Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brian Aherne's A Proper Job


After writing about Brian Aherne's account of his friendship with George Sanders and Sanders' unforgettable advice on how to write memoirs, the Siren just had to order her own copy of Aherne's autobiography, A Proper Job.

And it's a wonderful book, despite Aherne's rather slighting his Hollywood films to devote more professional reminiscences to his theatrical career. Aherne was British and seems to have had the attitude often attributed to British actors, that films should be what one did to supplement one's theatrical calling. His career as a Hollywood actor was never as front-rank as that of his first wife, Joan Fontaine, a fact she alluded to with some asperity in No Bed of Roses and which he also admits, in a roundabout fashion. And his theatrical career had some brilliant high points, including his having originated the role of Robert Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street on Broadway opposite the legendary Katharine Cornell.



Aherne was handsome and showed definite sex appeal in movies such as the strange and wonderful Sylvia Scarlett, as well as Merrily We Live and The Great Garrick (now available via the Warner Archives and yes, David Ehrenstein, the Siren promises to order it). But for whatever reason--luck, timing, lack of a killer instinct, probably all of the above--he never became a huge star. (CinemaOCD has a good rundown of his Hollywood parts here, with a link to many of the pictures from A Proper Job.) Eventually he moved gracefully into character parts, maintaining a stage career with roles like Professor Higgins in the touring production of My Fair Lady.

But the Siren has found that often it's the people on the margins of stardom who give the best picture of Hollywood life, and Aherne's book is remarkable not only for his intelligence, but for the compassion with which he treats the Hollywood figures he knew. It isn't hard to imagine why the saturnine Sanders kept returning to Aherne for companionship, year after year. Aherne was not a judgmental type. Even when describing a taxing experience, such as working with Bette Davis on Juarez, he does so wryly: "I even found Bette Davis attractive, when I played Maximilian to her Carlotta and, brilliant actress though she is, surely nobody but a mother could have loved Bette Davis at the height of her career."



While Aherne doesn't go out of his way to disdain the movie colony, he does permit himself the occasional joke at its expense. At one point the actor goes into a small California bookshop and complains to the manager that the poetry selection is too slight: "'What's the use of carrying more?' said the man. 'Only you and Katharine Hepburn buy it!'"

The small, precise portraits of Hollywood notables include John Gilbert, spinning out his contract while the studio tries to make him so miserable he will terminate it. "If motion pictures don't want him, where can a great screen star go? What can he do?" asks Aherne. "The gods and goddesses cannot jostle with the crowd, cannot take a job in an office..."

Aherne doesn't bother to add, but the reader can deduce, that he preferred his own fate. He found diversion in farming and flying, eventually married a woman with theatrical ancestry but no ambitions, took the roles that still came and took pleasure in things like the commotion of Sanders' occasional visits. Aherne does show some regrets, as when he ruefully describes how he lost the part of Sidney Carton to Ronald Colman, or how he repeatedly turned down Captain Blood (thus ensuring that Jack Warner forever cursed him for saddling the studio with the ever-troublesome Errol Flynn). But Aherne evidently felt it was better to be an occasionally working actor than a burnt-out star.



If any additional evidence was needed, there was also the fate of Aherne's good friend Ruth Chatterton. He advised her to take the part of the wife in Dodsworth, but Chatterton told him it would end her career to appear as a middle-aged woman. She took it anyway, gave a brilliant performance, and never got another Hollywood offer. Chatterton, whose Pre-Code talkies continue to bowl over critics, wound up in the Connecticut countryside, writing books and living happily with her husband until he died. Hollywood, however, never did come around to pay the great Chatterton her due:


I am happy to remember that my wife and I visited [Chatterton] shortly before her death. The walls of her bar were hung with photos of friends whom she had entertained lavishly at her home on Palm Drive in earlier days. I asked her if she had ever heard from any of them. No, she said, and when she had played Los Angeles some years before not one of them of had even sent her a word. She was alone with her four dogs when she died, and her body lay for three days on the floor, watched by her dogs and surrounded by the mute faces of her former friends.


Aherne gives a wistful description of an afternoon at Pickfair toward the end of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford's marriage. As Aherne's visit wound down, Pickford entered and, spurred by not very much, went to the window, looked out at the garden and spoke "almost tragically of the futility of ambition and the evanescence of fame." Aherne hastens to add that after her career ended, Pickford found great comfort in religion and Buddy Rogers. But he doesn't sound entirely convinced himself, and the Siren found herself thinking Billy Wilder's initial casting instincts were not far off when he approached Pickford about Sunset Boulevard.

And the Siren was mightily amused by the description of Marlene Dietrich: "She baked me a fabulous Viennese cake; she is a great cakemaker." According to Maria Riva, who was deeply fond of Aherne, he was making a great deal more than cake with Marlene. But the lady was alive and still technically married at the time the book was published, and chivalrously Aherne breathes not a word of their affair, though he admits to wondering "how I could manage to bake Miss Dietrich." George Sanders must have rolled his eyes over such determinedly uncommercial discretion.

But the story that caught the Siren was one she had never heard before, that of Aherne's affair with the stage actress Clare Eames. Eames was married to playwright and director Sidney Howard, who later wrote the screenplay for Gone with the Wind. Howard was in London to direct his play The Silver Cord, and Aherne was cast opposite Eames. All went smoothly until Howard returned to America and the play began its run, whereupon the attraction between the two actors swiftly became a headlong, passionate romance. "I forgot she was a married woman with a child," says Aherne. "I forgot she was six years older than myself. I forgot my Puritan upbringing. I forgot that I was nothing but a penniless young actor. I heard the angels sing. I was lonely no more."



The affair, as might be expected, caused as much pain as it did joy. Early on Eames gave Aherne a copy of Anna Karenina. The actor fretted that he "might become her Vronsky;" Aherne must have known he already was. Howard, according to his rival, played Karenin to the hilt. "He did not care for Clare, but he cared deeply about what people said," says Aherne. Howard "cut off financial support, refused a divorce, and insisted upon the return of the baby and her nurse."

Over the three years of their relationship Eames and Aherne struggled to find work. Howard's stature made New York nearly impossible, and the romance coincided with the British acting unions cracking down on the use of American actors. Eames tried at one point to reconcile with Howard, but it didn't work. "Young as I was, I doubt I fully realized the tragedy of her position," says Aherne, and he evokes Anna Karenina once more when he describes his lover slipping into her former house to see her child when Howard was out. Eames was sick, and getting sicker, although Aherne never says precisely what the trouble was--severe abdominal pain, is all we are told.

Finally, as Aherne was playing a wordy, difficult part in a dismal failure of a play, Eames became extremely ill. She had an operation, and the night after it took place Aherne slogged through a nightmarish performance in front of a tiny audience. When the curtain finally came down, a car was sent and Brian was driven, through a driving rainstorm, to Clare's bedside. They told him she needed sleep, but the rain had turned into a deafening thunderstorm, and Clare died as he held her hand.

"I went on blindly running for the next twenty years," says Aherne. You don't have to be as romantically inclined as the Siren to wonder if he ever stopped. Joan Fontaine certainly felt Clare's ghost when she married Aherne a full decade later. In her memoirs, Fontaine paints a picture straight out of Rebecca: Barely finished with her honeymoon, she was dragged to Connecticut to visit Eames' dying aunt, and found herself staring at pictures of Brian and Clare on the piano.

The daughter Eames stole time with was Jennifer Howard, who married Samuel Goldwyn Jr. in 1950. Their four children included Tony Goldwyn, most famous for playing an evil yuppie in Ghost.



It is this scene, which took place only a year or so after Clare died, that the Siren can't get out of her head. It is as cinematic as anything she has ever found in a star's memoirs. Aherne had returned to Hollywood, but in a stage production of Barretts, again with Katharine Cornell. The audience for the opening included everyone from the Thalbergs to Charlie Chaplin.


Afterwards, Ruth Chatterton gave a smart party for Miss Cornell at her beautiful house in Beverly Hills. Stepping back from the buffet with a plate in my hand, I bumped into someone who stood, hard and unyielding, behind me. I turned in surprise; it was Sidney Howard, looking straight in my eyes, a few inches away. He said, 'I seem always to be in your way, Brian!' For an instant we looked at each other, and then I said, 'I am sorry, Sidney,' and moved away. I never saw him again. He remarried and died tragically, crushed by a tractor against the wall of his barn in Massachusetts.

