Category Archives: 1954

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.”

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1950-1959

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1950-1959 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1950:  The Flame and the Arrow

the flame and the arrow

Burt Lancaster met Nick Cravat when they worked in the circus as acrobats, early in their careers.  This movie highlights some great acrobatics from the two of them, along with some great fighting sequences.

1951:  The Thing From Another Worldthing full body burn

I loved this movie and the remake that followed with Kurt Russell, but this one has a very cool fire burn done Tom Steele that just has to be seen to be believed.

1952:  Ivanhoeivanhoe03

Paddy Ryan was in a group of some of the finest stuntmen to ever come out of England.  In this film he does a real gasping fall from a castle, which was held as the highest fall from a castle for many years.

1953:  Code Twocode two

Motorcycles were really starting to come into their own.  This movie was one of the first one to introduce motorcycle stunts and chase scenes, with many movies following after.

1954:  The Seven SamuraiSeven_Samurai_Fight

This film was probably the most mentioned movie to ever influence a slew of filmmakers, before Star Wars.  It’s an incredible film with a great story, great characters and especially great action.  Most of the actors were hired because they could really fight.  Let’s imagine this as the very first Expendables, where some real action masters were at work here.

1955:  To Hell and Backto hell and back tank

The real life story, played by the real person himself, Audie Murphy, the highest decorated soldier of World War II.  Quite a war film!

1956:  Trapezetrapeze1956

So I mentioned Burt Lancaster was in the circus, right?  Well, here is the movie where he really shows his chops!  You just thought he was a great actor, but he was a really accomplished acrobat, that could have had an amazing career as a stuntman!

1957:  The Curse of Frankensteincurseoffrankenstein1

Hammer Films, out of Great Britain were making some of the most interesting genre films ever made with some of the finest actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and with fantastic stuntmen like Jock Easton.  Some really great stuff!

1958:  The VikingsVikings oars

So I fell in love with Vikings movies when I saw this one (another great one is the 13th Warrior!).  With that in mind, Kirk Douglas blows my mind when I see him, “running the oars” with such ease as he does in this film!

1959:  Ben HurBen Joe Canutt Jump

A stunt that goes wrong is not an “accident” when no one gets hurt…I just consider it an improvised stunt.  In this one the results were so cool they added it to the film.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Actors and Stunt Performers for the Seven Samurai

 

The Seven Samurai (1954) represents a lot in the Hollywood film community.  It’s influence on the action genre is unrivaled, as it really is the most copied and emulated film.  It’s also a very important film in the Asian film community as it really sets the tone for sword fighting, war epics to come.  I’ve highlighted the cast here as many of the stunt performers were just given roles in the film as opposed to just doing the stunts.  There are moments where the lead characters are doubled, so that is why both actors and stunt performers are listed.Seven_Samurai_Fight

An important note, is regarding the style of the film.  Consider the swiftness of the action, and quick editing in the film, but it also changes up with slow motion cut into the fights.  It’s the first to establish film techniques that increase the tension and adrenaline jolts to the audience, that many productions would use for years to come. The director, Akira Kurosawa used multiple cameras on the shoot and five assistant directors. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular film even this many years later, it simply is fantastic film-making with exciting action, plot and characters.Seven-Samurai-Movie-Image

The single largest undertaking by a Japanese filmmaker at the time, Seven Samurai was a technical and creative watershed that became Japan’s highest-grossing movie and set a new standard for the industry. Its influence can be most strongly felt in the western The Magnificent Seven (1960), a film specifically adapted from Seven Samurai. Director John Sturges took Seven Samurai and adapted it to the Old West, with the Samurai replaced by gunslingers. Many of The Magnificent Seven’s scenes mirror those of Seven Samurai.

Seven Samurai is directed by Akira Kurosawa for the Toho Company.seven-samurai2

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page or Website):

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia:  Toho Co., Ltd. – is a Japanese film, theater production, and distribution company. It is headquartered in Yūrakuchō, Chiyoda, Tokyo, and is one of the core companies of the Hankyu Hanshin Toho Group. Outside Japan, it is best known as the producer and distributor of many kaiju (monster) and tokusatsu (special effects) movies, the Chouseishin tokusatsu superhero TV franchise, the films of Akira Kurosawa, and the anime films of Studio Ghibli. Its most famous worldwide creation is Godzilla, known as the “King of all Monsters”, featured in 29 films. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, and Rodan are described as being Toho’s “Big Five” due to the monsters’ numerous appearances in all three eras of the franchise, as well as spin-offs. Toho has also been involved in the production of numerous anime titles.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!
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