classified under one word, “Trinity”, to denote that the actors appeared together in a film, but was not necessarily a western. It could have been modern day, or in the past, but was always action, and mostly comedy. It became almost a genre of it’s own, their genre. It refers to their most popular film which came out in 1970, They Call Me Trinity, and really had all of the elements in place by then…comedy, action, fighting, buddy-buddy, some kind of clever con…it was all there. Billed as E.B. Clucher, the movie was directed by Enzo Barboni who has helmed a number of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer comedy collaborations. They are: They Call Me Trinity (1970), Trinity Is STILL My Name! (1971), Go For It! (1983), Crime Busters  (1977) and Double Trouble (1984).budspencerhill

They did the movie Blackie the Pirate (1971) the same year they made the sequel Trinity is Still My Name!. By then the Trinity movie was a huge hit and they went back into production on the new one. While on the set they improvised a bit and started to play with the set and made up a few scenes on the spot.  This would be a technique that Jackie Chan would utilize in many of his movies from the 80’s and 90’s and Hill and Spencer would continue with in their future films. You can see all of these things and how their fight scenes and comedy are used in very similar ways. In 1974 they released, Watch Out, We’re Mad and The Two Missionaries.  Their next film, Crimebusters (1976) was the first movie that my brother and I saw and we loved them instantly. We went home within a short time caught up on all their movies. Little did we know back then that we would eventually work with a star from that movie, David Huddleston in our first film, Reveille and later in our movie, Locker 13.  David Huddleston would also star in Go For It (1983). In 2004, when we first worked with him, he told us he was still very good friends with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.budhilldavid

About this time, Hill and Spencer teamed up with a director also famous for spaghetti westerns to make a few of the modern day – non-western Trinty films. The director was Sergio Corbucci and the films were Trinity: Gambling For High Stakes (Odds and Evens) (1978) and Who Finds a Friend, Finds a Treasure (1981). To make things a little confusing, Sergio’s brother, Bruno Corbucci, also made several movies with Hill and Spencer and directed his last one Miami Cops in 1985. To make the connection between Hill-Spencer and Jackie Chan and “brothers” even closer, the film they made in 1984 Double Trouble and the film Chan made in 1992, Twin Dragons are very similar. They both feature all 3 of the actors playing a set of twins that get mixed up with another twin. One set of twins in both films are even musicians. Now over the years, Bud Spencer and Terence Hill felt a lot like brothers.  In their last film together, they played brothers again in Troublemakers (The Night Before Christmas) in 1984, directed by Terence Hill himself.bud spencer terence hill

Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau

 

The Pink Panther (1963) in the title refers to a magnificent diamond that has a small flaw if looked at under a microscope. The flaw looks like a little pink panther, if looked at the proper way. The diamond is worth millions and is stolen by the “Phantom”, a famous jewel thief played by David Niven (Sir Charles Litton) and his nephew, Robert Wagner (George Litton). A bumbling French inspector is brought in as the resident expert on the “Phantom”, Inspector Jacques Clouseau, played by the AMAZING Peter Sellers. This is how it all began. In place was some of the elements that helped with the success of a brilliant film and cartoon series.david-niven-and-peter-sellers-in-the-pink-panther-(1963)-large-picture

The producers for The Mirisch Company and director Blake Edwards decided early on to include an animated intro to the movie and hired a new animation production company formed the same year by Friz Freleng and David DePatie (DFE  Films) to design the title sequence. They were so pleased by the design and presentation of the Pink Panther cartoon character that they ordered a cartoon series shortly after the film was released. Their first short, The Pink Phink, would win Freleng an Academy Award the very next year. The Pink Panther character was a huge success, completely separate from the movie series, which ended up being wrapped around the very popular Peter Sellers character Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Interestingly, originally the inspector was just a supporting character as the film was supposed to be a vehicle for David Niven, but slowly over the course of the film, due to the improvisational style of Blake Edwards the director and the brilliant comedy mind of Peter Sellers, the inspector character stole the show, literally, from right in front of Niven’s eyes. This is simply a case of synergy that Edwards tapped into and took complete advantage of during the course of production. Give him credit for recognizing genius when he sees it and the flexibility of changing all plans to maximize what was to become a monumental opportunity.pink

Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers enjoyed working together to develop Clouseau down to every move and nuance of voice and expression. “For years I’d been getting bits of what I wanted into films, as writer or director…but I had never had an area in which to exploit my ideas to the full,” Edwards said later. “Then along came Peter, a walking storehouse of madness, a ham with an almost surrealist approach to the insanity of things, and we found an immediate affinity.” This almost didn’t happen as Peter Ustinov was originally cast as the inspector but quit before shooting began when Ava Gardner dropped the picture. Sellers was hired to replace him. Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards agreed completely on the notion that comedy should be painful. Edwards had worked with director Leo McCarey early in his career, and he said McCarey had taught him an essential truth about comedy through his ability to extend tension in his comic scenes past the point at which audiences became uncomfortable. “He called it ‘breaking the pain barrier,'” Edwards recalled.Peter-Sellers

Now, seeing the excitement build during rushes (term referring to raw footage viewed during production) lead cast, crew and especially the producers to think they had something special, and they had. Another bit of luck would shortly follow. Peter Sellers was next cast as another bumbling detective in the movie adaptation of a popular stage play at the time that would have him paired him up with another detective played by Walter Mathau, who were brought in to solve the murder at a country estate. Peter Sellers was not thinking the script for the movie was going well and he and Walter Mirsch convinced Blake Edwards to take over the writing of the script and the directing of the movie. After reading the current draft, Edwards got the brilliant idea to transform the script into a vehicle for Inspector Jacques Clouseau and Mirsch and Sellers readily agreed and they went into production on a new Inspector Clouseau movie which was released as A Shot In The Dark only 4 months after The Pink Panther was released. This really helped to solidify the character and the series moving forward. This film features 3 more elements that would become signatures in the series, namely Sellers mumbling and twisting of the original French accent, the Inspector’s Asian man servant Kato/Cato (played by Burt Kwouk) that attacks him at every opportunity and the Inspector’s boss Commissioner Charles Dreyfuss that wants him dead, played by Herbert Lom. Oddly, enough the actor who originated in the stage play, Walter Mathau (who won a Tony in 1962 for the part), dropped out when the play was completely rewritten by Blake Edwards and a young William Peter Blatty (most famous for writing The Exorcist).Inspector Cartoon

Inspector ClouseauThe next one to arrive was 4 years later and unfortunately both Edwards and Sellers were not available so the studio moved forward with Inspector Clouseau (1968) without them. In the role of Clouseau is Alan Arkin and it’s directed by Bud Yorkin. This entry is largely forgettable but from here on out, it’s notable that Inspector Clouseau’s customary hat and trench coat is introduced. All hands on deck were available for the next outing, The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) with Sir Charles Litton and his wife recast with Christopher Plummer and Catherine Schell. The success of this film enabled them to keep making the series.  The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) was filmed shortly thereafter.  Herbert Lom is marvelous in this one, although, to his credit, he’s quite good in all of them.pink-panther-strikes-again

Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) is my favorite as it was the first one my twin brother and I ever saw and was our introduction to this great series. I love Diane Cannon, so there’s another reason to like this entry. This one was the highest grossing of all the Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellers, and arguably his last.  I say arguably, because he’s listed in the credits for The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) and The Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) although neither features “new” footage of Peter Sellers, only reused or footage deleted from the other films in the series. These films are just dreadful and not really worth mention, but the last one does feature a nice little cameo by then Bond star Roger Moore as Inspector Clouseau.revenge

There have been two attempts to reboot the series.  The first time in 1993 for The Son of the Pink Panther with Roberto Benigni as the som of Inspector Clouseau. This one bombed at the box office and seemed to be a good match for Roberto and his style of comedy, but he’s not well known enough to get the spark ignited. The more successful of the reboots was in 2006 with Steve Martin in the role of Inspector Clouseau, but strangely enough held very few of the elements that I thought made the original series so successful. Although, a lot of people thought the combination was worthy and so The Pink Panther was reborn and made over $150 million dollars at the box office and was soon followed by The Pink Panther 2 (2009).Steve clouseau

The Thin Man and Dashiell Hammett

 

The Thin Man” was never meant to be a series of films, let’s get that straight right up front. The title doesn’t make reference to Nick or Nora Charles, the two main characters in the series, it makes reference to the murder victim in the first film.  The successful pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell and the incredible characters they play are what influenced the creation of a mystery series moving forward, with the Thin Man moniker connecting the films together, even though he never appears in the series again.