71 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

This is a wonderful post. I agree with you that the marginal figures, from the near-stars to those on the further fringes, show us the deeper truths of Hollywood, and your excerpts are well-chosen to that end. Thanks for the effort.

mndean said...

I like autobiographies from the fringes myself, stars have an image to protect and are not often frank.

Aherne's recollection of Chatterton's problems are interesting from hearing of her side of it. Unfortunately, at the time she really was a fading star, more so than much younger stablemate Kay Francis, both big precode stars. I don't see that Dodsworth affected her career that negatively, since parts offered to women of her age at the time weren't going to be glamorous. If they hit 35 and weren't solidly established (or had faded) their time was pretty well up unless they slipped to character roles. Her stardom came in her thirties and left after she hit 40. She was lucky she got a good role in Dodsworth since she was nearly 45 at the time. Hollywood discarded actors (especially women) pretty casually if they didn't make the studios money.

gmoke said...

This makes Brian Aherne's turn in the Twilight Zone episode "The Trouble with Templeton" even more poignant. He was an extremely elegant man.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

As a devoted Fontaineian, I've always felt an ambivalence toward Brian Aherne that has not quite been dispelled by your very interesting post (most of the interest does not stem directly from BA himself). Putting Lovely Joan through the Rebecca bit should place him permanently in my bad books, but I confess he finally comes out sounding like a decent sort of chap. Everybody has their reasons or somesuch.
I've been curious about The Great Garrick for years. David Garrick comes to life with amazing vividness in the portraits by Reynolds and Hogarth (see especially the latter's portrait of G. with Mrs. G.) and of course in Boswell's Life of Johnson. I'm wondering whether Aherne was equal to the unique challenge of playing a great actor.

I seem to recall that Joan F was a reader of poetry.

Is Obama prepared to intervene in the Fontaine/deHavilland dispute? This conflict has gone on for too long and must be resolved.

Yojimboen said...

First things first – to follow your post, X, my verification word is “Obamo” – take that for what it’s worth.

An elegant post, dear lady, suffused with class and grace. (Curses, now I’m going to have to buy the damn book!)

Re auto-bios from fringe H’Woodians, Evelyn Keyes for me is still the leader of the pack with “Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister”. That and the biography W.C. Fields planned but never wrote of drinking pal Gregory La Cava, which I read somewhere - I hope I’m not making this up - was going to titled (as Fields reportedly addressed his letters to La Cava): “Dear Dago Bastard”.

Gloria said...

Great post! It made me feel like reading the book, so it's queueing already on my wish-list

As for the looking-down-upon stance of many stage actors towards film ones, I come across it too often: I found it funny to read at the first times, but have grown a bit tired of it, specially when I see someone doing the same pratfalls he's earlier criticised in colleagues... To what point the systematic smearing of film work by stage people is a sign of plain envy?

It must be karma that so many distinguished thespians onstage nowadays fall on their knees even for a bit part in films like "Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter" series. Needless to say, I picture the film greats of the golden age having a good laugh about it, from wherever they are.

Campaspe said...

M., after double-checking I think Aherne isn't exaggerating about Chatterton. Her last movies appear to have been British, and we have the testimony of Mary Astor that the part of Mrs. Dodsworth struck a nerve with the aging Chatterton. He says the offers had already stopped, and Goldwyn's was the once decent part on the table, but playing a "vixenish middle-aged woman" spelled the end of her career as a leading lady. Then as now, for those parts you had to project glamor and sex appeal, and Hollywood does not concede those qualities to older women. Still, you are probably right that she would have been washed up, Dodsworth or no Dodsworth. At least she got a great Hollywood swan song.

Samuel, thanks for the kind words. The book is pretty easy to obtain via the wonders of the Web.

XT, you know I share your basic bias for dear Joan. I am not sure this book would put Aherne entirely back in your good graces, due to his retrograde politics (thankfully almost never mentioned) and his evident disdain for his ex-wife. Clearly he has very few good things to say about her, and so he says very little indeed. (He does concede that she was a great passenger when he was flying, with a total lack of nervousness, only she got bored easily so he had to bring along a stack of crosswords.) He does admit that he got married more because he figured it was time than out of any great passion, and admits that he felt a sense of doom when she got the part of Mrs. de Winter while they were on their honeymoon. His chance at stardom had come earlier in the 1930s and was pretty much up by the time of the marriage. But I re-read Joan's description of her husband after the 1941 Oscars, feet up on a chair and literally holding her coat, and you realize that it must have been hard on both of them.

Campaspe said...

Y., Evelyn's autobiography is a classic of the "fringe star" genre, definitely. I wonder why no one has tried to spruce up Fields on La Cava? That is a hell of a concept--the biography of one extravagantly talented alcoholic written by another.

Gmoke, how is it that I have never seen that Twilight Zone? I just read the summary on Wikipedia and marvel at Aherne's ability to play a part that must have had such poignance for him. When the character goes back in time it's 1927--I wonder if Serling realized that was the year Brian met Clare? I must track that one down.

Gloria, I think it isn't entirely snobbery or envy that makes some actors prefer the theater. It's the difference between playing a part for two hours in front of a live audience, and playing a part in bits and pieces in front of a bored crew. But few stage actors are as bluntly honest as Streisand was--I recall that she said straight up "to me, real stardom is movie stardom."

mndean said...

Siren,
Re: Streisand's comment. I think she ran the numbers. That's one of those self-evident comments that really is banal. Broadway couldn't compete with Hollywood even in the '30s. Soon it may be that TV stardom will overtake movie stardom. Everyone I know gabs about one TV show or another and doesn't much go to the movies.

As for the rest, I sort of figured that Chatterton was finally facing up to her age in that comment, since she hadn't gotten a good part in two years. It's a shame in a way that she's remembered more for Dodsworth than anything else she did.

Campaspe said...

M., I really hope RC performances like Female and Lilly Turner continue to be screened, but precodes are probably fated to remain a taste for connoisseurs. I can't get too upset over Dodsworth being her most famous--god she is good in that one. I just hope that there will be a trickle of people who will then seek out her other stuff. Hell, that's the way it worked for me. Up to the time I saw Dodsworth I just assumed she was an artifact I didn't especially need to seek out. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


The funny thing about the Streisand remark -- I am trying to track down when she said it, and failing -- is that of course she started on Broadway. You're right, the sentiment is so true as to be self-evident. And I think you have a point about TV vs movies, too--movies retain the prestige, but it's the TV stars who obsess the public these days. But at the same time Streisand's comment is something few actors, especially those with theatre roots, are willing to come right out and say. It's like sitting down and ennumerating your plastic surgeries or hormone supplements.

Gloria said...

Campaspe, I didn't want to generalise, as the comments/criticisms that I had in mind (and which I tend to dislike the most) are not about "pure" film actors, but about sucessful stage actors getting a sucessful film career as well.

I particularly recall a witty, but terribly venomous, remark about one stage actor about another stage actor who had had a rather impressive film career: the former accused the later of having sold his talents to film, the very funny thing being that, eventually, that venomous critic of other people's careers would sell himself as well later, and far more cheaply than the subject of his criticism.

Campaspe said...

Gloria, I believe I have a good idea of who the targeted actor was--and perhaps even the one who made the remark. :D

X. Trapnel said...

Time to marry, huh? Couldn't conceive a passion for Joan Fontaine? Having noted Ms. Eames' no doubt stirring resemblance to Basil Rathbone, I wonder that Mr. A. didn't make a pitch for Edith Sitwell or Margaret Hamilton, both, I believe, were at liberty.

Campaspe said...

XT!!! Oh man, you are a Fontaine partisan.

Aherne had a number of romances with very beautiful actresses, which he mostly doesn't specify; if you recall Joan also alluded to his being unfaithful during their marriage. But he doesn't romanticize Clare's looks; he describes her as looking exactly like Queen Elizabeth. As in the Virgin Queen portrait in the National Gallery. Not exactly a compliment, to most women's ears.

X. Trapnel said...

I am indeed a Joan partisan and should the president call upon me to mediate between the Fontaine and de Havilland factions, I don't know whether I could be an honest broker. (Though Olivia in Capt. Blood was my first movie crush;
I'm still very fond of her).

Aherne's infidelities with beautiful actresses are no doubt unspecified because they are invented. Nobody brags about having an affair with, say, Una O'Connor, a reasonable stand-in for the departed Eames.

Sorry to be so nasty. I've been ticked off for the past two weeks because the introduction to a newly translated novel by Stefan Zweig refers to Joan (in the context of discussing Letter From an Unknown Woman) as a "mediocre and narcissistic actress." Since I can't slug the author (one Paul Bailey), I'm lashing out at the shade of Brian Aherne.

mndean said...

Hee Hee, Siren that is so true. Ask any random actor who's done both theater and film which they prefer and think is more important and they invariably choose the theater, especially if they started there. It's almost a programmed reaction.

Campaspe said...

Aw, XT, poor Clare isn't responsible for however Aherne acted. And Joan herself described his dalliances as beautiful -- not Aherne! He didn't get specific much at all, barely hinting that he once dated Olivia during the days of The Great Garrick. And Brian didn't brag about Marlene either, although if it satisfies your vengeful impulses, it should be mentioned that Marlene at no point was faithful to Aherne, any more than she was to anybody else.

As for Paul Bailey, PHOOEY. What does he know? Reminds me of Thomas Doherty dismissing Letter as "maudlin." Some judgments are so far off they aren't even worth getting worked up about.

Campaspe said...

Just checked Doherty -- his actual phrase is "a mawkish farrago of doomed/forbidden love, suitably punished, set in fin de siecle Vienna and elegantly directed by temporary French import Max Ophuls."

Hell, where do you even BEGIN with that?

X. Trapnel said...

I'm feeling a bit remorseful about Clare Eames, of whom I've never heard until now.

One way to look at the respective value of theater and film is to point out that for the period in which they've been in competition, there have been far more great films than great plays. How much of S. Howard, Sherwood, P. Barry, Elmer Rice, J. Van Druten (just to stick to Americans) is revivable? Except for a small number of masterpieces most of O'Neill, Williams, Miller is probably gone for good as well.

Most partisans of the The-yay-tah have not been doing Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw, but the temporary products of the age; perfectly decent stuff in its time and place, but no better than film.

DavidEhrenstein said...

As I bekeieve I've pointed out, X,, The Great Garruck is Jacques Rivette avant la lettre and my very favorite Whale film.

I think I alos may have mentoned that Maria Riva cites Brian Aherne as her favorite of all her mother's boyfriends.

As an actor he's very much neglected by serious critics. He's not showy at all, but is continually capable of making the sort of subtle shifts in character tone few actors can pull of. This coems to the fore quite strongly in Slyvia Scarlet in his ractions to Hepburn's changing presentations of self.

Campaspe said...

David, I remembered both of those remarks with great pleasure when I was writing this. Aherne offers serious competition for Cary Grant in Sylvia Scarlett, and how many actors can say THAT? I couldn't help noticing that his favorite costars were the difficult ones--Constance Bennett he mentions in particular, and he also admired Hepburn a great deal.

X. Trapnel said...

David, "Rivette avant le lettre" is recomendation enough for me (La Belle Noiseuse is by far the best film about a painter I've ever seen, however feeble "Frenhofer"'s work. Still trying to arrange the ideal moment to see Celine and Julie Go Boating)

Karen said...

Oh, Siren, what a marvellous, marvellous post! Thanks for introducing us to Aherne's memoir, which sounds delicious and compelling, no small feat. To send me from giggling at his description of Bette Davis in her prime to weeping at the image of poor Ruth Chatterton's lonely death is pretty impressive.

Yojimboen said...

I think Cedric Hardwicke put the whole theatre/film argument to bed in his second autobiography (and managed to zetz H’Wood): "God felt sorry for actors, so he gave them a place in the sun and a swimming pool. The price they had to pay was to surrender their talent."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Anytime is good for Celine et Julie vont en bateau/Phantom Ladies Over Paris as it's all light-spirited fun.

The Great Garrick relates to Rivette's film most concerned with the theater, especially the way "Off-stage" is merely another stage (eg. L'Amour Fou, La Bande des Quatre, Va Savoir, Out 1


Aherne is Garrick and his co-stars include Olivia DeHaviland, and a very young and lively Lana Turner.

