Films, Allegories and McCarthyism

In the 1950’s, Senator Eugene McCarthy, aided and abetted by the head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, began to accuse hundreds of Americans of being either communists or communist sympathisers. Hoover had designed President Truman’s loyalty and security program and his agents carried out background checks on federal employees. This information was supposed to be secret but in 1950 when the Korean War began, Senator McCarthy produced a list of supposed communist party members or supporters working for the state department and presented it to the press. Much of his information came from Hoover.

The House Committee on Un-American activities was probably the best known and most active government committee involved in anti-communist investigations and probably became most well known for its investigation into the Hollywood film industry. In 1947 the committee began to subpoena various film industry workers and force them to testify about their support for the communist party. They were asked ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?’

The first witnesses brought before the committee refused to answer and became known as the Hollywood 10. They all cited the constitution’s first amendment which they believed guaranteed free speech and free assembly and therefore freed them from the requirement to answer the committee’s questions. They were wrong. The communists of the USSR may have been allies in the defeat of Hitler but now that Nazi Germany lay in ruins, the red menace was the new enemy and America was scared.

The committee questioned numerous people, actors, directors, screenwriters and many others and more than 300 individuals were blacklisted by the industry. Some like Charlie Chaplin, left the country. Some screenwriters wrote under pseudonyms to find work. Larry Parks, the star of The Jolson Story, testified in tears. He was blacklisted and left the movie business after his contract with Columbia Pictures was cancelled.

Two prominent ‘friendly’ witnesses were director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg.

On the Waterfront

Director Elia Kazan had originally employed Arthur Miller to write the screenplay for On the Waterfront but the two fell out over various things especially the fact that Kazan had identified eight former communists to the HUAC. Kazan then asked Budd Schulberg to write the script. There was still some difficulty in getting the film to the screen and eventually Kazan approached Sam Spiegel to act as producer. He was able to set up a deal with Columbia Studios.

The film stars Marlon Brando as dock worker Terry Malloy, brother of Charlie ‘the gent’ who is the right hand man of union boss John Friendly played by Lee J Cobb. Terry unwittingly leads fellow dockworker Joey Doyle into an ambush, thinking Doyle will be threatened to withdraw his statements to the crime commision. However Doyle is murdered leaving Terry shocked and confused. Later he becomes friendly with Joey’s sister played by Eva Marie Saint in her film debut. Charlie, played by Rod Steiger, tries to get Terry back into line in the famous scene with the two in the back of a taxi but fails. After John Friendly has Terry’s brother murdered, the local priest played by Karl Malden convinces Terry to tell everything he knows to the waterfront crime commission. Terry does so but is ostracised by his fellow dockers until Terry forces Friendly into a brutal fight. The dockers then stand with Terry when bruised and battered, he returns to work.

The film was thought to be Kazan’s response to criticism of his stand at the HUAC hearings although Schulberg later denied this, explaining how he attended actual waterfront hearings and based his film on those. Arthur Miller in his play A View from the Bridge has his character inform on two illegal immigrants but it is portrayed as a betrayal rather than the honest informing of Waterfront.

Either way, On the Waterfront is one of my very favourite films and Brando’s performance as Terry Malloy won him one the film’s eight Oscars. Forget about Don Corleone, this was Marlon Brando’s finest hour.

Spartacus

Spartacus was based on a book by Howard Fast who was jailed for his refusal to testify at the HUAC hearings. According to Wikipedia, he wrote the book while in prison. Kirk Douglas was disappointed at not getting the lead role in Ben Hur and looking round for a similar project came across Fast’s book. He purchased an option on the book with his own money. Later, financing was arranged with Universal Studios.

Dalton Trumbo wrote the script although he had been blacklisted but managed to continue working by using an alias. He had earlier been jailed for contempt of congress as he was a member of the Hollywood 10.  Kirk Douglas decided that Trumbo should be given a screen credit in his own name and this action helped to end the blacklist.

Anthony Mann was the original director but Douglas fired him after 2 weeks claiming he was scared of the scope of the picture. Douglas then hired Stanley Kubrick to direct, Kubrick having worked with Douglas previously on Paths of Glory.

The film has been said to have links not only to the McCarthy era but also to the American civil rights movement. Slavery is a central theme to the film and the fight to end segregation in America is reflected in the mixing of various races in the Gladiator school. The climatic scene where the rebels are asked to give up Spartacus and instead call out ‘I am Spartacus’, alludes to the HUAC hearings where witnesses were asked to name names.

Spartacus is a wonderful film and was restored twice, once in 1991 and again in 2015 where a version 12 minutes longer was produced as well as having a remastered soundtrack.

Kirk Douglas is excellent in the lead role and a trio of characters played by Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton work together so faultlessly they help elevate the film to an outstanding degree. Poor John Dall, who plays Glabrus is hopelessly outclassed by the British actors.

High Noon

High Noon is not a movie that I would have thought would be in any way related to McCarthyism or the HUAC hearings. However, the film was directed by Fred Zinneman from a screenplay by Carl Foreman. Foreman was called to testify before the HUAC . He admitted once being a communist party member but declined to name any fellow members and was therefore classed as an uncooperative witness. Realising he would be blacklisted, he later sold his partnership in the film project and moved to the UK.

John Wayne declined the lead role as he thought the film an obvious allegory of blacklisting, of which he was a fervent supporter. Gregory Peck amongst others turned down the role and it eventually went to Gary Cooper. Grace Kelly played Cooper’s new wife despite the age difference; she was 21 and Cooper 50.

