At Home with Joan Crawford

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The Morlocks’ week-long tribute to Joan Crawford might be over but I’ve still got her on my mind thanks to an interior design book I purchased last month that features Crawford’s last apartment. The book is called Celebrity Homes and was originally published in 1977 by Architectural Digest. Besides giving readers a peek into Crawford’s home, the book also features the lush abodes of many other actors, directors and costume designers including Mary Pickford, Merle Oberon, Dolores Del Rio, Cecil Beaton, Woody Allen and Robert Redford. Crawford’s (somewhat) modest $500,000 five room apartment in Manhattan was one of my favorite homes in the book because the interior design is particularly modern and bright. The book captures a colorful side of the Hollywood legend that’s often forgotten and her intimate friendships with her interior designers are fascinating footnotes in Crawford’s life and career.

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Remembering Buck Jones and the Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942

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Today is Buck Jones’ birthday (b. Dec. 12th 1891) and although his name might not be familiar to modern movie audiences the much loved B-movie cowboy was once one of the most popular western stars in Hollywood. Jones began his career in silent films and successfully transferred to making talkies while working with some interesting talent including directors John Ford, William Wellman, W. S. Van Dyke, James W. Horne, Lambert Hillyer and Kurt Neumann and fellow actors such as John Wayne, Carol Lombard, Tom Mix, Gabby Hayes, Lon Chaney Jr., Susan Fleming, Anita Louise and Buster Crabbe (just to name a few). At the height of his fame (roughly between 1925 and 1938) Jones was making 6-8 films a year and his likeness, along with his white horse called Silver, could be found in comic books and on advertisements for many products that appealed to kids including Schwinn bicycles, Post breakfast cereals, Royal Crown Cola and Daisy air guns. His fan club, affectionately known as The Buck Jones Rangers, boasted over three million members and at one point in his career Jones was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood and supposedly received more fan mail than any star.
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Holiday Cooking with the Stars

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In October I shared some of Vincent Price’s recipes and cooking tips in a post titled In the Kitchen with Vincent Price and the response was overwhelming positive. In celebration of Thanksgiving I thought I’d share a few holiday recipes from some of Hollywood’s most loved and admired stars. The recipes are variants of traditional dishes and desserts often served in American homes during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most were compiled from newspaper archives and a few were borrowed from books. I hope the variety of the recipes I’ve gathered together might inspire you to spend some time in the kitchen cooking with the stars this holiday season. The first item on today’s menu? Marilyn Monroe’s Stuffing!

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Julie Harris 1925-2013: “And we who walk here, walk alone.”

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Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here, walk alone.” – Eleanor Lance, The Haunting (1963)

My earliest memory of Julie Harris stems from an unplanned late night viewing of THE HAUNTING (1963). I was home alone and sulking about having to take orders from a teenage babysitter who was just a few years older than me. Much to my delight, the babysitter had very little interest in what I was doing and she spent the entire evening smoking cigarettes with her boyfriend on the back porch. I had the television all to myself so I eagerly planted my behind just a few feet away from the screen and started flipping channels until I stumbled across a black and white movie. I knew from experience that if I came across a black and white movie playing on TV late at night it was probably a horror film so I settled in for the long haul with some sugary snacks and quickly found myself engrossed in THE HAUNTING. This moody supernatural thriller absolutely terrified me but I couldn’t turn it off and the film immediately became a fright filled favorite. A few years later I read the book it was based on and got the opportunity to see the movie again and again thanks to the wonder of home video. And when I finally caught a screening of it at a revival theater in the early ‘90s my profound appreciation of Robert Wise’s film only grew. But I never forgot how THE HAUNTING made me feel during that first accidental viewing. It set my teeth on edge, made my blood run cold and left my young heart in tatters. And a large part of that was due to Julie Harris’ unforgettable portrayal of the doomed Eleanor “Nellie, my Nell” Lance.

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Four Reasons Why I Love Natalie Wood

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I love Natalie Wood but I hate writing about her. Whenever I declare my affection for Natalie or mention one of the films she appeared in some heartless dolt will inevitably respond with an idiotic joke about her tragic death. The jokes are usually followed by a procession of armchair detectives intent on sharing their theories about her unfortunate demise. When that well runs dry someone will eventually mention her alleged sexual assault by a powerful actor in Hollywood, which leads people to further ruminate on her various relationships and rumored romances with costars (Raymond Burr, Nick Adams, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Christopher Walken, etc.) and directors (Nicolas Ray and Henry Jaglom). And while I can understand the fascination with Natalie’s very adventurous and often turbulent personal life, this tired ground has been trudged countless times and I have no desire to travel down that path today. Instead, I’d like to talk about Natalie’s acting talents and highlight a few of my favorite moments from her all too brief career in front of the camera. And this coming Sunday (August 18th) you’ll be able to see a couple of them when Natalie Wood takes center stage during TCM’s ongoing Summer Under the Stars.

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Lon Chaney Jr. – Lady Killer

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I recently set aside some time to watch all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum Mystery films starring Lon Chaney Jr. Seeing these relatively short (60-67 minute) B-movies back to back over a couple of days was a joy and I found new things to admire and appreciate about the film’s leading man. But afterward I made the mistake of scouring through various film books and poking around websites looking for background information about the movies and I really shouldn’t have bothered. What I found angered me, then it depressed me and finally it just made me sad so I decided to share my frustration with you, dear readers.
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Out, out, brief candle: Jon Finch 1942-2012

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Jon Finch in Roman Polanski’s MACBETH (1971)

“… Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more …” – Macbeth,
William Shakespeare

Writing obituaries is never easy but when I decided I wanted to memorialize the British actor Jon Finch, who recently passed away at age 70, I found myself seriously struggling to find the right words. His death, which occurred when he was alone over the holidays and apparently suffering from dementia as well as health problems associated with diabetes, seemed particularly cruel. It didn’t get reported to the public until Jan. 11th although his body was found on Dec. 28th but as far as I know there’s been no official date of death released. There’s also been very little news coverage by the numerous entertainment focused outlets and blogs that usually offer up career summations whenever a person of note dies. I don’t like to dwell on the negative when someone I deeply admire leaves this earth because it‘s much more respectful and productive to focus on their accomplishments and Jon Finch left behind an impressive body of work. But while I scanned his filmography in my effort to concisely capture what had made him such a memorable screen presence I was struck again and again by the missed opportunities, which seemed to color his entire career. Over and over again I found myself wondering about what might have been instead of focusing on what was, which seemed pointless. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this business of making movies had somehow failed him even though I suspect that Finch himself would wholeheartedly disagree with me.

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Yul Brynner, Photographer Extraordinaire

Yul Brynner passed away in 1985 after battling cancer. At the time he was an accomplished performer with a Best Actor Oscar for his role in THE KING AND I (1956) and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. His standout roles in films such as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), ANASTASIA (1956), THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (1958), THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and WESTWORLD (1973) had earned him a legion of fans but most of us were unaware that Brynner was also a skilled photographer who had been snapping pictures of his professional pals for decades.

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I Only Make Passes at Boys Who Wear Glasses

Some women like men who drive fast cars; others prefer men with an athletic build while some find a uniform irresistible. Me? I appreciate a good pair of spectacles.
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In Their Own Words: Actors on Film Flops, Disappointments and Missteps

Marlon Brando on A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, Beverly Garland on SWAMP WOMEN and STARK FEAR, Tony Curtis on SON OF ALI BABA, Patricia Neal on THE FOUNTAINHEAD, Richard Widmark on SLATTERY’S HURRICANE, Ava Gardner on THE BIBLE, David Carradine on SONNY BOY and more.       [...MORE]

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