Archive for Growing Up In Hollywood

Soap Gets in Your Eyes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2008 by dcairns

Boyer Meets Girler

At the climax of Frank Borzage’s soaring romance HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT, a ship suspiciously like the Titanic collides with an iceberg and the passengers sing “Near-er, My God, To Thee.” When Borzage decides he wants to film specific extras singing and crying, there’s the chance for them to earn an extra two dollar fifty adjustment in their salaries ~

“[Second unit director] Ripley said, ‘How many of you can cry?’ We all held our hands up and he said he would try us out, one at a time. He started testing at the opposite end of the line. I was so nervous I ran out to the toilet. While I was there, I noticed the bar of Lux soap which was furnished to all studios in exchange for publicity photos of the stars using Lux. I scraped  my fingernails across the soap, lodging enough Lux under my nails to keep me crying for a week. When I got back to the set, Ripley and [dialogue director Joshua] Logan were having a rough time. They had found only three genuine criers. The rest were poking themselves in the eyes and thinking about their dead mothers, the Depression, the loss of the two-fifty adjustment, and any other sad thoughts that might bring on tears. When my turn came, I squeezed some soap into my eyes and burst into song — ‘E’en tho’ it be a cross, near-er to Thee — near-er my God to Thee, near-er to Thee…’The tears flowed, the cameras rolled, and Frank Borzage’s reputation as a sentimental director was intact.”

~ from Growing Up in Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

I always thought it kind of weird that this movie, which begins with some of the most fabulous romantic stuff in all of ’30s Hollywood cinema (a fairly romantic time and place even at its worst), should end as a kind of disaster movie. Apparently the film was being rewritten during the shooting, but that doesn’t explain anything much — the sinking ship was obviously always part of the plan. Maybe the last-minute rewrites prevented the five writers involved from establishing the clues that would have made such an ending inevitable as well as surprising (traditionally an ending is supposed to be both). True, Colin Clive (in one of his last roles) is established as an ocean liner magnate early on, but it doesn’t seem that important.

Would you sail in an ocean liner built by Doctor Frankenstein?

I must watch the film again though, because (a) I still think the first half is astonishingly good, with really dynamite work from Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer, two actors who are always good but prove to be exceptionally good together and (b) now that I know it’s coming, the sinking ship probably won’t bother me at all.

Borzage, the presiding genius, does manage a plot twist with his version of TITANIC that James Cameron would never have dared — the ship doesn’t sink! I admire very much the cheek of that.

Quote of the Day: Blackmail

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2008 by dcairns

No angel

*Many many people seem to be coming here for stuff on Mae West, which is nice. But I wrote a piece about her here that might be more what you’re after…

Mae West was being blackmailed. The special investigator for the Los Angeles district attorney’s office didn’t seem to be able to catch the blackmailer. One of the reasons for this was that he was the blackmailer.”

~ from Growing Up In Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

A literally incredible story from Parrish’s joyous autobio, recounting his Hollywood experiences as child player, extra, boy detective, editor and director. This chapter features not only West and the D.A.’s office, but Busby Berkeley, Al Jolson (who saves the day), and Warners’ studio cop Blaney Matthews:

“The year before he had been the chief investigator for the district attorney’s office and assigned to a drunk driving, hit-and-run manslaughter case. A famous, talented and, at that time, irreplaceable dance director [I think we know who] was the driver of the death car [I’ve always loved that expression, “death car”. It has an ominous sound, far more so than “death scooter”, for instance]. He was also in the middle of shooting one of Warner Brothers’ most expensive musicals. When the case came up, the special investigator, Blaney Matthews, said it wasn’t the dance director’s fault after all. The dance director was acquitted and went back to directing the Warner Brothers musical. Shortly after, Matthews resigned as chief investigator for the district attorney’s office and was appointed head of the Warner Brothers Studio police department. It was well known that the appointment was in recognition of the good sense and high integrity that he had shown in the matter of the dance director.”

Parrish’s (possibly tall) tale would make a great little movie, but I don’t know who would make it.

wheel of death

Quote of the Day: “…plus fifteen cents.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 29, 2008 by dcairns


Robert Parrish lunches with John Ford ~

“After lunch, I got up to leave, and Ford muttered, ‘Stick around. I’ve got some information I’d like to give you.’

“When we were alone, Ford said, ‘How’s Kathy?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ He said, ‘Where are you living now?’ I said, ‘One a fifty-foot lot in the valley.’

“He smiled and lit his pipe (1 min. 40 secs.). Then he decided he wanted a cigar instead. He selected a butt from the ashtray and lit it (1 min. 10 secs.). ‘I hear you won an Academy Award,’ he said finally.

“‘Yes, I did.’

“He relit the cigar butt. ‘I’ve won seven.’

“There was nothing much I could say to that without sounding insolent or petty. In fact, at that time he had won three Oscars for direction […] He didn’t show up at the awards ceremony to collect any of these first three Oscars because, he explained, ‘Once I went fishing, another time there was a war on, and on another occasion, I was suddenly taken drunk.’

“[…] In any event, I wasn’t going to bicker about an Oscar or two. Ford deserved every award he received and some he didn’t receive.

“He went on, ‘There’s a place downtown on Hill Street between Fifth and Sixth where, if you take your Oscar in and give them fifteen cents, they’ll give you a cup of coffee.’

“I think I got his point, but there wasn’t much I could say. ‘Do you have the address?’ was the best I could do.

“‘No, but I’ve got the Oscars, and they don’t mean a thing. The only thing that’s important is to keep working. And even that’s only important when you’re actually doing it. OK?’

“I said, ‘Yes. That’s OK.’

“He said, ‘Congratulations,’ and I said ‘Thanks.’ He said, ‘Good luck,’ and I said ‘The same to you.’

“I didn’t have an occasion to talk to Ford again for twenty years.”

~ from Growing Up In Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

A shame Parrish’s modest reputation as a director isn’t enough to keep this book in print because his stories are really good. I love “suddenly taken drunk”.

Also the book makes me want to run ALL THE KING’S MEN (original version) to compare it to his account of editing it, which is fascinating. A colossally overlong bore turned into a hit by a sheer aggressive hack-and-slash job of cutting, to hear him tell it.