Marshall Will Kane (Cooper) marries devout Quaker Amy Fowler (Kelly) however the Marshall gets word that Frank Miller, a vicious gunman who Kane had sent to prison years before has been released and is due to arrive on the noon train. At first Kane decides to leave town but then realises he will be caught out in the open with the gunmen coming after him. Not only that, the gunmen are making him run and ‘I’ve never run from anybody before’ he tells Amy.

Will returns to town but his new wife, whose extreme religious beliefs include an vehement opposition to violence, will have nothing more to do with him. As the minutes tick relentlessly down to noon he tries to get a group of deputies together, but for one reason or another they all fail him and he has to face Miller and his gang alone.

At the end of the film, reconciled with Amy, Cooper looks around disgusted by the townspeople who have shunned him and throws his Marshall’s badge to the ground.

The tension mounts up relentlessly in the film and builds to a wonderful climax. Another great aspect of the film was the music and the distinctive theme song, actually called ‘High Noon’ although mostly known as ‘Do not forsake me oh my darlin’’. It became a hit for Tex Ritter.

My brother and I watched this film a few months ago and afterwards he told me a story that our dad had told him years ago. Dad saw the film when he was in the army. Dad served in various places but wherever they were on this occasion, the film was projected in a big tent. Afterwards when the men dispersed after the showing, the theme tune had made such a big impression that they were all whistling or humming ‘Do not forsake me oh my darlin”.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

The Almost But Didn’t Quite Make it Stars

This is a post about actors who came close to the role of a lifetime but for whatever reason, they didn’t quite get there. The film and TV business can be a fickle one as you can see . . .

The Avengers and Elizabeth Sheperd.

The Avengers began as a TV show in 1961 starring Ian Hendry as a doctor who sets out to investigate the death of his fiancée. He is helped by a mysterious stranger called John Steed played by Patrick MacNee and together they set out to solve the crime. As the series progressed the character of Steed became more important and when Hendry left the show to pursue his film career Steed became the main character.

His new assistant was Cathy Gale played by Honor Blackman; she played a female character unlike anything seen before on British TV. She was a judo expert with a passion for leather clothes. Her many athletic judo driven fight scenes made her a huge star in the UK and Steed progressed into a typical English gentleman wearing Pierre Cardin suits with a bowler hat and umbrella.

Elizabeth Sheperd as Mrs Peel.

In 1965 the series moved over from video tape onto 35mm film and with an increased budget the producers decided to try the series in the US market for which videotape was wholly unsuitable, in fact, as was the custom at the time, many TV programmes shot on video were ‘wiped’ and the tapes re-used.

Honor Blackman left to star in the Bond film Goldfinger and so the search was on for a new female assistant for Steed. After over 40 auditions, the producers chose their new ‘Emma Peel’, it was actress Elizabeth Sheperd. Shepard shot the pilot film episode and part of the next one, but the producers decided to drop her feeling she was not right for the role. With a two-million-dollar deal with the US network ABC hanging in the balance, the producers began searching for a new Emma Peel and chose unknown actress Diana Rigg.

Diana Rigg was perfect for the new crime fighter/agent Mrs Peel and wowed TV audiences with her intelligence, her judo and karate skills, her avant-garde fashion sense and her witty banter with Steed.

Diana Rigg became famous as Mrs Peel and played the part until 1967 when she left the series to become a Bond girl in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.

Elizabeth Sheperd appeared on Broadway in 1970 and made many appearances in TV and film but never quite achieved the fame she might have done had she made a success in the Avengers.

Voyager and Captain Janeway.

Star Trek Voyager was the fifth series in the star Trek franchise, following on from the original series, the cartoon series, Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space 9. The producers decided on a female captain, Captain Janeway and French-Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold was chosen to play the part.

“I am very excited about starring in the new series” Bujold told the National Enquirer in 1994.

“But I must admit that I’ve never been a Trekkie. In fact, although I had heard of Star Trek, I had never seen any of the shows of films before now.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a science fiction movie at all. But because of that I believe I’ll be able to bring a freshness to this role. I’m studying Star Trek episodes the producers sent me, so I can see how William Shatner and Patrick Stewart handled the role of captain, I want to do it right.”

“This role is a challenge, but it feels right. I am going where no woman has gone before.”

“I am 52 — a perfect age for the captain.” she declared

“52 can bring the authority with it, yet you’re still young enough to do everything that has to be done — and old enough to be wise.”

Genevieve started work on the pilot episode of Voyager, the Caretaker, then quit after a day and a half of filming. It seems that the actress was not up to the rigours of the day to day filming of a major TV series and producer Rick Berman said in 1994 that “it was immediately obvious that she was not a good fit!”

Kate Mulgrew had auditioned twice for the role, once in person and once by sending the producers a video tape. It was she the producers turned to when Bujold exited the production.

Kate played Captain Janeway throughout the run of Voyager from 1995 to 2001 and remains a firm favourite of Star Trek fans everywhere.

Indiana Jones and Tom Selleck.

The first film in the Indiana Jones series was Raiders of the Lost Ark, released in 1981. The idea for the film came from executive producer George Lucas who wanted to recreate the film serials of the 1930’s. Lucas’ friend Steven Spielberg was enlisted as director and the film was finally set for production after a deal with Universal Studios was arranged.

Spielberg wanted Harrison Ford to play Indiana Jones, but Lucas resisted the idea and wanting an unknown actor to play the role; the two auditioned many actors. Finally, they chose Tom Selleck to play the part. Selleck however had just made the pilot for the TV series Magnum PI and Universal Studios decided to pick up Selleck’s option and go ahead with the series. As filming conflicted with the shooting for Raiders, Universal declined to release Selleck for the project. George Lucas decided to give the role to Ford only 3 weeks before shooting commenced and the rest is history.

