Dedicated to the Study and Appreciation
of the Movies and Personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shirley Temple Revisited, Part 3

At this point in our story it's still the spring of 1934. Before renting Shirley Temple out to Paramount to become a star, Fox frittered her away in one more pointless bit in Now I'll Tell. Actually, the picture's full title on screen was "Now I'll Tell" by Mrs. Arnold Rothstein, and as that suggests, it purported to be the inside dope on the high-flying life and mysterious death of Mrs. Rothstein's deceased husband, the gangster/gambler who fixed the 1919 World Series, was shot in November 1928 (apparently for welshing on a poker debt), and died two days later refusing to name his killer. Names were changed to protect the guilty, so Spencer Tracy starred as "Murray Golden", with Helen Twelvetrees as his saintly, noble wife (Mrs. Rothstein wrote the story, remember!), and with Rothstein's many mistresses combined into one person and played by 18-year-old Alice Faye.

Shirley's role was an inch or two better than in Change of Heart: 42 seconds on screen and a whopping five lines of dialogue (to wit: "And we saw a cow there, too!", "Does a black cow make black milk?", "Good night", and "Good night, Daddy" -- twice). Publicity poses like this one may have led Shirley to misremember her role as that of Tracy's daughter; in fact, she played the daughter of Tommy Doran (Henry O'Neill), a boyhood chum of Golden's who grows up to be a police detective -- on the other side of the law from his old pal. A decent enough gangland melodrama, Now I'll Tell hit screens one week after Little Miss Marker, and could only have underscored Fox's cluelessness.

(A side note: While Fox quickly learned to value Shirley, they never did know what they had in Spencer Tracy. They put him in 18 pictures in five years, usually as mugs and lummoxes, with the occasional loan-out here and there. Gradually he built a reputation as one of the best actors in town, but Fox kept wasting him on parts you could practically train a gorilla to play. Eventually they let him slip through their fingers into a contract with MGM in 1935. Within two years at Metro, Spence had snagged his first Oscar nomination; in the following two years he got his second and third, winning both times.) 

After Now I'll Tell, however, Shirley's days of Poverty Row shorts, four-line bits and uncredited walk-ons were finally behind her. For her next picture, she got top billing at last from her home studio, and just to remind audiences where they'd seen this kid before, Fox changed the title to...

Baby Take a Bow (released June 30, 1934)

First, an explanation of a trivial point, just so you don't suspect sloppy copy editing here at Cinedrome. The title of Jay Gorney and Lew Brown's song "Baby, Take a Bow" has a comma, and the comma appears in this and some other posters, ads and lobby cards for the movie. But it's not on the picture's main title card as it appears on screen. Therefore, I'll be using the comma when referring to the song, but not using it when I'm referring to the movie. Got it?

Anyhow, "Baby, Take a Bow" isn't in Baby Take a Bow -- except as a line of dialogue spoken by James Dunn (once again playing Shirley's father); but more of that later.

There's an intriguing mystery about the source material for Baby Take a Bow that's worth going into before we get to Shirley's version of it. It was originally a play by James P. Judge titled Square Crooks that ran on Broadway for 150 performances in 1926. That was a pretty decent run in those days, especially for a one-set play with a cast of nine, so Square Crooks probably turned a profit for its investors. In any case, it was bought by Fox and filmed as a silent in 1928.

Robert Armstrong and John Mack Brown played two ex-cons trying to go straight who fall under suspicion when a crony from their criminal days steals a pearl necklace from their wealthy employer. The thief tries to get the two to fence the pearls but they refuse. Complications arise when the thief, sensing the cops hot on his trail, stashes the necklace with Armstrong's unsuspecting little girl, who thinks it's a birthday present. What follows is a comic round of button-button-who's-got-the-button as the thief tries to retrieve the pearls; the heroes try to return them to their boss; an implacable insurance detective seeks to get the goods on the heroes, whom he suspects of the theft; and the little girl thinks it's all a game of hide-and-seek.

The mystery I mentioned arises from a reading of Variety's review of Square Crooks. The reviewer "Mori" praised it lightly as a "moderately interesting" B programmer (it ran only 60 minutes), but added, "Only chance with a story of this kind was to build a central character. But here five different people and a juvenile player divide interest, with the baby drawing first honors." Mori didn't identify the "baby", and neither does the picture's IMDb listing or the listing for the original play on the Internet Broadway Database (where the credits are admittedly incomplete). So unless a print of Square Crooks survives in the Fox vault (which, for a silent that came out during the hectic talkie revolution, is highly doubtful), the name of the little girl who Mori thought stole the show is probably lost forever to history.

Be that as it may, we certainly know who played the kid in the sound remake. Shirley is shown here with Claire Trevor, who plays her mother and James Dunn's wife. Trevor is younger and softer in Baby Take a Bow than we remember her from her better-known performances -- Stagecoach; Key Largo; The High and the Mighty; Murder, My Sweet -- she could almost pass for Ginger Rogers here.

Baby Take a Bow opens as Eddie Ellison (Dunn) is released from Sing Sing, promising to go straight. His girl Kay (Trevor) meets him at the gate, with continuing tickets for them to Niagra Falls for a justice of the peace wedding and honeymoon. At the same time we meet insurance investigator Welch (Alan Dinehart in an interesting performance), a tinhorn Javert who bluffly pals around with the men of various police forces -- and tries in vain to make time with Kay. Everybody, especially Kay, makes it clear that they don't like him, but Welch remains oblivious, blithely carrying on as if he's one of the guys. Six years later, when Eddie and Kay have built a happy home with their daughter Shirley (star and character share the given name), it will be Welch who tries to hound Eddie and his pal Larry (Ray Walker) back into prison.


Unlike Little Miss Marker over at Paramount, Baby Take a Bow gives ample evidence of having been thrown together in haste. It begins as melodrama, then segues into farce as Dunn, Walker, Trevor, Shirley and Ralf Harolde as the thief chase the pearl necklace up, down, back and forth in the Ellisons' apartment house. Then for the last reel it shifts back to melodrama as Harolde finally nabs the pearls and kidnaps Shirley to use as a shield in making good his escape. All ends happily, with the thief in custody, the pearls returned, and the heroes exonerated. Even the meddling Welch gets his just deserts.

Director Harry Lachman was evidently too hurried -- or too clumsy -- to negotiate these shifts in tone; the comedy scenes fall particularly flat. The picture's chief pleasure, predictably, is Shirley herself. But there are other small ones along the way, such as this, a tossed-off scene in which Kay and Shirley go through some dining-room calisthenics while listening to an exercise progam on the radio. Mother and daughter (and the actresses playing them) are clearly having fun, and it's contagious.


Also among those pleasures is another song and dance number for Shirley and James Dunn -- the one touch of music in the picture. The song is "On Account-a I Love You" by Bud Green and Sam H. Stept, performed by father and daughter at a rooftop birthday party for Shirley in which she shows off the new ballet dress Mommy and Daddy have given her. Again, the haste of the production is evident in the under-rehearsed hoofing (dance director Sammy Lee apparently didn't even have the few days he was allotted for "Baby, Take a Bow" in Stand Up and Cheer!). Still, the number is a highlight and worth sharing. At the end of the song, you'll see Dunn turn to Shirley and say, "C'mon, baby, take a bow," thus justifying the picture's title (again, the YouTube clip is colorized, and again I ask your indulgence):



Variety's reviewer "Kauf" pegged Baby Take a Bow exactly: "Without Shirley Temple this might have been a pretty obvious and silly melodrama, but it has Shirley Temple so it can go down on the books as a neat and sure b.o. [box office] hit, especially for the family trade." (It's a pity Mori couldn't have reviewed it; it would be interesting to have him compare it to Square Crooks -- assuming he even remembered a six-year-old silent B picture as late as 1934.) Meanwhile, back east at the New York Times, the anonymous reviewer sounded the first notes of praise mixed with highbrow condescension that would increase in some quarters in coming years (and would lead eventually to a successful libel suit against novelist Graham Greene and the British magazine Night and Day):
Little Shirley Temple continues in her new film at the Roxy to be the nation's best-liked babykins. A miracle of spontaneity, Shirley successfully conceals the illusion of sideline coaching which, in the ordinary child genius, produces homicidal impulses in those old fussbudgets who lack the proper admiration for cute kiddies.
Then, in the next sentence, the reviewer gave credit where it was due: "In 'Baby, Take a Bow,' she tucks the picture under her little arm and toddles off with it." (And by the way, it's worth noting that "nation's best-liked babykins" line. This, mind you, on the strength of only Stand Up and Cheer! and -- especially -- Little Miss Marker.)

