Friday, October 24, 2008

Unquote, Please

The Siren reads way too much about movies, although the fabulous Sheila O'Malley may have her beat. After a while you start to come across the same quotes again and again. Some are still funny ("I think that 'e' made the whole fuckin' difference," mused Carole Lombard, born plain old Jean Alice Peters.) Some are just true. ("It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter," said Marlene Dietrich, a theory she tested quite a bit in later life.)

But the Siren realized this week that there are several very famous remarks made by famous movie people that she never wants to hear again, although she will, she will. In reverse order, here they are, starting with the one that triggered this post:

5. "After 40 you must choose between your face and your ass."

This is usually attributed to Catherine Deneuve, but the Siren thinks Zsa Zsa Gabor is a more likely source. We have it on Brian Aherne's authority that Zsa Zsa is quite funny when she wants to be and she was always making remarks like this. One reason to hate this quote is that the age at which you must make this decision is always changing. In this month's InStyle it's pegged at 30. Thirty!! So Amy Adams, currently igniting newstands everywhere on the cover of Vanity Fair, chose one or the other four years ago? Rubbish. Mere mortal women figure on losing both the face and the ass at some point (a point well past 30, thankyouverymuch) unless we're blessed with superb genes and/or an unlimited plastic surgery budget. But for most actresses it isn't true at 40, or even 50. The Siren's favorite example is Diane Lane...



but there's plenty of others. Please, let's not pull out this tired old saying every time we see a woman who's dieted too much or has a face that's been injected too often with the scary stuff du jour. And one last thing. This quote is always applied to a woman.



If that's fair, then tell me, which did Mickey Rourke choose?

4. "For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day..."

Usually attributed to Audrey Hepburn. There's more like that afterward but it always turns the Siren into a version of Daffy Duck, muttering "Easy stomach, don't turn over now," so that's all you're getting. Reason number one to hate this "poem" is that it's insipid nonsense. The Siren feeds hungry children every day and they run their fingers through her hair, as well as anything else that's less than five feet off the ground, but the Siren assures her readers that it has no effect on her looks one way or another. The second reason is that although Hepburn apparently liked this tripe and used to quote the whole thing, in public even (which we will let slide because Hepburn really was a generous lady with otherwise impeccable taste), she didn't write it. It was written by someone named Sam Levenson.



If we are going to talk sensible beauty quotes, let's talk about the wonderful Bette Davis vehicle, Mr. Skeffington. Claude Rains, in the title role, tells his vain, selfish wife that a woman is beautiful when she's loved. Davis retorts, as only Davis can, "A woman is beautiful when she has eight hours' sleep and goes to the beauty parlor every day. And bone structure has a lot to do with it, too."

3. "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels."

Often attributed to Ann Richards, but it predates the late, great Texas gov by some years. Rogers included Bob Thaves' Frank and Ernest comic strip, which appears to be the source, in the photos for her autobiography. The Siren cited Ginger for The Performance That Changed My Life, and will defend her abilities against all comers. But as for this quote--it's cute and all, but again, not true. She wore high heels, sure, although take a good look below--compared to today's skyscrapers they're practically flats.



Rogers also rehearsed on slippery Bakelite floors until her feet bled and she probably fantasized about stuffing Fred's top hat up his nose. But she did not do everything Astaire did. Together they were dazzling, but he was self-evidently the greater dancer, which Ginger herself probably would have admitted if you asked her nicely enough. Plus, their duets, carefully designed for maximum beauty on camera, use a lot of forward and side-by-side steps. The Siren is no choreographer, but she's seen these movies over and over, and Ginger doesn't move backwards all that much. Check out "Cheek to Cheek", and see who's moving backwards during most of the first part.

2. "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul."

Oh boo hoo hoo, Marilyn. After the past few months of watching our economy do a face-plant, the Siren thinks a thousand dollars for a kiss is a darned good price, even without adjusting for inflation. And meanie-weenie Hollywood sold your soul for cheap, huh. The people standing by the clothing racks and saying "Can I help you?" to grumpy, dead-broke customers, and the ones getting repetitive-motion injuries at their keyboards and jumping every time the boss calls them in the office for fear they're getting the old pre-Christmas pink slip--they all got a much better rate for their souls.

Most irritating is when this quote is used to illustrate how Marilyn Monroe suffered. She was charming and funny, really good in several movies, certainly she was beautiful, and you could say she had a hard time. Though, it seems to the Siren, not as hard as her colleagues did, standing around on the set waiting for Marilyn to get her act together. But you want suffering, real suffering, the kind to make Melpomene weep? Without Googling: Clara Bow. D.W. Griffith. Orson Welles. Gene Tierney. John Garfield. Dorothy Dandridge. Rita Hayworth. Canada Lee. Charles Boyer. Wallace Reid. Montgomery Clift. Lou Costello. Roscoe Arbuckle. Erich von Stroheim.

1. "He gives her class. She gives him sex."

Oh, Katharine. The Siren hasn't been able to track down exactly when and where Hepburn said this (anyone know?) but it was probably a fairly casual observation, not one supposed to substitute for any other analysis of the all-time greatest dancing team. Even when people don't invoke the quote itself, as David Thomson mercifully did not in his well-written but dead-wrong Astaire piece last Sunday, they regurgitate its assumptions. Astaire was plenty sexy. The routines themselves, as often noted, echo the rhythms of seduction and even the sex act itself, and that ain't possible with a sexless male.



As for Ginger needing more class, the Siren wonders if that was somehow a leftover bit of cattiness because Rogers stole Stage Door right out from under Hepburn. Rogers had a wonderful common-girl persona in the 1930s, but her movies relied on her self-confidence and grace. Check out something like Gregory La Cava's charmingly subversive 5th Avenue Girl, in which Rogers poses as a millionaire's mistress without losing a shred of her honor. The point to Ginger Rogers, and what made her such a perfect on-screen American woman, was that she constantly proved class is a state of mind and not birth.