Later filming of Magnum was delayed due to strike action, so it turned out Tom could have played the part after all. The Indiana Jones role could have changed his life but even so, Selleck has had a good career in films and TV, his most famous role probably being in the movie Three men and a Baby.

Back to the Future and Eric Stoltz.

Back to the Future is a 1985 sci-fi film written and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis co-wrote the film with Bob Gale but various film companies rejected the film until Steven Spielberg decided to produce through his Amblin Entertainment company. Zemeckis’ first choice to play Marty McFly, the time travelling youngster was Michael J Fox, but Fox was committed to a TV show called Family Ties and the show’s producers declined to release Fox. That led to Eric Stoltz being cast as Marty.

Principal photography began in November 1984 but after a few weeks Spielberg and Zemeckis decided that Eric Stoltz was not good enough in the part. They wanted someone who was less dramatic and could give a lighter touch to the part. Also, Stoltz was not good in the skateboarding scenes whereas Fox was a natural and confessed to spending much of his younger days ‘chasing girls and skateboarding.’

Spielberg went back to the producers of Family Ties and worked out a deal where Fox could star in both the film and the TV show but if a filming conflict occurred priority would be given to the TV show.  Filming continued apparently for a few weeks on the scenes at the Twin Pines Mall but only the shots with Christopher Lloyd who played Doc Brown were shot; the reverse shots with Stoltz were not done which caused some consternation with the crew. Later Stoltz’s scenes were done again with Michael J Fox.

Back to the Future and its two sequels were a worldwide hit. Eric Stoltz may have lost out on the part of Marty McFly but to date he is still in demand as an actor on film and TV.

Back to the Future and Crispin Glover.

Crispin Glover’s story is slightly different from those above. He did get the role of a lifetime and played a great part as Marty McFly’s dad, George but he was dropped from the Back to the Future sequels. He is dropped in quite a subtle way, so you don’t quite miss him although George McFly is never seen in centre stage again. Apparently, Glover asked for more money for Back to the Future II and the producers declined to cough up even though Glover was the lowest paid of the principal actors. Glover himself has said that he didn’t return because he felt that the story rewarded the characters with financial gain which was wrong. Either way, he didn’t appear in the sequels and another actor was made up to look like Glover and shot in ways where his features weren’t fully visible, in long shots and wearing sunglasses for instance. Glover sued the producers for using his image without his permission as well as unused footage from the original film and won a substantial settlement. Even so, had he appeared in the sequels he would have been much more well known today than he is.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click here to buy or check out the links at the top of the page for more information.

The Best Book about Hollywood, Ever

Is ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’ the best book ever written about Hollywood? I really think it is.

It’s a book written from first-hand experience for starters. The author, British born movie actor David Niven arrived in Hollywood in the early 1930’s. He had decided to try his luck in the movie business and he had come to the right place because Hollywood, California was the centre of the film making universe.

Some years previously it had been a rural backwater of lemon and orange groves but the silent film pioneers had found it had the perfect climate for film making. Back then in the silent days films were made in the open air shot on sets with no ceilings to let in the abundant California light.

By the 1930’s, sound had well and truly arrived and the big studios all had their coterie of stars and David Niven has a pocketful of stories, anecdotes and sketches about them and the other bit players, extras, directors and writers who inhabited Hollywood between the years 1935 to 1960.

Working as a boat hand to make some extra cash, Niven came on board a small vessel one morning. His job was to mop the boat down, get the fishing rods and bait ready and make sure some coffee and breakfast was on the go. The charter that day was for a man known as the King of Hollywood, none other than Clark Gable. Gable turned out to be a friendly customer who enjoyed his fishing. Some years later when Niven had made his first forays into acting and had a seat at a table at the Oscar ceremony, he was understandably very happy indeed to find Gable greeting him enthusiastically, his stock at that particular table rising dramatically after Gable came over to talk about fishing.

Niven goes on to paint an affectionate portrait of Gable alongside some other essays on various stars of the time. My favourite must be the short chapter on Errol Flynn. Flynn and Niven shared a house at one time and Niven comments that Flynn was completely trustworthy in a way, because whatever happened, he would always let you down!

During the making of ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade‘ which Warner brothers decided to set in India rather than the Crimea, Flynn, the new star started to get a little big headed. One big brute of an extra decided to waggle a lance under the behind of Flynn’s horse to teach Flynn a lesson.  The horse consequently threw Flynn off. He got up, dusted himself down and proceeded to teach the big guy a lesson of his own by beating him into a pulp!

Flynn had a yacht named the Zaca and weekends on the boat included sailing trips full of wine, women and song. Many young girls appeared on the boat, none of whom produced any ID which was unfortunate for Flynn as he was later charged with statutory rape. The accusing girls appeared in the courtroom wearing school uniforms and in pigtails but happily for Flynn the court saw through that and he was acquitted, although the image that the press painted of him was one that he was happy with.

In later life Flynn was bankrupt and became a floating shadow of his former self, sailing the seas in the Zaca. Later he made a great Hollywood comeback playing his great friend John Barrymore in ‘Too much Too Soon.’ He died in 1950 aged only 50 and in a poignant moment, Niven living then in the south of France, takes a walk along the French coast only to find the dis-masted remains of the Zaca lurking quietly in a boat yard.

