Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The RKO Globe: Up close and (semi) personal

Any classic cinema fan worth their salt is familiar with the RKO Radio Picture trademark that was featured at the beginning of their films. Maybe you are familiar with “Citizen Kane,” “Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”? The globe and radio tower weren’t just part of celluloid; they actually existed at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Gower Street in Hollywood, on top of Stage 21.

Now a part of Paramount Studios, the radio tower is gone, but the globe remains, barely visible from below as cars and pedestrians pass by.

As fate would have it, I had the opportunity to see the globe at eye level recently, and fortunately I had my camera.

Could you get a better framed detail view? The Hollywood sign AND the globe!

The old RKO studios where bought out by Desilu (“I Love Lucy”) in 1957, then sold to Paramount ten years later. It appears that the Globe was threatened back in 2015. According to the Los Angeles Visionaries Association:

Paramount’s new Master Plan calls for demolition of eight stages and multiple other ancillary buildings. One of the stages intended for demolition is Stage 21 at the corner of Melrose and Gower. The historic RKO Radio Pictures Studio Globe that sits atop Stage 21 is currently slated for demolition.

I’m not sure of the behind-the-scenes status, but I am glad it’s still there!

See more photos at my main website.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Happy Heavenly(?) Birthday, Joan!

Happy Heavenly (?) Birthday to Joan Crawford, the ULTIMATE movie star. Say what you will about her private life (and only those actually involved know the truth, so please keep your opinions to yourself), but as an actress/movie star, she stands alone.

She had the ability to make magic out of ca-ca and the studios took advantage of that, putting her in cheap pot boilers that were carried only by Joan’s magnetism.

Crawford also took her job of movie star very seriously, always perfectly coiffed and dressed when greeting her fans in public.

See more Joan Crawford photos at my main website.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Temple Tuesday: Little Miss Remarkable

In celebration of the release of “Little Miss Marker” (1934) on blu-ray, I am sharing a few behind-the-scenes shots from the Shirley Temple classic. In photo #1, Shirley gives a hug to director Alexander Hall. In shot #2, it would appear that she was making some paper dolls in between takes.

Shirley sits on Hall’s lap as they prepare to do the mush scene with actress Dorothy Dell:

A closeup of Hall and Temple, caught in a rare blink.

A publicity still from the scene they were preparing for:

The movie’s leads gather for a group shot: Charles Bickford, Dorothy Dell, and Adolphe Menjou surround Temple and Hall:

The final scene where tough guy Bickford gives little Shirley a life-saving blood transfusion yields tears from even the hardest of hearts:

Kino Lorber is the company that has released “Little Miss Marker” on blu ray. I was extremely disappointed by their treatment of Shirley’s “Now and Forever” (1934). There was no restoration done to the source material, and the blu ray actually looked worse than the DVD. “Marker” had better source material and is a huge step above “Now and Forever,” but it doesn’t appear that any restoration was done on this one, either. Both movies were released by Paramount originally; the rest of Shirley’s childhood movies came from Fox. Unfortunately, Disney now owns the Fox library and has shown zero interest in re-releasing them on media, let alone doing any restoration. Bob Iger has expressed his desire to get the home media segment of Disney back in action, but Shirley’s films will probably not be a high priority, as the company stays away from putting out older product that might cause any verbal backlash from 1930’s stereotypical characters.

Note: Don’t get rid of your DVD versions of “Now and Forever” and “Little Miss Marker,” as the blu ray releases do not contain the short, “The Runt Page” (1932), Shirley’s first film (above).

See more “Little Miss Marker” photos at my main website.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Margaret Mitchell on Monday, Pt. 2

During my 2007 trip to Atlanta, I was bowled over to see this inside the Margaret Mitchell Museum. The front door to Tara from “Gone with the Wind” (1939) AND the original painting that Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) threw a drink at! From the museum descriptive placard which prevented me from getting “up close and personal” with the painting:

Scarlett in the blue dress, by Helen Carlton, oil on canvas, 1939. This portrait of Scarlett after the war hung on the wall in Rhett’s bedroom in their Atlanta mansion. Joseph B. Platt, head of the large New York decorating firm, coordinated the set interiors for Selznick’s art department, including the selection of appropriate furniture, wallpapers, carpets, and accessories for “Gone with the Wind.” In 1939, the portrait traveled from California to the movie’s premiere in Atlanta, where it hung in the windows of downtown Davison-Paxon Department Store. More recently the painting hung in the cafeteria of the Margaret Mitchell Elementary School in northwest Atlanta. Loaned by the Atlanta Board of Education.

