Thursday, March 26, 2009

Crazy about Marsha Hunt!

There is so much to discover and rediscover about the movies from Hollywood's classic studio era. Sometimes it's those performers who are so good that it is easy to take them for granted. Marsha Hunt is such an actress. A beautiful woman with talent, I would describe Marsha Hunt as a character actress trapped inside a leading lady.

Born in Chicago in 1917 and showing an early aptitude for theatre Marsha was signed by Paramount Pictures in 1938 and made her debut in The Virginia Judge co-starring Robert Cummings. She would be very busy for the next ten years appearing in over 50 movies of varying quality though the quality of her work never varied.

Throughout the 1950s work slowed down for Marsha and her husband screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr. due to the short-sighted and unnecessary blacklist. Such things don't touch true talent or a vibrant marriage that lasted 40 years until Presnell's death in 1986.

As those bad days faded she returned to the small screen appearing in everything from The Twilight Zone: Spur of the Moment (pictured above with Diana Hyland) to Zane Grey Theatre (four times), Ben Casey, Gunsmoke, The Defenders, Marcus Welby, MD, Ironside, Police Story and Murder, She Wrote.

Broadway also claimed some of her time with six plays during the 1950s and 1960s including Shaw's The Devil's Disciple in 1950 co-starring Maurice Evans, Victor Jory and Dennis King, and replacing Nancy Olson in the mega-hit The Tunnel of Love in 1958.

Let's look at some of my all-time favourite Marsha Hunt performances.

Marsha sparkles, as Mrs. Bennett (Mary Boland) puts it, as the awkward Bennett girl, Mary in 1940s Pride and Prejudice. It is an absolutely delightful comic turn from the 23-year-old that almost steals the show in a film cast with veteran thieves such as Boland, Edmund Gwenn and Edna Mae Oliver.

Libbers take note that in 1942's Kid Glove Killer directed by Fred Zinnemann Marsha is assistant to forensic detective Van Heflin in a tightly paced, fun-for-all thriller.

None Shall Escape directed by Andre de Toth in 1944 is a timely story of Nazi responsibility co-starring Alexander Knox, and is not to be missed.

The Valley of Decision from 1945 is a glorious soaper starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck. Marsha embodies the role of a spoiled heiress with a feather-head and a big heart. She's wonderful.

Jules Dassin's delightful A Letter for Evie from 1946 is a war-time love story with a letter at the crux of the plot, and Hume Cronyn and John Carroll vying for her hand. On my wish list is Mary Ryan, Detective made in 1949, purely because I love the title. Keeping my fingers crossed that TCM will find it in their stash from Columbia.

Top of the heap for we noir fans is Anthony Mann's Raw Deal from 1948. Dennis O'Keefe is sorely wronged by mob boss Raymond Burr, but finds solace with old girlfriend Claire Trevor and lovelorn social worker Marsha. Wow!

Marsha plays the sensible, as she sees herself, mother of the eccentric Bonnard family of 1920s Ottawa in 1952s The Happy Time starring Charles Boyer and directed by Richard Fleischer. I encourage everyone to seek out this charming film.

Along with the love and creativity Marsha shared in her theatrical/film career, she carried that same dedication into a life of activism and service for humanitarian causes; a truly inspiring woman.

I mentioned that discovery and rediscovery is at the core of my fondness for classic movies. I'm looking forward to discovering more treasures from the incredible Marsha Hunt. I'm crazy about her!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Broadway to Hollywood Trivia

Victor Moore
1876 - 1962

Victor Moore was a stage and screen star with a lengthy and successful Broadway career. Movie fans recall him best as Fred Astaire's pal in Swing Time. Among his original characterizations was the role of Moonface in Cole Porter's Anything Goes which ran on Broadway for 420 performances in the 1934 - 1935 season.

Charles Ruggles
1886 - 1970

Charles Ruggles was familiar to Broadway fans for 30 years and a familiar face to classic movie fans from Bringing Up Baby to The Parent Trap. As is a seeming tradition with Hollywood, when they buy the rights to film a Broadway show they never seem to want to cast the original stars. Charlie Ruggles played the role of Moonface in the 1936 movie based on Anything Goes.

In 1947 Roy Del Ruth directed a delightful holiday film called It Happened on 5th Avenue. It is the story of a millionaire played by Ruggles whose deserted mansion is taken over by a hobo played by Moore. Two Moonfaces for the price of one! What could be more fun?

A Christmas treat.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's say let's be buddies?

George Chandler
1898 - 1985

William Wellman
1896 - 1975

In the annals of great Hollywood director/actor teams, a few names spring immediately to mind - John Ford/John Wayne, John Huston/Humphrey Bogart, Billy Wilder/Jack Lemmon. Perhaps George Cukor/Katharine Hepburn. Some of us may even bring up Henry King/Tyrone Power. Not that it gets us anywhere, but we bring them up anyway. Rarely is the felicitous teaming of William Wellman and character actor George Chandler mentioned. Well, we're going to change that right now.

Wellman, the WWI pilot and Hollywood bad boy started out as an actor and became a director who wanted to make every sort of picture there was and created such bona fide classics as Beau Geste, The Ox-Bow Incident, A Star is Born, Wild Boys of the Road, The Story of GI Joe and Wings.

Chandler was born in Waukegan, Illinois and put himself through the University of Illinois by playing violin in orchestras. As a teenager he played the Vaudeville circuit billed as "The Musical Nut". He started working in movies in the silent era and is one of those fellows who worked constantly.

George is billed as a reporter/newspaperman/photographer in over 25 pictures from 1931's Sob Sisters to his 1961 television series Ichabod and Me. Watch for George as a journalist the next time you watch The Beast of the City, The Kennel Murder Case or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. If you need a taxi driver, doorman, stagehand or telegrapher - why, George is your man. His is a familiar face to Boomers as Uncle Petrie from Lassie and guest appearances on everything from Wagon Train to Dragnet. He played Jonathan Kent in the 1975 TV Musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman.

George Chandler as the radio operator in
Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

Between 1936 to 1951 George worked with his pal Wellman on 22 pictures. He had some great roles too. Amos Hart in 1942's Roxie Hart (I see you nodding your head sagely. You must have seen Chicago.) He was a stagehand in the terrific backstage murder mystery Lady of Burlesque in 1943. Hubby commented before watching this movie that it didn't seem like a Wild Bill sort of movie until he saw all the gals strutting their stuff!

My favourite Chandler role is probably "Mackeral Face" in Westward the Women in 1951, as an anxious potential bridegroom. In the recently blogged about Battleground, the Academy Award winner from 1949, George plays a walking wounded mess sergeant.

Wellman spoke about George in his 1974 autobiography, A Short Time for Insanity:

"I had different techniques to gain time to gather my so-called directional forces together. George Chandler was technique number one. George was not only my pal but a great actor as well. He had played everything for me, from the dumb messenger boy in A Star is Born to the screwball husband of Ginger Rogers in Roxie Hart. George had been in close to forty of my pictures, and he developed a second sight of my moments of uncertainty. If he happened to be in the scene that was bothering me, he would find some way of buggering it up, forgetting his lines, sneezing, not once or twice, a seizure, or whispering while I was talking - then the roof blew off, and believe me I could blow it a mile. When I had put George and all his relatives and ancestors where they belonged, I called off work for ten minutes, stormed into my dressing room office, slammed the door shut and sat down quietly, and always worked out my problem. It was like magic."

George Chandler was married for 50 years to Catherine Ward and they had three sons. He was a Screen Actors Guild board member from 1946 - 1948, SAG's treasurer from 1948 - 1960 and in 1960 took over its presidency following Ronald Reagan. George Chandler is one of the reasons so many of us are fans of the movies of the classic Hollywood era.


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