Not long ago, while nursing an ankle I managed to break in three places during one fall down the stairs, I took up knitting. This was my first effort:
“Oh, my,” you may be thinking. “What a lovely… um, collar… thing?”
It was supposed to be a scarf. I still don’t know how it got that way. I only know that once it started wrapping itself around my thigh, I thought it wise to stop before it either cut off the circulation or had to buy me dinner. (Happy ending, though! In a rare non-judgmental moment, the cat decided he loved it.)
If only one of Hollywood’s classic stars had been there to rescue me. Because those babes knitted like fiends.
Joan Crawford was so adept she could wield her knitting needles as weapons. As George Cukor was shooting Norma Shearer’s close-ups for the dramatic dressing-room scene in The Women, Crawford was running lines with her off-camera. And clacking away on an enormous afghan throw. When Shearer asked the director to “kindly tell Miss Crawford her knitting needles are distracting,” he asked her to cut it out and apologize—but she only half-complied. Setting aside her mountains of yarn, she quipped, “I’ll send her a telegram.”
But usually it was nerves that got her needles going. In 1949, a reporter for Motion Picture magazine noted that, during his visit to her home, Crawford “knitted furiously and distractedly”: “Because she was knitting, her left foot did not jiggle—an old nervous reflex—a carry-over from the shyness with strangers she has never quite overcome. Later, when she stopped her work, it would. Her hands, also subject to small nervous mannerisms, she controls by three simple expedients: the knitting, folding them under her arms, or sitting on them.”
“I took my knitting along to the set so I could keep my hands busy,” Crawford once recalled, “because I was so nervous.” She said while filming What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Bette Davis, she “knitted a scarf that stretched clear to Malibu.”
Though if knitting relaxed her, it was sometimes hard to tell.
Bette was no slouch with a needle either.
Sometimes one knitting Bette wasn’t enough: Here she is with Audrey Scott, her double on Now, Voyager.
Davis even got to show off her needle skills in that film, as well as others like The Letter and Phone Call from a Stranger.
She and other actresses also knitted up a storm for the troops during World War II, as Mary Pickford had during the Great War.
Ingrid Bergman was another star who carried her knitting basket everywhere from her earliest days in Hollywood—and didn’t stop for primping.
Here she is using Hitchcock as a human yarn rack…
…and calmly purling away while working on her last film with husband Roberto Rossellini—in the midst of their divorce.
Meanwhile, from the looks of that yarn bowl, Greer Garson enjoyed knitting two-bedroom apartments.
Those pesky costumes didn’t slow these ladies down…
…nor did nosy leading men.
Some co-stars clacked away together between takes…
…or took a few tips from the pros.
Judy was in a class of her own, though, knitting while performing.
Here’s to all the Hollywood ladies who wove fabulous yarns off the screen as well as on!
TINTYPE TUESDAY is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and often a bit of 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 one?
Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed free, fun movies for you to watch right here!
“We’ll always have Paris.”
In this case, the Paris of powdered wigs and guillotines. The Black Book (also called Reign of Terror) may be the only film noir set during the French Revolution—and if that sounds odd, it’s no more peculiar than the film’s origins.
“In 1949, [they] had just made Joan of Arc with Ingrid Bergman, which was not very successful,” explained co-star Norman Lloyd (then a mere slip of a boy at 100) when he introduced the film at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. “But the lavish sets for the picture remained. [They] kept staring at those expensive sets, grumbling, and proposed to art director William Cameron Menzies that they make use of them.
“[It was essentially] ‘Here is all this pricey wood and canvas—let’s make some money on it! Let’s find a script!’ So this may have been the first set-driven movie,” Lloyd laughed. “So if any of you have ideas about crashing into motion pictures, build a good set! And if they ask me my inspiration working on the film, I’d say, ‘They used the most beautiful wood I’ve ever seen!
“But we [also] had Menzies, a spectacular cinematographer in John Alton, and Anthony Mann directing,”he added, “so we were good.”
