Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


The first paragraph of Alexander Walker’s 1987 biography of Vivien Leigh captures the gilded high-life of the then theatre’s golden couple The Oliviers perfectly:

The Caprice had sent the usual tray over to Vivien’s dressing room at the St James’s Theatre. There were little triangular-shaped sandwiches, enough for the dozen or so people who usually came round after the curtain: smoked salmon, prosciutto and, her own favourites, brown bread filled with thick honeycomb (“Not runny honey” she’d remind Mario, the Caprice’s maitre d’hotel). There were also four bottle of good Chablis  - not for Vivien though. She served her guests wine but preferred a large gin and tonic to be waiting for her when she came off the stage at the end of the play.
That Saturday night at the end of August 1951 the play was CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA …. The Oliviers had been married for eleven years. They would celebrate their anniversary at the end of the month at Notley Abbey, the country house in Buckinghamshire which Vivien and Olivier had created out of the stoney bones of the thirteenth century Augustinian monestary and hospice founded by Henry II. It wad for Notley they were bound tonight, with weekend guests whom Vivien was expecting any minute in her dressing-room as the crowd of backstage visitors dwindled. There would be Orson Welles, the writer and journalist Godfrey Winn, plus Rex Harrison and his wife Lilli Palmer. In addition a number of other people from the world of theatre and films would be coming over for Sunday lunch and staying on to play tennis or croquet. After dinner there would be charades or other party games. Perhaps they would roll back the carpet and have a dance …

The Oliviers were at the height of their power and celebrity in the early 1950s. He was the greatest actor of his generation. They were the most popular couple on the English-speaking stage. He had been knighted in 1947. They had been treated like surrogate royalty when they led the Old Vic on an Australian tour the following year. They were screen stars too. Even in the few places where Vivien’s name may not be known the name and image of Scarlett O’Hara was part of cinema mythology. Olivier’s HENRY V had been a wartime battle-cry and the most successful Shakespeare film ever - and then of course his acclaimed Oscar-winning HAMLET. Only the year before in 1950 she had filmed A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE with Marlon Brando in Hollywood – another iconic role for her. At 37 and 44 respectively, Vivien’s clear-cut, delicate Dresden shepherdress beauty and Olivier’s strong, dark good looks – she vivid and outgoing, he more withdrawn and self-absorbed - were hardly beginning to show any signs of the passing years.

Alexander Walker ( 1930-2003), the well-known influential film critic of London’s “Evening Standard” (we read his reviews eagerly each week) and an acclaimed biographer (of, among others, Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Dietrich, Crawford, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and tomes on the British Cinema in the 1960s); he knew Leigh and Olivier and their milieu and captures it perfectly here. I used to see him around town quite a bit, no doubt on is way to or from press shows. In the Leigh biography he dissects the Oliviers’ union (from 1940 to 1960 when they divorced and he set on that new marriage to Joan Plowright and that new career after THE ENTERTAINER and launching the new National Theatre).

But back in 1951: “The name ‘The Oliviers’ meant something more than the mere aura of showbiz fame of a couple uniquely favoured in love, talent and fame. It signified, style, commitment, audacity and a sense of showmanship that was wonderfully refreshing to experience in the England of those post-war years when the memory of grim austerity had not yet faded. In the public’s perception of them the Oliviers were a couple who were still deeply in love with each other, fused together in their lives and careers, by the irresistible attraction which had compelled them both to break up their marriages to others in the 1930s and recklessly join their fortunes ….

The throng of friends and hangers-on in Vivien’s dressing room began to leave or pass next door to Olivier’s. Godfrey Winn arrived and Vivien kissed him and waved him towards the remnants o the sandwich tray, Rex and Lilli were next door with Larry and they were waiting for Orson to arrive before setting off through the autograph hunters waiting outside, for the hour or so drive to Notley … the weekend was beginning.

