Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Making of King Kong, Part 1

King Kong!
The Eighth Wonder of the World!
And the making of King Kong in 1933 was a wonder of movie-making as well!
Orville Goldner and George E. Turner takes us behind the scenes and deep into Kong's jungle so we can see what it took to make this classic. . . .*
[Miss Maven hopes they're watching the same version as she is!]
. . . There are valid reasons why none of the dozens of imitations [of King Kong] has succeeded in duplicating its grasp upon the imagination of the public. One is that, however fantastic and implausible the film may be, it convinces because it is built upon solid biographical fact. It is as personal a statement of its guiding geniuses--Marion C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoedsack, Rush Rose and Willis H. O'Brien--as is anything by Chaplin or Stroheim. This underlying reality is sensed by the viewer.
Carl Denham, the daredevil producer who seeks and finds Kong, is a personality composite of Cooper and Shoedsack. He possesses the same courage and intentness of purpose that made possible the filming of Grass, Chang and Rango under incredibly difficult conditions. He accepts hardship and danger willingly as the price of the game. He knows he must avoid the monsoon because he ran afoul of it in Thailand, cranks his won camera because his cinematographer in Sumatra was rendered helpless by a fear of wild animals, seeks a girl to appear in his new film because exhibitors complained that if Chang only had "love interest" it would have made twice as much money. It is said that if Denham wants a picture of a lion he just walks up and tells it to look pleasant--an approach no more brazen than Schoedsack's method of provoking tigers into charging his camera.
Miss Maven suspects that Carl Denham may have headed the Internal Revenue Service in another lifetime!
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*The Making of King Kong, Ballantine Books, New York, 1975, page 7 - 9 Foreward).
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Universal Studios

Roland Flamini writes about Carl Laemmle and the beginnings of Universal Studio's tours in Thalberg: The Last tycoon and the World of M-G-M (Crown Publishers, Inc.; New York; 1994; pages 25 - 28:
The president of Universal was an impulsive, excitable, and sometimes giddy operator. He was five feet two inchs tall and a paranoid who was convinced that everyone was out to cheat him--from business associates to the waiter who brought his check at a restaurant. . . . [And in] an industry notorious for its nepotism, he set records for the number of useless relations on the payroll--a trait lampooned by the verse satirist Ogden Nash in the line "Uncle Carl Laemmle has a very large faemmle."
(Carle Laemmle surrounded by some of his actors and Carl, Jr.)
. . . the studio, which Laemmle referred to as the Bottomless Pit, produced . . . Lemmle's own brainchild, the Universal tour. At twenty-five cents a head, including a boxed lunch, it attracted an average of five hundred visitors a day. They toured the back lots with its various stages, then sat of bleachers to watch filming in progress. (The Universal tour was discontinued in the 1930s, then successfully revived in 1964.)
. . . Universal was founded in 1912, but Universal City had been operating for only four years. Unlike other Hollywood studios, it was not a series of buildings but a ranch that sprawled over some four hundred acres of terrain in the San Fernando Valley, ideal for scenery but difficult to manage. Trying to control it was like trying to control a game reserve. Jackrabbits and mountain lions still roamed it. Tracking down a company and rounding up stray extras was like being on safari or perhaps like rounding up stray cattle on the range.
Miss Maven wonders if the visitors toured the WHOLE four hundred acres--She hopes they were provided at least water in those boxed lunches!
'Cause they's critters sides cattle out in them stagebrushes!!
And Louis B. Meyer at M-G-M and Jack Warner (and Brothers) just thought they had trouble wrangling THEIR actors!!
Besides . . . anybody who thinks wrangling cattle is easy can come to Fort Worth, TX, where they STILL have cattle drives for visitors!
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Monday, November 28, 2005