The Thin Man was originally the creation of author Dashiell Hammett, one of my all time favorites…so much so that I named one of my dogs after him. It was published first in the magazine Redbook in December 1933 and then came out in book form a month later. Now, he wrote just the one novel for the Thin Man, but submitted script drafts for 2 of the screenplays that followed for After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man and later in 2012 these two screenplays were turned into novellas for the book Return of the Thin Man. I thoroughly enjoyed his original 5 published novels, his screenplays as well as these later works published by his estate.Dashiell Hammett

MGM loved the writing of Dashiell Hammett as well and went instantly into production on the movie as soon as the book was released and hired W.S. Van Dyke to direct and William Powell and Myrna Loy as the married detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Now a lot of the popularity of the series has to do with the pairing of these two actors who went on to do 14 films together with the The Thin Man series being only 6 of them, but I would like to add that it was another real married couple that has a lot to do with the popularity of the series and they never get the credit that is due them.  It is the writers Albert Hackett and wife Francis Goodrich who would write and rewrite the first 3 movies and arguable the best of the series. They were wonderful writers in their own right and would go on to write the classics; It’s A Wonderful Life, the 2 Father Of The Bride movies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and of course, won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Diary Of Anne Frank. The Hacketts were one of the most successful screenwriting partnerships in Hollywood history. From the time they got married in 1931, until their retirement in 1962, they turned out in excess of 30 scripts, mostly comedies and musicals.Hackett and Goodrich

Director W. S. Van Dyke (One-Take Woody) was given 3 weeks to shoot the film and he surprised everyone by bringing it in under budget and in only 12 days! It was a major hit at the box office and brought in 6 times it’s budget when it was released originally to theaters. I posted before about the film The Prizefighter and the Lady, which was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starred Myrna Loy. He also directed Loy and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama and because of the success of The Thin Man would direct them in 4 of the sequels. William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of “diva” temperament. “When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony,” he said. “Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best.” W.S. Van Dyke paid attention to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other’s company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture.Powell, William (After the Thin Man)

Although the “Thin Man” of the title was the murdered man, Clyde Wynant, fans of the picture and the subsequent series began to refer to the Nick Charles character as “The Thin Man,” and all subsequent films included “The Thin Man” in their titles.  After the Thin Man (1936) was the second film in the series and reunited the 2 leads with their director and added James Stewart to the cast. Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed “Mr. and Mrs. Powell” to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: “That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships,” Loy said in “Being and Becoming”, her autobiography. “You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We’d stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things.” Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel’s one remaining room – a far humbler accommodation downstairs.after-the-thin-man-herald-02-large

The next film was Another Thin Man (1939), and again featured the same writers, director and lead actors Loy and Powell. Two tragedies befell William Powell before the making of this film: the unexpected death of his fiancé Jean Harlow, and a difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. Production of this “Thin Man” movie was delayed as a result, but Powell and Loy were given a standing ovation when he finally returned to join her on the set for filming.  Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) followed a few years later without the writers Hammet, Hackett and Goodrich.   Living up to his nickname, One-Take Woody, W.S. Van Dyke filmed this one in just 2 weeks.shadow-of-the-thin-man-print-ad-03-large

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) was next and absent was director W.S. Van Dyke.  A lot was changed due to the war, for example the heavy drinking in the film series was curtailed in this entry due to wartime liquor rationing and the film was delayed because Loy went to New York to marry car rental heir John Hertz Jr. and was busy working for the Red Cross war effort. 2 years after that came the last one in the series, The Song of the Thin Man (1947).  This one is fun due to the appearance of incredible character actor Keenan Wynn and little Dean Stockwell as Nick Charles Jr. Ten years later would come a delightful TV Show of The Thin Man (1957), starring Peter Lawford as Nick and Phyllis Kirk as Nora. I miss Powell and Loy to be sure, but the TV show is fun and has a great tone unique all to itself. I think it’s a worthy mention in the series. You also have to wonder if the series was an inspiration to Hart To Hart (1979) with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers that came later.  I loved that show as well.the-thin-man-Kirk-Lawford

Babe Ruth, Actor

 

George Herman “Babe” Ruth acted in a few films over his lifetime, but a majority of these films could and should be considered propaganda films as they were “fictional” films about his life. It’s an interesting footnote in history that these films starred him, playing himself, but actually had no basis in real fact.

