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Hollywood or Bust: The Movie

Illustration by: Viktor Hertz

Illustration by: Viktor Hertz

Paramount’s 1956 Hollywood or Bust is a swingin’ musical travelogue starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in their last movie together.

It begins in New York City where fanatical movie fan Malcolm Smith, Lewis’s character, wins a hot red convertible that he plans to drive to Hollywood to meet actress Anita Ekberg, playing herself, on whom he has the biggest crush.

Dean Martin plays inveterate gambler Steve Wiley, wily as a fox, who convinces Malcolm that he, too, won, although he had stacked the lottery and plans to sell the car to pay his gambling debts.   Malcolm, being a trusting sort, as well as not knowing how to drive, lets Steve take the wheel, and they’re over the bridge and out of the city with Malcolm’s Great Dane, Mr. Bascomb, in the back seat.

“Sound the trumpets strike the cymbals

Boys from Bonwits and girls from Gimbels

Shaking off that old Manhattan dust

To get to Hollywood or bust.”

(From the song “Hollywood or Bust”.)

Traveling along two-lane back roads the pair pass red farmhouses, white picket fences, covered bridges, full service gas stations, golden pastures, and girls, girls, girls, riding a hay wagon, fishing from a rowboat, swimming in a pond, all enjoying the fresh air.

“Oh, there’ nothing as gay as a day in the country…

It’s quite a delightful surprise for a couple of traveling guys.”

(From the song “A Day in the Country”.)

Before reaching Chicago troubles abound.  Malcolm and Steve run out of gas, get held up by a hitchhiker, and meet up with a showgirl, Terry Roberts played by Pat Crowley, on her way to Vegas.  The duo becomes a singing trio plus dog.

“When you cross the Mississippi

Cross the Mississippi

You’re in the wild and wooly west.”

(From the song “The Wild and Wooly West”.)

The three continue to croon, as they pass through “old” Missouri, Oklahoma, and the state of Texas, “the largest in the union”. The song takes them all the way to Las Vegas, where they pass the Sands (where Martin and Lewis are performing), the Algiers, the Thunderbird, the Desert Inn, and El Rancho Vegas, among other luxurious desert resorts and casinos.

There are more sights to see and songs to sing once the group arrives in Hollywood.

“It looks like love

It could be love

But if it’s not it’s so darn wonderful it should be love.”

(From the song “It Looks Like Love”.)

The highlight takes place at Paramount Studios where Steve proposes to Terry during her audition for a part in the first Elvis Presley movie, and Anita decides to cast Mr. Bascomb in her next movie “The Lady and the Great Dane.”  In the grand finale, both couples plus dog walk down the red carpet at its premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

It doesn’t get any more Hollywood, except for the songs:

“Land of stardust and land of glamour

Vistavision and cinerama

Everyone considers it a must

To get to Hollywood or bust.”

(From the song “Hollywood or Bust”.)

And that’s why I named my book Hollywood or Bust.  Check it out: HollywoodOrBustTheBook.comOr go straight to Amazon.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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80 Years Ago: At the Movies

1933 was a stellar year for Hollywood.

Mae West on her way to the top.

Mae West on her way to the top.

Mae West and Cary Grant became superstars that year.

West and Grant first appeared together in She Done Him Wrong, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and then I’m No Angel.  Both movies were big moneymakers for Paramount Studios, saving it from bankruptcy.

By 1935 West was the second-highest paid person in the United States after William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst, by the way, a media tycoon, also tried his hand at making movies.  He founded Cosmopolitan Pictures, a production company, and created starring roles for his long-time girlfriend Marion Davies.

Grant became one of Hollywood’s most debonair leading men, performing with such leading ladies as Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Doris Day, Leslie Caron, Sophia Loren, and… Ginger Rogers, the latter in Once Upon a Honeymoon in 1942.  She plays a burlesque queen married to a Nazi in pre World War II Europe.  He’s a radio correspondent who saves her.

Rogers, herself a screen legend, is most famous as Fred Astaire’s romantic interest and dancing partner in Hollywood musicals, the first of which was Flying Down to Rio in 1933.   Did you ever see a dance routine on the wings of an airplane? It’s amazing. “She had guts,” Astaire wrote of her in his autobiography.

Katharine Hepburn had a career that spanned over sixty years.  In 1933 she earned her first of four Oscars for her third film Morning Glory, a story of a young stage actress who becomes a star when she replaces the prima donna who walks off the set.  42nd Street, another musical released that year, also paid tribute to Broadway.

Busby Berkeley was at the height of his popularity when he directed Gold Diggers of 1933. As a choreographer, his professional goals were to constantly top himself and to never repeat his past accomplishments.  He probably never did. Isn’t a kaleidoscope a never-repeating series of patterns?

