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

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shirley Temple Revisited, Part 4

According to the IMDb, Now and Forever's U.S. release date was August 31, 1934. However, it wasn't reviewed by the New York Times or Variety until October 13 and 16, respectively. Apparently, either Fox sent the picture off to down-market engagements two-and-a-half months before opening it in New York -- or (more likely, I think) the IMDb has the date wrong.

Whatever the case, both Andre Sennwald in the Times and Abel Green (again) in Variety pegged Shirley as Now and Forever's saving grace. Sennwald:  
The little girl has lost none of her obvious delight in her work during her rise to fame. In "Now and Forever" she is, if possible, even more devastating in her unspoiled freshness of manner than she has been in the past...With Shirley's assistance [the photoplay] becomes, despite its violent assaults upon the spectator's credulity, a pleasant enough entertainment.
And Green:
"Now and Forever" is a remote title; it strains credulity; it can't stand analysis; it has sundry other technical and plausibility shortcomings -- but it has Shirley Temple and that virtually underwrites it for boxoffice...Shirley Temple in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" would probably click just as well.
In these reviews, both written by seasoned showbiz observers, the subtext is unmistakeable: Shirley Temple saves the show; Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard do their best, but without Shirley they'd have gone down with the ship. And Shirley is still only six years old.

Next it was back home to Fox for...

Bright Eyes (released December 20, 1934)

Shirley's last picture of 1934 teamed her for the third time with James Dunn -- not as her father this time, but as her godfather, an airplane pilot named "Loop" Merritt. William Conselman's script (from a story by Edwin Burke and director David Butler) gave the two stars an unusual setting: the early years of commercial aviation, when airmail was an innovation and passenger flights were strictly for the well-to-do, who could fly coast-to-coast only in short hops of 200 miles or so, while the vast majority of the moviegoing audience could only dream of someday, maybe, going up in a plane. Much of the picture was shot on the grounds of Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, ten miles north of downtown Los Angeles, and it served as a publicity gold mine for American Airlines and Douglas Aircraft, both of which cooperated generously with the production.

Shirley plays Shirley Blake, whose father, Loop's best friend since childhood, died in a plane crash some years before the story opens. Shirley spends much of her time with Loop and his aviator pals, and is something of a mascot around the airport, while her widowed mother works as a maid to a family in nearby Flintridge (then, as now under its incorporated name of La Canada Flintridge, an affluent suburb of L.A.). 

The airport is a lot more fun than home; Shirley loves her mother and the other servants, but the family they all work for is a trio of world-class pills. Mr. and Mrs. "Smythe" (real name Smith, but that's not good enough for them) are a couple of selfish, snooty social-climbing snobs. As the story opens on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Smythe (Dorothy Christy) is reprimanding Shirley's mother Mary (Lois Wilson) for taking so many personal phone calls and visits from her aviator friends. As Mary slinks contritely back to the kitchen, the effete Mr. Smythe (Theodor von Eltz) smirks, "I told you when you engaged her that it wouldn't work out." "Well," she sighs, "she was so pathetic about wanting a nice home for her little girl that I let my sympathy get the better of my judgment." Then, showing the true depth of her sympathy, she adds, "I'll let her go right after the holidays."

As bad as the Smythes are, they're not the worst of it. That would be their daughter Joy (Jane Withers), a screaming little monster in a perpetual state of tantrum, and the most misnamed child in the history of human life on Earth.

In real life, eight-year-old Jane was nothing like the character she played. Bright Eyes was her big break after a handful of uncredited bits since 1932. Fox quickly signed her to a seven-year contract and she went on to become a star in her own right, though inevitably in Shirley's shadow, especially since they worked for the same studio. The two girls never worked together again -- which is a pity, because Jane was the perfect foil for her younger co-star, and in Bright Eyes she comes as close as anybody ever did to stealing a show from Shirley Temple. Playing an obnoxious, spoiled-rotten brat, Jane was genuinely funny -- no small achievement when you consider how many child actors over the years have tried to be funny, only to come off looking like obnoxious, spoiled-rotten brats.

Jane continued acting into her early 20s, even after 20th Century Fox dropped her in 1942, then she retired from the screen in favor of marriage to a rich Texas oil man. That foundered after eight years, and Jane made a comeback as a character actress in George Stevens's Giant in 1956. Thereafter, she stayed busy in movies and on TV, and she became familiar to millions of baby boomers as Josephine the Plumber in a series of commercials for Comet Cleanser in the 1960s and '70s. As of this writing Jane Withers is still with us, and hopefully in good health and spirits. Continued long life to her.

But back to Bright Eyes. Rounding out the household is Uncle Ned Smith (Charles Sellon), a crotchety old invalid who drives his wheelchair around the house like an assault vehicle, barking and grumbling sourly at everybody. Underneath the crust, however, he's an old softie, especially toward Shirley; it's just that he has no patience with his nephew and niece-in-law's hifalutin airs (the original family name is good enough for him), and he can't stand the holy terror Joy. He knows the Smythes don't like him any more than he likes them, that they only fawn over him in hopes of a big payoff when he finally kicks the bucket, and he enjoys lording it over them for just that reason.

Finally there's Mrs. Smythe's cousin Judith Allen (Adele Martin), visiting from back east for the holidays. By a remarkable coincidence, Judith is the former society debutante whose family pressured her into jilting Loop Merritt years earlier. It's clear she still thinks the world of Loop, but just as clear that he feels once-bitten-twice-shy; the best she can get from him when they meet is an icy politeness.

So that's the situation going into Christmas Day, when Mary Blake, hurrying through her duties and rushing off to join a Christmas party at the air field with Shirley, Loop and the boys, is struck and killed by an automobile. Uncle Ned orders the Smythes to take the orphaned Shirley in, but they're not happy about it. Neither is Loop, and as Shirley's godfather he wants to bring her to live with him, even though the life of a seat-of-the-pants aviator is marginal at best. Uncle Ned thinks he knows what's best, and takes steps to adopt Shirley. This prompts Loop to take on a dangerous flight in deadly foul weather to earn the money to hire a lawyer to fight Uncle Ned's expensive legal team. Meanwhile, Shirley, knowing full well how unwelcome she is in the Smythe house, stows away on Loop's plane. The stage is set for a nasty custody battle -- that is, if Shirley and Loop can manage to survive the flight.

Bright Eyes was the first movie created from the ground up specifically to showcase Shirley Temple, and it has many of the elements that would become standard in Shirley's pictures: Shirley the orphan, the legions of grown-ups charmed by her, the cranky old coot for her to win over (although in this case she's won him over before the movie begins), etc. And not incidentally, it has the Shirley Temple song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop" by Richard Whiting and Sidney Clare. I'm not posting a YouTube clip here because, frankly, I don't think I need to -- is there anybody over the age of 18 who doesn't know this scene? It's interesting to note, though, that the song isn't about a seagoing vessel -- it's about an airplane. As Shirley sings in the verse: 

I've thrown away my toys
Even my drum and trains
I want to make some noise
With real live aeroplanes
Someday I'm going to fly
I'll be a pilot too
And when I do
How would you
Like to be my crew

On the goo-oo-ood ship Lollipop...

Bright Eyes was Shirley's last teaming with James Dunn, who had pretty much been her steady escort to the top of the heap at Fox. Dunn himself, however, was on the way down, thanks in large part to his increasing dependency on alcohol. He didn't make the cut when Fox merged with 20th Century in 1935, and he drifted off to other studios: first Warners, then Universal, then a long sojourn on Poverty Row, almost unemployable. He made a comeback of sorts -- ironically, at 20th Century Fox -- in 1945, winning an Oscar as the charming, alcoholic father in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a virtually autobiographical role). He never really made it back to the top, or out of the bottle, but his Irish charm never entirely deserted him, and he worked steadily until his death at 65 after stomach surgery in 1967.

*                    *                    *

In a nutshell -- and not counting five shorts and bit roles under her old contract to Jack Hays, or the two walk-ons in Change of Heart and Now I'll Tell -- Shirley Temple's output for 1934 consisted of a breakthrough debut in Stand Up and Cheer!, a confirming star turn in Little Miss Marker, a placeholding appearance in Baby Take a Bow, credit for the save in Now and Forever, and a tailor-made vehicle in Bright Eyes. A great year for any rising star, and unprecedented for one who turned six midway through it.

In Child Star Shirley remembers that when Oscar nominations for 1934 were announced, "a vicious cat fight had erupted. My name was on the nomination list and odds-makers had me an almost certainty to win." She goes on to assert that a storm of protest arose over the Academy's failure to nominate either Myrna Loy for The Thin Man or Bette Davis for Of Human Bondage, and that as a result her own nomination was rescinded and voting rules changed to allow for write-ins. I've been unable to find this confirmed anywhere else, and I suspect Shirley's memory was playing her false. She doesn't say which picture she believed she had been nominated for (if they'd had supporting awards in '34, she might have been a cinch to win for Little Miss Marker, but those categories were still two years in the future). Shirley is right, however, about the write-ins and the protest -- though the storm was more on behalf of Davis than Loy (in the end, the award went to Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night; Davis, even with the write-ins, came in third).

Be that as it may, there was no ignoring Shirley's meteoric rise to the top tier of box-office stars, and the Academy Board of Governors conferred a new award, a miniature statuette "in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year". The emcee at that year's awards was the prolific Kentucky humorist, author and columnist Irvin S. Cobb (shown here with Shirley), one of those writers whose fame more or less died when he did in 1944. Most of his 60-plus books and 300 short stories are out of print now, and he is probably best remembered for what he said that night. First: "There was one great towering figure in the cinema game, one artiste among artistes, one giant among the troupers, whose monumental, stupendous and elephantine work deserved special mention...Is Shirley Temple in the house?" Then, after Shirley joined him at the podium: "Listen, y'all ain't old enough to know what this is all about. But honey, I want to tell you that when Santa Claus wrapped y'all up in a package and dropped you down Creation's chimney, he brought the loveliest Christmas present that was ever given to the world."

In Child Star, even 50-plus years on, Shirley's disappointment still sounds tender to the touch ("If mine was really a commendable job done, why not a big Oscar like everyone else's?"), but I think she overlooks the specialness of her special award (the only one given that year). The miniature Oscar that was created just for her would remain the standard recognition for outstanding juvenile performers for the next 26 years, and would be given 11 more times. The last went to Hayley Mills for Pollyanna in 1960; after that, beginning with nine-year-old Mary Badham for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962, the kids would have to take their chances with the grownups (and some -- Patty Duke, Tatum O'Neal, Anna Paquin -- would even win). Of those dozen miniature-Oscar winners -- who include Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien and others -- the little girl who inspired the creation of it was the youngest to receive it. In fact, she remains to this day the youngest person ever to win anything from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I doubt if that record will ever be broken.

Shirley Temple's career hit its stride with Bright Eyes. Nineteen-thirty-four had been a banner year, and the banner would continue to wave in '35. I'll get to that next time.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Duke of Hollywood

Scott Eyman has been crafting definitive Hollywood biographies for over 20 years now, and each one seems to come hotter on the heels of the one before. His Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer and Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille appeared only five years apart (2005 and 2010 respectively); a lesser writer -- someone like, well, me for instance -- might have spent 12 or 15 years on either one of them and never managed to convey the sense that yes, this must be what the man was like, as well as Scott did both times. And as if that weren't impressive enough, in between those two he collaborated with Robert Wagner on his 2008 autobiography Pieces of My Heart.

(Full disclosure: Scott Eyman is a friend of mine. I first met him about 15 years ago and could hardly believe I was shaking the hand that wrote The Speed of Sound [1997] -- the indispensible book on the talkie revolution. Scott is some years younger than I am, but I hope to be just like him when I grow up.)

Scott's latest book is John Wayne: The Life and Legend -- and yes, this must be what the man was like. This is very much a companion volume to Scott's 1999 bio Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford, and it could hardly be otherwise: the two names were linked in life and art as few others have been. Both books end with the final image from The Searchers: Wayne as Ethan Edwards, framed in the cabin door and walking away from the family reunion into a barren landscape.

There are no bombshell revelations in John Wayne, yet the book is full of surprises -- beginning with the cover, which pictures a younger, slimmer, smoother Wayne than we're used to. (I carried the book into a Hallmark card store one day and set it on the counter while I paid for my purchase. The clerk, looking at it upside down, thought it was a picture of James Dean.)

Other surprises: The idea that Wayne stumbled into acting by accident was a myth propagated by Wayne himself. In fact, he was movie-struck from childhood, stage-struck as early as high school, and began lobbying for on-screen parts from the day he first walk onto the Fox lot as a laborer. And his feelings for his parents -- the feckless father whom he adored for his kindness, the stern mother (who detested him to her dying day) whom he resented even as he paid tribute to "her strength of character, her strong sense of right and wrong, and her temper -- all of which he inherited."

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was how separately the man viewed himself from "John Wayne". "In Wayne's own mind," Scott writes, "He was Duke Morrison. John Wayne was to him what the Tramp was to Charlie Chaplin -- a character that overlapped his own personality, but not to the point of subsuming it." The Duke never legally changed his name; his death certificate identified him as "Marion Morrison (John Wayne)". 

Two quotes from the Duke, which Scott uses as epigraphs, illustrate this separation. From 1957: "The guy you see on the screen isn't really me. I'm Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I'm one of his closest students. I have to be. I make a living out of him." And again, much later: "I've played the kind of man I'd like to have been." These two wistful quotes put me in mind of the famous remark by Cary Grant (who always thought of himself as Archie Leach): "Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant."

Scott gives us a picture of Wayne the underrated actor (how anyone could watch Wayne's performances in Stagecoach, They Were Expendable, The Searchers, True Grit, Island in the Sky, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Quiet Man and still say he was "always the same" strikes me as a study in obtuseness, and I suspect Scott would feel the same way). The biography doesn't shrink from an honest appraisal of the conservative politics that made Wayne such a hated lightning rod in the last third of his life, or the fact that he could be impatient, demanding, gregarious and charming -- sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once. We also see the history buff who knew the American Civil War backward and forward, the collector who could discuss Asian or Native American art, and the "demon chess player" who could psych out an opponent as much as out-maneuver him on the board. 

Last but never least, John Wayne: The Life and Legend shows us the man who loved everything about making movies, who was first on the set in the morning and the last to leave at night. And who loved to talk about movies, his own and other people's. At one point, Scott quotes reporter Billy Wilkerson of the Hollywood Reporter, who sat in on a conversation between Wayne and director William Wellman in 1954, when the two were putting the finishing touches on The High and the Mighty: "They had praise for every name brought into the gab and, above all, praise for the business that made it possible for unknowns to become great personages in such a short span. They had logical excuses for some failures -- theirs and others -- with never a knock, never derision, always enthusiasm."

That, I think, is the John Wayne I would like to have met. And thanks to Scott Eyman, I feel like I have.

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 "Laugh, 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...

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.


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.

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!"



Hall stood up. "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. (UPDATE 9/1/14: Alas, the video clip from Little Miss Marker that was originally embedded here has now gone dead. Here's a soundtrack-only clip of the song, as it was recorded live on the set during filming; hopefully a full clip will surface someday):

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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