Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Anecdote of the Week: Blondell Crazy
Alas, the Siren has been up to her step-ins in work and has consequently been missing you all terribly. Since April, she's been doing some freelance film reviewing for (drum roll) the New York Post. The Post's Website is a strange and wonderful thing, but you should be able to access most of her efforts here. Last week's review of Bel Ami, in which Robert Pattinson and his cheekbones attempted to erase memories of George Sanders and his can-can, may be of particular interest. So anyway, between that and the blogathon and the usual demands of life chez Siren, opportunities to dig into a nice big post have been thin on the ground.
The Siren did manage, however, to spend a wonderful afternoon watching pre-Codes with Imogen Sara Smith, an extravagantly talented writer whose reverence for pre-Codes, noir and the art of classic-film acting should endear her to everyone who's ever visited this blog. Imogen has a book out now, called In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City, available from McFarland here. The Siren recommends it highly and plans to write more of it anon. Meanwhile, you can read Imogen's ode to the Pre-Code era at Bright Lights Film Journal.
One movie we watched was Blondie Johnson, starring Joan Blondell, everyone's favorite Depression blonde (right? right?). Imogen billed it as "the ultimate Blondell" and she's probably on the money. It's a blast watching Blondell go from desperate poverty to running a con-artist syndicate, even if you never do really believe Chester Morris would get past first base with this gum-snapping goddess.
Naturally this is all leading up to a story, one the Siren believes to be as trustworthy as the World Almanac, but like all good yarns, you can take it or leave it, toots.
Years ago the Siren worked for a venerable man (Will would have snorted and said, "Honey, I'm fuckin' old") who'd had as fascinating a life as you can imagine. One of his many incarnations was as a stage manager for a series of regional and summer-stock theaters in the early to mid-1950s. Through his productions rolled many a faded star, some trying to duck the blacklist, some trading on the last vestiges of a marquee name, and some of them just troupers who couldn't imagine not working.
To that last group belonged Joan Blondell. At that point in her career, Will said her off-screen persona had become very like the one she had on screen; whether the difference had ever been huge, he couldn't say. He adored her, naturally. Decades after he'd met Blondell, he still chuckled at the memory of her at a hotel-room party, shoes off and fully dressed, holding court on the bed with her then-paramour.
According to Will, Blondell enjoyed a post-rehearsal nightcap with cast, crew, whoever, it didn't matter. He said (and isn't this precisely what you want to hear) that Joan Blondell didn't have a snobbish bone in her body.
What she did have was a gift for improv, which Will discovered one night when Blondell, out with a group that was all male and rowdier than usual, slipped on the floor, went straight down--and stayed down in a heap, apparently out for the count. Her rather woozy drinking crew crowded round for a second, debating. Had she hit her head? A concussed star was no joke, but neither did they want "Hooched-Up Joan Blondell Passes Out in Saloon" as tomorrow's headline in the East Nowheresville Gazette, there to be picked up by the wire services. Someone went to the bar to get a glass of water, which took a minute as it wasn't what they were used to serving, and the bartender may even have needed directions to the tap.
And while the water was being fetched, Will, who was kneeling closest to Blondell, saw one enormous blue eye fly open to half mast, and shut almost before he was sure what he'd seen.
So when the glass was raised to Blondell's lips, and she snatched it and said cheerfully, "What took you so long?", Will was the only one who didn't jump two feet.
The Siren believes this story; don't you?