Vanwall said...

Anytime anyone yacks about the "Stage" versus "Movies", I always think of the British TV series "Flickers" - yes, the noble tragedians surrenduring their god-given talent for filthy lucre. Hehe!

rudyfan1926 said...

What a lovely and entrancing posting. I've always had a very soft spot for Brian Aherne. I've now ordered a nice 1st Ed (and inscribed) copy for a ridiculously low sum of cabbage. Thanks for making me spend some dough to help keep a worthy used book store in business.

Chatterton is another favorite. Reading of her lonely passing made me extremely sad, but not as sad as the apparent shallowness of her Hollywood cohorts in later years. Chatterton is another one who never fails to delight me, in fact Girls' Dormitory is waiting at home. I think I need to watch Female and Frisco Jenny tonight.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
What David said. There is no wrong time to watch Celine and Julie Go Boating.

Note: from now on I'm not going to use European titles. It's too damned hard to find the proper letters on the keyboard and visiting IMDB just to cut and paste is a huge annoyance.

Yojimboen said...

Good idea MN – Let’s discuss
Wise Guys; Web of Passion; Nightcap; The Twist; Death Rite; Ten Days Wonder & The Champagne Murders

And that’s just Chabrol.

May I entreat you to stick with the original titles; we’ll thank you and no one will miss un accent aigu ou deux.

Campaspe said...

Y., are you then up for a discussion of Ochazuke no aji, Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki and Waga seishun ni kuinashi?

:D

I don't bother with the accents when I am just posting a comment, as indeed I have never bothered with italics either. It's casual conversation to me, and I figure people will forgive the transliteration as well as the occasional typo or skipped word. If they don't they've never rebuked me -- well, one woman did a long time ago but she's basically gone now.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd, it's hard to be consistent when it comes to foreign titles: L'Aventura or The Adventure? To my ears Grand Illusion sounds more pretentious than La Grand Illusion because of the word "grand" itself ("It was grand of you to come") and calling it, accurately, The Big Illusion requires tedious and pointless explanation. And what would one call l'Atalante?

Vanwall said...

Hmmm. Remind me not to rebuke you.

mndean said...

Trapnel,
Many of those (like l'Atalante and l'Avventura) can be done with what I've got on the keyboard, so I'll acquiesce on that score. Others with confusing names (I trust here any mention of Wise Guys wouldn't refer to the American movie of that name except in jest) I may acquiesce on, but I'll deal with it case-by-case. When you have half a post in the cut-and-paste buffer the last thing you want to do is paste here, go to IMDB to copy the title, paste that here and then go on. It's irritating, tedious and slow. I spend enough time on a post as it is.

The best way to get rid of me would be to have post after post of nothing but Middle Eastern or Russian cinema and insist on using the correct original names (which won't even show up in my browser except as irritating little boxes with hex code inside.

Yojimboen said...

I echo M VW and sit suitably chastised, Ma'am.

I'll trade your titles for the saga of Shichinin No Samurai; first released in the US as The Magnificent Seven then withdrawn from circulation to be replaced shortly after by another (remake) film of the same name directed by John Sturges; then rereleased as The Seven Samurai. The rest, as they say, is mystery.

Could be worse: The Matrix saw light in France under the moniker The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses.

Who said the French don't have a sense of humour? (OK, that was me.)

Vanwall said...

I just wanna know who was driving the tractor.

Yojimboen said...

I dunno, X, re les soeurs De Havilland, I have this awful feeling they’re going to die within hours of each other; as in, “She’s dead? All right, I win.” Then do what Cocteau did when he heard about Piaf: pen a farewell note, lie down on the day bed and expire, graciously.
Graciously.

Campaspe said...

Vanwall, it was pure accident that killed Howard; somehow the thing had been left in gear and when he switched on the ignition, and got out to do something, the tractor pinned him against the wall. The scene is very Stephen King all the same.

What I love about the last quoted excerpt is it how perfectly (look, I even busted out the italics there) the scene and dialogue would have fit into a woman's picture. So much subtext. And in a costume picture it could be the run-up to a duel, either fought or narrowly averted. Especially when you look at Howard's countenance, which reminds me a bit of Laird Cregar on a very, very bad day.

Campaspe said...

P.S. I didn't banish the rebuking French translator (for such was her profession), she just vanished of her own accord. Perhaps the persistent abuse of transliteration just proved too much for her.

Vanwall said...

I daresay Howard's peregrinations across the floor to be there at the right moment behind Ahern were positively balletic - I'm not a believer in co-inkiedinks when two men linked to one woman by bad blood come together in such a wonderfully screaming-for-a-script manner. Ahern loved a woman...I've given up on figuring the rules of attraction, and each man, and woman, has their own separate and sole claim who to love, and more telling, who to hate.

Just suppozin' who was the Allis-Chalmers jockey, that's all. It woulda been a nice kicker in that screamin'-for-a-script scenario I tossed out there.

As for the France-literalist, Quel serprize? Parisian? Must have been the whore's durves was off, and pizened her.

Campaspe said...

Vanwall, it was a party for Aherne's play. So while Aherne doesn't say it, of COURSE Howard knew he'd be there, and it is obvious to me too that Howard stood directly behind Aherne to engineer the confrontation. And as a writer, I am sure Howard had his line ready beforehand.

I don't find Howard the villain of the story. It must have been deeply wounding to have your wife run off with a handsome younger man and in such a public fashion.

Yojimboen said...

I dunno M VW, I don’t think you’ve thought this through. Allis-Chalmers? In Connecticut? Nah, that far north it had to be a Massey-Ferguson. And who was the scion of that Canadian tractor-maker? Why, young Raymond of course. And who but Sidney Howard was brought in at the last minute to polish Ronald Coleman’s dialog on Prisoner of Zenda just a year before? Which polish of course only served to make young Raymond (Massey!) more villainous than even he could bear?
I’m just sayin’…

Campaspe said...

Y., I don't know if this affects our plot but Howard's farm was in Massachusetts.

I had no idea Raymond Massey came from a line of tractors, er, tractor makers.

Kate Gabrielle said...

wow, what an unbelievable post!! I've read Brian Aherne's biography of George Sanders, but I haven't read this yet. I am definitely going to head over to amazon RIGHT NOW and see if they have a copy!!

X. Trapnel said...

Y, this reminds me of the great opening line of Thomas Beer's The Mauve Decade: "Thet laid Jesse James in his grave and Dante Gabriel Rosetti died immediately." The classic instance is Jefferson and Adams both expiring on July 4, 1826. Talk about balletic! Way beyond the dramaturgy of Sidney Howard.

gmoke said...

"The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice" is one of my favorite Ozu films and I still remember the wistfulness of Setsuko Hara's face when she realizes that she can no longer play the piano with fingers hardened by farmwork in "No Regrets for Our Youth."

Vanwall said...

M Yo - yes, Massey would've been the logical suspect, come to think on it, outside of the butler - who I would've eliminated as a red herring! - as Massey had better Nebraska Test Scores, I've no doubt. The man had some serious power.

Lorenzo said...

Siren, I'm a 25 y.o. cinema student from Rome, I've been reading your wonderful blog for a while now and you definitively won me over with this Aherne/Chatterton/Eames post. It's perfectly structured, very well written and truly engaging. Thanks, I solemnly proclaim myself a fan of yours!!!

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

An additional connection, here, which I don't *think* has been noted ...

Clare Eames' husband, Sidney Howard, was also the man who wrote the stage adaptation and subsequent screenplay for "Dodsworth."

An all-around "Brava!", in any case, for the Siren, as far as this post is concerned ...

Vanwall said...

BTW, "The Secret Partner" with Stewart Granger is on tonite. An often overlooked film.

Campaspe said...

Rudyfan, I missed you up there -- thanks so much for stopping by. I think you will really like the book. I left out a bunch of good stuff that you will be delighted to find.

Lorenzo, I am very happy to have a new reader, thanks very much for posting!

MrsHWV -- WOW, what a brilliant connection, and I can't believe I missed it! And it strikes me as amusing and sad and probably natural that BA didn't mention it himself.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My favorite Ozu is The Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947 -- the year of my birth)

Terence Stamp turns 70 today.

rudyfan1926 said...

Siren
I am an unabashed fan of your blog, so stopping by is a regular thing. You simply need to post more ;-)

I'm looking forward to BA's book. It's next up, right now reading Eve Golden's excellent Vamp (Theda Bara).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Attention Sirenettes: This Friday at 7:30 Max Ophuls' The Reckless Moment will be screened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of its James Mason series.

Campaspe said...

Sirenettes? We have to do five-part harmonies or something if we're going to take on that name.

X. Trapnel said...

How about "Sirenauts"? More Homeric/Odyssean, I think.

DavidEhrenstein said...

That doesn't sound like Streisand to me. Her most famous quote, IMO, was when after Funny Girl premiered someone said to her "Barbra you're a star!" to which she replied "I'm not a star. Barbara Harris is a star."

DavidEhrenstein said...

And here's our therme song! (By Jerome Kern and P.G. Wodehouse)

Yojimboen said...

Nah, my passport's the wrong colour (and my legs aren't long enough) to be an anything-ette.

You want me I'll be over in the corner with the Sireniens(nnes) and the Sirenistos(as).

X. Trapnel said...

Wit all due respect to Kern, the Siren deserves nothing less than this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33cpNZTkVIk

X. Trapnel said...

Sigh, one of these days I'll learn to do a proper job (to borrow a phrase) with links.

Yojimboen said...

And a little Tim Buckley
to complete the set.

Vanwall said...

I'd be like a Les Ballets Trocadero de Sirenuse - clomping around and pratfalling. I could do a passable Lollipop Guild, tho.

mndean said...

Creepy synchronicity. I was just walking by the TV, when I looked at the screen, they were running Juarez and it was exactly the shot Davis and Aherne posed for the still!

Douglas Fairbanks said...

You are so right about Mary Pickford.


"America's Sweetheart" indeed.



Whoooor

pradamedia said...

A lovely article and timely for me. Veering off the beaten track a bit...Brian Aherne starred in a 1930s British film "The W Plan" directed by Victor Saville and co-starring Madeleine Carroll. It was released in the US by RKO but no print of this seems now to exist. I'm trying to trace a copy but no luck thus far.

cgeye said...

One word, said affectionately: Max'l.

How many actors can embody a straight-up king you'd want to ravish due to his decency and good taste? Aherne makes him tragic precisely because he plays by rules most nobles didn't.

Juarez, in contrast, was didactic and dull. I know the socialist-minded scribes of the flick thought different, but that's what was shown on screen....

sobrien31 said...

Just a note ... I've been researching Ruth Chatterton for a biography. She and Aherne were indeed close friends, but he was mistaken about her death. She was admitted into the Norwalk Hospital on a Tuesday (cerebral hemorrhage) and died on a Friday. They really connected in their joint love for aviation. They had plans to do a Broadway play together based on the story of Louise von Corburg. Their radio version of "Quality Street" is available and Aherne is wonderful in it.

The Siren said...

Sobrien31, Thank you so much for the very courteous & helpful correction! I am flat to the boards at the moment but I've bookmarked and plan to update the post. I'm considerably relieved, in fact, to hear that Aherne got that wrong, as I'm sure the other Chatterton fans here would be as well. Not to pressure you or anything, but if you want to give your name or have a publisher lined up for the book, you might want to consider revealing it? When it comes to classic-movie book audiences, the group is here is definitely your base.

Brian Aherne said...

I liked the post. Yes, my name is, indeed, Brian Aherne. Fortunately, I am not an actor.

Mark Newman said...

I am one of BA's first cousins, once removed, and had the good fortune to meet him when he was visiting the family house that he describes in his book - "Tower Holme", which belonged to my father at that time (my grandmother was the younger sister of BA's father). A most elegant man, even in his later years, he had a timeless grace about him and was a typical Englishman of his time. I can quite see why he was so successful with the ladies. His only vanity was his car, a white Jaguar with a gold crest of his initials on each of the front door panels !

The Siren said...

Mark, how *wonderful* of you to stop by and leave this reminiscence. This is why I leave my comments open. "Timeless grace" is an apt phrase. And indeed he aged beautifully. Thank you for this.