Home-wreckers, Commies, and Panicky Producers: The 31st Academy Awards

Print from collection of library prints for book High Exposure: Hollywood Lives - Found Photos from the Archives of the Los Angeles Times." but was not used in book.Movie lovers anxiously await the 87th Academy Awards next Sunday, February 22, though many of us have grown profoundly disappointed in the changes in the show over the last few years. In 2009, the Academy decided to drop the on-air tributes to those who were awarded honorary Oscars; around the same time, the show’s producers and/or directors chose to eliminate the compilations of clips of classic films that used to mark each ceremony. Both decisions were short-sighted, robbing the Academy of an opportunity to teach young generations about the great films of the past. If the Academy is so interested in preservation and education, then they should model that behavior during this high-profile event.



Saying Good Night to Brian G. Hutton (1935-2014): Night Watch (1973)

taylorhutton1Last week this blog started to resemble the obituary section of my local newspaper and while I hate to continue that trend I couldn’t let Brian G. Hutton’s demise go unmentioned. The New York born director and actor is best remembered today for his work on two popular big-budget WW2 films, WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) and KELLY’S HEROES (1971) but he also appeared in some memorable films such as John Sturges’ GUN FIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) and the Elvis vehicle, KING CREOLE (1958) as well as many popular television shows including GUNSMOKE, PERRY MASON, RAWHIDE and ALFRED HITHCOCK PRESENTS. The last film Hutton helmed was the Indiana Jones inspired HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983) and soon afterward he retired his directing chair. According to the fine folks at Cinema Retro, Hutton’s self-deprecating sense of humor often led him to criticize his own movies and he didn’t look back all that fondly at the time he spent in Hollywood but many film enthusiasts like myself appreciate the eclectic body of work he left behind.


Montgomery Clift and the Second Chance that Never Was

Tomorrow at noon (EST), The Young Lions airs on TCM.  I wrote it up for TCM’s website (click here) and with it airing tomorrow, it got me to thinking about something I only touch on in the article, the luck and timing of the careers of Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.  Dean Martin figures in there, too, though not as prominently.  Coming off a successful run at comedy, he wanted to try his hand and drama and The Young Lions provided the vehicle after the studio nixed first choice Tony Randall.  If you’ve seen The Young Lions and know Martin’s part, you’ll know how odd that first choice was but, nonetheless, I can see, in a stretch, Randall handling it.  But who the movie really mattered to was Montgomery Clift and, sadly, it didn’t fulfill the promise he hoped it would.



Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set


Tomorrow is February 14th, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by taking a look at some sizzling screen romances that ignited while the cameras were rolling. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Hollywood history knows that it’s not uncommon for actors to fall head over heels for their costars. And who can blame them? When two attractive actors are asked to feign love while kissing and cuddling for our amusement I suspect that the lines between fantasy and reality can easily become blurred. These on set affairs seldom last but they can wreck marriages and leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake. But the heart wants what it wants and on some occasions these romantic rendezvous develop into long lasting loving relationships. And best of all? They often leave us with some passion filled films that make for great viewing on Valentine’s Day!


Hail Cleopatra! Queen of the Nile & Queen of ’60s Style


Bold, brave and beautiful. Elizabeth Taylor in a promotional photo for CLEOPATRA (1963)

This week the 50th Anniversary of CLEOPATRA (1963) is being celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival where a digitally restored print of the film is making its debut. This will be followed by a limited theatrical release and a new lavish double disc Blu-ray set that’s arriving in stores on May 28th. The film has been marred in controversy since it went into production and reviews and articles about CLEOPATRA tend to focus on the scandal that rocked Hollywood after Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began their very public affair on the opulent sets of this big-budget historical epic. Instead of treading down that tired old path I thought I’d take a different approach and share some thoughts about why I enjoy the film and how it helped make Elizabeth Taylor one of the most influential style icons of the ‘60s.


Does Oscar gold come with an Oscar curse?