David O. Selznick

David O. Selznick was a one-of-a-kind talent in Hollywood.
A one-of-a-kind what depends on who you ask!
Beverly Linet wrote Star-Crossed (G.P. Putnam, Sons; New York; 1986) about Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones and how large a part of their divorce was attributable to Selznick's egomania and obsession with Jones.
Linet writes (on page 113):
. . . [S]screenwriter Gavin Lambert relates that "whenever Marlene Dietrich [who appeared in Selznick's Garden of Allah] had a party, she'd set up a game of "Inquisition." One of the most provocative questions was "Who'd be the last person in the world you would go to bed with---even if not doing so meant sacrificing the lives of your children?" Her female guests, with rare exceptions, would unhesitantly name Adolf Hitler. But Marlene, who had personally rejected and violently detested the German dictator, never failed to reply, "David O. Selznick.'"
Obviously, in ways Miss Dietrich never made public, she had herself suffered at the hands of Selznik.
Miss Maven wonders what would have happened if David Selznick had been set up on a date with Godzilla?!
Maybe that's where Freddy Kruger came from?!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Music in the Movies

Miss Maven is inaugurating a new department . . . .
Music in the Movies . . . .
You just never know where a song will turn up!
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Such as Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935)!
In this case, Warner Oland did the honors as our talented detective!
He is enroute to [like you can't guess?!] Shanghai when he's waylaid by a band of kiddies into playing leap-frog.
(Better him than Miss Maven because her arthritis sometimes sounds like a cannon going off if she has to . . . never mind!)
(Courtesy of www.charliechan.net)
The children then want Charlie to sing for them in a beautiful voice that Miss Maven wishes that Hollywood has used more often.
Mr. Oland sounds so much better than Maven does!
.
Princess Ming Lo Fu
.
Long the journey, hard the way,
But his heart was gay,
For, was he not a Prince both strong and brave,
Vowed a princess fair to save?
And he slew the dreadful dragon,
Even cut off his seven heads;
And in this cave he found the Princess
Bound in her lowly bed.
Then came they back to the land
Of the mighty Emperor Fu Manchu,
To claim his reward, the dainty hand
of lovely Ming Lo Fu.
.
The song is something of an "in" joke since it refers to another role that Warner Oland played in several movies: Fu Manchu!
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You can reach Miss Maven at theoldmoviemaven@yahoo.com.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy addressed the role of Hollywood's treatment of actors playing non-whites in the movies in her autobiography, Being and Becoming (with James Kotsilibas-Davis; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; New York; 1987; page 52):
. . . But these exotica started to predominate [in roles given to Loy]. My bit as a mulatto in The Heart of Maryland led to a role that I'm very much ashamed of. Zanuck wrote Ham and Eggs at the Front, a blackface parody of What Price Glory? casting me as a spy. How could I ever have put on blackface? When I think of it now, it horrifies me. Well, our awareness broadens, thank God! It was a tasteless slapstick comedy that I mercifully recall very little about.
Fox borrowed me and expanded my capacity for exotica. I played my first Chinese part, under the direction of Howard Hawks, in A Girl in Every Port. With the structure around my eyes, it turned out, makeup could make me look Oriental. It seems strange of a redhead from Montana, but that part of my face, at least, is easily adapted. they just whitened my upper lids, accented the natural line, and I got away with it. So what do they do back at Warners? They cast me as a Chinese in The Crimson City, with Anna May Wong. Up against her, of course, I looked about Chinese as Raggedy Ann.
Miss Maven is glad that Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and Frankenstein's Monster haven't gotten together to complain about how THEY'RE treated in Hollywood!
If THEY ever get ticked off, Maven suspects that that Halloween will be a run on wolf's bane, silver bullets and . . . .
Hey . . . just where DO you get Egyptian amulets for protection?!?!?
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If you would like contact Miss Maven, you can reach her at theoldmoviemaven@yahoo.com.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving,
Everybody!
From
Miss Maven,
Aunt Battie
and the whole gang here!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Barrymore Family

Those young movie lovers who only know the Barrymore family through the acting talent of Drew Barrymore are in for a surprise.
(Drew Barrymore)
Ms. Barrymore comes from an acting dynasty that began with her great-great-grandparents, John Drew and Louisa Lane.
Her great-grandparents were Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew.
All were royalty on the Great White Way of Broadway.
Thanks to motion pictures and Hollywood, the works of her grandfather, John Barrymore, have been preserved.
(Ethel Barrymore)
So have the movies of John, Sr.'s brother and sister, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore.
(Lionel Barrymore)
Drew seems to have gotten something of her grandfather's irreverence if we can believe what John Kobler wrote in his biography called Damned in Paradise: The Life of John Barrymore (Antheneum, New York, 1977, page 191):
(John Barrymore)
[About Barrymore's coarse language] . . . John and Willard Louis, a fun-loving character actor who played the Prince of Wales, would occasionally spice the dialogue with obscenities, there existing as yet now sound camera. When Beau Brummel was released, the studio received a good many scandalized letters from deaf lip-readers.
(Lionel Barrymore, left, Joan Crawford
and John Barrymore, right)
John's manner on the set, his gaiety and fellow feeling deeply impressed Mary [Astor]. She had never before met a star without affectation and condescension. John was on first-name terms with all the workmen and enjoyed long, technical talks with them. Yet he preserved an unassailable dignity, letting nobody forget that he was a Barrymore. Once, when a cameraman yelled: "Hey, Jack!" John spun around, eyed him coldly and said: "Why so formal? Call me kid."
(Lionel Barrymore, left on the couch, Ethel Barrymoresitting on his right, John Barrymore holding the baby)
Miss Maven laments that Barrymore eventually became a parody of his former self but in his prime in such movies as Counsellor-at-Law, Twentieth Century and Grand Hotel . . . . Hot Dog!
He could act rings around Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
He was one of those actors who could fascinate his audiences just reading the phone book!
You must excuse Miss Maven while she gets her smelling salts out at just the thought of John Barrymore!
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You can reach Miss Maven (after she recovers her breath!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dracula vs. Dracula

"Dracula."
Who do you think of?
Miss Maven would bet that your first thought would be Bela Lugosi from his 1931 break-through film of that name.
(A young Lugosi playing Jesus early in his career.)
Did you know that there is a Spanish-language version with an actor that many say could be . . . you should pardon Maven . . . a dead-ringer for Lugosi?!
Carlos Villarias was the star of the alternate version that was filmed using the same sets as Lugosi's movie.
There are differences in their "Draculas."
Bela Lugosi looks deadlier as Dracula because people don't want to think that anyone that handsome and suave could be anything but someone to take home and meet Mother.
That would solve all those mother-in-law jokes!
Carlos Villarias looks like he's slightly touched in the head in comparison.
Either that or somebody hacked him off.
Who would be dumb enough to hack off a vampire?
. . . On second thought, Miss Maven wouldn't put it past the Internal Revenue Service.
Helen Chandler comes off as plain vanilla compared to Lupita Tovar, who has the added advantage of sexier clothes.
Miss Maven warns you not to run out and get the Spanish version because she's talking about sexier clothes for 1931!
(Lupita Tovar with Carlos Villarias as "Conde Dracula"
and in the Spanish language version of "The Cat Creeps" [1930])
Hah! You thought Miss Maven was getting naughty, weren't you!
George Robinson was director George Melford's cinematographer.
He brought an entirely different feel to the sets, using more mobile camera and more innovative use of angles and shadows then Karl Freund's camera-work.
Miss Maven suspects that Freund's work on "Dracula" was at the direction of Tod Browning since Maven thinks he did such superb work on such diverse works as "The Mummy" and "Mad Love" and television's "I Love Lucy"!
And in what may be the ultimate vampire moment: When Bela Lugosi enters Helen Chandler's bedroom and crosses over, Karl Freund tactfully fades the camera out.
George Robinson's version shows Carlos Villarias' swooping down to spread his cloak over Lupita Tovar as he's about to take a bite out of crime.
Or is it a bite "into crime" this time?!
Oh, dear, Miss Maven is getting a little too carried away here.
Please excuse her while she tries to find the bourbon . . . er, smelling salts!
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Please try both and compare them for yourselves as Miss Maven is having a time with the cap of the liquor bottle . . . oops, smelling salts.
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Miss Maven can be reached (when she recovers) at

Monday, November 21, 2005

Charlie Chan Movies

Charlie Chan Movies!
Yippee!
Rush Glick has announced his
schedule for his December Monday Night
Chat Room* on his website at
Decemeber 5 - Charlie Chan in Reno
December 12 - Charlie Chan in Dangerous Money
December 19 - The Sky Dragon
December 26 - Charlie Chan in Honlulu
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*Our Chat Room hours at www.charliechan.info are 8:00 PM to 10:00 (Eastern Standard).

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Lon Chaney, Sr.

Lon Chaney, Sr., set a standard in Hollywood makeup that not even his own son could live up to.
(Mr. Chaney doesn't look too threatening there, does he?)
He not only made himself up throughout his much-too-short career in movies like "The Phantom of the Opera"
(Miss Maven remembers nightmares that looked like this!)
but in movies where he had TWO different characters to portray like the lost "London After Midnight."
As the Scotland Yard Inspector . . .
And the . . . shall we say . . . new boy on the block?
(Can Miss Maven say "two-faced?!")
Lon Chaney, Sr., managed to top even himself in the "The Unholy Three" where he played in "straight" makeup as a con and as a sweet little old lady, first in the silent version.
He then did it again for the talkie in 1930.
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Miss Maven trusts you will excuse her while she goes and makes a stiff drink for herself and then watches a Shirley Temple movie so she can go to sleep tonight!
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Please send only nice, calming emails to Miss Maven at

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lon Chaney, Jr.

The Wolf Man makeup must have been miserable for Lon Chaney!
According to A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford (Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, New York, 1974, page 136):
(Jack Pierce, who created the Wolf Man makeup and applied it to Lon Chaney, Jr.)
The day we did the transformations I came in at two a.m. When I hit that position they would take little nails and drive them through the skin at the edge of my fingers, on both hands, so that I wouldn't move them anymore. While I was in this position they would build a plaster cast of the back of my head. Then they would take drapes from behind me and starch them, and while they were drying them, they would take the camera and weigh it down with one ton, so that it wouldn't quiver when people walked. They had targets for my eyes up there. Then, while I'm still in this position, they would shoot five or ten frames of film in the camera. They'd take that film out and send it to the lab. While it was there the makeup man [Jack P. Pierce] would come and the whole thing off my face, and put on a new one, only less. I'm still immobile. When the film came back from the lab they'd check me. They'd say, "Your eyes have moved a little bit, movie them to the right . . . now your shoulder is up. . . ." Then they'd roll it again and shoot another ten frames. Well, we did twenty-one changes of makeup and it took twenty-two hours. I won't discuss about the bathroom!
(Pierce and Chaney in a publicity still)
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Miss Maven doesn't think she WANTS to hear about the bathroom!
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You can reach Miss Maven OUTSIDE the bathroom at

Friday, November 18, 2005

John Barrymore

Mary Astor writes in her autobiography, A Life on Film (Delacorte Press; New York; 1967, 1969, 1971; pages 53 - 54) about John Barrymore's private dramatic lessons:
. . ."Think! The camera's a mind reader. Don't let your thoughts wander to what kind of shoes you're going to buy, or to plan on what you'll say to so-and-so when you see him. Sustain--even though you're made the shot fifty times."
I remember we were sitting at lunch and I said, "May I have some more butter, please." He used it. He said, "Before any scene--go over how long you've known him--or her. You even say 'Pass the butter' differently, according to how you feel. Right now you're bored--I can hear it. There's always something under what you're saying--caused by a million things. How does it make you feel? Suppose, for instance, the guy says--maybe he's your husband--'I've quit my job.' And your line is, "Pass the butter, please.' O.K. now don't giggle like an ass. Listen, there'd be a world of difference if you think. 'Well screw him, I'll get somebody else to buy me a sable coat.' Or if you feel happy that the guy's finally got up enough nerve to do something that was your idea all along. Now let's try it. Let's improvise. I'll go out and come in and tell you I've quit my job. I'm, ah--let's see--a shoe salesman, and I'll tell you I've quit my job and you invent something and let me see you thinking."
...
A few years ago I was working with some Actors' Studio people in a TV show, trying to make sense of the nomenclature they used. I asked one of them, "What do you mean by 'subtext?' " he explained. My thoughts whisked back thirty years to "Pass the butter."
(John Barrymore as Hamlet)
The young John Barrymore could have melted Miss Maven's butter anytime!
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Alfred Hitchcock

