Archive for the ‘journalism’ category
In the days before Hulu and YouTube and Netflix streaming and iPhone apps, waaaay back in a time where communication wasn’t instant and deferred gratification was still a cultural commodity—the movie magazine serial thrived.
Think about it. Let’s say it’s 1940. A film comes out in the cinema, you pay your quarter, watched it, went home and … well. That’s pretty much it. Sure you can revisit the film again at the theater, but there really wasn’t an afterlife for your favorite film of the moment. You weren’t waiting for it’s DVD release. There wasn’t a TV station to pick up the rights for rebroadcast. There was no Internet for downloading favorite scenes or watching instantly (whether legally or not so legally). If you really loved a film and wanted to have a personal interaction with it in your own home— that personal relationship with film that we take for granted—you could find solace either on the radio with programs like Lux Radio Theater, or in the pages of the movie magazine.
Popular films were serialized, often published within a month or two of the film’s initial theater release. The writing was campy at best, chockablock with the sort of gushy prose that permeated movie magazine of the day, but the spreads were asplash with color, plentiful photo stills, and definitely captured the spirit of the film enough to satisfy even the most ardent movielover before their next trip back to the cinema.
I absolutely adore reading these movie serials from Hollywood’s golden age and thought it would be fun new feature for the Pictorial to start posting some of them on a regular basis.
It Happened in Brooklyn is a low-budget, B-musical from 1947, starring a very young Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Kathryn Grayson. The film does not hold up very well today (wasn’t much of a hit upon first release either) and it’s serialization in the June 1947 issue of Screen Romances is actually more fun than the film itself. But it’s a prime example of the movie serial and as good a place as any to start our new feature.
It reads like a Nicholas Sparks novel, but without all the gooey schmaltz. A collection of over 300 wartime letters penned by GIs and addressed to actress Donna Reed during WWII’s darkest years have been released, after nearly 65 years of being hidden away in a shoebox in Reed’s Beverly Hills home.
Written on impossibly humid South Pacific midnights and achingly cold Eastern European mornings when memories of home flickered like a fading dream and the soul grasped for a tangible reason to keep vigilant, these letters were cries for hope and comfort in a savage world of never-ending nightmares. And their comfort was found in young Miss Reed: “the girl back home” that they were fighting for.
The world was far from a global village then: 7,000 miles mean nothing now with twitter and facebook and iPhones—the faces of your loved ones are never more than a click away. But in 1944, a single black and white photograph of your best gal was the only thing to keep you connected across the 7,000 miles of ocean and jungle that separated New Jersey from New Guinea. And for these GIs, Donna was their ideal best gal.
The letters were authored by kids, really—all of 19 and 20 years old. Young soldiers who couldn’t have known that their earnest scrawls would, 65 years later, become truly important pieces of history. But Reed, who passed away 1986, must have felt the importance of it all and kept 341 of them quietly tucked away. The Guardian put it this way: “Reed kept the letters because she saw them as precious mementoes of an age when innocence and slaughter were locked together.”
“Mom never mentioned them,” said Reed’s youngest daughter Mary Owen. “I had no idea she was such an important symbol to these guys.” Betty Grable’s legs and Rita Hayworth’s negligee’s might more readily pop into mind on the subject of wartime pinups—but “Reed probably came closer than any other actress to being the archetypical sweetheart, wife and mother.” Said biographer Jay Fultz.
So just why is this discovery so meaningful? The Guardian newspaper has captured the heart of these exceptionally revelatory letters in a beautifully written post on their film blog so I hand the mic over to them:
“We have a war now in the Middle East that has gone on longer than America’s involvement in the second world war. And maybe there are Hollywood people who send letters and glossy photographs signed, “Good luck!” But, of course, the guys out there have endless digital coverage of their wives and girlfriends now – some of it cheerfully pornographic – and so they hardly need dreams. You can add that there really aren’t people like Donna Reed any more.
Still, the discovery of that shoebox seemed like a revelation of real history, of where we have come from and of what movies can never mean again. You have to wonder how many times Reed looked at the shoebox and thought of throwing it out. We only know that she kept it. But you have to be an awful cynic to decide that that was because she had forgotten it. The men were expendable, perhaps, but not the messages.”
Who says that no one in LA reads? At least the fine folks at Jacket Copy do, the LA Times most excellent book blog. They recently posted a great review of Jeffery Vance’s Douglas Fairbanks biography , a delicious excerpt from T.C. Boyle’s The Women (Frank Lloyd Wright and the women who loved him) and are they ever abreast of the latest developments in all things literati—even including a sale at the Library of America.
Regardless of your particular abode of dwelling, Jacket Copy is a great way keep a reading list that is, not only current but also relevant.