Here’s a shot of the aforementioned department store:

The downtown Atlanta Davison’s store was located on Peachtree Street. A vintage postcard:

The store was owned by the Macy’s chain for sixty years. Over time, the Davison-Paxon Company name was shortened to Davison’s. By early 1986, all Davison’s stores were renamed Macy’s. In 2003, the Atlanta store was also closed, but the building still remains.

Yes, I will be checking it out this fall. As for the Margaret Mitchell Elementary, it opened in 1954. According to the Margaret Mitchell Civic Association website:

The Margaret Mitchell neighborhood was originally developed during the 1950's as Cherokee Forest. The neighborhood included the Margaret Mitchell Elementary School located on Margaret Mitchell Drive and thus evolved into the the Margaret Mitchell neighborhood (Peggy Mitchell never lived this "far out"). Morris Brandon Primary School (k-2) now operates at the previous site of the Margaret Mitchell Elementary School. Our neighborhood includes old and new homes and streets which are located on the west side of I-75 along West Wesley Road, from Moore's Mill Road to Nancy Creek.

Based on a November 2018 online article by Darla McCammon from the Ink Free News, it sounds like the Carlton painting was still in the hands of the Mitchell home museum:

Today we are very fortunate because you can visit Margaret Mitchell’s home and tour it in Atlanta. Featured prominently among the many artifacts and information you will see on the tour is the original portrait of Scarlett in that daring blue dress that hung in Rhett Butler’s bedroom in the mansion he built after the war. Not much information exists about Helen Carlton, who did the painting of actress Vivien Leigh in 1938, but her other work included her daughter’s portrait, likenesses of Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby.

Carlton was a multi-talented actress, artist, and singer. As you can see from the photo of her painting, she was also a master at all of it. As with many creative types, talent seems to flow out of their pores in many directions. Oddly in my research I noticed a remarkable resemblance between Vivien Leigh, Margaret Mitchell, and Helen Carlton. Not only were all three remarkably talented, but they could almost have been triplets.

Let’s take a closer look at the painting itself:

Even closer:

Yes, she nailed it. An incredible likeness of Vivien Leigh. Note the wedding band on her finger, courtesy of Rhett Butler.

I continued down the internet rabbit hole and hit pay dirt, stumbling upon a November 23, 2010 article from which the 2018 one most likely gleaned its info. Written by Carlton’s granddaughter, it allowed me to see what the artist looked like:

My Grandma Carlton passed away when I was just 8 years old, and I feel like I'm just now getting to know her. All I remember from my childhood is going to visit her in the nursing home where she would give us hand-drawn birthday cards and Big League Chew.

I've always known that she was a talented woman, but the more I learn about her, the more in awe I am of what she accomplished in her life, especially as a woman in the early 1900s. She was a successful actress, singer, and artist.Helen painted this portrait of Vivien Leigh/Scarlett O'Hara for Gone with the Wind. She's pictured here in front of the portrait for Redbook Magazine as she was nominated as Mother of the Year (at the time, she was very pregnant with her only child - my mom). She actually didn't like this painting very well.

What?!? Didn’t like her painting? How can that be. While I was writing this post, I recalled the other time that I saw a piece of Tara. In 1984, I was visiting my best friend at his school, Washington and Jefferson College. Yes, that’s me in the Members Only jacket. No, I didn’t borrow it from Rosario. I proudly wore my own, along with my perfectly styled coif courtesy of yellow Conair hair dryer. No wonder my scalp is still so dry.

