Tuesday, April 25, 2023


WWW. WEDNESDAY asks three questions to prompt you to speak bookishly. To participate, and to see how other book lovers responded, click here

PS I can no longer participate in WWW.WEDNESDAY via that link because her blog won't accept Blogger comments. I mention this only to save you the frustration I experienced trying to link up.

1. What are you currently reading? Revenge Tour by Mike Lupica. Boston PI Sunny Randall has taken on a fabulously successful romance novelist as a client. Melanie Joan Hall is turning her bodice-ripping series of novels into a mini-series and a cable channel, and someone is threatening her, implying that she's a plagiarist. Sunny has to get to the bottom of this before her client's burgeoning empire comes tumbling down. The stakes are raised suddenly higher when people around Melanie Joan start getting dead.

I like Sunny. She's independent, smart, strong and feminine. Let's hope this story is worthy of her.

2. What did you recently finish reading? Capote's Women by Laurence Leamer. In life, Truman Capote was better known as a celebrity than an author. He was a mainstay in the gossip columns and society pages because he surrounded himself with New York's wealthiest, most beautiful, most stylish women. 

These women fascinated him. For the most part, they were self-created. Small-town girls, children of divorce, survivors of lost fortunes ... each gained the spotlight by becoming beautiful, learning about style, and capturing the eye of progressively wealthier and more powerful men. I suppose there's something admirable, or at least likeable, about this pursuit. Especially put in the context of their times (these women were born between 1912 and 1933). 
Truman Capote ingratiated himself to them. He took their hospitality, encouraged their confidences, and then betrayed them in print with Unanswered Prayers. They were humiliated and they cast him out.

To me, it read like a clash of mid-century Gatsbys. It's a uniquely American and a very sad saga. I look forward to Ryan Murphy's mini-series.

3. What will read next? I don't know.



At the Movies -- The Last Day

On Day Four, I went to CVS. I got a menthol inhaler, a bag of cough drops, a box of cheese crackers and a packet of string cheese. I don't know why the last two, exactly. I didn't feel good and they just appealed to me.

I started at 9:30 again -- same time and same theater as yesterday -- with Mickey Rooney again. This time with Judy Garland and Strike Up the Band (1940). This wasn't my favorite of the festival, and I admit I dozed off (a fellow Fester said Judy shouldn't be shown before noon). But it has Judy singing "Our Love Affair." And the "I Ain't Got Nobody" scene in the library! I love it so much.

Then I wanted to see No Man of Her Own (1932), the only on-screen pairing of Gable and Lombard. But I got shut out, so instead I went with Casablanca at the big IMAX. And it was pretty perfect. Not only because Casablanca is a great movie, but because of the venue. I mean, look!

This photo is from Slant magazine (read the article here).

I'm here, with 900 like-minded classic film fans in a movie palace. It doesn't get any better than this for me.

Then I was back to one of the smaller mall venues for another very nearly perfect movie, All About Eve (1950).  This one was introduced by two "nepo babies," as TCM host Ben Mankiewicz (grand nephew of the movie's director Joe) interviewed David Newman (son of the film's composer, Alfred). I enjoy hearing about scoring, and Newman clearly knows his stuff.

As far as the movie goes ... this is the first time I've ever seen this classic with an audience and was tickled by how everyone spontaneously applauded one of my favorite moments: Bill Sampson comes running (literally running) into Margo's room, takes her in his arms, and whispers, "Bill's here, Baby." It's only then that tough-as-nails Margo drops her guard and starts to cry. At one time or another, we've all been Margo, haven't we?

Then it was time for my last movie of the festival. I admit that by now I was really dragging. I was tired, I missed my cats, I wanted to go home. And yet, I didn't. I was very conflicted as I stood one last time at the forecourt of the TCL Chinese, looking at all the movie stars' footprints in cement. 

My final movie was the 40th anniversary celebration of The Big Chill, introduced by cast members Tom Berenger and JoBeth Williams. I was especially interested to hear that JoBeth didn't want to play her part -- the dissatisfied wife, Karen -- and instead wanted to play Mary Kay Place's role -- lawyer Meg, who wants a baby. Glenn Close also wanted to play Meg. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan had some ruffled feathers to smooth among his cast, and Williams said he did a masterful job. Now she says she can't imagine the film cast any other way.

Will, Guy and Karen all went to the Festival closing party, but I went back to my room and back to bed. I don't regret it. Will tells me the party was very crowded and this year they charged for drinks. 

The money wasn't the issue for me. I was exhausted. In between movies there was a lot running from venue to venue. Up the stairs and down the escalators. This old gray mare just ain't what she used to be.

But I had a great time and can't wait to do it again next year!


At the Movies -- Day Three

On Day Three, my nose was stuffy but I didn't let that stop me. I had a full plate of movies ahead of me! 

I started at 9:30 at one of the smaller mall theaters with Boys Town (1938). I haven't seen this one since I was a very little girl and was happy to revisit it.

It's the story of Father Flanagan, who famously believed that "there is no such thing as a bad boy." He created a boys home where at-risk boys could feel safe, get an education, believe in themselves. Spencer Tracy won his first Academy Award for playing the priest, who was the first real person to see an Oscar-winning depiction of himself.

I was very moved by the story and especially by Tracy. Before the movie, a representative of the Academy Museum gave us a little background that made the film even more poignant. Mickey Rooney, who played Whitey, was at this time the #1 star on the MGM lot. He was an important commodity and the studio wanted to get as much product out of him, as quickly as possible. While he was doing the drama Boys Town, he was also making Love Finds Andy Hardy, a comedy-musical. He'd finish playing Whitey on one soundstage and then dash to another where he played Andy. On the same day. He was 17. Considering what we know about his frequent costar, Judy Garland, it's easy to assume studio-provided amphetamines were involved. 

So here we were, watching a beautiful and effecting movie about saving at-risk children starring an exploited child. It was sobering.

Which doesn't diminish the power of the movie or its message. To learn more about the real Boys Town and its good works, click here.

Then it was on to the big IMAX screen to see a glorious presentation of The African Queen (1951). Shari Belafonte, who has traveled extensively through Africa, gave a little talk about the challenges of on location filming 9,000 miles away from Hollywood -- especially in 1951, when soundstages were still the norm. Hepburn, Bogart and director John Huston were all pretty influential and used their star power to get this film made the way it should be made.

I love this movie. This is (at least) the fourth time I've seen it and I'm always moved by the performances. Hepburn is luminous. A woman of faith, falling in love for the first time in mid-life. Her Rosie is just beautiful, inside and out. Bogart is funny and irascible. This is his Oscar-winning performance and he's a charmer.

For Bye, Bye Birdie I met up with Will, Guy and Ann-Margret. She was beautiful and gracious. At 81, she seem pleased to be surrounded by a crowd of classic film fans who really love the movie that made her a star.

Watching it again, I was impressed by how good Dick Van Dyke is. He was funny, sang well, and danced gracefully. Is there anything he couldn't do?

I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with Guy. He's very funny, very easy to be around. But after Birdie, we each went our own way. He was off to The Exorcist. Will, the greatest of Stanwyck fans, chose Sorry, Wrong Number. I went with one of the trashiest, most glorious movies ever.

Elizabeth Taylor was the most notorious women in America when she made this movie. She was The Other Woman who broke up the marriage of America's Sweethearts: Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Everyone thought she was a slut, and here she was playing one.

She didn't want to appear in BUtterfield 8. She knew she was being exploited, and what's worse, it was exploitation by MGM, the studio where she'd worked since she was a girl. (The same studio that made Boys Town; these people were assholes.)

Once it was obvious she couldn't get out of it -- litigation was threatened -- Liz gave it her all. Make no mistake about it: this is a silly movie. Her leading man, Laurence Harvey, is so sour and dreadful you can't believe she'd fall for him. Her costar and then-husband, Eddie Fisher, is inconsequential. But Elizabeth Taylor is wonderful in this. She's sincere and authentic. That she won her first Oscar for a movie she always insisted she hated tells you she was much more than a glamour girl.

Any day with LaLiz and the Great Kate is a good day!


At the Movies -- Day Two

Day Two was our first full day of movies.
I began first thing in the morning at the TCL Chinese Theater IMAX. It's a huge, iconic theater with a screen 93 feet wide.* It was the perfect venue to see another new-to-me movie, the original King Kong from 1933.

To say that this film is racially insensitive and regressive in attitude toward the sexes is a massive understatement. The special effects -- ground breaking 90 years ago -- look downright silly at times. And yet, it gripped me. Kong was just a critter. A rather sweet-natured one, at that. He only acted up when he thought his human needed his help. Great story telling is timeless. I'm glad I saw it, even at 9:00 AM.

After my date with the ape, I planned to grab a quick lunch and then race over to one of the smaller theaters to see Larceny, Inc., a 1942 crime comedy starring Edward G. Robinson. Unfortunately, as I was finishing my tater tots and preparing to pay my bill, Bob appeared at my table. Bob used to belong to our movie group but he dropped out because he's too shy to participate. Anyway, he's from a small town in Wisconsin and doesn't seem especially comfortable navigating the festival alone. I didn't want to spring up from the table ... OK, I really did want to spring up and be on my way because I had another movie to catch, but that would have been rude so I chatted with Bob for a few minutes. And was shut out of Larceny, Inc. No good deed goes unpunished, right?

Instead I returned to the IMAX. That theater has more than 900 seats and TCMFFestival goers are seldom turned away. So I caught the 30th anniversary presentation of Groundhog Day, introduced by the actor who played Ned Ryerson, Stephen Tobolowsky. I've never seen this one before, either. It's very funny -- of course it is; I mean Bill Murray and a rodent! -- but it's also far sweeter than I expected it to be.

Then I boarded the complimentary shuttle to the Hollywood Legion Theater. Built in the 1920s, it was the American Legion Hall for Hollywood's WWII servicemen, including Clark Gable, Henry Fonda and Ronald Reagan. Today it's run to benefit veterans. 

Learn more about the theater here.

TCM took it over for the festival and on Friday I saw Peyton Place there. It was introduced by Russ Tamblyn. You probably know him as Riff in the original West Side Story. But to me he'll always be Norman, the sensitive nerd. He was interesting and charming. The print of the movie was pristine, and the audience loved it as much as I did.

Next, Frankie Avalon saved my life. OK, that's an exaggeration. (But I like it as the title of my autobiography.) Anyway, here's what happened. The big movie at the IMAX was the 2001 remake of Ocean's 11, starring George Clooney. George and director Stephen Soderbergh were set to introduce it. TCM had taken over the screens next door at the mall. Vincent Price's House of Wax was being shown in 3D, and friends were all at the Barbara Stanwyck classic, Ball of Fire
The hotel pool screening
All those classic film festers were affected by the "shelter in place" alert
. A man was shot in the head right there on The Walk of Fame, and the police were searching for the gunman who was still at large. Meanwhile, I was blocks away, poolside at the Hotel Roosevelt, wearing a lei, sipping a cocktail and waiting for Frankie Avalon to introduce the 60th anniversary screening of Beach Party. So my lowbrow tastes kept me out of harm's way. 
82-year-old Frankie looks good and was very charming. He told us he and Annette had been lifelong friends, even though they worked really hard. They made seven of these movies together over four years. Each was shot in 15 days with no days off. (Most major films have three months of principal photography.) He never did learn to surf. As he joked, he grew up in Philly, where the closest thing to swimming he got was splashing when the police opened a fire hydrant. 

Yes, Beach Party is still stupid. Perhaps even more stupid. But I had fun and was happy to miss all the drama on Hollywood Blvd.