Fun and informative article from the New York Times, back on August 7, 1938 that takes a look at Hollywood’s proclivity for ignoring the 35-45 age group in movies, and asks how many actors will be has-beens by age 38? Claudette Colbert? Clark Gable? To quote, “Under the present system [the actor] is, relatively, a short term investment, valuable only until his glamour fades, then relegated, if his is fortunate, to supporting roles to bits or extra work. “ Written by Frank Nugent (who would later find fame as the writer of such classics as Fort Apache, The Quiet Man and Mr. Roberts) it is a sharply written assessment of the state of the then-all-powerful Hollywood studio system and its obsession with youth.
Further proof that some things just never change.
Urging Old Age Security
By Frank Nugent
The more sensible policy on vacation eve, would have been to resign this column to a No Sunday Article dealing with the encounter between Briar, our city-bred Airedale, and an anonymous but devastatingly accurate Westport skunk. We realized, though, that it might put the department in bad odor, so we had to turn to the age problem in Hollywood. The industry still appears unable to let its children grow old gracefully. At one extreme there is Helen Hayes, who is invited to play a grandmother role: at the other is Alive Faye, who joined “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911, left it in 1928 and managed to traverse twenty-seven years without gaining a pound, a gray hair or a wrinkle.
And there really isn’t much of a middle ground. Life in the movies begins at 21 or at 55; no producer seems terribly interested in the adventures of the 35 to 45 age group. In fact, none of our leading ladies would admit membership in it. The minute the player does, she becomes a “character” and is packed off to be Mrs. Judge Hardy for Lewis Stone or Mother Carey for Kate Douglas Wiggin. Or, of course, she might turn out to be Edna Mae Oliver, Alice Brady or Mary Boland. The life of the leading man may last awhile longer, William Powell still packs a romantic punch and so does Ronald Colman. But they have the advantage of charm and their appeal to women in the sub-35 age group. Actually, they haven’t begun to age.
We’ve often wondered what will happen to Shirley Temple when she grows up, but there’s more reason to puzzle over the future of Caorle Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Robert Taylor, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford. Will their producers age them gently or fight off Father Time with makeup and soft lighting? How many of today’s stare will edge gradually into character roles, how many will be has-beens at 38? We wish the actuaries would look into the film records and determine the box office morality of stars. Better still, we wish the industry would give more thought to conservation of its natural resources.
There’s no reason, so far as we can see, for the screen’s disinterest in the lives of men and women past the 100-yard dash stage. We know a few , interesting people, with problems of their own, not simply those reflected by the romantic courses of stripling sons and daughters. In fact, some of them have no striplings to supply the reflected glory. They shine by themselves, but not on the screen. What’s wrong with middle age, anyway, that Hollywood continually stops short of it or goes hurtling beyond it into the grimly sentimental dramas of old folks at home?
Foreign producers have opened the field a bit. “Carnet de Bal” was the story of a woman, widowed after 21 years, who looked up all her former sweethearts and found how slightly and how greatly she had affected their lives. The heroine, obviously, was almost 40. Her ex-suitors were that or more. Yet it was one of the most interesting pictures of the year. England has just given us “South Riding” another story about grownups.
Hollywood’s refusal to meet maturity halfway has its amusing side. There was that clause in one actresses contract, which stipulated she was never asked to play a mother. (we forget now whether it was Mae West or Marion Davies). There is this furor on the coast over the casting of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind with Norma Shearer, Miriam Hopkins and dozens of others evincing no doubts whatever their fitness to portray a precocious minx whose age span in the novel was from 16 to 22. There is Miss Faye, as mentioned before, absorbing 27 years without a facial change and Kay Francis pretending to be the mother of four, Anita Louise included.
But if all this I amusing, it is pathetic and stupid too. Pathetic because it betrays the vanity of players, stupid because it so clearly dooms Hollywood to economic loss. Every actor in every studio is an investment—investment in publicity, in promotion, popularity. Under the present system he is, relatively, a short term investment, valuable only until his glamour fades, then relegated, if his is fortunate, to supporting roles to bit s or extra work. If, by natural and gradual process, he could be brought from the romantic role into the mature role, and if at the same time, this new story field were developed, his acting career might be prolonged indefinitely, at created profit to the studio and at greater security for the star. The huge salary peaks might be leveled off and (just pathetically) screen acting would be better.
It might even be possible, should such a policy be adopted, which we doubt, that Mr. Taylor might be discernable years hence in a Lionel Barrymore role: that Mr. Gable prove to be the Edward Arnold of his new day; that Shirley herself group to be Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell or Kate Smith. A delightful prospect meets the eye.
Another magazine cover and advertisement plucked from my collection. The Modern Priscilla was a precursor to the Women’s Day magazines we know today: sewing patterns, recipes, cooking tips and trends fill the pages. These magazines don’t have the wit or flash of, say, the era’s Vogue and Cosmopolitans, but they are still fun to read. Color ads are few, but do they ever pop!