Fortunately…I had my Deborah Kerr. She was heaven. She was the perfect Mrs. Anna. She understood Mrs. Anna completely. She understood the relationship between the two. And this is really what made the picture work.”
20th Century Fox’s production of The King and I (1956) is a sparkling gem in the crown of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. The terrific cast, memorable tunes, and universal message holds an undying appeal that continues to touch generation after generation.
While at first glance one would think the movie belongs to Yul Brynner, after all he has been identified with the king ever since originating the role on Broadway in 1951, and even the title of the film implies this; however, it is the pairing of Brynner with his leading lady, Deborah Kerr, and the chemistry between them that makes the movie truly come alive and take wing.
For us today, it is hard to imagine that Deborah Kerr was not the first choice for the role of the prim and proper English schoolteacher. Vivien Leigh was considered, but because of health issues she was not able to take on the project.
A notorious perfectionist, Yul Brynner was quite pleased with the casting of Kerr after having met and seeing her perform on Broadway in Tea and Sympathy. The two became good friends with a pleasant working relationship. There were even rumors of a romance between the two. Deborah Kerr later remembered,
“It was Yul who was the solid inspiration behind the movie. He knew and loved every line of the story and every note of the music, and it came out so well due to his insistence that this and that had to be done the way he wanted. He could be difficult, but only because he knew he was right.”
Deborah Kerr, as Anna Leonowens, not only beautifully holds the central heart of the film, she holds her own against the larger than life portrayal of Yul Brynner’s King of Siam. Her character is strong, uncompromising, and just as stubborn as the king; but she is also a lady of principle, propriety, and tenderness. She is the catalyst for change, a breath of fresh air in a place that is stale and harsh. All of these nuances come through in her performance making her a force to be reckoned with.
Anna’s differences with the king set off fireworks, both politically and sexually, resulting in one of the greatest and most romantic scenes in cinematic history – the “Shall We Dance” number. The two draw close together and majestically whirl around the dance floor in an unforgettable scene of unspoken joy, love, and desire.
Beneath the spectacle and grandeur of the film is the underlying principle of freedom and equality. Anna encourages the freedom of the Siamese people and the equality of women in every way she can. She supports Tuptim (Rita Moreno) in her desire to be with Lun Tha, and gives her Uncle Tom’s Cabin to read, inspiring her to dream of and believe in her chance of freedom. Anna encourages the people to think for themselves and perhaps most importantly, she inspires Prince Chulalongkorn’s decree that there will no longer be any groveling on the floor before the king, no doubt leading to more modernization for the people in his upcoming reign.
There is much to enjoy in the The King and I. The screenplay is marvelous, the music is delightful, and the sets and costumes are beautiful, but each time I watch it I’m always struck by Deborah Kerr’s brilliant portrayal of a courageous woman who influenced the change of a nation.
This post is my contribution to The Second Deborah Kerr Blogathon hosted by Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films.Thanks for letting me participate, Maddy!Check out her great blog and the rest of the entries by clicking here!
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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my lovely followers and readers!
Thank you for your kindness and supporting me in my blogging journey, I appreciate it more than you know.
The video below about Bing Crosby and his contributions to the war effort touched me and I wanted to share it with you. Besides, there’s no better way to spend the holiday than with wonderful memories of the Voice of Christmas.
Wishing you and those you love a happy and safe holiday season!
Growing up in a home where classics were loved and appreciated, I remember being quite surprised when my mother told me that the actress who played the green faced, flying monkey commanding witch in The Wizard of Oz in actuality was a dear, sweet lady who loved children and was at one time a kindergarten schoolteacher. That dichotomy has always intrigued me.
When the What a Character! Blogathon came around, I knew exactly who I wanted to write about. Margaret Hamilton terrified children (this one included!) from all over the world, yet she was as different from her onscreen persona as one could possibly be. As a warm hearted woman, consummate professional, and caring mother, she devoted her life to the arts, the well being of animals, and the education of children.
With a clipped way of speaking and a short, curt manner, Margaret is usually seen playing maids, spinsters, and witches. Her characters possessed a strong backbone with a sharp wit and a commanding, oft times, foreboding presence. On a few occasions she did play against type as a trusting friend, a warm companion, and fittingly, a schoolteacher.
Born in Ohio in 1902, Margaret Hamilton was drawn to acting an early age, participating in children’s theater and making her stage debut when she was twenty-one. Urged by her parents to become a teacher, Margaret earned her degree in education from Wheelock College in Boston and was a kindergarten teacher for six years before returning to her love of acting. Margaret also found personal happiness during this time, marrying Paul Meserve in 1931.
