Growing up, I spent my Saturday mornings in front of the television watching pals Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes crew, Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, its later spin-off The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, The Smurfs, The Snorks, Scooby-Doo Where Are You?, and of course Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Having one morning dedicated to cartoons after a long week of dealing with bullies, and shitty teachers, and pop quizzes, and that kid who always smelled like mustard (ALWAYS), was a welcomed respite. It was like cracking open a cold one after a hard day’s work. But since I was a just mere pup, let’s say it was like dunking a fresh chocolate chip cookie into a glass of cold milk (Ding! Age appropriate!). Then suddenly, cartoons were everywhere. On every channel. At any time. Hell, even a channel devoted to them 24 hours a day. This was fantastic! When Cartoon Network launched I rarely watched anything else (and honestly, other than TCM and the few channels my daughter watches, this is still true today. Read: Uncle Grandpa and Adult Swim). However, with the advent of the never-ending access to cartoons, came a quiet death to beloved Saturday morning cartoons on network television.
The lovely ladies at the classic film blog True Classics have dedicated the month of June to “Movie Memories”. This is their second year hosting the hugely successful event, and I am honored to be asked to participate. Please take the time to read all of the Movie Memories over at True Classics. You will not be disappointed.
So far March-in-March has been a wonderful success! I want to thank all of the contributors featured here on the site. We have a few more coming next week, including a post from yours truly, so stay tuned!
Those who are participating in the free-for-all event on your personal blogs today and tomorrow, please feel free to leave me a comment with a link to your post, or email me at sittinonabackyardfence (at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll get your post linked and added to the list below.
The very first Fredric March performance I saw was actually during the “William Holden phase” of my classic film self-education. The film was the 1954 corporate boardroom drama Executive Suite. March has a supporting role as Loren Shaw, the company’s fiscally conservative Controller. Shaw is difficult, obnoxious, and just downright infuritating. He’s simply unlikable. I hate to admit this, but I have a bad habit of disliking an actor if I hate the character portrayed. After watching Loren Shaw weasel his way to the top of the executive food chain, while attempting to discredit the beloved William Holden, I took it personally. “No one hurts my William Holden and gets away with it”, I thought. I’m ashamed to say it, but at that moment, Fredric March was added to the “I don’t like you” list. In all honesty, it is a testament to his acting prowess.
A few years later, TCM featured March during their annual Summer Under the Stars festival in August. I don’t know what possessed me to sit down and watch this actor I thought I loathed, but it doesn’t matter. What I do know is how I felt watching a master of his craft: simply awestruck. I watched every film TCM aired that day, with little reliance on my DVR. I immediately began searching for all of his films and slowly amassed a decent portion of his filmography. One thing I quickly realized about Fredric March is that he is largely forgotten today, despite his two Academy Awards, two Tony Awards for best actor, and a career that spanned half a century.
Although March is not remembered in mainstream pop culture like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, or even Fred Astaire (remember when he and Stanley Donen choreographed that famous “vacuuming on the ceiling” number?), he is remembered by the classic film community. Not only is he remembered, but he is respected and adored. I discovered this through interactions with fellow classic film bloggers and my pals on Twitter. It was this shared admiration that inspired me to host an event honoring one of the greatest actors of the stage and screen.Throughout the rest of the month, The Fence is featuring essays on Fredric March and his films by bloggers I hold in the highest regard. The goal of March-in-March is to celebrate his life and career, encourage discussion, and inspire those who are not familiar with his work to give him a chance. March once said:
Stardom is just an uneasy seat on top of a tricky toboggan. Being a star is merely perching at the head of the downgrade. A competent featured player can last a lifetime. A star, a year or two. There’s all that agony of finding suitable stories, keeping in character, maintaining illusion. Then the undignified position of hanging on while your popularity is declining.
He might have not held much stock in stardom, but for me and all the wonderful people contributing to this event, Fredric March’s star still shines bright.