In the weeks leading up to the 85th Academy Awards the usual flood of articles about the so-called “Oscar Curse” or “Oscar Jinx” have started to appear. Journalists who write these superstitious stories usually play fast and loose with the facts in an effort to grab headlines and appeal to the public’s unhealthy obsession with celebrity gossip. These ongoing Oscar related fables often focus on actresses who have seen their promising careers nosedive or their marriages collapse after they take home a gold statue. I suspect these tall tales were originally encouraged by jealous costars or fellow nominees who wanted to knock the winners down a notch or two but the media continues to perpetuate them. The truth is that many actors cash-in; quite literally, after they win an Oscar and eventually end up being less discriminate about the roles they take in an effort to pay the mortgage on their million dollar mansions. And in Hollywood quality leading roles for women are particularly hard to come by so it’s not surprising that it can take an Oscar winning actress like Sally Field decades to land another part that’s noticed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As for blaming the collapse of an actor’s marriage on their Oscar win, it’s all too easy to forget about someone like Meryl Streep who has been married to the same man since 1978. Streep’s partner has been by her side throughout her record-breaking 17 Oscar nominations and 3 wins but you don’t hear much about that during award season.

The Tabloid Troubles of Taylor & Burton

screenstories62By now you’ve probably heard about LIZ & DICK (2012), a heavily publicized made for television movie produced by the Lifetime Network that dramatically retold the story of how Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton met, fell in love and married not once, but twice. I’m extremely fond of both Taylor and Burton and I’ve written about them frequently but I had no interest in watching LIZ & DICK myself. I made the mistake of sitting through LIZ: THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR STORY (1995) when it originally aired so the temptation to watch another TV production featuring lesser actors portraying performers I genuinely admire held no appeal for me. And if I want to relive the tabloid troubles of Taylor and Burton there are plenty of publications I can read.

Countless newspapers and magazines throughout the ‘60s and well into the ‘70s documented Taylor and Burton’s complicated relationship. The two talented actors became household names after many publications around the world devoted space to their stormy romance. Some of these accounts have been broken down and described in books but there’s something utterly raw and deeply revealing about reading these tabloid stories firsthand. If you think tabloids are bad now, think again. Thanks to television and the World Wide Web we might have more access to outlets that revel in movie-related gossip but the sensational nature of celebrity news coverage hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years.


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.


A Walk Through Time: Hollywood 1948

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the movie fan magazine, a milestone that came and went with little fanfare. The lack of attention is not surprising as the movie magazine really belongs to another time and another place—the Golden Age of Hollywood. Publications like Photoplay, Movieland, and Motion Picture Story existed to promote the studios’ contract stars, offering stories, photos, and gossip to support and expand the stars’ images.

Unlike the gossip rags of later years and the scandal-based websites of today, the original fan magazines sought to further the stars’ careers—not find joy in tarnishing or ending them. Gossip columnists of the past may have admonished celebrities for their indiscretions and stepped on some toes for that all-important exclusive scoop, but the articles in the magazines offered tales of hard-working folk who exhibited humility and strong moral fiber even while they were tempted by the bright lights of Hollywood and the lures of extramarital affairs. Like the studios’ publicity departments, the movie magazines propagated a positive image of stars, which elevated them in the eyes of fans and guaranteed their loyalty. Today’s combination of stalking paparazzi, star bashing, and relentless prying has tainted the reputations of capable actors and charismatic movie stars, creating generations of movie-goers who scoff at the star system, ignorant of its relationship to Hollywood movie-making.


“Movies in Comicolor”

Comic books and movies seem to be synonymous these days but both industries share a long and fascinating history that can be traced back to the 1930s. One of the many interesting offshoots of this unusual association was the publication of Movie Love in 1950. At the time comic publishers like DC and Fawcett had both attempted to publish action orientated movie-based comics with varied success. And some western stars such as Roy Rogers and John Wayne also had their own popular comic book series. Movie Love was distinct because it was a romance comic aimed at a female audience and the films it featured focused on adult relationships. It appealed to women of all ages and today it’s a fascinating reminder of what film fandom was like more than sixty years ago before home video and DVDs gave us all easy access to the classic movies we love.


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