In Their Words: Preston Sturges
The great Preston Sturges would have been 116 today; alas, he made it not much past halfway to that age, dying at 60 in 1959.
But the mark he left of cinematic comedy is indelible and undeniable. He was a much-in-demand screen writer for many years before he ever sat in the director’s chair (among the classic movies he wrote but didn’t direct: The Good Fairy, Easy Living, Remember the Night), and when he finally did began to direct, he upped his game to heights rarely, if ever, equaled.
In a perfect world, you and I could meet for a beer and go see a Sturges comedy tonight. In a theatre with an appreciative audience is the best way to experience his work (as it is, let’s face it, with all funny movies), but since that’s not going to happen, we urge you to cancel your plans and rent any of the aforementioned titles, or any of those below: Sullivan’s Travels, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Unfaithfully Yours, The Palm Beach Story…
You might also pick up his memoir, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His was a life as entertaining and as unlikely as the most outlandish of his pictures, and he tells his story with characteristic panache.
Happy birthday, Mr. Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs.
The Many Facets of Dick Powell
Dick Powell is the featured star on Monday, August 25, during Turner Classic Movies‘ Summer Under the Stars festival that happens every August. There are any number of pictures airing that day that might be enjoyed, but we noted three particular pictures that feature an appealing diversity of style and genre and demonstrate Powell’s versatility, and so we commend them to you as a collective 4.5 hours well worth watching.
The triple feature kicks off at 8 p.m. ET with the great Preston Sturges comedy Christmas in July (1940), which finds Powell portraying an office clerk who mistakenly believes his entry has been named the winner in a coffee company’s slogan contest. Hilarity, as one might expect, ensues. Next up, at 9:15 p.m., Powell takes a noir turn as Raymond Chandler‘s shamus, Phillip Marlowe, in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Finally, at 11:00 p.m., Powell takes center stage in one of Busby Berkeley‘s more over-the-top musical efforts, Dames (1934).
We say, record the Emmys and watch these three movies on Monday night, but at the very least, fire up the DVR and record this trio of motion pictures for later viewing; you won’t regret it.
Goodbye to Another Glorious Gal: Lauren Bacall
The world lost a wonderful woman with the passing of the great Lauren Bacall.
We’ve told the story before, but what the heck: We’ve always felt a certain connection to Ms. Bacall because we were neighbors for a few months when we first moved to New York City straight out of college.
We initially got settled here after the move from Oklahoma City by subletting an apartment from a pal for the summer; it was a small office, really, that wasn’t intended (or zoned) to be a residence. One room, plus an entryway, a closet and a good-sized bathroom, but no kitchen (we ate a lot of peanut butter that summer).
But we didn’t care because it was located on 72nd Street, just east of Columbus Avenue, which anyone familiar with Manhattan knows is just down the street from the Dakota, storied digs of the rich and famous and home to Bogie‘s best gal.
We never spotted her on the street (don’t think we weren’t keeping a constant eye out), but we mailed her a picture postcard of one of her classic Hollywood headshots and she sent it back to us, autographed (see above).
That was a grand day.
We also stood in line at the TKTS booth to get cheap tickets to her triumphant run in Woman of the Year on Broadway. We waited after the show for her to emerge, and when she did, she passed no more than a two or three feet from us. We didn’t get to speak to her, alas, but it was a kick just to be that close. We were brand new to NYC, after all, and as devoted movie buffs, she was like royalty to us.
She was quite a dame and we’re sorry to see her go, but we’re grateful that she had such a good, long run.
Rest in peace, Ms. Bacall, and thanks.
Our Evening with Kitty Carlisle
Did we ever tell you about the time we met Kitty Carlisle? No? Well, let’s rectify that right now.
In 2005, we attended a screening of June Moon at NYC’s Film Forum. It’s a 1931 adaptation of a play written by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner that hadn’t been screened since its initial run more than seventy years prior.
And so was Kaufman-Schneider’s pal Kitty Carlisle-Hart, who was then just two months away from turning 95. She was, of course, the widow of former Kaufman collaborator Moss Hart.
We thought the world of Hart (still do)—Kitty was one of our favorite New Yorkers, and, since she was seated directly behind us, we decided to turn around and tell her as much.
“Thank you, dear,” she said when we told her it was an honor to be sitting in front of her. “I do hope you’ll try to scrunch down in your seat so I can see the movie.”
We promised to do our best.
A few minutes passed, and we felt a finger tapping on our shoulder. We turned around.
“May I have some of your popcorn,” Ms. Carlisle-Hart asked, pointing at the nearly full bag of popcorn on the floor next to my seat (we were both seated on the aisle).
“By all means—have just as much as you like.”
We were thrilled. Someone who once starred opposite the Marx Brothers was sharing our popcorn! And impressed, too—we hope, when we’re 95, we’re still up to bending over and snagging some popcorn from a bag on the ground.
We spent most of the movie contorted every which in order to keep our fat head from blocking Ms. Hart’s view of the screen, and after the final credits, we turned around and asked her if our efforts had been successful.
“I didn’t miss a thing,” she said effusively. “Thank you so much!”
We chatted briefly for a moment or two more, and we screwed up enough courage to ask her if she would consent to our conducting an interview with her one day soon, if we could find a publication interested in running it, and she readily agreed, telling us how we could contact her if and when the time came.
Later, I spoke to Ms. Kaufman-Schneider, thanking her for the Q&A she had participated in after the movie. She was great—whip-smart, opinionated (she hated the movie, and wasn’t afraid to say so), frank, and witty.
She asked me if we weren’t the young fellow whose popcorn Kitty had been filching; we admitted that we were.
We assured her that we had been pleased to share our snack and thanked her again.
We never managed to conduct that interview with our Kitty; she passed away just short of two years later and we somehow didn’t manage to get our ducks in time. But we’ll always treasure the memory of our encounter with her.
And we figure that, if there’s an afterlife (and we’re inclined to think there is), we’ll have someone to show us around a bit. Surely she won’t mind introducing us to the Marx Brothers, for starters, and to our favorite What’s My Line panelist, Arlene Francis. Kitty, of course, was a regular panelist on To Tell the Truth, but she was a guest panelist on What’s My Line more than once, and we’d bet our bottom dollar that she and Arlene got along like two peas in a pod.
We figure it’s the least she can do. After all, we shared our popcorn with her, right?
Happy Birthday, Robert Mitchum!
This post first appeared on August 1, 2010. The graphic is new.
Robert Mitchum would have been 97 today, if he’d managed to stick around.
Was there ever a cooler movie star, with his sleepy eyes, barrel chest, and smooth way with tough-guy repartee? Mitchum was so cool he recorded calypso records on which he sang with a faux Caribbean accent. Honestly, who else could have pulled that off and kept his cachet?
It’s a damn shame Mitchum didn’t get to play Philip Marlowe at an appropriate age. His belated stab at the role, in 1975′s Farewell My Lovely, shows that he was perfectly suited to play Raymond Chandler‘s shamus. One can get a sense of how it might have gone by watching the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947), in which Mitchum plays a Marlowe-esque private eye, and at an age that was right in line with Marlowe’s.
We wrote to Mitchum in 1980 or so, asking him for an autographed photo. As we requested, we received a shot of him in the role of Marlowe, and it was inscribed, “Cheers! Bob Mitchum.” We don’t know for certain if it was signed by the man himself or by someone who did his signing for him, but we like to think that Mitchum, who didn’t brook much nonsense from anyone, wouldn’t bother to send out proxy signatures, that he’d either sign them himself or not at all.
We’ll close by recalling Mitchum’s response to a reporter’s question after serving time in 1948 for marijuana possession:
“[Prison is] like Palm Springs, without the riff-raff.”
Give me a night in June
Give me a Summer moon
Give me hammock built for two
Gee, it's mighty cozy
Side by side with you
Rockin' up in the air
Rockin' away our care
Rockin' until our hopes come through
Everything looks rosy
How can we be blue?
Swingin' in a hammock
Underneath a tree
Just you and I together
Swayin' in the breeze
—Swingin' in a Hammock
Lyrics by Tot Seymour & Chas. O'Flynn; music by Pete Wendling, 1930