This building is Lazear Chemistry Hall. When my friend Kevin gave me a tour of the campus, he was sure to take me inside to show me a piece of Tara. I thought he was full of crap.

Turns out he wasn’t. Inside this building on the door to the Troutman Library on the first floor of Lazear is the original doorknob from the movie version of Tara. I could not find the photo that I shot of it, but online I was able to learn that it was donated to the college in May 1940 by the film’s producer and Pittsburgh native David O. Selznick, who had family in the Washington area. I couldn’t find any photos online, either, and have no idea if it’s still there or not. Readers?

See more Margaret Mitchell Museum photos at my main website.

Friday, March 17, 2023

St. Patrick's Day with Maureen

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I am repeating the celebration of Irish actress Maureen O’Hara as I did nine(!) years ago with some photos I recently acquired from “The Parent Trap” (1961). This wardrobe test shows the original concept of how Maureen was to look when she arrived at her ex-husband’s ranch to be reunited with her daughters. A turban? Who had the brain fart of covering up her gorgeous Irish red locks with a freaking turban?!?

Fortunately for the final movie, cooler heads prevailed and the turban was ditched. Placement of the brooch also switched from right to left side of Ms. O’Hara.

Note how she fluffs her hair in this shot: “Take that, turban!”

With Una Merkel, who played Verbena the housekeeper (“It’s none of my nevermind. I don't say a word”).

Director David Swift and Walt surround O’Hara; obviously, this was before the actress threatened to sue Disney over the billing of the film.

Papers regarding the suit came up for auction after O’Hara died in 2015, selling for $375.

From the auction description:

Comprising 28 pp of paperwork related to The Parent Trap, mainly correspondence, typed, and typed carbons, including a 2 pp typed letter signed ("Jack") from agent Jack Bolton, dated June 17, 1960, on MCA stationery, breaking down the terms of O'Hara's contract, annotated, and 6 call sheets for the film under the title We Belong Together, with an April 19, 1961, Variety clipping featuring a full-page ad for The Parent Trap and 2 other Variety clippings related to the film. For Walt Disney's The Parent Trap, Maureen O'Hara claimed that she was contractually guaranteed top billing, but during the film's release, costar Hayley Mills got top billing playing up her gimmick casting as twins.

Incensed, O'Hara took the matter to her agents. These letters and contracts document her complaints against the studio. However, it appears that O'Hara may have been in error: agent Jack Bolton's June 17, 1960, letter to O'Hara about her contract clearly states that Mills' name "will follow immediately after 'Walt Disney Presents' and be above the title. Your name on the screen and in paid advertising will be in first position below the title." In 2 Thermofax copies of a March 16, 1961, letter, Walt Disney Productions assures O'Hara that the smaller billing was an accident due to haste. O'Hara took her grievance to the Screen Actors Guild and threatened to sue Disney. Realizing that, even if she won, Disney could wreck her career, O'Hara relented. O'Hara writes in her autobiography that, despite The Parent Trap's immense popularity, she never worked for Disney again.

On the other hand, Joanna Barnes DID appear in a Disney movie again, playing the mother of her character from the original for the 1998 Lindsay Lohan remake. Don’t mess with Walt!

See more “Parent Trap” photos at my main website.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Temple Tuesday: Robert Benchley

The names Shirley Temple and Robert Benchley don’t really go together in the grand scheme of things, but they intersected (professionally) at least twice. The American humorist is probably best known for his pieces in Vanity Fair and the The New Yorker, his membership in the Algonquin Club (see previous post), and some memorable Hollywood supporting roles. Disney’s “The Reluctant Dragon” (1941):

and Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent” (1940). Shirley and Robert were “together” in the April 1939 issue of True Confessions magazine. That sounds so lurid! Shirley had a beautiful two-color full page photo promoting “The Little Princess”:

Meanwhile, Benchley got a cigarette ad in black and white:

This is not surprising, as 1939 was considered the humorist’s worst year careerwise: both his radio show and MGM film contract were canceled and The New Yorker replaced him with Wolcott Gibbs, because his Hollywood exploits prevented him from spending enough time on his writing gigs.

