WEIRDLAND

Monday, April 23, 2018

Jerry Lewis Collection, 1950s Homes

Paramount Home Media Distribution has assembled a collection of 10 classic movies starring the late comedian Jerry Lewis and will release the 10-disc set on DVD only on June 12. The marquee title is 1963’s The Nutty Professor, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year. Considered by many to be Lewis’ most memorable film, The Nutty Professor has Lewis portraying a socially awkward professor who invents a serum that turns him into the handsome but obnoxious Buddy Love. The film was included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American films of all time. The 10-DVD set also includes the following: The Stooge (1951)—Features one of Lewis’ earliest pairings with Dean Martin as a musical-comedy duo, The Delicate Delinquent (1956), The Bellboy (1960), Cinderfella (1960), The Errand Boy (1961), The Ladies Man (1961), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Patsy (1964) and The Family Jewels (1965). Source: www.mediaplaynews.com

Not only Jerry Lewis played the irrepressible big kid to Dean Martin's smooth crooner, there was also a generational gap between both in regard to gender dynamics. Whereas Martin—who bridled over his role as Lewis’s stooge—represented the old heterosexist guard, Lewis was a cultural pioneer by breaking up (at least on film) with the Fifties's rigid concepts of male/female courtship. Although Martin was the official ladies' man of the duo, Lewis also provoked odd feelings of attraction on the bobby soxers generation. Liz Renay, showgirl and Marilyn Monroe look-alike who became Mickey Cohen's lover, was remarkably discreet in discussing her association with Jerry Lewis in her biography My Face for the World to See (2002). Another of his dalliances was with fashion model Lynn Dixon in the early 1950s. She was introduced to Lewis by Milton Berle and their affair  lasted from 1949-1952.

Information gathered by psychologist Lewis Terman in the 1930s showed that of women born before 1890, 13.5 percent had sexual intercourse before marriage. Social research showed that heterosexual intimacy had become common among unmarried youth. For those born in the decade after 1900, the figure rose to 50 percent, with an even higher percentage for women born in the following decade. By 1930 only 12 percent of white married women worked, and limitations upon married women working became even greater during the Depression. Studies during the 1920s and 1930s by physicians, psychiatrists, and sociologists supported the changing values of the new morality and stressed the importance of sexual pleasure within marriage. Studies of different middle-class populations from the late 1920s found large majorities of married couples using some form of contraception on a regular basis. Behaviorist John Watson noted the pervasive presence of sexual themes in the culture of the day—movies, novels, newspapers, and magazines. As a consequence, "'Virtue,' 'purity' in the old sense, rarely exist and are not even considered desirable. But new values are coming into vogue: individuality—clear-sightedness—independence in thought and action."

Wini Breines explores white middle class America and argues that mixed messages given to girls during the 1950s lent fuel to the fire that would later become known as Feminism. Researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered that though straight partners have sex more often, bisexual and lesbian women have more orgasms – by far. They found that heterosexual men “usually always orgasmed when sexually intimate,” doing so 95 percent of the time. In contrast, straight women orgasm in just 65 percent of cases. They found that women were 33 percent more likely to orgasm when they were having sex with another woman. Dr Kristen Jozkowski said: “Sex that includes more varied sexual behaviour results in women experiencing more orgasms”. Sex between women “was excitingly diversified,” she explained.

The postwar boom led to government policies that helped multiply homeownership rates from roughly 40 percent at the end of the war to 60 percent during the second half of the 20th century. According to Harvard professor and urban planning historian Alexander von Hoffman, a combination of two government initiatives—the establishment of the Federal Housing Authority and the Veterans Administration (VA) home loans programs—served as runways for first-time homebuyers. Initially created during the ’30s, the Federal Housing Authority guaranteed loans as long as new homes that would create the modern mortgage market. An analysis of housing and mortgage data from 1960 by Leo Grebler, a renowned professor of urban land economics at UCLA, demonstrates the pronounced impact of these programs. In 1950, FHA and VA loans accounted for 51 percent of the 1.35 million home starts across the nation. These federal programs would account for anywhere between 30 and 51 percent of housing starts between 1951 and 1957, according to Grebler’s analysis.

Between 1953 and 1957, 2.4 million units were started under these programs, using $3.6 billion in loans. With the U.S. Treasury backing home loans and protecting lenders from defaults, the risk of a bad loan plummeted. Floodgates of capital opened, reshaping land on the periphery of cities. Mortgage rates were incredibly low during the suburban boom of the ’50s and ’60s. In 1960, the average mortgage rate was 5.1 percent. In 1950 alone, suburban growth was 10 times that of central cities, and the nation’s builders registered 2 million housing starts. By the end of the decade, 15 million homes were under construction across the country. And during that decade, as the economy expanded rapidly and interstate roads took shape, residential development in the suburbs accounted for 75 percent of total U.S. construction. Many of these new homes, large-scale, tract-style construction, were built with the backing of various government financing programs, and became available to a much broader cross section of society. “A much larger percentage of homes on the market in the ’50s were new homes, and they are much more expensive in relation to income now than they were then,” says Michael Carliner, a housing economist at Harvard. 1.2 million homes were started across the country in 2017. But adjusted for both an increased population as well as the large drop seen during the recent Great Recession, these numbers appear anemic, the lowest number per capita in 60 years. And unlike the postwar building spree, fewer new homes can be considered affordable starter homes. Builders say the combination of land, labor, and material costs makes affordable homes impossible, and only more expensive models offer enough of a profit margin. Source: www.curbed.com

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Happy Anniversary, Jayne Mansfield! Jerry Lewis (Movie Stars of the 1950s): Larger than Life

Frank Tashlin made a couple of bizarre films with Jayne Mansfield, who one might argue was a cartoon version of 20th Century Fox’s other zaftig blonde, Marilyn Monroe. Mansfield’s first real success had been in the Broadway version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and her part was an explicit parody of Monroe. Her first film with Tashlin at Fox was The Girl Can’t Help It, which includes many early stars of rock and roll, like Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. As the critic Dave Kehr pointed out in his article for The New York Times: "The most absurd figure in Tashlin's films is not the heavy-bosomed blonde but the pathetic male in a pure, helpless state of arousal, continually provoked by the eroticized environment that surrounds him." Jayne Mansfield became a living cartoon of nuclear-powered 50’s femininity in “The Girl Can’t Help It”; Jerry Lewis was her polar opposite, a frightened kid trembling on the edge of a hormonal explosion. In 1956 Mansfield and Lewis had appeared together in Las Vegas, posing with a cake at the Sands Hotel's fourth anniversary celebration. Mansfield was beautiful and curvaceous but possessed comic timing and a sympathetic warmth that many other bombshells couldn't--still can't--muster. Tashlin's films have been somewhat neglected in the US, in part because of his close association with Jerry Lewis. “Decades before postmodernism became fashionable, Tashlin was gleefully constructing a world of simulacra and surfaces in which images refer only to other images and characters cobble their identities from mass media and pop culture.” Frank Tashlin died in 1972, but the world he satirized 50 years ago is still with us, in some ways more than ever. Source: www.moviediva.com

"I remember as a kid, having dreams at nights of becoming a superclown and saving the world from terrible troubles"  Jerry Lewis

Especially as he gained more control over his movies, Jerry Lewis offered up truly schizophrenic characters. An unleashed maniac offering episodes of comedic anarchy as it can barely contain itself is the core character. But Lewis wants you to love this maniac and know he has the soul of a poet. He establishes this with scenes so mawkish that their pumped-up sugar drools out the sides of the screen. On the one hand, he is a force of nature maniacally destructive and sputteringly out of control. The plots of many of the Lewis films are simple: The Bellboy -- Lewis is amok in a hotel; The Ladies' Man -- amok in an all-girls' boarding house; Who's Minding the Store? -- amok in a department store. On the other, he is a tormented soul, a wounded butterfly, a romantic, emotionally stunted child. Jim Carrey, however, never looks back in his offensive routines. If you've always wondered what it was about Jerry Lewis that sent the French into ecstasy and the loyal fan screaming, check him out in The Disorderly Orderly. If it leaves you cold, venture no further into Lewis land. —Scanlines (1999) by Louis Black for The Austin Chronicle

Jerry Lewis was a challenging and enigmatic figure long before the French got their hands on him. Although the merits of Jerry Lewis's self-directed films have been hotly debated, comparatively little attention has been paid to the highly successful 1950s films that made possible his move into film directing. Lewis first met Dean Martin in August 1944 when they were signed as individual attractions at New York's Glass Hat Club. Martin was the headliner, while Lewis played his record act and served as master of ceremonies. That's My Boy (1951) had a serious-minded story that anticipates such melodramas of masculine crisis as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Tea and Sympathy (1956), and Home from the Hill (1960). The film's plot deals with questions of how to be a man, and how to be a man among men, with Lewis playing a characteristic psychoneurotic cowed by a hyper-athletic father but finding solace in the sheltering embrace of Martin's gentle buddy. The Stooge (1952) offers the most dramatically sustained exploration of the two-man relationship, with its intermingling of affection and hostility, togetherness and difference. The promise of their union coexisted with a strong awareness that the competition between the two men, and between their distinctive talents, always threatened to rend the partnership asunder. News of Dean Martin's dissatisfaction began to filter into the public arena during the troubled production of 3 Ring Circus. Lewis reported: "During the filming Dean kept blowing his top at me and everyone else, saying he was fed up to the ears playing a stooge.... It developed into psychological warfare for the balance of the picture". Their partnership was clearly on a downward spiral. Reported schisms and rumor-mongering made it difficult for audiences to believe that their freewheeling, fun-loving act was grounded in authentic feeling. 

The Spring 2018 FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE is out! Articles: The Five Lane Sisters, Jerry Lewis Part I (by Charles Tranberg), James Mason, Kaye Ballard, Tom Tyler, SHANE (1953), SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE (1932), and the regular feature OVERLOOKED IN HOLLYWOOD (profiles on Lester Vail, Mary Nolan, Lewis Wilson, Peggy Conklin, Rebel Randall, and Paul Page). Charles Tranberg: People might have found Dean Martin more handsome but I would say that is probably true that Jerry Lewis was "cuter." Ironically, despite of Martin being the official heartthrob of the duo, Shawn Levy hints in The King of Comedy (1997) that Jerry Lewis had the most active sexual life, since Martin's seduction game often worked on a superficial level. Lewis himself had confessed to Levy: "I never could stay mad at women, because I had a high sex drive."

When the end came in 1956 the masquerade was over. While he could win over popular audiences, the new Jerry Lewis who rose with such untimely haste from the ashes of the beloved entertainment team met with a remarkably hostile reception from cultural tastemakers. Attacks on his aspirations and abilities were to become commonplace in the press long before "the French" staked their claim to him. The opposition grew more vocal as Lewis explored territories barred to the simple funnyman of old. By the end of the decade he was not just one of the best beloved of American entertainers; he was also just about the most reviled. Films such as The Caddy, Scared Stiff, The Stooge, and Living It Up had teased with the Lewis figure's status as a harassed misfit, but the team's partnership dynamic had always trammeled the poignancy. Unshackled from his quarrelsome partner, Lewis was free to use his familiar Idiot/Kid figure to develop a more extended treatment of the comic misfit as a beleaguered outcast questing for acceptance. Lewis contextualized the traumatic breakup of Martin within a bionarrative of abandonment that stretched back to his lonely childhood. Lewis fleshed out this biographical narrative in an article by journalist Bill Davidson: "I've Always Been Scared," shortly after the partnership folded, in February 1957. This article exposed a bruised sensitivity cowering in the shadow of the manic clown. "All my life," Lewis declares, "I've been afraid of being alone". In a story he would repeat, Lewis portrays himself as a pathetic outsider who deploys the mask of comedy as a protective shield. Seeking love and acceptance via the showbiz success his father never attained, Lewis is compelled to win the substitute gratifications of applause and laughter: "If I could make people laugh, I thought, they'd like me and let me be with them". 

The psychological narrative articulated by these articles highlights the degree to which Lewis's star image occupied a very different constellation from the carefree zany of old. Whereas earlier publicity stressed the congruence between the onstage and offstage selves of Martin and Lewis, Lewis's solo career instituted a strategic opposition between the "real" man alone and the onscreen comic misfit. "It may be," offers Look magazine, "that audiences are drawn to him because they see or sense the real Jerry, the lonely man of many complexes" ("Always in a Crowd-Always Alone," 1958). The director of six Martin and Lewis pictures and two of Lewis's solo films Norman Taurog told Arthur Marx: "In the beginning, he was a doll. He listened, did what I told him, and didn't bother anyone. Then one day I noticed him looking through the camera between takes and starting to make suggestions to Lyle Gregg, our cameraman, on things he had no business making suggestions about: how high a crane to put the camera on, or what kind of lens to use.... I used to tell him, 'For God's sake, Jerry, why do you want to waste your energy doing things other people are getting paid for? Nobody goes to a Martin and Lewis movie because you directed a scene. They go because it says on the marquee-Jerry Lewis in so and so; not Jerry Lewis, cameraman. Save your energy for acting'."

The Delicate Delinquent flaunts Lewis's allegiance to the youth audience. At the same time, it also distances him from the energetic and rebellious excess that marked his earlier performances. Rather than abandoning himself to the delights of sheer abandon, Lewis's delicate delinquent, Sydney Pythias, is searching (literally) for direction. Mistaken for a gang member after a street rumble, the good natured orphan is hauled off to the neighborhood precinct house, where he encounters patrolman Mike Damon (McGavin). A reformed juvenile offender himself, Damon has a mission to save slum kids from criminal temptations. Sydney is perfect for such rehabilitation as he lacks social and familial ties, or any other external context of self-definition. "How does a guy know what he wants to be?" he asks Damon. "Especially somebody like me? I'll tell you what I am-I'm a nowhere." Sydney's eventual success suggests that a good heart will eventually triumph over insecurity and sheer ineptitude. For Bosley Crowther, Sydney's characteristically Lewisian eccentricities sat rather uncomfortably with the idealized authority he is allowed at the end of this "serious-message comedy": "Mr. Lewis runs a gamut from Hamlet to clown. Mr. Lewis, trying to act hard like a man, trying to fit odd-shaped blocks into odd-shaped holes, is a delirious comedian. The good intention of his message may be missed in this eccentricity."

Robert Kass suggested in Films in Review that Lewis emblematized the otherness of "young America gone berserk". From a more celebratory perspective, J. Hoberman proposes that "the young Jerry was America's id. His every cute outburst threatened to escalate into loss of control; the sight of his big mouth promised a kind of ecstatic self-annihilation" ("The Nutty Retrospective," Village Voice, 15 December 1988). The uncontrolled eruptions of Lewis's body connected with the rebellious stirrings of a nascent youth culture, which would itself erupt into national and international consciousness with the primal beat of rock 'n' roll. As Karal Ann Marling argues, "Like Elvis, Jerry Lewis seemed rebellious because he wouldn't stand still; he both projected and aroused strong emotion through motion". —Larger Than Life / Movie Stars of the 1950s: Jerry Lewis (2010) by Frank Krutnik 

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Sex and culture": Marilyn Monroe (no kind of bimbo), Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis

There is a case for saying that Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe's second husband, was humiliated on account of the shoot when she is standing on a subway grate and her dress is being blown up in the air and she is trying to hold it down. There was some kind of deal that the dress wouldn’t go up too high. And then it’s in her face. She is exposed. But it is DiMaggio – coming from a working-class Italian-American family – who feels humiliated. She belonged to him and yet here she is seemingly available to all the world. That marriage was never going to work out. You would think that marriage to Arthur Miller would have suited her better. Author of Death of a Salesman, and scriptwriter on The Misfits (her final film), he was also one of the ace intellectuals of his era. “Egghead Weds Hourglass”, read the headline in Variety. In reality, she, the child of 20th Century Fox, was a would-be intellectual. She was certainly no airhead, no kind of “bimbo”. You would think the Monroe-Miller combination ought to have been workable. But it didn’t. Because Miller really needed a bimbo. He didn’t want to be married to an earnest undergraduate. He wanted an All-American Girl to symbolically get him off the hook of the McCarthy black list, that had him branded as a communist and Jewish to boot. Maybe Monroe could save him. But she needed him to save her. —"The pain of character assassination in the public eye" (2018) by Andy Martin

Western society has all the symptoms of a declining civilization. When sexual freedom becomes totally unrestricted, society becomes unstable and collapses. Joseph Daniel Unwin studied 80 tribes and 6 civilizations through 5,000 years of history and found a positive correlation between the cultural achievement of a people and the sexual restraint they observe. Sex and Culture was praised by Aldous Huxley: "Unwin's conclusions may be summed up as follows. All human societies are in one or another of four cultural conditions: zoistic, manistic, deistic, rationalistic. Of these societies the zoistic displays the least amount of mental and social energy, the rationalistic the most. Investigation shows that the societies exhibiting the least amount of energy are those where the opportunities for sexual indulgence are the greatest." According to Unwin, after a nation becomes prosperous it becomes increasingly liberal with regard to sexual morality and as a result loses its cohesion, its impetus and its purpose. The effect, says the author, is irrevocable. JD Unwin also infers that legal equality between women and men is necessary to institute before absolute monogamy is instituted, otherwise the monogamy will erode in the name of emancipating women. One can choose to see Unwin’s work as the foretelling of a doomed American civilization. Whatever the case, the importance of sexual morality in everyday life should not be overlooked due to its strong correlation with civilizational flourishing. Sexual restraint and ethics are not products of an ancient past that progress can suddenly replace; they are arguably the lynchpin of all of the technological and scientific progress of today. Source: ethikapolitika.org

“A threedimensional philosophy, including a regard for the past and a care for the future, is characteristic of developed virile minds; a two-dimensional outlook, implying an exclusive regard for the present, suggests either a lack of development or a state of degeneracy. The introduction of an irregular continence into a society accustomed to sexual freedom is the most important and the most painful of all social revolutions. In the 16th century England, when the aristocrats modified their absolute monogamy, they had lost their supremacy to the rising middle classes, who preserved absolute monogamy. Nominally until the 19th century marriage was indissoluble; but throughout their history the English were casuists in any matter which concerned the relation between husband and wife, and, by passing a special bill through a parliament which they dominated, the nobles proclaimed the dissolution of the indissoluble bond. Towards the middle of the twentieth century some failure of nerve was apparent throughout the society; there were signs, too, that the middle classes were losing their supremacy. No further records are available, and the productive energy of the English remained tremendous, for sexual intercourse and divorce by mutual consent had not become part of the inherited tradition of a complete new generation. Indeed the majority of the population still insisted on some degree of compulsory continence. Evidence is not lacking, however, that such customs were falling into desuetude. After great social energy has been displayed in a civilization, new and alien elements appear. The society begins to discriminate between the slovenly and the elegant, between the vague and the exact. When an atom emits energy, the outer electrons seem to jump down a quantum or a number of quanta; finally they are locked against the nucleus; and what was once a massive event of low density becomes a small event of high density. When a human society radiates energy, precisely the opposite occurs. We begin with a society in which all the individuals are locked together by forces we do not understand; such a society displays no energy; but, as soon as we energize it, individuals begin to leave the nucleus, and form, as it were, an energetic belt around it, the behaviour of this belt determining the cultural condition of the society. If the society is energized again, more individuals leave the nucleus and join the outer belt; others leave the belt itself, assume still newer modes of behaviour, and form a second belt, this belt in its turn determining the cultural condition of the society. And the more energy a society displays, the greater is the cultural distance between the outer belts and the original nucleus, which, indeed, may even be disintegrated. If any society should desire to control its cultural destiny, to display its productive energy for a long time, and even forever, it must re-create itself, first, by placing the sexes on a level of complete legal equality, and then by altering its economic and social organization in such a way as to render it both possible and tolerable for sexual opportunity to remain at a minimum for an extended period, and even forever. In such a case the face of the society would be set in the direction of the Cultural Process; its inherited tradition would be continually enriched; it would achieve a higher culture than has yet been attained; by the action of human entropy its tradition would be augmented and refined.” —"Sex and culture" (1934) by JD Unwin

Jerry Lewis talked about the inherent intelligence involved in comedy. Comedy is a grid of unsuspected associations; the synaptic leaps are corrosive abstractions, no less than in social or biological science. Jerry explained that it was crucial for him to “present himself as a good man,” that he seeks to be funny for people who share his values, for “people who understand you.” Gregg Barson, director of the documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis, wisely spoke about the liberating power of playing in disguise—“He was able to look at Jekyll and Hyde and see that, hey, that’s funny, that you can be this double life”—and showed a clip of “The Family Jewels.” For Lewis, the doubleness inhered in the process. He spoke not of directing himself but of directing “Jerry”—as soon as he went on-camera, he became a character, but one who drew on his own inner being. He was, from the start, a double, himself in disguise. I’ve long considered Jerry Lewis to be a radical democrat—revealing the most humiliating, debasing incompetence, awkwardness and servility that may mark his most modest of viewers, and extracting from these burdens the radiance of virtue and even a miraculous power. There’s an extra level of pathos to Lewis’s career—its truncation. Asked by David Susskind in 1964 TV how he connected with “millions of people,” Lewis answers: “You have to be one of the millions of people.” And, in response to the link between comedy and tragedy, Lewis said: “I think that it’s quite sad the mere fact that you walk out in front of an audience. There is a sad connotation to the fact that you say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, watch me, I’m going to show off.' Well, that’s pretty sad, having to do that.” The great paradox—the one from “The Nutty Professor”—is that Lewis distinguishes his comic persona, Jerry, from himself. It’s the suave incarnation of Buddy Love that renders him attractive, but it’s the pathetically overlooked nebbish who, via Lewis’s fearlessly self-revealing, even self-abasing artistry, gives him the symbolic feet on the ground that renders his milieu of Hollywood universally touching and ordinary. —"Jerry Lewis and Buddy Love" (2012) by Richard Brody

The dancer in the white room of The Ladies Man (1961) Sylvia Lewis who played 'Miss Cartilage' remembers: “I got a call from Jerry to come talk to him about working in ‘The Ladies Man’ and he signed me to do it. I spent 11 weeks on the set, just hanging around hoping to get 10 minutes with him to begin rehearsing. But it never happened until towards the end of shooting, even though I was paid for being at the studio every day. He was always very kind and respectful to me. In fact, I can say during my Hollywood years I was never treated better by anyone. I just remember Jerry telling me about how he would get visions in his head when we worked together.” The late Secretary of Defense Leslie Aspin, then a congressman from Wisconsin (known for his opposition to the war in Vietnam), penned these words in 1977 in the conclusion of his nomination of Jerry Lewis for the Nobel Peace Prize: “Jerry Lewis is a man for all seasons, all people and all times. His name has, in the hearts of millions, become synonymous with peace, love and brotherhood.” Source: blog.tvstoreonline.com 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Marilyn! The New Musical, Jerry Lewis

Our emotional state in a given moment may influence what we see, according to findings published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. In two experiments, researchers found that participants saw a neutral face as smiling more when it was paired with an unseen positive image. The research shows that humans are active perceivers, say psychological scientist Erika Siegel of the University of California, San Francisco and her coauthors. “We do not passively detect information in the world and then react to it – we construct perceptions of the world as the architects of our own experience. Our affective feelings are a critical determinant of the experience we create,” the researchers explain. Ultimately, these experiments provide further evidence that what we see is not a direct reflection of the world but a mental representation of the world that is infused by our emotional experiences. This research was supported by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences and a National Institute of Mental Health T32 grant (MH019391) to E. H. Siegel. Source: www.psychologicalscience.org

Gemma Arterton has spoken with The Times about her role as Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, which opens the new season Sky Arts’ Urban Myths in the UK ‘Marilyn used her vulnerable side to get what she wanted and to manipulate people,’ says Gemma Arterton, on a break from filming a stingingly satirical scene in which Monroe and Strasberg discuss her ‘motivation’ for opening a door (Strasberg asks Monroe if her character eats cheese and Monroe replies: ‘Only on Fridays!’). ‘That was a powerful tool that she had, to make everyone feel sorry for her. But in that power she was in control. There’s a bit in our film where they’re 37 takes in and Wilder says, “Don’t worry about it!” And she says, “Don’t worry about what?” And she actually said that! So she’s very tongue-in-cheek. She knows what she’s doing. But she plays the childlike thing. It’s part of her act.’ Source: blog.everlasting-star.net

While Bombshell, the fictional Marilyn Monroe musical from NBC’s Smash, inches toward the actual stage in a long-gestating development process, another show exploring the life of the film icon will play Las Vegas. Marilyn! The New Musical will play the Paris Theater beginning May 23 before an official opening June 1. The show features a book by director Tegan Summer and an original score by Gregory Nabours, plus additional songs made famous by Monroe. Ruby Lewis, who starred on Broadway in Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour, will take on the title role. The cast will also include Brittney Bertier as Norma Jeane (depicted in the musical as Monroe’s ever-present alter ego), Travis Cloer as Milton Greene, Randal Keith as Darryl F. Znuck, Christopher Showerman as Joe DiMaggio, Matthew Tyler as Arthur Miller, Lindsay Roginski as Jane Russell, and Una Eggerts as Jayne Mansfield. The production team includes choreographer Ferly Prado, set designer Matt Steinbrenner, and casting director Michael Donovan. Source: www.playbill.com

I met Jerry Lewis and I will be grateful forever we crossed paths that night, when Nate was in an uncontrolled mood and Jerry intervined. Nate tried to punch him but Jerry ducked skillfully all the blows. I kissed Jerry on the cheek—I think he blushed—and wrote down my telephone number on a casino napkin. “Take care, baby girl,” mumbled Jerry, still flushed from our unexpected fixture. Las Vegas, in the early forties, was not much of anything. A small oasis, a railway depot, a little grid of streets by the tracks and then emptiness. Small town. Big desert. Big sky. Grit. Heat. Distant mountains. Stunted brownneedled cacti. Sagebrush. And Block 16, the red-light district with its gambling and its liquor and its girls, who sat on wooden chairs by the open doorways of their concrete-block shanties. Las Vegas was suddenly exploding now, in the early fifties, with entertainers like Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle and Vic Damone and Red Skelton and Rosemary Clooney and Eddie Fisher all on the Strip all at once, and when they finished their own gigs, they headed out to the other clubs and lounges to see who was doing what at 2:00 A.M. and no one went to bed until the sun had bleached the neon to a pathetic pallor. —"The Magnificent Esme Wells" (2018) by Adrienne Sharp

Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Breakfast Club: Criterion Special Edition

Molly Ringwald: When my daughter proposed watching “The Breakfast Club” together, I hesitated, not knowing how she would react: if she would understand the film or if she would even like it. I worried that she would find aspects of it troubling. My daughter did audibly gasp when she thought I had showed my underwear. At one point in the film, the bad-boy character, John Bender, ducks under the table where my character, Claire, is sitting, to hide from a teacher. While there, he takes the opportunity to peek under Claire’s skirt. I was quick to point out to my daughter that the person in the underwear wasn’t really me, though that clarification seemed inconsequential for her: Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film. Before John Hughes, no one in Hollywood was writing about the minutiae of high school, and certainly not from a female point of view. That two of Hughes’s films had female protagonists in the lead roles and examined these young women’s feelings, while also managing to have instant cred that translated into success at the box office, was an anomaly that has never really been replicated. (The few blockbuster films starring young women in recent years have mostly been set in dystopian futures.) John Hughes believed in me, and in my gifts as an actress, more than anyone else I’ve known. He could also respond to perceived rejection in much the same way the character of Bender did in “The Breakfast Club.”


This was John Hughes’s great gift in his early films as a screenwriter and director: he understood the whirling, emotionally inconsistent state of being an American teenager better than anyone else work­ing in the 1980s. The Breakfast Club, released in 1985, is the middle film of the “teen trilogy” for which he is most celebrated, bracketed by his first outing as a director, the slapsticky Sixteen Candles (1984), and the more exuberant Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The trilogy becomes a sextet if you also count Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). Hughes had been a happily married man since the tender age of twenty, making The Breakfast Club all the more remarkable. How did a baby boomer, born in 1950, become the teen laureate not only of the eighties but also­—as his films would prove surprisingly durable—of the decades that followed? In its spareness, The Breakfast Club could almost be a black-box theater production: five kids of disparate backgrounds are compelled to spend nine hours together in one room, gaining insights into themselves and each other along the way. Bender is all kinetic energy and he’s also the first to break down and reveal his vulnerability. All of the characters in due time reveal similar holes in their souls, though not in a straight and steady line toward hug-it-out reconciliation. There is tension nearly to the very end. The character of Bender was the macho type who did not give a crap. It was his was of coping with the world. He was actually a nice guy, that is why he got the girl. Hughes was the rare adult who retained access to this volatility, and the even rarer filmmaker who could turn it into art. Seems John Hughes was right all along: Those wicked cliques were made to be broken. Source: www.criterion.com

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Beautiful Mess, Marilyn Forever Blonde, Jerry Lewis The Last American Clown

Sired by a wealthy New York scion who abandoned her showgirl mother, Geneva Kelly is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Jazz Age, Geneva’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead. As Ella Gilbert discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her incandescent predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city. —The Wicked City (2017) by Beatriz Williams

He was real. He was kind. He was funny. And under the kindness and the humor, there was an edge to him that had emerged… “I love her,” he said softly. It was like he’d been waiting just for her and until he saw her, he couldn’t really smile. “My entire life, I’ve only loved one woman. I didn’t have crushes on any of the girls I worked with. I didn’t go chasing after anybody when I tried to make it for a while after the show ended. I didn’t fall for anybody in college. I dated some but it was more because I wanted to try and forget about her, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. She’s everything for me, Keelie. You understand that? I love her. More than I’m ever going to be able to love anybody. And now I finally have the chance I’ve been waiting my whole life for... I love her, damn it. She’s my world.” —Wrecked (2013) by Shiloh Walker is a beautiful look into true and enduring love. Source: www.amazon.com

Protagonist Del Corwyn is an aging relic—an actor who climbed from errand boy to Academy Award nominee; who kept company with Hollywood’s golden era elite; who even shared a close friendship with Marilyn Monroe. But now, Del Corwyn is facing bankruptcy. Humiliated and forced to downgrade his lifestyle and sell the home he's long cherished, Del is destined to fade into a history of forgotten legends—unless he can revive his career. All he needs is one last chance. While searching through memorabilia from his beloved past, Del rediscovers a mysterious envelope, dated 1962, containing an original screenplay by Marilyn Monroe—and proof that she named him its legal guardian. Seemingly overnight, Del goes from bankrupt, washed up has-been to the top of Hollywood’s A-list. But the opportunity to reclaim his fame and fortune brings a choice: Is Del willing to sacrifice newfound love, self-respect and his most cherished friendship to achieve his greatest dream? John Herrick's Beautiful Mess (2017) follows one man's journey towards finding love and relevance where he least expects it. Source: booklife.com

Greg Thompson wrote and produced the one woman play "Marilyn Forever Blonde," which Sunny Thompson starred in for 10 years after acting off-Broadway and headlining Nevada casinos. The play explores what might have been Monroe's last day of life. The play's back story has now been made into a documentary by director Tammy Plimmer, who suggested world premiering it at the April 6-14 American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs. Festival director Teddy Grouya not only accepted it, he put it in the largest Camelot theater in the Palm Springs Cultural Center due to public demand for tickets. The film, "Becoming Marilyn Monroe," will screen April 10 and 12. DESERT SUN: Why is Marilyn still fascinating more than 55 years after her death? THOMPSON:  I think it has a lot to do with her softness. You can see it in her eyes in all of her photos. I have met young girls who came to the play and said they were big Marilyn fans and yet they had never seen a movie with Marilyn in it.  Only her photos! They had fallen in love with an image. The biggest compliment that I’ve received in 10 years came right in the beginning when we were in Hollywood and Marilyn's close friend (fashion designer) Richard Blackwell came backstage and grabbed my hand and said "I never thought I would see you again! Nobody gets her softness and you got it!" Source: www.desertsun.com

Jerry Lewis told GQ magazine a story about how he had a one night stand with Marilyn Monroe: “Lewis is suddenly insistent that Marilyn Monroe and President Kennedy — whom Lewis admired — never had the affair many believe they had. When I look skeptical, he turns stern. ‘I’m telling you what I know. Never! And the only reason I know is because I did. Okay?’ Wait, what?? He nods, adding that Monroe used sex like he uses humor: to make an emotional connection. ‘She needed that contact to be sure it was real.’ Ok, but what was it like to make love to the most famously tragic sexpot of all time? ‘It was…’ he says, taking a beat, ‘long.’ He smiles ruefully. ‘I was crippled for a month.’


In the TV “Biography” episode hosted by Peter Graves, entitled “Jerry Lewis: The Last American Clown” (1996) guest interviewes consisted of Patti Palmer Lewis (former Wife), Janet Leigh (Actress), Stella Stevens (Actress), Connie Stevens (Actress), Kathleen Freeman (Actress), Bill Richmond (Screenwriter), etc. Archive film footage included Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Marie Wilson, Hal Wallis, Marilyn Monroe, Leslie Caron, Brian Donlevy, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Danny Lewis. Film Clips included a screen glimpse of Jerry Lewis through the years, in scenes from My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), Sailor Beware (1952), Living It Up (1954), Pardners (1956), The Delicate Delinquent (1957), The Sad Sack (1957), The Bellboy (1960), Cinderfella (1960), The Ladies Man (1961), The Errand Boy (1961), The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy (1964), The Family Jewels (1965), The Big Mouth (1967), The Day the Clown Cried (1972), and Hardly Working (1980).

Jerry Lewis was ahead of his generation in terms of gender dynamics, and despite of settling down at a young age and assuming his family man image, he was capable of reaching a wider emotional complexity than most of his contemporary showbiz fellows.  The Last Vegas Show journals (2017), inspired by Jeanne Carmen's “My Wild, Wild Life” (2006) show Lewis in his intimacy as more of a romantic suitor than a clumsy clown. He was a complete putz of a man onscreen but rarely his ideal girl was a ditz. However, Lewis would have loved working with Marilyn Monroe (the consummate ditzy sex-symbol) in a comedy. In Hollywood or Bust (1956), Anita Ekberg acted as the clueless bombshell who is obsessively adored from a distance by Jerry. Source: medium.com

“Unlike so many who knew him, my memories were not of his movies, or the MDA Telethons, but of the times when it was just us,” Jerry's widow Sandee Lewis said to Las Vegas Review Journal after he passed away. “Calling me beautiful, making me a small glass of coffee filled with just cream and sugar just like my mom, or having a stuffed Barney toy on his piano, always sitting there during his live shows, just so I could have a reminder that he was thinking of me. I remember two years ago, getting out of the car in the freezing rain in Washington, D.C., just so he could take a picture with me in front of the Lincoln Memorial.” Source: www.reviewjournal.com

The Las Vegas house that once belonged to Jerry Lewis is up for sale. The house is located on Reno Avenue in the Scotch 80s neighborhood, which is located just west of Interstate 15 and minutes from Downtown Las Vegas. It is listed for $1.4 million and has 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms. The Scotch 80s neighborhood has been home to the movers and shakers in Las Vegas since the '50s. Lewis lived at the property for thirty years. The bar in the family room was host to many celebrities, and the pool and backyard area are ideal for entertaining. The median list price for a home in the famous neighborhood is $734,000.   Source: www.lasvegashomes.com

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Glitz, Fleeting Nostalgia, Jerry Lewis

The glamour of pre–WWII Hollywood and the glitz of postwar Las Vegas are the playgrounds of young Esme Wells and her dreamer parents—her bookie father, and her movie star wanna-be mother who never gets past showgirl roles in B-musicals. Adrienne Sharp’s fourth novel is a grimly sad story of big dreams, bad luck, and worse decisions, as Esme and her parents move from Hollywood’s scams and cheesy musicals to the Las Vegas world of casinos, high rollers, suckers, and gangsters. By 1945 Esme’s father works for mobster Bugsy Siegel as the gangster’s vision of a gambling city comes true. Underage, she works as a casino cigarette girl, where her good looks draw the leering attention of Nate Stein, a ruthless thug who intends to take over all of Las Vegas. After Bugsy is bumped off, Esme falls in with serious mobsters like Mickey Cohen and Meyer Lansky, eventually becoming Stein’s teenage mistress and chorus line showgirl. When Esme discovers her father’s involvement with the less-than-legal dealings, the story builds to a dangerous boil. This glittering noirish tragedy, with its lushly imagined period landscape and subtle feminist trajectory, is both fun to read and sad to think about. Sharp’s narrative is a bold and gritty portrayal of unreachable dreams, anchored by its notable depiction of Esme. The Magnificent Esme Wells will be released on April, 10, 2018. Source: www.publisherweekly.com

The 1950s occupied a central position in the nostalgic imagination of the United States: indeed, it was the revival of 1950s Rock’n’Roll in the early 1970s that first made nostalgia a household term. It therefore comes as no surprise that nostalgia for the 1950s features heavily in two recent books: Michael Dwyer's “Back to the Fifties: Nostalgia, Hollywood Film, and Popular Music of the Seventies and Eighties” (2015) and Gary Cross's “Consumed Nostalgia” (2015). Dwyer rejects this “amnesiac model of nostalgia” interpretation, arguing “that nostalgia must be understood not as a reduction or denial of history but as a fundamentally productive affective engagement that produces new historical meaning for the past as a way of reckoning with the historical present.” Cross states this form of nostalgia “binds together not community nor families but scattered individuals”, it is “less about preserving an ‘unchanging golden era’ than it is about capturing the fleeting and the particular in its ‘authenticity’”, it helps “us cope with the extraordinary speed-up of time by letting us return to our childhoods”, and is “rooted in special emotions linked to recovering distinctive memories.”  The nostalgia for the 1950s, for instance, first became a subject of cultural criticism because it infected a younger generation without recollections of the period. Cross’ hypothesis that nostalgia is a reaction to social acceleration and fast capitalism has a lot going for it. According to sociologist Hartmut Rosa, every surge of acceleration is followed by nostalgic sentiments. In fact, Rosa makes the same argument in his theory of social acceleration. Source: nostalgia.hypotheses.org

Dean and Me is a snapshot of how a couple of divergent characters came together to literally change the face of popular entertainment: Martin and Lewis were the post-war pulse of a battle weary nation, and the resulting hilarity and hi-jinx looked like it would never end. So when the duo officially called it quits, 10 years to the day after getting together, fans were flummoxed -- and the confusion continued as neither man spoke to the other in 20-plus years. Many people outside the industry believe that the creative process comes easily and exacts never-ending rewards. Lewis debunks all those myths, especially when he's listing a performance schedule that required three shows a night (finishing around 3am) for several weeks, including a daily schedule that required publicity stops and business meetings. Lewis makes it very clear that Martin loved the ladies -- as he puts it, "often and very well" -- which was part of the make-up of male oriented show business in the '40s and '50s. Appearances are deceptive, though, and it's implied that Lewis had the higher sex drive of both entertainers.

Lewis does not blame his partner for the inevitable and bitter break-up in 1956. Instead, he makes it very clear that the separation was almost all his idea. He wanted to expand into filmmaking, and Martin was happy with continuing the nightclub comedy act. But there is also a kind of backward compliment being paid here, since Lewis indicates that it was Martin's seething rage, his lack of individual respect and his cold interpersonal nature that drove the divide between them. It's Dean's desire to step out of Jerry's generous limelight (Lewis was the beneficiary of glowing notices while Martin was universally panned) that really drove the decision to quit. Few see that Jerry Lewis is actually a bridge between the old fashioned chuckles of Hollywood's Golden Era and the more experimental, existential humor of the post-modern period. Instead, he seems forever fated to be the dopey dude, the kooky caricature of a nerd. Sadly, such a sentiment diminishes a great deal of very good work. Thanks to a famous collaboration with director Frank Tashlin and his own turns in the creator's chair, we can witness the rise, fall, and unjust dismissal of an amazing artist.

The Ladies Man (1961): It remains a monumental achievement in set design and art direction. Throwing his weight around as a box office behemoth, Lewis demanded and received an entire Paramount soundstage to create what is, essentially, an entire four story house complete with grand concourse, spiral staircases, open walled bedrooms, and an old fashioned elevator running up the side. It was a massive masterpiece of a playset, and Lewis made the most of it. Visually it is amazing, the comedy relying more on small moments than the epic environment created.

The Errand Boy (1961): As a love letter to the studio system, it stands as one of his true classic comedies. A skewering of Hollywood hubris in combination with the filmmaker's fleet footed physical shtick resulted in a creative combination that would underscore his next few films. Tinsel Town never took such a well-intentioned tweaking.

It'$ Only Money (1962) (with director Frank Tashlin): Relatively forgotten, even among Lewis fans, this oddball detective farce -- Lewis is a TV repairman and alongside a shifty private dick, get caught up in the search for a rich family's missing heir -- is one of the funnyman's forgotten gems. Lewis is loose and screwy in every scene, with terrific nonsensical, non-sequitur patter and ad-libs that equal his best moments on screen. Tashlin really amplifies his anarchic style, and Lewis loses himself in the relatively low key role.

The Nutty Professor (1963): Without a doubt, this stands as one of comedy's major cinematic milestones. By riffing on his relationship with ex-partner Martin (who Buddy Love is obviously mirrored after) and putting to use every kind of cleverness imaginable, we get a wonderful whirlwind of dopiness and deftness. In this Jekyll and Hyde satire, Lewis actually display a character study, not just weird variations of his persona, and the emotional underpinning of the relationship with Stella Purdy is heartfelt and very human. If you wonder what keeps Lewis part of the motion picture equation, even four decades later, this fantastic film is the answer.

The Patsy (1964): Often cited as one of Lewis's more cynical films, this droll look at celebrity and the shallowness of fame is, in reality, on par with The Nutty Professor as a certifiable sensation. A dynamite combination of silent film gags, pop culture spoof (see Ed Sullivan mocking himself!), and insightful evisceration into the cult of personality, it's a brilliant and brazen farce.

Three on a Couch (1966): Attempting to make the leap into more 'adult oriented fare', many feel Lewis succeeded with this sincere psychobabble. The therapeutic theme is prevalent throughout Lewis’s films, including That’s My Boy (Hal Walker, 1951), The Delicate Delinquent (Don McGuire, 1957), and The Disorderly Orderly (Frank Tashlin, 1964). One of the film’s most magical sequences is Lewis and Leigh dancing in a ballroom with a beautiful, dreamy lassitude (Lewis’s back to the camera and Janet Leigh’s enraptured eyes looking heavenward as the two glide on an arc of rapture).  Three on a Couch becomes a film about the need for expressing love and a restatement, in different terms, of the self-reliance theme of The Nutty Professor. Source: www.popmatters.com

Monday, March 26, 2018

Arthur Miller: Writer, Marilyn Monroe, Alienation

What hot-blooded heterosexual American man of the 1950s wouldn’t have married Marilyn Monroe? But the more you know about Monroe—her brooding, contemplative nature; her often-fetishized love of reading—the more her attraction to Arthur Miller starts to make a poignant kind of sense. He saw not only her artistic potential, but a kind of brokenness about her that most men found convenient to ignore. In the documentary, an elderly Miller recalls something he said to Marilyn many years before their marriage: “I said, ‘You’re the saddest girl I’ve ever met.” Or at least that’s the story he always told her, the one she repeats in footage used in the new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer. “As he describes it, I was crying when he met me,” said a hesitant Marilyn. “What makes you so sad?” Clark Gable asks from beneath the brim of a cowboy hat. “I think you’re the saddest girl I ever met.” “You’re the first man that’s ever said that,” a morose Monroe says in an scene from The Misfits


Arthur Miller: Writer (which premieres on HBO on March 19) is a documentary directed by Rebecca Miller, the playwright’s daughter from his third and final marriage to the Austrian photographer Inge Morath. “Where Jean Harlow had been the bombshell-as-feminine symbol of wealth and military might,” Karina Longworth notes: “in post–World War II America, Marilyn became the feminine icon of plenty and of the victory of pleasure divorced from worry or responsibility.” In 1986, Gloria Steinem published a biography of Monroe, Marilyn: Norma Jean, a corrective to the salacious and largely ridiculous 1973 Monroe biography by Norman Mailer, in which he posited that the star had been murdered by the U.S. government. (Mailer admitted the same year, on 60 Minutes, that the book was a cash grab.) In Rebecca Miller’s interviews, filmed at his kitchen table in Connecticut near the end of his life, the playwright seemed to retain a real compassion for Marilyn. The strange benevolence of this one-sided portrait of Monroe and Miller is that you walk away from it thinking that he really understood her. That under slightly different circumstances, they could have been happy.

“She was witty,” Miller says, gazing wistfully from his kitchen table in Connecticut. “She was making fun of the situation as she was playing it. That was the difference. People thought they could imitate her by being cute. But she was being cute and making fun of being cute at the same time. There was another dimension, which is very difficult to do.” Source: www.theringer.com

Ruby became a showgirl and companion but she didn't sleep with her admirers. The homely, awkward Don Knotts look-alikes who attended ham radio conventions got the same, velvety Ruby Wilde presence as did the members of Rotary clubs and The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the men who came to find distraction after a miserable, wallet-emptying divorce. Ruby soon realized that more often than not they simply wanted to be heard, to tell their stories without criticism or interruption. The high rollers bought her rubies and garnets, sapphires to match her eyes. They bought her designer clothes at the casino boutiques. Her bathroom counter was crowded with bottles of perfume. She owned silk negligees, and even a supremely soft cashmere robe dyed the peaceful color of a doe bedded down on a forest floor. But there were gifts more extravagant than necklaces. Johnny Litchfield, a high-stakes gambler from Chicago, offered to buy Ruby a penthouse in the Windy City, where he said he’d be able to keep an eye on her. Ruby was learning to turn men down gently, with such finesse that they didn’t feel rejected. Ruby turned down Johnny’s Peter Piper penthouse. Instead, she accepted a ten-thousand-dollar poker chip, and every time Chicago Johnny came to town he found her—and gave her more outlandish gifts. He was a hard-bitten man with a cratered face and pale blue eyes that were too small. But those eyes were surrounded by ribbed fans of wrinkles, the kind that came only with repeated laughter. And Johnny made her laugh. He told her stories of outrageous gambling wins and losses, of his days as a middleweight boxer and then as an MP in Hawaii, corralling World War II soldiers on leave. She sold the jewelry she didn’t particularly like at the jewelers all the girls used—Goldfarb’s on East Twain Avenue. She banked the money, earning eight percent interest on her savings. When an enamored Saudi prince gave Vivid a boat, the Sunglow Apartment girls ended their nights by Lake Mead as the sun rose. Ruby, Rose, Vivid, and Dee christened the boat Siren Song and for their naming ceremony piled caviar onto water crackers and emptied three bottles of Bollinger Blanc de Noirs champagne. It was just girls. They scrambled eggs on the boat’s little propane cookstove, ate crusty bread donated by the chef in one or another casino restaurant, and brewed dark, French roast coffee. Ruby studied Vivid, saw how she touched a man’s arm or shoulder lightly to let him know that he’d arrived in her inner circle. Ruby gained more than luxurious possessions from the men she entertained. She leaned in intimately, enticingly, so that a man could light her cigarette. Like a pearl forming about a grain of sharp sand, she used her newfound etiquette to further escape her rube beginnings. —"All the Beautiful Girls" (2018) by Elizabeth J. Church

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In the modern era, ‘alienation’ came into its own as a talismanic term in the 1950s and ’60s. At the time, the United States was becoming increasingly affluent, and earlier markers of oppression– inequality, social immobility, religious persecution–appeared to be on the wane. ‘Alienation’ rose spectacularly from 1958 to its height in 1974. In short, alienation in the second decade of the 21st century has not actually faded away as a descriptor of human distress. Rather, it has become most visible in the anxiety of those who bemoan the transformation of a beloved homeland into an unrecognisable nation of aliens. America these days is not a happy place. Even though the economy is up, polarization is at an all-time high, and a feeling of malaise, or worse, grips the nation. Our subjective well-being has declined across the board in each and every state, even as the economy has sprung back to life. America is growing increasingly unhappy and the trend toward unhappiness is concentrated in the places that used to be among the very happiest. Whatever the reasons, America’s collective psyche is clearly suffering today. You’d expect happiness to rebound in a period that saw the economy recover from the Great Recession. In fact, the opposite happened. When we compared Gallup’s data on well-being to the Gallup data from 2009, we found that well-being actually declined in all 50 states between 2009 and 2017. What’s more, these declines are concentrated in the very states that had higher levels of well-being in 2009. Source: www.citylab.com

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: variety.com

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 ingĂ©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: www.nowtolove.co.nz

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: www.rogerebert.com

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