Saturday, September 30, 2023

9/30/55 and The Monkey

It was sixty-eight years ago today that actor James Dean was tragically killed in a freak auto accident at the tender age of twenty-four. The above shot is from “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) and shows a deleted sequence of Dean, a young girl, and a toy monkey. The film opens with Jim Stark (Dean) lying in the road; he has stumbled upon a windup toy monkey and is fascinated by it. He protectively wraps the monkey with newspaper to keep it from getting cold. Seen behind the opening credits of the film, it speaks to his character and foreshadows his key motivation. He desperately seeks safety and protection for himself, but is unable to find it through friendships or his dysfunctional family. Instead, he does his best to create his own family unit with Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) by becoming what he wishes his father could be.

The house seen behind him still exists just off Hollywood Boulevard:

Cropping the contemporary photo approximates what we saw in 1955:

The monkey itself was not seen in the finished film after the opening scene; most likely Jim Stark gave the toy to the child once he arrived at the police station. The bit was probably touching, but not necessary for the story and was thus deleted.

The monkey came up for auction in 2018 and 2022. From the 2022 Heritage Auctions catalog description:

James Dean "Jim Stark" Toy Monkey from Rebel Without a Cause (Warner Bros., 1955). Vintage original mechanical cymbal-clapping monkey toy constructed of wind-up metal armature covered in faux fur with painted cloth face and red felt cap with silver star ornament. The toy's wind-up stem is present, but the key is missing. Wire armature at feet has breached the fur and protrudes. Metal cymbals are present.

When we first meet the iconic James Dean as "Jim Stark" in this groundbreaking film, he's rolling around playing with this toy monkey amidst trash on a city sidewalk. The actual opening credits roll over this sequence. Mechanicals present but untested. In vintage Good condition. Provenance: Christie's East. Comes with a COA from Heritage Auctions.

It appears that the monkey went unsold both times. There are no details as to how it is known that this is the genuine article that Dean interacted with.

See more James Dean photos at my main website.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Temple Tuesday: Lady in the Dark

Going to movie premieres was all in a day’s work for a Hollywood star, and Shirley Temple was no exception. From the vintage publicity blurb below:

2/12/44 — Younger crowd in the audience at the “Lady in the Dark” premiere was well represented by Shirley Temple and her escort, Craig Flanagan. Shirley looked lovely in a short ermine jacket over a white net gown sprinkled with sequins. She wore an orchid in her hair and a similar corsage on her shoulder. “Since You Went Away” is her current picture, a Selznick production for United Artists release.

While Shirley looked beautiful in her ermine coat, her outfit did not begin to compare to Ginger Rogers’ onscreen wardrobe from “Lady in the Dark.”

“Lady in the Dark” was based on the 1941 Broadway musical of the same name (book by Moss Hart, words and music by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill) about psychoanalysis and career women. Paramount purchased the screen rights in February 1941 for Rogers and Fred Astaire, but negotiations with Rogers’ former dance partner failed, and Ray Milland was cast instead. Released on February 10, 1944, the film was a critical and commercial success, nominated for three Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Music, and Best Art Direction).

Now about the film’s most infamous costume (shown above). From the Victoria and Albert Museum website:

Rogers wore this costume for the ‘The Saga of Jenny’ sequence in the musical, which was staged in a circus. In 1944, this single costume was the most expensive ever produced in Hollywood. Legendary designer Edith Head is credited as the designer, with strong influence and a design concept from Mitchell Leisen, a former costume designer turned film director. Rogers wore two versions of the dress, one for singing and static close-ups and a lighter version for dancing [shown below, the one in the V&A collection].

According to Edith Head in Edith Head’s Hollywood, ‘as Liza Elliott in Lady in the Dark, Ginger was the fashion-editor of the world’s greatest fashion magazine. Her costumes were superlative. She was constantly having daydreams that she was a glamorous sexpot instead of a tailored-editor type and the dreams created a perfect plot excuse for fabulous gowns. It has come to be known as the mink dress, but actually it was a mink over-skirt that was lined with sequins, worn over a matching sequined bodysuit. It cost about thirty-five thousand dollars to make in those days and couldn’t be made today without a limitless wardrobe budget’.

