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Wonderful Day in Atlanta

On Thursday night the TCM Road to Hollywood Tour made a stop in the network’s hometown of Atlanta, GA, with a screening of Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). The event was held in the Rich Theatre at Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown Atlanta. Thanks to TCM I received two VIP tickets which guaranteed me a reserved seat at the free event. My guest for the evening was Tony Dayoub, owner of the film blog Cinema Viewfinder. Confession: neither Tony nor I had seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers prior to this special event. What a way to see it for the first time!

The Richard H. Rich Theatre is a small venue, seating approximately 420 patrons. Although I would have much preferred the palatial setting of The Fox Theatre for this event, I appreciated the small and intimate atmosphere for a first time viewing of a beloved musical. The space was filled to capacity and the excitement was at a high. Promptly at 7:30 the adored and revered Robert Osborne took the stage amidst a roar of applause to introduce the film and the evening’s special guest Jane Powell.

Mr. Osborne graciously thanked the audience for their enthusiasm and began highlighting some of the most anticipated events for the 3rd Annual TCM Classic Film Festival in April: the opening night gala screening of Cabaret (1972) featuring co-stars Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, the rare presentation of How the West Was Won (1962) at the Cinerama Dome, and Disney’s first full length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Osborne accidentally spilled the beans when he announced director Mel Brooks as a featured guest at the Festival. He stopped short of naming the film Brooks is scheduled to introduce saying “Oops! That hasn’t been announced yet!” The audience gasped, and everyone had a good laugh.

Robert Osborne speaks to the audience before the screening. Photo by Jill Blake
Robert Osborne speaks to the audience before the screening. Photo by Jill Blake

After Osborne’s brief plug for the Festival, he welcomed Jane Powell to the stage. Entering the theatre to a standing ovation, Ms. Powell skipped down the aisle with the same energy and grace that made her famous in the MGM days. Upon her arrival to the stage, an audience member on the front row handed Powell a bouquet of flowers. During their pre-film chat, Osborne asked his good friend of her time as a contract star at MGM. Powell noted that she was incredibly lonely, as much of her family back in Oregon turned her away because of her stardom. Luckily Powell had the love and support of her parents, who she happily credits for much of her success. Powell also talked about her relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. When Powell married her first husband Geary Steffen in 1949, Taylor was a bridesmaid. In 1950 Powell returned the favor when Taylor married first husband Conrad “Nicky” Hilton. Powell laughed and said, “I’m glad we stopped being each other’s bridesmaids. We would have done it for our whole careers!” During a brief Q&A session with the audience, Osborne and Powell talked about the filming of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Powell said the budget for the film was very small because MGM placed all its focus on the filming of Brigadoon (1954). When it was time for its release, Seven Brides premiered at Radio City Music Hall, in the spot originally set for Brigadoon. In addition to questions about the film, one audience member asked Powell what was on every single mind in the room:  ”You look fantastic! How do you stay so young?’  Powell replied,  ”Pilates. Every day. And lots of walking.” Note to self: start Pilates immediately.

Like many of the TCM screenings I have attended, the print shown was 35mm. To be honest, it wasn’t the greatest quality print; the color was quite dull in spots and there was noticeable wear. That said, I savor every chance I get to see a film in its original medium, especially alongside other classic film fans. The audience was engaged in the presentation from start to finish. Some sang along or hummed, tapped their feet, clapped after each number. Although I had not seen the film before, I was familiar with many of the songs including “Goin’ Courtin’,” “Sobbin’ Women,” and the famous  ”Barn-Raising Dance” scene. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, despite the brides’ apparent Stockholm Syndrome. Watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with an appreciative and respectful audience enhanced the experience for this first time viewer.

The Road to Hollywood is a brilliant way to bring a tiny piece of the TCM Classic Film Festival to cities across the country. By making these events free and open to the public, TCM has opened the door for all to enjoy. I hope this touring festival continues to grow and the network considers the possibility of hosting other events throughout the year.

Here are some photos from the event, courtesy of TCM Public Relations:

 

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital 1928-1937

Courtesy of Angel City Press
Courtesy of Angel City Press

 

Jean Harlow epitomizes the essence of old Hollywood glamour and stardom. Although she died young, she has an  immortal presence that has lasted for over 70 years. Perhaps it’s because we never saw her grow old. Her youthfulness, beauty, and sexuality are all perfectly preserved as if she were truly alive and breathing. Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) is a loving and dedicated tribute to “The Baby.”  The book is filled with photos from author Darrell Rooney’s personal collection (one of the most complete Harlow collections in existence),and a well written biography by Mark A. Vieira that only a fan could compose. Vieira describes Harlow as intelligent, well-read, friendly, and loving–and always seeking love.

Harlow rose to stardom in Hollywood rather quickly, had a solid work ethic, and always did what the studio asked of her. Although she often portrayed women of a certain character, audiences absolutely loved her. This proved to be especially true when her second husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, committed suicide. A scandal of this sort was considered a career killer, but not in Harlow’s case. She had achieved ultimate star status and was granted a level of immunity.

In addition to various marital/relationship troubles, Harlow had a controlling and demanding mother. Jean Bello regularly took advantage of her famous daughter, often without Harlow even recognizing it. Vieira largely portrays Mother Jean and her husband Marino Bello (Harlow’s step-father) in a less than positive light, as he should. All accounts state that the Bellos were greedy, manipulative, and exploited Harlow for their own personal gain.

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) is one of the most beautiful and thoughtfully designed books I have ever read. From her first days in Hollywood, to her final photo shoot with friend Clark Gable, and ending with her devastatingly premature death, Rooney and Vieira manage to capture the essence of Harlow’s spirit. The photo for the front cover features a goddess-like Harlow in a slinky satin gown–her trademark. What lies within that cover exceeds even the highest expectations. Each page is filled with lovely photos, some rare, of Harlow and her family, friends, and co-stars. The attention to detail is noticed in even the smallest touches, like the design for the page numbers, font, and coloring.

I did not want to put this book down. I stayed up very late to finish it, and when I was done I was in tears. It haunted me. When I fell asleep I dreamed of Harlow’s death. When I woke in the morning, I felt like I had been right there with her. As I wrote in my review of the stellar Judy: A Legendary Film Career, I am often hesitant to embrace so-called “gift books.” Many times, these types of books feature low quality photos and text. Fortunately, that is not the case here.  Harlow in Hollywood is an essential for Jean Harlow and classic film fans alike.

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Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937)
ISBN: 9781883318963
Angel City Press
March 2011
240 pages

Full disclosure: I received a copy of Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) directly from the publisher Angel City Press. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

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.