After appearing in productions for several years at the Cleveland Playhouse, Margaret landed a part in the Broadway play Another Language (1932). MGM bought the property and brought most of the cast members to the studio to produce the movie of the same name marking Margaret’s screen debut (1933).
Three years later, Margaret and Paul had a son, Hamilton. When the couple divorced in 1938, Margaret was left to single-handedly provide for both her and her son. Never becoming a contract player at any one studio (except for one year at RKO), Margaret freelanced her services in order to work as often as she could for the price that she wanted.
By the time MGM was looking for cast members for The Wizard of Oz, Margaret had already done six movies with the studio. Having loved the story ever since she was young, she was delighted when she got the call that they wanted her for the movie. The question remained: which role did they want her for?
“And I asked him [her agent] what part, and he said, ‘The Witch,’ and I said, ‘The Witch?!’ and he said, ‘What else?'”
Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West is on the screen for a total of twelve minutes; but that was more than enough to cement in the minds of everyone the world wide over, since 1939, what a witch looks like, sounds like, and acts like. The gleeful, maniacal cackle that we can never forget, the nasal intonation of her voice, the black as night dress and tall pointed hat, and the emerald green face and hands all stem from Margaret’s flawless portrayal. The witch is larger than life, menacing and dangerous, and her sarcastic, evil spirit provides a perfect foil for the innocent, optimistic Dorothy. Margaret’s performance in this film made her an icon and would define her for the rest of her life.
Several times, Margaret reunited with her Oz co-stars, which never fails to make this fan happy. In 1942, she and Toto took to the screen in Twin Beds. Margaret plays the maid and Toto, the couple’s beloved pooch, and in George White Scandals (1945), Margaret tries to keep her brother, Jack Haley, (the Tin Man) from marrying his sweetheart.
Margaret remained lifelong friends with Ray Bolger, and the two starred together in the Broadway play Come Summer (1969) and were cast mates in the fantasy film The Dreamer (1966).
In 1968, Judy Garland appeared with Margaret on the Merv Griffin show, and Judy asked Margaret to reproduce her famous cackle. The response from the audience says it all.
Although thrilled to be a part of one of the most loved movies ever made, Margaret disliked the fact that so many children had been frightened of the witch. Feeling responsible for their terror, she sought to rectify this by appearing on Mr. Rogers television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, in three episodes from 1975-1976. You can watch one of her appearances on the show below. It is simply charming.
In 1976, Margaret appeared on Sesame Street reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West complete with green face and costume. I’m sure she never expected the results. Parents and children wrote letters to the producers saying that they wished the witch to never appear on the show again. It caused the children difficulty getting to sleep because of how deathly afraid they were of her. Since then, the episode has not been broadcast on television or seen anywhere else. Read some of the letters that recently surfaced and more about Margaret’s controversial appearance here.
Hamilton Meserve said his mother, “was very concerned about the effect it [the witch] had on small children. She was very aware of the impact it had on kids. Time and again she would literally get down on her knees and have kids touch her face. She would say, ‘I’m a nice lady’ and that the witch was all ‘make-believe.'” Knowing this, I’m sure that Margaret had a hard time when she was not accepted by children because she did love them so much; however, I do think she truly enjoyed her character and didn’t have any regrets.
Working in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to horror, Margaret appeared in more than seventy films in a fifty year career spanning radio, television, and stage. Possessing a great sense of comic timing, she held her own alongside some of the greatest comedians in film including W. C. Fields and Mae West (My Little Chickadee), Buster Keaton (The Villain Still Pursued Her), Harold Lloyd (The Sin of Harold Diddlebock), and Abbott & Costello (Comin’ Round the Mountain). She also worked with some of Hollywood’s top directors: Fritz Lang (You Only Live Once); Busby Berkeley (Babes in Arms); William Wellmann (The Ox-Bow Incident); and Frank Capra (Riding High and State of the Union).
80 years after Oz, the life story of Margaret Hamilton continues to enchant and inspire. This past summer a play premiered in Sag Harbor, New York, entitled My Witch: The Margaret HamiltonStories. How I wish I could have seen it! Here’s the official description:
“The amazing tale of how a gentle kindergarten teacher from Cleveland scared the living daylights out of every last one of us…and the brains, heart, and courage it took to be America’s character woman…If there’s one movie we all share it’s ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but it is time to pay attention to the woman behind the cackle. Spend 85 wonderful minutes with Margaret Hamilton, for she has true and terrific stories to tell.”