Recently, I acquired Jay Jorgensen’s 2010 Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer coffee table book. There is some interesting information about the original costume that the V&A Museum left out:

Initially, Edith wasn’t even supposed to be working on the project, and Rogers’ clothes were to be designed by the New York couturier Valentina. When Ginger rejected Valentina’s designs, Edith was asked to step in because of her good working relationship with the actress. There is almost no doubt that left to only her own devices, the budget-conscious and conservative Edith would have never come up with the dress that is considered by many to be the most expensive costume ever designed for a film. But Leisen was always asking Edith to push herself creatively, and under his supervision, a gown was designed that was encrusted entirely of faux rubies and emeralds in a paisley design, lined in mink, with a matching jacket, also lined in mink. At the time, it was estimated to cost around $35,000, with $15,000 being spent on the mink alone. When building the dress, Edith covered the floor of her salon with mink skins and she and Leisen selected the most photogenic ones. When Rogers tried the gown on, the faux stones proved to be too heavy for her to dance the routine that had been choreographed…A second gown was created with sequins in the same paisley pattern. Both gowns are seen on screen. The dress with the stones is seen in close-up as Ginger unpacks it and wears it to the nightclub, and the sequined version is seen in the dance number. The gown with the faux stones was later donated to the Smithsonian Institution and kept on display for several years; Edith used the sequined version in her fashion shows that would be developed later.

The 1984 photo below shows Ginger Rogers presenting her 'Piccolino' dress from "Top Hat" (1935) with Fred Astaire to the Smithsonian. Whether or not they still have the “Lady in the Dark” mink dress in their possession is unknown.

Shirley and Ginger starred together in “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which was her next film assignment after “Lady in the Dark.” This time, since Rogers portrayed a woman on parole, Shirley had the flashier wardrobe!

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Tower of Terror Comparison

Because I was not a fan of drop rides, I avoided the Tower of Terror attraction like the plague. The first time I saw it was in 2002 when I was “backstage” at Walt Disney World in Orlando; it had opened July 22, 1994.

When three-year-old Disney California Adventure in Anaheim was struggling, the Tower of Terror attraction was viewed as the Park’s savior when it opened May 5, 2004. It was truly the first “wow” ride that Anaheim’s second gate could boast about. Still, it lacked the attention to detail and lavish opulence of its east coast counterpart. The exterior bore little resemblance to the Southern California landmarks that Orlandp’s version was based on (The Los Angeles Biltmore, The Chateau Marmont, and The Mission Inn). Compare the center balcony detail from Orlando:

…inspired by the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood:

Not so distinctive was Anaheim; just plain with purple paint representing the lightning damage:

According to Wikipedia, Anaheim’s architectural style was “Pueblo Deco,” but that was truly stretching it. The windows looked too modern and the odd large box-like shape on top seemed like a poorly planned addition. This place would look more at home in Vegas. Orlando definitely was superior at evoking an old Hollywood hotel. Orlando also had a more extensive outdoor queue, with a winding path and overgrown gardens that give guests time to build anticipation and suspense before entering the lobby area.

In Anaheim, you had a short queue area to the right:

…and to the left. And that was it.

What about the interior? Orlando:

…which was inspired by the Los Angeles Biltmore:

The Anaheim version:

At first glance, both seem ornate, but the Orlando version looks more authentic and less like a movie set. It has been years since I’ve been on either attraction (Anaheim’s closed for retheming in January 2017), but I do recall that the Orlando version’s “elevator” went  horizontal (taking you through the hotel) before it rose to the top for the big drop. That was a nice touch. I guess if the U.S. had to sacrifice one of these, it’s a good thing it was the Anaheim version. Here are the ghosts from Orlando beckoning me to return. It’s only been… thirteen years!

See more WDW Tower of Terror photos at my main website.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Cary & Deborah: An Affair to Remember

The 1957 film “An Affair to Remember” is a guilty pleasure of mine. Sentimental, old-fashioned, and obviously shot within the walls of a Hollywood soundstage, it still gives the tear ducts a workout every time I watch it.

Thanks to the chemistry and witty repartee between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, the film somehow rises above its hard-to-believe premise. Nickie (Grant) and Terry (Kerr) meet aboard a cruise ship, on the way to New York City to be reunited with their partners. Whether in the black and white still above or the screenshot below, it is impossible to be fooled into thinking that this movie was shot on location. The perfect lighting of the leads (never a shadow to spoil their faces) is further evidence of this.

Neither of the leads is truly in love with their mates, yet there are sparks of passion between Nickie & Terry. Aboard the ship, it’s all about flirtation, romance, and comic banter as the two attempt to avoid the gossip of other passengers while exploring what might exist between them.

The story becomes more dramatic once the two depart the ship near the French Riviera for a brief (but pivotal) visit with Nickie’s beloved grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt). Granny sees that the two are destined to be together and imparts sage advice to both.

With a promise to reunite in six months (enough time for both to “clear house”) at the Empire State Building, tragedy keeps them apart and the audience is left without the humor that permeated the first half of the movie.

The final scene redeems the film, and the highly predictable plot and trite dialogue could only be pulled off by pros like Grant and Kerr. Apparently Ingrid Bergman was the original choice by director Leo McCarey, as he figured the duo from Hitchcock’s “Notorious” team could score him a hit, too. I’m glad she turned the film down, as Kerr is perfection.

See more Classic Movie & TV photos at my main website.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Temple Tuesday: “Mother” Survives!

