Hello, all! I trust you’ve had a safe and happy Halloween!
We are ready to wrap up the blogathon…well, almost! There is another entry coming in and possibly a few stragglers, so keep your eyes on this page for the last of this Halloween celebration of legendary composer Bernard Herrmann!
We’ve had everything from movie reviews to personal remembrances shared over the weekend. The tones ranging from funny, touching, and enlightening to foreboding, dark, and frightening. Just what the doctor ordered when celebrating such a man and his contrasting body of work.
Bloggers, thank you for your appreciation and enthusiasm for Herrmann and for contributing to make this event a success! You’ve not only made this blogathon possible, you’ve made my first experience as hostess a wonderful one. For that I am very grateful!
In fact, I had so much fun, I’m already cooking up my next one. Stay tuned!
Comment below if you’d like to see this event come back next year! I would be more than happy to host it once again.
To round out the bash, I leave you with Herrmann’s personal favorite of his scores and one of mine as well, the wistful and romantic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
Happy Halloweekend and Welcome one and all to The Bernard Herrmann Blogathon!
Are you ready to embark on this weekend full of spellbinding mystery and musical delights? I know I am!
Bernard Herrmann needs no introduction. His music is the very definition of the word iconic. From a barbaric shower scene, to ghostly cottages, to an eerie alien invasion, he did it all. And with a completely new musical landscape that nailed the setting every time.
A complex man who was known for his abrupt manner but had a sensitive side as well, he excelled at and pioneered the art of conveying psychology through music.
His powerful music is imprinted on some of the most beloved classic films and his influence is never-ending, reaching into the hearts and minds of composers and movie lovers today.
I admire Herrmann tremendously and am so pleased and honored to be honoring him with my very first blogathon.
So without further ado, thank you for joining us in this celebration! I hope you find a “new” film or two…Because one can never have too much Herrmann 😉
Check back to this post often as I will be updating as the blogathon rolls on!
Bloggers, thank you for making this a special event by lending your time and talent! I can’t wait to read your thoughts!
Please leave me a comment below when you are ready to unveil your compositions. I will add them to the programme as soon as I can!
You know when something just clicks with you? And the incredible satisfaction that comes with it. That’s how I feel about the music of Bernard Herrmann.
Recently, I’ve noticed that Herrmann has a special quality that sets him apart from his contemporaries. And I’ve gone on a quest to find out what that is.
I’m still completing that task as I’m about half way through his biography by Steven C. Smith which is fabulous. If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into the man, I highly recommend it!
One of my favorite features on the blog is Classic Movie Travels where I get up close and personal with classic movies in the form of visits to museums, landmarks, star’s birthplaces, etc.
Today, I’m retracing my steps and taking you along with me to New York to the final resting place of this incredible and influential composer.
Beth David Cemetery
About a thirty minute drive from New York City where Herrmann was born, lies the Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York.
The town holds no glamour for its most celebrated patron. On a busy road bustling with public transportation and businesses lining the sidewalks, pedestrians scurry about probably having no idea of the legend beyond its gates.
Upon entering Beth David Cemetery it was not too difficult to find the Herrmann family plot. According to The Bernard Herrmann Society, Section BB2 and the Old Konstantine Benevolent Society can easily be found at the intersection of Beth Israel and Washington Avenues (the small roads within the cemetery).
With his huge tombstone, I was quickly able to find the patriarch of the family, Abraham Herrmann. But then the search was on. You see, this was the most packed cemetery I’ve ever seen, making the search for the composer a lengthy one.
Just when I was about to quit, I found Ida, the matriach, and directly across from her was Bernard.
Note: For those who are wondering, as I did, the PC sticker on the stones signify “perpetual care” for the groundskeepers.
The moment I saw his headstone was a sobering one. Here was one of my idols – the man who wrote the music for some of my favorite movies, those which have formed me into the fan and person I am today.
Fully immersing myself in the moment, I began thinking about the music he’s written and what it means to me. I silently thanked him for staying true to himself and writing the music that was on his heart instead of adhering to the tried and true methods of film composing or the fads that were calling with their siren song.
When I approached Bernard’s tombstone from the left side, something caught my eye. Beside the bush directly in front of his grave, an admirer left a copy of the soundtrack from Vertigo!
In that moment, I had goosebumps all over. The fact that someone was so touched by his music and left his masterwork in appreciation was a surreal experience.
Immediately, I wished I had brought a token of my appreciation, but then my husband so wisely said, “I don’t think you could have done better than that,” as he pointed to the Vertigo album. And you know what? I don’t think I could have either.
I was surprised and a little sad that Herrmann had been laid to rest in such an unassuming location.
In my mind, he should be alongside the great talents of yesteryear in the big, fancy celebrity cemeteries of California; but for a man who hated Hollywood, though it gave him great success, I’m sure this is the way he would have wanted it, to be beside his family in his home state of New York.
I will be forever grateful to Herrmann for his individualism, chutzpah, sensitivity, and beautiful gift that he continually gives to our world.