It is a fascinating read, capturing it all perfectly, including the fascinating story of Vivien’s rise to fame, her determination to play Scarlett O’Hara, and her subsequent breakdowns and manic depression. I like her also in THE ROMAN SRING OF MRS STONE (see review at Leigh label) from 1960, covered in fascinating detail here, as is her life after Olivier, until her death in 1967. “A lass unparalled’d” indeed …

Monday, 27 June 2016

Glastonbury 2016

Its over for another year, that long weekend in the rain and mud for all those Glasto devotees - we just checked out some main concerts in the comfort of one's own home .... I particularly liked Foals again (below: Yannis Philippakis lead vocals and lead guitar), and Adele stunned with her potty mouth, that super dress, and how she mesmerised that huge crowd with her voice, anthems and attitude - and then Coldplay to finish with Barry Gibb, the surviving Bee Gee .... I think we were all catered for: indie rock, divas, and superstars.

Barry Lyndon is back ...

A super new trailer for Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON, his 1975 film which perplexed people at the time, but now seems a timeless masterpiece. It is being reissued by the BFI in July, and should win a lot of new admirers when seen on cinema screens. Though I got the blu-ray recently I think I will have to experience it again on a cinema screen, particularly that perfect central sequence where our hero Redmond Barry meets the Countess of Lyndon .... did the 18th century ever look better? as I have written about here before (Ryan O'Neal label). 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Pajama Game, 1957

THE PAJAMA GAME from 1957 is worth another look too, and great to see it in a good print at last, as there have been some ropey public domain copies around. This is another Broadway musical transferred to the screen and it looks wonderful with all those splashy colours and great staging of those classic numbers. Doris Day replaces Janis Paige from the stage show but most of the other cast including John Raitt (father of singer Bonnie Raitt) are intact from the stage show. Bob Fosse's staging of "Steam Heat" with the great Carol Haney is just perfectly Fosse. Doris (before her PILLOW TALK makeover) has probably her best 1950s moments here. Its another Stanley Donen classic then, as we head off to "Hernando's Hideaway" or that "Once A Year Day" .... 
Employees of the Sleeptite Pajama Factory in Iowa are looking for a whopping seven-and-a-half cent an hour increase and they won't take no for an answer. Babe Williams is their feisty employee representative but she may have found her match in shop superintendent Sid Sorokin. When the two get together they wind up discussing a whole lot more than job actions! 
1957 was certainly a classic year for musicals and I was 11 and enjoying them all on the big screen: also Donen's FUNNY FACE, plus Cukor's LES GIRLS, Mamoulian's SILK STOCKINGS and Sidney's not quite so great PAL JOEY, but it has its moments ...  I need to see 1955's MY SISTER EILEEN now again too, with more Fosse and Tommy Rall as well as Janet Leigh, Betty Garrett and Jack Lemmon. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Can't help loving that Showboat - 1936

There is a new production of SHOWBOAT currently on in London, (which I may have to go and see now) but I only know it from the 1951 MGM film which I may have seen once or twice on television - it now looks like a cartoon compared to the 1936 original (despite valiant work from Ava Gardner - dubbed - and Marge & Gower Champion). The rare 1936 film by James Whale (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN etc) is the one to see and cherish, a film of such richness I want to see it again right away. Though I knew of Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan I had not somehow seen or heard them before, and I am bowled over.

