Sunday, March 18, 2018

Life with the Invincible Bette Davis

Time Warner’s Turner and Warner Bros. reached a deal to stock Turner’s FilmStruck with more than 600 classic Hollywood films each month from the Warner Bros. library. At the same time, WB’s Warner Archive subscription-streaming service — launched in 2013 — will be shut down, and current customers will be migrated over to FilmStruck. Titles in Warner Bros.’ catalog coming to FilmStruck include many that have never been available on a subscription video-on-demand platform. Those include “Casablanca,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Singin’ In the Rain,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Music Man,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Thin Man,” “Cat People,” “A Night At The Opera,” “An American In Paris” and “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” In addition, FilmStruck will introduce new curated themes around WB’s Hollywood classics such as “Rogers & Astaire: The Complete Collection,” “Neo-Noir,” and a “Star of the Week” theme featuring titles with Bette Davis, Hepburn and Tracy, Ava Gardner and others. Source:

Bette Davis was the first person to receive 10 Academy Award nominations and she twice won for Best Actress. The first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, and the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Davis was in the twilight of her career when the two met, but Kathryn Sermak still witnessed the flamboyant actress’s uncompromising work ethic in her final roles. “I lived with her for several years – it was like a mother/daughter relationship – and she became my best friend. Miss D was not only incredibly generous to me but very fair. I only know that when I first started working for her, Miss D and Bede were super, super close. Whenever she was on a set, photos of her children would come out for display in the dressing rooms. She was very proud of her family. Miss D was such a giving person and always believed in giving to others while she was alive. She gave Michael the Oscar she won for ‘Dangerous,’ and me the one for ‘Jezebel. ’ She told me I would know what to do with it one day.” 

The 1938 “Jezebel” Oscar sold at Christie's auction house for $578,000 which Sermak says at the time “was the highest paid for an actress’s Oscar.” The sale of the Oscar helped fund scholarships for aspiring actresses and actors through the Bette Davis Foundation. Sermak says of B.D. Hyman's My Mother's Keeper: “that book was such a huge betrayal I would never have believed her daughter could have done anything like that.” Still, she maintains, “my book is not about B.D., and I tried to take the high road. But Miss D said, ‘One day, you will tell the story.’” Sermak adds: “I want Miss D to be proud,  she was my teacher, and my mentor. From the response at the many book signings I’ve done, it’s clear people still love Bette Davis. I realize they’re not coming to see me, but want a part of Miss D.” The love between these two women—platonic, aspirational, and nurturing—is the capstone of Miss D & Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis. It is a type of female bond rarely portrayed in either books or cinema.

Bette Davis would often call Kathryn Sermak her “chum-friend-daughter.” “She was always the greatest supporter of women,” Sermak explains. “What she didn’t like was that women could be back-biting. She always said that women should empower other women—just like what men do in a boys’ club. She really did teach me everything – Discretion, respect. She was the most honest, respectful person. It didn't matter if you were the elevator person, she would greet them all. Always respect, she said. Everybody has a job to do. You're no higher or lower. Your fans are your bread and butter, the ones who pay the money to go to your movies.” 

The recent TV series Feud painted a picture of Davis as a difficult character in the actress' rivalry with Joan Crawford. Sermak implies that the tension between Davis and Crawford was born from the latter’s thwarted attempt to romantically woo the former.  “Joan did have a crush on Miss Davis, but Miss Davis is a man’s woman,” says Sermak. Feud is entertaining; it's not accuracy. Miss D was always the first to admit when she was wrong. That's what a strong person does. She taught me about women – you bond together. She loved men, but she was supportive of women.” Of her last husband, Gary Merrill, Davis had said: "Gary was macho but none of my husbands was ever man enough to become Mr Bette Davis." Relationships and her abortions were not something Davis discussed with her ing√©nue assistant, although Kathryn learned about men from her employer. “She talked me through the stages of having boyfriends. She certainly helped me with Pierre [one significant other] and his messiness.” It became a competition between Pierre and Miss D for Kathryn, and it was clear Pierre stood no chance. The most difficult man in Bette's life was son-in-law Jeremy, married to her biological daughter, Barbara, known as B.D. They met when B.D. was 15 and he was 29, at the Cannes Film Festival. Jeremy was the British nephew of American film executive Eliot Hyman. Miss D was being escorted by the director Robert Aldrich – who, by the way, she never had an affair with, as they insinuated in Feud – and she needed an escort for her daughter. Jeremy went to pick up B.D., who was tall, slender and very striking, and she fell in love with her handsome companion."

Central to the book is a family reunion for July 4 Independence Day celebrations, when tensions reached a head between Bette and Jeremy. It had been a huge operation, with Bette and Kathryn preparing to make sure everything would be perfect for the arrival of the family for the holiday in a house in Huntington Bay. "She spared nothing for her family because she loved them so much." In an argument about whether there are clams in the Bay, the two personalities clashed. B.D.'s book was an enormous shock to Bette. "The betrayal – that was worse than the stroke. Miss D was completely blindsided by it. That's what killed her – a broken heart. She loved B.D. more than anything. She loved her adopted children and treated everybody fairly, but there was that mother connection with B.D. I once asked her, 'How did you give your daughter a lake?' and she said: 'A lake of money.'" She thought she wanted to die, so I exploded: "If you want to die, go ahead, we're going to fight this together." Miss D would not, says Kathryn, have liked today's Hollywood. "She wouldn't approve. She knew she and that world were going. Then came animation – it was just different times." Source:

Katharine Hepburn claimed in an interview for People Magazine in 1976 (shocking coming from an actress with such liberal background): "Most films today are about lunatics and degenerates. I try to avoid degenerates, because I think too much has been done for people who are totally alien to decent society. I would line them up and eliminate them." Unlike Hepburn, Bette Davis’s legacy is ultimately predicated upon her unique ability to understand and fully inhabit truly unlikable characters. She excelled at playing wounded and wounding women without an air of apology or condescension toward the characters (or audience). She played complicated characters whose monstrosity sometimes turned physical in the form of thick, mask-like makeup or physical scars. It isn’t that there haven’t been other actresses to take up this mantle. But none have done so with the consistency, honesty, and sheer delight that Bette brings to the screen. But more than anything, Davis turned anger into an art form and showed the humanity in the kind of women our culture often ignores. Bette Davis’s legacy is even more personal in the way she feels like a voice, an image reaching across the darkness to tell us there’s another way to survive. Source:

For all of the media buzz over B.D. Hyman’s memoir of her life with mother Bette Davis, My Mother’s Keeper is a pathetically unrevealing book. When rumors of the book began leaking out several months ago, columnists speculated that the tome was going to be a Mommie Dearest–style scandalfest about another beloved superstar. Unlike Christina Crawford’s catalog of genuine horrors, B.D. Hyman has filled pages with some of the silliest and most mundane examples that have ever been committed to print. Based on the “evidence” in this book, Hyman’s case against Bette Davis would be thrown out of any court. Hyman gives us a few anecdotes involving heavy drinking, and egomania on the part of Davis. I doubt that this behavior is unusual in most families, let alone the high-pressured world of Hollywood stardom. Like so many familial mudslingers, Hyman tries to paint herself a passive victim of her mother. Rather than generate sympathy, however, it makes her look dumb. Hyman rails hysterically at Bette Davis in the manner of someone who wants to blame her mother for all of her own neurotic behavior. The book verges on parody in the section in which Hyman attacks her mother for passing off Stouffer’s frozen macaroni as a home-cooked dish (the woman includes a step-by-step description of Davis’ deception—I kid you not!). My Mother’s Keeper lacks an exposition of the sort of bizarre traits that Joan Crawford supposedly possessed. While Hyman’s report depicts Davis as an imperfect woman, some readers might react by saying, “So what?” Aren’t there a few other imperfect mothers in the world? And do we expect a movie queen to behave like a well-adjusted suburban housewife (assuming there is such a creature)? Epilog to review: Shut up, B.D. —The Sunday Post (1985) by Joe Meyers

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Happy Anniversary, Jerry Lewis!

Jerry Lewis (The Joke Explained) video. Happy Anniversary!

Don’t try to sound wise or informed about Jerry Lewis, don’t try to shed light. He rejects being understood, quite properly, and his impulses live in darkness—a fact Jerry’s every twitch elucidated. The countless commentators who worked through the decades to label Jerry, judge him, pass sentence, never sat with him at the table, yet eagerly framed him in personal, not professional, terms. It is interesting that Jerry, an unwavering source of brilliance, was somehow not a source of illumination. Illumination was neither his method nor his path, although he was a blinding sun. The confession speech at the end of The Nutty Professor, where he breaks up during “That Old Black Magic,” then stands on the stage and tells the story of his life: it is pure sunshine, if also, simultaneously, degradation. One positively needed him to keep on, to be an ultimate survivor, a defier of time who would never lose his path in the desert of the real (Zizek). To claim that at the end he was no longer young is an immaterial lie, because he was young in a way that hurt us to consider: embarrassingly young, insouciantly young, proudly young, critically young, a person with young sensitivities, to whom rudeness was an attack. 

Jerry was young against the tide. He had succeeded in retaining what so many of us are pleased to surrender. It was charming and affronting in Visit to a Small Planet that the alien he played was all of, and nothing but Jerry Lewis, and that, coming to earth for a short while (he liked to say, “I will not come this way again”) he did not offer the creepy sagacity of Robert Wise’s Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still but gave instead unfamiliarity, wonder, awkwardness. Magic, which is not to imply that he acted without limit or responsibility, that he was always, somewhere underneath, “The Kid” audiences around the world came to know so well. Forget mnemonics, forget sensibility, forget pointing to something. Just use your mouth, and then recall how Jerry used his mouth, chewing and tasting language and soundfulness. It is possible to mean “saying” without meaning “that which one says.” Children do this all the time. And so do drunkards. And people suffering from certain neurological disorders. And comedians. Memories change in the winds, but their status as memories does not. They persist as iconic images. Iconic Jerry Lewis has permanence. Or the helpless, profitless attempts at well-behaved articulation, the wholly civil Jerry, as when Julius Kelp needs to explain something to his Dean (Del Moore), with the tongue emerging from the teeth. Meaning only goodness, trying very hard. But unable to meet the vicious demands of modernity, the  heartless, incompassionate orders from above, and because of a nature over which he has no authority. 

We have all been there, initiates to a much cultivated ceremony that we do not grasp, whose features are all mysteries, and surrounded by a coterie of uninterested insiders who have forgotten their own initiations and treat us like dirt. We have all been there, and have forgotten. When he invokes the memory, we resist. We say, with our lips turned down, “Such a clutz!” Indeed, clutzes we are all, but have forgotten, thinking now, in our elegance, that because we are socialized, because we survived the torture that Jerry never escapes, we were always naturally this way, always cool, and it is only with him that there is something very wrong. I love the delicate way he sings Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s “By Myself” in The Delicate Delinquent, because, as need hardly be said, in the late 1950s so many people took delinquency as a serious problem they were incapable of conceiving how a delinquent could be delicate. Hollywood or Bust, his previous film, had been his final collaboration with Dean Martin. Dean was a crooner, like Mel Torme, like Sinatra, like Tony Bennett. Jerry used a harshly tuned whine, like an animal in pain. Jerry was always in sympathy with the “animal” in pain. The question with Dean and Jerry was never who could sing better but which voice we preferred to hear. I was supposed to prefer Dean, but I preferred Jerry.

Life happens. Erosion happens. Jerry lived his life in his art, he gave his life in his art. Perhaps every Jerry fan has his own Jerry but I have surely never met a Jerry fan whose own Jerry was a Jerry I recognize.  I learned to love the Jerry who was in love with Anna Maria Alberghetti in Cinderfella. The Jerry running up and down the stairs to carry a telephone message to Dean in Artists and Models. The Jerry sternly lecturing Robert De Niro in King of Comedy. My own Jerry—the single Jerry I find both impossible and wondrous—is the Morty Tashman who conducts an invisible jazz band in the “board room” sequence of The Errand Boy. It is mime, it is conducting, it is cigar-lighting and puffing to the beat, it is irony, it is sarcasm, it is desperation, it is supreme confidence, it is music. Oh, but Jerry was music. Jerry is music. The Jerry who was music has gone, but the music remains. Source:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Feud, Bette Davis' Lonely Life, Aldrich's Baby Jane

Olivia de Havilland, the recipient of two Oscars, for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949), filed a lawsuit against the FX network and Ryan Murphy Productions over her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones in last year’s docudrama Feud: Bette and Joan, about the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, a day before she turned 101. It was also just a few weeks after the Queen bestowed upon de Havilland, whose equally famous and estranged sister Joan Fontaine died in 2013, the title of dame for her services to drama. The last time de Havilland had a case before the California Court of Appeals was in 1944. Risking her career, she sued Warner Brothers to get out of her contract, which she had signed in 1936, and won. 

“When Feud was first being publicised, but before it went on the air, I was interested to see how it would portray my dear friend Bette Davis,” de Havilland wrote in an email. “Then friends and family started getting in touch with me, informing me that my identity was actually being represented on the programme. No one from Fox had contacted me about this to ask my permission, to request my input, or to see how I felt about it. When I then learned that the Olivia de Havilland character called my sister Joan ‘a bitch’ and gossiped about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s personal and private relationship, I was deeply offended.” The FX network says that de Havilland’s consent was not needed, because Feud falls squarely under protected speech around fictional works in the public interest. Additionally, it contends that her portrayal is positive. “She is portrayed as a wise, respectful friend and counsellor to Bette Davis, and a Hollywood icon with a unique perspective on the past.” Source:

'Feud' is a wildly overused Hollywood word. Did Bette Davis and Joan Crawford ever feud during the filming of Baby Jane? No! Joan Crawford and me got along famously much to the huge disappointment of the Hollywood press. Until we were cast as the costars of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I knew Miss Crawford only slightly. Our paths had seldom crossed, even though for three years we had adjoining dressing rooms at Warners. For reasons known only to herself, when she came to Warner Bros. from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer she had asked for one next to mine. We did not compete for parts since we were opposing types of actresses. In truth, I did not know her any better after the film was completed. Twenty years after we had worked together, and years after her death, we are still a team in the public’s mind. Joan was a pro. She was always punctual, always knew her lines. I will always thank her for giving me the opportunity to play the part of “Baby Jane” Hudson. 

The budget of Whatever happened to Baby Jane was under a million dollars—small by any standards. Before 1960 there were no thirty-million-dollar films. Then came a new and absolutely stupid age of megabucks, in which stars received salaries that once would have financed the costliest epic. Joan and I agreed to accept salaries of $50,000, far below our usual standards. Baby Jane was one of my favorite parts. During our first week of shooting, Henry Farrell visited the set and said, “My God, you look just exactly as I pictured Baby Jane.” Compliments from authors always mean the most to me. When I danced on the beach in the famous scene that ends the film, and my face seemed to glow as I twirled up to the ice cream stand, people swore I had changed my makeup. I had not changed a thing. I changed inwardly and it reflected on my face. I was nominated for an Oscar for my performance. Joan did everything she could possibly think of to keep me from winning. She campaigned openly in New York, contacting all the Oscar nominees who were in plays in New York that year. She offered to accept their Oscars if they won and were unable to attend the ceremony. She also contacted all the members of the Academy who lived in New York, requesting that they vote for one of the nominees then on Broadway.

Leaving aside the fact that I felt I deserved to win, the rule of thumb was that an Oscar winner usually added at least a million dollars to the box-office receipts of a film. Since Joan had a percentage of the movie, how Medean, how foolish she was to work against my winning. I was the actress and she was the big Movie Star. There is a need for both in this profession, but, my dear, at times the woman could be insane! For an actor, the Old Hollywood had one distinct advantage: the contract system, as much as we may have felt abused by it. With the contract system you made one picture right after another. It might take ten years, but with a little luck along the way you could become a star. You had to contend with a good share of inferior scripts in the beginning, but in spite of this the public gradually got to know you. There is no continuity to careers anymore. They no longer write scripts for actors, they just cast them. Reading a newspaper today you will see huge ads for films you never heard of, starring young players you have heard of even less. The world’s problems are wars, drugs, crime, political corruption—all the ills that involve men much more than women.

"Hollywood expected an  eruption when Joan Crawford and Bette Davis got together for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But it turned out to be love in bloom," Hedda Hopper wrote in her column. Joan Crawford was famous for developing 'meaningful' relationships with either her male star or director. She felt these relationships gave her power, and there is no doubt in my mind they did. I have known men who consider it a test of manhood to show no more feeling than a Greek statue. I have often advised young women to beware of a man who never cries. When I was nineteen, I was proposed to by a student at Yale with the proviso that I give up my desire to have a career as an actress. He put a ring on my finger. I wore it for four or five days, then returned it, telling him it would be impossible for me to comply with his request. I never wanted to be a man. I always felt like a woman. I had no penis envy. I have loved it all and would relish living almost all of it over again. On my tombstone it should be written: “She did it the hard way.” That is an accurate description of my life and my career.  —The Lonely Life (ekindle, 2017) by Bette Davis