The first film was “Heading Home” (1920) and was spearheaded by the Yankees Organization as a PR stunt to present Babe Ruth as their upcoming “Star” player. The Yankees and Jacob Rupert purchased Babe from the Red Sox in 1919 and instantly went into production on the film and the publicity stunt worked.  The Babe is the main contributing factor for the success of the Yankee’s popularity and winning streak in the 20’s and 30’s.  The Yankee ownership and management really knew how to take full advantage of their “Star’s” image and presented a story that was complete hogwash.babe ruth heading home

The real story of his early upbringing is that he was raised on the Baltimore docks where his father ran a waterfront bar where young George was constantly exposed to the rowdy behavior and practices of merchant seamen and dockwallopers.  Inevitably, George became incorrigible as a result and his father was forced to turn him over to St Mary’s Industrial School for Boys there in Baltimore at the age of only 7.  He stayed there till he was 19 when local baseball scouts discovered him. In the film, “Heading Home”, the story is of a country boy who can’t get the hang of playing baseball and is the butt of jokes in his small town. But one day he gets mad and knocks a towering home run. Suddenly he is off and running to fame in the big leagues. When he returns to his home town, everyone sees that he is the same loveable fellow he was before. Hogwash.baberuth

Interesting to note that he had the single season home run record in 1919 at 29 home runs, when he was sold and broke that record the very next year when he hit an amazing 54 home runs the same season his first movie was released.  His next film would come 7 years later called, “Babe Comes Home” (1927) and would be produced after Babe has become a true sports star but before his legend status. It’s a real shame, but there are apparently no surviving copies of this film anywhere and would certainly be worth a mint if one was found, as it was released during his incredible 60 home run year.  No other player before had ever hit 60 home runs in one season, and many people thought it to be impossible. He actually was the only player in history to do so in the original 154 game season because when Roger Maris broke the record in 1961 the baseball season had changed to 162 games so he had 8 more games in which to score 1 more hit than Ruth.babe ruth 60th

As the Babe’s career was winding down in 1932, he managed to perform in a series of 5 short films about himself, again fictional, but very playful and fun.  Most of these featured kids as well.  This was also the year of his most famous hit, the “Called Shot” in the World Series where after 2 strikes he raised his bat to the center field wall and then at the very next pitch proceeded to hit a home run over the very same wall.  No one could say he didn’t know how to entertain a crowd!babe ruth lou gehrig

He retired from baseball in 1935 but goes on to his most famous cameo in “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), with Gary Cooper staring as Lou Gehrig on a biography of his life. This film was released just 17 days after Lou Gehrig died of ALS.  Babe Ruth missed several days of shooting and filming during the production, because of his own illness. He would die of cancer 6 years later. It’s interesting to note, of course that Gary Cooper does fantastic, but In reality, Gary Cooper was decidedly not a fan of baseball and required extensive coaching in order to look even passable on a baseball diamond. In fact, he had never played the game before, even as a youth, and had never even seen a baseball game in person until he was hired for this film.  It was another Babe that helped him through the film, scenes requiring Cooper to throw a ball as a Yankee were filmed using his stand-in, Babe Herman. Babe Herman also was a technical advisor on the film and consulted with Cooper daily to get him prepared for the film.babe ruth pride of the yankees

The Front Page

 

This incredible Broadway play was made into several equally good movies over the years, my favorite being a gender-switch for the main character.  It was written in 1928 by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.  The first movie to be made was the faithful “The Front Page” (1931) directed by Lewis Milestone and features Pat O’Brien and Adolphe Menjou. It’s very much the play, with a lot of great dialogue and great character actors. It went on to 3 Academy Award nominations.The-Front-Page-1931

My favorite one was next and it features one of the most ingenious casting choices of all time when Howard Hawks decided to change the role of Hildebrand Johnson into Hildegard Johnson and cast Rosalind Russell. It was a brilliant move to have the two main characters divorced and sparing. Cary Grant plays the Walter Burns role perfectly and it is my FAVORITE of all of Cary Grant’s performances, in a plethora (Jefe, what is a plethora?) of perfect performances. They also switched the title to “His Girl Friday” (1940).Russell-Rosalind-His-Girl-Friday