Alton’s stark interplay of shadow and light and canted camera angles would easily suit the dark, rain-slicked streets of 1940s Los Angeles, but somehow work just as well in 18th-century France, where the villainous Robespierre (Richard Basehart) seeks to retrieve his “black book,” a long list of political enemies he hopes to send to the chopping block. Enter Charles D’Aubigny (Robert Cummings), a French spy who, with the help of his former lover Madelon (Arlene Dahl in lusty-wench-wear), goes undercover to seize the book and bring the bloody reign of terror to an end.
Alton, Menzies (who also co-produced) and Mann are pretty much a Murderer’s Row of moodiness, and their gifts are on full display here.
“They didn’t have all the money in the world that Metro had for sets and so on,” Dahl told author James Curtis in his superb book, William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come. “But they had Menzies, who could take two walls and make it look like a great ballroom by hanging a chandelier just right, and John by getting the camera angle just right, they could make twelve people look like millions of people. And also because of the design of the sets, they could make it look lavish because of the camera angles and the way the set had been designed. I mean, it really looked like a much bigger picture than it was.”
Add to that Mann’s legendary visual sense, and you have a nifty little film worth watching.
STREAMING SATURDAYS is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free, fabulous films and a bit of backstory besides! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark that page to make sure you never miss another?
Don’t look now, but what’s that coming around the corner?
It’s… it’s… autumn! (At least in this hemisphere.) So let’s kick it off with a few of our favorite actresses decked out in their best reds, oranges, yellows and golds.
There’s something about these pix that’s kind of anti-cheesecake: No frozen smiles to match their chilly limbs. Some of these ladies are wearing their own clothes (including Missy, getting cozy in front of her gun rack), and none seem desperate to wriggle free of them as soon as the camera stops clicking. (Teresa Wright, below in a modest plaid, was especially pin-up averse, and had it written into her contract that she “shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. ” Much more on that wry and fabulous actress—and her hilarious contract riders—here.)
Happy Autumn to my classic film family of friends! I hope these images help you over the end-of-summer blues and inspire you to pull on your favorite fall colors. And remember: there’s a pumpkin out there with your name on it…
TINTYPE TUESDAY is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and often a bit of 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 one?
After a long hiatus, the Sister Celluloid website is back on a semi-regular basis, which I hope will be even steadier soon. That includes the return of our Streaming Saturdays feature, where we embed free, fabulous films! So fasten your seatbelts, we’re starting with a doozy…
If you ever run into Alice Faye, for God’s sake don’t mention Fallen Angel. What she thought would be her big dramatic breakthrough turned into a minor breakdown—and pretty much the end of her movie career.
By the mid-1940s, Faye was one of 20th Century Fox’s most bankable leading ladies, thanks to a series of wildly popular musicals—exactly the kind of cotton-candy confection she was now hoping to escape. Lucky for her—or so she thought—Otto Preminger was starting a new film right on the heels of the legendary Laura. Faye pounced on the project, and, hoping she could step in where Gene Tierney left off, wielded her studio clout to land Dana Andrews as her co-star.
But, as it has a way of doing in the world of noir, fate stepped in. And in this case it looked a lot like Linda Darnell.
The shy 22-year-old stunner had already made 18 films, thanks in part to a brutal stage mother who all but frog-marched her onto the Fox lot when she was just 16. Eager to move beyond ingenue roles, she’d just played her first genuine bad girl in Douglas Sirk’s Summer Storm, an adaptation of Chekov’s The Shooting Party. Like Faye, Darnell leapt at the chance to work on a dark new drama.
In fact just about the only one who wasn’t excited about Fallen Angel was Preminger. Salivating over the success of Laura—and honoring the studio creed that nothing succeeds like doing the same thing over and over—Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck rushed the director into production on another moody mystery. Grudgingly, Preminger reassembled most of his Laura crew, including cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, and reported to work.