Margaret Hamilton will always be known as the green witch who scared the wits out of children worldwide, but she was much more than that. She was a wonderful actress, devoted mother, and a determined woman who was driven by her passions. She deeply cared for others, gave generously to charities, and became a spokeswoman for the causes she believed in.
Margaret was a member of the Beverly Hills Board of Education from 1948-1951.
In 1972, Margaret got to “give us Auntie Em” when she voiced the character in the animated feature Journey Back to Oz.
This post is my contribution to the 8th Annual What A Character! Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled.Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Be sure to stop by their blogs! To read the rest of the entries about other talented, colorful character actors, click HERE for day 1, HERE for day 2, and HERE for day 3.
Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!
As part of my Halloween viewing for this year, I saw Bell, Book, and Candle for the first time. This film has been on my radar as the cast includes the remarkable duo of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak (and was released in the same year as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo, also featuring the two leads).
In Bell, Novak plays Gil, a witch who uses her powers to do her bidding and to catch Jimmy Stewart for her own. The film starts off with a scene on Christmas Day and makes for some cozy, cold weather viewing. The fashion reflects this as Gil is ensconced in gorgeous capes, cloaks, and gloves.
While the Academy award nominated costumes were designed by Jean Louis, whose most famous creations included Rita Hayworth’s gown in Gilda, Marlene Dietrich’s elaborate stage wear, and Marilyn Monroe’s barely there “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress, all of Gil’s clothing in the film look extremely comfortable to wear and have a cool, relaxed vibe while still being elegant, refined, and stylish.
As I was completely charmed by this movie and fell in love with Kim’s character and her amazing wardrobe, I thought it might be fun to gather some inspiration from Gil’s looks that can easily be incorporated into your own winter wardrobe and holiday looks for this year. Enough talk…on with the visuals!
black and red ensemble
When we are introduced to Gil, she is wistfully contemplating her life in her shop while the snow descends steadily on the streets of New York City. She is wearing a black sweater with black cigarette pants and a red tunic – a festive and cozy outfit for Christmas Day.
I cannot get enough of Gil’s leopard print cape. Seriously, how gorgeous is that?! Luckily for us, leopard is all over the fashion scene. Not into capes (or can’t find one)? Pull out a coat instead, or just keep it in the accessories. I love these casual reinterpretations of Gil’s look, totally appropriate for a fun day time outing.
Gil’s leopard cape is reversible as we can see in this scene where she wears an all black ensemble with only hints of the print peeking through. This is a somber scene in the film, accented perfectly by Gil’s ensemble. Her outfit is sophisticated but subdued.
Keep the rest of this outfit simple and let the leopard do the talking. Pair black basics with a variety of textures for visual interest and top it off with some fun accessories. Neutrals never looked so chic.
Gil wears a burgundy velvet backless dress with jeweled bangles on the sleeve for her night out at the Zodiac Club. It’s when she invites Shep (Stewart) to her apartment that the magic begins. Velvet (or velour) is the go-to for holiday wear from tops, to pants, to dresses, and is not hard to find around this time of year. If you pick a dress, go for a high neckline and a lower back, and don’t forget the bangles to recreate Gil’s look.
I hope you enjoyed looking at some of the pieces in Gil’s wardrobe with me. I only picked a few out of the offerings on display. You’ll have to watch the film to see the rest!
Bell, Book, and Candle is great fun. In addition to an excellent cast and a memorable score, there is another added bonus. If you’re like me and struggle to find a semi-festive flick to watch between Halloween and Christmas, (or you love Halloween so much you don’t want to let it go yet) let me tell you, your search is over. Bell, Book, and Candle is the perfect “in between” movie! So get your cozy sweaters out, grab your furry friend, and prepare to be enchanted by this wintry, magical tale.
Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!
Grace and Kate. Kate and Grace. Could there be two stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age any more different from each other than these two? Both of these women made their indelible mark on film history with their individuality, remarkable talent, and unwavering determination. As different as they were, there still are many notable similarities. My purpose in this post is to uncover those similarities, thereby giving us a double take of these two legends.
-Images are in the Public Domain unless otherwise noted-
Grace was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Jack Kelly, was a three time Olympic champion rower who encouraged his family to participate in any and all manner of athletics. Grace’s mother was a champion swimmer who became a physical education teacher for ladies at the University of Philadelphia. She also modeled for a number of years.
Every summer the Kelly family retreated from the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia by vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey. In Ocean City they enjoyed the beach, boardwalk, and quiet life along the shoreline.
When Grace was a teenager she was part of her school’s hockey and swim teams, and she loved to dance.
