Archive for March, 2011

Farley Granger Obituary

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011


Farley Granger dies at 85; handsome leading man best known for roles in Hitchcock films



He began his acting career as a teenager and went on to star in such movies as ‘They Live by Night’ and Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ and ‘Strangers on a Train.’ He later appeared on Broadway and in a range of TV roles.


By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times
March 30, 2011


Farley Granger, a handsome young leading man during Hollywood’s post-World War II era who was best known for his starring roles in the Alfred Hitchcock suspense thrillers “Strangers on a Train” and “Rope,” has died. He was 85.


Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Farley Granger



The making of “Little Women”

Sunday, March 27th, 2011


The making of the 1949 film classic, “Little Women”





By Allan R. Ellenberger


“Good pictures are always difficult to make,” Mervyn LeRoy once said. He should know because he produced or directed several including Tugboat Annie (1933), Madame Curie (1943) and the perennial favorite, The Wizard of Oz (1939).


However, the one film he always wanted to make was an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” It had been fourteen years since David O. Selznick produced the RKO version with Katherine Hepburn, so LeRoy persuaded Louis B. Mayer to buy the rights from him.


Selznick had attempted to produce a Technicolor remake himself a few years earlier and planned to star his wife, Jennifer Jones. However, several postwar problems and a threatened craft workers’ strike forced him to abandon his plans. So when MGM bought the rights to the film, they also bought all the sets that Selznick had built. One night during production, LeRoy’s wife Kitty was reading some of the dialogue from the script when she began to cry. “I can’t finish this,” she told her husband.


“My God,” he exclaimed. “Is it that good?”


LeRoy chose some of the finest actresses at MGM to play the March sisters. Each one had experience with big screen success: Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, June Allyson in The Stratton Story, Janet Leigh in The Forsythe Saga and Margaret O’Brien in The Secret Garden.


LeRoy had directed Elizabeth Taylor’s screen test for National Velvet. “And like everybody else who saw her,” he said. “I was struck by her potential beauty.” When she began filming on Little Women, Elizabeth was seventeen and her beauty was at its peak. “There was no bad side, no good side,” LeRoy said. “All sides were fantastically beautiful.”


Her role as the selfish Amy would require a bit more acting than she was previously accustomed. In the novel, Amy is the youngest March sister, but in order to use Margaret O’Brien (who was five years younger than Elizabeth) as Beth, Beth was made the youngest. “Film treatment,” Elizabeth explained, “will take care of that.”





Also, as Amy, she would have to become a blonde. “I don’t like myself as blonde yet,” Elizabeth said. “I think it gives me a white, faded, peculiar look. But we wouldn’t dare change Amy to a brunette. Too many people have read the book and know exactly the color of her hair. They would resent a change.”


“I’ve made tests for the role and everything will be all right when they finish changing my hair,” Elizabeth explained. “But I think I will always be happier as a brunette.”


During the filming, Elizabeth turned eighteen and no longer had to go to school, something which made Margaret very envious. “We had a party on the set for Elizabeth’s eighteenth birthday,” Margaret recalled, “and I remember her throwing away all her school books. She really disliked the school teacher and was happy that she would no longer be following her around every minute.”


Walter Plunkett, of Gone with the Wind fame, designed the costumes for Little Women, which thrilled all the actresses. “Oh my goodness,” Elizabeth exclaimed. “I get to wear Walter Plunkett clothes.”


The four actresses became good friends on the set of Little Women. At lunch, they would go to the studio commissary together and gossip – mostly about Louis B. Mayer. Elizabeth detested him, but June admired the fact that he had risen from the ranks as a junk dealer to one of the most powerful moguls in the business.


Three of the actresses had crushes on costar Peter Lawford. “I was out of the competition,” Margaret said, “because they were all older and I was only eleven. I sort of felt like an outcast because all three had a crush on him. Peter had a wonderful time on that movie.”


One person who did not have a wonderful time was Mary Astor, who played their mother, Marmee. Astor later recalled this period of her career as “Mothers for Metro” and did not always speak of it very fondly. “My approach to the part of Marmee was not an enthusiastic one,” Astor later wrote. “Everybody else had fun.”


She would complain because the girls were always laughing and fooling around during every scene. She criticized Elizabeth for talking on the phone to Nicky Hilton (her future husband) all the time and became irritated when June snapped her gum. Her experience on Meet Me in St. Louis had not endeared her to Margaret and things had not changed. “Maggie O’Brien looked at me as though she were planning something very unpleasant,” Astor wrote.





During the scene when Jo cuts off her hair, Peter Lawford’s character sees her and is supposed to say, “What have you done? You look like a porcupine!” Instead, Peter would pronounce it “porky-pine.” “We must have shot that scene a hundred times,” Margaret recalled. “And then Peter and June would laugh every time she took off the hat and he saw her hair.”


