Archive for The RKO Story

Putting Pants on Raoul

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2014 by dcairns


Enjoying very much Raoul Walsh’s autobio, Each Man In His Time. The accounts of Walsh’s early days as a sailor, cowboy and assistant to a doctor and an undertaker in Utah are extremely diverting, full of rowdiness and black comedy just like a Walsh film. How truthful they are is hard to assess, but a clue may be found in the account of the making of REGENERATION, Fox Pictures’ gangster epic which Walsh directed, the first gangster feature film (possibly).

Walsh has fun recounting the filming of the ferry fire sequence, for which a ragged army of volunteers were rounded up at the docks: their role, to leap into the water from the deck of the ferry. Walsh says he hired a couple of ruffians to ensure that everybody evacuated as planned — headfirst if necessary. The men did their job so well they even chucked the Fox moneyman overboard, pay-satchel and all, causing Walsh to fear for his neck if the cash were lost and he had nothing to pay his unruly and sodden background artists at day’s end.

This all happens in a chapter entitled The Censor Will Hang Us, and the reason for that title is soon supplied. When the rushes are viewed, it became apparent that numerous of the ladies leaping into the drink were without underwear. Walsh claims that the shots were too intricate to simply trim out the offending frames, and in desperation he rushed the footage to a specialist “negative doctor,” who told him at once that the job was impossible.

“‘Nothing’s impossible,’ I barked at him, ‘Do you remember the time Dolly Larkin ripped her blouse and her tits fell out? You fixed that one.'”

Walsh reports that after working all night, the visual effects artist successfully superimposed undergarments on all the bottomless leapers, ‘except some of the women looked as though they were wearing diapers.’


This story struck me as unlikely, though I recalled learning from The RKO Story that traveling mattes were employed to conceal some of Jane Russell’s cleavage in THE OUTLAW after the censor objected. But a cursory glance at REGENERATION shows that the extreme long shots of leaping ladies show no billowing skirts, no nudity and no underpants, superimposed, hand-painted or otherwise. I expect probably there was some troublesome footage, and I expect it was simply deleted. Walsh the storyteller couldn’t leave it at that, and how many people were going to see a copy of REGENERATION and catch him confabulating?

vlcsnap-2014-06-11-10h21m44s12My second below-the-belt piece in as many days. What’s that all about?

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.”