Before embarking on her next picture at Fox, Shirley was shuttled back to Paramount for another loan-out:


Now and Forever (released August 31, 1934)





Shirley's billing on Now and Forever was again above the title, but third this time. Still, when you're billed third after Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard, you've really got no kick coming. (On screen she gets an "and": "And SHIRLEY TEMPLE".) Even more significantly, the music under the opening titles is an instrumental rendition of "Smile, You Son of a Gun" -- reminding audiences of Little Miss Marker the way Baby Take a Bow had reminded them of Stand Up and Cheer! 

Now and Forever also reunited Shirley with director Henry Hathaway, who had presided over her near-death experience with a pony on To the Last Man. In this picture, Gary Cooper plays Jerry Day, a globe-trotting confidence man, with Carole Lombard as Toni, his accomplice and companion. In the credits she's identified as "Toni Day", but the script makes it pretty clear that they're not married; in the first scene he tells her, "I told you I was married," not, "was married before." Anyhow, Jerry was married, but when his wife died, he left his infant daughter with her wealthy, disapproving family; he figures the child must be five or six now. When he and Toni find themselves out of cash, he proposes to go to his stuffed-shirt brother-in-law and sell his parental rights for $75,000. But one brief visit with little Penny (Shirley), who naturally doesn't know him, changes his mind. He reveals himself to her and takes her with him while his brother-in-law fumes and blusters.

First stop, New York, where Jerry runs a scam on a Mr. Felix Evans (Sir Guy Standing) for $5,000 in a phony mining deal. Then it's bon voyage for Europe to meet Toni in Paris. Their ship is barely out of port before they meet Mr. Evans strolling the deck. Jerry manages to stammer out that he was suddenly called away to Europe, and Evans gives him a smooth, knowing smirk. "Quite a coincidence, Mr. Day. Because the same thing happened to me." And Evans calmly wishes him a good day.

Jerry and Penny join Toni in Paris, where, after a little jealous tension, Toni and Penny bond with one another. Toni has an uneasy conscience over bringing Penny into the lifestyle she and Jerry have adopted, and in his way, so does he. He tries to settle down into an honest job in Paris, but his and Toni's rich tastes are his undoing. Then the sinister Mr. Evans reenters his life. Evans has his eye on the jewels of Mrs. J.H.P. Crane (Charlotte Granville), a dowager widow who has taken a shine to Penny, and he wants Jerry to help him lay hands on them.

That's really as far as we need to go with Now and Forever because...well, frankly, despite the nostalgic value of Cooper, Lombard and Temple in the same picture, it's a bit of a dud. The script by Vincent Lawrence and Sylvia Thalberg (sister of Irving) is as bland and pointless as the title, and this sort of ersatz Ernst Lubitsch was never director Hathaway's strong suit. Shirley sings one song, "The World Owes Me a Living" from the then-current Disney Silly Symphony The Grasshopper and the Ants, which serves as Jerry's unofficial theme song (he's whistling it when he first meets Penny). But even that's a cheat; Hathaway cuts away for a long scene of Jerry stealing an emerald necklace and stashing it in his daughter's teddy bear, with Penny's voice barely audible in a distant room of the old lady's mansion. Now and Forever is really only memorable for two things. One is Shirley's recollection of the fun of working with Carole Lombard ("If she really employed bawdy humor and truck-driver expletives, it was never within my hearing. Wherever she went she seemed to wear a halo of crystalline happiness.") 

The other thing is a scene in which Penny learns that her father is a jewel thief and has lied to her about it. On the set that day, just before the cameras rolled, some blabbermouth inadvertently spilled the beans about Dorothy Dell's gruesome death. The tears we see in that scene aren't Penny's disillusionment with her father; they're Shirley's genuine grief at the loss of her friend from Little Miss Marker.

After this second excursion to Paramount, Shirley returned to Fox for her next job, the first real "Shirley Temple picture" -- in the sense that it was tailor-made just for her -- with the song that, as she put it, would stick to her "like lifelong glue". Except for a famous near-miss several years later (which I'll get to in good time), there would be no more talk about loaning her out.

To be continued...
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Mickey and Judy -- Together at Last

Another thread was broken this week that tied the 21st century to the Golden Age of Hollywood. This thread was a thick one, too. Unlike other child stars, including his contemporaries Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin, Mickey Rooney didn't go gentle into that good night after a long retirement far from the limelight. No, he was working -- or planning to work -- right up to the end; his last credits on the IMDb are for the second sequel to Night at the Museum and (as both actor and composer) a forthcoming production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Whether he passed away before contributing anything to those pictures remains to be seen, but even if he did, you need only go back to 2012 for his next credit (The Woods). He began performing in vaudeville at the age of 18 months. Yes, it's true: Mickey Rooney was the only movie star -- and surely there will never be another -- who could boast a 90-year career in show business.

Just about every kind of show business, too, except medicine shows, grand opera and ballet. Vaudeville, movies (and, in the 1930s, personal appearances to go with them), radio, television, Broadway (in Sugar Babies, which was a revival of old-time burlesque), you name it. At one time or another, people as varied as Cary Grant, Anthony Quinn, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando and Gore Vidal named Mickey Rooney as the best actor in Hollywood. Well, I don't know about the best actor, exactly -- competition there is mighty stiff -- but there can be little doubt that he was the most multi-talented person who ever stood in front of a movie camera. He could act, sing, dance, clown, and play piano and drums (among other musical instruments).

He also had a talent for getting married. Or, to be more precise, the one talent he lacked was for staying married -- at least until his eighth and last marriage, to Jan Chamberlin in 1978. (They eventually became estranged but never divorced, and she survives him as his widow.) He once joked that his marriage licenses were addressed "To Whom It May Concern", and said that "in those days you had to get married to get laid." (A reading of his 1991 autobiography Life Is Too Short shows that, in his case anyhow, that wasn't true.)

Ninety years in any line of work is going to have its ups and downs, and Mickey's life was turbulent. There were problems with alcohol, pills, gambling and bankruptcy. His Irish brashness wasn't always charming, and not everyone who worked with him cherished fond memories of the experience (Ann Miller was particularly bitter about Sugar Babies, for which both of them were nominated for Tonys). Through it all, he kept plugging away. He had to -- both psychologically and financially. Along the way he accumulated four Oscar nominations (two in his heyday, then two more after he was supposedly washed up), two special Oscars (1938, 1982), five Emmy nominations (one win), two Golden Globes, four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and that Tony nod for Sugar Babies.

During all those decades, he worked with four generations' worth of moviedom's best performers and/or biggest stars. A partial list, in no particular order: Ed Wynn, Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edward Arnold, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Will Rogers, Jean Harlow, William Powell, James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Dick Powell, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy, Warner Baxter, Rosalind Russell, Sophie Tucker, Robert Montgomery, Lana Turner, Rex Ingram, Kathryn Grayson, Lee J. Cobb, Esther Williams, June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Walter Huston, Agnes Moorehead, Thomas Mitchell, Pat O'Brien, William Demarest, Robert Preston, Bob Hope, William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, Edmond O'Brien, Mel Torme, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Audrey Hepburn, Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, James Caan, Bruce Dern, Clint Eastwood, Stewart Granger, Jean Arthur, Red Skelton, Dick Van Dyke, Burt Reynolds, Michael Caine, Raymond Massey, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Griffith, Liza Minnelli, Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Richard Widmark, James Stewart, Christopher Lee, Dennis Quaid, Nathan Lane, Helen Hunt, Stacy Keach, Tim Robbins, John Cleese, Cesar Romero, Angela Lansbury, Tobey Maguire, Ernest Borgnine, Ned Beatty, John and David Carradine, George Clooney, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Kirk Douglas and Amy Adams.

Whew!

Not to mention the entire cast of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Plus, during his hungry days and among the more obscure of his 338 movie and TV credits, more unknowns, losers and nobodies than most of us have even seen

Plus, of course, Judy Garland.

In the late '30s and early '40s, when Mickey was the No. 1 box-office star in America, it seemed that the Andy Hardy pictures would be his legacy to movie history -- that is, it would have, if anybody had been talking about things like "legacies" back then. Certainly Louis B. Mayer thought the Andy Hardy series was MGM's (and his own) greatest achievement, and it was Andy that won Mickey that first special Oscar, "for bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth".

Well, time and changing tastes have rubbed some of the bloom off Judge Hardy's family. In fact, the rub started early: the last Hardy picture, in 1958, was a flop. Now, with hindsight, we can see that the high point of Mickey's epic career was his screen partnership with Judy Garland. Most of all, there were the four Mickey-and-Judy musicals they made for Arthur Freed, the ones where the rallying cry was "Hey, kids, let's put on a show/form our own band/stage a rodeo!" First came Babes in Arms (1939), then Strike Up the Band ('40) and Babes on Broadway ('41), and finally, the best of the bunch, Girl Crazy in '43. (That's the one that inspired this multimedia rendering by MGM staff caricaturist Jacques Kapralik.) In addition to those, there were Judy's appearances in three of the Andy Hardy pictures (Love Finds..., Life Begins for..., and ...Meets Debutante) and a specialty number in 1948's Words and Music, with Judy guest-starring as herself in a duet with Mickey's Lorenz Hart to "I Wish I Were in Love Again". Finally, there was a nostalgic, wistful reunion on Judy's short-lived TV show in December '63. Every time, their teaming was nothing less than pure joy.