Benchley supported a teenage Shirley in 1945’s “Kiss and Tell” for Columbia Pictures. He played Corliss Archer’s (Shirley) Uncle George. In her autobiography, Child Star, Shirley gives Benchley a brief mention associated with a very sad event:

Humorist Robert Benchley, author-cohort from “Kiss and Tell,” honored us [then husband John Agar] at a candelit dinner party at his San Fernando Valley home. Jack was dancing with a starlet type, a bit player from a recent low-budget movie. Lithe and range with cascades of blond hair and widely flared, sensuous nostrils, she had already made biting remarks about my compact stature.…Driving home to our honeymoon cottage, Jack was merciless. “Always wanted to marry a long-legged model,” he said. “Not someone like you.” Already stunned, I could hardly believe my ears. But playing second fiddle was against my nature. “Trouble with people who have those nineteen-inch waists,” I replied, “their other measurements are small too. Including the head.”

Don’t mess with Shirley, who was perfectly capable of writing her own quips!

“Kiss and Tell” was released on October 18, 1945, Benchley was dead within a month from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 56. From the Algonquin Rondtable website:

Throughout World War II Benchley kept up an extremely busy pace in Hollywood. He lived in a bungalow in the Garden of Allah and worked steadily in movies and radio. In his early fifties Benchley eventually suffered from health problems exaggerated by his heavy drinking. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and high blood pressure. In late 1945 he returned to New York for a break, but his health slid downhill. He collapsed in his room at the Royalton Hotel on West Forty-fourth Street. He died in the Harkness Pavilion at the Columbia University Medical center on Fort Washington Avenue, on November 21, 1945. Benchley was a teetotaller until he fell in with the Vicious Circle in the Speakeasy Era in his thirties. Twenty years later, drink did him in.

Here he is with Charles Butterworth at the Garden of Allah, both looking a little less than sober.

See more Shirley Temple “Kiss and Tell” photos at my main website.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Margaret Mitchell on Monday, Pt. 1

In 2007, I visited Atlanta for a conference and was excited to visit the site of where Margaret Mitchell lived when she wrote the Civil War novel “Gone with the Wind,” one of my favorite books (1936) and films (1939). As it turns out, this fall I will find myself back in Atlanta, but it appears that the historic apartment building/museum will be closed during my visit. The museum’s website simply states: 

Atlanta History Center Midtown is currently closed.

Thank you for the information (please read with dripping sarcasm).

A website for wedding venues gives a bit more info:

Margaret Mitchell House (Closed for renovations until Jan 1, 2024)

It looks like I won’t be returning there this fall. Besides renovations, there has also been grumbling about the museum and the book/film because of their portrayal of slavery. I can only suggest that a look at them through the lens of the time that they were created and letting that be a jumping point of intelligent conversation would be better served than either a censorship or suppression of the many incredible pieces that the museum has in its collection.

From the museum’s website:

The name Margaret Mitchell House is somewhat deceptive—in fact, when Margaret “Peggy” Mitchell lived in the building with her second husband, John Marsh, they lived in a small apartment on the first floor. Mitchell nicknamed apartment no. 1 “The Dump.” Shortly after moving into the apartment in 1925, Mitchell quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal, primarily because of a re-aggravation of a foot injury she suffered as a child. While recuperating, she would plow through library books that Marsh would bring her. As the story goes, one day he came home from the library empty-handed, claiming that she had read all the library’s works of fiction, and suggested that she start writing something instead. Mitchell’s first and only book was born: Gone With the Wind.

Here’s the lobby entrance to apartment #1:

A detailed look at the stairwell ornamentation.

Over the years, the building has been victim to multiple fires and the ravages of time; I am not completely sure how much is original and what all has been rebuilt. This segment of wall was one of my favorite things to see, a visual time capsule underneath the shiny new paint and drywall:

I highly doubt Mitchell’s apartment looked this good when she lived there:

It did appear to be appropriately furnished for the era, but I do not recall that any of these items are original to the building from Mitchell’s time.

See more Atlanta photos at my main website.