I will be back next week with thoughts on a couple of my favorite, lesser known March performances. In the meantime, I’ll be posting March-in-March related material, like trivia and photos, on Twitter. Follow me @biscuitkitten and join in on the discussion with the hashtag #MarchInMarch. If you’re interested in participating in the Free-for-All event, go here for information. Also, don’t forget to enter the giveaway for the new Kino International release of A Star is Born. Scheduled for tomorrow is an excellent analysis and review of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by my good friend Josh Mauthe.
I think everyone will agree the perfect dog has certain qualities that make him/her Man’s Best Friend: loyalty, strength, good temperament, intelligence, obedience. As a kid, I held Lassie up as the model for the perfect family dog. Trapped in the town’s abandoned coal mine? Never fear! Lassie will not only run for help, she will bring you a fresh set of clothing, a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat, and a glass of milk. Need help with your homework? Lassie won’t eat it! She will solve all those pesky word problems and write an essay on French Imperialism. WOW!
“Mom and Dad, can we pleeeeeeease get a dog?”
That’s right. You ask for Lassie and you end up with Shithead. Sure, he’s cute and scruffy. He even has moments of grand heroism fraught with danger. But most of the time, Shithead does what he wants when he wants. This includes following commands when it is convenient, and still reaping the maximum reward. Shithead is far from perfect, but he’s real. He’s the dog we all know because there’s a little Shithead in all our lives.
On December 3, 1979 the brilliant wordsmith Kittenbiscuits was born. 11 days later, Carl Reiner released his masterpiece The Jerk in honor of the occasion. Starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, and co-written by Martin and Carl Gottlieb, The Jerk tells the story of Navin R. Johnson, son of a poor black sharecropper. Patiently waiting for the day when his skin will change color to match that of his family, Navin finally learns the real truth: he is not their natural born son. Although distraught over this revelation, Navin soon comes to terms with his racial identity. He sets out to find his own way in the world, his “special purpose”, to prove to himself and his family that he is a man.
Soon into his wandering trek, Navin encounters a scruffy mutt barking at his motel room door. Navin must have always wanted a Lassie dog too, because he attempts to translate the dog’s frantic barking. Arriving at the conclusion the motel is on fire, Navin runs out in his skivvies, banging on every single door and yelling. Of course there is no fire. This dog is no Lassie and is certainly no lifesaver. Navin’s dream of owning the perfect dog blinds him from the obvious truth. It takes an outside observer to see the dog for what he really is: a shithead. In that moment, a cultural icon was born.
For the first time, audiences see a realistic portrayal of the All-American pooch. Before The Jerk, dogs in film were represented by Hollywood’s canine elite: Skippy (Asta), Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Pete the Pup, even Benji. Sadly, Shithead’s bust is not in that Hall of Fame. A travesty. The furry actor who played this character, could have stuck to the heroic canine archetype, yet he knew audiences of the 1970s would respond to a fresh approach. This unnamed dog bravely made the choice to play against type. In my humble opinion, his gamble paid off. One of the things that makes Shithead so special, is that despite lacking the talents of the more famous dogs, he is still more intelligent than Navin.
Shithead is a free-spirit who knows what he wants and is not afraid to get it. You can imagine him saying ” Hey, man! I’m just here to have a good time.” He represents the era in which he lived. On the eve of the 1980s, he’s a dog poised to become a living legend. He defines the free, easy living of the 1970s, yet he is not afraid of embracing the excesses that lie ahead. Shithead is fully aware that nothing lasts forever. His motto is “Carpe Diem; Keep on Truckin’.”
Make no mistake, although he does what he wants, Shithead really tries to do what he thinks is in Navin’s best interest. For example, while he is taking a bubble bath, Navin’s girlfriend Marie decides to walk out, leaving a “Dear John” letter. Without Shithead drawing his attention to it, Navin would not have seen the note. Navin quickly hops out of the tub to chase after Marie, but he has no clothing. Shithead pipes up with a suggestive bark and we hear Navin say “good thinking!” His modesty saved by his faithful dog, Navin runs after the love of his life…but it’s too late.
From rags to riches, and quickly back to rags, Shithead is mostly there for Navin. Isn’t that what all dogs are? Mostly there? They love you as long as you feed them and there’s not something stinky to chew on. When the food is scarce and when you cut yourself shaving and nothing comes out but air, don’t expect them to stick around. If you’re drowning, remember there is always a steak, medium-rare, on higher ground. A real dog, just like Shithead, will be running toward it.
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This is my contribution for the Classic Movie Dogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. Thanks to Rick for this wonderful event! Please check out all of the participating blogs. You can find a schedule here with links to all of the contributing sites.
The March-in-March blogathon will include 2 free-for-all days so that everyone can participate! Those days are scheduled for March 24-25th (Saturday and Sunday). On Saturday morning I will publish a post here and add your links as I receive them. All you have to do is give me a link to your article via email (sittinonabackyardfence (at) gmail (dot) com) or leave a comment on that post.
Please spread the word! I would love to have lots of submissions on the free-for-all day! If you’d like to contribute, just leave a comment below and I’ll add you to the list. And if you haven’t done so yet, please snag the banner for your blog! Stay tuned for more information, including a giveaway and how you can contribute via Tumblr!
I have a wonderful blog event scheduled for March 15-31st, featuring one of the true greats of the stage and screen: Fredric March. I am fortunate to have an outstanding group of bloggers signed on to contribute:
For the past several months I have been lost without the dapper, distinguished, most knowledgeable Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies. He is more than just a host– he is a teacher. And in my ongoing education in classic film, Robert Osborne is essential.
Believe it or not, living in Atlanta does have its advantages. For instance, I can pay $16 to drink all the Coca-Cola I want at the World of Coke, or party hard with T.I. in between prison sentences. I can stand behind Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, and act like an idiot while he reports live from Piedmont Park. I can be an extra in Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry’s Tyler Perry movie or be a zombie in The Walking Dead. Most importantly (and seriously), I live in Turner country. Turner Classic Movie country, that is.
Although I wish there were more special events sponsored by TCM here in Atlanta, I can’t complain. I’ve had the opportunity to attend some wonderful screenings with all of them being introduced by either Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz. One of the first I attended was Gone with the Wind at The Fox Theatre. Osborne introduced the film along with Molly Haskell and Michael Sragow. As much as I love GWTW, I was more excited to see Robert. The theatre was completely sold out (4,768 seats) and the audience was loud and disrespectful. I actually heard someone say “who is this guy? I want to see Scarlett!” when Robert walked out. Die hard southern GWTW fans are an odd bunch. Many came to see an “accurate depiction” of “the good ol’ days,” wearing bedazzled denim jackets with airbrushed renditions of Tara on the back (non-ironically, mind you. And no, I’m not kidding). While some old biddy sitting behind me talked about how southern whites were really nice to their slaves (as later “confirmed” by Ashley Wilkes), I sat on the edge of my seat, clinging to every word coming out of Robert’s mouth.
In 2010 I finally had the opportunity to attend the Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival in Athens, GA. Fantastic films, introductions and Q&As by Robert, and fellow classic film fans under one roof made for an excellent experience. I was determined to finally meet Robert at the festival’s brunch. Unfortunately morning sickness got the best of me, and eggs benedict and mimosas somehow didn’t sound all that appealing–with or without Robert. Although I missed the Silver Fox, my disappointment quickly turned to delight when he himself, in the flesh, shining like a beacon of movie knowledge, chose the seat in front of me for the festival’s screening of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. I know Robert would disapprove, but at times I found myself watching him watching Keaton, instead of watching Keaton directly.
I won’t speak for the rest of TCM’s fans, but I know that I’m guilty of taking Robert Osborne for granted. During the last five months I have realized how important he is for the appreciation and preservation of classic film. He is irreplaceable and a true classic himself. On December 1st I will be sitting on the edge of my seat, listening to his every word–thankfully without the old biddy.