Edith Head wrote about working with director Alfred Hitchcock in her autobiography, Edith Head's Hollywood (with Paddy Calistro; E.P. Dutton, Inc.; 1983, page 58):
Notorious was my first opportunity to dress Ingrid [Bergman] the way she should be. For such a big woman, she was a joy to dress. I was able to do evening clothes, sports clothes, street clothes-the whole gamut. I just had to be sure that was what I did pleased Hitch. He was very specific about costumes for his leading ladies. He spoke a designer's language, even though he didn't know the first thing about clothes. He specified colors in the script of they were important. If he wanted a skirt that brushed a desk as a woman walked by, he spelled that out tool. For Notorious, he repeated many times that the clothes must not be a focal point, that Bergman was to be a believable secret agent.
The job was tricky. Her clothes couldn't be smart in the ordinary sense. They had to avoid the fussy and extreme. And they had to be right for her. . .
I learned my restraint lessons very well. In what was one of the sexiest love scenes ever on screen, Bergman and Grant were totally dressed, but who remembers what they wore?
Miss Maven wonders who cares?!
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

King Kong vs. Godzilla

King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Miss Maven must admit to being a sucker for tall, dark guys with lots of personality who know what's what about fur coats!
Which is ironic since "King Kong" (1933) was made in what is known as stop-action photography which was used to reinforce Merian C. Cooper's story of a giant ape who ends up falling for Fay Wray.
(Miss Maven has known some men SHE'D like to see fall . . . off the Brooklyn Bridge . . . Mount Rushmore . . . the Eiffel Tower . . . .)
That Cooper, Willis H. O'Brien and company can make what was essentially a doll so sympathetic and sustain it over the length of a movie is a miracle of technology and writing.
Godzilla unfortunately doesn't fair so well by comparison. . . .
Okay, Godzilla has an electric personality but that doesn't change the fact that he needs an orthodontist sssoooo badly!
Not to mention industrial strength mouthwash!
Now Miss Maven has always had soft spot for Raymond Burr's work in Godzilla but let's face it.
Who wouldn't wonder what it was like for Fay Wray to be rescued by Bruce Cabot?!
And how can you not want to laugh at a creature that doesn't look any scarier than some dude in a badly-fitting lounge-lizard outfit?!
Miss Maven challenges you to watch both "King Kong" and "Godzilla" together and see who YOU'D vote for!
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You can send questions and comments to Miss Maven at http://theoldmoviemaven.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is a mustsee, if not musthave, movie in Miss Maven's video library.
Sam Goldwyn's epic to the returning veterans of World War II deals with the problems they faced back home.
One of the actual vets was Harold Russell, who played the double amputee Homer Parrish and had to face the reality in Hollywood that many veterans did in the rest of the country.
According to A. Scott Berg in his biography, Goldwyn (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; New York, 1983; page 413) reports:
Harold Russell performed a number of tricky scenes, designed to show his compensating for his handicap in the most unassuming way, During one shot in which he was having a drink with Frederic March, the old pro warned him, "When I say my lines keep those g**damned hooks down! Don't lift that bottle of beer, because I want people listening to what I'm saying, not watching you drink beer."
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Hhhhmmmm.
Mr. Goldwyn apparently forgot to tell Mr. March that The Best Years of Our Lives was supposed to address this very problem of making all our former servicemen feel welcome and integrated back into society.
If March was trying to give him an acting lesson then MARCH was the one with the handicap in Miss Maven's book!
(Left to right at the piano: Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael, and Frederic March.
In the far background: Dana Andrews in the phone booth.)
"We got lucky with Harold Russell," said [William] Wyler [the director],"because he was an absolute natural." Goldwyn had enrolled him in acting classes, but the director insisted he ditch them. In the end, Russell compensated for lack of technique with integrity, which shone through his entire performance, even the love scenes.
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Miss Maven is pleased to report that not only Frederic March get the best actor award of the 1947 Academy Awards for The Best Years of Our Lives, but Harold Russell got TWO!
One for best supporting actor and an honorary award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives."
So much for Frederic March, says Miss Maven!
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You can send your thoughts and comments to Miss Maven at