His music always feels “real,” not manufactured (I don’t believe he ever wrote a note he did not feel), truly encompassing the essence of humanity in all its complexity, fragility, horror, and beauty.
June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975
This post is my contribution to The Bernard Herrmann Blogathon hosted by myself! For more musical treats, head on over HERE and read the rest of the contributions celebrating this great composer.
Ready for another adventure? Here’s more of my Classic Movie Travels!
Edwin Booth lived a life few can ever imagine. Born into a renowned theatrical family, he inherits both his father’s genius for stage acting and the demons that plagued him. His success on the stage stirs the envy of his brother, John Wilkes, driving him to a terrible deed that will echo throughout history.
As personal tragedy strikes, will Edwin be able to weather the turbulence in his life or will the angry winds overtake him?
Prince of Players tells this story.
20th Century Fox’s lavish production gains its source material from the best-selling 1953 biography of the same name by Eleanor Ruggles.
The Patriarch – Junius Brutus Booth
Raymond Massey introduces us to the world of Shakespeare when the curtains rise on Prince of Players. Massey doesn’t just play the character of Junius Brutus, the famed, eccentric nineteenth century actor, he becomes him.
Massey carries himself with an air of grandeur as I’m sure a great Shakespearean actor from the past would, and when he is in a drunken stupor and young Edwin must drag him home and tend to him, his affecting performance brings the gravitas of the film to its center, setting in motion the battles Edwin must face.
The Prince of Players – Edwin Booth
Talk about perfect casting, in the 1950’s, Richard Burton was busy establishing himself as a Shakespearean actor, being hailed as the next Olivier, and completed a season with the Old Vic including a successful run of his popular “moody, virile, baleful” Hamlet.
Richard Burton is impeccable in the role of Edwin Booth. I am of the opinion that no other actor of the time could do the complex man justice while fitting seamlessly into the nineteenth century setting.
Sure, Burton is no American. But he possessed a mesmerizing presence, intensity, tortured quality, and a mastery of Shakespeare that even Olivier praised. Also, the way he can hold an audience without saying a word is something to behold/experience.
The Traitor – John Wilkes Booth
John Derek plays the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Since the film focuses on Edwin, we only get a brief outline of John Wilkes and his nefarious motives and actions, but what is there, is done well.
Derek’s characterization contrasts perfectly with Burton. Derek is outspoken, flashy, with an unbridled madness, whereas Burton is quiet, self possessed, and portrays an inward struggle.
The Peacemaker – Mary Devlin
Maggie McNamara is the Juliet who tames Burton’s Romeo with her gentle, comforting presence. You can sense the belief she has in Edwin’s abilities as an actor and as a man.
Burton’s trust in her to be there for him and his love for her is quite moving as he’s had to go it alone for most of his life and he cherishes the relationship that they share. The connection between the two is beautifully portrayed and convincing.
The Bard – William Shakespeare
Prince of Players treats its audience to monologues from Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Edwin Booth’s signature role as Hamlet, among others.
Since playwright Moss Hart is on board as screenwriter and long time screenwriter Phillip Dunne is at the director’s helm, these scenes don’t feel like add-ons, necessary evils, nor do they stop the action. On the contrary, rather they add relevant poignancy due to their thoughtful placement in the narrative.
For instance when Junius does not want to go on stage, Edwin gives his father a pep talk and pleads with him, “I’m proud of you, father. They’ll be seeing you for the first time. They built this theater for you. You’re going on tour where no great actor has been seen before. They’ve waited a year for your coming.” To which Junius responds positively.
While on stage though, Junius begins to forget his lines, leading to this heart wrenching scene while Junius and Edwin are playing Richard III.
And thy assistance is King Richard seated. But shall we wear these glories for a day, Or shall they last and we rejoice in them?
Buckingham (Burton): Still live they, and forever let them last.
Richard (Massey): Ah, Buckingham, now do I play the touch, To try if thou be current gold indeed: Young Edward lives…
(Junius, forgetting his lines, is prompted by Edwin)
Think now what I would speak.
Buckingham (Burton): Say on, my loving lord.
(Whispering admiringly and sadly) Say on, my loving lord.
(Another prompt from Edwin)
Richard (Massey): Why, Buckingham, I say I would be king.
Buckingham (Burton): Why so you are, my thrice-renownèd lord.
Richard (Massey): Ha! Am I king?
(Searchingly, to his son) Edwin, am I…king?
The Supporting Players
The reliable Charles Bickford gives a solid performance as Dave Prescott, the Booth’s crusty, demanding manager who over time becomes their trusted friend.
Elizabeth Sellars plays Asia Booth, the sister caught between the opposing brothers, and gives a sincere portrayal of concern and care.
Esteemed stage actress, director, producer Eva La Gallienne is credited as the technical consultant for the Shakespearean scenes. She also appears opposite Burton as a fiery Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, marking her film debut.
The Score – Bernard Herrmann
Director Phillip Dune chose Bernard Herrmann to provide the score for Prince of Players based on his experience with the composer on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and as usual, Herrmann’s stirring music fits like hand in glove.