Young Grace dreamed of being an actress; however, her parents were not keen on the idea. At nineteen, they permitted her to go to New York to study acting so she could get it out of her system. Little did they know she would be quite successful, and that it would change the course of her life.
Image: Pinterest (right)
Kate was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to a prosperous family. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, was a doctor at Hartford Hospital, and her mother was the director of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. Her family had a summer home in Fenwick, a borough of Old Saybrook, where the Connecticut River flows into the Long Island Sound. Kate’s father believed in the importance of physical activity, and Kate learned boating, fishing, and swimming at an early age. She also grew an affinity for tennis and golfing, becoming a state semi-finalist in the latter.
While attending her mother’s alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, Kate grew interested in acting. She participated in some of the college plays and decided that was what she wanted to do. Her parents weren’t entirely thrilled, but Kate pursued her dream nevertheless.
Negotiations, Camera, Action!
In 1952, Grace was offered a role that she simple couldn’t refuse. Mogambo would give her the chance to work with two of her heroes, John Ford and Clark Gable, and the film would be shot on location in Africa; however, in order for her to accept the role she would be tied in to a seven year contract with MGM. Grace made two stipulations: that she could return to her first love, the theater, one out of every two years, and that she would be permitted to live in her apartment in New York City. MGM agreed to the terms, proving that Grace, though still very new to Hollywood, could call the shots.
In 1942, Kate really was the woman of the year. Having collaborated on the story with a playwright, she brought the idea for the film to the studio heads at MGM. She demanded a fixed sum for her services as well as for the story writers. When the terms were met, she also chose her director, Stevens, and co-star, Tracy.
“I was fearless…and lawless.”
Woman of the Year (1942) was Kate’s first film with Spencer Tracy, and it was so successful that it led to a series of films they made together, (nine in total) as well as the blossoming of their legendary romance. Kate also signed a contract with MGM during the making of the film.
The Philadelphia Stories
When Grace Kelly set out for New York to pursue her acting career, she applied and was accepted to the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York City. After making her Broadway debut and completing her training at the academy, she played Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story for her commencement performance.
In 1956, Grace was cast in the film version of the play with a few changes. High Society, as it was now called, was a splashy Technicolor musical, made in the grand MGM fashion. As Tracy Lord, Grace was given a duet to sing with co-star Bing Crosby. MGM wanted to bring in a singer to dub Grace, but Bing insisted that Grace had a good voice and that she could carry her part. The result was pure magic! Grace and Bing’s tender duet, “True Love”, won a gold record – an amazing feat for someone unknown as a singer.
High Society turned out to be Grace’s last film in Hollywood – a fine swan song for the actress who in five, short years rose to the top. When filming was complete she started making preparations to leave America to marry her fiance, Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In 1939, Kate was at an all time low in her career. She had just endured a series of flops which had earned her the label, “box office poison.” She was determined to make a come back and turn things around. A friend of hers, Philip Barry, had just the thing. He wrote a play with her in mind for the lead character. The Philadelphia Story opened on Broadway and was a smash with Kate playing Tracy Lord, the haughty, flighty socialite. Kate had made a risky business move in the venture, but it paid off. She did not ask for a salary, and instead asked for a percentage of the play’s profits. Kate’s boyfriend at the time was the multi millionaire Howard Hughes. He purchased the film rights to the play for her, setting her next move in motion.
Kate sold the rights to MGM studio chief, Louis B. Mayer, for $250,000. Other studios had offered her more, but Kate wasn’t after money; she wanted creative control. In exchange Kate got her pick of the director, producer, cast, screenwriter, and she would play the lead once again.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) became Kate’s ticket back into the ranks of beloved star, and she continued acting into her eighties. She said of her character, “I gave her life, and she gave me back my career.” The film won two Oscars and endures as one of the most loved classics of all time.
Grace is known for her classic, feminine, elegant style. Whether a star or a princess, she always dressed the part beautifully. When she became a bride, she stunned the world with her wedding dress, forever setting the prototype for bridal wear. When pregnant with her first child, she used her beloved Hermes handbag to hide her baby bump. Shortly thereafter, it became known as the “Kelly bag” and remains as such till this day.
Kate never followed anyone else’s style – she created her own. She brought menswear inspired clothing into the spotlight, making it more fashionably acceptable for women. Kate loved wearing wide leg trousers, loafers, blazers, and collared shirts. These looks were worn by Kate in her films and her fans imitated her style, setting a trend that has lasted for decades.
And there you have it…two extraordinary ladies that made their place in history by living their lives unapologetically, with a lot more in common than one might think.
Thank you for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!