I should mention that Howard Hawks very much wanted to keep the dialogue like it was in the play where it was fast paced and had a lot of the characters talking over each other.  Because of this, Hawks wanted each actor to come up with improvised bits and action for each of their characters.  Rosalind Russell, not to be outdone, hired an advertising writer that worked with her brother-in-law to make sure that her “improvisations” were especially witty and Hawks never caught on, but Cary Grant did and every morning would ask her, “What have you got today?”.  She was also perfectly cast and has fantastic chemistry with Grant and her fiancee in the film, Ralph Bellamy.His_Girl_Friday

The next version of “The Front Page” (1974) was directed by Billy Wilder and featured the male roles intact again with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon paired up. The pairing was so successful that they would go on to do a total of 10 movies together (although they do not have any scenes together in JFK) and were very good friends off camera as well. Jack Lemmon also directed only 1 movie his entire career, and he made sure the star was none other than Walter Matthau.  It was “Kotch“. Lemmon would go on to say about Matthau, “Walter is a helluva actor. The best I’ve ever worked with.”.

Matthau-Lemmon- Front Page

The last one really worth mentioning and that seems to have been really forgotten over time is the fabulous, “Switching Channels” directed by Ted Kotcheff and it switches the gender roles again with Kathleen Turner playing the Rosalind Russell role.  Burt Reynolds plays the Cary Grant role and Christopher Reeve plays the Ralph Bellamy role.  This time the setting has been changed as well to be in the world of broadcast news and so a lot of the newspaper men chatter has been completely cut from this version. It really focuses in on the relationships and works well, I think. All the actors are fantastic in their roles.switchingchannels

Now all of the other previous versions were pretty big hits, except this one and it’s a real shame as this is highly under-rated, in my opinion.  The failure may have been due to the release of the very popular and critically praised Broadcast News months before. People thought it was too much of the same thing. Burt Reynolds grabbed this film because Cary Grant was a big inspiration to him for years and this finally gave him an opportunity to play a role of his. I think you can really tell in this film that he studied Cary’s performance as it reflects his own.  Burt Reynolds and Cary Grant are two actors that I can honestly say, could do any genres as they were equally good at comedy, action, romance and drama over their careers.

LINKS:

THE FRONT PAGE (1931) CLIPS

THE FRONT PAGE (1974) TRAILER

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) TRAILER

Con-Man Episode: Kids Need to Read

 

Two years ago, my brother and I attended the Phoenix Comicon and we played in the Kids Need to Read Poker Tournament.  I just wanted to stay in long enough to meet Nathan Fillion.  I thought he would show up at some point since it was his charity.  Unfortunately, he did not.  But I did win the tournament.  I have the token to prove it.

The experience became the basis for an idea that we wrote up for a Con-Man writing contest a few months back.  It was fun to write, and although we only came in second place, Alan Tudyk did read it.  So here’s to a first place tournament chip and a second place short script.  I hope you enjoy it!

FADE IN:

INT. PHOENIX COMICON – CONVENTION CENTER

WRAY rushes off of a makeshift stage. He is physically drained from a rousing Q & A session with Spectrum fans.

BOBBY is waiting in the wing holding Wray’s cell phone.

WRAY

Hey, that’s my phone. How did you get that?

He checks his pants pockets.

BOBBY

You know they don’t want you to have it during the Spectrum Q & A.

WRAY

That’s a suggestion. Now I’m feeling a bit violated.

He snatches the phone from her.

They walk.

BOBBY

Jack Moore is on the line.

WRAY

You called Jack?

BOBBY

I knew he was going to be here this weekend.

WRAY

Why did you? How? (Putting the phone up to his ear.) Hello, Jack?

JACK (O.S.)

Hey, Buddy!

WRAY

Uh, oh. What do you want me to do?

JACK (O.S.)

What do you mean?

WRAY

You’re using your “I need you to do something for me” voice.

JACK (O.S.)

I am not. This is my normal voice.

WRAY

So you don’t need anything from me?

JACK (O.S.)

It’s for the children.

WRAY

I don’t like kids.

He says this overly loud and comicon patrons stare at him disapprovingly.

WRAY

I mean, of course I like kids, I just don’t have any kids, to like.

(Exasperated and back to the phone.) What do you need?

JACK (O.S.)

I need you to sit in for me at the Kids Need to Read Charity Poker Tournament. I’m on my way, but I’m going to be late.  And coincidentally, it’s in the room right next to the Q & A you just hosted.

WRAY

Convenient. This sounds somewhat planned.

Wray looks at Bobby who looks away nonchalantly.

JACK (O.S.)

Thanks buddy. It’s for the children.

WRAY

You keep saying that. I don’t even know how to play poker.

JACK (O.S.)

It’s okay. Take my seat. Lose your chips quickly and then duck out. I do it all the time.  Smile, wave, leave.

WRAY

(Heavy sigh.) Okay fine.

JACK (O.S.)

I knew I could count on you. See you soon!

Wray hangs up and puts his phone in his pants pocket. He turns to Bobby.

WRAY

I’m just a big sap.

Bobby doesn’t say anything. She just turns Wray around and pushes him through another doorway.

INT. KIDS NEED TO READ CHARITY POKER TOURNAMENT

Wray steps into the room. There is a partition next to another make shift stage at the end of a long conference room. The HOST is waiting there.

Wray peeks through the partition.  The room is full of comicon attendees sitting at many round poker tables scattered though out the large room.

No children can be seen.

HOST

Welcome Mr. Nerely. It’s generous of you to join us this evening.

WRAY

Evening?

HOST

Is Jack with you?

WRAY

He’s running late. He asked me to take his seat.

HOST

Oh, that’s too bad.

WRAY

Don’t sound so disappointed.  He’ll be here later on.

HOST

(More upbeat now.) Oh, great news.

WRAY

Where are all the children?

The Host laughs. Bobby joins in. Wray follows suit confused.

HOST

It’s a charity poker tournament for the children, not a poker tournament with the children.

WRAY

(Laughing louder.) Of course.

The Host hands Wray a paper.

HOST

Here are some instructions and your seat assignments.

Bobby leans in to see the paper. He keeps it away from her and tries to stare her down. When he turns back to his paper, it’s gone. He’s no longer holding it. He turns back to find Bobby reading it.

WRAY

How did?

BOBBY

Oh good. You may have your phone at the table with you.

She hands him his phone.

WRAY

What? Again? How do you keep doing that?

He checks all of his pants pockets again.

He snatches the phone and puts it into his shirt pocket this time.

HOST

I’ll introduce you and then you can take your seat.

WRAY

Is it possible for me to just say a few words and then duck out?

HOST

Jack would never “duck out”. He committed to playing in the tournament.

WRAY

But he’s not here.

HOST

But you’re taking his place.

WRAY

I don’t even know how to play poker.

HOST

Please do the best that you can.  And remember, it’s for the children.

WRAY

As I’ve been told.

The Host goes to the mic and the crowd goes quiet.

HOST

Ladies and gentlemen, zombies and superheroes, welcome to the Phoenix Comicon’s 10th Annual Kids Need to Read Charity Poker Tournament.

The crowd claps enthusiastically.

HOST

I’d like to introduce our special guest tonight from Spectrum… The audience hoops and hollars.

HOST

Wray Nerely.

Wray steps out from behind the partition and waves. The crowd goes flat.

HOST

Wray will be sitting in for Jack, but I’ve been assured that Jack will be here later on.

The crowd responds enthusiastically.

Wray checks his paper and heads to his seat. Bobby follows.

WRAY

What am I doing? They don’t even really want me here.

BOBBY

Of course they want you here. They just prefer Jack. Who wouldn’t?

WRAY

Thank you for that.

BOBBY

Just lose quickly.

WRAY

And how do I do that?

BOBBY

Push all your chips in and say, all in.

WRAY

All in what?

BOBBY

No, just all in.

Bobby leaves him.

WRAY

What?

Wray finds his seat between two large WOMEN. There is very little room left for him. He tries to squeeze in.

Both women are more masculine than Wray.

FAT PAT

I don’t think so muchacho.

LARGE MARGE

This seat is reserved for Jack Moore.

WRAY

I’m Wray Nerely.

FAT PAT

We know who you are. Love your work, but this seat’s for Jack.

LARGE MARGE

You’re awesome. Now move on.

WRAY

Wow, I’ve never experienced such hostile adoration. I’m sitting in for Jack.

FAT PAT

What?

LARGE MARGE

You’re kidding?

WRAY

He asked for me to sit in for him.

FAT PAT

We paid good money for these seats.

LARGE MARGE

We donated $500.00

WRAY

It’s for the children!?!

FAT PAT

I’m tempted to ask for half my money back.

Wray squeezes in.

WRAY

At least sitting by me is worth something.

LARGE MARGE

We’ll see.

Wray pushes his chips forward.

WRAY

I’m all in.

DEALER

We haven’t started yet.

WRAY

Just kidding.

He pulls the stacks back in front of him.  Pat and Marge are not laughing.

Wray looks around the table. There is a ZOMBIE, a KLINGON, a SUPERHERO, and an ANIME CHARACTER with a huge cardboard sword.

Directly across the table sits a COWBOY.

WRAY

What are you dressed as? Space Cowboy?

COWBOY

Are you makin’ fun of how I dress?

WRAY

No?

COWBOY

I’m not here for your little Comicon! And I don’t care about your children’s charity. I’m here for one thing and one thing only. The poker. And to win, of course.

WRAY

That’s two things.

COWBOY

So don’t get to attached to your chips, sunshine. They’re mine!

WRAY

You can have them.

COWBOY

That’s right! I will own them.  And yours, and yours, and yours…

Cowboy points around the table.

FAT PAT

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. They’re all yours. We’re all very intimidated.

COWBOY

I’m just saying.

LARGE MARGE

Don’t let him get in your head. He’s all bravado.

COWBOY

Oh, yeah? Cowboy pulls out a little chip and holds it up for all to see.

COWBOY

Does this look like bravado?

WRAY

What is it?

FAT PAT

Last years champion token.

COWBOY

I won last years poker tournament.

WRAY

Congratulations.

COWBOY

So, now you know that I mean it when I say that I’m going to be taking all of your chips.

WRAY

You can have them.

COWBOY

I mean it.

WRAY

So do I.

COWBOY

Do you smell that?

WRAY

Comicon B.O.?

COWBOY

Repeat victory!

The table moans.

A bell suddenly sounds.

HOST

The tournament begins now. Good luck. We have a very special gift for tonight’s champion.

The DEALER deals out two cards per person at the table.

COWBOY

Did you hear that? I’ll get a special gift.

WRAY

Thank you, we heard.

COWBOY

I just don’t want you to forget… I’m taking your chips, and yours, and yours…

FAT PAT

This is going to be a long night!

DEALER

Bet to you Mr. Nerely.

WRAY

Me? Can I go all in now?

DEALER

Do you want to look at your cards first?

WRAY

Not particularly.

DEALER

Okay, then you can place your bet.

Wray pushes all of his chips forward.

WRAY

All chips in.

COWBOY

What?

LARGE MARGE

That shut up Cowboy!

Everyone folds to Cowboy.

COWBOY

What’s your deal actor man?

WRAY

What? Me? I’m giving you my chips.

COWBOY

You’re going in blind?

WRAY

I have no idea what you just said.

FAT PAT

I think he’s scared.

COWBOY

I ain’t scared. Okay, I’ll be your Huckleberry!

WRAY

My what?

LARGE MARGE

Don’t worry, that’s good.

Cowboy pushes all in.

COWBOY

All in.

Everyone else at the table folds.

DEALER

Do you want to go face up? It’s just the two of you now.

COWBOY

Just show us the board.

The Dealer motions to Wray who shrugs. The Dealer flips three cards, an ace, three, and seven.

He burns a card and then flips another card, a three.  Then he burns another card and flips the final card, an ace.

DEALER

Two aces showing.

The Cowboy fidgets nervously.

Wray just sits there looking around. He has no idea what’s going on.

DEALER

Gentlemen, please flip your cards.

They both flip their cards at the same time. Cowboy has a three and a king.

Wray has two aces.

The Cowboy freezes in total shock.

WRAY

(Acting upset) Oh man, I just lost didn’t I? Oh well, good game.

He begins to stand.

FAT PAT

Pocket rockets to four of a kind. Unbelievable.

LARGE MARGE

I’ve never seen anything like it.

The cowboy bursts out crying. Gasping sobs. He runs off.

Wray is mortified.

The Dealer pushes the pot to Wray.

WRAY

What just happened?

FAT PAT

That was awesome! You made that man cry!

LARGE MARGE

I take it back. That was worth every penny I paid for this seat.

Pat and Marge are totally impressed now. They make room for Wray to sit back down more comfortably.

Wray realizes that he’s still in the game and miserably starts stacking his chips.

The girls smile and he weakly smiles back.

INT. MONTAGUE – SAME

The evening progresses. Wray’s chip stacks continue to grow.

He gets more miserable as the night goes on.

INT. KIDS NEED TO READ CHARITY POKER TOURNAMENT – LATER

Jack enters a near empty hall.  Wray and the Host sit alone at the final table.

JACK

I’m here. Where is everyone?

They stand to greet him.

HOST

The tournament is over.

JACK

Where’s the champion?

HOST

The winner of the Phoenix Comicon’s 10th Annual Kids Need to Read Charity Poker Tournament is… Wray Nerely.

Wray waves unenthusiastically.

JACK

What? I told you to lose.

WRAY

I tried.

HOST

Nice of you to bring in a ringer. Early on he became the chip leader and preceded to bully the other participants.

WRAY

I did not.

JACK

I thought you didn’t know how to play?

WRAY

I didn’t. I don’t.

JACK

Then how did you…

WRAY

I’m tired and just want to go home. (To Host) You mentioned a special gift?

HOST

Ah yes, you get this special first place chip and a photo with Jack Moore himself.

WRAY

A photo with Jack?

Jack smiles. The Host gets his camera ready.

HOST

Plus a free seat in next years tournament.

WRAY

No thank you.

JACK

As this years winner, you’re expected to return to defend your title. It’s kind of an obligation.

WRAY

Just keeps getting better.

HOST

Just remember…

WRAY & JACK

It’s for the children!

The flash goes off, as the photo is taken.

END

 

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

 

This original novel by Agatha Christie has become the number 1 mystery novel of all time, selling over 100 million copies. Written first in 1939, it went on to become a smash hit.  It’s no wonder really that it’s had multiple versions and imitations of it on film over the years.

The main plot device of using the 10 figures to showcase each death has changed over time, with good reason. Originally Christie wrote them as well as the title as, “Ten Little Ni**ers” (I can’t even write it, it’s so offensive) and then to “Ten Little Indians” and then changed to “Soldiers”. The title that is retained most commonly at that point is the end of the nursery rhyme, “And Then There Were None“, which I think fits perfectly.And_Then_There_Were_None_1945

Now as for my favorite version of the film, it would still have to be Rene Clair’s version from 1945. Interestingly, enough it’s not based on the book but rather the play by Christie that was written a short time later and has a difference in that the two main protagonists Lombard and Claythorne are innocent and manage to survive the whole affair. In the book they were guilty and die like everyone else. This version is just fantastic, however, with a very strong cast and great dialogue. It’s in the public domain, and so it is difficult to get a hold of a quality copy.nine suspects - Ten Little Indians (1965)

The next version worth noting is the George Pollock version (1965), titled, “Ten Little Indians” and is fantastic in it’s own right.  I have to point out at this time the plot seemed to inspire a lot more films that are fantastic as well, my first being the very well written Neil Simon’s “Murder By Death” (1976).  He added a flair to the proceeding by making all the guests themselves world-famous detectives modeled after a slew of my favorite all time literary characters! Characters modeled after Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. The works of Earl Derr Biggers, Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett all in one movie is just too good to pass up!Murder+By+Death+Dinner+with+Truman+Capote

Another one that my brother and I just love is the movie made from the board game, “Clue” (1985). The game itself, ironically enough is also inspired by Agatha Christie’s book and originally featured 10 characters as well when it was first created in 1944. Anyway, the movie Clue is great fun and features one of the best comedic casts to ever be gathered for one film. The last one film to note is the most recent, “And Then There Were None” (2015). The most recent one is done by the BBC and is the only one to retain the original ending of killing Lombard and Claythorne.clue-blu-ray-still-550x285