The first King Kong movie starring Fay Wray was released.  It’s been remade twice, giving Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts their big breaks.  There’s something about being chased by a big ape through Times Square that makes an actress irresistible.

And then there are the good guys.  Joseph Yule Jr. signed with MGM as Mickey Rooney, although the first Andy Hardy flic didn’t open until 1937.  Popeye the Sailor made his first appearance on the big screen in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, beginning his long and illustrious career chasing Olive Oyl, thwarting Bluto, catching bad guys, and encouraging children to eat more spinach.

It was the Great Depression, but no one was depressed at the movies.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Quite a trick:

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Here Comes Oscar

220px-Wings_posterThe 85th Academy Awards will be held this Sunday night at the 3,400-seat Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center on Hollywood Boulevard. A worldwide audience of over a billion people is expected to view the proceedings.

Anticipation is building, and for weeks the odds for Best Picture have been changing daily.

Experts predict that Argo will be the winner, despite the fact that director Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated. As a thriller with humor dealing with the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, it’s pure entertainment in the context of a fairly recent historical event.

Lincoln, more of a moral history lesson, is second with twelve nominations while Silver Linings Playbook, a romantic comedy with dark undertones, is third, with its four stars for best and supporting actors and actresses all nominated.

The critically praised Zero Dark Thirty has fallen to fifth place behind Life of Pi with only a one in ten chance of taking the grand prize.  The buzz is that its depiction of torture in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is too politically incorrect for industry liberals.

The first Academy Awards presentation was a completely different affair.  Two hundred seventy guests paid five dollars each to attend the private dinner and ceremony at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  It was the only time that the event was not broadcast over radio or television, nor, possibly, lasting only fifteen minutes, went into overtime.

Louis B. Mayer, head of M-G-M, had created the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring together actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.  As for the awards themselves, he commented, “I found that the best way to handle  [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them.”

Wings won Best Picture.  It was a silent drama about two friends in love with the same girl who serve together as combat pilots in World War I.  Only one makes it back.

There were no surprises that year as the winners had been announced three months earlier.  That didn’t keep fans from crowding the entrance to the hotel to cheer on their favorite stars.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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If These Walls Could Talk

Marilyn certainly gave it her all.

What comings and goings at The Beverly Hills Hotel.

Marilyn Monroe preferred bungalows numbers 1 and 7 when she stayed there.  However, when she was prepping for her role in Let’s Make Love, a 1960 musical satire about a show within a show, she and her husband, Arthur Miller, resided next to her French co-star, Yves Montand, and his wife, actress Simone Signoret, in Bungalows 20 and 21.  Although the four were friends, it wasn’t a very good idea.

Monroe and Montand began an affair when Miller went to Reno to put finishing touches on his script The Misfits, to star Monroe, which would begin shooting in a few months.  Monroe, as usual, was feeling insecure and despondent.  Miller, in her mind, didn’t care, more concerned about his career than her welfare.  When he returned to Los Angeles and crossed a writer’s strike to rework scenes for Let’s Make Love, already considered a stinker, their marriage was unraveling.

Montand, for his part, was hoping to use his role, a role, by the way, turned down by such leading men as Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, James Stewart, and Yul Brynner, to break into American films.  Once production began, he soon learned what the others already knew: he was simply a foil for Marilyn.   His star would rise or fall with her performance, and he readily succumbed to her advances.

Word of their between-the-sheets activities was uncovered in the usual matter: by the press lurking and skulking about, buying inside information from hotel personnel, only too happy to earn an easy buck.   Neither Monroe nor Montand seemed at all concerned.

Neither was the studio.   Hoping a scandal would save the movie, they contributed to the gossip, sending columnist Hedda Hopper to interview Montand.  And he talked.

“I did everything I could to make things easier for her when I realized that mine was a very small part,” Montand told Hopper.  “The only thing that could stand out in my performance was my love scenes, so naturally I did everything I could to make them realistic.”

With these words, Montand might have saved his marriage, but Let’s Make Love is remembered as a flop.  Monroe, however, singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” was sensational.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Watch Yves Montand watching Marilyn Monroe sing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QKK47bK_WA&feature=related

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What Becomes a Legend Most?

What a history The Beverly Hills Hotel has had.  So many Hollywood legends stayed and played there it became a legend itself.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, 1925

In 1912 the hotel was built for $500,000 in the bean fields at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, halfway between Los Angeles and the sea.  The city of Beverly Hills developed around the property on Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Drive, incorporating two years later.

With newlyweds Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks taking up residence nearby in 1920, the Hollywood community began moving in.   Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and Tom Mix built fabulous homes in the area.  Gloria Swanson stayed there during a divorce, before relocating to a mansion across the street.

Movie stars took advantage of the hotel’s accommodations.  Following polo matches at Will Rogers’ ranch, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Walt Disney, and Darryl Zanuck imbibed at its bar, hence, the name the Polo Lounge.  Humphrey Bogart and the Rat Pack later followed suit.

The pool was another favorite hangout.  George Hamilton cultivated his tan, while Fred Astaire read the industry rags poolside. Faye Dunaway learned the crawl for her role in Mommy Dearest.

Others just relaxed or socialized.  A veritable who’s who in entertainment included Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, Esther Williams, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, and Carol Burnett.  The pool was opened late one night when the Beatles wanted to take a dip.

And then there were the famous bungalows.  Marilyn Monroe preferred numbers 1 and 7.  Howard Hughes stayed off and on for thirty years in Bungalow #4.  Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton frequently occupied Bungalow #5, with a standing order for two bottles of vodka at breakfast and two more at lunch.  That certainly juiced up the tempo.

So what becomes a legend most?  The perfect location, fun in the sun, beautiful people, and a touch of mink.

Celebrating its centennial this year, the hotel is rolling out the red carpet for all its guests.  In its promotional literature it promises “every visitor to ‘The Pink Palace’ is pampered like a celebrity.”  It’s just not likely that you’ll bump into a real celebrity.  They’ve moved on to the next hot spot.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Check out the fabulous icons in the Blackglama print ads:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2vNdROz7xg

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A Love Triangle: She Said. She Said. She Said.

Photo by: marcberryreid

When Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds, it was the biggest scandal since… well, it was one of the biggest scandals since the movie industry had moved to the West Coast.  It involved larger than life personalities of the fifties, a time when marriage was forever and children came first.

When the couple met in 1954, Fisher was a teen idol, rivaling Frank Sinatra in popularity.  Even his army stint in Korea didn’t dim his visibility.

Reynolds had made eleven movies, including Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.  She danced, too.  Modern Screen put her at the top of their list of appealing young female stars, besting such lovelies as Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, and Marilyn Monroe.

As a couple, gossip columnist Louella Parsons called them “America’s Sweethearts.”  Their engagement sold papers.  Their wedding made headlines. The movie they made together, Bundle of Joy, bombed, but the births of Carrie and then Todd were a symbol of their everlasting love.  Their separation was met with astonishment, all the more so because Eddie had taken up with Elizabeth Taylor, the widow of his best friend, movie producer Mike Todd.

The women couldn’t have been more different from each.  Elizabeth was the bad girl, exotic and sultry, like a wine glass of warmed cognac.  Debbie was the girl-next-door, familiar and friendly, like cold lemonade on a summer’s day.  When the press learned of the triangle, they both played their parts perfectly.

Meeting the media camped on her doorstep sometime after midnight once the news broke, Debbie said, “I’m still in love with my husband.  I’m deeply shocked over what has happened.”

Liz, said, “ I don’t feel that I’ve taken Eddie away from Debbie – because they weren’t getting along anyway.”

Debbie said, “Liz must have been misinformed about relations between Eddie and me.  We have never been happier than we have been in the last year.  I would even say ecstatically happy.”

To which Liz said, “I don’t go around breaking up marriages.  Besides, you couldn’t break up a happy marriage.”

After instructing her attorney to go ahead with a divorce, Debbie commented, “It seems unbelievable to say that you can live happily with a man and not know he doesn’t love you.  But that – as God is my witness – is the truth.”

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: that’s hardly the way we think of Hollywood.  Nor is it the end of the story.

When both women had remarried, Debbie to Harry Karl, a shoe tycoon, and Elizabeth to Richard Burton, no description needed, they made up and became friends.  Upon Taylor’s death, Reynolds said, “No one else could equal Elizabeth’s beauty and sexuality… She was a symbol of stardom.  Her legacy will last.”

As far as Eddie, let’s just say he’s a better actor than we remember him, if we remember him at all.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Not quite sure what Eddie Fisher sounds like?  Here he sings “I’m Always Hearing Wedding Bells”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQ2ubf-2BXg

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Wedding Bell Blues — The First of a Series

Wedding Bell Bliss. Photo by: *Lou*

“I always used to think that marriages were a simple affair.  Boy meets girl.  Falls  in love.  They get married.  Have babies.  Eventually the babies grow up and meet other babies. They fall in love.  Get married.  Have babies. And so on and on and on.  Looked at that way, it’s not only simple, it’s downright monotonous.  But I was wrong. I figured without the wedding.”

So says Spencer Tracy as Stanley T. Banks in Father of the Bride in 1950.

Throughout the movie Banks tries to keep the wedding plans for his daughter, played by Elizabeth Taylor in her first adult role, from spinning out of control.  Good luck!

Every expense is mind-blowing.  Four-hundred dollars for a wedding cake?  Eighty-five dollars for an orchestra?  “You mean we pay for the church?” “What are people going to say when I’m in the gutter because I tried to put on a wedding like a Roman emperor?” he asks his wife.

But Joan Bennett as the mother of the bride understands. “A wedding. A church wedding. Well it’s, it’s what every girl dreams of.  A bridal dress, the orange blossoms, the music. It’s something lovely to remember all the rest of her life,” she explains. “And something for us to remember, too.

So, too, were Taylor’s nuptials to Nicky Hilton, son of Conrad Hilton of Hilton hotels.  It took place in May, one month before the movie was released.

In preparation for her wedding day money was certainly no object.  Elizabeth and her mother traveled to Chicago for her sterling silver flatware, Limoges china, Swedish crystal, and Italian lace-trimmed sheets.  And then they went on to New York to put together her trousseau.  All bills were sent to her future husband.

On the big day her studio, MGM, did its part, making sure everything was perfect, her gown, her hair, her make up.  And it was.

The excitement on the streets was palpable. Crowds lined the route to the Church of The Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.  When Elizabeth, then only eighteen years old, stepped out of the limousine, ten thousand onlookers cheered.

Invitations had gone out to the who’s who of Hollywood.  Mickey Rooney, who had been one of her leading men, was there with his third wife.  After the formal Roman Catholic ceremony seven hundred guests attended the reception at the Bel Air Country Club.

The groom, who had practically swept his bride off her feet in planting a wet one, was actually less than enthusiastic about the event.  The marriage wasn’t consummated for three days.

The couple officially separated in December after seven months, and she received her divorce decree at the end of January, 1951.

If only Elizabeth had listened to the warning signs.  Good friends had told her that Hilton was a gambler, a drinker, and a womanizer.  Then again, she was just getting started.


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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In Hollywood, an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting fifty percent of the publicity.

— Lauren Bacall

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Poseidon Adventure Revisited

Looking for a good disaster flick this summer, something to take your mind off soaring temperatures and a sinking economy?  Try the Poseidon Adventure.  Make sure it’s the 1972 original.

Captain Harrison: The Greek God Poseidon. God of storms, tempests, earthquakes, and other miscellaneous natural disasters. Quite an ill-tempered fellow. Photo by: Dunechaser.

In this action-packed journey to 20,000 leagues under the sea,  a mountainous ninety-foot tidal wave capsizes a luxury cruise ship.  Captain Harrison, played by Leslie Nielson in all seriousness, and his officers are tossed overboard within the first few minutes of the film.  The passengers, now standing on the ceiling of the ballroom on the bottom deck dressed in all get out to welcome the New Year, must fend for themselves.

Most follow to their death the purser, an arrogant bean counter who thinks he really runs the ship.  A ragtag group, however, goes their own way.

It’s like Chutes and Ladders and Dungeons and Dragons combined, as the dirty and sopping wet dozen seek the light, plunging down dark corridors and twisted pathways, avoiding electrical fires, and clambering into flooded rooms.

The object is to ascend to the top where they can break through the bottom of the thinnest part of the liner’s hull before the ship sinks.  It’s a close call.  Only six of them make it.

What a troupe! Gene Hackman won an Oscar for best Actor for The French Connection the previous year.  Here he plays the Reverend Frank Scott, the leader of the motley ensemble. He fervently believes that God helps those who help themselves and insists his followers do the same.  “Sitting on our butts is not going to help us either,” he lectures. “Maybe by climbing out of here, we can save ourselves.”

Ernest Borgnine, a 1956 Oscar winner for Marty, plays Lieutenant Detective Mike Rogo, a burly, hot-tempered man with a prissy side.  “You better watch your language, Preacher,” he warns the reverend,  “You sound like you come from the slum or something.”

Shelley Winters takes on the role of the fat lady, Mrs. Belle Rosen who is accompanying her husband to see their grandson for the first time.  A former championship swimmer she rescues Scott from drowning.  “In the water,” she explains, “I’m a very skinny lady.”  For her efforts, Winters won her second Oscar.

The actors also include Jack Albertson, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin,  Roddy McDowell,  and Stella Stevens.  You can figure out who wore the hot pants.

Sure, the dialogue dates from the last century and the script is cheesy.  That’s part of the fun.  Hollywood just doesn’t make movies like it used to.

For a recent perspective on the Poseidon Adventure, visit: http://spectator.org/archives/2012/01/18/that-sinking-feeling

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserve