Welcome to Sister Celluloid: Where Old Movies Go To Live! I’m so happy we found each other! Here, it’s all about classic films—and you! It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. Please take a look around, and jump in on every story that interests you. Stop by often, as I’ll be adding lots of great history, news, interviews, photos etc. And I’ll be running contests for fabulous prizes like vintage jewelry, great books and terrific DVDs and CDs! Please scroll through, dig in and pipe up! I’d love to hear from you!
This his has nothing to do with classic film, but I feel like you’re family, so I hope you’ll bear with me in remembering my sweet, beloved Linus, who we lost last week. He lived to be sixteen years and eight months old, but his life seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.
We adopted him when he was just shy of three; he had been so horribly abused that a neighbor called the woman who ran the local no-kill shelter and begged her to somehow get the people who had him—I refuse to call them his family—to surrender him. In his early days with us, his trauma surfaced in heartbreaking ways, as when my husband Tim pulled on a pair of heavy boots to go out and shovel snow—and Linus wailed and shook violently, ran to a corner, and tried to dig his way into the wall.
When we first met him at the shelter, he was clearly anxious to be let out of the kennels. Far and away the smallest dog there, he broke free of his handler, snuggled into a spot on the sofa between us, sighed, and settled in. He was home already. While we waited to sign the final adoption papers—we’d already been through an application process the FBI would gaze upon in awe—I ran through a bunch of names in my mind. “What about Linus?” I asked Tim, thinking of the Peanuts character. “He’s looks so sweet and thoughtful, like he’s got a lot on his mind.” And when we got him home, the first thing he did was burrow deep into his carrier and pull out something that had been scrunched up in the back: his blanket.
He sniffed his way around his new home, and just to make sure we knew it was his, he peed on every rug. Then he curled up on the sofa with his brand-new stuffed bear, chewed the nose off and gleefully pulled out the stuffing.
The bear would be first of a long string of victims which ran the gamut from stuffed toys to silk eye masks.
Linus 1, Mister Fluffy Bunny 0.
And oh, yes, that poor Santa hat—his revenge for the 15 seconds he had to wear this silly outfit for a Christmas card photo.
He literally loved his soccer ball to bits, and no shiny new replacement—even if it was exactly the same thing—ever made him as happy. So I’d just grab his old one, gather up the trail of stuffing strewn across the living room floor, and sew it all back together again.
Only the Grinch was spared from being torn apart, and they became such fast friends that I took to leaving him out all year.
When we first brought Linus home, we weren’t sure how long his walks should be. No one had ever bothered to take him for a real walk before—at the shelter they’d heard he’d been let out in the yard maybe once or twice a day. And being a dachshund, he took a whole bunch of steps for every one of ours. So we decided to just walk him until he got tired.
He never got tired.
After three or four miles, I’d be splayed face-down on the sofa, and he’d be like, “So, where are we goin’ now, Ma?”
Sometimes before we even got to the street, he’d meet Patty or Helen or Michelle from our apartment building, who all adored him. And oh was it mutual. He’d squeal and yip, waggle his butt, and run up and smoosh against them, just unable to contain himself. And he’d bark at their husbands.
Down the street we sometimes ran into Jeff and John, who’d swoop off their stoop the minute they saw Linus. They even bought dog biscuits to keep on hand for him. One night when we passed Jeff, we didn’t stop because he was on the phone. But he let out a whoop and waved us over. He proceeded to tell the guy on the other end Linus’s entire life story—and then ignored him completely talk to Linus, asking over and over, “Who’s a good boy?”
We’d often stop at the coffee shop on our walks, where he’d make new friends. In the summer, I’d often hear a sudden “Ooh!” only to turn and discover Linus had rubbed his cold nose against someone’s bare calf. And then there was the firefighter with arms roughly the size of Bluto’s, who cooed baby-talk to him and treated me to a cappucino because he loved him so madly.
It took my breath away how open-hearted Linus was, after all the horrors he’d been through. People hold grudges for years, sometimes forever, over the tiniest slight. But once Linus was safe and happy and loved, he was willing—happy, even—to give the whole human race a second chance. He was such an old soul, such a sweet spirit.
For all his years in our family, Linus went with us just about everywhere. He especially loved the “come-withs” at our upstate house on weekends. And because he was crazy-smart, he picked up on clues instantly. When he saw Tim make any move toward the Linus bag—the little canvas pouch with his portable water dish and snacks—he’d go crazy. He also went nuts when I took my bra out of the drawer, because it meant I was going somewhere so probably he was too. It got to the point where if we were heading out without him on the weekend, I had to sneak my bra out when he wasn’t looking.
We took him on our vacations…
…on camping trips…
…on family visits to the lake…
…on day hikes (where once he was super-excited to meet a countryman)…
…to every park we could find (whether he was allowed there or not)…
…to street fairs and festivals…
…and to restaurants, where, on the rare occasion we dined outside without him, we’d get grilled about it by the waiters. (“We were just out shopping and we didn’t know we’d be stopping to eat!” we’d plead, heads down, like guilty criminals.) At one place where we dined often, the manager would greet him with a full plate of bacon. One day, a woman at a nearby table complained, “You served that dog before you waited on me!” and he replied dryly, “He’s a regular.” To know Linus was to love him to the point of obliviousness to all else.
And, um, yes, he had a little portable bed, to protect him from the hard ground. (Though sometimes after we finished our meals, he’d venture off just far enough to sneak a peek at what the people at the next table were having.)
He also had a bed to cushion his naps in the backyard. Okay fine, two beds.
Mostly, though, he roughed it.
Oh and he had a bed in the car, though sometimes it was more of a pillow.
Though having fluffy beds pretty much everywhere, including three in the house, didn’t stop him from checking out other options.
Linus was so sweet and supremely silly…
Once, in a rare attempt at hunting, he somehow wound up in a stack of planters, while the chipmunk had long since scampered down the driveway.
When it was too chilly for the yard but just warm enough to get near it, he loved to watch the world from the screenporch.
Being so close to the ground, Linus was not a huge fan of the cold and wet. (When we got a couple of inches of snow, I’d croon, “It’s up to your knees out there…”) He’d take a few steps and then lift a chilly front paw as if to say, “Taxi!” And I’d pick him up and carry him out to the plowed road for a quick walk. Then he’d come in for a vigorous pat-down with his super-absorbent doggie towel, play-fight with it after he was dry and happy, and burrow under his blankets again.
Always a sun puppy, in bleakest February he’d follow the scant rays around the house. (I call this The Linus in Winter.)
On sleepy weekend mornings, Linus had a little ritual he loved. I’d give him breakfast and take him out for a walk—and then he’d all but march me back to bed. (Tim was usually still there.) He’d head toward the bedroom, stop and turn around to make sure I was following him, and harrumph at me if I wasn’t moving fast enough. Then he’d stand by the bed and wait to be lifted up, barking at me to follow him under the covers so the three of us could snuggle.
He also made a huge fuss whenever Tim came home. You’ve seen the heartwarming videos of dogs whooping and jumping and hurling themselves wildly at returning soldiers, who’ve been away for years? That was Linus when Tim came back from the deli.
He loved belly rubs…
…and deep, long snoozes, and honest to God you’d sell your soul to sleep like that for five minutes.
And if he snoozed on something I needed, I’d just wait until he woke up.
He was also great at self-snuggling, where one minute he was lying flat on his blanket and the next he was a dachshund burrito.
Linus never met a snack he didn’t like (that’s a telltale yogurt ring on his face)…
…and his devotion to whatever you had on your plate bordered on the monastic.
A couple of weeks after we brought him home, we went out to a family dinner and brought home a big, fat, juicy steak bone. When we gave it to Linus, he didn’t seem to know what to do with it at first—because apparently in his almost three years of doggie life, no one had ever given him a bone. But he quickly caught on, and wouldn’t let go. We somehow managed to pry it away from him for his nightly walk, but upon returning, he raced down the hall, frantic to reclaim his prize. After that, he got lots of bones.
When my Mom visited, she actually teased us about spoiling him. Imagine. And then there was this.
But how else would I treat my best editor? When I was stuck for a word, I could always turn to him for support. Or, more often, just chuck what I was working on and curl up with him.
He’d also sense our miseries and truly sympathize. Whenever I cried, whether from something real or even an old movie, I’d soon find him clinging close to me.
Every autumn, on the Feast of St. Francis, we took Linus to be blessed, which I think may have helped him through the health crises in his life.
In the summer of 2007, a few weeks after my company closed its doors, I was spending some time with Linus upstate. One day, rather than racing around the yard, he seemed sluggish, mostly sitting in one spot under a tree. I chalked it up to the weather, which had grown more sultry as the afternoon wore on, and thought it best to bring him inside. But when I picked him up, he howled in pain. Trying (and failing) not to panic, I softly cradled him into his bed and called the vet, but they’d already closed. So I called a cab to get to the emergency vet in the next town.
An hour passed. No cab. By now the sky was black, and it was pouring. I called again (I vaguely remember screaming). A half-hour later, the cabbie drove right past me as I stood on the screenporch frantically waving my arms. I ran outside, caught up with him and jumped right in front of the car.
By the time Linus made it to the vet, his back legs were paralyzed. He had ruptured a disc and needed emergency surgery, but whether he’d ever walk again was highly uncertain. They brought him into the back, gave him steroids, pain medication and sedatives to stabilize him overnight, and told me to get him to Cornell veterinary hospital first thing in the morning. I called Tim from the front desk, sobbing so hard he could barely understand what I was saying.
As I waited for him to drive up from the city, I sat outside crying on a bench under an awning, as the rain pounded against it. A woman who’d seen me inside came out, sat beside me, and pulled my head onto her shoulder. “He’ll be alright,” she said over and over, like a lullaby, or maybe a prayer. I’ll never forget her. (And she was right.)
During the drive up to Cornell, I sat in back with Linus. Bundled in blankets, he clung to my lap, drifting in and out of a fearful, fitful sleep, trembling the whole time. When we arrived, they whisked him into surgery within an hour, removed the ruptured disc and fused the ones on either side. They were going to keep him for another three days, but he was so scared and miserable in his cage—he hadn’t spent a night without us since we first brought him home—that they let him leave a day early, giving us strict instructions on how to get him back on his feet.
Naturally, at first, he was wobbly as a newborn foal. I’d hold him as he took a few halting steps and then lose his footing and stumble to the ground. I started to look into scooters, in case he needed one. But then suddenly, less than a week after surgery, he went from staggering to running, in a single motion. So there we were in the yard, him scampering around like he’d never left, like it was just another Tuesday, and me crying my head off. I started to call Tim, but then I put the phone down. I wanted Linus to surprise
him when he came home.
The only lingering result of his trauma was that occasionally when he sat down, he would swing one leg out to the side, like Rita Hayworth in her pinup shots.
I told Tim if anything ever happened to me, he should take me to Cornell and tell them I’m a German Shepherd.
A few years later, a routine vet visit turned up some disturbing lab results. So we went back to Cornell, where a battery of tests revealed a dangerous tumor. He needed surgery right away, and the only available slot was the day before Thanksgiving. For the second time, everything went perfectly, and in their post-op report, the clearly perceptive vets actually wrote, “Linus is a very good dog.” Tim and I had our holiday dinner at the only place we could find open, a bar in downtown Ithaca. I ordered a cocktail, only to have the waiter snap, “Today we have beer and wine and that’s it.” Yipes. But since he was stuck working, I could hardly blame him for sounding like Sheldon Leonard in It’s a Wonderful Life. (“We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere!”)
And once again Linus, desperate to go home, was released early, enjoying some post-holiday deli turkey on the trip back.
But the following year, Linus was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is something of a plague for dachshunds. Every story I dug up was more horrible than the one before, and the typical prognosis was two years. Linus was blessed with another four, and until he was near the end, fate was somewhat benevolent to him. But in the last few months, one by one, a series of cruel symptoms came crashing down on him. Cushing’s attacked his retinas, dementia darkened his wonderful mind, and sometimes he struggled to stand. Before, the vets always had an answer. Now they had none.
Often I’d pick him up, wrap my arms close around him, and try to will time and trauma away. Do your worst to me, I’d plead, but leave his little fourteen-pound body alone.
It’s one of the cruelest twists of nature that they get so much less time on this earth than we do. I would have happily shared my years with him if I could have.
The night before Linus died, Tim and I slept on either side of him, guardians at the gate with nothing left in our desperately depleted arsenal but how much we loved him. At first, he shared my pillow, his nose pressed against my neck. But then he shifted, resting his head on my hand and curling his body into the crook of my arm. Then he sighed and settled down, just as he did those first few moments we welcomed him into our family.
Despite his age and his illness, losing Linus was an awful, sudden shock. Losing someone you love so much always is; there’s no “preparing” for it. It’s not just a turn of phrase to say I don’t know what to do without him. I really don’t. I can’t put his beds and blankets and bowls away, but I can’t bear to look at them either. I can barely breathe.
I know he lived a long, happy life, and he was loved like crazy, and we’ll always have our memories of him. But none of that helps right now. I’ve collapsed in tears in the diner, in the supermarket, on the street, everywhere. And it’s worse at home. I wake up crying and go to sleep the same way. I miss everything about him, even the smallest things, like the sound of him lapping at his water bowl and his paws click-clacking on the floor. As little as he was, he filled the house. And he filled my heart. Losing him has thrown open the gates to a very dark place I can’t find my way out of without him.
Goodnight and sleep safe, my sweet, silly, beautiful, beloved pup. You were such an indescribable blessing, beyond any words I can find. I have no idea if there’s a God, but there better be a Heaven for you. May the angels hold you as close as we did for all those wonderful years.
O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure Shelley was talking about Audrey Hepburn’s birthday. Which we’ll be celebrating in a big way here at Sister Celluloid!
On May 4, Audrey would have turned 90—and we’re hoping to capture every aspect of her remarkable life with the Salute to Audrey Hepburn Blogathon. We hope you’ll join us in honoring this extraordinary woman.
The ground rules are broad and simple: You can focus on a movie or any other aspect of her career, her philanthropic work, her style, her early years and near-miraculous survival under the brutal Nazi regime… whatever touches you the most. We won’t have more than two articles on any one film, though, and at some point we’ll draw the line if too many people want to write about one facet of her life.
And if you’ve already written about Audrey, you’re welcome to share that as well.
At the bottom of your story, please post one of the banners below and link to this post, saying something along the lines of: This piece is included in Audrey at 90: The Salute to Audrey Hepburn Blogathon, sponsored by Sister Celluloid. To see the rest of the posts, just click here.
Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) on the terrace of the Restaurant Hammetschwand at the summit of the Bürgenstock, Switzerland, circa 1955. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
I’ll be posting about Robert Matzen’s upcoming book, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in World War II, which will be released in April and which you’ll want to pick up, as it’s an incredible story beautifully told—and will leave you even more in awe of Audrey.
The blogathon will run from May 4 to May 7, so you have time to think about what you want to contribute. But the earlier you let us know what you want to write about, the better your chances of securing that subject. You are also welcome to post your entry any time between now and May 7; just send the link in the comments section and we’ll include a live link to it in the roster below.
Here’s the list so far:
Sister Celluloid: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and WWII Caftan Woman: Charade
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: A Tribute to Audrey
Cinema Cities: Audrey’s five Oscar-nominated performances
Cinematic Scribblings: Two for the Road Moon in Gemini: The Nun’s Story
Thoughts All Sorts: Roman Holiday Realweegiemidget Reviews: Robin and Marian Three Enchanting Ladies: Funny Face The Stop Button: Secret People The Story Enthusiast: Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto The Pale Writer: Audrey’s early career and How to Steal a Million Love Letters to Old Hollywood: Love in the Afternoon Champagne for Lunch: The Nun’s Story and Robin and Marian
Please request your topics in the comments section. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Welcome to another edition of TINTYPE TUESDAY! This week, we’re off to see The Wizard of Oz on the big screen, courtesy of TCM and Fathom Events. For tickets, just click here!
But before heading out, let’s take a peek at what was really going on behind the curtain. The Kansas tornado was nothing compared to the blizzard of cast and script changes—not to mention the many mishaps, including a couple of near-fatalities. Even Toto didn’t escape unscathed…
Dorothy: Both MGM unit head Arthur Freed and music maven Roger Edens fought for Judy Garland, but Louis B. Mayer—who often derided the painfully insecure teenager as “my little hunchback”—pressured producer Mervyn LeRoy to do whatever it took to land Shirley Temple for the lead. Fortunately, all attempts to get 20th Century Fox to loan out the wildly popular moppet went nowhere. (However, the long-standing rumor that MGM offered to swap the services of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow for Temple is false; Harlow succumbed to renal failure in June 1937, before MGM even had the rights to the book.) Deanna Durbin, whom Mayer openly preferred to Garland, was also considered—but because the film initially had a sub-plot involving Betty Jaynes, another operatic singer, she was dropped from the running. So Mayer had to “settle” for Judy. (Oh and her ruby slippers were originally silver, as they were in the book. But in the age of Technicolor, red won out.)
The Scarecrow: Buddy Ebsen was the first loose-limbed, lanky dancer to step into the role, which would have worked out much better for him, as we’ll soon see… but Ray Bolger ultimately carried the day (and the hay). He also carried lines on his face from the rubber prosthetics for more than a year after filming ended. For that kind of grief, you’d think they’d have left his original dance number—longer, trippier, and choreographed by none other than Busby Berkeley—in the film:
The Tin Man: Much to his disappointment, Bolger was first cast in this clunkier role. If he’d only had the heart… but he longed to be the Scarecrow, the part he’d seen his childhood hero, Fred Stone, play in the 1902 Broadway show—which is what inspired him to hit the boards in the first place. “I’m not a tin performer—I’m fluid!” he reportedly pleaded to LeRoy, who finally caved in, allowing Bolger and Ebsen to swap roles. Ebsen was an absolute peach about the whole thing, even teaching Bolger the “wobbly walk” he’d perfected in rehearsals. But no good deed goes unpunished, and this one almost killed him: after about a week of breathing in the toxic aluminum powder that covered his “tin” face, Ebsen was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. (At first, Mayer—who assumed other people’s morals were as low as his own—thought the actor was faking an illness as some sort of contract ploy. So he dispatched his minions to the hospital—where they found Ebsen strapped into an iron lung.)
When Jack Haley, on loan from Fox, arrived to replace him, the make-up artists were much more careful: they protected his face with a thick layer of white greasepaint and diluted the aluminum powder into a paste. (Oh, and they never told him why his predecessor left the film—on a stretcher.) Ebsen didn’t vanish entirely, though: his voice can still be heard in the group vocals, as there was no time to re-record them.
And given all the gruesome drama surrounding the Tin Man, perhaps it’s appropriate that they used chocolate syrup to produce his tears—a technique later used by Hitchcock for the blood circling the drain in Psycho.
The Cowardly Lion: Bert Lahr’s costume was made of actual lion pelts—and weighed almost 100 pounds. The valiant wardrobe team did their best to rinse the sweat out of the sopping-wet suit at the end of each day, but, in the words of one unlucky staffer, “it reeked.”
The Wicked Witch of the West: Initially, the witch was fashioned along the glamorous lines of the evil queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When she morphed into something decidedly more hag-like—including green skin, a long, pointy nose and a wart or ten—Gale Sondergaard, MGM’s original choice, pointed her pumps toward the exit. Margaret Hamilton was cast just three days before shooting began. Told by her agent she was up for a part in the film, she asked which one. “The wicked witch—what else?” he helpfully replied. (That 10% they get? It ain’t for morale-boosting!)
She didn’t get much more respect after she signed on: her dressing room was a makeshift canvas tent, while Billie Burke had a hideaway that MGM dreams are made of. “She had a pink and blue dressing room, with pink and blue powder puffs and pink and blue bottles filled with powder and baby oil—and pink and blue peppermints,” Hamilton later recalled, admitting that she sometimes popped in for a nap on the glamorous Glinda’s days off.
And God knows she needed the rest, as she proved to be the second casualty on the set: In the scene where she seems to disappear in a cloud of fire and smoke, she very nearly did. At the last minute, a moving platform was supposed to lower her out of harm’s way, but her cape got snagged and she was trapped amid the flames—which fed on the greasepaint and copper makeup slathered on her face, arms and hands. Before she could be pulled free, the fire had seared into her skin, leaving her with second- and third-degree burns. Wise woman that she was, she later refused to do a post-production pick-up scene that involved a flaming broomstick. So they had to make do with maiming her stand-in: the smoke mechanism exploded, burning and permanently scarring Betty Danko’s legs.
The Wizard of Oz: After Ed Wynn refused the part because it wasn’t big enough, MGM turned to W.C. Fields, who thought the paycheck wasn’t big enough. During a few protracted rounds of haggling—they offered $75,000, he wanted $100,000—the producers burned while Fields fiddled. They finally gave out and offered the role to Frank Morgan.
Oh and here’s a story you might have to close your eyes and click your heels together to believe, but some swear it’s true, and if it isn’t (which is probably the case), it should be: When wardrobe staffers went scavenging through second-hand stores to find the perfect tattered coat for Morgan, they returned with an armload of samples for Victor Fleming to choose from. He settled on one he thought conveyed just the right touch of “shabby gentility”—and, idly turning out the pockets, found a label with L. Frank Baum’s name on it. An MGM publicist reportedly contacted the tailor and Baum’s widow, who confirmed it was his (he did live in L.A. for a time), and the studio presented her with the coat at filming’s end.
Toto: Shirley Temple may never have made it to Oz, but she did meet Toto five years before Garland did. Terry the terrier appeared in 16 films, including Temple’s Bright Eyes, as well as Fury, The Women and George Washington Slept Here. In Tortilla Flat, she re-teamed with Morgan and Fleming, and in Twin Beds, she reunited with Hamilton. Her $125 weekly salary for Oz was more than double than that of the Munchkins, who each earned $50 a week. And as it turned out, Terry should have gotten combat pay: one of the Wicked Witch’s heavy-heeled henchmen stepped on her tiny paw and broke it, sidelining her for several weeks. After filming, Garland, who’d fallen in love with the dog, wanted to adopt her, but the owner wouldn’t… surrender Terry.
All of which bring us to the director. Or directors. Richard Thorpe, whose previous work consisted mainly of quickie westerns, was first at the helm, but LeRoy felt he was shooting the film more like a low-budget oater than a lavish fantasy, rushing scenes along and not giving the production the care it deserved.
While he searched for a replacement, LeRoy left the project in the tender hands of George Cukor—who, in his brief stint as caretaker, made some critical changes. First, he ditched Garland’s blonde wig and heavy glamour-girl makeup, which made her look ridiculous and feel worse.
He also told Garland to relax and simply be herself—a lovely, vulnerable teenage girl—which was just what the part called for. Then he did something less crucial but pretty fabulous: he brought in Adrian to design the Wicked Witch’s costume. Which, if you peer beyond the black-on-black, is a real work of art, with its lace bodice, cut-out mutton sleeves, and pouch dangling fetchingly from the hip. To her pointy hat, Adrian added a long, silky-sheer scarf that floats menacingly behind her, like an ill wind.
Cukor was never meant to stay on when production began in earnest; he was due over at Gone with the Wind. Victor Fleming took the reins in October 1938, and oversaw everything but the sepia-tone scenes (including the Over the Rainbow number) that book-end Dorothy’s adventures in Oz. But the following February, he was called away suddenly… to direct Gone with the Wind after Cukor was fired. Fleming’s close friend King Vidor came aboard to gently shepherd the crucial Kansas scenes through to completion, but never publicly acknowledged his involvement until after Fleming’s death in 1949.
And as if Fleming didn’t have enough on his mind during the shoot, he also had to protect Garland from her scenery-chewing companions on the Yellow Brick Road, seasoned old vaudeville pros who were none too excited about surrendering the spotlight to her (as she laughingly recalls in a clip from The Jack Paar Show, below). Ironically, her only close friend on the set was Hamilton, a former kindergarten teacher who gave her some much-needed mothering.
Whew! There’s enough material behind the scenes of The Wizard of Oz for a whole other movie… but in the meantime, enjoy seeing the original again on the big screen!
TINTYPE TUESDAY is a weekly feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and backstory!) to help you make it to Hump Day! For previous editions, just click here—and why not bookmark the page, to make sure you never miss a week?
She sizzled onscreen with the hottest leading men in Hollywood—Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, Robert Donat, James Stewart, Ronald Colman—but Marlene Dietrich’s most memorable co-star may have been a balding, jowly, irascible middle-aged man. While entertaining the troops during World War II, she ventured within a mile of the German front lines on the arm of Gen. George Patton. When asked why she’d take such a huge risk—especially when the Nazi government had placed a seven-figure bounty on her head—she replied, “Aus anstand.” Out of decency.
A staunch anti-Nazi, the Berlin-born actress had become a U.S. citizen in 1939, refusing a personal request from Adolf Hitler to return to Germany as the centerpiece of his propaganda campaign. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was one of the first in line to sell war bonds.
After barnstorming the country for a year and a half, selling more bonds than any other star, Dietrich headed…
Merry Christmas, my wonderful classic-movie family of friends!!
Here’s a little ditty I wrote, sung to the tune of All I Want For Christmas Is You, celebrating some of the men we all love so much! I say “some” because if I included them all, all I’d get for Christmas is carpal tunnel syndrome.
I hope you like it! Here goes:
I don’t want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need—
All my favorite classic-film gents
Underneath the Christmas tree!
Silver tinsel may be lovely Tucked among the red and green, But it isn’t half as nice as Presents from the silver screen!
Clark and Cary and Tyrone,
I just want you for my own! Make my wish come true! Baby all I want for Christmas Is you… and you… and you…
William Powell and Buster Keaton, Bogie, Coop and Colin Clive! I’ll be decked out in my Deco Waiting for you to arrive!
I would even hang Silk Stockings
High upon the fireplace
If Astaire would come a-calling
With his elegance and grace!
And I want Gene Kelly too,
Singing till the Rain is through!
Make my wish come true!
Baby all I want for Christmas
Is you… and you… and you…
I would laugh for Melvyn Douglas
Louder than Miss Garbo did, And I’d dance for Warner Baxter Better than that Keeler kid!
I’ve reserved a spot for Errol
Right there next to Joel McCrea!
Fred MacMurray, Henry Fonda,
Say hello to Charles Boyer!
Hi there, Bob Montgomery!
Grab a spot beneath the tree!
Walter Huston toooooooooo!
Baby all I want for Christmas
Is you… and you… and you…
BAXTER , Warner, 193O , Fox, Renegades.
Leslie, Basil, Claude and Ronnie,
I would surely be a ditz
If I didn’t mistletoe with
Some of those enchanting Brits!
Clear the floor for Jimmy Cagney
Tapping out a Christmas tune!
Let the downstairs neighbors gripe but
I say he can stay till June!
Warren William, Ray Milland!
Join our merry little band!
Joseph Cotten toooooooooo!
Baby all I want for Christmas
Is you… and you… and you…
August 1928: English actor Leslie Howard starring in ‘Her Cardboard Lover’. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas… Ah, who can forget that classic scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, when, as the snow drifts gently past the window, Esther (Judy Garland) is comforting her little sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), who’s distraught over leaving their beloved home. And remember how Esther gently croons that she better damn well enjoy this holiday season, because it may be her last happy Christmas ever? No? Not ringing a bell? You can thank Garland and her leading man for that. Here, roughly, were Hugh Martin’s original lyrics:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas… It may be your last! Next year we may all be living in the past!
Have yourself a merry little Christmas… Pop that champagne cork! Next year we may all be living in New York!
No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore! Faithful friends who were dear to us Will be near to us no more!
But at least we all will be together If the Lord allows! From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow! So have yourself a merry little Christmas now!
Garland was the first to approach Martin, suggesting that only a stone-cold sadist would sing that to a sobbing child. “Judy said—and she was right of course—that they were too depressing!” recalled O’Brien at the 2014 TCM Film Festival screening of the film. “She told Hugh, ‘I would never say things like that to her when she’s already so upset!’”
You’d think Judy—who, even at 22, knew a thing or two about the emotional wallop of a song—would’ve been able to sway Martin. But he staunchly stuck to his original lyrics, leaving the two at an impasse—and the production limping along for weeks with no Christmas song. Then Tom Drake, who played Judy’s love interest, happened upon the most foolproof solution in the world: appeal to the songwriter’s ego. “You know,” he told him, “this could be an immortal Christmas song if you weren’t so stubborn…”
That did it. So now we have this:
Oh and have you heard the popular story about how they got O’Brien to cry for that scene? At the TCM Fest, she thoroughly demolished it.
“That rumor, it’s out there everywhere—that to get me to cry, my mother told me my dog was hit by a car or something like that,” O’Brien said, rolling her wide brown eyes to the rafters of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. “Well she would never do anything like that. And anyway, what she did do was much more effective.”
It seems O’Brien and June Allyson were known around MGM as “the sob sisters,” thanks to their uncanny knack for crying on cue. But O’Brien was having such a great time making the film—and working with Garland, who took her big-sister role to heart—that in take after take, she couldn’t shed a drop. “My mother took me aside and said, ‘Now honey, don’t worry, they can just use glycerin drops if you can’t cry,” O’Brien said. “But you know, June would be able to make real tears.’ And that made me burst out crying!”
If they really wanted to see waterworks, they could have had Judy sing her the original version of the song.
On that note, to my classic movie family of friends,
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Pop that champagne cork!
Sending lots of loving wishes from New York!
“I’m so aristocratic on stage it’s a wonder I don’t come out blue when I take a bath.”
Probably best known as the hopelessly haughty Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice—who seemed to smell cabbage whenever Elizabeth Bennet stepped into the room—Frieda Inescort took a wry view of her typecasting. But there was so much more to her than that.
Born with the new century in 1901, Frieda was the daughter of John “Jock” Wrightman and Elaine Inescourt, an Edinburgh journalist and actress who met when he reviewed her performance in a play. Favorably, I assume, as Elaine seemed to be a bit of a galloping narcissist: After her husband divorced her on the grounds of abandonment and adultery, she basically carted Frieda off to convent schools for most of her childhood while she pursued her social life and career—the latter, at least, to limited avail. (Later on, her deep resentment of her daughter’s success left the two permanently estranged.)
With sporadic schooling but possessed of a bearing beyond her years, Frieda was barely out of her teens when she sailed to the States as the personal secretary of Lord Waldorf Astor and his American wife, Nancy. When they headed back home, their adventurous charge stayed on in New York to seek out a stage career, working at the British consulate by day. She made her Broadway debut at just 21, opposite Leslie Howard in A.A. Milne’s comedy The Truth About Blayds. There, she was spotted by Philip Barry, who cast her as the lead in his new play, You and I.
Frieda worked steadily through the 1920s, with key roles in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever and Alfred Wing Pinero’s Trelawney of the Wells, and as the headstrong Mary Howard in When Ladies Meet (later played by Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford onscreen). She also shone as Eliza Doolittle in the Theater Guild’s national tour of Pygmalion. But knowing how fragile a stage career could be, she usually kept a day job—and while working at the publishing house of George Putnam (who later married Amelia Earhart), she met her husband, Ben Ray Redman, who soon became the literary critic for the New York Herald Tribune.
She had always resisted the lure of the screen, turning down roles in silents and early talkies. But when Redman was offered a consulting job with Universal Studios, the couple went West. Picking up her stage career in Hollywood, she was quickly singled out and signed by a scout for the Goldwyn Company, and in 1935 made her film debut as Fredric March’s sympathetic secretary in The Dark Angel.
Her natural warmth, set off by her wide eyes, patrician profile, and soothing, melodic voice, should have made her a natural for leading roles. But at 34 (!), she was deemed too old, and quickly settled into secondary parts. Sometimes she supported stars, as in Mary of Scotland, but more often she lost out to romantic rivals, as in Another Dawn, Give Me Your Heart, Beauty for the Asking, You’ll Never Get Rich, and most famously, Pride and Prejudice, where the temperature dropped 30 degrees every time the icy Miss Bingley appeared onscreen.
But every now and then, we got a tantalizing glimpse of what Frieda’s career as a leading lady might have looked like. In Archie Mayo’s Call It a Day—where she’s sixth-billed but clearly the heart of the film—she even gets to cut loose in a comedy, as the befuddled calm at the center of a spring storm that drives her whole family a bit mad. And watching her try to politely fend off Roland Young, as a thoroughly confused but violently smitten suitor, is pure joy.
Early on in the film, they do their best to dowdy her up a bit—at 36, she’s supposed to have been married 22 years, with a grown daughter (21-year-old Olivia de Havilland)—but she’s still pretty breathtaking, especially in the last scene, when Orry-Kelly really comes through for her. She should have had bushels of roles, and scenes, like this.
Even in as broad a film as Call It a Day, Frieda never acted “out loud,” instinctively knowing when to underplay. Utterly natural, she never gave a “look at me” performance, which, I suspect, is one reason she didn’t get the bigger roles she deserved. (That, and of course the fact that, by her mid-thirties, much-older studio bosses had deemed her one step short of decrepitude.)
Her other, rare leading roles were mostly in B-films such as Convicted Woman, Shadow on the Stairs, and Portia on Trial, where she stars as a feminist attorney defending a woman who shot her lover—kind of a precursor to Amanda in Adam’s Rib, but with roughly twice the vitriol. (Sample: “You seem to be a frustrated, mentally snarled woman!”—and that’s from the guy who loves her.)
Walter Abel watches Frieda Inescort while they stand before the judge in the 1937 film Portia on Trial. (Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Higher-profile films usually found her back in supporting roles. In The Letter, she was Bette Davis’s elegant rock, quick with a cocktail and a silk-clad shoulder. (And like Bette—who needed no double as she furiously crocheted her way through a murder trial—Frieda was one of Hollywood’s inveterate knitters, sending lovely, intricately crafted gifts to friends and colleagues.)
In the mid-1940s, when good movie roles grew inexplicably scarcer, Frieda returned to Broadway for The Soldier’s Wife, The Mermaids Singing and a hit revival of Shaw’s You Never Can Tell. After touring with the Shaw play, she returned to Hollywood, often focusing on the fledgling medium of television, including a recurring role on Meet Corliss Archer and a guest turn on Perry Mason. Her last major movie role was as Ann Vickers, Elizabeth Taylor’s increasingly alarmed mother, in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun.
In 1960, while filming a small role in her last movie, The Crowded Sky, Frieda began struggling with her balance and muscle control. Soon after, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and within a year she was walking with the aid of a cane. The following August, her husband of 35 years, overwhelmed by career and financial woes, called her into the bedroom and calmly informed her he’d just swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. He succumbed to an overdose before help could arrive.
The shock and stress of his suicide accelerated the pace of Frieda’s disease, and by the mid-1960s, she was confined to a wheelchair. Determined not to feel helpless, she threw herself into raising funds for local MS organizations. Deeming no task too humble, she’d often join other volunteers collecting donations in malls and outside supermarkets. When her condition worsened and she could no longer live on her own, Frieda reluctantly surrendered her independence and moved to the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills. She died in February 1976, at 74.
This article is included in the “What a Character!” blogathon. To read the rest of the entries, just click here!
Does the current crop of Christmas movies make you yearn to go back to 1947? I mean even more than you normally do? Then let’s journey together back to that magical time…
…when the lovely Maureen O’Hara was ready to pretty much punch someone in the face. She’d just flown home to Ireland after back-to-back shoots on The Homestretch and Sinbad the Sailor, and was all set to curl up with a cuppa and relax for a spell. So just imagine her excitement when she was suddenly summoned off the sofa and clear across the ocean to New York to star in a little confection called Miracle on 34th Street.
Luckily for 20th Century Fox, she fell in love with the script the instant she read it.
Which is more than you can say for Darryl F. Zanuck, who didn’t want to make the “corny” film at all. Director George Seaton, who’d thrown his heart into the project, fought back hard—finally wangling a paltry $630,000 budget out of the cynical studio boss in exchange for a promise to direct The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, which Zanuck was willing to pour five times as much money into. (And which we all gather ’round the TV to watch every year! Oh wait…)
For O’Hara, a divorced working mother herself, the part of Doris Walker was an especially good fit, and also a chance to cast her glow on the kind of role rarely seen in films of the 1940s. (The powerful Legion of Decency found the portrayal of divorcées on screen to be “morally objectionable.”)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present a newly restored print of the Oscar¨-winning Christmas classic ÒMiracle on 34th StreetÓ on Thursday, December 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The 35mm print to be screened is from the collection of the Academy Film Archive, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, and is presented as part of the AcademyÕs Gold Standard screening series. Pictured: Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, and Maureen O’Hara in a scene from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, 1947.
Once the perfect leading lady was on board, the search for Santa was on. The first choice was Cecil Kellaway, who turned down the part but suggested his cousin, Edmund Gwenn. “I’ve never seen an actor more naturally suited for a role,” O’Hara later recalled.
So much so that until she saw him in street clothes at the wrap party, Natalie Wood—who said she’d been “on the cusp of not believing in Santa Claus”—thought her beloved co-star was the real thing. And this was no sheltered, impressionable child: known as “One Take Natalie” for her photographic memory, Wood was whip-smart and had what Seaton called “an instinctive sense of timing and emotion.” And if she felt Gwenn was Santa Claus, who are we to argue?
Unbeknownst to the thousands of spectators lining the streets of New York, Gwenn was also Santa Claus at the 1946 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, even greeting the crowd from the store’s marquee. To make sure he got ample footage, Seaton set up 14 cameras all along the route. “It was a mad scramble to get all the shots we needed because we only got to do each scene once,” recalled O’Hara. “The parade couldn’t stop because we needed a second take!”
In fact, in an era when soundstages ruled the day, almost the entire film was shot on location—during a winter so bitterly cold that the chill sometimes froze the cameras.”One scene was shot in Port Washington, New York, where a woman let us warm up in her house,” O’Hara later laughed. “The crew put the cameras in front of her living room fireplace to thaw out… finally the cameras defrosted and we were able to finish the scene. Her generosity was one of the miracles in Miracle on 34th Street!”
The closeknit cast also helped to warm things up. “John Payne was a wonderful person to work with,” O’Hara remembered. “And he became one of my dearest friends.”
O’Hara was especially close to her screen daughter: “I played ‘Mom’ to more than forty children during my movie career. But Natalie always held a special place in my heart. She called me ‘Mama Maureen.'”
The scenes in Macy’s were shot after hours, which thrilled the adventurous eight-year-old: “Natalie loved to work at night because she got to say up late. With all the shoppers gone, we walked through the store and examined all the toys and girls’ dresses and shoes,” said O’Hara. “It was a special time for us.”
“Mama Maureen” was also kinder and more lenient than Wood’s own notorious stage mother: “I brought a bag of chocolates for Edmund every day. We hid the candy from Natalie because her mother didn’t want her to have any.
“One day, Edmund got some chocolate all over his white beard, and Natalie spotted it immediately. We let her sneak some, but we made sure her mother never caught us.”
Wood found a special way to thank her movie mother for her much-needed warmth. “At least once a week, she gave me a little ceramic figurine she’d made,” O’Hara remembered. “I took them all down to my home in the Virgin Islands but when Hurricane Hugo hit, they were all literally blown away. I couldn’t find a single one.”
When the movie wrapped, the cast and director were pretty confident audiences would love seeing the film as much as they loved making it. But Zanuck remained unconvinced—and in another stroke of genius, decided to release the film in June, when, he argued, movie attendance was higher. This left the studio scrambling to promote a Christmas film without ever calling it a Christmas film. Which brings us to this head-smackingly odd trailer:
In it, the studio boss, who’s something of an imbecile (did Zanuck see this?), bellows, “What do you make a trailer for? To give the public an idea of what kind of picture to expect!” Then—Irony Alert!—they completely sidestep the fact that this is a Christmas movie. The boss wanders out onto the lot, buttonholing passing stars like Rex Harrison and Anne Baxter for their opinions of the film. They all love it, for wildly different reasons (Peggy Ann Garner calls it groovy!) but no one dares utter the “C” word.
Joining the long list of films that succeeded in spite of studio bosses rather than because of them, Miracle on 34th Street ultimately found its (sandal-clad) audience, recouping its skimpy budget several times over. And along with The Bishop’s Wife, it was one of two Christmas films vying for Best Picture at the 1948 Academy Awards ceremony. Both lost to Gentlemen’s Agreement.
Gwenn fared better, taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor against a brutal field. Literally. Two of his rivals—Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death and Robert Ryan in Crossfire—played noir characters legendary for their viciousness. So the next time you see Tommy Udo push Mrs. Rizzo down that flight of stairs, just remember that ultimately, he was beaten by Santa Claus.
As you can hear in the clip below, the applause that greets his name—or as presenter Baxter would call it a few years later, “waves of love coming over the footlights”—make it clear who the winner will be. “Whew! Now I know there’s a Santa Claus,” Gwenn tells his adoring colleagues. “He’s an elusive little fellow… he turns up in all sorts of places under all sorts of names and disguises. The first time I met him, he told me his name was George Seaton…” And later, his voice breaking, “Thank you, all of you, for making the evening of my life such a happy one.”
Actor Edmund Gwenn (right) and writer George Seaton (left) holding their Oscars for the film ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, with presenter Anne Baxter, at the 20th Academy Awards, Los Angeles, March 20th 1948. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
And finally, here a few bits of Miracle on 34th Street trivia to toss around the Christmas table:
Remember when Kris Kringle is taking his sanity test, and to show off his memory, he proudly proclaims that the Vice President under John Quincy Adams was Daniel D. Tomkins? Um, no, he served under James Monroe. Adams’ veep was John Calhoun, whose picture is too scary to put in a Christmas story. (Google him. Yikes.) So the next time you watch the movie with friends, be sure to smugly point out this mistake! (And never be invited back!)
Macy’s Christmas window displays were made by Steiff, famous for their stuffed bears and other toys. After the movie wrapped, the store sold them to FAO Schwarz, which later sold them, improbably, to the Marshall & Ilsley Bank in Milwaukee, where they’re showcased every year in the main lobby.
Gene Lockhart, who plays the judge, was also Bob Cratchit in the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. And Percy Helton, who played the drunken Santa Claus, also popped up as the train conductor in White Christmas. Oh and speaking of making a bit too merry, here’s a Gimbel’s ad from the year Miracle on 34th Street came out:
The movie also gave us the gift that keeps on giving: the film debut of Thelma Ritter, who went on to win six Oscar nods while never moving out of Queens. And typically, she’s the one who sets the whole Christmas détente between Macy’s and Gimbels in motion.
Ever wonder what Kris Kringle and the little Dutch refugee who sits on his knee are talking about? Here’s the translation:
Kris Kringle: I’m happy you came! Little Girl: Ooh, you are Sinterklaas! Kris Kringle: Well yes, of course! Little Girl: I knew it! I knew you would understand me! Kris Kringle: Of course! Tell me what you would like to get from Sinterklaas. Little Girl: I don’t want anything… I already have everything… I just want to stay with this lovely lady. Kris Kringle: Do you want to sing something for me? Little Girl (singing): Saint Nicholas, little rascal, Put something in my little shoe! Put something in my little boot! Thank you, little Saint Nicholas! Saint Nicholas little rascal, Put something in my little shoe! Put something in my little boot! Thank you, little Saint Nicholas!
The house Natalie Wood bolts into at the end of the movie still stands, at 24 Derby Road in Port Washington. It looks almost exactly the same today, but for the addition of a window that changed the roofline.
It seems only fitting to give the final word to Maureen: “I’m so proud to have been part of Miracle on 34th Street.” And we’re so grateful you were. We still miss you, dear lady. And we’ll never forget what you told us:
TINTYPE TUESDAY is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and backstory!) to help you make it to Hump Day! For previous editions, just click here—and why not bookmark the page, to make sure you never miss a week?
Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed free films for you to watch right here!
“The first spring day is in the Devil’s pay.”
So the Hilton family is about to discover in Archie Mayo’s Call It a Day. The temptingly warm rays have loosened their coats, their collars, and their inhibitions—along with everybody else’s.
Catherine Hilton (Olivia de Havilland) is swooning over a caddish artist twice her age, sister Ann (Bonita Granville) is mooning over Rosetti, and brother Martin (Peter Willes) longs to hijack the family car and make a dash for the continent.
And their parents are no less wobbly: Roger (Ian Hunter), usually a sane, sturdy accountant, is half-heartedly fending off advances from a film actress who’s sought him out to untangle her taxes, and Dorothy (Frieda Inescort), the absolute brick of this brood, is caught up in a case of mistaken identity with the world’s most ardent suitor (Roland Young; more on him here).
And just as spring turns the family’s lives upside down, the movie kicks the legs out from under some tedious typecasting. In film after film, the doughily hot Ian Hunter loses the girl to someone not nearly as worthy (including George Brent, for God’s sake). Here, he not only starts out with the girl, but finds another in mad pursuit.
And Frieda Inescort was often relegated to chilly supporting roles, perhaps most famously as Carolyn Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, where she treated Elizabeth Bennet like a vaguely foul odor that had wafted in with the dustman. But here, she gets to break out into screwball comedy and mix it up romantically with not one but two men, while tenderly carrying her family and the whole film on her elegant shoulders. And on top of all that, perennial brat Bonita Granville gets to show off her dreamier side.
Dorothy’s romantic mix-up is set in motion as she’s out at the market, dutifully shopping for radishes—when she’s bumbled into by Frank Haines (Young), who’s immediately smitten. Frank’s sister (Alice Brady), who’s also a friend of Dorothy’s, has set him up with a local spinster, and when Dorothy meets Frank later that day, he’s thrilled—thinking she’s his intended. Even when he learns she’s happily married, he’s undeterred:
Frank: Does he beat you? Dorothy: What?! Frank: Does he beat you? Dorothy: Who, Roger? Good heavens, no! Frank: Oh, but he must! It’s only fair! You’re desperate and unhappy and I’ve come to your rescue. That’s the way it’s got to be.
He then suggests she ditch the kids and run away with him.
Dorothy: What? Give up my children? Frank: You’ve had them long enough, haven’t you? Well, divide them up then! Dorothy: I couldn’t do that. There are three of them. It wouldn’t come out even.
And on it goes…
For me, Call It a Day falls into the same bucket as another 1937 comedy we’ve featured here, Stand In: criminally underseen and deserving of a lot more love. To watch the whole film, just click here!
STREAMING SATURDAYS is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free, fabulous films! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?