In a gritty departure from the elegantly angst-ridden detective in Laura, Andrews plays Eric Stanton, a luckless drifter who’s stranded in a backwater berg after he’s thrown off the bus to San Francisco because he can’t scrounge up the two-buck fare. In a greasy little dive called Pop’s Eats (where, in giant letters, the word BEER bedecks both sides of the front door), he runs up against the sullen, sultry Stella (Darnell), who’s long on dreams and short on plans or patience.
The two quickly fall in love, but Stella comes with a pricetag: she wants money and a home, and Eric has neither, in spades. So he takes up with a traveling con man, Professor Madley (John Carradine), and goes in search of a mark. That’s where June Mills (Faye), who’s inherited a house and a tidy fortune from her father, comes in.
Originally, the film was to focus on Eric and June, and how the love of a good woman saves him from a life of sin <sniffle>. Then Preminger got a gander at the rushes of Darnell and Andrews—and suddenly sin didn’t look like something any man in his right mind would want to be saved from. Either of the two stars alone could generate chemistry with a potted plant, and together, they made everything and everyone else disappear. Including poor Alice Faye.
By the time the director put down his scissors, many of Faye’s best scenes were on the scrap heap and the ill-fated love affair between Eric and Stella had smoldered its way to center stage.
When Faye saw a rough cut of the film, she was so angry she bolted from the screening room and drove off the lot, tossing her dressing-room key to a security guard as she flew past the gate. She returned only once, 17 years later, to play the mother in the plodding remake of State Fair. (Ironically, she’d turned down the much more glamorous role of chanteuse Emily Edwards, eventually played by Vivian Blaine, in the 1945 version, which starred—wait for it—Dana Andrews.)
Little did she know, Darnell wasn’t having much fun either; she later recalled that Preminger was “terrifying” to work with. And by the 1950s, her career was largely over as well. (Much more on her desperately sad life, and tragic death at 41, here.) But she would team once more with Andrews, in the unintentionally hilarious Zero Hour, which was the basis for Airplane!.
If The Sound of Music is one of your favorite things, you’re in luck: On September 9 and 12, TCM and Fathom Events return the gloriously restored musical to the big screen.
Back in March 2015, when the new print kicked off the TCM Classic Film Festival, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer—who still clearly adore each other—gave us a glimpse of their Music memories during a pre-screening interview with Sid Ganis, first vice president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Ganis kicked things off by asking who in the audience had never seen the film—and the first hand to shoot up was Plummer’s. Turns out that during the film’s New York premiere,”all the males went to a bar,” Plummer laughed. “We’d kind of seen it, you know? So we spent most of the night in the bar. I can’t do that any more like I used to, damn it.”
The actor had derided the film in the past, even jokingly referring to it as The Sound of Mucus—and at one point, didn’t think much of film work, period. He and Andrews touched on that, and more, during their conversation:
CP: Funnily enough, I was asked to do The Sound of Music on Broadway… Mary Martin took a shine to me but her husband said, ‘Mary, he’s 29 years old, darling…” And of course Theodore Bikel did it beautifully.
In those days I thought the stage was it. You think the theatre is so intellectual but then you think, ‘What am I doing?!? They pay so well in the movies!’ But early in my movie career, you’ll see me walking around not really knowing where to go.
Working with Julie, though… I sort of fell in love with her when I was sitting up in the theatre balcony watching her as Eliza Doolittle. She’s wonderful… an old-fashioned saint… you’d follow her into battle the way you would Joan of Arc.
JA: <laughs> You called me a saint? How dare you, sir! Ruining my reputation! We’ve always been great chums though.
CP: And for all I’ve said about the film, I think this is the primal family movie of all time… it’s a fairy story brought to life—the last bastion of peace and innocence in a terrible time.
JA: Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary said it was the one show that translated better to the screen from the stage—of all those walloping hits! And everyone making the film was at the peak of their talents. And the quality of the music is phenomenal.
CP: The arrangements were extraordinary—just magical!
JA: And a huge orchestra!
CP: Well, yes, as someone who was trying to sing above them…
JA: And the beautiful Alps and the children and the nuns…
CP: …could have been really mawkish!
JA: You made it less saccharine—you made it have an astringency because of the way you played the captain. And without that, we would have been sunk, my love. I really mean that. You and [director] Robert Wise made sure of that. With his innate good taste, he saw the problem, that it could go that way.
He was a gentleman and a gentle man. And of course was one of the editors on Citizen Kane. He had a great sense of economy of emotion. He taught me something—he said, ‘Julie, look in one place only, don’t look left-right-left-right, keep still.’ What a gift that was! That huge close-up—be still! I guess we were rattling back and forth in some of the early dailies that he saw.
And the wonderful choreographers went ahead to the locations and took measurements of how many steps for each number, etc. so when we got there it was all laid out for us!
CP: We filmed backwards, first in Austria and then back to California. And you were always carting oxen up a hill or something…
JA: I was on top of the carts, going up the hill with the cameras! Often in the mud! Austria has Europe’s seventh-highest annual rainfall… but the rain made so many beautiful, glorious puffy cumulus clouds in the background. When you see the movie, notice the strength of the background, because it made a difference. Robert Wise said that gave a texture to it. It makes a difference… it wasn’t just a picture postcard.
CP: And the cameramen didn’t try to soften Austria. They almost shot it as a documentary.
JA: Not all of the locals liked us, though. We had the speakers set up outdoors, and one farmer came out with a pitchfork and screamed, “You’re ruining the milk from my cows!” Did you have any problems with things like that?
CP: I went straight to the bar.
And on that happy note—much like the one it began on—the Q&A closed, and the curtain rose…
It rises again this weekend. Click here to be transported…
Looking for a sweet ending to summer? How about cooking up some caramel custard with Claudette Colbert? Unlike many “recipes of the stars” that were churned out by studio flacks, this one actually does come from Claudette. She really did whip up things like this sugar-and-fat extravaganza and still look fabulous. She was French, people!
And she looked great well into her 80s.
Back in 1985, Claudette starred on Broadway with Rex Harrison in Aren’t We All, a bonbon of a play by Frederic Lonsdale. I remember nothing of the plot but everything about the star’s arrival at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. As I stood waiting on West 47th Street, she breezed out of a taxi in a pink-and-white-checked bouclé suit, likely Chanel. Such was her power that those who had gathered instinctively parted to let her sweep by, and suddenly she was Cleopatra gliding down the Nile again. She smiled, nodded, gave a little queenly wave, and disappeared inside.
She did not look like a lady who’d spent eight decades scarfing down decadent desserts. Still, her custard sounds pretty delish. So here goes:
3 cups of half-and-half
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Scald the half-and-half. Melt the sugar in a cast iron frying pan and stir constantly until it’s light brown. Add the boiling water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Now add the half-and-half. Pour the hot mixture over the eggs, fold very gently, and place in the top of a double boiler. Cook over hot (not boiling) water until the mixture coats the spoon, stirring constantly. Add the salt and vanilla. Chill and serve ice cold in small glass dishes. Maybe some nice pink depression glass!
Enjoy! And then summon the spirit of Claudette to keep those pesky pounds at bay. (I hear milk baths help.)
The glorious Ann Blyth turned 90 today, conjuring up visions of her in stunning silk, leaning over her cake without putting a hair out of place, and blowing out every candle flawlessly—that is, if my memories of her at the the 2013 TCM Film Festival provide any clue. On opening night—an especially sultry one even for Hollywood—she strolled the red carpet in a mauve shantung gown, following just behind Jane Withers, who’d mentioned in passing that it was her birthday. Watching it all from the bleachers, I led everyone in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, which actually made her burst into tears.
Then the divine Miss Blyth stepped to the mike and said she wished it were her birthday too—hint, hint!—so of course we let loose with another verse, and she raised her hands in applause.
I had a chance to sit with her for a bit at the opening night party, and she talked mostly about Joan Crawford. I told her I was grateful she always defended her legacy, in light of the lurid tales people were spreading. And she took my hand in both of hers, looked hard into my eyes, and said, “One person.” (Run, Christina, run!) She struck me as someone who would upend mountains for you if you were her friend, but if you were her enemy, you’d best move to some remote region of South America…
I asked her if she had any favorites among her own movies, though I said that might be like picking a favorite child. She said she loved working on Mildred Pierce, and also Kismet, which was like spending time in a fantasy land. She tilted her head, her face softened, and in that moment, she looked just as she did when she was back in Baghdad with Howard Keel.
Later that weekend, she introduced the screening of Mildred Pierce at the Egyptian Theatre. Clad in coral from head to high-heeled toe, she was very impish with Robert Osborne, who clearly adored her. When he pressed her to name her favorite leading man, she turned to the audience with mock indignation, and then, with a sort of “just between us girls” look, said, “I have to pick just one? Why can’t I have them all?”
Once again she spoke lovingly of Crawford. And when asked if she was still in touch with any of the old crowd, she said she had regular girlfriend lunches with Joan Leslie. Which totally fed into my fantasy that old-movie folks basically spent their entire post-film lives hanging out at each other’s houses having barbecues and sleepovers.
Thank you, Miss Blyth, for all your wonderful work, for fiercely protecting the films and colleagues you love, and for the memories of that fabulous weekend. Wishing you a deliriously happy 90th Birthday, and many more.
Another year, another botched attempt by the Academy to honor its own.
For a lot of movie lovers—classic-film fans especially—Oscar’s memorial-reel slights have become a cringe-inducing annual tradition. I don’t know if Bette Davis really did name the statuette Oscar because his backside resembled her husband’s. But when it comes to honoring those who’ve given so much to the movies, Oscar certainly makes an ass of itself.
The usual excuse for the snubs is that it’s a time issue: they simply can’t fit everyone we lost in the past year into a brief little montage. But here’s the thing: They’re the ones who decide to set aside so little time to honor people who’ve devoted their whole lives to their craft.
The producers could easily have cut out a production number (another lame bit where “real people” mingle with actors?), shorten the canned banter at the podium, or even—dare I say it?—eliminate a few commercials (“Walmart-inspired” movies? Really?). But they chose not to. So please, this year, spare us the “if only we had the time” lamentations, which are about as genuine as Eve Harrington’s humble acceptance speech at the Sarah Siddons Awards.
Still, somehow, no matter how pressed for time they are, they always manage to squeeze in a few agents or publicists. Cuz that’s what we tune in for, right? (“Honey, I’d be happy to get up and make you a drink, but I think they’re gonna show that guy from Rogers & Cowan!”)
The Academy has a much longer memorial slide show on its website, which includes all those who didn’t make the cut for the broadcast. But when the Hollywood A list/B list crap carries over to dead people, it’s frankly kinda creepy.
That said, here’s the list of oversights I noticed, including some glaring ones from classic film. Not all of these folks were primarily in film, but they all made a mark there. And even excluding the part-timers, the list of omissions is long:
Oscar winner Dorothy Malone, Dina Merrill, Bradford Dillman, Connie Sawyer (who had pretty much the longest career in film history), Nanette Fabray, John Gavin, Michèle Morgan, Heather Menzies-Urich, Stephen Furst, Juanita Quigley, Ty Hardin, Suzanna Leigh, Della Reese, Robert Guillaume, Jay Thomas, Glen Campbell, Michael Nyqvist, Adam West, Powers Boothe, Darlene Cates, Lola Albright, Jim Nabors, Leonard Landy, Anne Wiazemsky, Gastone Moschin, Elena Verdugo, Roy Dotrice, Michael Parks, Wendell Burton, Curt Lowens, Lorna Gray, Frank Vincent, Aleksey Batalov, Louis Zorich, Jean Rochefort, Daliah Lavi, Richard Anderson, Don Gordon, Anne Jeffreys, Robert Hardy, Clifton James, Federico Luppi, John Hillerman, Mireille Darc, Red West, Ann Wedgworth, Elsa Martinelli, Peter Sallis, David Ogden Stiers, Emma Chambers, John Mahoney, Reg Cathey, Jerry Van Dyke, Jean Porter, Marty Allen, Lassie Lou Ahern, Donnelly Rhodes, Rose Marie, directors Bruce Brown and Tobe Hooper, composer Dominic Frontiere, and choreographer Danny Daniels.
One bright spot: Eddie Vedder did a beautiful job with Room at the Top, fittingly a song by Tom Petty, who also deserved a place in the memorial reel. He wrote the soundtrack to She’s the One (featuring the much-covered Walls), and his music set the mood for so many films, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jerry Maguire and Silence of the Lambs. (Jonathan Demme had sweet, unsuspecting Brooke Smith bop along in the car to American Girl as a kind of emotional shortcut; he wanted the audience to instantly like her.)
Please add in Comments anyone else who was overlooked (and remember, in this case, the “year” runs between the last Oscar broadcast on February 26, 2017 and today); let’s make sure they’re all honored somewhere, even if just in our little film family.
Greater love hath no husband than to tell his wife about a Murder She Wrote marathon. “It’s running all day Saturday and Sunday,” Tim tells me wearily, thereby consigning himself to another room for pretty much two solid days.
But my trip to Cabot Cove comes at a price—and I don’t just mean the alarmingly high murder rate. I mean the depressing ads.
A leathery Pat Boone warns me to be terrified of my own bathtub—clearly a hideous deathtrap beckoning me with its gleaming porcelain—which should be replaced immediately with a walk-in model. But until I can get cracking on that, I should strap on a Life Alert button, just in case I fall, alone and terrified, bleeding out from a gaping head wound. And probably regretting I didn’t snap up one of those cheap life insurance or “final expense” policies they keep badgering me about.
Honest to God, I feel like I should be writing my will during the commercial breaks.
And the ads that don’t imply I’ll be lunching with St. Peter any day now assume I’m itching to sue someone or have already weaseled a structured settlement but need more cash fast. Perhaps to call a psychic, or hook up with strangers on a cheesy dating line! I know the demographics for classic TV stations skew older (read: fear-mongering), but do they also skew creepy?
An informal poll among like-minded friends and elderly relatives—including my 88-year-old Mom, who pretty much lives with Jessica Fletcher and Jim Rockford—reveals that none of us have ever bought anything being advertised on these channels. In fact when that California Psychic ad comes on (“When Mary called, I could tell she was hurting…”), I practically fall over furniture to grab the remote. Maybe I should have one of those Life Alert buttons after all…
Hello, my classic movie family! I’ve spent most of the past year dealing with family and health issues and have been away. But I didn’t want to let the holidays pass without wishing you all joy and all good things. I also wanted to share this post on The Holly and the Ivy, one of my most beloved Christmas movies, which contains a link to the whole film. It can be a bit hard to track down, and I wanted to make sure you could see it!! Wishing you all the best for the holidays and the new year!
Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we bring you a free, fabulous movie to watch right here every week!
How can you help but love a Christmas movie where a brother and sister duck out on the family festivities to get roaring drunk?
They have their reasons. But then just about everyone has cause to knock back a few in The Holly and the Ivy, one of the least jolly Christmas movies ever. Which, for some of us, looks a lot like Christmas.
Adapted by Anatole de Grunwald from a play by Wynyard Browne (who wrote the screenplay for Hobson’s Choice), the 1952 film used to be a holiday staple on PBS back when they showed old British movies all the time. (I blame them for my insatiable crushes on Alistair Sim, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Robert Donat and Trevor Howard. They’re lucky I still give them money.) But it hasn’t turned up…
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