Adaptation of the Broadway musical. Magnolia Hawks is the lovely daughter of Cap'n Andy Hawks, the genial proprietor of a show boat that cruises the Missisippi, and his nagging wife, Parthy. She is best friends with the show boat's star, Julie LaVerne, but Julie and her husband Steve are forced to leave when it is revealed that Julie has "Negro" blood in her, thereby breaking the state law by being married to the white Steve. Magnolia replaces Julie as the show boat's female star, and the show's new male star is the suave gambler Gaylord Ravenal. Magnolia and Gaylord fall in love and marry against Parthy's wishes. They and their young daughter lead the high life when Gaylord is lucky in gambling, but live like dirt when he's unlucky. During one such unlucky streak, a broken Gaylord leaves Magnolia and she is forced to start over by returning to the stage. Like Old Man River she just keeps rollin' along.
Jerome Kern's SHOWBOAT, from Edna Ferber's book, may well be the first great American musical, and possibly the greatest movie musical of all, this 1936 version of SHOWBOAT has Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel joining Helen Morgan and Charles Winninger from the original Broadway cast of 1927. So great that, when MGM made their own version in 1951, they tried to have all prints and copies of the original destroyed. Mercifully they weren't quite successful. Closer to the original stage version, this includes most of the classic songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, not least Robeson singing "Ol' Man River" and that's followed by Morgan's "Can't Help Loving That Man", brilliantly staged too, with Irene and Hattie. She was certainly the classic torch singer. Fascinating reading about her and Paul Robeson's life and career. Robeson's rich bass electrifies, I knew he had played OTHELLO and SHOWBOAT in London and how his political leanings had caused such trouble, but he was certainly a trailblazer ahead of his time. We like Irene Dunne a lot here too, as per label - one of the essential 1930s stars like Margaret Sullavan. Allan Jones was the father of singer Jack Jones.  
Jerome Kern has his finest moment here with unforgettable songs following one after the other. "Ol Man River", "My Bill","Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine", "Ah Still Suits Me", "Make Believe", After The Ball" The film remains a classic piece of Americana. James Whale's direction captures it all perfectly, its certainly an essential 1930s film. The last section though when Magnolia and Gaylord's daughter Kim becomes a stage star too in the then modern 1930s setting seems unnecessary now - we just want to be back on the Showboat with Paul and Hattie and Helen and all of them,

The film also show the ugly racism of the time, that blackface number seems grotesque now but was acceptable then ....
The Paul Robeson and chorus rendition of "Old Man River" has to be  one of the greatest numbers in the history of Hollywood musicals, up there with Judy;s "Over The Rainbow" or "The Man That Got Away" or the "My Forgotten Man" number from GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933. And what makes it even more impressive is that the number was directed by a director who had made his reputation directing monster movies (thats the gay James Whale of GODS AND MONSTERS).

Next: One of the great 1950s musicals: THE PAJAMA GAME. Book your tickets now ...

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Blondes: Platinum or Strawberry ? Both !

PLATINUM BLONDE, this is an early talkie - 1931 - someone on IMDB said it was maybe the first romcom? The platinum blonde is Jean Harlow who is playing a rich dame, and she seems rather subdued from her usual brassy roles (as in DINNER AT EIGHT or RED DUST) and the other two leads are the marvellous young Loretta Young (whom I like a lot in her '30s films like MIDNIGHT MARY, LADIES IN LOVE etc, as per label) and the male lead is one Robert Williams, whom I had never heard of. Understandable, as he died (of peritonitis) that year, 1931, aged 34. This was in fact his last (of 6 films) and he is a rivetting presence here, and surely would have been a bigger star. It is an early Frank Capra picture too and its a real treat now. Its a must-see for several reasons. Jean Harlow is unusually cast as a straight society high-brow. Although the role could easily be played as a caricature, she brings to it appealing depth and vulnerability. 
Loretta Young is radiant. And Robert Williams delivers an eccentric modern day performance.

Williams is Stew Smith, a reporter who falls suddenly in love with rich socialite (Harlow) but soon gets bored with the rich life and wants to be back being a reporter again with Gallagher (that's Loretta) who really loves him all along and of course they end up happily together. Its a nice  snappy depression-era satire on the rich idle folk too. (Harlow of course died in 1937, aged 26 - while Loretta continued to 2000, aged 87.)

THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (or LA BLONDE FRAMBOISE as the French DVD has it) was a pleasant memory from seeing it on television once, nice to finally get it on dvd, its one I will be returning to, more than once. Its an utterly charming comedy from 1941, by Raoul Walsh (script by Julius  J Epstein) with delightful turns from James Cagney, Olivia De Havilland, Rita Hayworth and Jack Carson, and it captures that 'gay nineties' perfectly. 

Biff Grimes is pugnacious but likable young man during the Gay 90's living with his ne'er-do-well father, noted for their scrappy personalities and quick tempers. Like every other young man in town, Biff has a crush on gorgeous and flirtatious 'strawberry blonde' Virginia Brush, who gets catcalls every time she walks past the all-male clientèle of the neighborhood barber shop. Biff is joined in his admiration by his friends, Nick Pappalis, an immigrant Greek barber, and Hugo Barnsfeld, an unscrupulously ambitious young man who doesn't let anything stand in the way of what he wants, including Virginia. Utilizing both fair means and foul Hugo sweeps Vrginia off her feet and frames Biff as the fall guy in a political graft schemee. However, every dog has his day, and eight years later Biff stands poised to take his revenge.

Cagney, in a change of pace, is the young dentist, always outwitted by pushy Carson, both fall for Virigina, the local beauty (Hayworth), but Carson wins her and they are both dis-satisfield. Olivia has a field day as the feisty feminist Amy and she and Cagney are the perfect pair, as Jimmy gets his revenge on bully boy Carson, who has a sore tooth. Alan Hale and Una O'Connor are dependable support. 
The BFI are showing it as part of their Olivia De Havilland retrospective in July, to celebrate her 100th birthday (I saw her there in person in 1972, as per label) and they say: "De Havilland shines as the free-thinking modern gal who falls for Cagney's brawling dreamer. He still yearns after Rita's flirtacious 'strawberry blonde' but its Olivia's Amy who will steal your heart in this romance that packs in comedy and drama.' The perfect 1940s Warner Bros package then. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Summer re-runs: Its Always Fair Weather, 1955

Its that time of the year again, when we dig out old favourites for another enjoyable view. 1955's ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER is a film I love, I first saw it at a Sunday matinee when a kid in Ireland, and it has stayed with me. It seems curiously under-cherished in the pantheon of great musicals, being over-shadowed by Gene Kelly's bigger hits. BRIGADOON in 1954 is a bit dismal apart from a few great moments, but this, Gene's next one in 1955, with co-director Stanley Donen ticks all the boxes for me. 

It was originally intended as a sequel to 1949's ON THE TOWN, but that was jettisoned when Sinatra (who was on a roll then and didn't need to be second banana to Gene any more) declined, so Kelly and Donen decided to make it a dance-oriented musical and hired Dan Dailey and choreographer Michael Kidd to substitute for Frank and Frank Munshin. Made during a period of austerity at MGM, it obviously lacks the gloss of some other musicals but that works in its favour for the gritty story of street life in New York as the 3 returning sailors meet up again after 10 years and find they have nothing in common as it satirises the world of advertising and manipulative television shows - enter Madeline with her "Throb of Manhattan" sobfest. The dance routines are witty and energetic - Kelly on rollerskates, and the dustbin lids number - Gene had perfected his amiable heel routine, Dailey (fresh from THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS) is great as the advertising man, Cyd Charisse has some great moments too, particularly that dance routine in the gym (as Pauline Kael said: "Cyd Charisse is benumbed until she unhinges those legs") and stealing the show is the great Dolores Gray as Madeline. That number "Thanks A Lot But No Thanks" is a knockout, as is that dress, and I love that line "I've got a man who's Clifton Webb and Marlon Brando combined"! Jay C. Flippen is ideal too as the gangster who wants Gene's protege to lose the fight, thus causing mayhem in the studio as Madeline's saccharine show about the three G.I.'s reunion goes wrong. 
Kelly and Donen though found they could no longer work together, so this was their last movie in tandem, The CinemaScope format is perfectly used here, and Andre Previn's score is perhaps his best ever. It is all a mordantly funny, witty investigation of friendship as the three wartime buddies find their relationship has not survived the peace. It is surely one of Hollywood's most personal works dressed up as a witty musical. More on it at labels.  Here is what I wrote back in 2011:

It is the perfect mid-century story of 3 wartime buddies meeting up 10 years later in 1955 and realising that they don't like each other much now, and indeed Kelly and Dailey don't much like themselves either. Gene is mixing with hoods and managing a dumb boxer, while Dan Dailey has risen to "Executive Vice-President" level in advertising and is sick of the advertising game as he lets rip in his terrific solo number "Advertising-wise". Cyd Charisse is the television researcher who stumbles across them and realises their reunion is ideal for her television show "Midnight with Madeline" for "The Throb of Manhattan" spot where saccharine stories are featured. This is the early days of live television and the movie is a splendid satire on those artificial tv hostesses like Madeline and her diva tantrums. Cyd gets the hoods to confess on live air, Madeline has a hit show, the 3 buddies realise they are still friends after all. It's a perfect conclusion as Cyd joins Gene and the the guys back at the bar where they vowed to meet up 10 years previously.
Cyd and Gene sparkle as they spar with each other, and Dolores steals the show. What's not to love? It is a dark, sometimes bitter take on ON THE TOWN a decade later as the 3 buddies meet again -  Produced of course by Arthur Freed, with songs by Andre Previn, script by Comden and Green; perfect entertainment. The DVD includes a fascinating 'Making-Of' chronicling the fallout between Kelly and Donen, and several out-takes including a terrific inventive (that word again) deleted number between Kelly and Charisse "Love is Nothing But a Racket" which has been unseen for far too long, and Michael Kidd's solo spot with some kids, but Gene did not want that included, after his number with kids in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS! Essential stuff then.

I met Gene at a recording of a Parkinson interview for the BBC in 1975 - Donen of course went on to direct several of my enduing favourites: those Audrey Hepburn films like TWO FOR THE ROAD and CHARADE, Kendall in ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, Peck and Sophia ideal in ARABESQUE, and the marvellous BEDAZZLED with Pete and Dud and Eleanor Bron in 1967. We won't mention STAIRCASE or LUCKY LADY!  Gene of course after this went on to do another favourite of mine: Cukor's LES GIRLS in 1957 - as per label. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Unnecessary remakes: Great Expectations, 1974

I have just read Kenneth Branagh is directing (and playing Poirot) in a new MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS - who needs another one? The 1974 Lumet film is so well known even after 40 years and still gets shown a lot, a television staple in fact. There was also a recent BBC version too with their regular Poirot David Suchet. I am not a Poirot fan as such - the all-star Peter Ustinov ones were rather fun though. 
Now though I have finally got my hands on that rather forgotten 1974 version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS - we did not get to see it at the time, despite several of my favourites here. One would imagine Margaret Leighton would be as perfect a Miss Havisham as Martita Hunt, and Sarah Miles just right as Estella, add in James Mason as Magwich, and Michael York is the earnest Pip - all as one would imagine, and with sterling support from Robert Morley, Joss Ackland, Rachel Roberts, Dudley Sutton, Peter Bull and more - yet it all seems deadly dull and just does not soar; the cast seem to be on autopilot, just doing what is expected of them. We know the story so well of course, this apparantly was going to be a musical version, but seems they changed their minds, so its just another dull telly costumer, ploddingly  directed by Joseph Hardy. 
(York of course is one of the stars of the '74 Lumet ORIENT EXPRESS - made the same year as this EXPECTATIONS). 

David Lean's version is still the one to beat here. Its involving and engrossing every time one sees it, one could even see it ignoring the story and just relishing that fantastic black and white photography by future director Guy Green. That version remains a classic film, this '74 one is just a tepid re-working that rightly sank without trace. It is one of Lord Lew Grade's all-star productions, music by Maurice Jarre, and lensed by Freddie Young. They needn't have bothered. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Summer re-runs: You're A Big Boy Now, 1966

Summer re-runs for a rainy afternoon:
YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW - Francis Ford Coppola's delightful 1966 coming-of-age comedy.

Bernard Chanticleer (Peter Kastner) is an ordinary young man anxious to step out into the "adult world". His plan is to move out of his parents' Long Island house into an eight-floor Greenwich Village walk-up - and to try and convince someone to share his new "liberated lifestyle". This was Francis Ford Coppola's UCLA Film School master's thesis - and a hilarious, high-speed debut in film comedy for the future director of THE GODFATHER and APOCALPSE NOW. Fresh off A PATCH OF BLUE Elizabeth Hartman suitably plays the kooky spiteful actress who toys with Bernard. Karen Black makes her debut as the nice girl Bernard overlooks and Geraldine Page nearly steals the show with her Academy Award-nominated performance as Bernard's possessive mother.
Go-go dancer and actress Barbara Darling (Elizabeth Hartman)
My pal Stan and I loved this when we were 20 (at Balham ABC in '67) and I had not seen it since. It brings it all back - being 19 or 20, living in the big city - that soundtrack by John Sebastian and The Lovin Spoonful. I loved that sound then: "Did you ever have to make up your mind", "Warm Baby" etc. Its certainly a free-wheeling zany take on the standard coming-of-age scenario (a more funny ALL FALL DOWN, another one I like) and for me as essential a 60s romp as THE KNACK or our English equivalent of this, HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH. It captures that mid-60s look too.
The cast here is the thing: Elizabeth Hartman as the man-hating actress and go-go dancer Barbara Darling who gets our hapless hero in her thrall. We see flashbacks to her youth, laughing at horror flicks like THE PIT AND THE PENDELUM ... Kastner is just right as Benjamin, with Tony Bill as his colleague at the New York Central Library (we were back there recently with THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW), where Bernard's father is curator of the secret pornography section which Miss Thing stumbles into.... did I not mention Miss Thing? - she is Bernard's landlady and is the great Julie Harris and she is wonderful here ... there is the rooster guarding the corridor and who attacks girls; and then we have the equally wonderful Geraldine Page (above) as Bernard's mother, with Rip Torn as his father.  This was based on a popular book by David Benedictus which I remember reading at the time. It reminds me a lot too of that zany free-wheeling HAROLD AND MAUDE.
Miss Harris as Miss Thing - see Harris label for her very nice note to me in 1977
It is all fresh, zany, funny, everything about being young and captures that time perfectly. Good to see this Seven Arts production again now as part of the Warner Archive Collection (no-frills dvds) and great to see theatre legends and friends Page and Harris enjoying themselves here. Elizabeth Hartman was that very individual actress (also in THE GROUPTHE FIXERTHE BEGUILED) who later committed suicide - and Karen Black (before her hits like FIVE EASY PIECESNASHVILLE or AIRPORT 75) is the nice girl our hero will of course run around New York with at the end with the dog, called of course Dog. We are 20 again when we see this. I must have another look at Lumet's THE GROUP soon...  
I have just seen on IMDB: Peter Kastner 1943-2008, aged 64, he was also in another interesting '60s one: NOBODY WAVED GOODBYE, a Canadian indie in 1964.

Legendary ladies at lunch ....

I remember this particular issue of AFTER DARK from February 1981 and had it at the time, nice to find it on ebay, cheap too. I wanted to re-read this interview with two great Broadway ladies having lunch: Geraldine Page and Julie Harris. They were doing a new play at the time, MIXED COUPLES, their first time on stage together - they had though both been in Coppola's YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, his lovely debut feature in 1966. 
I read somewhere that we Londoners were lucky in that Maggie Smith and/or Judi Dench were often on the boards here - but New Yorkers had regular appearances by Harris and Page. 
Harris though did bring her wonderful 1977 show THE BELLE OF AMHERST to London, which wowed me so much I had to write and tell her, and surprisingly, she wrote back, with this lovely card - the only time I ever wrote to (and got a reply) from a performer I liked. 
We have been entranced with Miss Harris (who passed away in 2013) ever since THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING and of course EAST OF EDEN
Page knew Dean too, as per the photograph below: (They were in THE IMMORALIST on Broadway).
This issue of AFTER DARK too has great interviews and pictures with David Hockney and Lily Tomlin (who I am now enjoying in the GRACE AND FRANKIE boxset) and there are also comments on LA from the likes of LA regulars like Natalie Wood, Bette Davis, Gore Vidal etc. as well as Quentin Crisp on Mae West!
We also remember having this photobook FAME reviewed here, some great images by Brad Benedict of celebrity culture, like this great image of Richard Gere (then hot off AMERICAN GIGOLO)  as presumably a L.A. hustler ... More on Harris & Page at their labels - Julie was a 'Person we Like' in  2010 (that got 1,992 views here).  

Monday, 6 June 2016

Brando - Streetcar

I had forgotten how stunning Brando was in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. No-one looked like this in 1951. Time for a re-view ...

Theatre stills: an occasional series

Shots from great theatre productions I have seen. We start with favourites Sarah Miles and Eileen Atkins as those rival queens in Robert Bolt's VIVAT REGINA, a stunning night at the theatre in 1971. Coming Up: Glenda, Susannah, Alan Bates, Bergman, Bacall, Jill Bennett, Ian McKellen,  Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury and Peggy Ashcroft, and more. 

Those Italian ladies

Regulars here will know how we appreciate those Italian ladies - Sophia, Monica, Gina, Claudia, Silvana, then there's Alida Valli, Elsa Martinelli, Laura Antonelli and of course Magnani .... here are a clutch of new stills. Thanks to Colin for the Sophia pictures I had not seen before; and to that great site Silents & Talkies for that stunning Vitti portrait. (
I like this one of Claudia and Monica together too - they co-starred a few times in Italian comedies in the '70s, BLONDE IN BLACK LEATHER is a lot of fun, as per my review at their labels. We love Silvana too in those items like MAMBO, THE SEA WALL, TEMPEST and those later Visconti and Pasolini films she appeared in. They all have amazing faces and certainly ramp up the glamour. Its been great too discovering Sophia's Italian movies from 1954 and '55 before she went into American films: I particularly like TOO BAD SHE'S BAD, SCANDAL IN SORRENTO, WOMAN OF THE RIVER etc., as per reviews (Italian labels). 

Lots more on them at the labels.

Claudia in THE LEOPARD or SANDRA, Monica in L'AVVENTURA or L'ECLISSE or MODESTY BLAISE, Sophia in anything. Valli in SENSO, Magnani in WILD IS THE WIND or BELLISSIMA, Antonelli in L'INNOCENTE, and how could we forget Gina Lollobrigida in so many movie moments ....

RIP, continued

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) aged 74. A giant has indeed departed. The newspaper coverage and special supplements over the weekend testified to that. An interesting comment likened him to Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley in that he too was a game-changer who changed American life and attitudes. Presley though meekly went into the army when told to do so and was never quite the same again (at least he was sent to Germany in those days, not Vietnam). Fascinating to read of Ali's refusal to be drafted and his wit, grace, style and looks certainly made him unforgettable. His courage in later years is astonishing too. Boxing is a sport I would not have been interested in then or now, but Muhammad Ali certainly was The Greatest. He has been in our life since the early 1960s.

Sir Peter Shaffer ( 1926-2016), aged 90. Another stage titan departs at a venerable age. Playwright Peter Shaffer was a giant of postwar British theatre, producing a string of dramatic – and cinematic – triumphs, bringing ritual, magic and music  back to the theatre. His hits were not only popular with audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, but highly regarded too winning Oscars and theatre awards. After FIVE FINGER EXERCISE came THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN (which I saw at The Old Vic in 1966 when I was 20 - I can still visualise that stunning scene where the conquistadores climb the Andes to reach the Inca kingdom, and Robert Stephens' stunning performance as Atahualpa - Christopher Plummer was equally effective if different in the 1969 film)), THE PUBLIC EYE and THE PRIVATE EAR double bill, EQUUS - also stunningly theatrical - and AMADEUS, as well as other writing and scripts. (.It was his twin brother Anthony who wrote SLEUTH). We also saw his hit play LETTUCE AND LOVAGE, with Maggie Smith. Hits don't get any bigger. 

Carla Lane (1928-2016), aged 87. Another titan of British entertainment departs - television scriptwriter Carla Lane wrote that series THE LIVER BIRDS which we loved, as well as BUTTERFLIES and BREAD, which also celebrated Liverpool. She was also a very powerful advocate for animal rights and accomplished more than most. She was one of the most highly paid scriptwriters of her generation, and returned her OBE in disgust at how animals are treated. A nice story is how she saved a wasp from being hoovered up and emptied the hoover on the floor to rescue the dusty insect. Much of her work focused on women's lives: frustrated housewives, working-class matriarchs, and those single girls sharing a flat in Liverpool and coping with dating and life's ups and downs. 

Bill MacIlwraith (1928-2016), aged 88. British dramatist and screen-writer who wrote one hit play THE ANNIVERSARY which I saw on stage in 1966. Bette Davis played the monstrous mother in the 1968 Hammer film version. He also scripted that amusing series TWO'S COMPANY about an American writer and her British butler (Elaine Stritch and Donald Sinden) and he also scripted several episodes of the 60s British series THE HUMAN JUNGLE with Herber Lom at the Harley Street psychiatrist. We liked that at the time too. 

ABC plus Chelsea boys after dark ...

The title of this gay miscellany was going to be: "Where is my ABC book?" .... its a funny story: I was going through some old photos the other day and saw one of some books of mine at a previous address in Brighton (here in England), and it showed a little book from 1997 that amused me and my friends: "The ABC Book, a homoerotic primer" by Marcus Vellekoop. But where was it now? I had not seen it anywhere for ages or when I moved last month and could not find it. They were asking silly prices for it on Amazon (over £40!), then I found a reasonable priced copy on ebay and just as I completed my purchase my partner, who had been re-arranging his books in the spare bedroom, walked in holding my ABC Book in his hand, saying it had got packed in with his books! Luckily, as I had purchased the other copy within the hour, I got back to the seller asking him to cancel my order as I did not need two copies .... so I should hear about that today. If I have to keep the new one, I will send it to whoever asks for it first ....(Its ok, they have refunded.)

Here is the blurb for this delicious treat;
A is for Astronauts floating in space
B is for Bikers having a race
C is for Cowboys under western skies
D is for Dancers at their exercise
E is for Executives reaching their goals
F is for Firemen sliding down poles ...
Written and illustrated by award-winning artist Maurice Vellekoop, this delightfully naughty ABC book for adults is a celebration of gay male archetypes from Jailbirds to Opera Singers, Hairdressers to Truckers. Each letter of the alphabet provides the key to a hot and funny scenario of gay sex,. With erotic drawings reminiscent of a cross between Tintin and Tom of Finland, Vellekoop commemorates and honors these classic homoerotic fantasies with great humour and gaiety. A great gift, and a must for every gay household.
Right: Q is for Quarterbacks getting a spanking. 
My copy also included a few pages I had pulled from a magazine, featuring more Vellekoop wit: "Disco Inferno" imagining what the afterlife would be like for more gay types, based on Dante's Circles of Hell: Drama Queens are shuttled directly to Heaven, where nothing dramatic happens (they all play golf);  disco circuit boys are subjected to an enternal Liberace concert with no ecstasy in sight; closeted celebrities are trapped in a room with limitless supplies of unauthorised tell-alls and TV movies about them (we see Rock and Agnes Moorehead having to endure telemovies about them...) etc, At least my search for the book led me to more Vellekoop items: a book of "Pin-Ups", and "Vellevision". Can't wait to get them. His artwork and style grows on one.

Then there is The Chelsea Boys. We loved the cartoon strips in weekly papers and nice to see them in book form. Again, the blurb puts it perfectly:
Chelsea Boys is the first collection of Glen Hanson and Allan Neuwirth's popular syndicated comic strip that appeared in magazines and newspapers throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The strip follows the often outrageous antics, wild sexcapades, and everyday heartbreaks of three gay roommates who are as different as can be and living together in the heart of New York's trendy Chelsea neighborohood: cuddly Nathan, a short, neurotic, 40-something native New Yorker (who is nuts about Barbra Streisand - and she appears in the strip too); gorgeous, buff Sky, a naive yet deeply spiritual art student raised on a farming commune in Canada; and the fabulous drag diva Soiree, who masks his inner pain with a rapier wit and flamboyant style. Filled with humour, humanity, and wry observations on life in a modern setting, CHELSEA BOYS presents a family like you've never seen before and storytelling that speaks the truth while being outrageously funny. . 
I was a Chelsea Boy myself in 1972/73 - but in London not New York (but at least I got to mix with Joni Mitchell and Elton John, as per previous reports ...). 
We also found some AFTER DARK magazines - these are so '70s and early '80s now, but we liked them at the time, the hip New York slant on theatre and movies, with a very gay slant .... lots of pretty pictures too, but also some interesting interviews and features. I have found a few more on ebay - including one with some great pictures of Julie Harris and Geraldine Page together. Of course all that era is pre-Aids now, so it certainly ramps up the nostalgia factor ...