Watch the final scene at the beach, wherein Crawford’s Blanche ‘admits’ to Davis’s Baby Jane that Jane was not responsible for the accident that crippled Blanche, but Blanche was. Concomitant with the raves accorded Davis’s Jane in that moment is the assumption that Blanche is telling the truth about how she got crippled. But we never see the two women’s faces during the accident scene that precedes the film’s credits. And, as Blanche describes things, it’s simply not a plausible scenario. She claims that she drove the car, wanting to crush Jane, and that the impact, after the drunken Jane got out of the way, snapped her spine. That’s hardly likely from a crash of several feet at a few miles per hour. Less likely is the claim that, with a severed spine, Blanche crawled out of the car to sit by the fence, after a dazed Jane ran away, to frame her sister. It simply is not a real possibility, even given ‘movie magic.’ More likely is that Blanche, after years of her sister’s abuse, is trying to get the final knife in her sister, as she believes she is dying, and thus trying to plant a final guilt of wasting her own life in Jane’s mind. Also, she may very well be looking to save her own skin, and believing that an ‘admission’ will buy her a reprieve. Either interpretation, though, makes more sense than the usual implausible one. Aside from the implausibility of a newly paralyzed woman having the strength and mind to pull herself from a wreck to frame her sister, there is a certain dissonance between Crawford's words and her facial expression in her final scene. Source:

As David Cochran notes in America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era, the role of the grotesque formed a key part of an American post-war critical modernism that attacked the institutional values of a repressive culture. Aldrich uses this form in a manner intended to destabilise normal audience perceptions as seen in Jane’s haggish, grotesque persona and Blanche’s depiction as a victimised post-Griffith heroine. For most of the film Jane appears to be the monstrous grotesque “other” until the climax reveals who is the actual monster but in a manner defying conventional audience identification and rendering any official moral judgment hypocritical. As Edwin T. Arnold and Eugene I. Miller recognise in The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich: “Despite appearances, despite unexpected revelations, we can never take absolute sides with either Blanche or Jane. They are both villains, and they are both victims. By the film’s end, to condemn either would be an act of supreme hypocrisy.” Source: 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

“Marilyn, Madness and Me”, All the Beautiful Girls

Cal State University, San Bernardino, Palm Desert is doing a month-long tribute to the Rat Pack and they’re now presenting local writer Frank Furino’s stage fantasy of what could have caused Marilyn Monroe's death in “Marilyn, Madness and Me” at the school’s Indian Wells Theater. The story is “an intriguing fantasy that speculates on many rumors about legendary events in Marilyn Monroe's life and fits them into a pat, plausible hypothesis." The Rat Pack celebration continues March 16-17 with a tribute show to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., and March 23 with cocktails at Melvyn's, where Sinatra held his pre-wedding party in 1976. 

And watch for the world premiere of "Becoming Marilyn Monroe" at the next American Documentary Film Festival April 6-14. “Marilyn, Madness and Me,” a play by Frank Furino as part of the Rat Pack in the Desert celebration, 6:30 p.m. wine reception, 7 p.m. play, Indian Wells Theater, CSUSB Palm Desert campus, 37500 Cook St., Palm Desert. Source:

In All the Beautiful Girls (2018), a novel by Elizabeth J. Church's, Lily Decker becomes a Las Vegas showgirl in the 1960s. Her feathery, sequined reinvention on the Vegas strip introduces a world of romance, riches and fame, but perhaps only love and a true sense of agency can banish the shadow of her past. This touching and deftly written novel moves from the tragedy of untold pain into a glamorous world of Ratpackers and movie stars. Las Vegas in the 1960s with its neon lights, topless showgirls, high rollers, glamorous superstars like Frank Sinatra, is the glittering backdrop for this novel. Feeling guilty for the car accident that killed Lily's parents, ‘The Aviator,’ whom Lily nicknames Sloan, funds her dancing classes. As a showgirl in Vegas, she wears sky-high headdresses, stilettoes, and costumes dripping with feathers and rhinestones. Gaudy Vegas and life in the sixties at the dawning of more liberal times is conjured skillfully in a novel that also explores the complex issues that era presented for our loveable yet flawed heroine.  Source:

Miami Beach, Florida, February 1965: Frank Sinatra was going to be performing at the Fontainebleau Hotel for a few dates and had invited me to fly over with him from Vegas. Frank never referred to him and the guys as the Rat Pack. That came from the newspapers. He always referred to their meetings in Vegas and their shows at the Sands, as the Summit. The limo took us along Collins Avenue, which ran parallel to the beach, and before long the hotel loomed ahead of us. It also fronted the beach and was the most lavish hotel in Miami Beach. Frank had filmed a scene from the movie A Hole in the Head at the hotel in 1959. In 1960 it was also the setting for Jerry Lewis’ movie The Bellboy. Jerry shrugged, looking up at the dancing stage. “I wouldn’t mind meetin’ some of them girls.” I said: “You’re such a bullshitter, Jerry.” He jerked his head back to me. “Huh?” “You’re way too much of a shy gentleman to meet those girls,” I said. “Maybe,” he said, almost indignantly, “I ain’t as shy as I used to be.” He’d been super shy with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, but maybe he had changed since then. I remember he was big brother friendly with those ladies. —"I Only Have Lies For You: A Rat Pack Mystery" (2018) by Robert J. Randisi

A new study by a group of psychologists at SUNY Buffalo led by associate professor of psychology Julie Bowker is the first to show  that a type of social withdrawal could have a positive effect – they found that creativity was linked specifically to unsociability. They also found that unsociability had no correlation with aggression (shyness and avoidance did). Some people withdraw out of fear or anxiety. This type of social withdrawal is associated with shyness. This was significant because while previous research had suggested that unsociability might be harmless, Bowker and colleagues’ research paper showed that it could actually be beneficial. Source:

Jerry kept stealing glances at me. He was completely drawn to my orbit, acting like a schoolboy pursuing his first crush. I thought he was so cute in the way he kept trying to sneak a peak at me which made me feel so sexy. Without saying a word he'd grab me by the waist and kiss me. When there were people around, Jerry usually acted like the perfect putz. Nobody suspected that we were amorous with each other. There was something about his naivet√© that made me as hot as a firecracker. One night I was seated on the edge of the bed, peeling off my stockings. “I don’t care what kind of girl you are,” he said. “I'm sure it's my kind!” the jokes never seemed to cease with Jerry. That night he looked a little wistful and he mumbled: “I don't really expect you to believe me but I care about you.” That caught me off guard and I just said “you’re being awfully decent and I believe you.” —"Jerry Lewis, the Bombshell and  The Last Vegas Show" by Jeanne Harvey Source:

In most relationships we don’t encounter an entire person; we experience a composite of the bits of that person we want. The felt burden of this is what, in a poem, D H Lawrence termed ‘image-making love.’ The truth is we like to use people. For validation, for entertainment, for simple relief from boredom. Perhaps (as Marx argued) this dynamic is intensified by capitalism, which makes commodities of people, transactions of relationships. But our instrumentalism runs deeper than this. Capitalism only exploits what is already lurking there: our all-too-easy tendency toward a vicious, unwavering selfishness. Real love, the sort of love people wander through their lives craving, wants above all to distance itself from lust by shedding its preening self-regard. Falling in love is partly the terrifying realisation that you have stepped into reciprocity; that someone is now able to cause you terrible pain. Even if indiscriminate love is impossible, it is a glorious and gloriously daunting ideal. Even ‘in the mud and scum of things,’ said Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘there alway, alway something sings.’  Source:

Monday, March 05, 2018

Frank Tashlin, Jerry Lewis, The Age of Anxiety

Dorothy Dandridge has some fun with Jerry Lewis before she sings "Julie," at the 1957 Academy Awards ceremony. Ms. Dandridge, who was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Carmen Jones (1954) at the 1955 ceremony, had just presented the award for Special Effects with Mr. Lewis.

The idea that we are all roles played clumsily by our fantasies and desires is psychologically corrosive stuff, especially coming from a film as garishly colored as The Nutty Professor. The relationship between Lewis’ two performances—one an extreme version of a klutzy persona he’d been developing since the 1940s, the other an over-the-top self-parody—is open-ended. “You might as well like yourself,” murmurs Kelp in his climactic speech, the sweetest and most poignant moment in Lewis’ body of work. “Just think about all the time you’re gonna have to spend with you.” But which “you” is that exactly? One can debate The Nutty Professor’s merits as comedy (we here at The A.V. Club happen to think it’s pretty damn funny), but it’s definitely art. That’s more than you can say about most serious, Oscar-winning performances. Source:

The publication of Ethan de Seife’s lively study of Frank Tashlin in 2012 provides an opportunity to reconsider the work and legacy of one of the most inventive practitioners of American screen comedy. Tashlin gained experience as a director by working for several key animation studios through the 1930s and early 1940s – including Disney, Columbia’s Screen Gems and the Leon Schlesinger unit at Warner Brothers, purveyors of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies gagfests. Despite personal friction between them, Schlesinger clearly appreciated Tashlin's contribution to the stylized comic antics of Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny and company. As de Seife shows through his admirably detailed analysis, Tashlin brought a distinctive style to animated comedy. As cartoon historian Michael Barrier points out, Tashlin’s work for Warner Brothers was distinguished by an unusually ‘cinematic’ approach to animation, as he packed his 7-minute short films “with cartoon equivalents for claustrophobic closeups, deep focus, and oblique camera angles, in scenes that suggested F.W. Murnau more than Walt Disney”. In between engagements at the cartoon studios in the 1930s, Tashlin wrote material for comic performers at the Hal Roach lot, contributing to films featuring Laurel and Hardy. From the mid 1940s, he worked as a gagman-for-hire on films starring the Marx Brothers, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Bob Hope. His valuable input into the Hope vehicles Monsieur Beaucaire (1946) and The Paleface (1948) led to Tashlin being entrusted with directing retakes for The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) which was a box-office success and amply demonstrated Tashlin’s talent as a director of live-action comedy. He would helm 22 films over the next 17 years - ending his Hollywood career where he began, with Bob Hope (in the 1968 wartime farce The Private Navy of  Sgt. O’Farrell).

Serving frequently as both writer and director, and sometimes as producer, Tashlin specialized exclusively in comedy. While several of his films rely on narratively articulated comic scenarios – especially the sexual comedies Marry Me Again (1953), Susan Slept Here (1954) and The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956) – half of Tashlin’s feature output is built around comedians who were trained in the performance milieus of US variety entertainment (vaudeville, burlesque, Borscht Belt resort hotels, or nightclubs). After The Lemon Drop Kid, he made two further comedies with Bob Hope – Tashlin’s most sustained comic partnership, however, was with Jerry Lewis, whom he directed in two of the final Martin & Lewis screen vehicles, and then in six of Lewis’s subsequent solo ventures. As de Seife suggests, Lewis’s hugely contested status, as both comedian and filmmaker, has tended to overshadow Tashlin’s critical reputation, but their collaboration was clearly crucial to both men.

During his late 1950s heyday, Tashlin was championed by critics of the influential French screen journals Positif and Cahiers du Cinema. Jean Luc Godard coined the adjective ‘Tashlinesque‘, which de Seife borrows for his examination of Tashlin’s cinematic career from his early cartoon work through to his final, faltering films of the 1960s. Tashlinesque offers a deft combination of textual analysis and historical research. Tashlin’s approach to screen comedy was influenced not by the European wit and sophistication of Ernst Lubitsch but by the distinctively American tradition of popular humor that was nurtured in the performer-centered realm of variety entertainment. This vaudeville aesthetic, as Henry Jenkins (1992) terms it, provides the common ancestor of the Schlesinger unit’s gag-based cartoons, the slapstick comedy of the silent era, and the films of subsequent comedians such as Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis. For De Seife, Tashlin’s work “provides the most extensive, compelling case study of the deep generic connections between Hollywood animation and the American comic tradition”.

Recent years have seen a resurgence of critical interest in Lewis as a performer, a filmmaker and a hotly contested celebrity. For his part, Tashlin always referred to Lewis in friendly and respectful terms. In a recent interview with Fujiwara, Lewis distinguishes films such as Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958), to which the two men contributed equally, from Cinderfella (1960), which was more a Lewisian project, whereas in Who’s Minding the Store? (1963) and The Disorderly Orderly (1964) Tashlin was the main creative force. By contrast, de Seife argues that Rock-a-Bye Baby, Who’s Minding the Store? and The Disorderly Orderly are all closer to the films Lewis directed than to Tashlin’s work, asserting that Lewis’s input serves to jam the transmission of Tashlin’s comic specialties. As he sees it, these are schizophrenic films that are torn between Lewis’s sentimentality and modularity and Tashlin’s interests in bawdy humor and the gag-narrative axis. 

As a director, de Seife comments, “Lewis pushed to extremes the use of a modular, gag-based narrative”. Instead of regarding this as a purely negative attribute, one could flip the valuation around to suggest that this approach liberated Lewis’s filmmaking from fictional constraints and allowed him to explore other structural possibilities. The Ladies Man (1961) and The Errand Boy (1962) are highly idiosyncratic and imaginative films that question orthodox understandings of comic practice and response, with Lewis refining Tashlin’s use of the non-gag and investing it with deconstructive purpose. It is simply not the case, as de Seife asserts, that Lewis jettisoned sex-oriented comedy to pursue a wholesome star image. Even a cursory glance at such Lewis-directed films as The Ladies Man or The Nutty Professor (1963) attests to the centrality of sexuality to his work, although he offers a far less conformist understanding of sexuality than is found in Tashlin’s films. 

Joanna Rapf argues, for example, that The Ladies Man delivers a critique of patriarchal assumptions. In this film the woman-shy Lewis figure Herbert H. Heebert enters a stylized world of aspiring female performers, where he is allowed to shake off the demands of patriarchal masculinity. De Seife’s blindness in this regard seems a product of his self-appointed mission to rescue Tashlin from Lewis’s shadow, and this does impair his otherwise valuable study. One could even argue that the sexual humor de Seife values so highly, and so unquestioningly, may actually be one of the most significant limitations of Tashlin’s comic art.  As Lewis’s directorial career flourished through the 1960s, Tashlin’s faltered. The book is rather tentative when it comes to identifying the causes of Tashlin’s decline, although de Seife does point to the presence of waning or unsuitable (Doris Day) stars. De Seife ends with two chapters that depart from the chronological structure that coordinates the rest of his monograph. Chapter 7 seeks to evaluate Tashlin’s contribution to US cinema by comparing him to auteur-directors such as Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks, who invested their films with their creative personalities and, on the other hand, to efficient technicians such as Norman Z. McLeod and Norman Taurog, who helmed more generic ‘program pictures’. He concludes that Tashlin was a director who blurred the line between the two groups, as “an auteur who directed program pictures.” —Spirited Vulgarity: Frank Tashlin as Comic (2013) by Frank Krutnik

The Age of Anxiety? Birth Cohort Change in Anxiety and Neuroticism, 1952-1993: Two new meta-analytic studies show that anxiety has increased substantially since the 1950's. In fact, anxiety has increased so much that typical schoolchildren during the 1980's reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients did during the 1950's. The findings appear in the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. First, large panel studies have consistently found that younger cohorts show more, and longer, episodes of depression. Some psychologists have gone so far as to label this effect a modern epidemic of depression (Seligman, 1995) or age of melancholy (Hagnell, Lanke, Rorsman). Other authors have noted that lack of connection in a society may produce alienation and feelings of loneliness and despair. Western societies have experienced a noticeable decrease in "social capital" (broadly defined as social connectedness and a sense of community) since the 1960s (Putnam, 2000). 

"The results of the study suggest that cases of depression will continue to increase in the coming decades," says psychologist Jean M. Twenge, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University. The type of anxiety looked at in these studies is known as trait anxiety, the individual differences in anxiety-proneness, which is different than state anxiety, a temporary emotion experienced due to a particular situation. Why the increase in anxiety? In both studies, anxiety levels are associated with low social connectedness and high environmental threat. During the study period, social connectedness decreased because of higher divorce rates, more people living alone and a decline in trust in other people. "Our greater autonomy may lead to increased challenges and excitement, but it also leads to greater isolation from others, more threats to our bodies and minds, and thus higher levels of anxiety," said Dr. Twenge. The study also cites increased media coverage as a source of a greater perception of environmental threat since the 1950's. Social connectedness has not improved very much since the early 1990's. "Although divorce rates have decreased somewhat, the percentage of people living alone continues to increase, and levels of trust are still declining," said Dr. Twenge. "Until people feel both safe and connected to others, anxiety is likely to remain high." Source:

The film industry changed drastically during the mid-sixties involving a shift in the tastes of the audience, film techniques and also of the film production. During the fifties, each film studio would put out sixty films per year. In the late sixties and early seventies the entire industry put out roughly sixty films per year. Gloria Jean (born April 14, 1926) co-starred in 26 feature films between 1939 and 1959. Upon the (bad) advice of her agent, Gloria decided not to renew her contract at Universal in 1946, and when she returned to Hollywood, she found diminished interest in her career. Gloria began a second career with Redken, a national cosmetics firm, where she worked until 1993.

Jerry Lewis signed her for a singing role in The Ladies Man (1961), although Gloria appears only as an extra and has no dialogue. It was her last theatrical motion picture. "Jerry Lewis called me. When I walked into his office I saw him smiling. But the important thing is he wanted to help me, to give me a chance to get started on my career again. And as for Jerry's wife Patti, I am sure she realizes that he is one of the kindest, most unselfish men in the world. He's the only other man I've ever met I would compare to Dick [Powell]." Her authorized biography, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven, was published in 2005. Gloria notes perspicaciously that there is a serious lack of original voices in today’s musical landscape. "When you hear somebody sing, they never carry the melody. I can’t believe that the singers today don’t really sing. To me, it isn’t music." 

Quinn O'Hara (1941–2017) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland as Alice Jones. She co-starred in low-budget productions as The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) and Cry of the Banshee (1970). O'Hara's first official acting role that got her into the Screen Actors Guild was a commercial for Lifeogen, which was oxygen in a can in case of emergency. Her big screen debut was in an uncredited bit part in The Errand Boy (1961) directed by Jerry Lewis, where he plays a goofball· hired by the CEO of a movie studio, Paramutual Pictures, to spy on his employees. O'Hara would go on to work with Lewis again in The Patsy (1964), playing the minor role of a cigarette girl. "Jerry was fantastic to work with," exclaimed Quinn. "Of course he was a crazy man but also a real perfectionist. His office had clowns all around it. But Jerry is quite a deep person too and has a lot more depth than people think. He was quite different than he comes across on film." Lewis also hired O'Hara for a role in Who's Minding the Store? (1963), but her scenes were cut. Coincidentally, Lewis' costar in that movie is another fiery redhead, Jill St. John (whom O'Hara describes as a very cruel person).

Sue Casey began the '60's playing a party guest in the musical Bells Are Ringing (1960), starring Judy Holliday and Dean Martin. ("In the musical number 'Drop That Name,' Judy's character looks in this window, and we are all standing around wearing these gorgeous sleek gowns. The dresses were, so tight that we couldn't sit down in them so they had to provide leaning chairs for us.") In 1961, Casey did a bit role in The Errand Boy, her fifth time working with Jerry Lewis. "He is a fascinating guy and way ahead of the times," comments Casey. "He was the first director to use a monitor while filming if he wanted to save the shot. He was always very nice to me. I had been working with a children's charity called The Footlighters for years and he was always very generous towards us." During the '60s, Casey continued playing bit roles in such major MGM and Paramount productions as Where Love Has Gone (1964), and The Carpetbaggers (1964), directed by Edward Dmytryk. —"Drive-In Dream Girls: A Galaxy of B-Movie Starlets of the Sixties" (2012) by Tom Lisanti

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Sinatra in Palm Springs, The Real Jerry Lewis

“Somehow, the myth of Sinatra is very much alive. And you hear people in bars, restaurants, tell stories, tall tales. ‘Oh, I knew Frank. We were friends.’ And you wonder, wait a minute. This can’t be. Is this true?” wondered Leo Zahn, a filmmaker who has directed and photographed more than 600 commercials throughout his career. So he set out to make a whimsical film about all the myths surrounding Sinatra in the desert. But then he met socialite and philanthropist Nelda Linsk who actually knew Sinatra and was a close friend of his latest wife, Barbara Sinatra. “She connected me with a lot of people who I would not have been able to get otherwise,” said Zahn. What he created after two years of interviews, filming, editing and clip approvals, was the documentary “Sinatra in Palm Springs – The Place He Called Home.” It explores Sinatra’s deep attachment to the resort city and the Coachella Valley, which is where he lived for almost 50 years.

The documentary celebrates its world premiere at a sold-out screening on Feb. 20 in Palm Springs during Modernism Week. The film will show again on Feb. 25 as part of Modernism Week’s new film festival called the Architecture Design Art Film Festival which features about 26 films, documentaries and shorts, over three days.The 92-minute Sinatra documentary is Zahn’s second feature-length film. His first was a documentary on architect William F. Cody called "Desert Maverick." His film on Sinatra features more than 65 clips from movies and television appearances and includes interviews with some of Sinatra’s desert friends, family and people who knew him including comedian Tom Dreesen; entertainer Trini Lopez; Desert Sun reporter Bruce Fessier; Sinatra's wife, Barbara; and restaurateur Mel Haber. 

Both Barbara Sinatra and Haber have died since the interviews. The documentary pays tribute to the unique lifestyle Sinatra led in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage and takes viewers to a bygone era when Sinatra ruled the desert. Palm Springs was Sinatra’s retreat. His refuge from all the hubbub of Hollywood. It was also a playground for him and his Rat Pack buddies who visited and wound up living in Palm Springs as well. Source:

The Rat Pack: Neon Nights with the Kings of Cool by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell, was written and published in 1998, just before the death of Frank Sinatra on May 14, 1998. It starts with Humphrey “Bogie” Bogart and his original Rat Pack, which was the shortened variation of “Holmby Hills Rat Pack,” which included Sinatra, Judy Garland, Lauren “Betty” Bacall, Sid Luft, Bogie, Swifty Lazar, Nathaniel Benchly, David Niven, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, and Jimmy Van Heusen. Following that, the book introduces Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and does talk about their breakup, followed by the story of Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and lastly Joey Bishop. Some members came and went in the good graces of Ol’ Blue Eyes, but when you were finished, you were finished. Source:

Camille Paglia on Movies, #MeToo and Modern Sexuality: "The movies have always shown how elemental passions boil beneath the thin veneer of civilization. By their power of intimate close-up, movies reveal the subtleties of facial expression and the ambiguities of mood that inform the alluring rituals of sexual attraction. But movies are receding. Many young people, locked to their miniaturized cellphones, no longer value patient scrutiny of a colossal projected image. Furthermore, as texting has become the default discourse for an entire generation, the ability to read real-life facial expressions and body language is alarmingly atrophying. Endless sexual miscommunication and bitter rancor lie ahead. But thanks to the miracle of technology, most of the great movies of Hollywood history are now easily accessible — a collective epic of complex emotion that once magnificently captured the magic and mystique of sex." Paglia’s new book, Provocations, will be published by Pantheon Books in October 2018.

—Jerry Lewis: “When I’m directing, I become a father; when I write, I perform the man; when I act, I perform the idiot.” —Steven Alan Green, founder of The Laughter Foundation (2010): “You wanna know what fucked me up the most when it came to [meeting] Jerry Lewis? That perhaps in an unintentional way, Jerry Lewis took me through the fourth wall. If you know your comedy terms, that's pretty fucking incredible. I think my life perspective has almost been reversed. Because that's part of what Jerry Lewis did. He in fact, forced me to do that in order to deal with him; that man was not of this earth.” 

The Real Jerry Lewis: Jerry was a master at candidly acting out personal vignettes about three areas of real life—relationships, situations, and predicaments. They form the backbone of his comedy. I tried to understand what he was saying, beyond the words, when I read the notes he sent me; the “I love you’s” written across my makeup mirror at home; and the longer messages I found on my desk. In 1966, one late summer afternoon, I found the following and took it to the garden to read: “To ask how deeply I feel is like asking, ‘Where is God?’ We can answer with nothing more than “if’s” and “maybe’s.” In other words, the answers are really intangibles. My feelings, where my wife is concerned, are very deep and very sacred…She is the very reason I live…for she is the only reason I know that makes living worth anything…and the boys that she produced for me are equally worth it, but one day they’ll leave and then there will be only us… She is the first human thing that has ever cared about me or for me…Oh, there were a few beings that cared, but not enough that I could have survived. It was only when she came into my life that I realized I had a life to live…”

“As I got older, I didn’t much care about being better than them anymore… I just cared about staying alive and getting some degree of respect as a human… After so many years of being made to feel like nothing I guess I worked on being something so much… The responsibility of taking care of the loves I had always had made me feel like, “Why should I care for what one day will discard me anyway?” I don’t know if that’s the case, but it sounds right…and coming from someone who loves those tremendous loves as I do, it certainly confuses me… My constant silence, I think, has been fear… of what my love would think of what I’ve done… fear of doing the wrong thing… and losing the respect I have always felt I got from her…to be placed in the position of being disrespected and disregarded again has always knotted up my insides so badly that silence seemed the only way to avoid the possibility of rejection… very often my hiding was part and parcel of that fear…The feeling of being nothing again, or being looked at with disdain, has, for as long as I can remember, been tearing me up inside… And those tears have come out looking like torment…Well, tormented I am, and have been, and pray one day soon I won’t know the feeling anymore…”

“My wrapping myself up so completely in my work helped for a while, but the “ego” that came across was never there… I have none. But I work desperately at displaying “ego” to cover the real emptiness I know inside… As a director I have found infinite peace because I am to so many an authority, a man who knows, and not someone who is treated with “pity” or “charity”…That’s the biggest reason for the love of creativity I have, for a man is free when he is creating. The feeling of “behind the camera” feels safe, and warm, and special, and certain…“Out front camera” has been very hard and trying for me…and for the first time in my life I think I can honestly admit I hated doing it and I still do… I need all the care I can get all the time… and I only seem to be able to get that from my love, my wife… I don’t ever want to appear “indifferent” to my wife… but that appearance, too, I think is just hoping not to be a burden and an annoyance to her… I just can’t remember ever being anything but an annoyance… and when I’m told I’m not, I can’t seem to recognize that is possibly the case.”

“I know I need help… but I really believe the help will come from within… Admitting to “hating performing” might help me adjust sooner… Admitting the love I have for writing and direction will, I’m sure, take me out of the depths of my depression… and will ultimately take me into the realm of peace and contentment. I want to talk more, I want to communicate more…I want to say so much, and get help from her, I want so much to scream the things that tug away at my heart and my soul…And when I try, the hurt is so strong, and deep, and festered that I clam up, and the relief I want doesn’t come… Now to bury that grief… I find someone who has equally as much or more than I so that I can be the helping hand… For if I can help, then my hurts can’t be so bad… And for years I made that a practice…to give of myself only to forget I needed more giving than anyone…”

“With it all I am a very lucky man…to have found the real, right, and perfect human being to spend my years with. I want so much to do the right thing to keep her straight and happy and healthy. When she is ill, the reaction to it isn’t any different than when the spike is forced into the vampire’s heart…it’s the only emotional thing that can kill me, and that’s when she hurts…or when I’ve caused her pain…but my intentions are never to hurt her, never to do her a moment’s pain…Never to create a frown on her lovely face…Why those things happen are a complexity to us both…And I will serve myself from here on in as a student of care and concern and caution as to how she gets treated and how I allow much of my feelings to affect her… I can only answer “God” honestly, and he knows my worth and my intentions, I have no fear of his wrath…for I know he knows I’m basically good, and fine, and honorable when it comes to my love for her… I have no guilt about what I have done thru my blindness… And “God” knows my heart is talking, not the typewriter.” —‘I Laffed ‘Til I Cried” (1993) by Patti Lewis

A primary mechanism underpinning the development of depression is perfectionism. Whilst this perfectionism-depression link has been widely documented, the present research focused on the possibility of self-compassion as a moderator of this link. Defined as setting extremely high standards, and accompanied by a highly critical evaluation of the self in pursuit of these standards, perfectionism is a complex multidimensional construct. Several studies have shown that the striving to attain high personal standards in and of itself is not necessarily destructive. But perfectionism that involves self-criticism and concerns about being negatively evaluated by others has been linked to various forms of psychopathology, thus lending credence to the conceptualisation of perfectionism as a premorbid personality type which increases vulnerability to depression. Indeed, perfectionism has been identified as a trans-diagnostic construct which underlies and maintains many forms of psychopathology including schizophrenia. The authors found that self-compassion partially mediated the link between perfectionism and depression. Positioning self-compassion to be a mediator theoretically suggests that the perfectionism reduces self-compassion and reduced self-compassion in turn increases depression. As noted by Kristin Neff in Self and Identity, self-compassion is ‘a useful emotion regulation strategy, in which painful or distressing feelings are not avoided but are instead held in awareness with kindness, understanding, and a sense of shared humanity.’ Source: