Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pre-Code Classic "Baby Face" at Daystar Center February 18

“Stanwyck on State Street” Film Series: Baby Face
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street, Chicago, IL
When: February 18, 2017
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

Baby Face (1933) was the Pre-Code Hollywood film that helped usher in the Production Code. Very frank for its time, the plot concerns one Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) and her attempts to use sex to advance her social and financial status. After her father’s death, Lily leaves her home in Erie, Pennsylvania, for New York City. She lands an entry-level job at a bank by flirting with the assistant to the personnel director.

From this small job, she climbs the ladder by using the men who employ her. Along the way she has an affair with Jimmy McCoy Jr. (a very young John Wayne), but soon casts him aside when she seduces his boss. When the grandson of the company’s founder, Courtland Tenholm (George Brent) is elected president, Lily’s plans go in another direction.

This early Stanwyck film is an example of what movies were like before the studio-lead Production Code went into effect in 1934.

Theresa Harris and Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face

This film is part of the “Stanwyck on State Street” series.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Twice a month we screen classic films and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked at various positions within the publishing industry for over 25 years. Most recently he was executive editor for McGraw-Hill’s The Learning Group Division. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald hosts “Chicago Film Club,” a monthly movie event held in the South Loop, for the past two years. Reginald has also taught several adult education film classes at Facets Film School, Chicago.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Jeanne Crain

Jeanne Crain (1925 - 2003) was one of the most popular movie stars during the 1940s. She received more fan mail during World War II than any other star, except Betty Grable. A teenage beauty queen, she signed a long-term contract with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1943. Crain worked there exclusively until she was released from her contract in 1953. She was a favorite of studio head Darryl F. Zanuck until her constantly being pregnant kept her from starring in movies he chose for her.

1. She was born in Bartsow, California on May 25, 1925.

Jeanne Crain with Darryl Zanuck and his children Richard and Darrylin
2. While still in high school she auditioned for Orson Welles for a part in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). She didn’t get the part, Anne Baxter did.

3. She had a bit part (unbilled) in The Gang’s All Here (1943) starring Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda.

4. Home in Indiana (1944) was the film that introduced Crain to American filmgoers.

5. She appeared in several musicals, but always had her voice dubbed. Vocalist Louanne Hogan most frequently dubbed for Crain.

6. She and her husband, Paul Brinkman, had seven children plus a pet lion.

Crain with her pet lion

7. She was an excellent figure skater and got to show off her skills in the movie Margie (1946).

8. Bette Davis’s character in The Star (1952) describes and points out Crain’s house on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills while riding in a car.

9. She was on the cover of Life Magazine twice: in 1946 for Margie and in 1949 for Pinky, for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award.

10. Crain lost out on playing Eve Harrington in All About Eve (1950) because she was pregnant. Anne Baxter got the role and the rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Deanna Durbin in “First Love” #OCanadaBlogathon

This is my third time participating in the O Canada blogathon. It’s also my third time writing about Deanna Durbin. If you visit my blog, you’ll realize that my love for Durbin runs deep. She was an international star who had the largest fan club in the world during her heyday. First Love was a milestone in Durbin’s career. It showed Durbin as a maturing young woman showcasing her first taste of romance. Loosely based on the Cinderella tale, First Love is a coming-of-age sweet romance.

The Plot
Durbin plays Connie Harding an orphan who we meet on her graduation day from Miss Wiggins’s boarding school for girls. After graduation she goes “home” to New York to live with relatives, the Clinton family, who don’t seem to care for her. They don’t even come to her graduation, but instead send a butler to pick her up. Sad and unhappy, Connie has nothing in common with the Clinton’s beautiful, socialite daughter, Barbara. In fact, Barbara despises Connie—and pretty much any female who she feels is competition—and seems to take pleasure in humiliating her at every opportunity. The rest of the Clinton family includes Uncle Jim (Eugene Paulette), Aunt Grace (Leatrice Joy), and Cousin Walter (Lewis Howard). The Clintons, in all their quirkiness somewhat resemble the Bullock family from My Man Godfrey (1936). Ironically, Eugene Paulette was the hapless father in that classic too.