“Judy and I were so close we could’ve come from the same womb,” Mickey once famously said. “We weren’t like brothers or sisters, but there was no love affair there. There was more than a love affair. It’s very, very difficult to explain the depth of our love for each other. It was so special. It was a forever love. Judy, as we speak, has not passed away. She’s always with me in every heartbeat of my body.”

That was in the 1992 TNT documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, after Judy had been gone 23 years. It might have seemed like the musings of an old man in winter mourning a long-lost colleague -- except that Mickey had very similar words on the occasion of that guest spot on The Judy Garland Show thirty years earlier: "We've had a wonderful seven days together here," Mickey said at the close of the show, his arm around Judy's waist as she caressed the lapel on his tuxedo. "This is not only 'tradition'; this [woman] is the love of my life. My wife knows this -- my wives know this. [She] always has been, because there never will be, there aren't adjectives enough to express, in the world, how the one and only Judy -- is Judy." There was an awkward sweetness to his obviously ad-libbed words that bespoke unfeigned sincerity. 

Judy wrestled with many of the same things that beset Mickey during those post-MGM years: pills, liquor, serial failed marriages. Why he battled through them and lived to 93 while she got barely more than half that is impossible to know for sure, I suppose; I expect Mickey must have wondered about it himself from time to time.

Last May, at the Classic Film Festival and Hall of Fame in Orinda, Calif., Mickey made a personal appearance to introduce a screening of National Velvet, looking as chipper and cheerful as he ever did at his very best. In the Q&A, I had a chance to ask him about those days: "You've spoken many times about the joy you had working with Judy Garland, which comes through in all your pictures together. Is there some particular memory that always springs to mind whenever you think of Judy?" His reply was succinct: "I'd rather not say." 

Fair enough, Mick. After all you gave us, you're allowed to keep something for yourself. Whatever that memory is, I hope you and Judy are sharing it now.
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shirley Temple Revisited, Part 2

"Anyone four years old," Shirley Temple Black wrote, "absorbs experience like a blotter." Anyhow, she certainly did, and her experience with the Baby Burlesks gave her plenty to soak up. She learned that making movies was business, and wasting time was wasting money -- and if you wasted too much of either, you wouldn't get any more of it. She learned about hitting chalk marks on the floor to be properly lit. Even better than that, she found that her face was particularly sensitive to the warmth from the overhead lighting instruments, which made her good at what actors call "finding your light"; she could feel the difference between the light hitting her forehead, her cheek or her chin.

Something else that she found she could do didn't surface until she made Stand Up and Cheer!: filming to playback. On the Baby Burlesks there hadn't been time or money for fripperies like pre-recording; when Shirley sang "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" in Glad Rags to Riches or "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye" in Kid in Hollywood, she performed live on the set to a simple piano, with other instruments to be dubbed in later (even that was an extravagance for penny-pinching Educational). This idea of recording the song first, then mouthing the words later for the camera was entirely new to her. As even the most experienced actors have learned to their dismay, it's not simply a matter of synchronizing lip movements; your posture, your breathing, the angle of your head, even your facial expressions can all influence the sound your voice makes when you're singing. If you don't replicate them precisely, audiences tend to notice the difference, even if they can't quite put their finger on what's wrong. Getting it right called for the application of another actorly phrase, "sense memory". Shirley found that it came easily to her. "Mimicry is not an unusual talent in a child," she wrote, "and I had no appreciation for what a nasty problem such synchronization presents for many actors."


There were many such lessons that went into The Education of Shirley Temple. Henry Hathaway told a story of directing her in To the Last Man, a 1933 western from a Zane Grey novel about an age-old blood feud between two Kentucky clans that continues as both families relocate to the Nevada frontier. Shirley played an uncredited bit (one of her loan-outs from Jack Hays) as a third-generation child of one of the families. (She's shown here with Muriel Kirkland, left, as her aunt and Gail Patrick as her mother.)

The script called for her to be conducting a play tea party in the yard outside her family's ranch house when a member of the enemy clan shoots the head off her doll, hoping to prod her father, uncles and grandfather into a showdown.

As the camera rolled, she was to offer a cup of tea to a small pony standing by her table. But the pony became inordinately interested in the sugar bowl on the table and stuck his snout into it. Ad libbing with the moment, Shirley snapped "Get away! Get away!" and slapped the pony's nose. The scene escalated into a shoving match, with Shirley pushing at the pony and kicking at his fetlocks. As Hathaway looked on in horror ("Oh Jeez, I was scared to death."), the pony turned his back and kicked viciously at the girl with his hind legs, missing her head by inches. She stood her ground and glared at him: "You ever do that to me again, I'll kick you!"

Hathaway had seen enough -- too much, really. "Cut!" He went up to Shirley. "Didn't that scare you?"

"Yes," she said. 

"Well, you didn't stop." 

"Oh, I wouldn't dare stop." 

Even at the age of five, Shirley already knew two things: (1) animals can't be counted on to follow the script, and you have to be ready to deal with what they actually do; and (2) no matter what happens, only the director gets to call "Cut!" (By the way, the pony's kick did not remain in the picture; it would have detracted too much from the "murder" of the doll, the dramatic point of the scene.)

Shirley's new contract with Fox was exclusive, but in the immediate aftermath of shooting "Baby, Take a Bow" for Stand Up and Cheer! all the studio found for her to do was a less-than-worthless bit in a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell romance called Change of Heart. Eight seconds on screen -- with her back to the camera, yet! -- and not a syllable of dialogue; it was worse than the bits Jack Hays used to send her on. Mother Gertrude set out to drum up some work -- if some other studio wanted her daughter, surely a loan could be worked out -- and she had just the picture in mind, over at Paramount. It was one for which Shirley had already auditioned and been dismissed out of hand. ("They took one look, watched me dance, and rejected me without a smile.")


Little Miss Marker (released June 1, 1934)

Somehow, this time Gertrude was able to wangle an interview with the movie's director, Alexander Hall. In Child Star Shirley doesn't know how Mother did it; I wouldn't be surprised if word of Shirley's song-and-dance with James Dunn was already circulating on the Hollywood grapevine. In any event, Shirley auditioned for Hall personally.

The director showed Shirley to a chair and sat facing her. "Say, 'Aw, nuts.'"

"Aw, nuts!"

"Scram!"

"Scram!"

Hall stood up. "Okay."

"Okay!"

"No, kid! Stop! We're finished." It was as simple as that; Shirley had the part. Paramount offered Fox $1,000 a week for Shirley's services (a huge profit over the $175 in her Fox contract), and on March 1, 1934 Shirley reported for her first costume fittings for Little Miss Marker.

William R. Lipman, Sam Hellman and Gladys Lehman's script was adapted from a story by Damon Runyon about a sourpuss bookie named Sorrowful who grudgingly accepts a bettor's small daughter as a sort of "hostage" for a two-dollar bet on a horse race. The father promises to get the money and be right back, but he never comes back. Sorrowful finds himself saddled with the little girl, whose sunny sweetness gradually thaws his heart, brightens his outlook and loosens his airtight purse strings. Everyone notices the change the tot makes in Sorrowful, and they warm to little "Marky" themselves.

Damon Runyon died in 1946, but his name has stayed current in American culture thanks to the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls (its title taken from one of his story anthologies, its plot from two of his tales). But Guys and Dolls has also skewed the popular image of his stories and what it means to be "Runyonesque". The musical is set in a rollicking fantasy land of cute underworld denizens -- grifters, mugs, oafs and dames, colorful and essentially harmless. In Runyon's stories there is humor, to be sure, but it's not rollicking; it's more often sardonic, even mordant, and the atmosphere of the stories, despite the picturesque speech, is hardly fantasy. The world of Runyon's nameless narrator is gritty and down to earth, lit by bare bulbs in cheap hotel rooms and the gaudy glare of street neon; we can almost smell the cheap cigars and stale perfume. Things may work out -- for the time being -- for the characters, but it's usually thanks to ironic accidents, not a benign universe. There's often an undercurrent of menace beneath the whimsy, and bad things do happen.

And so it is in "Little Miss Marker". One snowy night Marky wakes to find her nursemaid asleep and Sorrowful gone. Running outside barefoot in her nightgown, she tracks him to the Hot Box nightclub and runs into his arms just as a killer named Milk Ear Willie is about to settle an old grudge by plugging Sorrowful. Willie changes his mind, so Marky has saved Sorrowful's life -- but at the cost of her own. She contracts pneumonia and dies in hospital, despite the efforts of Sorrowful and his associates (even Milk Ear Willie chips in, kidnapping a famous child specialist to attend Marky's bedside). Minutes after Marky's death her father turns up, having suffered from amnesia since the day he left his little girl with the bookmaker. He has read about Marky in the newspapers and has finally come to take her home. "I suppose I owe you something?" he asks Sorrowful. Yes, says the bookie, you owe me two bucks. "I will trouble you to send it to me at once, so I can wipe you off my books." He is once again the old Sorrowful, with the same "sad, mean-looking kisser" he had before -- "and furthermore," says the narrator, "it is never again anything else."

The movie keeps Runyon's hospital climax -- Marky is there with life-threatening injuries from falling from a horse, not pneumonia -- but softens the ending: Marky lives, and Sorrowful's reformation is allowed to stick. (The writers also gave Sorrowful a surname, Jones, which is not in the story but has stayed with him through two remakes.) Otherwise, it's faithful to the spirit of Runyon's story -- basically a drama with small comic flourishes -- with a suitable mix of seediness and vulgar glamour. Surely, Runyon was pleased.

Little Miss Marker contains one of the  most unusual movie pairings of the 1930s: Shirley Temple and Adolphe Menjou. The usually dapper, immaculately tailored Menjou (he was voted Best Dressed Man in America nine times) was, at first glance, an odd choice not only to team with a child but to portray the rumpled, unkempt Sorrowful Jones. But it works; Shirley's Marky brings out the debonair sport in Menjou's Sorrowful, the one we knew was there all the time, by inspiring him to move to a more suitable apartment and upgrade his wardrobe.  (Curiously enough, Menjou would play a similarly disheveled grump, and have a similar rapport with kids, in his last picture, Disney's Pollyanna in 1960 -- this time with two child stars, Hayley Mills and Kevin Corcoran.)

Shirley says in Child Star that Menjou once offered to play hide-and-seek with her, but otherwise tended to keep his distance ("off-camera he treated me with the reticence adults commonly reserve for children"). But when the camera's rolling the two have a remarkable chemistry. It's there when Marky and Sorrowful first meet, as she stands beside her father on the divider railing in Sorrowful's shabby office. Sorrowful orders Marky "down offa there", but she teases him: "Look, Daddy, he's running away! Is he afraid?...You're afraid of my daddy! Or you're afraid of me. You're afraid of something..." There follows a remarkable moment when Sorrowful picks Marky up, supposedly to get her off the railing, but holds her for a short while, her hands resting on his shoulders, while their eyes meet. Then he sets her down and growls to his henchman Regret (Lynn Overman), "Take his marker...A little doll like that's worth twenty bucks. Any way you look at it." ("Yeah," Regret grumbles, "she oughta melt down for that much.")

The chemistry is there, too, in a charming scene where Sorrowful and Marky talk about God, and he grudgingly agrees to teach her to say her prayers: "All right, get outta bed. I'll show you how to pray. Sort of. But don't you tell anybody, see?" The topper to the scene is the look on Sorrowful's face when he hears why she wanted to learn: "And please, God, buy Sir Sorry a new suit of clothes." In the very next scene, Sorrowful the sartorial butterfly has hatched out of his rumpled cocoon. ("Sir Sorry the Sad Knight" is the name Marky gives Sorrowful; she names all his cronies according to the stories she's heard about King Arthur.)

Marky's "Lady Guinevere" is Bangles Carson (Dorothy Dell), nightclub singer and kept doll of Big Steve Halloway (Charles Bickford). Bickford, of course, was in the early stages of a long and distinguished career. Dell might have been, too; she was only 19 when she made Little Miss Marker, her second picture, with a husky contralto voice and a wise way with a good line. She too had a strong rapport with Shirley, only this time it extended to off-camera, where she was as much a big sister to her as Bangles is to Marky. Dorothy Dell might have become Paramount's answer to Alice Faye, Joan Blondell or Jean Harlow. Alas, when this scene of Bangles singing Marky to sleep was shot, Dell had only three months to live. Early in the morning of June 8, 1934, she was returning from a party in Altadena with a friend, Dr. Carl Wagner. On a deceptively sharp curve on Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena, Wagner lost control. The car hit a rock, then, flipping end over end, a light pole and a palm tree. Dorothy was killed instantly, crushed in the mangled wreck. Wagner was thrown clear but died six hours later without regaining consciousness. Shirley was back at Paramount then, making another loan-out (Now and Forever); the studio staff kept the news from her as long as they could.



Some of Shirley and Dorothy's chemistry is on display in this scene of the two singing one of Bangles's songs, "Laugh, You Son of a Gun" (by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger). I post it here not only for Shirley, but for Dorothy; she deserves to be remembered:



Little Miss Marker fleshed out and in many ways improved Runyon's original story. The amnesiac-father angle was always a bit of a credulity stretch; in the movie he becomes a suicide -- driven off the end of his rope when the bet he placed with Sorrowful turns out a loser. This heightens Sorrowful's sense of obligation to Marky: the race was rigged and he knew it when he took the man's bet. It also links Marky to that losing horse, the ironically named Dream Prince. When Big Steve, Dream Prince's owner, is suspended over suspicions about that fixed race, Steve and Sorrowful set Marky up as Dream Prince's dummy owner so the horse can continue to run. Marky's affection for "the Charger" (another one of her fanciful King Arthur names) draws her, Sorrowful and Bangles closer together, and leads to a crisis when Big Steve gets wind of shenanigans behind his back.

Little Miss Marker was a smash hit. With it Shirley Temple truly arrived, and it remains one of her best pictures with one of her best performances. It proved that her show-stopper in Stand Up and Cheer! was no fluke, that she could handle the central role in a major feature and hold her own with a castful of seasoned professionals. Just look at her billing in the picture's opening credits: her name alone, before the title and just as big -- bigger in fact than Menjou, Bickford, Runyon, even director Alexander Hall. Runyon's story would be filmed again over the years, going from good (Sorrowful Jones [1949] with Bob Hope) to bad (40 Pounds of Trouble ['62] with Tony Curtis) to awful (Little Miss Marker ['80] with Walter Matthau). In every single one, the little girl playing Marky made absolutely no impression whatever. Can you even name them? (If you said Mary Jane Saunders, Claire Wilcox and Sara Stimson, move to the head of the Trivia Seminar.) Marky is Shirley Temple's role for as long as movies live.

And how the boys at Paramount must have crowed over that "Adolph Zukor Presents" line; take that, Fox! If you don't know what to do with Shirley Temple, stand aside. (Paramount did in fact offer to buy Shirley's contract for $50,000 outright. Fox declined.) Besides "announcing" Shirley and making her a real star, Little Miss Marker served notice to the geniuses over at Fox that they'd better get off their duffs and come up with something better than that miserable walk-on in Change of Heart. Luckily for Fox, they didn't waste any more time; they put Shirley in a flurry of tailor-made pictures that are all but unique in the first year of any newborn star -- a concentrated series of hits so impossible to ignore that it would spur the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, unsure what else to do, to invent a brand new award category just for her.

To be continued...
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shirley Temple Revisited, Part 1




Shirley Temple got her feet wet in the movie business -- and came to the attention of Fox Film Corp. -- in Jack Hays's "Baby Burlesks". These were a bizarre series of shorts that pretty much have to be seen to be disbelieved. The basic idea was to show toddlers in diapers either spoofing famous movies or engaging in various grown-up activities: war, politics, making movies (although the series called into question exactly how grown-up that particular activity was).  The first of these shorts -- though the "Baby Burlesks" name hadn't been adopted yet -- was Runt Page, a send-up of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page. And this shot right here was America's first look at three-year-old Shirley Jane Temple. She sits in her high chair listening as her screen parents and another couple chat about having seen The Front Page; then she flops over in sleep and dreams a ten-minute version of the story featuring her and her tiny playmates.
In her dream, Shirley is the fiancee of reporter Bilgy Yohnson, played by Georgie Smith, her "first leading man"; they are shown here with little Eugene Butler, who played Bilgy's editor Walter Scalds ("Bilgy Yohnson" and  "Walter Scalds" for The Front Page's Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns, get it? That's about the level of producer Jack Hays's writing). America may have seen her in Runt Page, but nobody heard her voice, or the voices of any of the other kids; they were all dubbed by adults. For that matter, it's an open question exactly how many people even saw her; in Child Star she writes that the one-reel short was a "dismal failure in the marketplace [and] its sale was abandoned". Besides, as this frame suggests, Shirley still had a few things to learn -- for instance, not to look at the camera.

But she proved to be a quick study, especially at home with Mother Gertrude, who coached her in how to "sparkle" for the camera. "When she said 'sparkle'," Shirley wrote, "it meant energy, an intellectual intensity which would naturally translate itself into vivid and convincing gesture and expression." (By the way, let me insert here that there can be no doubt that Shirley herself wrote Child Star; she writes like a diplomat. But not like a diplomat talking to her foreign counterparts -- no, like a diplomat reporting to her colleagues back at the State Department.)

