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Favorite Things in Classic Films

Yesterday I was in the living room playing with my daughter. I turned on the television and an episode of The Flintstones was on. Fred was in the kitchen, apron on, washing the dishes–complaining all the while. He really had no reason to complain though. Poor Wilma couldn’t assume her typical household duties because she was too busy setting up the card table for Fred’s poker game.

That image of Fred in an apron got me thinking about a rare occurrence in classic films: when a man rolls up his sleeves, puts on an apron, and helps out in the kitchen. The thought of it brought a smile to my face. I decided to take that thought to the thriving classic film community on Twitter. Under the hashtag #favoritethingsinclassicfilm, the tweets started pouring in. My goal was to bring everyone together to talk about those little things that make classic films so magnificent. Some tweets consist of generally broad ideas and themes while others  highlight specific behaviors of a particular actor/actress/character. Mainstream or obscure, the references to films in all genres are abundant. Some tweets have spawned serious conversations about racial stereotypes, misogyny, and other moral/ethical issues. Many are sentimental, emotional, yet there are plenty of hilarious ones.

@biscuitkitten- Al and Milly embracing after 4 long years #favoritethingsinclassicfilm
@biscuitkitten- Al and Milly embracing after 4 long years #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

Some of my favorites:

@mritchie56- Glittering white art deco rooms in Astaire/Rogers musicals #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@tonyalit- How Gene Kelly makes the most of his Paris apartment. Looked perfect. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@HollywoodComet- Silk stockings being a valued gift. I’d still take some. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@willmckinley- Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore, William Demarest, Eugene Pallette #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@OfficalBogart- We have many #favoritethingsinclassicfilm, but we must mention #TCM and its efforts to keep #classicfilm relevant and popular. Thanks @tcm! #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@interpretivbear- How a glass of whole milk calms the stomach. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@LouLumenick- All of Busby Berkeley’s production numbers. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@BobbyRiversTV- Fred Astaire dancing. On the ceiling, on roller skates, on ice skates, up a nightclub staircase… #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@expano_mapcase- Discovering a new actor/actress you love then trying to see everything they’re in #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@QuelleLove- #favoritethingsinclassicfilms Actors with barrel chests, no shirt, and some water splashed on them

@trueclassics- The deadliness of an anklet and a bad wig #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@CitizenScreen- The balcony kiss/scene between Grant and Bergman in #Notorious #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@ScribeHard- Thelma Ritter appearing in (Insert Title of
ANY Movie Thelma Ritter Has Appeared In) #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@missmccrocodile- Borscht with an egg in it #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@HaroldItz- #favoritethingsinclassicfilms Owl Jolson

@clydeumney- Following the letter of the Hays Code, but not the spirit. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@classicmovieblg- Being a blubbering mess every time I hear “stand up, your father’s passing.” #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

@cinemastyles- Walter Huston in anything, even Dragon Seed. #favoritethingsinclassicfilm

These tweets  are the tiniest sampling of all the wonderful contributions so far. I love the seemingly immediate bond between fellow classic film fans. And I love how we all come together in a very modern medium to discuss the past.

What are your favorite things in classic films? Feel free to comment below! Better yet, join in on the conversation on Twitter! You can find me @biscuitkitten. Follow the hashtag #favoritethingsinclassicfilm (with the variation: #favoritethingsinclassicfilms and for our British, Canadian, Australian friends- #favouritethingsinclassicfilm)  Also, hop over to KC’s blog Classic Movies to read her thoughts on the event!

Book Review- Judy: A Legendary Film Career

Photo courtesy of Running Press
Photo courtesy of Running Press

I have never considered myself a huge Judy Garland fan, but that’s not to say I don’t like her. I adore her. I respect her. I hold her in the highest regard. I suppose I never considered myself a fan because I do not feel worthy of that title. Honestly, like those who abused and exploited her, I have taken her for granted. She’s more than Dorothy, you know.

In the world of star biography and filmography, it’s rare to find a tribute that is not only well researched but also visually stunning. Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke is a perfect example of what a bio-filmography should be. Following a brief introduction, Fricke gives a short, but incredibly detailed history of Garland’s sometimes difficult upbringing. Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm to parents Frank and Ethel. “Baby” Gumm, as she was nicknamed, made her stage debut at just two years old. Through the years, Baby Gumm and her two older sisters performed at a number of theaters and in 1934, while performing in Chicago, The Gumm Sisters were discovered. During this time Ethel Gumm, who could easily be described as a “stage mom”, frequently gave her daughters stimulants to keep them working despite exhaustion. Likely unaware of the horrendous consequences of her actions, Ethel introduced Baby to a unhealthy pattern of overwork, exhaustion, medication, and crash dieting. This pattern would continue through Baby’s transformation into Judy Garland, her days at MGM, and up until her death at the age of 47. Judy’s relationship with her mother was strained, to say the least. However, Judy was incredibly close to her father, who faced significant demons of his own. When Frank died in 1935, Judy was devastated.

Fricke divides the filmography into four main sections, each highlighting a different era in Garland’s career. From her film debut in Pigskin Parade until her very last film I Could Go on Singing (with radio, television, and stage performances in between), Fricke provides incredibly in-depth information about each production. Cast and crew, filming budgets, reviews, photos, and anecdotes from co-stars, directors, producers accompany each film outline. The filmography is arranged chronologically and in between each section in the Garland timeline, Fricke gives insight into the personal triumphs and turmoils in that particular time of her life. And there were plenty of triumphs and turmoils. Even though her illness might have shown in her physical appearance, it very rarely affected her finished performance. That’s not to say she didn’t have difficulty getting to the point of finishing…

Throughout the 1940s Garland struggled immensely with her addiction to prescription drugs–a combination of diet pills/speed to get her up and going and sleeping pills to counteract the effects of the stimulants. Some periods in this decade were worse than others, in particular the unraveling of her marriage to second husband, director Vincente Minnelli. Even with her personal problems (which Fricke is very clear were not just Garland’s fault–studio heads at MGM most assuredly exploited her), she was still a top draw for MGM. That is until she was unable to fulfill contract obligations. After being fired from The Barkleys of Broadway and Annie Get Your Gun, Garland was released from her contract. Although she was considered largely unemployable, Garland had some of her best work ahead of her.

One thing I love about Judy: A Legendary Film Career is that Fricke doesn’t hide Garland’s flaws. With those flaws he celebrates her successes with such a defined passion (which only a true admirer could) that it’s hard not to immediately drop the book, put in one of her films, and bask in her infectious glow. Fricke also lists all the projects Garland lost or was rumored to have lost. This is something I always love reading about–the “what could have been” collaborations. Quotes about particular productions also renew my love for many of Garland’s co-stars and directors like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, George Cukor…and reaffirm my dislike of others like Ginger Rogers (yeah, that’s right. I don’t like Ginger Rogers). It’s refreshing to know that Kelly, Astaire, and Rooney loved Judy so much and understood her troubles. They, along with others, defended and protected her the best they could.

I absolutely loved Judy: A Legendary Film Career, and it was pleasure to read from start to finish. I highly recommend it for Judy Garland and classic film fans alike. This is the ultimate guide to Garland’s illustrious career and has the added bonus of looking wonderful on the bookshelf or table. Thanks to John Fricke, I feel like I possess the knowledge and respect to finally call myself a fan.

Judy: A Legendary Film Career
ISBN: 9780762437719
Running Press (Perseus Books)
August 2011
352 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Judy: A Legendary Film Career directly from the publisher, Running Press, which is an imprint of Perseus Books. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.