THE AGNES MOOREHEAD BLOGATHON COMMENCES TOMORROW

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After months of impatiently waiting, I’m pleased as punch to be finally honoring the legendary Agnes Moorehead for three days, commencing tomorrow, and finishing on Tuesday December 6th, which would have been Agnes’ 116th birthday.

For those bloggers who are participating in the blogathon, please send your articles to my blog on any of the dates, and I’ll post them up on that days recap. I look forward to reading all of your entries. Thank you.

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THE MAGIC OF KATE AND CARY

“We got on well, Cary and I. It was fun to play with him, and I think he had a good time too. People liked us together, so we enjoyed it,”

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In the spirited life of Katharine Hepburn lived Spencer Tracy, a unique and complex individual who made movie magic with Hepburn in a nine film collaboration, which spanned from 1942 to 1967, but before the evolution of this legendary dynamic duo was the famed partnership of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, who helped pave the way for each others future success in motion pictures.

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As far as many audiences are concerned, Katharine Hepburn’s ascent to super-stardom was fueled by Spencer Tracy, and their highly extolled on-screen romance, but in truth, Hepburn was already an established star in Hollywood, and had reached the pinnacle of success long before Tracy entered the picture. After making her film debut in A Bill Of Divorcement ( 1932 ), Katharine Hepburn had formed two notable partnerships with director, George Cukor, and Cary Grant, in which they appeared in four movies together.

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In many ways, the teaming of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn is just as pivotal as her celebrated association with Spencer Tracy. In addition to possessing that unique flair for Screwball Comedy along with their magnetic chemistry that had the power to lure audiences, both stars inhabited similar personalities, and were not afraid to admit that they shunned the spotlight, and often refused interviews.

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Even though the partnership of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn was only short-lived, and was later eclipsed by her unparalleled collaboration with Spencer Tracy, the four films that they did appear in together are among the best of both stars, and will continue to leave an indelible mark on cinematic history.

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Their first film, Sylvia Scarlett may not have been as commercially successful as their other three outings, but it did open the door to many endless opportunities, as well as introducing audiences to this iconic couple whose sheer magnetism and zest for life are clearly evident in all four of their vehicles. In fact, if it weren’t for Sylvia Scarlett, the likeness of this screen-team may not have spawned the three Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant comedy extravaganzas that followed.

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By the time the two made Sylvia Scarlett in 1935, both stars were secure in the motion picture industry, but hadn’t yet garnered the popularity or the prominent status that they would attain as time progressed. Cary Grant already had twenty-two acting credits to his resume, and was cemented in a reputable position in Hollywood, while Katharine Hepburn, who had made her movie debut the same year as Grant, had a total of nine films to her credit, and had already received her first of four Academy Awards two years earlier for her performance in Morning Glory ( 1933 )

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While exhausting your way through the four film collaboration of Hepburn and Grant, you come to discover that their ephemeral partnership was a gift from heaven. These were two stars who produced magic together, and had the talent to reduce you to laughter even when your facing your darkest days, and a smile is the hardest thing to pull off. It’s a huge shame that after sending sparks fly in The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant would never share the screen with Katharine Hepburn again. I personally would have liked to have seen Cary Grant appear alongside both Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a movie, but I can only dream.

“She was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic woman I’d ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her; there was no escaping her.”

( Cary Grant on Katharine Hepburn )

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SYLVIA SCARLETT ( 1935 )

Directed by: George Cukor: Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Brian Aherne, and Edmund Gwenn.

In a film that floundered at the box office, Katharine Hepburn is given the opportunity to return to her childhood roots by playing, Sylvia Scarlett, a young girl who disguises herself as a boy, so her and her father, Henry Scarlett ( Edmund Gwenn ) can flee the country to elude embezzlement charges, and escalating troubles with the law. Along the way they meet and get involved with con-man, Jimmy Monkley ( Cary Grant ), who encourages them to join him in brief crime stints.

The film was initially considered to be a romantic comedy, and went as far to be labeled as one. However, on it’s release, the reaction from audiences was less than enthusiastic with critics complaining that it lacked the sublety of a comedy. Instead what we are given is a production that delves more into the facets of dark comedy.

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BRINGING UP BABY ( 1938 )

Directed by: Howard Hawks: Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Charlie Ruggles.

Bringing Up Baby is a cinematic masterpiece that truly epitomizes Screwball Comedy. In this glorious and cheerful extravaganza, Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a zoology professor who acquires one million dollars to complete the brontosaurus skeleton at his museum, but when he is pursued by Susan Vance ( Katharine Hepburn ), a flighty and maniacal heiress, he becomes embroiled in a series of complicated disasters that jeopardize everything that David has worked so hard for.

Bringing Up Baby is arguably the funniest and wittiest movie ever made. It is because of this that it simply cannot be surpassed. However, back in 1938, the film flopped dramatically, and was considered a commercial failure, but in the years that followed the film has attained the recognition that it so rightfully deserves, and now seventy-eight years since it’s release, Bringing Up Baby is considered to be the true definition of Screwball Comedy.

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HOLIDAY ( 1938 )

Directed by: George Cukor: Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edward Everett, and Lew Ayres.

Made shortly after Bringing Up Baby, Holiday is an entertaining romantic comedy that explores the economical status and the social class of two people from different walks of life. When Johnny Case (  Cary Grant ), a man who hails from menial beginnings, falls in love with the rich society girl, Julia Seton, he plans to marry and spend the immediate years of his marriage on holiday, But what he don’t realize is that he’s plans are obstructed by Julia and her father, who envision a successful life in business for Johnny. However, things take an unexpected turn when he discovers that Julia’s sister, Linda ( Katharine Hepburn ) supports his idea of a free way of life.

Holiday is considered an underrated masterpiece, and was recently labeled as one of George Cukor’s finest films, although on it’s initial release, it opened to critical acclaim. Financially the film was not a success with audiences during the Great Depression, who were struggling to find work, but despite the negative response from audiences, Holiday was not totally disastrous, as critics held it in high regard.

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THE PHILADELPHIA STORY ( 1940 )

Directed by: George Cukor: Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, and Virginia Weidler.

After a few years of being crowned “Box Office Poison”, Katharine Hepburn was back on the radar, and had catapulted to her zenith after starring in The Philadelphia Story, a cinematic masterpiece that tells the story of Tracy Lord ( Katharine Hepburn ), a Philadelphia socialite, who is on the verge of marrying the affluent aspiring politician, George Kittredge two years after divorcing, C.K. Dexter Haven ( Cary Grant ). For a wedding that was originally anticipated as a formal affair for selected elite guests, Tracy is shocked to discover that C.K. Dexter Haven has arrived on the scene the day before the wedding with two assigned reporters, Mike Connor ( James Stewart ) and Liz Imbrie ( Ruth Hussey ), who are required to cover the wedding.

Initially Katharine Hepburn wanted Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable as her co-stars in The Philadelphia Story , but when word came back that both actors were busy with other commitments the respective roles went to Cary Grant and James Stewart. At first, Hepburn was a bit disappointed that Tracy was unavailable. Hepburn didn’t need to worry however, as two years later her wish would finally be granted when she was teamed alongside Tracy in Woman Of The Year, the film that made them embark on a glorious and passionate love affair that remained a secret for years.

The Philadelphia Story received six Academy Award nominations. James Stewart won the award for “Best Actor”, and Donald Ogden Stewart attained the Oscar for “Best Screenplay”, while the film received another four nominations for best leading actress, best supporting actress (Ruth Hussey), best director, best picture.

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That brings us to the end of Katharine Hepburn’s journey with Cary Grant. After the triumphant success of The Philadelphia Story, both stars went their own separate ways, and followed a different road to even greater acclaim. Cary Grant made his foray into more challenging roles that would lead to him becoming the prominent figure in four Alfred Hitchcock productions, while Katharine Hepburn would go on to make history with Spencer Tracy.

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 This post is part of The Cary Grant Blogathon, hosted by my friend Laura at Phyllis Loves Classic MoviesPlease be sure to visit the other entries being exhibited during this event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANNOUNCING THE CAROLE LOMBARD: THE PROFANE ANGEL BLOGATHON

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A consummate actress, with an indelible flair for comedy, Carole Lombard will forever be immortalized as the ethereal beauty whose amiable charm and fun-loving nature lured her into the arms of Hollywood’s iconic legend and movie king, Clark Gable.

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Almost seventy-five years since her tragic and untimely death in the catastrophic plane crash that extinguished her young life, Carole is primarily remembered for her wisecracking portrayals of maniacal heroines from the Screwball Comedies, but what many people don’t realize is that there was much more to Carole Lombard than these performances. In short, Carole Lombard was a successful motion picture actress whose versatility shone through in a diverse range of roles that epitomized Lombard’s skillful adaptability.

It is for this reason that Laura from Phyllis Loves Classic Movies, and myself have decided to commemorate Carole Lombard on the 75th anniversary of her passing by hosting a blogathon, which will be solely dedicated to this immensely talented actress whose illuminating presence continues to adorn television screens worldwide.

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With all that said, and without further ado, lets get onto the rules.

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BLOGATHON RULES

1.  Bloggers are more than welcome to write about any topic related to Carole Lombard, or any aspect of her life and career. If you have a subject in mind, but your unsure whether it qualifies, just run it by Laura or me.

2. Because Carole Lombard has an illustrious filmography that consists of 79 acting credits, we will be allowing no more than three duplicates. There are a wealth of topics to go around, and remember, your choice doesn’t have to be a movie.

3. When: The Blogathon will be held on January 16th – 18th, 2017, so please post your entries on either of these dates.

4. If you want to write more than one entry, you’re more than welcome. However we will not be accepting links to previously published entries. All posts must be new material.

5. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, leave a comment on my blog or on Laura’s blog along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: carolelombardforever@yahoo.com or by contacting Laura at solidmoonlight@gmail.com. For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by advertising the event on your blog. Below are a few banners, so grab yourself a banner, and let’s start honoring the one and only Carole Lombard.

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ROSTER, WITH THE LIST OF PARTICIPATING BLOGS:

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: TBA

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: In Name Only ( 1939 ) and a profile on Carole’s life

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: My Man Godfrey ( 1936 )

Old Hollywood Films: Carole Lombard: The Screwball Queen

A Shroud Of Thoughts: Mr. & Mrs. Smith ( 1941 )

All Good Things: Carole Lombard tribute.

Love Letters To Old Hollywood: Hands Across The Table ( 1935 )

Karavansara: To Be Or Not To Be ( 1942 )

The Old Hollywood Garden: Twentieth Century ( 1934 )

Christina Wehner: Made For Each Other ( 1939 )

Smitten Kitten Vintage: Twentieth Century ( 1934 )

Musings Of A Classic Film Addict: True Confession ( 1937 )

Sleepwalking In Hollywood: Carole Lombard and Clark Gable ( Relationship and marriage )

Carole & Co: Carole Lombard Blog: TBA

Silver Screenings: Nothing Sacred ( 1937 )

Back To Golden Days: Carole’s WWII work, and TWA Flight 3, plane crash.

The Flapper Dame: In Name Only ( 1939 )

Critica Retro: Now and Forever ( 1934 )

The Stop Button: Vigil In The Night ( 1940 )

Pop Culture Reverie: Nothing Sacred ( 1937 )

Mike’s Take On The Movies: Virtue ( 1932 )

Lauren Champkin: My Man Godfrey ( 1936 )

Cinema Cities: To Be Or Not To Be ( 1942 )

That William Powell Site: Carole Lombard & William Powell.

Wolffian Classic Movies Digest: The Princess Comes Across ( 1936 )

Goose Pimply All Over: In Name Only ( 1939 )

Taking Up Room: My Man Godfrey ( 1936 )

Movie Rob: To Be Or Not To Be ( 1942 ) and Made For Each Other ( 1939 )

Widescreen World: Made For Each Other ( 1939 )

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog: Lady By Choice ( 1934 )

FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS, IT’S BETTE DAVIS IN ‘ALL ABOUT EVE’ ( 1950 )

 

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

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They make our life more memorable and fun, they support you in all your latest endeavors, they give you total freedom to just be yourself, they are always there for you in your time of need, they make you feel valued when you feel that the rest of the world is against you, they are the confidante of our utmost secrets, but most of all, they are our best friends with whom we share a deep abiding friendship that is based on mutual understanding, loyalty, and trust.

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One of the most important things in life is friendship. Everyone needs at least one close friend. It is for this reason that the topic is often explored in fictional novels, motion pictures, and television series that in most cases epitomize the irreplaceable role of a true friend who helps to divide the good in life, and subtract the evil.

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Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s, All About Eve ( 1950 ) is a pivotal film when it comes to friendships. Adapted to the screen by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a short story titled, The Wisdom Of Eve by Mary Orr, and featuring an all star cast, the film examines the many different types of human bonding and interpersonal relationships that are developed in the theater.

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There is only one person to thank for All About Eve, and that is Elisabeth Bergner, the notable stage actress, who became the unfortunate victim of an aspiring young hopeful whose only motives were to destroy and take advantage of her newfound employment that was granted to her by Bergner. Years later, Bergner reflected back on the past, and recalled the incident to Mary Orr about the young girl who she first met while performing in the stage play of The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Orr was that immersed in the story that it became the basis for her proposed mini project.

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The idea of a young ingenue upstaging and charting the territory of an already established actress was a worthy subject for a film. Previously, a similar premise had been generating in the minds of a few studio executives, especially Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who saw this sort of plot as great material. However, the thought quickly diminished until Mankiewicz read The Wisdom Of Eve, and suddenly realized that he could make movie magic with this type of story.

“I can think of no project that from the outset was as rewarding from the first day to the last. It is easy to understand why. It was a great script, had a great director, and was a cast of professionals all with parts they liked. It was a charmed production from the word go.”

( Bette Davis on All About Eve )

Euphoric with what he just read, Mankiewicz started to improvise plans for a screenplay, and sent a memo to producer, Darryl F. Zanuck about casting Susan Hayward in the lead role of Margola Cranston, which was later changed to Margo Channing. Like Mankiewicz, Zanuck was positive that this type of production would be well received by audiences and critics, but he rejected Mankiewicz’s request about casting Susan Hayward, who he considered too young for the role. Initially Zanuck wanted to hire Barbara Stanwyck to play Margo Channing. He thought that the part was tailor made for Stanwyck, but when word came back that Stanwyck was busy working on other assignments, he assigned the role to Claudette Colbert, who was later forced to withdraw from the project after suffering an injury. For a while Ingrid Bergman was being favored for the part. However Zanuck dismissed that idea, and contacted Bette Davis, who heavily campaigned for the role once she discovered that this was the type of film she needed to put her back on the pedestal.

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Bette Davis was definitely the inspired choice to play Margo Channing. Davis who had just ended an eighteen year association with Warner Bros., was desperately in need of a project that would help revive her career. When the offer for All About Eve came along, Davis instantly knew that this part was for her. Due to her willingness to play characters with an unpleasant nature, Mankiewicz adjusted the script to suit Bette Davis, and altered the personality of Margo Channing by making her more feisty and abrasive.

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.”

Once all the arrangements were made for Davis’ character, Margo channing, Joseph L. Mankiewicz started canvassing around for an actress to fulfill the role of Eve Harrington. Jeanne Craine whose career was in the middle of ascending to great heights was his first preference, but when Crain fell pregnant, the role went to Anne Baxter, an immensely talented individual, who was still being cast in supporting roles that very rarely garnered her the recognition she deserved.

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Altercations also ensued while trying to find actors for the remaining supporting parts. The role of Bill Sampson was initially intended as a starring portrayal for John Garfield or Ronald Reagan with Reagan’s future wife, Nancy in the role of Margo’s best friend, Karen Richards. That was until things changed, and Gary Merrill, and Celeste Holm were hired to fulfill the parts.

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Marilyn Monroe, who was still relatively unknown in Hollywood was assigned the role of Miss Casswell, a part that was originally slated for Angela Lansbury, while acting veteran, George Sanders won the role of Addison DeWitt over their first preference, Jose Ferrer. One part that wasn’t in the short story, but was written in the movie adaptation by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was Birdie Coonan, who was played by the renowned character actress, Thelma Ritter. Mankiewicz, who had previously worked with Ritter in A Letter To Three Wives ( 1949 ), deeply admired Ritter, and considered her to be ideal to portray the first character to become suspicious of Eve Harrington’s motives.

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In addition to the relationships being formed on-screen, there were also a few memorable partnerships developing off-screen. During filming, Bette Davis fell in love with co-star, Gary Merrill, who was seven years her junior. The couple married in July 1950, and adopted two children, who they named Margot, after Davis’character, Margo Channing, and Michael. Aside from Gary Merrill, Davis built a great rapport with Anne Baxter, which resulted in the two becoming lifelong friends.

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All About Eve not only resurrected Bette Davis’ career, it also opened the door to many endless opportunities, as well as creating a new life for her and Gary Merrill. In Davis’ autobiography, The Lonely Life, Davis wrote, “I found out Gary had spent all his summers in Maine. He had gone to Loomis in Windsor, Connecticut, where he was born and brought up. I had known the current headmaster, Frank Grubbs, years ago. Gary use to vacation as a child at Prouts Neck, Maine-just across the bay from Ocean Park, Maine, where I spent all my summers as a child. I found him an excellent actor to work with-one with integrity. Our scenes went well together. By the time we played out our story and the actress had retired to be the little woman, I had fused the two men completely. Margo Channing and Bill Sampson were perfectly matched. They were the perfect couple. I was breaking every one of my rules. I always swore I’d never marry an actor. Gary told me that years before he had been inducted into the army directly behind Ham. Everyone had realized Ham had been married to me. Gary had said, “How the hell could a guy let himself get into a deal like that?”. Now here he was. The cards were all reshuffled and we didn’t either of us see the jokers in the pack.”

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On its release, the film was a triumphant success, and received fourteen Academy Award nominations. Bosley Crowther from The New York Times wrote, “It is a fine Darryl Zanuck production, excellent music, and on air ultra-class complete the superior satire.”. Bette Davis’ performance also garnered critical acclaim with Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun Times, stating, “Bette Davis’ character, veteran actress, Margo Channing in All About Eve was her greatest role.”, while Boxoffice.com, stated, “It is a classic of the American cinema – to this day the quintessential depiction of ruthless ambition in the entertainment industry, with legendary performances from Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and George Sanders anchoring one of the very best films from one of Hollywood’s very best Golden Era filmmakers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It is a film that belongs on every collector’s shelf – whether on video or DVD. It is a classic that deserves better than what Fox has given it.”

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THE PLOT:

Partially based on true events, All About Eve, follows the story of Margo Channing ( Bette Davis ), an aging stage actress whose success has transformed her into a distinguished icon of the theater. Because Margo is an established star, who is presented as a legendary figure, she very rarely allows fans to get a glimpse into her personal life, but when she does hire Eve Harrington ( Anne Baxter ), a young fan with a facade of innocence, she soon realizes that she made a big mistake that proves to be threatening when she discovers that the conniving and duplicitous, Eve has mapped out a plan to eclipse her career in every way possible by stealing her parts and fiance, as well as breaking up relationships.

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All About Eve may not be categorized as a vehicle about best friends, but while the film mostly revolves around performing arts, the subject of friendship is rather dominant throughout the picture. In fact, relationships and companionship is an underlying theme in All About Eve.

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When you think about it, All About Eve is really a movie about an association of theater folks, who maintain solid friendships with other people of their caliber. The chief protagonist in this close knit group of individuals is Margo Channing, who despite her abrasive manner is friends with just about everyone in their circle. To outsiders, Margo is often considered to be a self-centered egotist, who utters a cavalcade of harsh and rather offensive remarks, but in truth, Margo is a lonely person, who is in desperate need of a man to welcome her home each evening. She relies solely on her boyfriend, Bill Sampson, and her close friend, Karen Richards, who has remained her pillar of strength through thick and thin.

“I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.”

Even though the friendship between Margo and Karen is real, the film also makes an effort by detouring away from the true and glorious friendships that are often depicted in movies. Instead it addresses another aspect of friendship that is largely common today, but is very rarely approached in movies. This is the subject of betrayal and deceit, in which All About Eve paints a clear picture of the topic by representing Eve Harrington, an aspiring young hopeful, who is befriended by Margo and Karen after delineating her admiration for Margo, and sharing a moving story that personifies her as the poor victim. However, Eve Harrington is far from the embodiment of a sweet and innocent ingenue, who cares for the welfare of Margo Channing. She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Her ambitions stretch far and beyond, and her main goal is to antagonize Margo Channing, and her fellow friends and acquaintances, just so she can attain a part in a play, and capitalize on her own undeserved success.

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The key scene in All About Eve that really exemplifies the importance of maintaining a solid friendship is displayed prominently in the Cub Room scene when Karen’s husband, playwright, Lloyd Richards, delivers an honest acknowledgement and toasts, “To each of us and all of us, never have we been more close, may we never be farther apart.”. This is a very poignant and touching moment of the film. After watching this scene, it is clearly evident that they have an enduring friendship that is their foundation for support.

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All this and more is the result of a masterfully crafted production that still manages to evoke positive memories from movie enthusiasts worldwide. In addition to the intriguing plot that is filled with amiable and scheming characters, All About Eve is blessed with memorable crisp and sharp dialogue that gloriously stains every scene. This is the epitome of the fine art of movie making.

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TRIVIA:

All About Eve was the first of only two films to receive 14 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

Bette Davis‘ marriage to William Grant Sherry was in the throes of breaking up while she was making the film. Her raspy voice in the film is largely due to the fact that she burst a blood vessel in her throat from screaming at her soon-to-be-ex-husband during one of their many rows. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz liked the croaky quality so he didn’t have Davis change it.

Upon learning that he had cast Bette Davis, one of her former directors, Edmund Goulding, rang up Joseph L. Mankiewicz and warned him that she would grind him down into a fine powder. This proved to be an unnecessary warning as Davis knew better than to mess with Mankiewicz’s finely tuned screenplay. In fact, Mankiewicz found her to be one of the most professional and agreeable actresses he’d ever worked with.

Bette Davis filmed of all her scenes in sixteen days.

In 1970 the story was adapted into a Broadway musical called “Applause” and in 1973 a made-for-TV movie (Applause (1973)). Lauren Bacall played Margo Channing. When Bacall left the show, the actress who took over the role was Anne Baxter, who had played the role of Eve in the film.

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CAST:

Bette Davis: Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5th, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Died: October 6th, 1989 in Neuilly, Sur Seine, France. Aged 81. Cause of death: Breast Cancer.

Anne Baxter: Born Anne Baxter on May 7th, 1923 in Michigan City, Indiana. Died: December 12th, 1985 in New York. Aged: 62. Cause of death: Brain Aneurysm.

George Sanders: Born George Henry Sanders on July 3rd, 1906 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. Died: April 25th, 1972 in Barcelona, Spain. Aged 65. Cause of death: Suicide.

Celeste Holm: Born April 29th, 1917 in New York. Died: July 15th, 2012 in New York. Aged: 95. Cause of death: Heart attack.

Gary Merrill: Born Gary Fred Merrill on August 2nd, 1915 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: March 5th, 1990 in Falmouth, Maine. Aged 74. Cause of death: Lung Cancer.

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This post was written for the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon, which is being hosted by Moon In GeminiTo view the other articles being exhibited during this event, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

FOURTEEN HOURS ( 1951 )

“Look, I almost had him a couple of times. I – I know I can con him in if I can just get my hands on what’s bothering him.”

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It’s a peaceful, crisp clear morning in New York City. Many people are heading to work for what seems to be another ordinary and mundane day in the office, but what they don’t know is that their normal monotonous day is about to turn into an exhilarating fourteen hour ride that beats any humdrum task that the workplace has in store for them.

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The above caption perfectly encapsulates the Fourteen Hours, a tense but chilling Film Noir that is now known as the production that gave birth to a legend, a new star on the horizon, who in a few years time would become one the greatest and most influential stars to ever adorn the silver screen. Her name as known the world over is Grace Kelly.

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Grace Kelly, the prominent actress, who is best remembered by many as the gorgeous blonde in the Hitchcock films, would have celebrated her 87th birthday on November 12th. Noted for her luminous beauty, her refreshing charm, and her fairy tale marriage to Prince Rainier, Kelly is among the most recognizable icons from Hollywood’s golden age.

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The legend known as Grace Kelly may have never materialized if it weren’t for Edith Van Cleve, the notable actress and theatrical agent, who witnessed potential in Kelly, and paved the way for her future success in motion pictures. Van Cleve, who had been introduced to Kelly by Don Richardson, gained full control over the aspiring young hopeful, and started sending her to auditions and casting calls for roles that met the requirements of a star who was not yet established in Hollywood.

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For Grace Kelly, this was a long journey that ensured many triumphs and rejection, but at the end of the road, Kelly finally reached her dream destination in 1951, when she made her silver screen debut in Fourteen Hours, a film that is based on true events.

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For a film that has faded into obscurity, and is very rarely mentioned today, some find it hard to believe that Fourteen Hours has a wealth of history behind it. The inspiration for the film came from the series of events that occurred on July 26th, 1938, when John William Warde, a twenty six year old native from Southampton, New York, plummeted to his death from the seventeenth floor of the Gotham Hotel after standing on the ledge for eleven hours, contemplating suicide.

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Twelve years later, this tragic disaster made history once again when Hollywood transformed the incident into a motion picture spectacle, that was written for the screen by John Paxton, and based on a short article by Joel Sayre, titled, The Man On The Ledge, which reflected back on the 1938 debacle. The film featured a prominent array of stars, who all delivered solid dexterity under the masterful direction of Henry Hathaway, the renowned director who became notable for helming a string of financially successful westerns.

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Based on a real life catastrophe that shocked the nation, Fourteen Hours chronicles the unfolding of events that take place on the fifteenth floor of New York City’s Rodney Hotel. The central protagonist in this story is, Robert Cosick ( Richard Basehart ), an emotionally unstable and despondent man, who decides that the only way to elude all the troubles in life is to commit suicide by jumping to his death. His attempts are halted however, when a waiter delivering breakfast witnesses the horrific sight of Robert standing on the ledge, and immediately calls for help. All of a sudden, Robert’s secret attempt at contemplating suicide turns into a media frenzy when a deluge of people on the streets watch on while Robert is being aided by Charlie Dunnigan ( Paul Douglas ), a traffic control police officer who along with others try their hardest to implore Robert to vanquish his suicidal thoughts.

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In many ways, Fourteen Hours should be made essential viewing for people struggling with depression or other psychotic disorders that trigger unwanted suicidal thoughts. Looking through our own personal lens, we witness from a birds eye view the struggles of a dispirited person whose depression has affected him emotionally. In this case it’s Robert Cosick, a perturbed individual whose lifelong rejection has led to him envisioning the advantages of being deceased, and free of life.

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As the movie progresses, snippets of Robert’s life is revealed through family, who paint a clear picture that slowly pieces together the information on what made the depression evolve. First we are introduced to Robert’s mother, Christine Hill Cosick ( Agnes Moorehead ), an hysterical woman whose frantic behavior exacerbates his mood, and lures him into jumping. We then meet his father, Paul Cosick ( Robert Keith ), a man who his mother has brought him up to despise, but while putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, police come to question the motive as to why his mother made his father into being his biggest enemy.

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In addition to the commotion happening at the hotel, there is also a story revolving around Louise Fuller ( Grace Kelly ), who is in town to sign her divorce papers, but once she witnesses the spectacle, Fuller decides not to go ahead with the proceedings, and realizes that reconciling with her husband is more important than getting a divorce.

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The shooting process for Fourteen Hours was not a happy experience for Richard Basehart whose wife Stephanie Klein passed away of a brain tumor that July, leaving Basehart distraught for most part of the production. Despite the fact however that he was grieving for his wife, Basehart’s delivery of a mentally disturbed man earned him a multitude of accolades.

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Fourteen Hours is a film that captures the essence of realism. It is for this reason that Henry Hathaway was assigned as director. However, the film was initially suppose to be directed by Howard Hawkes, who declined once he found out that the production delved into a very heavy subject matter, which could be considered quite controversial at the time. As soon as Hathaway stepped into directorial duties, he commenced work on the picture, and started filming at the Twentieth Century Fox lot before moving to New York where the exteriors were filmed.

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The film is also particularly notable for it’s impressive cast. While Robert Cosick and Charlie Dunnigan are the main focal points of the story, Agnes Moorehead steals every scene she’s in as Robert’s neurotic mother whose guilty instincts are about to be unraveled. Grace Kelly is also worthy of note. Even though her screen time is very limited, Kelly’s character, Louise Fuller is a pivotal figure in the movie. Also starring in the film is Barbara Belle Geddes, who plays Robert’s girlfriend. Though, Geddes only appeared towards the end of the film, she received third billing behind Paul Douglas, and Richard Basehart.

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On its release, the film opened to many positive reviews. Bosley Crowther from ‘The New York Times’ stated that Fourteen Hours is a “gripping suspense, absorbing drama and stinging social comment in this film. He also went on to praise Hathaway’s directing technique, and the performances of Richard Basehart, and the other fellow cast members, while ‘Time Out Film Guide’ remarked that the film was a, “Vertiginous melodrama that recounts the event in professional low-key journalistic fashion.”. Coincidentally, Fourteen Hours was voted one of the best films of 1951.

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Fourteen Hours may not have led to any immediate film offers for Grace Kelly, but it did open the door to a world of opportunities, as well as planting her in a reputable position in Hollywood’s constellation of stars. Her greatest epiphany occurred that Summer when an actor of the first magnitude visited the set of Fourteen Hours, and was immediately captivated by the alluring presence of Grace Kelly. The star was no other than Gary Cooper, an iconic figure from motion pictures, and one who Grace had always admired. From the moment that they first met, Cooper’s eyes were instantly fixated on this intriguing new star, who he said embodied all the characteristics of female virtue, and was unlike any other screen goddess that was in vogue at the time. Gary Cooper later stated, “I thought she looked pretty and different, and that maybe she’d be somebody. She looked educated, and as if she came from a nice family. She was certainly a refreshing change from all those bombshells we’d been seeing so much of.”

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At the time of her chance meeting with Gary Gooper, Grace Kelly had no conception of what the future would bring, but even if she did have the slightest inkling, she certainly would never have dreamed that the following year she was going to make movie magic with Gary Cooper in the perennial western classic, High Noon.

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TRIVIA:

A nonprofessional performer named Richard Lacovara doubled for Richard Basehart in long shots on the ledge, which had been enlarged to minimize risk of falling. Lacovara was protected by a canvas life belt hidden under his costume, connected to a lifeline, Even with the double, Basehart still had to endure over 300 hours of standing on the ledge with little movement during the fifty days of shooting in New York, even though he had a sprained ankle and his legs were ravaged by poison oak contracted on the grounds of his Coldwater Canyon home.

The production used a real bank building in New York (The Guaranty Trust Co.) and they planned to film all of the outdoor crowd scenes over Memorial Day weekend. However, the ledge on the bank building turned out to be too narrow, so an extension was built (12 inches deep, 42 feet wide)) and filming ended up taking two weeks. The entire bank building was dressed with curtains, a new entrance canopy, metal nameplates, and marquee. The replica of the hotel ledge that was built on Fox’s Stage 8 cost $32,000.

Richard Basehart‘s performance impressed Federico Fellini, who subsequently cast him in La Strada (1954).

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CAST:

Richard Basehart: Born, John Richard Basehart on August 31st, 1914 in Zanesville, Ohio. Died: September 17th, 1984 in Los Angeles, California. Aged: 70. Cause of death: Stroke.

Paul Douglas: Born, Paul Douglas Fleischer on April 11th, 1907 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: September 11th, 1959 in Hollywood, California. Aged: 52. Cause of death: Heart attack.

Agnes Moorehead: Born, Agnes Robertson Moorehead on December 6th, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts. Died: April 30th, 1974 in Rochester, Minnesota. Aged 73. Cause of death: Uterine Cancer.

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This post was written for The Second Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathonwhich is hosted by The Wonderful World Of CinemaTo view the other entries being exhibited during this event, please click here.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS ( 1939 )

“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest so long as I live on! I killed you. Haunt me, then! Haunt your murderer! I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul.”

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There is something special about classic films. They not only contain charm and a high absorption level, they have an alluring mystery, and the power to attract a whole new generation of fans who will continue to marvel over a masterful, nostalgic creation that adorned cinema screens decades ago. These films define and epitomize magic in every sense of the word.

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Almost half of today’s generation wouldn’t understand the historical importance of classic film. Many people believe that movies are just a form of entertainment. What they don’t know is that these films have a cultural impact on society, and its because of this that audiences are shaping their lives and strengthening their moral fiber according to the movies.

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Many of Hollywood’s spectacular motion pictures that continue to stand in a pivotal position in the history of cinema have been adapted from famous novels. A large majority of these novels were published more than a century ago, but to the movie industry they are a great source of inspiration that they draw upon for success.

Probably the most famous of these novels is Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights. Published in 1847, the book was first adapted to the screen in 1920 by A.V. Bramble. Since its initial release the film has endured several remakes, and dramatizations, but none of these were as commercially successful as the distinguishable 1939, version starring, Laurence Olivier, and Merle Oberon.

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From the moment that Wuthering Heights became a proposed assignment on the horizon, Samual Goldwyn Productions started canvassing heavily for a prestige cast who had an illustrious resume of films to their credits. For many this may seem like an arduous task, but the studio executives accomplished their mission when the characters of Heathcliff and Cathy presented themselves in the form of Laurence Olivier, and Merle Oberon, two highly extolled individuals whose immense talent proved that they embodied all the essential characteristics of the doomed couple.

What the studio executives didn’t know is that their decision ensued a few obstacles that would disrupt their goal if things didn’t pan out. They had their mind set on Laurence Olivier playing the dark and brooding, Heathcliff. This was the ideal part for the British born star, and there was absolutely no reason why an actor of his caliber would turn it down, but Olivier had different opinions. At the time his main focus was on his blossoming romance with Vivien Leigh, and he certainly didn’t want to leave Leigh when they were at the height of their love affair.

“No matter what I ever do or say, Heathcliff, this is me – now – standing on this hill with you. This is me, forever.”

The only way to resolve the situation was to extend their search for another actor to play Heathcliff, or accept Olivier’s request and cast Vivien Leigh in the role of Cathy, which was highly impossible as Merle Oberon was already selected for the part, and for the reason that Leigh was still relatively unknown in the United States. The next best thing to do was offer Leigh the role of Isabella Linton, but Leigh declined, stating, “I’ll play Cathy or I’ll playing nothing.”. Fortunately, Olivier eventually wavered, and agreed to take on the role. On the other hand, Vivien Leigh made the best decision. She went on to attain the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in the endearing masterpiece, Gone With The Wind.

Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939

The real life connection between Laurence Olivier, and Merle Oberon was a lot different then their relationship that was depicted in the film. On-screen, Cathy and Heathcliff were sometimes inseparable despite their complexities, and their turbulent romance, but off-screen, they barely tolerated each other. Incensed with anger over the dismissal of Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier unleashed his temper on Merle Oberon, and director, William Wyler, who allegedly stated that Olivier’s harsh treatment on the set resulted in many violent-fueled altercations that would lead to Oberon running off the set crying.

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William Wyler also caught the brunt of Olivier’s anger. Forever dismayed with Wyler’s exhausting and uncommunicative style of film-making, Olivier often verbally abused Wyler because of his directing technique, and on one occasion when Wyler demanded that a certain scene be shot seventy two times, Olivier remarked, “For God’s sake, I did it sitting down. I did it with a smile. I did it with a smirk. I did it scratching my ear. I did it with my back to the camera. How do you want me to do it?”. In later years however, Laurence Olivier had a different opinion on William Wyler, and credited him for teaching him how to act in films, as opposed to on the stage.

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To add to the tension on the set, both stars had their minds preoccupied on their loved ones, who they left behind in the United Kingdom. Prior to the commencement of the film, Merle Oberon had embarked on a passionate romance with the renowned producer, Alexander Korda, whom she would marry in 1939, and Laurence Olivier was deeply in love with Vivien Leigh, who later flew to the United States to start work on Gone With The Wind.

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Wuthering Heights is a powerful film that required a crew of consummate professionals. The screenplay was written by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, whose work has greatly impacted American cinema. William Wyler, the prolific director helmed the production, while Gregg Toland, and Alfred Newman were in charge of the cinematography and the music, which help make Wuthering Heights the beloved classic that it is today.

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On its release, Wuthering Heights garnered an array of positive reviews. Frank S. Nugent from the New York Times described the film as being, “A strong and somber film, poetically written as the novel not always was, sinister and wild as it was meant to be, far more compact dramatically than what Miss Bronte had made it… It is, unquestionably one of the most distinguished pictures of the year, one of the finest ever produced by Mr. Goldwyn, and one you should decide to see.” . On the other hand, Variety gave a less than impressive statement by claiming that the films slow pace would make for rather dull material. However, Wuthering Heights sure made up for any flawed remarks when Film Daily wrote, “Brilliant screen version of Bronte novel. William Wyler has given the love story warm, sympathetic direction, gaining fine performances from his cast.”

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PROLOGUE

On the barren Yorkshire moors in England, a hundred years ago, stood a house as bleak and desolate as the wastes around it. Only a stranger lost in a storm would have dared to knock at the door of Wuthering Heights.

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Wuthering Heights is a haunting and atmospheric production that tells the story of Heathcliff ( Laurence Olivier ) and Cathy ( Merle Oberon ), two lovers who are first brought together as children by unforeseen circumstances. Years later the two embark on a passionate but stormy romance that proves to be doomed once Cathy decides she can’t marry him due to societal wrongs that ultimately tears them apart. Will Cathy and Heathcliff meet again? or will Heathcliff’s consumed hatred take revenge on their relationship? Watch the movie and find out.

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Even though Wuthering Heights is masterfully crafted with splendid cinematography that garnered Gregg Toland an Academy Award, it would have been interesting, and a lot more captivating if the film closely followed the novel. Instead the second half of the famous book was eliminated, and what we are given is Hollywood’s fictionalized account of a fictionalized novel.

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In the latter part of the story readers are introduced to Cathy and Heathcliff’s children, but in the film adaptation the kids are non existent. The absence of the children fueled many altercations with fans of the novel, who dismissed the film version of Wuthering Heights by claiming that its a poor adaptation when an array of prominent characters have been eliminated. That being said, the movie did make up for its non appearance of characters by the bitterness and self destruction of Hindley, the intoxicated brother of Cathy, whose tyrannical nature towards Heathcliff and other individuals darkens the mood of the picture.

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One of the major highlights of Wuthering Heights is the assembled cast of stellar players. Laurence Olivier was perfectly cast as the dark and gloomy Heathcliff, and Merle Oberon was certainly well suited for the role of Cathy, a tragic figure, who will always remain the light of Heathcliff’s life, no matter what obstacles comes between them. The supporting cast are also worthy of note. David Niven plays an important role as Edgar Linton, a rich man from upper society, who falls in love with Cathy, and eventually marries her despite her romance with Heathcliff. Geraldine Fitzgerald, who previously made her American film debut that same year in the Bette Davis film, Dark Victory, attained an Academy Award nomination for her role as Isabella Linton, Edgar’s naive sister, who much to the chagrin of Cathy gets swept into the destructive lifestyle when she marries Heathcliff.

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Despite the dramatic changes, and the detouring away from the original story line in Emily Bronte’s novel, the film was an overall success. A large portion of the cruelty and brutality that was depicted in their relationship in the novel was eclipsed by Heathcliff’s humanity and kindness in the film. A lot of this has probably got to do with the escapism in movies that was largely dominant at the time. Audiences would much rather see a passionate love affair being portrayed on-screen rather than one that sometimes represented a combination of fondness, devotion, enmity, and mutual hatred.

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The vision of Cathy and Heathcliff standing on top of the Yorkshire Moors. The tumultuous romance of these two powerful fictional figures, and the magnetic chemistry of the couple whose relationship was doomed from the start is what makes Wuthering Heights a cinematic attraction for movie enthusiasts worldwide.

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TRIVIA:

David Niven remembers the filming of Merle Oberon‘s deathbed scenes (recorded in his bestselling book, The Moon’s a Balloon) as less than romantic. After telling Wyler he didn’t know how to ‘sob’, he had been given a menthol mist substance to help it appear as if he were crying, which instead had the effect of making “green goo” come out of his nose. Oberon immediately exited the bed after witnessing it.

Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., James Mason and Robert Newton were all considered for the part of Heathcliff. Charles Boyer’s biography, “The Reluctant Lover” claims he turned down the role also.

David Niven dreaded the film not only because he was playing a thankless, secondary role, but because he dreaded working with William Wyler again. Merle Oberon was uncomfortable working with Niven after their year long love affair ended in 1936.

In a departure from the novel, there is an afterlife scene in which we see Heathcliff and Cathy walking hand in hand, visiting their favourite place, Penistone Crag. Wyler hated the scene and didn’t want to do it, but Samuel Goldwyn vetoed him on that score. Goldwyn subsequently claimed, “I made “Wuthering Heights”, Wyler only directed it.”

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CAST:

Laurence Olivier: Born, Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier on May 22nd, 1907 in Dorking, Surrey, United Kingdom. Died: July 11, 1989 in Steyning, West Sussex, United Kingdom. Age: 82. Cause of death: Renal failure.

Merle Oberon: Born, Estelle Merle Oberon Thompson on February 19th, 1911 in Bombay, Bombay Presidency British India. Died: November 23rd, 1979 in Malibu, California. Age: 68. Cause of death: Complications from a stroke.

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The following was my entry for the Second Annual Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon, which was hosted by Joseph at Wolffian Classics Movies Digest. Click here to view the other entries being exhibited in this blogathon.

HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE ( 1964 ), AND WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? ( 1962 ) COSTUMES

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It was the year 1964, a time when most stars of their caliber were facing a career decline, but for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who were back on the radar after enduring triumphant success for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, future work prospects were imminent, and their territories were not yet uncharted.

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To capitalize on the success of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, director Robert Aldrich was eagerly intending a follow up sequal that would reunite both stars whose verbal sparring and alleged feud had garnered packed audiences and critical acclaim on the release of the predecessor.

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Agnes Moorehead with Joan Crawford, before Crawford was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.

The thought of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford starring together for the second time in a horror film with a ghostly ambiance kept Robert Aldrich stimulated. Determined to surpass his previous record, Aldrich added a stellar array of seasoned acting veterans which include, Agnes Moorehead, in an Academy Award nominated performance, Joseph Cotten, Cecil Kellaway, and Mary Astor in her final film role.

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Agnes and Joan on the set of “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

With a cast that boasted prominence, Robert Aldrich was expecting another masterpiece, but unfortunately only part of this was achieved. After ten days of filming on location at Houmas House in Louisiana, Joan Crawford was beginning to succumb to the troubles that were fueled by Bette Davis, who made it clear several times that she did not want Crawford in the picture. Problems mounted on the final day of location shooting when Crawford fell asleep in her trailer and awoke hours later to discover that the cast and crew had packed up and left Louisiana, and were headed back to Hollywood, where they were to continue on filming. The lack of communication which was coupled by Davis’ harsh treatment infuriated Crawford, who was left alone in the dark colossal fields of the Houmas plantation with little knowledge to where everyone was. Alone for the night in Baton Rouge, Crawford made her own travel arrangements, and departed for Los Angeles later that evening.

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On her arrival in Los Angeles, Joan Crawford reportedly fell ill, and admitted herself into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for much needed recuperation. Whether or not Crawford was sick is not truly known. Many people believe that Crawford feigned illness because she wanted out of that picture, while others state that Crawford was inflicted with a respiratory infection, but whatever the truth, Joan Crawford’s time on the set was a complete nightmare. She was sick of playing second fiddle to Davis, who she felt was always overacting and chewing up the scenery, trying to take all scenes away from Crawford.

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Following her stint in the hospital, Joan Crawford left the production completely. With Joan gone, Robert Aldrich was faced with an even bigger problem. If Crawford couldn’t be replaced, shooting of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would have to be suspended indefinitely. Aldrich however was determined to make this film work. He began canvassing around Hollywood for an actress to take Joan’s place. After approaching notable Hollywood stars like, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Loretta Young, and Vivien Leigh, who all declined, Aldrich took Davis’ advice, and asked Olivia de Havilland, who reluctantly accepted due to her close friendship with Bette Davis.

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Olivia de Havilland, who had been friends with Bette Davis since making It’s Love I’m After, their first film together, felt she owed the favor to Davis, and to Robert Aldrich, who desperately traveled to her summer home in the Swiss Alps to persuade her to accept the part of Miriam Deering. Thankfully she did because if it weren’t for Olivia de Havilland, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would never have eventuated.

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After enduring weeks of physical and emotional burden due to the extreme animosity and tension on the set that was caused by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Robert Aldrich was relieved when Olivia de Havilland entered the picture. At last he was able to fully concentrate on his responsibilities as a director without the interference of the two bickering stars. With Olivia, the atmosphere on the set was more congenial, and the amicable nature that was displayed by the cast made for a much happier union.

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As filming progressed, Agnes Moorehead was starting to maintain a hectic work schedule. By August, Moorehead was heavily involved in the shooting of Bewitched, which first debuted on September 17th of that year, and with the air date of the series about to commence, Agnes was often absent on the set of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. This caused slight altercations for Robert Aldrich and his crew, who were considering having Moorehead replaced, or her part wiped out completely.

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The filming of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was completed in October 1964, and opened to critical acclaim the following year. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Agnes Moorehead, who lost to Lila Kedrova for her role in Zorba The Creek, while Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland both went unnoticed at that years Oscars ceremony.

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The success of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte sure made up for the catastrophic disasters that occurred during the early phrases of the filming process. On its release the film attained many positive reviews. Variety wrote that “Davis’ portrayal is reminiscent of Jane in its emotional overtones, in her style of characterization of the near-crazed former Southern belle, aided by haggard makeup and outlandish attire. It is an outgoing performance, and she plays it to the limit. De Havilland, on the other hand, is far more restrained but none the less effective dramatically in her offbeat role.”. Time Out London also made an effort to observe the solid performances delivered by the stars when they stated, “Over the top, of course, and not a lot to it, but it’s efficiently directed, beautifully shot, and contains enough scary sequences amid the brooding, tense atmosphere. Splendid performances from Davis and Moorehead, too.”.

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Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, and was based on an unpublished short story titled, Whatever Happened To Cousin Charlotte? by Henry Farrell, who along with Lucas Heller wrote the screenplay. The films musical score was provided by Frank De Vol, the eminent arranger and composer whose illustrious achievements can be heard in an array of cinemas best remembered productions. Joseph Biroc, the renowned cinematographer attained an Academy Award nomination for his masterful contribution to the film, but was overshadowed by Walter Lassally. However, Joseph Biroc would go on to receive the Academy Award ten years later for The Towering Inferno.

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Set in the deep south, this atmospheric production tells the story of Charlotte Hollis ( Bette Davis ), an aging recluse who has lived a prisoned life with her disorderly but loyal housekeeper, Velma Cruther ( Agnes Moorehead ) in her Louisiana ancestral mansion since the brutal death of her married lover that took place in 1927. Many years later, Charlotte Hollis is the prime suspect in the gruesome murder case, and is considered to be psychotic by the rest of the towns folk. When the government threatens to destroy her unhinged lifestyle by tearing down her dilapidated residence for a road construction project, Charlotte refuses to elude her premises, which ultimately leads to many obstacles for the construction team and authorities.

Problems arise when her cousin Miriam ( Olivia de Havilland ) and the local doctor, Drew Bayliss ( Joseph Cotten ) accepts Charlotte’s invitation, and arrive at the mansion to supposedly offer their help, but when Charlotte takes a sudden descent into madness, all hidden secrets are slowly unearthed after a series of unsettling episodes occur that take Charlotte back to that formidable night of the murder.

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Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a masterfully crafted Southern Gothic and psychological thriller that features many elements of horror and revulsion. While the film runs in parallel directions as its predecessor, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, it also makes a point of hearkening back to previous productions that had Bette Davis portraying similar characters. For instance, Davis’ character of Julie Marsden in Jezebel ( 1938 ) is largely represented in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Julie who also hails from Louisiana embodies many of the same characteristics as Charlotte. Even though Julie is a lot younger than Charlotte, both women are tenacious, difficult, and at war with the world. It is also interesting to note that the large portrait that adorns the walls of the Hollis mansion is a photo of Bette Davis as Julie Marsden in Jezebel.

annex-davis-bette-hush-hush-sweet-charlotte_nrfpt_01The cast of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte are impressive. Agnes Moorehead made up for losing the Academy Award by receiving a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Velma, the slovenly housemaid who is Charlotte’s only companion. Despite her dowdy appearance, Velma is intellectually smart, and possesses enough knowledge to realize that Charlotte’s deterioration is caused by the scheming and calculating Miriam and Drew Bayliss who have only arrived on the scene to torment Charlotte by playing tricks on her mind.

“So you’re finally showin’ the right side of your face. Well, I seen it all along. That’s some kinda drug you been givin’ her. Isn’t it? It’s what’s been making her act like she’s been. Well, Ah’m goin’ into town and Ah’m tellin them what you been up to.”

( Agnes as Velma Cruther in “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” 1964. )

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Olivia de Havilland always serves as a great counterpart to the indomitable Bette Davis who was fierce competition, though it would have been interesting to see Joan Crawford play the duplicitous Miriam whose facade of charm and convincing act of compassion and tenderness makes for a good whodunit mystery where audiences are to determine who the antagonist of destruction really is.

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The rest of the ensemble cast are worthy of applause. In many cases its the character actors in their supporting roles that help hold the film together. In Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, this is truly evident. In addition to Agnes Moorehead, who manages to steal the spotlight away from top stars like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, and Joseph Cotten whose unparalleled performances continue to immerse audiences worldwide, the other players are also competent enough to have their own shining moments. The renowned character actor, Cecil Kellaway, who spent many considerable years under contract to Australia’s foremost theatrical manager, J.C. Williamson in Australia, delivers a laudable performance as Harry Willis, an amiable insurance investigator who shows profound interest in the Mayhew case, and has met and corresponded with John Mayhew’s ailing widow, Jewel Mayhew, played by the legendary Mary Astor, who retired from motion pictures after filming was complete.

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Then there is Bette Davis, the main protagonist of the story. Without Bette in the role of Charlotte, there would be no plot. Charlotte is the central character that the film revolves around. She’s the alleged driving force behind the murder of John Mayhew, and she’s the victim of a fallacious human being whose only motives are to send her into a state of insanity.

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Portraying a character with a complex nature was no foreign territory for Bette Davis who was never afraid to take on challenging roles that forced her to appear villainous, unglamorous or grotesque looking. As Charlotte, Davis displays a wide spectrum of emotions that range from her being incensed with anger, and suddenly becoming well established with a severe case of hysteria once the horror sets in.

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When discussing Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the costume aspects of the film should be taken into consideration. After-all, Norma Koch received an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Costume Design’, for her involvement in the production, but lost to Dorothy Jeakins for her efforts in The Night Of The Iguana.

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For someone who had no initial experience as a costume designer, Norma Koch sure came a long way since her days as an aspiring hopeful who was looking for the chance to establish herself in the profession of her dreams. Born on April 23rd, 1921, in Kansas, Missouri to a working class family, Koch displayed profound interest in costume design from a young age, and started perusing the newspapers for dress designs to copy. In 1943, her work captured the attention of Edith Head, who offered her a position at Paramount. After a successful tenure with Edith Head, and after taking the advice from Bing Crosby, Koch branched out as a freelance designer, and secured her first design job in The Scandal In Paris ( 1946 ).

During her first few years as an independent designer, Koch preoccupied most of her time creating elaborate period costumes, but after a while, she started to explore western clothes, and ordinary, non formal wear for gritty dramas, the most famous being, Marty ( 1955 ).

Her work in the gritty dramas would ultimately lead to a collaboration with Robert Aldrich, where she would design costumes for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, among others. She attained her first Academy Award for her costume creations in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and would go on to receive a nomination for her efforts in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Attaining an Academy Award is no easy feat for anyone in the motion picture industry, but Norma Koch proved several times that her distinguished virtuosity was worthy of acclaim. In a career that spanned over thirty years, Koch designed costumes for almost every genre of film, and excelled at creating a wide array of garments from different decades in time. Whatever the occasion, Koch was able to conjure up a multitude of fashion aesthetics that would illustrate the character of the film in focus.

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In Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the costumes were unlike anything that she had ever created before. Instead of conjuring up something elegant and refined, Koch had to design something very naivete, and that lacked sophistication. At the 1963, Academy Awards ceremony, Audrey Hepburn presented the award for ‘Best Costume Design’, and during her announcement speech she stated, “This award is not only of great interest to every actress, who depends on the artistry of the designer to help her create her roles, but it is also important to women throughout the world. Historical or modern, every film with beautiful clothes launches some new trend in fashion. It would be impossible to imagine that any woman would have left the theater after seeing, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and run to a store to emulate what they had just seen on-screen.”

The above speech uttered by Audrey Hepburn clearly defines the importance of costume design, and gives us a brief example of how the garments worn in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? epitomize the spirit of uncultured life.

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In Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Bette Davis plays a washed-up former child star whose fame was eclipsed in later years by her sister, Blanche Hudson. Plagued with resentment and sibling rivalry, Jane torments and abuses Blanche, and confines the paraplegic Blanche to the upstairs bedroom of their decaying Hollywood mansion.

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As is the case with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, costume design is not just about creating beautiful fabrics or historical accuracy. It is about conveying the essence of the character through clothing. It wouldn’t be right if Norma Koch was to design fancy and impeccable chiffon dresses or elegant robes for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford when their roles required them to be sporting unfitting attire that is not palatable to the outside world. To clearly define the character of Jane Hudson, Koch provided Bette with macabre style clothing, such as a hideous, old fashioned white dress that is adorned with a girlish pink ribbon around the waist. For her hair, Bette wore a white straggly wig, which was previously worn by Joan Crawford in an MGM production years earlier. Both stars were incognizant of this fact, and due to the chance that an altercation may evolve, the truth about the wig was never revealed.

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While Monty Westmore served as one of the main makeup artists for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Bette Davis had full authority over her own makeup. She suggested that Jane Hudson should wear heavy makeup that consisted of strong white blush that resembles paint, thick black eyeliner and lashes, along with heavily rouged lips, covered in bright red lipstick. She also imagined that older Jane was a person who didn’t use makeup remover, and instead of cleaning away the old makeup, she demanded that Jane just add another layer of thick makeup on top of the old makeup. When Davis’ daughter, B.D Hyman, caught her first glimpse of Bette in full makeup, she said, “Oh, mother, this time you’ve gone too far”.

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Joan Crawford, who always said, “I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star.”, would be a bit of a shock for first time viewers who are use to her being dazzling and glamorous. For her role as Blanche Hudson, Joan had to appear informal, wearing a long unkept dress for her reclusive lifestyle. However, Crawford tried her utmost hardest to have Norma Koch change her costume. She insisted that because Blanche Hudson is a former movie star that she should still be able to retain her charismatic charm, and be seen wearing alluring dresses that would emphasize her sophistication and elegance, but Koch along with Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis explained to Crawford that Blanche Hudson is the victim of an abusive sister who locks her away in the upstairs bedroom without worrying about her vanity and appearance, and just has her wearing old, and sometimes dirty clothes.

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The only time in the film that we see Joan Crawford dressed in more stylish attire is during her first scene when she is seen wearing a sixties style vintage dress while watching the re-runs of her old movies on television. This is only a short scene however, and for the rest of the picture, Crawford is gaped out in her distinguishable Blanche Hudson outfit.

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In Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Norma Koch was stepping into familiar territory once again, and designing costumes that were similar in appearance to the garments she created in the predecessor. This time however, Koch was displaying more artistry by designing a wide array of different clothing that made her deal with the aesthetic facets of fashion design. She also delved into contemporary fashion in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, since the character of Miriam Deering had more of a refined taste when it came to her wardrobe.

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Though not as grotesque looking as she appears in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Bette Davis donned a long unconventional dress that demonstrated the fact that her character of Charlotte Hollis was still living in the past, and wearing archaic fabrics that were the latest trend of 1927, when the murder took place. When we are first introduced to Charlotte, it is on the night of the murder at the start of the picture where we get a glimpse of her wearing the blood stained white frock at the party. This dress was also designed by Norma Koch, and has often been exhibited at costume exhibits.

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On the other hand, Agnes Moorehead required a different type of wardrobe altogether. Her character of Velma Cruther, the slovenly housemaid, didn’t care about her appearance, and what others thought of her. In every scene she’s in, Velma appears disheveled, and negligently dressed with baggy, unflattering clothes that looked like the used apparel you’ll find at the garbage tip.

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Behind the scenes of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Moorehead was that ashamed of her look in the film that she refused to eat in the studio commissary. If it weren’t for her close friend, Debbie Reynolds, who was working on the production, Goodbye Charlie at a nearby soundstage, she probably would have starved, but thankfully Debbie knew how Agnes felt, and made sure that Agnes was always present in her dressing room at lunch time. Later Agnes described her dress sense in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte as, “A slob, a blob of sagging flesh in a shapeless house dress that had seen better days. I looked so awful that I refused to eat in the studio commissary, and I’d suppose I’d have starved if not for Debbie Reynolds who invited me to join her for lunch each day in the privacy of her dressing room.”

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Agnes after accepting her Golden Globe Award for “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” ( 1965 )

In a way the dress styles depicted in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? really shape the evolution of costume design. Back in the days when motion pictures and stage productions first evolved, the cast members all appeared in similar outfits that made it difficult for audiences to distinguish their character, but through the years as the movies further developed, the costumes became a pivotal focus, and actors were required to wear garments that would clearly delineate the personality and the traits of each character. By the time that Norma Koch commenced work on Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, costuming in film was well established, but even then there was still room to explore the different aspects of costume design, and these two films symbolize how costume design has improved during the years.

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The following was my entry for the Characters In Costume Blogfest, which is being hosted by Christina Wehner, and Into The Writer Lea. Click here to view the other entries being exhibited during this event.