Marcia Mae Jones and Deanna Durbin on graduation day
Barbara the bully
Barbara bullies Connie into helping her get the attention of Ted Drake (Robert Stack), a handsome young heir who all the debutantes in New York City are after. Connie makes a fool of herself, keeping Ted occupied at his country club while Barbara hurries to join his riding party after oversleeping. Connie is smitten by Ted almost immediately, but feels he’s out of her league. The Drake family is hosting a ball that the Clintons and other New York City socialites will be attending. When Connie gets invited to the ball, she can hardly believe it. The servants pull together and buy her a dress and new shoes. Her dreams of having a proper evening with Ted are dashed when Barbara concocts a lie about some relative coming to visit the evening of the ball. She suggests Connie stay home to greet him, which her Aunt Joy seconds. Connie is crushed. But the servants have a plan for her to get to the ball.

Robert Stack and Durbin
Six white motorcycles
The servants concoct a plan the keep Barbara, Walter, and Mrs. Clinton from getting to the ball until after midnight. Connie is escorted to the ball by six police officers riding white motorcycles (one of the servant’s brothers is a cop). She even gets to ride in the Commissioner’s car! The butler (Charles Coleman) informs her that she needs to be home before midnight (just like Cinderella). At the ball, Connie, in a comical scene, is accidentally introduced as the singing entertainment. Her performance is a huge hit with the crowd. Her beautiful singing gets the attention of Ted, who asks her to dance. The two dance and talk the night away losing all track of time. Connie reveals that she was the girl that delayed him at the country club, which seems to intrigue Ted all the more. Ted tells Connie that he’ll be leaving for South America in a few weeks to carve out a life of his own. It’s at this point that the two kiss. While the two are caught up in the moment, Connie realizes that it’s after midnight. Remembering the butler’s warning, Connie runs away from Ted, losing her shoe in the process (more shades of Cinderella). While she is leaving, the Clintons show up. Barbara sees Ted holding a shoe and also spies a young woman she thinks looks like Connie leaving the ball. After a few more queries, Barbara is convinced that Connie is the girl everyone at the ball is talking about. So convinced is she that she rushes home to make sure. At first Barbara thinks she may be mistaken when she bursts into Connie’s room to find her asleep in bed. But when she spies a discarded shoe on the bedroom floor that is the match to the one she saw Ted holding, she rips the bed covers off revealing Connie dressed in her ball gown.

Stack and Durbin at the ball
Connie is reunited with her prince
Barbara tells Connie that Ted knew who she was all along and was just playing her for a fool. Connie is so hurt and humiliated that she packs her bags and takes the first train back to Miss Wiggins’s boarding school. She’s decided that she wants to become a teacher at the school. Miss Wiggins (Kathleen Howard) tries to talk Connie out of it by telling her, in the most unflattering terms, what the life of a spinster teacher is like. Connie doesn’t like what she hears, but she agrees to stay on. Miss Wiggins has Connie sing “Un bel di” from Madame Butterfly to make the spinsters cry. She tells her, “spinsters are only happy when they cry.” While Connie is singing the aria, Ted walks in with the missing shoe. When Connie sees Ted standing at the back of the recital hall, she falters a bit and then stops singing to run into Ted’s arms. A happy ending or as the screen tells us, “They lived happily ever after,” just like Cinderella!

Backstory: First Love is a delightful movie. It is successful in part because of Deanna Durbin’s winning on-screen personality and the wonderful supporting cast. The film was an important milestone in Durbin’s career. With five hit films under her belt as a juvenile star, Durbin was growing up right before the eyes of the American public. The year before, Durbin won a special Juvenile Academy Award. Would the public accept this older, more mature Durbin?

Durbin and Stack on the Universal lot during the filming of First Love

This film was also a milestone for Robert Stack. It was his first film and he got to give Durbin her first screen kiss. The publicity around this event was extraordinary. “The kiss heard around the world” was the word from the press. Durbin was so popular all over the world during the late 1930s. Anne Frank had a picture of Durbin and Stack from First Love on her bedroom wall in the family’s hiding place in Amsterdam; it’s part of the museum to this day. Durbin’s fan club was the largest of any star during her heyday.

Universal seriously considered filming First Love in Technicolor. Although it’s black and white cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine is superb—he was nominated for an Academy Award—this movie would have been wonderful in color.

Director Henry Koster, Durbin, and Producer Joe Pasternak

This was Durbin’s fourth film directed by Henry Koster—she had made only six films thus far—and produced by Joe Pasternak, the two men most responsible for Durbin’s screen success.

In Stack’s autobiography, Shooting Straight (1980), he relates that he auditioned for First Love with Helen Parrish, who Stack thought was “a beautiful girl.” Speaking of Parrish, this was her third Durbin film. She was her nemesis in Mad About Music (1938) and her older sister in Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939). Durbin and Parrish may have been antagonists on the screen, but the two were reportedly best friends in real life.

Other actors that frequently appeared in Durbin films include Marcia Mae Jones (Mad About Music, Nice Girl?), Charles Coleman (Three Smart Girls, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, It Started with Eve), Mary Treen (Three Smart Girls Grow Up), Kathleen Howard (Three Smart Girls Grow Up), Thurston Hall (Three Smart Girls Grow Up, Lady on a Train, Up in Central Park), Eugene Paulette (One Hundred Men and a Girl, It’s a Date), Samuel S. Hinds (It’s a Date, Spring Parade, Hers to Hold, Lady on a Train), Lucille Ward (It Started with Eve), Frank Jenks (One Hundred Men and a Girl).

Not so trivial trivia: Mary Treen and Samuel S. Hinds found screen immortality by appearing in the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings . Click here to check out the other great posts in this annual blogathon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Dana Andrews

Dana Andrews (1909 – 1992) was a major movie star during the 1940s and 1950s. He had major roles in several classic films, including Laura, State Fair, A Walk in the Sun, and The Best Years of Our Lives. He starred on Broadway in Two for the Seesaw, replacing Henry Fonda. He guest starred on numerous television shows and headlined the daytime soap opera Bright Promise (1969 – 1971). For many years he struggled with alcoholism, which damaged his career during the 1950s. He eventually got sober and was active with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

1. He was born Carver Dana Andrews in Mississippi, the third of 13 children.

2. He was a popular actor at the famed Pasadena Playhouse where he once carried a spear in a     production of Julius Caesar.

3.     He was under contract to both Samuel Goldwyn and Twentieth Century-Fox, an unusual arrangement during the days of the major Hollywood studios.

4.    Andrews appeared in five films with Gene Tierney: Tobacco Road, Belle Starr (both 1941), Laura (1944), The Iron Curtain (1948), and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney kiss in Laura.

5.     A trained opera singer, Andrews had his singing voice dubbed in the musical State Fair (1945), costarring Jeanne Crain.

6.    Speaking of Jeanne Crain, she and Andrews starred in four movies together: State Fair, Duel in the Jungle (1954), Madison Avenue (1961), and the cult classic Hot Rods to Hell (1967).

7.    He was director Otto Preminger’s favorite leading man. He made more films with Andrews than with any other actor: Laura, Fallen Angel (1945), Daisy Kenyon (1947), Where the Sidewalk Ends, and In Harm’s Way (1965).

8.    The disaster movie parody Airplane! (1980) got most of its material from Zero Hour! (1957) Starring Andrews and Linda Darnell.

Linda Darnell (far left) and Dana Andrews (far right) try to land a commercial airliner in Zero Hour!

9.     Actor Steve Forrest, best know for his role as Lt. Hondo Harrelson in the television series S.W.A.T., is Andrews’s younger brother.

10.   He was never nominated for an Academy Award.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dana Andrews, I recommend you check out the biography Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews by Carl Rollyson.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Free screening of classic film “Flying Down to Rio” at Second Presbyterian Church

There will be a free screening of the classic film Flying Down to Rio (1933) at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 South Michigan Avenue, Friday, February 17, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. The film features Long time church member Etta Moten Barnett (1901 –2004).

Etta Moten Barnett was an American actress and singer. She performed on stage in a revival of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which became a signature role. On film she appeared in Pre-Code classics Ladies They Talk About (1933) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gold Diggers of 1933 where she sang the classic “My Forgotten Man” with the film’s star Joan Blondell. In addition to appearing in films, her singing voice was dubbed for African American actress Theresa Harris in the film Professional Sweetheart starring Ginger Rogers (1933).

Flying Down to Rio features Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in their first film together, although Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond are top-billed. Moten Barnett sings “The Carioca” while Rogers and Astaire performs the dance of the same name.

Etta Moten Barnett
Besides her connection to Second Presbyterian Church, Moten Barnett was active in the National Council of Negro Women, the Chicago Lyric Opera, Field and DuSable Museums, and the South Side Community Center.

Barnett Moten died of pancreatic cancer in 2004 at the age of 102.

The screening of this film is A Black History Month Event presented in celebration of the 175th Anniversary of Second Presbyterian Church. Free popcorn and soft drinks will be served at the movie screening.

Friday, January 20, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Thelma Ritter

Thelma Ritter is one of the most beloved character actresses of all time (at least according to me anyway). She appeared in many classic films starting with Miracle on 34th Street. Test your knowledge of this iconic actress by checking out the 10 facts below.

1. Family friend, director George Seaton, cast her in her first movie Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and her last, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good (1968).

2. She was uncredited in her first three movies: Miracle on 34th Street, Call Northside 777 (1948), and A Letter to Three Wives (1949).

3. Ritter was nominated for six Oscars—all for Best Supporting Actress.

4. Her first Oscar nomination was for her role as Birdie in All About Eve (1950).

5. Her name was above the title for the first time in The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951).

6. She played a character based on Molly Brown in Titanic (1953).

Thelma Ritter ruins James Stewart’s appetite in Rear Window.

7. She was not nominated for her role as Stella in Rear Window (1954).

8. Co-hosted the Oscar ceremony with Bob Hope in 1954.

9. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress (Musical) in New Girl in Town (1957) in a tie with costar Gwen Verdon.

10. She died nine days before her 67th birthday in 1969.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Screening of "The Model and the Marriage Broker" at Daystar Center February 14

Classic Movie Man Favorites Series: The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951)
Where: Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street
When: February 14, 2017
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951) features Thelma Ritter in a rare starring role as marriage broker, Mae Swasey. Her office is located in New York City’s iconic Flatiron Building where she helps her shy and awkward clients find love and companionship. When she picks up the purse of model Kitty Bennett (Jeanne Crain) by accident, she decides to secretly become her marriage broker. You see, the model found out that the man she’s been dating is married, and Mae sees no future in that relationship. Without her knowledge Mae arranges for Kitty to meet Matt Hornbeck (Scott Brady), a young radiographer. Will Mae’s matchmaking be successful? And what about Mae? Will she find a love of her own? 

Jeanne Crain and Thelma Ritter

This underrated classic has a script by Charles Brackett (Sunset Boulevard - 1950, The Lost Weekend - 1945), cinematography by Milton Kranser (The Egg and I – 1947, All About Eve – 1950, Three Coins in the Fountain – 1954, An Affair to Remember – 1957), and direction by the legendary George Cukor (My Fair Lady - 1964). 

The film also boasts a first-rate supporting cast, featuring Zero Mostel and Nancy Kulp in their first movie roles. But first and foremost, The Model and the Marriage Broker has the incomparable Ritter in one of the best roles of her career.

This film is part of the Classic Movie Man’s favorites series.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Twice a month we screen classic films and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked at various positions within the publishing industry for over 25 years. Most recently he was executive editor for McGraw-Hill’s The Learning Group Division. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald hosts “Chicago Film Club,” a monthly movie event held in the South Loop, for the past two years. Reginald has also taught several adult education film classes at Facets Film School, Chicago.

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