The Siren has a suggestion for anyone itching to use the above-listed quotes. Look up Tallulah Bankhead instead. Now there's someone who could give you an evergreen yarn. The Siren winds this up with Tallulah, from A Southern Album, on the perils of stardom and election season:

"Be careful how you quote me. No swearing, no naughty cracks. This is a campaign year, you know, and I must be discreet. If I'm not, I'll have the whole goddamn Bankhead family on my neck."

67 comments:

Tony Dayoub said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Dayoub said...

In Mickey's defense, his plastic surgery was more for corrective purposes rather than vanity. The man hated being called a pretty-boy in that same Brando self-destructive way, and renewed an ill-advised boxing career in his forties. He had at least one cheekbone shattered, if not both. But I get your point.

I get it every time I see the fresh face lift Pacino gave himself in the movie Heat, or the eyelid lift(?) and hair transplant Gary Sinise subjected himself to for Mission to Mars.

Campaspe said...

Tony, you never know with this topic--celebrities almost never want to be frank, and so it's guesswork by reporters and whichever surgeon they've got on the phone--but it's said that Rourke's surgery started with a facelift in the early 90s. I don't wanna be too hard on him because when he gets it together he's a topnotch actor. But yeah, you see my point, the remark is sexist as well as false. That wouldn't bother me at all, in fact NONE of these quotes would bother me if I didn't run into them so often.

Gloria said...

One of the quotes I am tired of reading again and again is Hitchcock assertion that one should never direct children, animals or Charles Laughton (the quote is usually followed by an even more unnerving series of ha-ha's, grrrrr...).

To prove Hitchcock wrong, Laughton would direct, in The Night of the Hunter, animals and children... He didn't direct himself, but I bet that directing -and getting the respect of- Robert Mitchum should get him an extra point!

Vanwall said...

Too many extant quotes and not enough quotable actors for attribution: presto! - it's like a Chinese menu - pick one from column A and one from column B. Together you get eggroll. Brooksie and Mae West were always good for quotes, tho.

Campaspe said...

Gloria, quotable Hitchcock could have his own post. There are times when he is clearly withholding all kinds of information (quite contrary to his famous dissection of the elements of suspense!) and other times when he's cogent and fascinating. While I disagreed with Thomson's ultimate verdicts on Hitchcock I think the critic was on to something in his analysis of what Hitchcock was like when doing an interview. I also think Simon Callow did a good job of dissecting all the myths and realities of directing Laughton; there's no doubt that he drove some directors crazy but the results he gave them!

Vanwall, yes indeed to both ladies.

Andrea Janes said...

Hey, Leo McCarey liked Charles Laughton and that's good enough for me!

But seriously, awesome post. And your list of people who've suffered gave me shivers. People who call Marilyn "tragic" are dopes. My favorite moment this season was when Peggy coldly tosses off this line as weeping secretaries mourn Marilyn: "Good thing we didn't go with the Jackie/Marilyn campaign for Maidenform. We'd have to pull all the ads indefinitely."

gmoke said...

Thanks for deconstructing the backwards in high heels canard. Astaire went on to dance with numerous other partners (read the account of Barrie Chase in _The Dancer Within_) and Rogers, to my knowledge, never had another significant dancing partner (although she did well in "Dancing in the Dark").

This quote has always seemed to me to be demeaning to Astaire, something I will not abide. People criticize his "weak" singing voice too but I heard once that composers like Porter, Berlin, and Gershwin tended to favor his versions of their songs over all others.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Marilyn had a hard time because she was a prostitute who managed to work her way into legitimate acting. A great many people never forgot that she began as a prostitute and took great umbrage at the fact that she had managed to get herself a real career.

She is now (and probably forever) the very definition of Hollywood Star.

FDChief said...

I will defend Ginger to the last ditch as a vital part of the AstaireandRogers franchise, but not because of her dancing. We've had this conversation before so it's not worth beating it to death, but I would say there's some vitality in Kate's assessment of her as the "sexier" of the two. Fred's "charming", but I've always found his charm to be a little lightweight - Ginger adds a touch of earth that works for them. Her flaw was her need to be bigger than life - in one of her bios the author talks about her directors having to keep a close eye on her to prevent her "frilling up" her outfits to better catch the camera (her nickname on the A&R sets was "Feathers" for her foofy affectations) - and Fred's shrewd approach to her keeps her down to manageable size. I find that I like them better as a team than I like them individuals, though they both did good work elsewhere (although an Oscar for "Kitty Foyle"? C'mon, Academy...!).

IMO the entire Marilyn cult is second only to the Diana Spenser horrorshow as an example of what happens when pretty but dim people get wealth and fame they are too self-absorbed and/or clueless and/or lack the self-criticism to handle, and others find that "it's always tempting to impute/unlikely virtues to the cute.".

Puh-leeze.

The woman was pretty (though I've never really fallen for her cotton-candy appeal, preferring my blondes wise and snarky a la Rogers-as-Annie) but no better an ordinary on camera most of the time. She was the Madonna of her day: fun to watch when she got to play Marilyn. She got a good run out of a middleweight talent and fell to pieces when her own internal problems became stronger than she was. That's a misfortune, not high tragedy.

mndean said...

I can't consider Astaire's voice weak. He's not a crooner, nor does he sing like a rutting cat, nor does he try hard to "sell" a song (I had the experience of watching Johnnie "Scat" Davis, and while he may have sung the definitive version of Hooray For Hollywood, he mugged more than a Central Park criminal), but Fred puts his songs across very straightforwardly, in a way that is probably considered old-fashioned these days. He had an easy charm as an actor and it seemed that he just went on and on and never seemed to age, mostly because he never looked all that young anyway. Even in his days with Adele, he looked older than her.

As for Ginger, the thought that she was anywhere near Fred's equal in dancing is fanciful, but I give her a lot of credit for working hard at it and looking good teamed with Fred, and sometimes she looked as if she genuinely enjoyed her dancing in the films. As a star, I always thought she was best around the time of Fifth Avenue Girl (The tragedy of my DVD recording career was that I watched the movie, enjoyed it quite a lot and found I had only recorded the sound for it and no picture. I still kick myself) and Bachelor Mother, but I was never a huge fan of Kitty Foyle. Many of her later movies do little for me. There's a couple I like, but nothing I remember well enough to name without IMDB's help. I really can't put my finger on why.

Gloria said...

"Hey, Leo McCarey liked Charles Laughton and that's good enough for me!"

;D Andrea, and so did Lubistch, Wilder, Preminger, Lean, Siodmack and Renoir, among others. Campaspe rightly points Callow's book as a good argumentation against asumed myths. Maybe he didn't get along with Hitchcock or Sternberg, but "difficulties with some directors" is not the same as "difficulties with all directors"

(Incidentally, for all the trouble Don Alfredo had with CL in jamaica Inn, he seemed to get along nicely with him in "The Paradine case" .

Fdchief, much as I also feel that poor Marylin (at my home: "La Chinchinjau") has been uber-iconized to exasperating extremes, I still think she is far above Diana Spencer or La Ciccone ;p

(But then I'm biased: According to Shelley Winters, Marilyn once said that Charles Laughton was the sexiest man she'd ever meet: How can't I love a gal with such excellent and discerning taste?)

Karen said...

Oh, Siren, I have made those same arguments about the Ginger "backwards and in heels" line a thousand times. No one ever listens. It makes me CRAZY. It's a line that can only be said by someone who has NEVER seen their dance routines. SO MUCH was side-by-side, and the really tricky stuff was never done "backwards."

We have discussed Astaire's sexiness on this blog before, and you know where I stand on that one.

gmoke, there was a documentary on TCM about Astaire a while ago, in which virtually all the top composers of the day were quoted as saying how much they preferred Astaire singing their songs. One of their key points was that he enunciated their words so clearly--yet so effortlessly--that no lyric was ever lost to the listener. They loved his phrasing, and his fidelity to the melody as well.

About 25 years ago I bought a double-LP set of Astaire singing his greatest hits, and I could (and did) listen to it for hours. Sheer pleasure.

On another note, I had actually never heard that Audrey Hepburn "poem," and will now eternally regret my previous state of innocence.

Dan Callahan said...

I believe that Katharine Hepburn made that famous remark about Astaire/Rogers in Pandro Berman's office...he repeated it, and it has been around ever since. Rogers was her chief rival at RKO, so I think it was partly cattiness on Kate's part, a la Terry Randall.

I've been thinking about Fred and Ginger lately because they just re-released their autobiographies in paperback. There they are, side by side again, in Barnes and Noble. Ginger's brief intro to the Astaire book is grudging and huffy, answering what she feels was a small criticism of her in his book.

"Fred should have known that I'm not above admitting to a fault! And it was great dancing with him, of course, but you know, I won an Oscar for Kitty Foyle and went on to...if Fred wants to say...well, God Bless you and God Bless America, and my mother."

Not to prolong this unduly, but Dick Cavett recently wrote in the Times that he repeated the Hepburn remark to Astaire in the 70's, and Astaire claimed he had never heard it. And then he got mad: "What is she trying to say, that I'm a fag? Katharine Hepburn is full of shit!" he shouted, to the astonishment of passers-by.

You know, much as I love their teamwork in movies, I can't like Fred and Ginger too much as people, or cease to be disappointed in the fact that they didn't like each other much, or really respect what they achieved together.

Tonio Kruger said...

Great banner, Campaspe. But who in the world is the woman on it? I feel I should know her face but I don't.

As for the article, yes, such quotes can be such a bore.

I don't really want to comment on the Marilyn Monroe thing. I was never much of a fan of hers and I ironically became less of a fan of hers as I hit puberty.

I always thought that the worst part of the whole maudlin Marilyn mania was the way the sentiment all too often came across as crocodile tears. After all, none of these people who so openly mourned poor Marilyn rushed to save Dorothy Stratton from her fate. So please excuse me if I question their sincerity.

However, I would like to think the fact that such sentiments are rarely extended to another famous blonde actress who died a tragic death--Sharon Tate--is proof that Hollywood does have a conscience. But then I might be overly optimistic.

As for Ginger, I was never much of a fan of Kitty Foyle. Indeed, apart from 1942's The Major and the Minor, I have yet to see a movie she made in the forties that I liked as much as her 1930s work. Perhaps it was the fact that her work were so much more serious but I suspect it might have something to do with the way some of the stories--Kitty Foyle, Roxie Hart and I'll Be Seeing You--seemed to be punishing Ginger for all the independent young women she played in the 1930s. This is only a theory, mind you, but it would explain a lot.

Belvoir said...

Oh, you could have a field day with Tallulah quotes.

"Daddy warned me about men and booze, but he never said a word about women and cocaine."

(But I suppose she was much more a creature of the theater, and the press, and her own self-created persona, than cinema. Which is a pity. I do believe she blamed Bette Davis for stealing elements of her personality for Margo Channing , I've read.)

Forgive me Siren for I have sinned: I must confess, I don't like Ginger Rogers that much. Maybe Stage Door is too foremost in my mind, but that constant brassy wisecracking wears me out, it's like she's always "on". Ah, nuts to you, Sister! And in a TV interview late in life, I remember her rather cruelly dismissing all the wannabes in Hollywood.
"Ah, those losers! Hollywood was fantaastic, they're just bitter! I got no sympathy for those broads!" Paraphrasing there, but she seemed exactly like her cynical character in Stage Door, 50 years later.

I'm sure I am wrong and misjudging her..but there it is! Just mho.

Campaspe said...

Marilyn the actress is often delightful, especially in comedies, though no more so than several other actresses I could name--my preference is still for Harlow or Lombard or Jean Arthur or, yes indeed, the 1930s work of Ginger Rogers. The cult just mystifies, although as David says she remains the very emblem of a Star. The only time I ever thought I "got" any part of the mania was a documentary I saw on Something's Got to Give. They put together what footage was left and she was lovelier than ever before, and giving an adorable performance. It did make you sad for her early death. But when reading about what she was like as a person it is harder for me to see the point of all the worship. Other actors who drove coworkers crazy produced greater effects in the end.

As for Ginger, without question she was more fun in the 1930s, although let me express some love for Barkleys of Broadway here. Dan, I do find Astaire more likable as a person, despite the "fag" remark. As a dancer he probably had to put up with whispers all his life and for all I know he WAS gay, or bi, and had every last piece of the baggage that could mean in his era. Rogers was just something else. On screen she's exactly how I want her to be, though.

I hope everybody follows the link to Dennis Grunes review of The Hard Way below, because he sees it as a thinly disguised take on Rogers' well-documented Mama Mania.

camorrista said...

Neat post, Campaspe (no surprise there) but I must say I'm puzzled by the amount of anti-Marilyn venom it seems to have attracted.

Okay, MM wasn't a tragic figure; okay, she wasn't Duse or even Davis (though, in fact, MM & BD complement each other deliciously in ALL ABOUT EVE); okay, her career depended on looks, charm & sensuality (what a shocker, in Hollywood). But some of your commenters sound as if MM had committed some kind of crime, a crime directed at them, personally. Because they weren't admirers of her work, or her person, and because a morbid cult blossomed after her death, they sound, I'm sorry to say, as if they believed she deserved whatever pain & grief befell her. Sweet. The voice of sophistication at its most sour.

As to Astaire & Rogers, you're absolutely right about the absurdity of the 'high heels' quote. Arlene Croce makes the point in her book that although the Astaire-Rogers partnership was the best he ever participated in, one can easily argue that Astaire's greatest dances were those he performed by himself. Even in those Thirties' pictures, there re great solos--and, later, in, for instance, FUNNY FACE and ROYAL WEDDING, where his partners barely matter (as dancers), his solos (and the scores) are the main reasons to watch the movies. (Is there a duet anywhere more romantic than the ceiling dance in ROYAL WEDDING?)

mndean said...

I forgot to include Roxie Hart in my Ginger Rogers likes, but the ending of that movie, what a code-contrived stinker. She'd have been better off ending up in a show cooked up by Count de Pennies, a character who was known for booking murderesses who got off into nightclubs. I did like her chorus girl image back in the days before she was a star, but Stage Door was one of those movies that struck me as a "women's picture" and didn't appeal to me. Usually I don't have that sort of reaction, but Stage Door was one of the few where I felt like the cattiness and three-hankie melodrama shut me out.

A problem with anyone who was a big star is you often find them to be very small people. The incredible pettiness of many of them is one reason it's hard to admire them except when you see them on the screen. One reason I quit reading bios was that I got disappointed in many of them. I never cared to learn the "dirt" so much (it's fun but trivial), but I'm always amazed when I see a star that worked very hard for it, then after they become a star, they feel it was all talent and little work, just destiny asserting itself. Those knives planted in other actor's backs just flew there themselves. The only salvation they have is those they worked for were often even worse people.

Campaspe said...

Camorrista, I don't see real venom, just that people have had it up to their keister with the Marilyn death cult and are suggesting that her problems were mostly of her own making. In that she's hardly unique, but to discuss you would have go into the whole debate about addiction & willpower which I do not have the will for at the moment (and probably won't ever in this venue). I think much more highly of her talent than FDChief but I always think claims for her as a cap-A great Actress are exaggerated.

Forgive me readers, I had a horrendously tiresome and irritating day so I am a bit lost in the thread -- I wanted to ask David where he got the prostitute thing from? I haven't read any Monroe bios but that is news to me, is it generally accepted fact?

Tonio, the woman on the banner is Ann Dvorak, of original Scarface fame. She's an eyeful, yes?

mndean said...

The Marilyn cult and reaction to it has eluded me thanks to my staying away from her bios, so I can appreciate her acting (within her range I find her enjoyable, but she wasn't allowed to stray from it much) and not get involved with her self-destructiveness or other personal flaws.

BTW, thanks for the picture of Ann Dvorak. It's definitely a keeper.

Peter Nellhaus said...

The name SamLevenson reminded me of just how much television I use to watch in the Sixties.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Astaire-Rodgers series were very carefully concieved productions. The highlight was always the dance numbers but one msun;t forgth the farce plots and pur genius supporting players: Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Eric Rhodes, et. al. They offered the public a FULL evening's entertainment.

What makes Rodgers special with Astiare was not simply her dancing but her attitude. She was realactress and is really acting throughout. What's beautiful about her work with Astaire is the way she listens to him when he talks to her, and above all reacts during the dances in ways other, far or technically advanced partners never did.

Here they are in Swingtime. Watch her.

Edward said...

Siren: Thanks for the shout-out to The Barkleys of Broadway, which is one of the most criminally maligned musicals in history.

Just have to jump in on the topic of Astaire and Rogers and their personal relationship. In her autobiography, Ginger devotes several pages to a date she had with Astaire in New York during the run of Girl Crazy in 1930. What she wore, what he wore, how much fun they had dancing while their dinner got cold, and a ladylike reference to what was evidently quite a hot limo ride home. Sixty years after the fact, she remembered every detail.

Their subsequent tension as co-stars seems to have sprung from their unconsummated sexual attraction; his wife Phyllis' on-set jealousy; his frustration with being seen as part of a team, after spending the 20s professionally tied to his sister; and her frustration with being paid far less than him -- in fact, even less than Edward Everett Horton.

Twenty years after The Barkleys, at the Oscar ceremony in 1968, they danced onto the stage together to present the screenwriting awards, and were so overwhelmed by the crowd's huge ovation that they just stood there holding hands. At their last evening together, in 1986, they sat happily watching clips of their dances. (And for what it's worth, they are buried in the same churchyard in Chatsworth, California.)

In other words, they had their moments like everyone, and even if they didn't always like each other, they loved each other. As Ginger said, just watch them together... it's all there on the screen, as David notes.

Campaspe said...

David, thanks for the shout-out to the stock company in the Astaire-Rogers movies. There's no doubt that the musical numbers are the best parts, but the surrounding movies aren't negligible at all, in my view. They're often quite funny little screwball gems. I especially like Erik Rhodes in The Gay Divorcee ("Your wife is safe with Tonetti! He prefers spaghetti!"). Swing Time is also very funny. And you're definitely onto something with the observation about Ginger's reactions--Astaire's later partners couldn't match her as an actress. (Fontaine might have played well off him, but she was so ill at ease there was never a real chance, and of course she couldn't dance a step.)

Edward, I had completely forgotten about that part of Ginger's memoirs but what a lovely summary. The big screen pairings often play out that way, yes--eventual resentment, despite fundamental love? And I also think Barkleys is very underrated. I think it deserves to be loved, especially for "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Fred's rendition, after practically throwing the number away in Shall We Dance, brings tears to my eyes every time.

Which remdinds me Karen, I bet anything we have/had the same Astaire song collection. Was it a black-and-white shot of him on the cover? Mostly songs from the movies, if not from the soundtrack then recorded soon after?

Mandrake said...

The one quote I'm sick of is actually from an on-screen character, not an off-screen movie star. It's Claude Rains' "shocked - shocked!" line from "Casablanca", which has been used almost weekly for at least the last 4 years (or more), and is employed to describe the phony outrage of a political figure or operative. It was funny the first 5 times or so, but that was also about 2 election cycles ago, so it really, really needs to be retired.

Campaspe said...

Mandrake, Casablanca is a great movie and I love it as much as the next film fanatic, but what we really need is a moratorium on quoting the entire movie, with especially severe fines for politicians who invoke any part of it. Except "Vive la France." If an American politician comes along with the nerve to use that one, rock on. :D

DavidEhrenstein said...

campese, Marilyn's horizontal past comes thorugh loud and clear in ALL th biographies. She didn't work the streets -- she worked the suites. Her"avilability" was part of her "infamy." Thus when she started getting real roles, rather than walk ons as in Scudda-Hoo, Scudda-Hay the "moralioty"-minded began raising their collective eyebrows. Her scenes in All About Eve offer a high-end version of her real life at the time.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And leave us not forget, Fate is a Foolish Thing so Take a Chance!

VP81955 said...

Campaspe said...
Marilyn the actress is often delightful, especially in comedies, though no more so than several other actresses I could name--my preference is still for Harlow or Lombard or Jean Arthur or, yes indeed, the 1930s work of Ginger Rogers. The cult just mystifies, although as David says she remains the very emblem of a Star.

I understand the resentment against Monroe, although I've never personally blamed it on her -- some of her comments show she was generally a bright, funny sort who never took her persona all that seriously. It's the cult that blew her fame out of all logical proportion.

At the same time, Monroe was a prisoner of her era, when women were idealized as either the prim suburban housewife type or as curvaceous, "superstructure" floozies. It was a 180-degree turn from the 1930s, when urbanity and sophistication were desired qualities in women. If Marilyn and, say, Carole Lombard had switched eras, Monroe probably would have adapted well to the smart '30s romantic comedy genre, whereas Carole might have battled Shirley MacLaine or Audrey Hepburn for "gamine" roles. (Physicality would have been a problem for both, however; Monroe might have been viewed as comic relief due to her buxom figure, a la Marie Wilson, and Lombard might have been a bit too sleek by 1950s beauty standards.)

mndean said...
A problem with anyone who was a big star is you often find them to be very small people. The incredible pettiness of many of them is one reason it's hard to admire them except when you see them on the screen.

Which is why I have come to love Lombard so much. From everything I've read about her -- even those items written while she was still alive, so it wasn't posthumous revisionism -- Carole was the type of person just about everyone in the industry enjoyed working with. You can admire her work on-screen; you can more admire her life off-screen. She was no saint, mind you, just a damn good person.

Oh, and one more thing on Astaire -- I grew up more familiar with him as a singer (from records we had around the house) than as an actor-dancer, and the man could put over a song like no one else. He wasn't blessed with the greatest pipes in the biz, but he made you believe a song every bit as much as Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett do.

(Incidentally, the word verification I just came up with was "endiness," which evokes the close of "The Colbert Report.")

Campaspe said...

David, I had always gotten a casting-couch vibe from Marilyn's past, rather than outright prostitution, but since you mention it I guess the difference is mostly semantic.

And HA, you picked out my other favorite line! And "Fate is a foolish thing to take chances with" and the perfectly delivered rejoinder: "So are you."

Marilyn, what a lovely defense of Marilyn. :) Indeed she had a lively sense of humor. To be fair, that quote goes on to say something along the lines that she usually settled for the fifty cents, so she was being equal parts self-pitying and self-deprecating. And if she was ultimately a narcissist that hardly makes her stand out in Hollywood--hell, probably nobody would even have noticed that if she had been prompt and remembered all her lines.

You know who I really blame for the whole Marilyn deification thing? Norman Mailer, that's who.

Also true that the 1950s wasn't exactly brimming with smart, sexy AND funny roles, and the few that were around often went to "wholesome" actresses like Doris Day. Sophia Loren, for example, had a way of rising above her material but the sort of thing Hollywood stuck her in, yeesh. House Boat is cute and she has wonderful rapport with Grant but the way her role is written bugs me no end.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Marilyn has come up in Mad Men (which I trust you're all watching) as a compare/contrast with Jackie. They even put together a bra campaign promoting the notion that what men want is jackie by day and marilyn at night. The bra, supposedly alows you to be both.

Mailer's book is indeed annoying as his point is that if HE had had a crack at her everything would have worked out better.

AS IF!!!

Karen said...

Siren, no, we have different collections. I just dug mine out--it's a 1978 boxed set of 3 LPs, with an accompanying booklet, called The Astaire Story, "Fred Astaire with the stars of Jazz at the Philharmonic: Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Charlie Shavers, Flip Phillips, Ray Brown, Alvin Stoller." Some of the cuts are just the musicians playing and Astaire dancing, and the booklet (which is the size of the LPs) has some lovely photos of Fred at work (at play?) with the musicians just watching him, mesmerized. The whole thing was organized by Norman Granz, who had headed Jazz at the Philharmonic for some time.

Granz talks, in the cover notes (sigh: remember cover notes??) about how much the top composers like Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin loved writing songs for Astaire to sing, and he adds "he has had written for him and introduced more songs that have become all-time hits than almost any other living artist on the current musical scene."

David, thanks for that clip from Swing Time--one of my favorite numbers! And, by the way, it beautifully disproves both the Fred & Ginger quotes: not only does he eye her quite lustily while Eric Blore is enumerating the types of dancing they offer, but in their number they dance quite extensively side-by-side, and even when they are rarely in "traditional" dance positions they are twirling, with each of them equally frontwards and backwards at various times.

And a big ol' YES to the supporting cast, especially the delicious Helen Broderick ("He made my ham sandwich disappear!"). Although, sadly, no Erik Rhodes. He's great as Tonetti in The Gay Divorcee, but I prefer him as the designer Beddini in Top Hat. Whether singing an ode to himself in front of the mirror ("Oh, Bed-DIN-i! I am so glad you are not skeeny!") to apoplectic over Roger's fickleness ("Never again will I allow WOMEN to wear my dresses!"). Dee-LISH.

I've held back on Marilyn, because it seemed like such a tough room. I frankly adore her. There was a time in my life when I knew the entirety of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by heart, including the choreography. I tend to side with vp81955 on this. I don't doubt that she used her sexuality to advance herself--haven't we said the same thing about Joan Crawford? Why aren't people ganging up on HER?--but I also think that she wasn't quite as smart as others in similar situations, and perhaps a bit more damaged to begin with.

I spent a lot of years as a bartender in NYC, when I was 20+ years younger and hella cuter. I was stacked, too. It was incredibly easy to fall back on easy success through the use of feminine wiles (though I did avoid both the streets and the suites) and it was even easier to stop valuing oneself on any other criteria than the physical. I had friends who eventually snapped me out of that life; I don't think Marilyn did. I feel incredibly sympathy for her, though, and I am made uncomfortable by the cult, which clearly made her uncomfortable as well. And, yes, I DO blame it on Norman Mailer.

I also think she was a lot more talented than she's often given credit for, as even her sexpots had a lovely vulnerability and even innocence to them. Compare her Lorelei Lee to, say, Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It; Mansfield is positively monstrous in her vapidity. That LAUGH. (Or, at least, in my opinion; YMMV.) In fact, the one jarring note for me in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the scene where Jane Russell pretends to be Marilyn in that French courtroom--she's got all the tics and squeals and absolutely none of the heart.

But, as I say, that's me. I love her in more than that film, incidentally; in Don't Bother to Knock and Niagara and How to Marry a Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch and oh dear lord in The Prince and the Showgirl, in which she beautifully stands up to the incredibly unpleasant Laurence Olivier. In fact, she has an incredible moment where she gives a drunken testament to the glories of the United States to the scornful prince, ending with a glass raised to President Taft; she then repeats, on the inhale and quite sotto vode, "To President Taft." It's a wonderful moment.

Karen said...

er, sotto VOCE.

Sigh.

Edward said...

Siren/Karen: Astaire did a lot of commercial recordings; the ones in the 30s were I believe for Brunswick (I'm too lazy to look it up on a Sunday night) and were contemporaneous with the films. They have a nice peppy charm and are often, though not always, superior to the film renditions. The 50s recordings for Verve have great jazzy backup but to my ears his age gets in the way; he often sounds out of breath and substitutes technique for real energy (his dancing in that era frequently has the same problem).

As for Marilyn Monroe, one interesting fact is that she renegotiated her contract with Fox sometime around 1956 and got director approval -- the list of directors she demanded shows amazing taste, and indeed after that it was Wilder, Cukor, Huston and Olivier rather than Walter Lang and Otto Preminger. So whatever she was, she was clearly no fool.

Vanwall said...

The whole make-over of Monroe by DiMaggio, who wanted a Saint Marilyn; Miller, who had his own kink about reformed blondes - there was double-processing of more than her just her lovely locks; and worst of all, Strasberg's bizarre displacement of his own daughter so he could perform some kind of creepy ritual of incestuous control with Marilyn, is what made her into a bigger than life epic fail. She was always and forever eye candy only, and her roles were possibly the worst way to break out of that kind of prostitution - reinforced concrete would be easier to poke a finger through than, heaven help us, a Studio ever making a moral decision.

I love Marilyn in "The Asphalt Jungle", my favorite of hers - it may have been her most natural performance, and for a host of reasons, (!!!) none of which is more evident than her possibly unconsciously humorous line delivery - the part called for an innocence in a certain manner she still possessed at that point in her career. In reading Burnett's book later, I can envision no other actress capable of saying the words "big banana head" with such a natural good-time girl joi-de-vivre.

Campaspe said...

Okay, first off, my apologies to VP81955 for repeating "Marilyn" instead of the nom de blog; at least this weekend is almost over and mayhap my brain will go to every elevator floor after that.

Because the Marilyn quote nauseates me so -- I do NOT care for incredibly well-compensated people moaning about their road to the top -- I probably sounded more anti-MM than I actually am. I do wish there were more room in the general public's consciousness for other stars but that isn't Marilyn's fault. Karen, I also like all the movies you named except The Seven Year Itch, which I find a one-joke movie and Wilder's worst. I mean, I would re-watch Spirit of St Louis over that one. But I even like Let's Make Love which practically no one likes and I think she's pretty cute in There's No Business Like Show Business. But I never wanna read another death-conspiracy story about her as long as I live. She conspired against herself, poor woman, that's for sure.

As for your Astaire compilation--I used to have that one on cassette, recorded by a pal. I think he still knows his way around a lyric and has gained some depth of feeling for what he's lost in vocal polish. The Brunswick recordings that Edward mentions are the ones I have, I think, and they're corking.

David, I get that feeling from the writings of many people about sex symbols. :)

Karen said...

Oh, I LOVE her in Let's Make Love! It's Yves Montand I can't stand in that. I'm not a huge fan of that kind of comedy of self-humiliation, and watching him walk on his ankles like Berle and try to tell bad jokes is just too painful. But MM is adorable in it.

I agree that The Seven Year Itch is a one-joke film, and I find the Tom Ewell character kind of revolting, but I do like MM in it.

I left out Some Like It Hot on the principle of "it goes without saying," but I will add that I have a sneaking fondness for There's No Business Like Show Business, due to the insane implausibility of MM ending up with Donald O'Connor. Don't get me wrong...I love Donald O'Connor. But there was just something WRONG there.

Edward said...

Here's what's wrong with Marilyn and Donald O'Connor as a couple Karen: to paraphrase Ray Liotta in Something Wild, and at the risk of being crude... she looks like she could fuck him in half.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Glad you mentioned The Prince and the Showgirl, Karen. It's highly underrated and totally disproves the notion that Marilyn was only capable of filming things in short takes. There are many long takes in it, in which she's required to do all sorts of business (picking up things and commenting on them for example) that according to the legend she wouldn't be capable of. It also displays her most winning quality - physical gracefulness. Marilyn simply flowed across the screen. A big creamy smooth tide of gorgeous.

Campaspe said...

Karen and Edward, I didn't even buy Donald O'Connor with Vera-Ellen. Now HE was a hoofer who read sexless on film.

David, I also like Marilyn in The Prince and the Showgirl but Olivier is dull in it, I find. He played it on stage with Vivien Leigh who was most ungallantly replaced with the younger actress for the film. I wonder how Leigh would have been in it.

Ian said...

I too find those sayings about Fred and Ginger unbearable. I wonder if complaining about quotes will get people to stop spouting them. Undoubtedly new smug sayings will appear. But I am inspired to complain away.

Frank Conniff said...

As much as I love Fred Astaire's dancing, I love his singing even more. The album "The Astaire Story" that was mentioned has some of the best versions of some of the best songs ever written. Fred's voice didn't have "range," yet his phrasing was perfect. His vocal style is embedded in the DNA of Berlin, Gershwin, Kern and Porter.

Now, on to Sam Levenson: in the 50's he frequently appeared on TV panel shows with George S. Kaufman. While Kaufman's comedic sensibility was biting and caustic, Levenson's was upbeat and warmhearted. The story goes that one time Kaufman, seeing a bunch of Nuns walking down the street, turned to a friend and said, "There goes Sam Levenson's writers."

Karen said...

Edward, far from finding that too crude, I HOWLED when I read it.

David, I love your assessment of Marilyn in The Prince and the Showgirl! Yes, she has some wonderful, rich scenes in that film. She has long scenes in Bus Stop, too, but I confess to finding her a little too shrill in that one. Perhaps that shrillness is appropriate to the character of Cherie, but nevertheless there's no way I'd watch it twice.

Siren, I fear you're right about Donald O'Connor. I do love to watch him dance, and I love his chirpy and sarcastic humor, but he's a sidekick, not a romantic lead.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I love these comments. So peased to find Erik Rhodes fans out there. Always a bit leary of film star quotes, while interesting to read them. So much fiction in the industry, it's just hard to tell who really said what sometimes.

Vanwall said...

Donald O'Connor - sure he was non-threatening in a sexual way, better to be the second banana...altho maybe he shoulda stuck to animal husbandry...there could've been possibilties in TJ that boggled the mind.

Campaspe said...

Fred -- "There goes Sam Levenson's writers" -- PERFECT.

Karen, also a perfect summary of Donald O'Connor, who had great slapstick and hoofing talent but no discernible chemistry with leading ladies.

Ian, complaining does nothing but lower your blood pressure a bit, like a steam valve. I have been complaining for eons that Atlanta does not burn in Gone with the Wind but does anyone listen? noooooo. So this will do no good at all but it does feel pretty good for just a little while.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I beg to differ. I certainly hope you've seen that MacMahonist delight I Love Melvin in which he and Debbie Reynolds have a marvelous time together.

Also note that marvelous moment during the party scene in Singin' in the Rain where he comes on to a starlet. He may not have been a First Rank Star, but he had a sexual spark all his own.

Campaspe said...

Nah, I am still not seeing it, I gotta say David. He can telegraph lust in that Jimmy Durante/Harpo Marx kind of way but I don't buy him in the clinch. He sure is cute in the right part, though.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's Frank O'Hara Day at Dennis Cooper's

Starting with a clip from Mad Men I offer a run-through of the great man and his work with a more than generous selection of clips to illustrate his masterful poen "To the Film Industry in Crisis"

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Perusing your post, the first quote that came to mind was one attributed to Jean Harlow, regarding her Dinner at Eight and China Seas costar, Wallace Beery:

"He's a mean old son-of-a-bitch whose grave I've love to piss on!"

Although she died tragically young, the direct, no-nonense Ms. Harlow was obviously no one's fragile victim. I'd love to see outtakes from her films with Beery.

mndean said...

Did anyone like working with Wallace Beery? I don't seem to be able to find another actor who did. I haven't read anything about Buster Keaton's experiences with him, though.

Vanwall said...

My favorite quote about the movie bidness, tho, is by the great Herman Mankiewicz: "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around." It was truer than anyone could've imagined, and I stress the "idiot" part.

mndean said...

I think Mankiewicz wrote that to pal Ben Hecht, who certainly raked it in almost as soon as he got there. Even minor writers at the New Yorker (like auto show reviewer Eric Hatch) managed to write in Hollywood. Some New Yorker stories even ended up on the screen with and without credit. John O'Hara's Pal Joey of course, but even A.J. Liebling's story The Jollity Building ended up as the uncredited base of a Maisie comedy.

FDChief said...

I hope I didn't sound to venomous about La Monroe. She was a very personable actress in the right part; she's wonderful in "Some Like It Hot" and her other comedies, and she's even tolerable when she listens to her coaching and tries to be "an actress". As I said, she had a nice little talent and could have done more with it had she not been cross-blocked by a combination of very real personal problems and very messed up relations with people who had everything but her own interests at heart.

But the deification of St. Marilyn? Piffle. She was a very human, very flawed woman who came to a bad end through a combination of her own failings and the malaversions of others, like any waitress or student or bus driver. That's all very pathetic, but it's hardly High Tragedy. It makes me spit up a little every time I hear that gawdawful Elton John song about her. Gaah.

Gloria said...

"that gawdawful Elton John song about her. Gaah"

Ditto, and I hasten to add, doubly gawdawful, as Elton recycled the song in memory of someone who wasn't as interesting or entertaining as Miss Monroe.

Campaspe said...

"Candle in the Wind" is one of those songs that seems very profound when you're a teenage girl ... by the time Diana died, though, not so much.

mndean said...

I knew there was an advantage to listening to mostly R&B music back then. Mawkish sentimentality for a long-dead movie star didn't seem to be worth writing an R$B song about.

FDChief said...

I should add a quote from Feathers herself

(who, by the way, seems to have been a genuinely difficult person and a fairly big jerk, if her biographers are to be belived. Ginger was one of those gawdawful entitled people who take for granted their own wonderfulness and assume that everything they achieve is their own hard work and talent and you...well, you're just sort of a lucky, shiftless dope. She had very few kind words for anyone outside of her mother)

Anyway, in one of her bios the author describes her as coming in an irritable old coot, snarling and complaining about everything. When he starts asking her about her first marriage she goes off, slagging off ALL her husbands as useless, parasitic louts.

"Drunks, worthless drunks, the whole damn lot of them." she rants.

The interviewer is fairly chapped at Ginger and her rotten attitude, and without thinking snaps: "And how many were drunks before they married you?"

Ginger stops dead, gobsmacked. She grumbles, settles, and replies in a chastened voice;

"Well, some of them were."

Talent, she had. Personality? A little of this, a little of that...

Juanita's Journal said...

I read Thomson's article on Fred Astaire. I can see why you view it as dead wrong.

Juanita's Journal said...

A problem with anyone who was a big star is you often find them to be very small people.

There are a lot of people like that who aren't stars. Why does the public expect stars to be better than they actually were, when non-celebrities are incapable of being that way?

mndean said...

Most people who have neither great success nor great wealth don't tend to be petty. Some are, of course, but they tend to be fewer in proportion since they can't get away with such childish behavior by buying or charming their way out of it. They have to learn to get along with other people or they will be shunned.

In personal matters, things are a bit different - people who are married or living together have different stresses on them. They can be great to everyone else and lousy to their spouses. One of the reasons I've never been interested in actor's personal lives is that they're in the most part banal. What do I care if actor A was a machine and actor B was a lousy lay? The most I want to know is how they worked and what they did to get to be what they were. Whether he was hung like a horse or she bedded everyone including the grips is really boring stuff.

I never expect more from an actor than any other person (most actors I've met I rather liked when talking with them, but none have been big stars). But I don't expect less, either. Feathers up above is a great example. If you know nothing about her, you might be deceived into thinking that she's charming. Peel away that layer and you get a spoiled brat with a massive sense of entitlement. Her mother dominated her in a big way, and I'll bet mom was no prize, either. Stage mothers never are.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Yes, Laughton directed children, but according to the Callow book, distastefully. He clashed early with Billy Gray and refused to speak to him after that; I think Mitchum wound up being their intermediary.

Astaire made good dancers look better, but he also made non-dancers look at least graceful (Joan Fontaine in "Damsel in Distress," Sarah Churchill in "Royal Wedding"). He made Ginger look great. I wonder why, when their partnership ended, she decided she was "never gonna dance" with anyone else.

Vanwall said...

There is behind-the-scenes film of NOTH which seemed to me to refute contentions that Laughton didn't play well with kiddies. You could look it up.

Gloria said...

Buttermilk sky,

What VanWall said.

Callow's book (And I love it!) was published in 1987. I think his only fault in this is trusting Elsa Lanchester's account in this regard (incidentally: Elsa was never in the NOTH set, and she didn't like children). But since 1987 new material has appeared.

The behind the scenes documentary directed by Robert Gitt (click, click), has FILMED evidence of Laughton directing the kids, and doing so gently. Also, Preston neal Jones' 2002 book on the film(click, click) , which interviews many of the participants, likely reaches the same conclusion.

In short: Laughton didn't hate the kids, and he directed them, and there's proof of it,

Tonio Kruger said...

Yes, Ms. Dvorak is an eyeful, Campaspe. I'm still embarrassed about not recognizing her but then I've never seen the original Scarface. (Don't even get me started on the not-so-original DePalma version.)

Btw, I finally saw The Barkleys of Broadway and it did live up to your praise.

I don't quite get buttemilk sky's bit about Ginger not dancing with another partner after Fred--after all, she didn't do a whole lot of musicals but it does seem like almost every other movie she was in after The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle had at least one scene in which Ginger showed off her dancing ability. Of course, most of them had her dancing solo, but still...

I feel foolish for asking this once again but dare I ask where this week's banner comes from? I've seen enough flag-waving movies that I should recognize it but I don't.

Campaspe said...

Hooray, another Barkeleys fan!!

Tonio, no embarrassment needed since I have no idea where this one is from. I found it on It'll Take the Snap Out of Your Garters! a great site for photos. Amy has said often that she doesn't mind picture-poaching and all the stars and stripes seemed good for Election Week.