Another great portrait is the one that Niven gives us about Prince Romanoff, known as Mike to his friends who ran the famous Romanoff’s restaurant on North Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills. He was also a former conman once known as Harry F Gerguson. Harry or Mike possessed an immaculate old Etonian accent and assumed the identity of the late Romanoff prince. His restaurant became a popular venue and by the end of the Second World War was a well-established Hollywood eating house. Niven tried to haggle with Mike many times and break down his stories of mingling with royalty, of Eton and Harrow and military academies like Sandhurst but to no avail. If he was a con man he was in the top echelon of his profession.

I’ve always loved George Sanders with his easy smooth talking suave style. Niven recounts various stories about him including some about his relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor. During the break up of their marriage they stayed fairly friendly. However, George was well aware of the California divorce laws and decided that it was important to have evidence of Zsa Zsa’s relationship with her new lover. His plan was to break into his house –that Zsa Zsa had contrived to still live in- and photograph her in the arms of her new man. In case entry to the house proved difficult he took along his lawyer, a photographer and a brick with which to break in. Conscious of looking suspicious carrying the brick he gift wrapped it. On arrival at the lover’s nest the bedroom door was conveniently unlocked. They entered, took the appropriate evidentiary picture and then when tempers had cooled they all trooped down to the lounge. It was Christmas time and Zsa Zsa mentioned that George’s present was under the tree. Sanders passed her the brick, still gift wrapped and said ‘and here is yours!’

Many famous places appear in Niven’s book; the Brown Derby restaurant, Chasen’s and many other bars and restaurants frequented by long gone stars; Ava Gardner, Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Orsen Welles and many more. Niven also recounts a visit to some distant drinking den frequented by Robert Newton who appeared with Niven in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Niven and Newton imbibed a generous amount of alcohol but when Newton began to disclaim various Shakespearean passages to the locals Niven realised it was time to leave. The pair had arrived straight from the studio and David had no money with him so it was with some surprise that he heard Newton hiss that he had none either. “We have a tricky situation here” observed Newton rolling his eyes.

Happily the two made a quick exit in Newton’s Chauffeur driven ancient Rolls.

The book tells of the big studios like Warner Brothers and MGM and their great back lots.  There was little location filming in those bygone days and on the back lots could be found entire New York streets, French and Spanish villages, frontier towns, Indian camps, medieval castles, a railroad station complete with rolling stock, lakes with wave making machines and a Mississippi steamboat.

Small wonder then says Niven that ‘Gone with the Wind’ was filmed in Culver City, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, just off Catalina Island, and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in the San Fernando Valley.

I actually own two copies of this wonderful book. One is a smart hardback copy for my bookshelf. The other is the copy photographed for this post, a well-thumbed tatty copy that I pick up and take to the garden now and again or to the dentist or whenever I have a spare moment to spend in Hollywood’s golden years.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Three Restored Movie Classics

edclapperboard-311792_1280So what actually is a ‘restored’ movie? Well, it is simply this; an old movie restored to its original condition, with deleted scenes added, lost scenes and dialogue inserted and basically restored to its former glory. In some cases, movies are restored to more than their former glory as on many occasions, producers, sensitive to preview audiences and running times, have unscrupulously cut movies and left many a director fuming. A lot of older films, unless preserved in the studio vault have been lost and restorers have hunted down copies of those lost films and those excised scenes that have been lost over the years. Here are three classic restored films.

Lost Horizon
Directed by Frank Capra and starring Ronald Colman, Lost Horizon was shot in 1936 and seriously went over budget. Issues that contributed were scenes shot in a cold storage area, used to replicate the cold of Tibet: The cold affected the film equipment and caused delays. There was also a great deal of location shooting and scenes where Capra used multiple cameras shooting lots of film. Wikipedia reports that the first cut of the film ran for six hours! Studio Boss Harry Cohn was apparently unhappy with the film and edited it himself, producing a version that ran for 132 minutes. Further cuts were later made and as a result, Capra filed suit against Columbia pictures. The issue was later resolved in Capra’s favour. The film did not turn a profit until it was re-released in 1942. A frame by frame digital restoration of the film was made in 2013 and various missing elements of the film were returned, including an alternative ending.
Lost Horizon is one of my favourite books ever and this movie adaptation is nothing short of wonderful, in fact it is one of my favourite films of all time. The casting of the urbane Ronald Colman as diploment Robert Conway is perfect. If you see this movie on DVD make sure you take it home and settle down for a wonderful film experience.

Spartacus.
You probably thought film restoration was only about really old films from the early years of cinema but it’s about any classic film that needs work. Spartacus was made in 1960 meaning it is 56 years old this year and was restored in 1991. The movie was produced by and starred Kirk Douglas and was directed by Stanley Kubrick, whom Douglas brought in to direct after becoming disenchanted with the original director, Anthony Mann. The film is the story of a revolution, or at least a near revolution in ancient Rome. Spartacus, played by Kirk Douglas is a slave who starts off a rebellion in a gladiator camp; the rebellion gets bigger and bigger until it threatens the entire fabric of ancient Rome. Laurence Olivier played the part of the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus who uses the rebellion to further his own dreams of dictatorship. Peter Ustinov plays the gladiator school owner and Charles Laughton plays Roman senator Gracchus. Ustinov, Olivier, and Laughton are a wonderful trio, their performances superb, so much so that other actors who share the screen with them seem to pale in comparison.
Tony Curtis plays another slave who calls out famously; ‘I am Spartacus’ towards the end of the film, heralding a chorus of similar calls.
In the restoration, 37 mins of cuts were restored to the film including a scene where Anthony Hopkins had to dub the sound for a sequence involving Laurence Olivier who had died two years previously.

Lawrence of Arabia.

Directed by David Lean from a screenplay by Robert Bolt, Lawrence of Arabia is a visually stunning film, shot in 70mm. The movie is based on the book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence himself, and won seven academy awards including Best Director and best Picture.
Peter O’Toole stars as Lawrence although he was not the first choice for the part. Lean actually wanted Albert Finney but Finney had reservations about the film and wasn’t keen on being locked into a long term contract so he declined, despite shooting an expensive test at MGM studios in Borhamwood. It was then that Lean cast O’Toole after being impressed by his performance in ‘The Day they robbed the Bank of England’.
Director Lean wasn’t too pleased with the original script so Robert Bolt was brought in to essentially rewrite the film. A further complication was added when Bolt was arrested for his part in an anti-nuclear protest in London and so the production started without Bolt’s completed re write.
The film is famous for a number of classic shots. One is the cut from Lawrence blowing out a match to a shot of the rising sun in the desert and another is the famous long shot of Sherif Ali, played by Omar Sharif, who trots from the horizon astride his camel towards the well where Lawrence has stopped for water.

Steven Speilberg has been quoted as saying that this was the film that made him want to be a director and perhaps that is why so many of his productions have a sort of ‘David Lean’ feel about them.

The film was restored in 1989 with various cuts returned to the film. One sequence involved the late actor Jack Hawkins and Charles Gray had to dub dialogue for Hawkins’ character.


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information, or the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

10 Books you should read about Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn MonroeThe very first book I picked up about Marilyn Monroe was the biography by Fred Laurence Guiles. ‘Norma Jean, the life of Marilyn Monroe’. It’s a particularly well researched book and for a great many people, fans and writers alike, it has become the definitive biography of Marilyn, the place you go to find out all those facts and figures about her life, especially her early life. Her death is not really discussed in the same fashion as in later books, some of which are wholly devoted to the mystery of her passing. In my edition which I bought in the seventies, Bobby Kennedy is referred to only as ‘the easterner’ and it was only in later years that Bobby Kennedy and his brother, President John Kennedy became publically identified with Marilyn.


Marilyn: Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer apparently used Guiles book as a guide when writing his own book about Marilyn. Simply called ‘Marilyn, a biography’ the book is a large format book for which Mailer, the celebrated American writer supplied the text, and numerous photographers supplied the impressive array of photographs. The New York Times review online says the book is the ‘Glossiest of glossy books’ and further goes on to remark about the cover picture; ‘Marilyn Monroe has that blurry, slugged look of her later years: fleshy but pasty.’ I’m not sure what the writer was thinking about but personally, I rather like that cover picture of Marilyn.


GoddessA slim volume appeared in 1964 called ‘The Strange Death of ‘Marilyn Monroe’. It was this book that kick started rumours of strange goings on in the hours leading up to Marilyn’s death but the first book I read about the mystery (and I do love modern mysteries) was the book by Anthony Summers; Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. Summers is a veteran journalistic investigator and has written books about J Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon and the JFK assassination. Was Marilyn murdered or did she commit suicide?

Another author who thinks she was murdered was Robert F Slatzer who wrote a book called The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. I couldn’t find my copy when I came to photograph my Marilyn books but I do have it somewhere. Slatzer made a number of claims, one of which was that he actually married Marilyn but her studio bosses forced her to annul the union immediately and remove all the evidence that it ever took place.


IMGA0353Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed is a book I picked up quite recently. It is written by a British author, Michelle Morgan, and is similar to Fred Guiles book of Marilyn, very well researched but focusses on various people associated with Marilyn who have not been interviewed before. After reading this and other books, I get the impression that Marilyn compartmented her life, and those that were in one compartment, were not necessarily aware of people who were in the other ones.


img_0044_27623392904_oTalking about J Edgar Hoover, here’s another book I picked up about Marilyn. This was a remainder book and concerns the information about Marilyn in Hoover’s FBI files. Marilyn: The FBI Files by Tim Coates. It’s an interesting addition to the many books about Marilyn with pages of FBI files concerning Marilyn, many of them redacted with various names and details blanked out.


Monroe

 

The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by Donald Wolfe. Wolfe is a journalist who has done a great deal of digging and research and one of his interviewees was the brother in law of Marilyn’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray. He reveals first hand that Bobby Kennedy was at Marilyn’s home on the day she died.


img_0015_28134392832_oDonald Wolfe wrote another book; ‘The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe’. I’ve not read this one yet, it’s one I’m saving for my holidays.


 

img_0053_28161186631_oFinally, Fragments, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment. When Marilyn died in 1962 she left all her possessions to her acting mentor and head of the Actors Studio in New York, Lee Strasberg. When he passed away Marilyn’s effects went to his daughter and now it seems many will be auctioned off. This book is a look at the letters and notes she made, fragments of poems and thoughts scribbled in notebooks, on hotel stationary and envelopes. Marilyn’s thoughts and written meanderings show her to be a thoughtful woman who cared about what she saw and heard. Marilyn was a great reader and left behind a large book collection, part of which is listed in this book. Click here to read about all the 430 books she left behind.


Hope you enjoyed this post. If you did you might want to try my book, Floating In Space. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

 

A visit to Hollywood -with Google Maps!

There are plenty of places I’d like to visit in the world but there are always problems of time and money. I sometimes think that maybe one day when I retire I’ll jump on a plane and visit all those places I’d like to see but the crazy thing is -with the Internet and Google maps- I can do it now! Here are a few of the places I’d head for in Hollywood!

1.The Charlie Chaplin Studios on La Brea and Sunset.

