Archive for The RKO Story

Steps Gingerly

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on September 26, 2008 by dcairns

This one was Fiona’s idea.

In the magnificent THE RKO STORY episode dealing with Astaire & Rogers’ careers at that studio, some amusing anecdotes are spieled out concerning the dresses Ginger wore and the problems they caused Fred in their dance numbers ~

The feather dress which would shed light strands across the art deco set, and over Fred’s immaculate tux, befouling it in his eyes.

And the beaded dress with long sleeves which would savagely slap Fred’s face when he swung Ginger around.

But there were other dresses too, of which the documentarists are silent, their existence a closely guarded lie secret. Come with me now as I lead you into the vaults where the programme-makers sealed their unused footage.

Camera assistant Freck Pealy: “Oh sure, Ginger would come up with some screwy ideas for dresses. One problem was, you couldn’t always light ‘em. One dress she wanted to wear, it was all made o’ mirror. The whole thing, top to bottom, was one big lookin’ glass. Well [director] Mark Sandrich took one look at it and said, ‘Ginger, we can’t use it. You can see the camera reflected in your tits.’ Ginger didn’t like that, she stormed off, but he got his way.”

Art director Munroe Streeves: “Another time there was a different kind of problem. Ginger would seize upon an idea and have a costume made, and although it would look pretty, she couldn’t dance in it. like the stone dress.”

Interviewer Leslie Megahey: “Stone dress?”

Streeves: “I think it was granite. About a foot thick. It all fitted together on grooves and she had to be cemented into it. Her arms were free, and her feet stuck out the bottom, and it was quite low-cut. Or low-carved, I should say. Well, once she had it on, they winched her up onto her feet, and she cried, ‘Stop, it’s too heavy!’ It would have crushed her feet, that thing, and her feet were insured for $100,000, back when that was a lot of money. So after that [producer] Pandro Berman stepped in and said any costumes had to be cleared by him first. Ginger didn’t like that, but she had to go along with it.”

Executive producer Pandro S. Berman: “Some of the craziest ideas for dresses landed on my goddamn desk. She had one idea, molten gold. Had some scientist schmoe from UCLA said he could fix it up so it wouldn’t burn her to death. Something to do with cool air circulating inside. I put the brakes on that one, I can tell you. And then there was some plan to use human skin. Different colours, you know? Well, the idea was at least feasible, but we couldn’t get the material. If this had been wartime it might have been different.”

Fred Astaire: “Sometimes I had to put my foot down. Bernard [Newman, costume designer] would come to Ginger with these schemes. Like a suit of armour with a mace built in. Well, after the business with the beaded sleeves I wasn’t about to accept that. There was the electrical dress. They wanted to feed cables up through the floor to make it sparkle. Ginger would have been insulated inside it, but as I said, ‘How am I supposed to take her in my arms?’ It was very… imaginative, but they hadn’t thought it through.”

Ginger: “I still think some of those dresses would have been sensational on the screen. One idea I came up with myself, which the studio was interested in, we couldn’t do because the Breen Office objected. The costume was basically an x-ray screen, and you would have seen my skeleton as I danced. I thought that would be very beautiful, you know, with the bones moving. But the censors said it was too revealing.”

Megahey: “Were any of these costume ideas ever used elsewhere?”

Ginger: “You couldn’t, you know, because they were all owned by the studios. The clockwork dress was one I was extremely keen on, it was all made of metal and powered by machinery. I sat inside at a control console, operating it. I eventually did see something similar in a movie, but I guess studios just weren’t thinking that way back then.”

Megahey: “What was the movie?”

Ginger: “I think it was called Robot Jox. Something like that.”

Into the Vallee

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 12, 2008 by dcairns

Being in Milan automatically makes me think of Rudy Vallee, due no doubt to some terrible malfunction in the wiring of my brain.


Thrilled to get my hands on the excellent series The RKO Story, which is much better than these things usually are, and was made when enough eyewitnesses were still around who could talk about what went on at that perrennially-struggling, often-brilliant “dream factory”. Fred Astaire, Robert Mitchum, Ginger Rogers, Jane Greer, John Houseman, Pandro S. Berman, Edward Dmytryk, Richard Fleischer. All gone now. Only Jane Russell remains, surmounting the mound of corpses like a barbarian in a Frazetta painting.

And then there’s Rudy Vallee. I don’t want to say I’m disappointed by Rudy. I had kind of thought of him as sweeter, based no doubt on his lovely turn in Sturges’ THE PALM BEACH STORY. Seemingly Sturges cast him after finding him hilarious in his straight roles in 30s RKO musicals. He’s so adorable in it that I have some resistance to accepting him as a jerk in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and as an insignificant schnook in THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, his other Sturges pictures. But it would be foolish to expect Rudy Vallee to be like Rudy Hackensack III in TPBS. So I’m not disappointed, just appalled and flabbergasted. Here he is:

“I was born with a great amount of sexual emotion. That is evidently why, over a period of my eighty-four years of life, I have known over one hundred and forty five women and girls.”

I sort of expected him to continue, “some as young as eight,” but he didn’t, thank Christ. I love that “over one hundred and forty five,” as well — “That’s as precise as I can be, goddamnit! It could have been one hundred and forty eight, I don’t know! Thereabouts.”

Slightly Scarlet

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2008 by dcairns


Obscure wide-screen systems! I *LIVE* for obscure wide-screen systems.


Lurid titling is good also.


They are sisters! Rhonda Fleming is comforting Arlene Dahl. Nothing funny going on.

Number One With a Bullet

The film is lit by John Alton, who had an amazing track record in film noir. His work is often even more distinct than that of his directors, even when it’s somebody like Anthony Mann. Alton also lit the ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, but otherwise he didn’t get as much work as he should have because the unions disliked him for using so few lights.

I feel I should have liked this more — it combines fine noir credentials, with Alton lensing and a source novel by James M. Cain, with a women’s picture melodrama vibe. Should’ve been fabulous, but felt only intermittently so. Maybe it’s the John Payne factor, a terrible burden for any film, although I found him slightly more effective here than in THE DARK CORNER, a better film which he almost sinks. His amoral anti-hero character in this film would have been rather interesting had anyone else played it. Well, maybe not John Hodiak or John Lund or Jon Hall. Or Kent Smith. But anybody else.

Major Payne

Allan Dwan directs — it was something like his 370th film, a feat he could only accomplish by being literally immune to death. Victor Fleming once tried to hammer a stake through his heart, but it didn’t take. You know how your nose and ears continue to enlarge throughout your life? That’s what finally got him.

Rhonda's valley

But watching the film and finding the two redheads pretty appealing, I did some cyber-spadework and found Rhonda Fleming’s website, where she welcomes emails, although she’s very busy what with charity work and being a Christian and stuff. But I thought it would be cool to say “hi”, having communicated with very few Hollywood legends, really. I came up with a question to justify barging in:

“A question occurred to me about one of my favourite films — OUT OF THE PAST. I saw Jane Greer interviewed in a documentary called THE RKO STORY, where she talked about director Jacques Tourneur not speaking very good English. But Tourneur was born in America, and made all his films there, despite his father being French, so this didn’t seem right. I wondered what your memories of Tourneur are — I think he was a marvellous director and both Jane Greer and yourself were marvellously alluring and chillingly wicked in that film. Anything you can tell me would be gratefully received.”

It was actually Fiona who spotted that Greer’s recollections seemed inconsistent with the fact. A couple of days later I got a reply:

“I don’t recall too much about Director, Jacques Tourneur; it was so long ago.  However he just let me do it ‘my way’ and I don’t really remember any problem in understanding his English, but he obviously has been proven to be outstanding in directing us in roles that were diverse and full of mystery and excitement.  It was an honor to be a part of a great noir film.”

Which was very nice. It doesn’t clear up the question at all, but I can hardly blame Rhonda F. for not remembering a co-worker from sixty years ago. I can’t remember where I put my slippers.


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