Monday, April 28, 2008
Friday, April 25, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
A lot of George's fans come to him through "Sunrise" (1927), but I'm a backwards gal. I first fell for the tragic and interesting Collingwood in John Ford's "Fort Apache" (1948). Here was a character portrayed by an appealing and talented actor. Later I found titles such as "The Dude Ranger" (1934) and "The Marshal of Mesa City" (1939) as irresistable as their handsome, athletic star. Here was a fellow as easy with the action, riding and fisticuffs as with romancing his beautiful leading ladies. I don't think there's ever been an actor who shows more grace in manner and movement, and ease in front of the camera. Within the last year I finally saw Murnau's legendary "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927). George is "the Man", driven to the brink of madness and murder redeemed by love to his true nature. The movie and his performance is an experience. Such unabashed commitment to character and baring of one's soul is uncommon. That George was capable of more than "cowboy pictures" was proven and that he always brought his A game to his 30s westerns was shown by his popularity and his box office power.
George O'Brien was not a typical movie star. As a youngster in WWI he enlisted in the Navy and when WWII blighted the earth he re-enlisted and was highly decorated for his service. Again he would serve in Korea and Viet Nam. His one marriage was to beautiful screen star Marguerite Churchill (1910 - 2000). They were married for 15 years and had two children - the late writer Darcy O'Brien and New York Philharmonic bassist Orin O'Brien.
George O'Brien is recalled by contemporaries with admiration and loyalty, and garners more fans with the availability of his features on dvd. Check out recent releases of "The Iron Horse" (1924) and "3 Bad Men" (1926).
If you want to meet some real George O'Brien experts and grand folks in their own right, check out the IMDb discussion board for our revered birthday boy.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Disney's nine old men have been reunited in the great animation studio up yonder with the passing of Ollie Johnston (October 31, 1912 - April 14, 2008). Ollie was an animator, steam locomotive enthusiast, family man married for 62 years to Marie and father of two sons, and mentor and inspiration to today's animators.
Ollie Johnston started working as an apprentice animator for Disney in 1935. "Mickey's Garden" and other shorts started off his career as a master communicator through the art of animation. Generations delight in Ollie's contributions to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Fantasia", "Pinocchio", "Bambi", "Sleeping Beauty", "Cinderella", "Lady and the Tramp", "Peter Pan", "The Rescuers" and other favourite films.
Ollie and his lifelong friend and work partner Frank Thomas (1912 - 2004) not only collaborated on film, but as authors: "Too Funny for Words", "The Disney Villain", Walt Disney's Bambi - the Story and the Film", "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life".
Frank Thomas (1912 - 2004) had said that it was Ollie who brought warmth and emotion to cartoons. Ollie believed that animated characters should exhibit emotional qualities. That Ollie Johnston was successful in achieving that aim is more than evident when watching Baloo and Mowgli in "The Jungle Book", little Thumper in "Bambi", the jaunty "Johnny Appleseed" or sentimental Mr. Smee in "Peter Pan" among others. When recalling the characters he created Ollie said "They were all good friends whom I remember fondly". They are good friends to us all and we will remember them and Ollie Johnston fondly.
Disney's nine old men: Les Clark (1907 - 1979), Ollie Johnston (1912 - 2008), Frank Thomas (1912 - 2004), Wolfgang Reitherman (1909 - 1985), John Lounsbery (1911 - 1976), Eric Larson (1905 - 1988), Ward Kimball (1914 - 2002), Milt Kahl (1909 - 1987), Marc Davis (1913 - 2000).
Friday, April 11, 2008
The lobby of Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall has a sign with large friendly letters requesting patrons be considerate of others when choosing to wear perfumes and after-shaves. I like that sign. It makes me feel protected. Yes, your own Caftan Woman is one of many who suffer from a chemical intolerance. I was comfortably ensconsed in my cozy balcony seat in said hall when the lady sitting behind me returned from intermission proclaiming: "And she was giving free samples away in the Ladies Room. I'm going to buy a whole bottle." Apparently signs with large friendly letters don't mean much to some people. Understanding management switched our seats to the roomy orchestra section. You might call it a perfect evening, if it weren't for the swelling tongue, itchy skin and watery eyes.
Many municipalities are reacting to the problem of physical reactions to scents by banning the use of colognes in public and government buildings. Many corporations bear it in mind for those dealing with the public. Unfortunately, the reaction among many aroma addicts is that the rest of us are being hysterical and arbitrary. A reaction similar to that expressed by a former co-worker: "Well, I'm sorry you don't like my perfume, but I have a perfect right to wear it." They don't seem to want to understand that it's not a question of liking, it's a question of breathing.
A little understanding is necessary for both sides. I'll continue to keep my Benedryl handy when I'm out and about, but the perfume purveyors have to be a little more considerate. Only then can the scent obsessed and the scent oppressed co-exist peacefully (because I promise you one of these days...).
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
When I think of Charlton Heston I think of Will Penny and Steve Leech, Brad Braden and Barney Benson, Judah Ben-Hur and El Cid, Buffalo Bill Cody and Andrew Jackson, Michelangelo and Moses, Taylor and Det. Thorn, Cardinal Richelieu and Brigham Young, Inspector Vargas and Sir Thomas More.
I think of the lonely child and the shy young man who found a life to live and a wife to love in the theatre. I think of the thoughtful, observant writer who treasured and shared his memories.
I think of his well-loved Shakespeare and the admonishment:
"This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Did the announcer say this was the Blue Jays 32nd home opener? How can that be? I was but a teenager that historic first game in the snow. That means I'll be...51 in a couple of weeks. I've heard it said that statistics are easily manipulated. Manipulate me that one!
Baseball is a game of memories
Our late father with a drawer full of the undated $2 general admission tickets the Blue Jays used to entice fans with in the early years. "Who wants to go to the game today?" Mom with a picture of Ted Williams on her fridge. Paula shouting herself hoarse without realizing it. Maureen studiously keeping score. Little Tracey catching that home run ball with her forehead. Ouch! Courting days with Garry. Say, whatever happened to our disposable income? Whatever happened to $2 tickets.
Baseball is a game of music
Nova Scotia's own Ralph Fraser on the organ at Exhibition Stadium. "Our Day Will Come" accompanying the egress after a loss.
100 years of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"
Composer Albert Von Tilzer (yes, Harry's brother) and lyricist/performer Jack Norworth had yet to attend a major league baseball game when they collaborated in 1908 on the song which will be sung by fans everywhere as long as the game is played. 1908 was a good year for Jack as he married superstar singer Nora Bayes. Nora included "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in her solo act and sheet music sales, as they say, went through the roof. Jack and Nora headlined the Ziegfeld Follies and introduced their own hit "Shine On, Harvest Moon". The popular couple would split after a few years. Theirs was the second of five marriages for each. Those show folk!
Classic movie connections: Jack Norworth, the actor, can be seen in Jean Renoir's "The Southerner" (1945) playing Dr. White. Frances Langford plays Nora Bayes in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942) introducing "Over There" with Cagney's George M. Cohan. The couple were biopiced in "Shine On, Harvest Moon" (1944) starring Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan. MGM produced a delightful musical in 1949 starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra based on the ever-popular song.
Nellie Kelly loved baseball games
Knew the players, knew all their names
You could see her there every day
Shout Hooray when they'd play.
Her boyfriend by the name of Joe
Said to Coney Isle, dear, let's go
Then Nellie started to fret and pout
And to him I heard her shout
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win it's a shame
For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
At the old ball game
Nellie Kelly was sure some fan
She would root just like any man
Told the umpire he was wrong
All along, good and strong.
When the score was just two to two
Nellie knew what to do
Just to cheer up the boys she knew
She made the game sing this song
Repeat chorus, stretch, head for the concession stand.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Greetings classic movie fans and welcome to this online celebration of one of the silver screen's character actress greats, Esther Howard. Born April 4, 1892 in Helena, Montana (the stamping ground of Myrna Loy and Gary Cooper), little can be found of Ms. Howard's personal life despite my plethora of books and the help of the internet. It is for certain that by the age of 25 Esther had taken her comic timing, expressive eyes and soprano voice far from Montana to the Great White Way. For a dozen years from 1917 she appeared in as many Broadway shows - comedies, musical revues and featured roles in hits such as "Sunny" (Jerome Kern) and "The New Moon" (Sigmund Romberg). During this time she married Arthur Albertson, a Georgia born leading man in silent films (1914 - 1917) and stage performer who committed suicide upon the closing of a show in 1926.
Esther left NYC for Hollywood in 1930 and hit the ground a-running. She has 28 movies to her credit before my earliest sighting in 1935's "Stars Over Broadway" where she plays an eager radio talent show contestant. Many of her roles are of the uncredited variety: tenement resident in Wyler's "Dead End" (1937), streetwalker in Van Dyke's "Marie Antoinette" (1938), lunch counter lady in Ulmer's "Detour" (1945) up to inmate in Cromwell's "Caged" (1950). Columbia used her talent for comedy in 17 films with Scotland's own Andy Clyde over a 20 year period beginning in 1935. Most of these shorts were directed by Jules "Three Stooges" White.
Every once in a while Esther would hit the jackpot. A variety of good roles in really good films which showcased her extraordinary ability. She was part of Preston Sturges' famed stock company and appeared in seven of his pictures. Esther is unforgettable as Miz Zeffie, so admiring of Joel McCrea's torso in "Sullivan's Travel's" (1941). Perhaps no one else could have played that part so well.
Edward Dmytryk's "Murder, My Sweet" brought only one of the classic noir roles for which Esther Howard is remembered by noir junkies. Here's how Jessie Florian is described by Philip Marlow: "She was a charming middle aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle". Quite a build-up and Esther Howard doesn't let the audience down.
Gordon Douglas directed "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball" which gives Esther a delightful turn as another denizen of the underworld, Filfthy Flora. Another noir ripe for rediscovery by the public at large is Robert Wise's "Born to Kill" (1947). Esther's role as the loyal and resourceful Mrs. Kraft determined to bring a friend's killer to justice can only be described as an absolute joy. Her last role of major note was as the mother of Kirk Douglas and Arthur Kennedy in Mark Robson's "Champion" (1949) although she can be seen in movies throughout the 50s as a variety of landladies and bystanders with pithy comments.
Esther Howard passed away from a heart attack on March 8, 1965 at the age of 74. Any one of those roles, Jessie Florian or Mrs. Kraft were certainly worthy of a nomination for those awards the Hollywood folks are so keen on handing out and a nomination would have gone a long way to keeping the name of Esther Howard at the forefront of Tinsel Town's great character actors. As it is, the lady with the big eyes and bigger talent left a body of work that is a treasure for classic movie fans.