Charlie Chaplin studios

Charlie Chaplin built his studio just south of the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevarde in 1917. At the time it was a residential area and Chaplin built a facade of cottages in the manner of an English street so the studios would blend into the neighbourhood more effectively. Chaplin sold the studios when he left America in 1953 and although the property was earmarked for redevelopment, that never happened. The 1950’s TV version of Superman was shot there and later the Red Skelton TV series. In 2000 the Jim Henson company bought the studios and later installed a twelve foot statue of the Muppets Kermit the frog by the gates. In homage to Chaplin, Kermit was dressed as the little tramp.

2. The Old RKO Studios

RKO studios

Between 1921 and 1927 the Robertson Cole Company, later known as FBO, Film Booking Office (once partly owned by Joe Kennedy, father of President John Kennedy) established their basic studio on Gower St. It was later taken over by RKO and expanded. The main entrance was at 780 North Gower St and many classic movies were made in the RKO days such as King Kong and Citizen Kane. In later years the studios were owned by Howard Hughes who in turn sold the studios to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez and it became the home of their company, Desilu Productions. Later still the studios were acquired by Paramount for their television operations and Paramount own the studio today.

3. The Samuel Goldwyn Studios AKA ‘The Lot.’

Samuel Goldwyn Studios
The studio site was bought by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in 1919 and was known as the United Artists Studio from 1928. It was used by many producers involved with United Artists but Sam Goldwyn won sole control in 1955 and the facilities became the Samuel Goldwyn Studios until Warner Brothers purchased the site in 1980. Today the facilities are known as ‘The Lot’ and the owners lease offices and soundstages to various production companies.

4. 7000 Romaine Street.

Romaine st Hollywood
Even though Howard Hughes owned RKO he never had an office there. Instead for a long time he had his headquarters at 7000 Romaine Street in Hollywood. He set up a central switchboard here and the place was at the hub of his vast empire for many years.

5.Lana Turner’s Hollywood home.

Lana Turner Hollywood Home

Lana Turner rented the house above in the spring of 1958 and lived here with her daughter, Cheryl. On the night of April 4th, 1958, Lana was involved in yet another argument with her boyfriend, gangster Johnny Stompanato. He was threatening Lana with violence and fourteen year old Cheryl, fearing for her mother, armed herself with a knife and listened outside her mother’s room. The door burst open, Lana ran out, Stompanato ran out after her with his arm raised as if to strike Lana and ran into the knife held by Cheryl. The inquest ruled that the murder was justifiable homicide and Cheryl was acquitted.

6.Paramount Studios

paramount studios
Paramount Studios are still going strong today. There’s even a Paramount Studio tour which looks pretty interesting for a film buff like me!

7.James Dean and Blackwells Corner
James Dean
If you’ve read my blog posts before you must have read this post about James Dean. He was killed in a car crash in 1955 while on his way to a race meeting in Salinas. He was driving his new car, a Porsche nicknamed ‘little bastard.’ Blackwell’s corner was where Dean and his friends made a last refreshment stop before the fatal crash.

8.Highway 66, the site of James Dean’s Fatal Crash.

highway 66
James Dean had already been stopped for speeding earlier and now at about 5.45 pm on September 30th, 1955, he was still driving fast. Up ahead of him a 24 year old college student named Donald Turnupseed turned left onto highway 41. He cut across Dean, apparently not seeing the low profile Porsche until the last moment. Dean tried to turn the wheel but the cars collided and Dean was killed. A memorial stands by the scene erected by Seita Ohnishi, a Japanese fan.

(All pictures courtesy google maps. )

So, where would you visit in Hollywood?


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!

 

 

Second Hand Books and The World of Movie Making

Million Dollar Movie by Michael Powell.

poweelbookI really do love books, especially second hand books. I think that what is so wonderful about a second hand book is that the book has told its story before to someone else, and now if you have just bought it, its going to tell it’s story to you. I spend a lot of time browsing in book shops, both physically in actual shops or on-line in virtual book stores. The thing about on-line book stores is that you have to have a starting point, it’s  no fun browsing through lists of books so I tend to browse on-line only when there is a particular book I want. In an actual book store I scan through the various sections and although I tend to linger on biographies and books about film, anything can catch my eye. A while ago I was reading a book by movie director Michael Powell called ‘A Life in Movies.’ It was a pretty thick book and took a fair old while to read and when I got the end there didn’t seem to be any indication there was another volume. Of course, Powell was quite old when he wrote his autobiography, perhaps he thought that there wouldn’t be time for another book. Well, I’m happy to say he did write another volume and this is it, Million Dollar Movie. Powell continues the story of his life in his usual random fashion, jumping to things out of context and out of sequence. Just because he happens to visiting Hollywood for instance, he will go on to talk about Hollywood and movie people he knows there and so on. Powell made some great movies alongside collaborator Emeric Pressburger but his career stalled when he made a shocking film called Peeping Tom about a disturbed cameraman who murders his subjects and films them as he does so. Audiences were shocked and Powell’s directing career ended, although in later years fellow directors like Martin Scorcese praised the film as a classic. Liz bought me this book as a gift and the copy she tracked down comes from Austin Public library in Texas in the United States. Provenance is a word they use in the antiques business; It’s to do with the background of an item, and that is what makes this copy so wonderful; How it has come so far, from the USA to England, just so I can sit back and enjoy it.

Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven.

bringontheYou might be thinking, looking at the picture here: Couldn’t the author have found a better picture? Looking at the picture again I suppose that particular copy is just a little tatty. That’s because it’s my travel copy. I’ve got another copy, a much nicer version that resides in my bookcase that I browse through now and again. The reason I’ve got two versions is because my travel copy goes all over the place with me. If I’m travelling somewhere on the bus or train, that slightly tatty copy goes easily into my pocket or my bag because I can read it time and time again. Not only is it the best ever book written about the golden age of Hollywood, it’s also by far the most accessible and readable book on the subject ever.

Niven’s first book was his autobiography; ‘The Moon’s a Balloon.’ In it Niven told how he came over to Hollywood from the UK and made the incredible leap from movie extra to movie star. The title of this book comes from Hungarian director Michael Curtiz. When filming ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade’ Curtiz wanted a hundred riderless horses to come into shot so he boomed on his megaphone ‘Bring on the Empty Horses!’ Niven and fellow actor Errol Flynn collapsed into laughter and Niven filed away the phrase for later use. The book covers the Hollywood years from 1935 to 1960 and Niven paints vivid portraits of Hollywood itself and long vanished watering holes like the Brown Derby and Romanoffs. He looks at some of the stars he has known like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and Constance Bennett. Other chapters profile producers like Sam Goldwyn and many other famous Hollywood personalities of the time. All his stories are told with great affection and I particularly liked the portrait of Mike Romanoff, the restaurateur who tried to pass himself off, in a slightly tongue in cheek way, as a member of the Russian Romanov family. If ever I’m travelling and need something to read on the journey I’ll always have this copy on hand. It’s like an old wine that improves with age!


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James Dean and A Manchester Record Store

James DeanMany years ago in my mid-teens I was in Manchester doing pretty much what I have always done, then and now, whenever I have free time on a Saturday, either looking at records in a music store or looking at books in a book shop.

In 2015 there are not many record stores left; the whole culture of buying records is a different ball game these days, downloading instead of taking home a hard physical copy. Anyway, that’s a whole different blog. To get back to this one, back in that record shop I’d thumbed through the discs, checked out all the cheap records and then began flipping through the posters. This must have been mid-seventies so the posters were people like David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Elton John, Rod Stewart but there was one poster of a man in his mid-twenties wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. He was pulling a moody sort of look but there was something about him that was interesting. Anyway, he turned out to be an actor that I’d never heard of and the shop assistant pointed out a book about him in the store, a paperback, so I picked it up and read about the actor’s life. He was called James Dean.

James Dean courtesy wikipedia.

James Dean courtesy wikipedia.

Dean was born in Indiana and his mother died of cancer when Dean was only nine years old. There is a haunting passage in that paperback I bought that tells of how Dean’s father, Winton, sent little Jimmy Dean back to his Aunt and Uncle’s home in Indiana on the train carrying his mother’s coffin. Jimmy was brought up in Marion, Indiana by his Aunt Ortense and Uncle Marcus and later went to college to study acting.

His first movie was East of Eden directed by Elia Kazan who had introduced method acting to the American stage and had worked with Marlon Brando in ‘A Streetcar named Desire’. ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ was Dean’s second cinematic outing. Directed by Nick Ray it is probably Dean’s most iconic film. This is the movie in which he wears his famous outfit of red jacket, white t-shirt, and jeans.

His third and final movie was ‘Giant’ in which he stars with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson and plays Texan bad boy Jett Rink. Dean was killed in a car crash only days after finishing shooting. He was a keen amateur racer and had bought a new Porsche speedster only days earlier. The car, nicknamed ‘little bastard’ had collided with another vehicle, a station wagon at the junction of route 41 and 466. Dean suffered a broken neck and was declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Paso Robles.

I was looking through my old VHS videos the other day and I came across a documentary called ‘James Dean’s last day’. It’s an interesting film and a sad one too as it counts down Dean’s last hours, his leaving Hollywood and his departure for a racing event at Salinas. There are so many ‘if onlys’ that unfold before me as I watch the film: I keep thinking if only Dean had left the Porsche on the trailer instead of driving it to the race track. If only the speeding ticket he was given a few hours earlier had made him slow down. If only a man called Donald Turnupseed had seen Dean and not turned across him. Such a shame, such a tragedy. Dean, I’m sure, would have gone on to make so many more great films and perhaps would even have directed some too.

I’m not sure why a council house boy from Northern England should connect so closely with James Dean, an American actor but back in the seventies Dean became one of my personal heroes. I remember going to a cinema in Oxford road to see back to back showings of East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause on a very hot summers day. I bought a soundtrack album of those movies too, in the days before video and DVD. Dean was a counterpoint to actors like Richard Burton; he mumbled and mispronounced things. I think that was what I liked about him, he was natural and imperfect. He had an image more rock star than 50’s actor. There was a great documentary about him made in the 70s and the music of the times, Bowie and Elton John featured heavily. Anyone remember that eagles track ‘James Dean?’

Today, years later, thousands of fans make pilgrimages every year to see Dean’s home in Fairmount, Indiana, and to the intersection on highway 466 where he died. At his graveside in Fairmount fans chisel away bits of his gravestone for mementos and a bust of Dean by the sculptor Kenneth Kendall was ripped from its plinth. In 1977 a Japanese businessman named Seita Ohnishi had a chromium sculpture erected at the crash site on highway 466 in memory of Dean.

So why do people still hanker after James Dean all these years later? Well, I simply don’t know. As a young man I thought Dean was the epitome of cool and like many others I made him into my hero. Whilst doing some research about Jimmy Dean I came across this line on another site: “Some people are living lodestones. They get under the skin of people. You can’t explain why.” I can’t disagree.

Still, heroes come and heroes fade away. My heroes today are not the ones I used to love and worship thirty years ago. The thing is though, after writing this essay about Jimmy Dean I felt that I must find the time to look at some of his films again. Did I happen to mention what I bought in the HMV sale not long ago? The James Dean Box Set. Perhaps old heroes never completely fade away.


If you liked this blog, why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977? Click here to go to my amazon page or click the links at the top of this post for more information.

 

 

 

 

A Manchester record store and James Dean

Many years ago in my mid-teens I was in Manchester doing pretty much what I have always done, then and now, whenever I have free time on a Saturday, either looking at records in a music store or looking at books in a book shop.

In 2014 there are not many record stores left; the whole culture of buying records is a different ball game these days, downloading instead of taking home a hard physical copy. Anyway, that’s a whole different blog. To get back to this one, back in that record shop I’d thumbed through the discs, checked out all the cheap records and then began flipping through the posters. This must have been mid-seventies so the posters were people like David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Elton John, Rod Stewart but there was one poster of a man in his mid-twenties wearing a white tee shirt and jeans. He was pulling a moody sort of look but there was something about him that was interesting. Anyway, he turned out to be an actor that I’d never heard of and the shop assistant pointed out a book about him in the store, a paperback, so I picked it up and read about the actor’s life. He was called James Dean.

James Dean courtesy wikipedia.

James Dean courtesy wikipedia.

Dean was born in Indiana and his mother died of cancer when Dean was only nine years old. There is a haunting passage in that paperback I bought that tells of how Dean’s father, Winton, sent little Jimmy Dean back to his Aunt and Uncle’s home in Indiana on the train carrying his mother’s coffin. Jimmy was brought up in Marion, Indiana by his Aunt Ortense and Uncle Marcus and later went to college to study acting.

His first movie was East of Eden directed by Elia Kazan who had introduced method acting to the American stage and had worked with Marlon Brando in ‘A Streetcar named Desire’. ‘Rebel Without a cause’ was Dean’s next movie. Directed by Nick Ray it is probably Dean’s most iconic film. This is the movie in which Dean wears his famous outfit of red jacket, white t shirt, and jeans.

His third and last movie was ‘Giant’ in which he stars with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson and plays Texan bad boy Jett Rink. Dean was killed in car crash only days after finishing shooting. He was a keen amateur racer and had bought a new Porsche speedster only days earlier. The car, nicknamed ‘little bastard’ had collided with another vehicle, a station wagon at the junction of route 41 and 466. Dean suffered a broken neck and was declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Paso Robles.

I’m not sure why a council house boy from Northern England should connect so closely with James Dean, an American actor. but back in the seventies Dean became one of my personal heroes. I remember going to a cinema in Oxford road to see back to back showings of East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause on a very hot summers day. I bought a soundtrack album of those movies too, in the days before video and DVD. Dean was a counterpoint to actors like Richard Burton, he mumbled and mispronounced things. I think that was what I liked about him, he was natural and imperfect. He had an image more rock star than 50s actor. There was a great documentary about him made in the 70s and the music of the times, Bowie and Elton John featured heavily. Anyone remember that eagles track ‘James Dean?’

Well, after writing this quick essay about Jimmy Dean I must find the time to take a look at some of his films again. Did I happen to mention what I bought in the HMV sale not long ago? The James Dean Box set, but I’m sure you had guessed that anyway. .

James Hilton, Shangri-la, and Hollywood

james hilton autog

James Hilton is one of my personal writing heroes and yet his name may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this blog. He was a journalist and an author and made the trip from his home in Leigh, Lancashire, in the UK to the Hollywood hills in the United States to become a screen writer. He is probably more well known for his book ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ which was made into a film with Robert Donat (actually another northerner from Didsbury in Manchester) but my favourite of his books and quite possibly my all-time favourite book is ‘Lost Horizon’.

Lost Horizon is a book I found in a second-hand shop many years ago. A battered 1940s paperback I paid twenty-five pence for and yet that small investment has paid me back many times over for sheer reading pleasure as Lost Horizon is a book I re read every year or so and I often pull it down from my bookshelf when a current read fails to entertain me.

Lost Horizon is a completely original idea and is about British consul Robert Conway in the dark days before World War II. Conway is helping his fellow British citizens escape from civil war in China and he and his small party escape in the last plane only to be kidnapped and taken to a distant Tibetan monastery. Conway meets the High lama and after a time it is revealed that the Tibetans  want to preserve the best of world culture and art and make it safe from the coming war.

Hilton is one of those few people who have invented a word or coined a phrase that has become part of the English language. In this case it was the name of the Tibetan monastery, Shangri-la which has since become a byword for a peaceful paradise, a distant haven. Camp David, the US President’s retreat was originally called Shangi-la until renamed by Eisenhower for his son, David.

Hilton’s journey from Leigh to Hollywood must have been a magical one and one I envy, especially as his time in Hollywood was a golden age for movie making. Lost Horizon was made into a movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as the urbane British diplomat of the novel. It’s a movie that was recently restored and is a great DVD if you happen to see it. Colman also starred in another movie authored by Hilton :‘Random Harvest ‘.

Hilton settled in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays for classic Hollywood movies such as ‘Mrs Miniver ‘. Sadly he died from cancer in 1954.

WordPress of course is an American site and I wonder sometimes if a bored Hollywood production executive may decide to sit down one day with his Ipad and search idly across the site in search of movie ideas. My own book; Floating In space’ could easily be relocated from Manchester to Los Angeles and I am available for writing the screenplay.

Well, may keep my flight bag packed, just in case . . .


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.