On every take, he would say “porky-pine” and everyone would burst out laughing, including Mervyn LeRoy. Unfortunately, Mary Astor did not see the funniness in it. “My sense of humor, my sense of fun, had deserted me long ago,” she said. “And it just wasn’t all that funny.”


Eventually, everyone would pull themselves together and start the scene again. “Okay. I’ve got it now! I’ve got it now!” Peter would assure everyone. LeRoy would start at the very beginning and Peter would come through the door and say, “What have you done? You look like a “porky-pine!” Of course, everyone doubled over with laughter again, except Mary. She had been standing there for some time and was beginning to feel ill from the hot lights and the heavy clothes.


“I couldn’t say that I was ill,” she said. “I didn’t want the kind of attention that would have brought on.” As LeRoy began the scene once more, Mary had the first line and realized she could not remember what it was and stood there speechless.


“Cut,” LeRoy yelled. “Where’s your line, Mary?”


“I don’t know Merv,” was all she could say, which caused everyone to go to pieces again.


Janet Leigh, who played Meg, remembered that at first Margaret was hesitant to join in on the revelry. “Young Margaret O’Brien took a while before she participated wholeheartedly,” Leigh recalled. “She continually looked in her mother’s direction for approval. But gradually she loosened up and we won her over to our foolish ways.”


The scene where Beth reveals that she knows she is dying, took a lot out of both Margaret and June Allyson. Even Mary Astor was impressed with Margaret’s ability and proclaimed, “And was that ever a death scene.”


“It was hard for me because June got to cry in that scene and I had to be the strong one,” Margaret said. “It was difficult not to cry.”


June had the same problem – except she couldn’t stop crying. In the scene, Beth, who is dying from scarlet fever, comforts Jo and tells her not to be sad because she doesn’t mind dying. After the scene was finished, June continued crying and had to be sent home. “I got in my car still blubbering and continued to cry for hours,” June said.



Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O’Brien



MGM premiered Little Women on March 10, 1949 at Radio City Music Hall for its opening film for their 25th Anniversary program. The film became a big money-maker that year earning 3.6 million for the studio. In their publicity, th studio mentioned that the film reunited four stars from Meet Me in St. Louis: Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Leon Ames and Harry Davenport.


Sadly, Little Women was the last film for veteran character actor C. Aubrey Smith, who died shortly after filming was completed. This would also be Elizabeth Taylor’s last adolescent part. Her next film, Conspirator (1950) with Robert Taylor, saw her in a more mature role.


Little Women was nominated for two Academy Awards and won for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color for Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse, Edwin B. Willis and Jack D. Moore.


Lee Mortimer of the Daily Mirror wrote, “On this photoplay MGM bestowed painstaking and loving care, adhering as much to the warm spirit and restrained actions of the book as it is physically possible in translating words into pictures.”







Tennessee Williams 100th Birthday

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


Tennessee Williams











Dorothy Young Obituary

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


Seabrook Resident Dorothy Young Dies at 103, Was Houdini’s Assistant


  Dorothy Young, Houdini’s last on-stage assistant, with the magician in 1926 as the “Radio Girl of 1950.” (Dorothy Young’s family)


The long-time Monmouth County (New Jersey) resident was one of the last people to have worked onstage with the escape artist Harry Houdini.


By Amy Byrne
March 25, 2011


She performed onstage with the legendary Harry Houdini, traveled the world ballroom dancing and appeared on a Barbara Walters’ special, but until her death on Monday, Dorothy Young had spent the last three years living quietly in Tinton Falls’ Seabrook Village.


Young, 103, who died March 20, is thought to have been the last surviving person to share a stage with the renowned escape artist Houdini.  She joined his troupe as an assistant in 1925 when she was 17-years-old and quickly became known as the “Radio Girl of 1950,” emerging during the act from a large radio and performing a dance routine.   


“Houdini told me that he chose me from the more the 1,000 girls who showed up that day because, unlike all of them—I was a quiet, little girl sitting all the way in the back—and because I was shorter that he was,” Young told a gathering of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution in 2008, according to a release from Seabrook.


Young, the daughter of a Methodist minister, toured for a year with Houdini and left just two months before his death in October 1926. She married Robert Perkins and had a child shortly after, and Perkins died 13 years later.


According to her son, Robert Perkins, Jr., who is 83, Young befriended the matinee idol and silent film star Richard Bennett—who is also Perkins’ godfather—and made her way into some Broadway and film roles, including the Fred Astaire film Flying Down to Rio.


Young formed a dance act with Gilbert Kiamie, a New York businessman and the son of a wealthy silk lingerie magnate, according to a report by the Associated Press, and they gained international prominence for a Latin dance they created known as the rumbalero. They later married and remained together until Kiamie died in 1992.


Young moved to Allenhurst and later, Little Silver, according to Perkins, who attended Markham Place School in Little Silver and graduated from Red Bank High School in 1944.


Both Perkins and Kiamie entered the military during the Second World War and Young volunteered with the Standards Agency at Fort Monmouth, according to the Seabrook release.


Young moved to Ocean Grove where she lived for many years working on the oil painting that became her creative outlet of choice for the rest of her life. She also wrote two novels based on her professional experiences.


Perkins said his mother had many creative talents—dancing, acting, painting—but “couldn’t carry a tune.”


Young became a benefactor of the Jersey Shore Medical Center where she established a chapel in honor of her parents. She also became a donor of Drew University in Madison and helped create the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts at the university. Her donations also made possible the rebuilding of Youth Temple in Ocean Grove in 1977, according to the Seabrook release.


Young attended many performances at Drew and one her last was a commemoration of Houdini’s death in October 2008 that featured an inner circle of the magician’s enthusiasts and historians.


In 2005, Young appeared in the documentary Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery and was featured on a Barbara Walters special on television about centegenarians in 2008.


Perkins said he moved up from Naples, FL to live with his mother in Seabrook three years ago when it became evident she could no longer live on her own.


He said his mother’s early exposure to travel with Houdini’s show gave her a taste of a world very different from her beginnings as the daughter of a Methodist minister.


“She liked that sort of life,” he said.


Aside from Perkins, Young is survived by four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.


A memorial service will be held for Young on April 16 at 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Ocean Grove, according to Perkins.



Elizabeth Taylor’s funeral

Thursday, March 24th, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor’s family attends burial at Forest Lawn



By Nardine Saad
Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor’s family and friends arrived about 10 minutes behind schedule to the Hollywood icon’s memorial service in Glendale on Thursday.


Dozens of fans and media outlets from around the globe lined the 1700 block of South Glendale Avenue for hours to catch a glimpse of the former actress’ star-studded family and friends as they passed through the grand wrought-iron gates of the memorial park where she will be laid to rest alongside her good friend Michael Jackson.


The limos arrived at 2:10 p.m. for the service, which was being held inside the Great Mausoleum where her body will be interred. Glendale Police Department spokesman Tom Lorenz said Taylor’s body was already inside the park.


The department was asked to assist in security for the three dozen to four dozen family members and friends expected to attend the service because of the proximity of an elementary school. Officer could be seen on motorcycles and others were in plainclothes.


The actress, who died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, converted to Judaism in the 1950s when she married her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher. Jewish tradition calls for a burial as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours, after a person’s death.


The cemetery is also the final resting place of movie stars John Wayne [he is actually at Pacific View Memorial Park], James Stewart and Sammy Davis Jr. Taylor and Jackson are in separate wings of the mausoleum, though she is near him, Lorenz said.


“There’s nowhere in the world where more famous people are laid to rest,” Lorenz said.



The Close-up is born

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011


The Centenary of the close-up



Above, Gloria Swanson is looking for her close-up in “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)



By Allan R. Ellenberger
March 23, 2011


One-hundred years ago today, the proverbial close-up that silent film diva, Gloria Swanson was “ready for” in Sunset Boulevard (1950), was born. Well, at least arguably.


Pioneer director, D.W. Griffith has long been credited for developing filmmaking as an art form with techniques such as the scenic long shot, and crosscutting, and for collaborating with cinematographer Billy Bitzer to create the fade-out, fade-in, and soft-focus shots. One of the most popular film innovations Griffith is recognized for is the close-up.


Of course film historians disagree as to which filmmaker first used a close-up; however Griffith used the shot at length at an early date. For example, one of the director’s short films, The Lonedale Operator (1911), is significant for it’s use of a close-up of a wrench that a character pretends is a gun. At the time of the film’s release, on March 23, 1911, close-ups were still uncommon and illustrate Griffith’s growing mastery of the medium.




Is this shot from D.W. Griffith’s “The Londedale Operator” (1911), the first example of the close-up?



The Lonedale Operator, which was written by Mack Sennett is a tale about the bravery of a pretty railroad station telegrapher, played by Blanche Sweet, who foils a robbery. The film is also an outstanding example of Griffith’s use of editing to build suspense.  


Whether or not The Lonedale Operator is the first example of the close-up, we can agree it is at least one of the earliest. Celebrate by telling friends, “”All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”


A print of The Lonedale Operator, which premiered one-hundred years ago today, survives in the film archive of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Watch it below: 








Elizabeth Taylor Obituary

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79; legendary actress



Elizabeth Taylor, star of stage and screen who married multiple times, became a successful businesswoman and helped to pioneer the fight against AIDS, dies of congestive heart failure.


By Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times
March 23, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor, the glamorous queen of American movie stardom, whose achievements as an actress were often overshadowed by her rapturous looks and real-life dramas, has died. She was 79.


Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Elizabeth Taylor



Smiley Burnette’s 100th Birthday

Friday, March 18th, 2011


Smiley Burnette












Universal City at 96

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011


Today marks 96 years at Universal Studios



© Dickens Archives © Universal Archives Collection



By Allan R. Ellenberger


As of today, Universal Studios has spent 96 years at its present location in the San Fernando Valley. In mid-1912, Carl Laemmle, a pioneer independent producer, made his early Universal pictures at a small studio on Sunset and Gower in Hollywood. In 1915, upon the advice of Isadore Bernstein, then his studio manager, a former chicken farm in the valley was purchased.


Immediately, a farming community began its transformation into a choice residential section and the motion-picture studio, previously more of a factory, became a veritable world unto itself. Universal City was incorporated as a city with its own post office and governmental recognition.


On March 15, 1915, special trains from New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Seattle brought thousands of visitors and hundreds of industrial leaders, actors, directors and exhibitors to Los Angeles and then out the sandy road across the Cahuenga Pass to Universal City for the “official opening.”


Laemmle began the festivities and opened the big white gate with a golden key at 10 a.m., and he and Bernstein, headed the procession of 100 guests. Once inside the gate, gaily-clad Universal girls pelted the party with flowers, and a big caravan of mounted cowboys and Indians saluted with pistol shots and bands played, and Pat Powers, treasurer of Universal, hoisted a huge American flag, followed by a display of daylight fireworks.


Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford drove down from the San Francisco’s World Fair to dedicate the immense 500-foot open stage at the new studio, arriving late because their car broke down. Notable among scenes presided over by different directors were a beautiful interior designed by Charles Giblyn, where Cleo Madison entertained the crowds, and a set showing the interior of a hunting lodge in Africa, where Henry McRae calmly stroked two live leopards. Other sets included a bit of Moorish architecture and a snow scene.





MacRae then filmed a spectacular scene for The Torrent (1915), a two-reeler with Marie Walcamp, and thousands stood spellbound as a large reservoir in the hills behind the studio unloosed a flood of water which washed away a street of cottages built down the middle of the valley for the big climax scene of the production. Another thriller which had a tragic ending was the repetition of an airplane bombing which was staged by Frank A. Stites, who, after completing the stunt, found his plane on fire and, to avoid falling into the crowd, heroically crashed his plane against the back lot hills and was instantly killed.


Out at the end of the ranch there were motion picture scenes being filmed, and there were amusing sideshows, and the big zoo, with its wild animals. Bands played, candy and soda booths did business and wild Arabs rode elephants down the road.


The ball that evening was attended by 2,000 people and was held in the large inside studio, which was handsomely decorated with flags and flowers. “Daddy” Manley, the oldest motion picture actor at that time, 88 years old, and “Mother” Benson, led the grand march, which was reviewed by Laemmle and Bernstein.


Among the celebrities who participated in filming scenes marking the opening of Universal City were J. Warren Kerrigan, Louise Lovely, Marie Walcamp, Grace Cunard, Francis Ford, King Baggot, Arthur Johnson, Harry Carey, Wallace Reid, Dorothy Davenport, Henrietta Crossman, Helen Ware, Priscilla Dean, Dorothy Phillips, Frank Keenan, Hobart Bosworth, Alice Howell, Julia Dean, Digby Bell, Lon Chaney, Jean Hersholt, William Stowell, Betty Compson and many bit players who later became stars.


Visitors recalled that after the completion of the opening ceremonies at midnight on March 15, Laemmle and MacRae were stopped on their return to Hollywood when eight coyotes came out of the hills and blocked the narrow road before their car.





Within fifteen years, more than 1,000 feature films and many short subjects, not to mention sixty serial thrillers were produced at Universal City. At one time, in 1917, there were forty-two directors working with an equal number of productions simultaneously, an all-time record for film production.


In addition to almost fifty contract players, Universal City, in its first three years at this location, had sixty full-blooded Native Americans and the largest zoo in the West. The average film shipments from Universal City in 1915 and 1916 were 45,000 feet a week, a tremendous output, considering that features were one and two-reelers.



Louis B. Mayer’s passport application

Sunday, March 13th, 2011


Louis B. Mayer’s passport application




 It was during this visit to Europe in 1924 that Mayer first became acquainted with Greta Garbo and had her brought to the United States