In the 1936 film “Captain January,” one of orphaned Star’s (Shirley Temple) beloved possessions is a doll that represents her mother, who was killed in a shipwreck. Here’s a closeup of the prop that 20th Century-Fox created just for this movie:

Star knows very little about her dead mother, other than what she sees in a scrapbook found in a trunk from the wreck.

Apparently mama was an opera singer. Star covets the dress that she once wore on stage, which gets altered to fit the young girl for a comic musical number with costars Guy Kibbee and Slim Summerville.

In a miracle of survival, this fragile prop survived, thanks to a prop man who was allowed to take it home with him. Now you can see what the doll looks like in color:

The beloved doll (known as “Mother”) that was key to the plot in “Captain January” now resides in the hands of an avid Shirley fan.

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Happy Birthday, Claudette!

Wishing a heavenly birthday to one of my favorite actresses, Claudette Colbert, shown here in her Oscar winning role from “It Happened One Night” (1934). Below, she accepts her award from Shirley Temple on February 27, 1935. She was told of her win just as she was about to leave for vacation, thus the less-than-formal suit and hat she is wearing.

According to Vanity Fair:

When Oscars host Irvin S. Cobb announced at the Biltmore Bowl that Colbert had won the best actress Oscar, she was, according to numerous reports, at [Los Angeles] Union Station, already seated in her compartment aboard the luxury Super Chief train, waiting to depart for Chicago and then go on to New York. With “It Happened One Night”’s sweep progressing, Cohn, anxious for photographs to immortalize the night and publicize his film, reportedly screamed at Columbia publicists, “Find her!” Three of them, accompanied by Academy publicist Leroy Johnston, hopped into a limousine and, with motorcycle escorts, rushed to Union Station a mere 1.7 miles away. There, they located Colbert and told her to come with them. “I’ll miss my train!” she protested, but they had convinced the Super Chief to delay its departure. “I’m not dressed!” she continued, to which Johnston reportedly replied, “It’s the Nobel Prize of motion pictures!” (He apparently also reminded her that it might help with future contract negotiations.) Colbert reluctantly acquiesced, joining them in the limo for a quick trip back to the Biltmore. Self-conscious about being in a traveling skirt-suit (albeit one designed for her by the great Travis Banton) rather than a gown, she insisted on accessing the podium not through the crowd, but rather via a side entrance, and holding her mink coat up in front of her. Shirley Temple, who was in attendance to receive a special “juvenile award” later in the ceremony, was enlisted to make the presentation, and was plopped up onto a chair to do so. “I’m afraid I am just going to be very foolish and cry,” Colbert said as she accepted the gold statuette that had only been referred to in print as “Oscar” a year before. Then she posed with Temple for a few photos, before excusing herself and being rushed back to Union Station, where she caught her train.

Claudette starred in the David Selznick World War II drama, “Since You Went Away” (1943), with Robert Walker, Jennifer Jones, and Joseph Cotten. Below, she spars with frenemy Agnes Moorehead. In the background is perennial Hollywood bartender Irving Bacon.

A lovely publicity still of the actress from the same movie:

In 1987, she made her final appearance in “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,” a two-part miniseries on NBC with Ann-Margret.

How did the eighty-four year old Colbert hold up against the auburn-haired Swedish bombshell?

A Golden Globe win and Emmy nomination should tell you!

With one glance in this publicity portrait for “Grenvilles,” Colbert conveys a strength most people a fraction of her age would be incapable of.

See more Classic Movie & TV photos at my main website.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Tower of Terror: Gala or Bash?

Picture this: September 22, 2007, at The Hollywood Tower Hotel (aka HTH, aka Disney California Adventure’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction).

Decorated for Halloween, there is a spooky assortment of cobwebs and bats adorning this haunted landmark in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot section of DCA.

Inside, the lobby decor also reflects Halloween. A vintage masks hangs from a chair:

Miniature pumpkins are strewn across the garland that hangs from the ceiling:

A banner over the check-in desk does a semi-decent job of evoking 1939:

An empty jar of “Fresh Treats” sits on the lobby counter:

A poster announces the impending Halloween Gala at the Tip-Top C.L.U.B. with Anthony Fremont and his Orchestra (a nod to the November 3, 1961 episode of “The Twilight Zone”):

The same poster as it looked a year before, October 2006:

Now take a look at this miniature version that was displayed in the shop window, circa September 2008. Notice anything different?

First, the party is now being referred to as a “Bash” instead of a “Gala.” The Disney employee that printed out the large poster forgot to load the appropriate font for “and his orchestra.” A non-Art Deco font was substituted as a result. Here’s my cleaned-up version using “Gala” (definitely more appropriate for 1939): 

The poster has more of a 1990s look than one from 1939. The overuse of blends and more than 10 fonts gives this piece a somewhat computerized look. I wonder where this piece ended up once the Anaheim version was removed?

See more photos at my main website.