The great Henry Fonda was born 108 years ago today. If we were to try to post even a sampling of the great work he did, we would be here all day, so instead, we decided to share with you his appearance on perhaps our favorite television show ever.
Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.
* * *
Ven yuh make it sexy, make it sexy, an’ I don’ mean riddles! Dis is de age of hot mamas an’ varm-up papas. It’s de boxhoffice vot writes de ticket of de nation. Since de world var, everythin’ is boom-boom, hotsy-totsy, an’ knee-action.”
“But we have to be a little careful, Max,” his staff chief explained ruefully at every special meeting.
“Careful!” Max raved. “Careful from vot yuh tell me? Yuh vant ve should make it failure from hunger? Make vit guts a situation, I tell yuh! Make de pichers ring true from heart appeal. No afternoon dresses. Make it situations vot show a man makin’ hot love to a voman in negligee. An’ no pajama business. Give ‘em a quick look at something nifty. Now give me a look,” he always concluded when ready for an exit, and winked a huge financial eye.
“I tell you what we better do, boys,” the scenario chief began, with censorship in his mind. “We better try and be more artful—you know—imply more.”
“Dot’s it!” Max screamed elatedly. “Apply more.”
The chief grimaced. “You don’t quite understand me, Mr. Steinbalm.”
With hand on the door knob, Max advised, “Sure I do! Dot’s good fellas. Make it hot from pepper,” and closed the door quickly in order to have the last word.
Another picture was released, brandishing its sensationalism before the moralists. And as a red flag incenses a bull, they rushed to the attack.
A letter from the Hays organization demanded some attention. Max was still adamant, however, and did plenty of storming before a vacillating staff.
“De Hays! De Hays!” he shouted. “Always you are talkin’ about de Hays office vanting us to be more so. Piff! I tink you have gone softing. I ask yuh how can I sell a picher vitout he-men and she-goils? Does de Hays organization pay mine losses. No. But de dictates from de office makes it look I should make a man a pansy, an’ de goils shouldn’t be a cling to de vine any more. Oye, am I seek. Some states make it a censorship for an oncoming mama to knit up little yarn shoes. Udder states von’t let ‘er glence at an oncoming calendar. Oye, am I seek! Vot is dis? Absitively I’m blotto!”
“But, Mr. Steinbalm—”
“Don’t intrepret me! I’m de von who is hot! Jus’ enswering all my questions vit a positive or a yes, quick! Very vel den.”
“But, Max,” the chief pleaded, “this letter only suggests that they’re against these hot Tarzan clutches between men and women.”
“Ha! Ve should fake it our pichers vit dummies? Enswering me dot again vit some quick no’s. Do ve vant synth—”
Failing with the word synthetic, Max used fake again, and strutted up and down the room to exemplify his financial wound. When he said “Piff!” the chief knew it was time for thim to say something.
“Then you think—”
“I tink it’s hokay by me to take the bull by de teeth. It’s such as dot should make de picher business no more a racket. Ooo, am I seek! Censors have no financial appreciation.” He moaned as if he had invented the moan and said, “I rest my case!” like a great lawyer. He sat for a brief moment, then rushed to the door for a dramatic exit, got balanced, and concluded: “Huh! No more Tarzan clutches, hey! Vel, ve ain’t in such a jem vit out picher full of boxhoffice. I say write me stories it should wrack vit life. Vot yuh tink, I should fade out on Cupid necking Jackie Cooper? Look, ve get hotter and hotter! Ve use clutches like dot snake in Vild Cargo.”
He slammed the door, then opened it again, and winked coyly to show respect for his staff.
But Max was forced to listen to outside demands. His hot situation brought hot reactions of a different sort. After many hot letters from hot mothers (not mamas) and hot fathers (not papas), he listened to hot commands from his superiors in the business. Somewhat subdued, he ordered a special scenario to conference in his office.
An anxious staff assembled itself, ready to listen to what promised to be nothing short of a Gettysburg address. With the spirit of Will Hays within him, Max Steinbalm rose to express his desires.
“Boys,” he began solemnly, “I have jus’ had a nice chat vit Mr. Vil Hays. He talked tuh me like a pel, a bosom pel. An’ believe me he’s a good feller. Jus’ like us. Boys, he’s right! Vot dis country needs is uplift, vit a capital UP. Ideas tuh tink about vot’s on de upward ten—” Failing with the word tendency, he carried on with road. “The upper road. Ven a picher gets tuh de end, it should be strong from uplift—downright reform. From now on dose are de clean ethics vot is de acme from us.”
The chief started a little applause. The rest of the staff thought it better to join in quickly.
But Max lifted his hand like a statesman, to neutralize the plaudits. The spirit of Will Hays pervaded him. After smacking his lips, he posed for conclusion concerning his new moral policy.
“Now in dis new story you are composin’,” he began sincerely, “I’ll stand for de goil in de picher shootin’ de man an’ stealin’ all his money, but she must still remain, at de end, a nice goil.”
We’re surely not the first old-movie buffs to notice that there are many more scenes set on cruise ships in pictures from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s than in contemporary movies. And traveling by boat in those days included no karaoke bars, miniature golf, or rock-climbing walls.
No, activities on an oceanic cruise in those days were limited to drinking cocktails, strolling the decks, reading, playing cards, and if you were lucky, falling in love with an urbane and sophisticated escaped convict or a beautiful woman with a terminal illness.
We love scenes—heck, even entire movies—set on cruise ships, and we’ve often found ourself wondering what the wording was on the thing the captain (or one of his underlings) uses to signal (we think) the crew in the engine room that it’s time to power up (or power down) the ship. (We have no earthly idea what the darned thing’s called—it resembles a white sign that has various words and phrases on it and a lever that one moves from one end to the other, with stops along the way—if you’ve seen an old movie with extensive cruise ship footage in it, you’ve probably gotten a glimpse of one.)
Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.
* * *
He was a freckled-faced little shaver with a large nose which gave him a complex long before he knew the meaning of the word.
“Aw, why do they have to call me Sour Puss, Mom?” he confided one day to his mother. “I can’t stand it any more. Someday I’m goin’ to run away from this town.”
“Now don’t talk such nonsense,” his mother consoled.
“I am! You’ll see. Why, it’s always Sour Puss this, and Sour Puss that. They make me sick! It ain’t no name fer anybody.”
“Don’t you fret. Let them call you what they want.”
“But I am ugly, and I know it.”
“Why, you’re not! You just have rough-hewn features.”
“Well, why don’t they call me Micky, or Pal, or Slim, or any ol’ thing? But Sour Puss—that’s terrible, Mom!”
“It’s just a nickname. One of these fine days you’ll wake up and find that they don’t call you that any more. It just won’t fit. Now run along to the party and have a good time. Won’t you do that for mother?”
Noncommitally he bounded out of the house.
He went to the party, but he didn’t venture inside. For a while, he watched the gay activities from a knot hole in the barn. When the afternoon waned and the shadows fell, the party moved indoors. Then he circled the grounds like a spy, and from a great oak tree on the front lawn, watched the candles flare through the windows.
Neither the gayety, the dancing, the banquet that followed, nor the strawberry ice cream with chocolate cake five layers high could tempt him into an entrance. Instead, he climbed to the top of the oak and peered down through the thin foliage. With a broken jackknife, he carved a heart in a limb and cut his initials deep, together with those of the girl whom he would have liked to be sitting beside at the party.
Actress and coloratura soprano Deanna Durbin, who died recently at the age of 91, became a movie star at the age of 15 in a picture, Three Smart Girls (1936), in which she was meant to be billed ninth (she sparkled so in the rushes that she was made the picture’s star). Durbin remained immensely popular until she turned her back on Hollywood in 1949, moving to a small village in France with her third husband, movie director Charles David.
As Aljean Harmetz wrote in the New York Times, “In 1946, Ms. Durbin’s salary of $323,477 from Universal made her the second-highest-paid woman in America, just $5,000 behind Bette Davis.”
Durbin’s first appearance came opposite the then-13-year-old Judy Garland. It was swing vs. opera, and who came out ahead depends entirely upon the listener’s inclinations.
We always find it a bit sad when performers who achieved such heights reveal later, as did Durbin, that they found no joy in their Hollywood success, but we admire Ms. Durbin for doing what made her happy. She managed to enjoy more than six decades out of the spotlight she disdained, and we figure that in itself merits a tip o’ the hat.