Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miss Wright Regrets She's Unable to Pose Today

Above, Teresa Wright bestows the look of love on Dana Andrews at the end of The Best Years of Our Lives. They showed it again last night on TCM, for Memorial Day, causing some to point out that the holiday is about remembering the dead, not honoring the living veterans. In the way of most pedantry, this is technically correct, and tiresomely literal. Wyler's film needs no grave scenes; it is death-haunted throughout. Fredric March, Harold Russell and Dana Andrews carry the dead with them, and they always will.

It falls to the women to help bring them back to life, and Wright was the perfect foil for the traumatized Dana Andrews. Throughout her career she played normal, and showed that a good girl has as many angles as a bad, if you approach her with sincerity and don't condescend. What makes her Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt so marvelous, and somewhat unusual in Hitchcock's filmography, is that the girl's essential decency is, for once, made more intriguing and less predictable than the serial killer she's up against.

Wright was eager to play this role for Wyler, says Goldwyn biographer A. Scott Berg, because Peggy Stephenson is a homewrecker, albeit one with the purest of motives. Wright was getting a little tired of being what Wyler called "the best cryer in the business." Then again, this smart and dedicated actress also knew exactly what she did and did not want from the business. The Siren here gives you a key clause from the contract Miss Teresa Wright signed with Samuel Goldwyn Productions at the outset of her career:

Miss Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: in shorts; playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at the turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf.

Perhaps the second sentence of that clause was what Sam Goldwyn had in mind when he allegedly tried to get Wright to loosen up a bit during filming of The Little Foxes by calling to her from behind the camera, "Teresa, let your breasts flow in the breeze!"

You won't find much in the way of Teresa Wright cheesecake, but this shot is readily available on the Internet. The Siren includes it to demonstrate that had she chosen to do so, Miss Wright could have looked insinuating any old time she wanted.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Missing Reels: The Siren's Novel

Voilà, one reason the Siren has been MIA for long stretches this year: Missing Reels, her first novel, will be published by the Overlook Press this November. It is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and BN.com.

For those of you who may be attending: On May 29, from about 11:30 am to 12:30 pm, in her everyday guise as plain old Farran Smith Nehme, the Siren will be at BookExpo America at the Javits Center in Manhattan, signing copies of the galleys at the Overlook Press booth.

Here’s part of the jacket copy as it stands now:

New York in the late 1980s. Ceinwen Reilly has just moved from Yazoo City, Mississippi, and she’s never going back, minimum wage job (vintage store salesgirl) and shabby apartment (Avenue C walkup) be damned. Who cares about earthly matters when Ceinwen can spend her days and her nights at fading movie houses—and most of the time that’s left trying to look like Jean Harlow?

One day, Ceinwen discovers that her downstairs neighbor may have—just possibly—starred in a forgotten silent film that hasn’t been seen for ages. So naturally, it’s time for a quest. She will track down the missing reels, she will impress her neighbor, and she will become a part of movie history: the archivist as ingénue.

As she embarks on her grand mission, Ceinwen meets a somewhat bumbling, very charming, 100 percent English math professor named Matthew, who is as rational as she is dreamy. Together, they will or will not discover the reels, will or will not fall in love, and will or will not encounter the obsessives that make up the New York silent film nut underworld.

The Siren started work on Missing Reels about three years ago, when friend Tom Shone (a novelist in his own right, and In the Rooms is wonderful) cheerfully suggested she write a novel. She decided that the revival-house scene in New York in the late 1980s (in its death throes, though most of us were in denial about that at the time) would be a good setting for a romantic comedy.

Naturally, Missing Reels also reflects the Siren’s obsessions which, as you know, are obsessive indeed.

So for fun, and to get back into the swing of things, the Siren figured she’d go through Missing Reels, and catalogue the film references. And from time to time, she’ll put up other posts with other photographs representing the vast and eclectic group of films and film folk that are mentioned — however briefly or obliquely — in her novel.

If nothing else, it will be decorative.

And afterward, the Siren has three half-finished posts awaiting her ministrations. She is eager to get back to her regularly irregular blogging schedule. She misses you guys, a lot.

So, the epigraph:

The Crowd, 1928 (screenplay by King Vidor and John V.A. Weaver)

And the first chapter.

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow's double Mary Dees hides behind binoculars in Saratoga, completed in 1937 after Harlow died, age 26.

Red Dust, 1932

The Ox-Bow Incident, 1943 (roped in at left: Anthony Quinn and Dana Andrews)

Bette Davis (with Marlene Burnett) in The Old Maid, 1939
Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, 1932