Runt Page was produced and distributed by Universal; evidently Shirley's memory of it as a "dismal failure" was correct, because the studio bailed on making any other shorts with the "Baby Stars". Jack Hays and his troupe of toddlers wound up at Educational Pictures, a Poverty Row establishment that trawled around the fringes of Hollywood snagging talent either on their way up (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Edward Everett Horton worked there early in their careers) or on their way down (Harry Langdon, Buster Keaton and Roscoe Arbuckle all fell to earth there when their own stars went into eclipse).

Like the other kids in the Baby Burlesks, Shirley was under exclusive contract to producer Jack Hays. To finance his share of the shorts (Educational supplied 75 percent of the funding, Hays 25 percent), Hays farmed the kids out for modeling gigs, promotional gimmicks, bit parts or walk-ons, anything that required a child, pocketing most of the money and passing a pittance along to the parents (in Shirley's case the few dollars supplemented her father George's income as a branch manager for California Bank). All that shuttling around L.A. on Hays's loan-outs, on top of her lessons at Mrs. Meglin's Dance Studio, gave Shirley a tidy fund of experience for one so young.

After Runt Page the dubbing by adult voices was abandoned, and for the rest of the Baby Burlesks' brief run the kids would all perform, for better or worse, with their own voices. In Shirley's case it was for the better, as it turned out she could sing and dance. Here, in her seventh Baby Burlesk, Glad Rags to Riches, she sings for the first time on screen, playing Nell (aka night club chanteuse La Belle Diaperene). The song is "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage"; Shirley is four years and nine months old.

In September 1933 Jack Hays declared personal bankruptcy, and George Temple used his banking contacts to negotiate with Hays's court-appointed trustee to buy back Shirley's contract for $25. (Hays, one of Hollywood's true bottom-feeders, said nothing at the time. But later, after Shirley had hit it big, he tried suing for half a million dollars, claiming the sale had been illegal. His nuisance suit dragged on for years before he finally settled for $3,500.)

After two-and-a-half years, in which she made 15 shorts and appeared in five features, Shirley was unemployed. Then, as the saying goes, fate intervened. At the end of November 1933, at a sneak preview for What's to Do?, one of the Educational shorts Shirley had made on loan from Hays, she and her mother met songwriter Jay Gorney, recently hired by Fox Film Corp. This landed her an audition with Gorney and his partner Lew Brown, who was also serving as associate producer under Fox production chief Winfield Sheehan. Brown and Gorney cast her in a small part in a picture that was already well into production. For all intents and purposes, whatever her previous experience, Shirley Temple's screen career -- and certainly the Shirley Temple Phenomenon -- began with...


Stand Up and Cheer! (released April 19, 1934)

Stand Up and Cheer! was an "all-star" revue masquerading as a standard book musical (the original working title was Fox Follies). The premise of Ralph Spence's script, based on a "story idea suggested by" Will Rogers and Philip Klein, was that the U.S. President, in order to help people forget their troubles during the Depression, creates a new cabinet post, Secretary of Amusement, and appoints Broadway producer Lawrence Cromwell (Warner Baxter, essentially xeroxing his Julian Marsh from 42nd Street the year before) to oversee federally-funded public entertainment.

This provided the framework for a series of songs and specialty numbers by guest artists. Most of them were second- and third-string stars even at the time -- vaudevillian Sylvia Froos, dreamboat tenor John Boles, blackface red-hot-mama entertainer Tess "Aunt Jemima" Gardella, hillbilly singer "Skins" Miller, knockabout comics Mitchell & Durant -- and they're all now generally (even utterly) forgotten. In fact, the one who's best-remembered today is the one who wasn't a star at all -- yet: Shirley herself. In this poster she receives seventh billing, but on screen she's billed third, right after romantic ingenue Madge Evans. Clearly, Fox had some inkling of what they had on their hands.

In Child Star Shirley remembers her mother taking her on December 7, 1933 to audition for Jay Gorney and Lew Brown. She sang "Lazybones" sitting on Brown's piano, then slid down and stood by while the two songwriters discussed her as if she weren't there (none of them suspecting, no doubt, that she'd be writing about it half a century hence). Brown was dubious; Winfield Sheehan, he said, was "high on the other kid." Gorney demurred: "Unnatural, precocious. A revolting little monster." Brown agreed, and they offered Shirley the part. After all, they wrote the songs for Stand Up and Cheer!, plus Brown was the picture's associate producer. Shirley never knew how they brought Sheehan around, but Abel Green, in reviewing the picture for Variety, mentions approvingly that Brown had "held out...for that cute Shirley Temple."

Shirley's share of Stand Up and Cheer! consisted of two brief scenes, a curtain-call appearance in the movie's finale, and a song-and-dance duet with James Dunn to "Baby, Take a Bow". It may have helped them both that "Baby, Take a Bow" was the best song in the score. Or was it that it just seemed like the best because Dunn and Shirley performed it? That's a chicken-or-the-egg question, but the bottom line was beyond debate: "Baby, Take a Bow" was the highlight of the weird, unruly hodgepodge that was Stand Up and Cheer!

The picture was deep into shooting when Shirley was cast, and the cash-strapped studio couldn't afford to dawdle, so she had some serious catching up to do. To save rehearsal time, dance director Sammy Lee jettisoned the tap routine he'd taught to Dunn and had the actor learn the steps Shirley already knew from Mrs. Meglin's. Then, late on her first morning, it was off to the sound studio to pre-record the song. Dunn flubbed several takes, then finally got it right. When her turn came, Shirley stood on a stool (her mother had taught her the words to the song just minutes before) and sang -- then was mortified when, on the very last note, her voice slipped into an unintended falsetto ("Dad-dee, take a bow-oo!"). She thought she'd ruined the take and was terrified she'd be fired, but she needn't have worried; that little half-yodel at the tail end of her vocal provided the perfect "button" to the song and firmly cemented her Cute Quotient.

My apologies to any black-and-white purists in the house, but the best clip of "Baby, Take a Bow" available on YouTube really is this colorized version, so try to make allowances (anyhow, the colorizing is better than usual, without those spray-on-tan orange skin tones). It's worth posting here because it really is one of movie history's genuine A Star Is Born Moments. Besides, it's a fun number, well-stage by Lee in Busby-Berkeley-on-a-shoestring style. First comes Dunn singing the song to Patricia Lee, she silently beaming and sashaying in Toby Wing fashion. Then the customary parade of chorines, with Dunn endearingly hopping hither and yon to avoid stepping on their long trains. Shirley enters at about the two-thirds point -- first she poses, then she sings, then she dances, each stage of the number presented as if to say, "But wait, there's more!" As Shirley dances, swinging her arms in joyous abandon, it's easy to imagine that she knows this is the chance of a lifetime, and is carpe-ing this diem for all it's worth. That may be reading too much, though; after all, she's only five. It may simply be that she's having fun!


Stand Up and Cheer! ran 80 minutes, and Shirley was on screen for a mere 5 minutes, 5 seconds. (The picture survives only in a 69 min. version reissued after Fox had merged with Darryl Zanuck's 20th Century Pictures -- but considering that by that time Shirley was the main selling point, it's a cinch they didn't cut a frame of hers.) Fleeting as they were, those five minutes were all she needed, and there was no doubt who stopped the show. Variety's Green got right to the point. In his very first sentence, he wrote: "If nothing else, 'Stand Up and Cheer' should be very worthwhile for Fox because of that sure-fire, potential kidlet star in four-year-old Shirley Temple." (Shirley was five -- in fact, she turned six the day before Green's review appeared -- but never mind; Fox publicity had already shaved a year off her age.)

Meanwhile, over on the other coast, the New York Times's Mordaunt Hall was borderline obtuse. He absurdly compared Stand Up and Cheer! to Gilbert and Sullivan and spent long inches recounting the picture's plot -- not its most prominent virtue -- and praising an excruciating scene between Stepin Fetchit (so popular in the '30s, so cringe-making today) and a penguin in a coat and hat claiming to be Jimmy Durante (the voice impersonated by Lew Brown). But even Hall paused to mention "a delightful child named Shirley Temple."

Even before the public verdict was in, Winfield Sheehan knew what he had, and he wasted no time locking Shirley down. Two weeks after Shirley's audition for Brown and Gorney, he tore up the old one-picture, two-week contract and offered a new one for a year, with an option to renew for seven. The money was a lot better, but Shirley and her parents were still dealing in a buyer's market, and Fox got a sweet deal.

That was the easy part. Now the question was: How could Fox -- bleeding cash, defaulting on loans and teetering on bankruptcy -- exploit their most promising new star when she was only five -- oops! make that [wink] four -- years old? While they mulled that over, Fox decided to make a little mad money by loaning her out. And so it was that Shirley Temple's first above-the-title credit, and the role that confirmed her as a bona fide star, came to her from another studio. 

To be continued...
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Cinedrome Pop Quiz



Here's a challenge for Cinedrome's readers, just for fun.

I recently won an auction on eBay for a 16mm print. The
picture is Up in Mabel's Room (1944), directed by Allan
Dwan, based on the 1919 Broadway chestnut by Wilson
Collison and Otto Hauerbach. The movie's cast includes
Marjorie Reynolds, Dennis O'Keefe, Gail Patrick, Mischa
Auer, Charlotte Greenwood and Binnie Barnes.

But none of that is important for our purposes here. What
is important is what came with the print. The seller included
a little note thanking me for my purchase and hoping I enjoy
it. Attached to the note was a unique bookmark, consisting
of four frames of 35mm Technicolor film (plus a diagonal
slice of an additional frame at each end). The four frames
are reproduced on the left.

Now here's the challenge, in two parts: (1) Name the movie
these  frames are from; and (2) Identify the actors. The
Grand prize is unlimited bragging rights. Leave your guesses,
or any questions, in the comments. All right, ready? Go!

Next up here at Cinedrome: Shirley Temple Revisited, Part 1.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tragedy in Nevada, January 1942

Before I get into my Shirley Temple retrospective, I want to mention an important new book by my friend Robert Matzen. The second-best thing about Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 is that you don't have to be a movie buff to find it a real page-turner; the best thing about it is that if you are a fan of classic Hollywood, and particularly of Carole Lombard, this is one of the indispensible books.

Bob Matzen is the author of two other books that are proudly ensconced on my bookshelf and deserve room on yours: (1) Errol Flynn Slept Here (with Michael Mazzone), a biography of Flynn's Mulholland Farm estate high in the Hollywood Hills, from the time he built it in 1941 until it was torn down in 1988 (after Errol was forced to sell, it became home first to songwriter Stuart Hamblen, composer of "This Ole House" and "It Is No Secret What God Can Do", then to rock-n-roll icon Rick Nelson); and (2) Errol & Olivia: Ego and Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood, about Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, their on-screen magic and complicated off-screen relationship.

The title Fireball has a three-pronged irony: it describes Carole Lombard's feisty screen persona, her vivacious off-screen personality, and (grimly) the way she died on January 16, 1942, when the DC-3 taking her home from a World War II bond drive in her home state of Indiana flew smack into the side of a mountain outside Las Vegas, Nevada. It was less than six weeks after Pearl Harbor; Lombard had been the first Hollywood star to hit the campaign trail to sell war bonds and buck up homefront morale, and now she became the first star to die in America's sudden new war.

With a vividness that would do credit to Walter Lord -- and if you've read Lord's recounting of the Titanic sinking (A Night to Remember), Pearl Harbor (Day of Infamy) or the Alamo (A Time to Stand), you know what high praise that is -- Bob Matzen shifts his narrative almost cinematically back and forth between witnesses on the ground in Nevada who heard TWA Flight 3 pass overhead, saw the terrible fire light up the desert sky and trekked up the sheer slopes of Potosi Mountain to look for possible survivors, and a biography of Lombard from her birth in Fort Wayne to the night she boarded that plane for her last flight. Then he takes us through the cruel business of climbing up to the smoldering wreckage in the dead of a desert winter, identifying bodies (some of them burned, mangled or lacerated beyond recognition) and bringing them down by pack-horses for proper burial -- a nightmare assignment that haunted strong men for the rest of their lives, and is hardly less haunting to read about.


 Fireball naturally focuses on Lombard, her husband Clark Gable, who never did get over her loss, and her mother Elizabeth Peters and publicist Otto Winkler, who both died with her. But the book doesn't neglect the 19 others who perished on Flight 3: the 15 Army airmen, recent bride Lois Hamilton en route to Long Beach to join her Air Corps husband, and the three-person flight crew (including pilot Wayne Williams and stewardess Alice Getz, shown here). That's what really makes Fireball such a compelling read. 

Bob Matzen sure did his homework, and he sketches these individuals for us through official records, letters, and the memories of friends and family. They may be forever fated to remain what they were in 1942, supporting players in the national tragedy of the loss of Carole Lombard, but Bob makes them live again for us, however briefly, and he poignantly shows what the loss of them meant to those they left behind (one airman's young widow never remarried, and mourned her lost husband all the 66 years that remained to her).

Bob even went (literally!) above and beyond, climbing Potosi Mountain (8,500 ft. above sea level) to visit the crash site, in terrain so remote and forbidding that debris from the crash remains on the mountainside over 70 years after the fact. And he speculates credibly on what we can never know for sure: what happened in the cockpit of that DC-3 in those last minutes to send a perfectly functioning airplane, under the command of TWA's most experienced pilot, straight into the side of a mountain on a clear, calm night.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bright Eyes, 1928-2014

It's been over three weeks now since the news came that Shirley Temple Black had left us. I've spent the time perusing her 1988 autobiography Child Star -- refreshingly frank and thorough, if a bit starchy and formal. I've also been reacquainting myself with her movies, which was more than a little overdue; I haven't seen most of her pictures since I was about the age she was when she made them. Some I've never seen at all.

I'll be posting on a few of those movies, because I think her career is worth reviewing in detail. But while I'm working up to that, I don't want to let her passing go without some comment in the meantime. Shirley Temple was one of a kind.

It may sound strange, but the comparison that sprang to my mind when I heard she was gone was with the Beatles, and not just because she appears in the crowd on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Both were unprecedented showbiz phenomena that broke the mold. There were child stars before Shirley Temple (Jackie Coogan, Baby Peggy, Jackie Cooper), just as there were pop music sensations before the Beatles (Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley). But these two -- that one and those four -- reached a level of popularity that dwarfed anything that had come before. There was simply nothing to compare them to.

And they went beyond merely breaking the mold. They reset it -- in their own image. Pop idols from ABBA and the Bay City Rollers to One Direction and Justin Bieber would all be called the biggest thing since the Beatles, but there never was a "next" Beatles. It's been 80 years since Shirley Temple's bit part in Stand Up and Cheer made America sit up and take notice, and from Jane Withers through Freddie Bartholomew, Roddy McDowall, Margaret O'Brien, Bobby Driscoll, Patty McCormack, Hayley Mills, Tatum O'Neal, Drew Barrymore, Abigail Breslin -- plus countless sitcom kiddies sprouting up along the way -- there's never been a "next" Shirley Temple either.

My father once told me, "There were two bright spots in the Great Depression. One was Will Rogers, and the other was Shirley Temple." In Child Star Shirley tells us that Rogers said they were set to make a picture together "when I come back from Alaska", but of course he never did. After August 1935 Shirley would have to brighten the Depression all by herself. And that's just what she did, in picture after picture, beginning with her bit in Stand Up and Cheer, singing and dancing "Baby, Take a Bow" with James Dunn. It may be hard at this remove -- for some, impossible -- to grasp how this little girl charmed and cheered America just when the country seemed to be falling apart. But she did, and for three years she was the top star in the nation, if not in the world.

Later, when -- as it inevitably must -- her box-office power began to wane, her personal popularity never did. Neither did the level-headed cheer that made up her on-and-off-screen personae. There was no descent into bitterness, drugs or alcohol, no pathetic scramble to cling to lost youth, no humiliating splash in the tabloids. A happy second marriage to well-to-do Charles Black helped, but even that might not have happened without the solid, no-nonsense upbringing she got from her mother.

Gertrude Temple was the kind of woman who could have given stage mothers a good name -- if there hadn't been so few like her. She saw to it that little Shirley had a firm sense of self independent of her phenomenal popularity -- and in time, independent of her mother. That's why, when her movie career ended in 1950, Shirley was able to move on without a backward glance. The grace, confidence and poise instilled by Mother Gertrude served her daughter well through those early dizzy years and, more important, long after. They took her smoothly through, first, a second career in early television; then, surprisingly, a third career in politics and international diplomacy, as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and White House chief of protocol; and finally, a long bask in the setting sun as a Dowager Queen of the Golden Age of Hollywood. 

I'll have more to say about those first heady years in posts to come. For now: So long, Shirley, and thanks for the memories. We shall not look upon your like again.
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Fog of Lost London, Part 4 (Republished)

NOTE: As the Spooky Season reaches its climax, I repost the climax of my four-part tribute to the legendary lost Tod Browning-Lon Chaney collaboration London After Midnight. Here it is, with a few afterthoughts. If you haven't read the first three parts yet, you'd better scroll down and catch up -- you don't want to get ahead of the story!

*                         *                         *

The concluding chapters of London After Midnight by Marie Coolidge-Rask:

Chapter 19 - The Man in the Beaver Hat

At Balfour House, the man in the beaver hat, lantern in hand, climbs the stairs to the secret room where the bat-woman hovers near the ceiling. Come down, he says, all is ready; she is on her way.

In the overgrown garden the bat-woman waits as Lucy approaches. As the two come together, a shriek like a woman's voice rends the air. Lucy cowers, but the bat-woman soothes her: "It's nothing. They're awake -- coming." Lucy feels herself taken in two strong arms and carried bodily into the house. She sees that her bearer is the man in the beaver hat described by Smithson.

Lucy looks around; tears well in her eyes as she takes in the home she has not seen since her father's death five years before. She begs the pair with her to tell her who they are.

The man in the beaver hat silences her with a gesture. Footsteps are heard outside. Suddenly there's the crash of a shattering window and a man tumbles into the room at their feet.

Chapter 20 - Hibbs' Madness

In Hamlin House, Hibbs dashes downstairs to where the servants cluster, roused from their sleep by the sudden hue and cry from Lucy's room. They urgently entreat Hibbs to tell them what's going on, but he is incoherent, raving -- They're coming! They're all around! I go to destroy them!

The unfortunate Hibbs rummages around the kitchen, yard and outbuildings of the estate, raving about an axe and a hickory stake, the implements he must have to destroy the "vampyrs." He finds an axe in a chopping block and sharpens two pieces of wood into stakes, muttering madly all the while. The servants watch in amazement, afraid to intervene in his maddened state. Soon he is off on his way to Balfour House on his desperate, fevered mission.

At Balfour House he lurks outside a window, his eyes wide, barely suppressing the wild beating of his heart. What he sees through the window drives him madder still: Lucy standing with the man in the beaver hat and the bat-woman. She doesn't run, she doesn't flee; she is in their wicked power! She must be saved before it's too late!

Hibbs leaps through the window, falling at the feet of Lucy and the two fiends in a shower of glass. Before he can move or clear his fevered brain, creatures of unimaginable strength have pounced upon him, overwhelmed him, bound him, borne him off. Is this the end? Has he failed to save Lucy? Is he doomed to be a vampire himself?

Chapter 21 - Help from Scotland Yard

At Scotland Yard, the summons to Hamlin House has been received and a squad of constables is ready to set out. The assistant commissioner knows now that Inspector Burke's preparations -- carefully set in motion by the work of an undercover agent -- are about to bear fruit.

The constables pile into a car and swiftly depart for their destination, an estate outside London. They are told that when the car is sighted there will be a signal -- a siren; they are to reply with a howl, just like the other night.

As the car speeds along, they hear the siren -- a long, piercing shriek like a woman's scream. The car replies with its own special signal, a blaring electric horn like the howl of a dog. Peering into the darkness, the constables see the outline of Hamlin House straight ahead.

Chapter 22 - A Strange Conference

At Hamlin House, Colonel Yates hears the howl of a dog, just like the one the night of his and Sir James's visit to the Balfour crypt. Looking out the window, he sees a car approaching. It must be Scotland Yard, he tells Sir James, and not a minute too soon.

As Yates and Sir James go downstairs, the butler is admitting the police, who have arrived in response to Sir James Hamlin's request. Sir James introduces the policemen to Colonel Yates, saying he will explain the situation to them; Sir James himself is too distraught.

The colonel surveys the police detail with a military eye, apparently deciding that they will do. Quickly he summarizes the weird train of events that have led to their presence here. Now, he says, they have reason to believe that Miss Lucy Balfour is in dire peril in her former home. The police should proceed at once to Balfour House and be prepared for "instant action."

Yates turns to Sir James; does he have his revolver ready? Sir James does. Let me see it, says the colonel. Examining the gun, he notes that it has not been fired in a long time and may not be reliable. Turning to one of the officers, he asks for a spare pistol that Sir James can carry in case the need for it arises.

Sir James, seated at his desk, tries to insist that his own revolver will do, but something in Colonel Yates's eyes stops him. Sir James, in his highly nervous state, seems suddenly transfixed. Colonel Yates moves his hands before the man's face but gets no response.

Satisfied, the colonel takes Sir James's desk clock and sets the hands to eight o'clock. He places the clock before Sir James. At twenty-five minutes past eight, he tells Sir James, come to the verandah door at Balfour House.

Colonel Yates leaves with the police. Sir James, he says, will be joining them later.

Chapter 23 - From Out of the Past

Lucy is upset at what is happening to Hibbs -- those men seizing him, binding him, carrying him away, saying he must be drunk. Jerry is never drunk! The bat-woman tries to calm her. Please, dear, she says, didn't he tell you to remember your part and do it, no matter what? Yes, Lucy says, but he said he'd take care of Jerry, see that he comes to no harm. And so he will, the woman says, we all will. She turns to the man in the beaver hat. What was wrong with him? Too much excitement, the man says; he'll be taken care of and kept out of harm's way. But now we have to work fast.

Lucy pulls herself together. You'd better see the man in the next room, the bat-woman says to Lucy, prepare yourself. It might be a shock and you should get it over with.

Lucy parts a frayed curtain and looks into the next room at the man sitting at her father's desk. It is a shock. The resemblance is uncanny, eerie. For a moment she feels like a little girl again, the little girl who came into this very room and found her father dead, sitting where that man is now. Lucy looks down at herself and sees that she is not that little girl at all anymore. This man can't be her father -- but he looks so like him.

Lucy prays for the strength to do what she must. She goes up to the man, who rises to greet her. They talk briefly. She answers his questions about the night she last saw her father alive. He tells her he can only imagine how difficult this is for her. He has three daughters of his own, and he hopes any one of them would feel just as Lucy does. But he also hopes that they would find the strength to do what must be done. It's so important. "Play the role," he says, "and make it a success."

Chapter 24 - Metamorphosis


Lucy returns to the waiting bat-woman. The woman dresses her in a girlish white frock identical to one she had as a young girl. The woman tells her it is the same dress, that Smithson has retrieved it for Lucy to wear tonight. Again, as so often this night, Lucy is surprised; she thought she was being so clever in stealing away from Hamlin House, and Smithson knew all the time!

Colonel Yates strides into the hall with several men. One of them Lucy recognizes as one of the men who subdued Hibbs; in a flash she realizes that the other man who grappled with her sweetheart was the man who so resembles her father. Who are all these people? And who is Colonel Yates?

The man in the beaver hat removes his cloak and hands it to the colonel. Is everything ready? Yates asks. The man says yes, handing his hat to the colonel, then removing his wig and handing that over as well. In the hat, wig and cloak, stooped over and contorting his face, Colonel Yates looks exactly like the other man -- except for the absence of those spiky teeth, which he conceals by raising the collar of the cloak. 

And now Smithson is there, telling Lucy how sweet she looks. I followed you to the edge of Hamlin grounds, she says, to make sure you were safe. 

Colonel Yates also compliments Lucy on her appearance -- just what he wanted. As he takes her by the hand and leads her toward the other room, questions swim in Lucy's head. What is this all about? Why isn't Sir James here? Who are these people? Who is Smithson, really? And who is Colonel Yates?

Chapter 25 - Sinister Preparations

A steady stream of commands, directions and questions comes from Colonel Yates. Where is the notary? The stenographer? He questions Lucy about the arrangement of the furnishings in the room, making adjustments as she points them out. He orders everyone to their positions. He turns to Lucy and asks if she is ready. Yes, she says, but how can going through that night again bring a guilty person to justice? All will be clear in good time, he assures her. And he reminds her, after she has said good night, not to linger but to go directly to the room where the bat-woman waits for her. 

The colonel disappears behind a screen, but Lucy can just see his eyes watching through the slits between the panels. How she wishes this were all over and done. But now the house is silent, waiting. Someone is approaching along the verandah. 

Chapter 26 - Sir James Pays a Call

When the desk clock reads 8:25 Sir James rises and leaves the house, pausing briefly to tell Billings, the butler, that he is going to call at Balfour House. Billings says nothing, as he was directed by Colonel Yates, merely watches Sir James go. Billings reflects on the mystifying events of the last few days, most mystifying of all being the note left by Anna Smithson, thanking him for his many kindnesses and saying, regretfully, that it is necessary for her to leave Hamlin House immediately; a baggageman will call for her luggage in the morning. 

Sir James proceeds steadily to Balfour House, pausing to look around as he enters the grounds. What a fine estate he will have, he reflects, when these grounds are combined with his own. 

As Sir James enters the house, the butler, Mooney, announces him. His friend Roger rises to greet him. And there is dear Lucy, that lovely little girl of Roger's. Sir James observes with envy the affection between father and daughter as she kisses Roger good night. Lucy smiles at Sir James and extends her hand, wishing him a good night. Aren't you going to kiss me too? Sir James asks. 

Lucy's smile vanishes. She tells Sir James she doesn't like him when he talks like that. Then she is gone; Sir James and Roger Balfour are alone.

Chapter 27 - In Hypnosis

In Sir James's mind, it is five years ago, the night he last saw Roger Balfour alive; the man with him is Roger Balfour; and they are alone. But the man he takes for Roger -- whose real name is Drake -- knows that none of those things are true. They are certainly not alone; every move they make is being watched, every word heard and taken down for the record. Now that Lucy is out of the room, there is only one person who knows how the conversation went between the two men that last night. Sir James is reliving his half of that scene; Drake must now play a very delicate game. He must deduce from Sir James's behavior what he, as Roger Balfour, should do or say next. The slightest misstep can shatter Sir James's hypnotic trance. 

Sir James, unable to quite conceal his annoyance, tells "Roger" that he has come here tonight in a spirit of friendship to help his friend with his financial difficulties. I know about your troubles, he says, more than you realize. 

Drake plays a hunch. He tells Sir James that he knows exactly the extent of his knowledge -- he sees that his hunch has hit home, and continues -- knows that Sir James has been stealing from him right and left, made him penniless. Now that you have me in your power, he says, what do you want?

I want Lucy, says Sir James. I have loved her since she was a baby, and I want her for my wife. You have always distrusted me, suspected me. You have called me a drug user and a sensualist, but you could never prove it. 

Now Drake, with the revulsion of a father with daughters of his own, knows what Roger Balfour must have said, the only thing that could have caused events to turn out as they did. I can prove it, he says, now.

Sir James's eyes blaze with hate as he draws his revolver. He demands these "proofs." The other man refuses, and Sir James fires. Drake crumples to the floor, a bloody wound in his temple. 

Sir James searches the desk. Those proofs, whatever Roger had, must be here, he is certain. He goes through every drawer quickly but carefully, finding nothing. The fool was bluffing. Well, now he's dead, and good riddance. Sir James takes out his handkerchief, wipes his pistol clean, and lays it on the floor near the dead man's lifeless fingers. Now he must escape before he is found here. He backs toward the door. 

As he reaches for the doorknob his arm is seized in a powerful grip, then his other arm. Sir James struggles in a desperate frenzy, unable to break free. He hears a voice: Don't let him get away! He's still under hypnosis! I'm coming!

Chapter 28 - A Dramatic Awakening

 As Sir James struggles, the man in the beaver hat emerges from behind a screen. Under the man's penetrating gaze, Sir James ceases to struggle. He looks around. Balfour House! How did he get here? He sees Roger Balfour dead on the floor, exactly where he left him. But that was five years ago! Or was it? Has it all been a dream, these five years, all his patient plotting and planning to possess Lucy? All a dream during the few seconds as he made his way to the door? 

It must have been! Roger had been too clever, had his men in hiding. But not clever enough; they've prevented my escape, but they're too late to save his life. Sir James looks at the man in the beaver hat. Have I been asleep?

No, says the man, and neither have I. He reaches out and rips the sleeve from Sir James's jacket. Sir James recoils from the searing pain. There! says the man. I knew I clipped you when I shot at you tonight. You thought you'd finish Hibbs with your poison needle, but I was there instead waiting for you. 

Chapter 29 - Surprising Revelations

Drake rises from the floor, wiping the stage blood from his face, grateful that Sir James had been handed a doctored revolver back at Hamlin House. The man with Sir James removes his beaver hat, cloak and wig, revealing --

Yates! cries Sir James. I thought the years had changed you, but now I see you're an impostor. You've set this trap to blackmail me! You'll get nothing from me! Sir James shrieks with indignation.

"Colonel Yates" takes off his glasses, removes the subtle disguise from his face, rearranges his hair, and shows Sir James his badge: Inspector Burke of Scotland Yard. I have what I want from you, he says. I've spent the last three days carefully breaking down your defenses, creating a mental strain that would make you susceptible to hypnotic influence. My theory that a criminal in hypnosis, faced with the circumstances of his crime, will repeat that crime exactly -- my theory has been proven correct.

Cornered, broken, trapped, Sir James crumbles and confesses all. He murdered Roger Balfour just as Burke and his crew have seen him reenact the crime tonight. He murdered Harry Balfour with a poison injection to the throat for fear that Harry would discover the proof of his wicked life that he could not find before -- and worse, would take Lucy away from him. He tried to do the same to Hibbs to get him out of Lucy's life, before Yates/Burke's intervention sent him fleeing for his life. 

The stenographer has it all. Inspector Burke orders the statement typed up. He tells Sir James that the law will see to it that every last farthing he stole from Roger Balfour will be restored to Lucy as the last survivor of her murdered family. And finally, he orders his men to examine Roger Balfour's desk closely for evidence of a secret drawer; those proofs must be in there somewhere.

Chapter 30 - Recapitulation

Burke tells Sir James that he suspected him from the start; if only he could have acted sooner, he might have saved Harry Balfour's life. Burke's investigation had uncovered evidence of Sir James's embezzlement from Roger Balfour. A former policewoman, Anna Smithson, was planted in Sir James's household, where she uncovered evidence of Sir James's drug use and degenerate activities. She had also overheard conversations between Sir James and Harry -- no one ever notices the servants -- and knew that Harry intended to remove his sister from Sir James's influence. She had even found the vial of poison with which Sir James murdered Harry (and intended to murder Hibbs) and replaced it with a harmless liquid. The real poison is now in police hands, to be used as evidence.

Chapter 31 - Professional Pride

Inspector Burke goes upstairs to where Lucy is sitting by the bedside of Hibbs, now all but recovered from his derangement. Burke tells Lucy and Hibbs his true identity, and that he has the murderer of Lucy's father and brother in custody. He spares her any details for the moment. She must know all in time, of course, but later, when she's stronger. 

Burke apologizes for keeping Hibbs in the dark, but it was necessary to the operation; Hibbs is not dissembler enough to have been able to play a role. Hibbs sheepishly admits that he now wishes he'd taken "Colonel Yates's" advice and gone to bed. It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble -- especially himself. 

Smithson comes in to say goodbye; she will miss Miss Lucy and Mr. Jerry. She playfully scolds Burke for that "terrible tarradiddle" he made her tell about the green mist through the keyhole. 

Finally come the man in the beaver hat and the bat-woman; their part in Burke's elaborate charade is done, and now it's back to the music halls for them. Come see us, the woman says, Mooney and Luney -- Jimmy Mooney and Lunette the bat: "I fly by night an' I sleep by day, the looniest kind of a bat!"


Afterword

So there you have it, friends: London After Midnight -- a Halloween treat with a trick. If you've seen 1935's Mark of the Vampire, the twist came as no surprise to you; for that matter, even in 1927 the New York Times commented that whether the ending surprised anyone would be "a matter of opinion."

I haven't read Philip J. Riley's reconstruction of the picture -- honestly, I can't remember now whether it was the opportunity to buy it or the good sense that I lacked in 1987 -- but I'll soon correct that oversight; my used copy is on its way from Amazon even as I type this. I have seen the Turner Classic Movies reconstruction, and there are major discrepancies between it and the story told by Marie Coolidge-Rask. In TCM's version, Hibbs is identified as Arthur, not Jeremiah (Jerry), and he's Sir James's nephew, not his secretary. (Variety's Mori says Hibbs is Roger Balfour's nephew, but that doesn't make sense and is probably a mistake on Mori's part.) Neither the TCM version nor the reviews mention the murder of Harry Balfour, or even his existence, although the illustration in the novel (see Chapter 2, "Another Mystery") suggests Harry must have been in there somewhere. (Oddly enough, in the caption Jules Cowles, who played Gallagher the chauffeur, is identified by his own name rather than his character's.)

Most important of all, the idea of Inspector Burke operating incognito as Colonel Yates seems to have been entirely Ms. Coolidge-Rask's invention; in the reconstruction and both reviews Burke is openly himself throughout. He is even shown investigating the "mysterious" death of Roger Balfour and deciding it was suicide, then coming back five years later to prove it was murder -- the Times reviewer pinpointed the howling illogic of that ("...Burke of Scotland Yard, the genius who wills to solve a murder mystery five years after he has declared it to be a case of suicide.").

All things considered -- and with no true copy of London After Midnight, having only Variety's detailed recounting, the New York Times's musings, and TCM's version to go on -- I have to say there's good reason to believe that Marie Coolidge-Rask, despite her cumbersome way with words, made a considerable improvement on Tod Browning's story. Once you accept the basic premise -- an elaborate police sting to hypnotize a murderer into reenacting his crime -- her story has its own clear logic and builds a good amount of suspense. There are many nicely creepy moments -- not least the eye-opening whiff of pedophilia in Sir James's character, which in the novel surely goes beyond what the Hays Office would have tolerated in 1927. Much of the plot as it reads must have been the novelist's creation; there seems far too much to fit into a picture that Variety says ran only 65 minutes (TCM's reconstruction runs 46). And the book has a good sense of pace, becoming quite breakneck as the climax approaches -- just about the time Hibbs goes crazy we begin to feel as if we have, too; as Lucy's world is turned topsy-turvy, so is ours.

I hope you've enjoyed Marie Coolidge-Rask's spooky little Halloween campfire story. Have a safe and happily creepy Halloween, everyone!
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