According to Herrmann’s biographer, Steven Smith, since childhood Herrmann had nurtured a love of English literature and theater and relished working on the project.
The opening titles sound a fanfare of trumpets and a dignified American march that sets the tone for what’s to come – the grandeur of the theater.
The music takes a different turn as the film goes on underlining the overwhelming drama. Herrmann’s cues resemble Vertigo in the scenes between Junius and Edwin, and Herrmann nails the psychological tensions that belie their relationship.
The love theme for Edwin and Mary is bittersweet and portrays the blissful love and devotion they share.
The Visual Style
Prince of Players handsomely recreates the mid-late nineteenth century through Mary Wills’s costumes (Hans Christian Andersen) and Lyle Wheeler’s art direction (Gone With the Wind), and includes a recreation of the fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. Charles G. Clarke’s cinematography (Miracle on 34th Street) has some particularly striking moments and is very appealing.
Prince of Players is a moving depiction of Edwin Booth’s early-mid life and the emotional pain that befell him as he endured a miserable childhood, struggled to maintain his own sanity and the guilt and shame of his family name, and the ray of light that helped him overcome.
In this way, Prince of Players is a fine study of the struggle of managing and overcoming family ghosts and one’s own personal demons, the importance of purpose, and finally, acceptance of life and that purpose.
Edwin’s daughter, Edwina Booth Grossman, on her famous father and his defining role:
…It was long before I could thoroughly disassociate him from the character of Hamlet, it seemed so entirely a part of himself. Indeed, in that impersonation, I think, his confined nature and pent-up sorrows found vent. He told me that the philosophy of Hamlet had taught him to bear life’s vicissitudes.
If that isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.
To buy or not to buy
You can find this film here on Amazon. Hopefully one day the powers that be will restore Prince of Players to its former glory and present it as it was originally filmed in Cinemascope. But for now, any form of this hidden gem is worth seeing. Enjoy!
(Note: I am not an Amazon affiliate.)
About Edwin Booth
Enjoy this informative video and learn more about the Booth family’s history while touring Edwin’s beautiful home in which he established The Players – a private social club bringing together creatives and industrialists – in Gramercy Park, New York.
Well folks, the time is drawing near! In a little over a month we will be celebrating the great composer Bernard Herrmann with a blogathon. I am beyond excited to be hosting and am overwhelmed by the response and appreciation you all have shown for this influential, prolific artist.
(To check out the complete list of participants and their topics of choice click HERE.)
That being said, there are some fantastic titles and topics still available. If you are undecided about joining or need some ideas, here’s a few to get you started…
The Birds (1963)CLAIMED
Herrmann didn’t compose music for Hitchcock’s thriller about what would happen if our fine feathered friends turned against us, but he was the sound consultant for the film. Just how did they produce those birdy sounds anyways?
Bonus: Did the choice not to include music make the film more scary…or not?
The Trouble With Harry (1955)CLAIMED
Take a virtual vacation to picturesque New England and find out why poor Harry just won’t stay buried. Herrmann displays his sense of humor in Hitch’s dark comedy which is interspersed with tender moments. Delightful character actors Edmund Gwenn and Mildred Natwick join Shirley MacLaine in her film debut.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)CLAIMED
Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day become involved in political intrigue in Hitchcock’s remaking of his 1934 movie of the same title. Herrmann’s conducting cameo comes in the most exciting sequence of the film.
On Dangerous Ground (1951)CLAIMED
I have yet to see this film, but it is often cited as an underrated Herrmann score and for good reason. Its moments of tension are accompanied by equal parts tenderness as only Herrmann can provide. One of the few noirs in the composer’s filmography, directed by Nicholas Ray, it stars Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino.
Citizen Kane (1941)CLAIMED
The first sounds Herrmann made in Hollywood were the low, ominous tones heard in the opening of this revered classic. Moody, dark, and atmospheric, this film score showed the industry what was to come from the revolutionary composer, garnering him the first of his five nominations.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
A dying author lies at the base of Kilimanjaro and recalls his life and his loves. Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner star in this romantic rendition of Ernest Hemingway’s short story.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
The wonder, danger, and excitement of the Fantastical is explored through Herrmann’s imaginative score for Jules Verne’s classic adventure story. Leading the way are stars James Mason, Arlene Dahl, and Pat Boone.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
High adventure at its best which marked a series of firsts for Ray Harryhausen: the first of three Sinbad films; his first color film; and the first of four films he made with Herrmann, of which the special effects artist said the score was the best of their collaborative efforts.
Made on a shoestring budget which prompted the use of a strings only score – unheard of for a horror film at the time – Herrmann’s ingenuity made history. Hitch insisted the shower scene remain scoreless; Herrmann thought differently, winning the director over with his piercing, shrieking violins.
Television — The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Herrmann scored 17 episodes of this television program which is available for easy viewing on Peacock at the time of this writing. (The Herrmann episodes start with Season 2 listed under The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.) Click HERE for a list of Herrmann scored episodes.
Hopefully these titles whet your appetite for what’s to come next month! There’s still time to sign up. Please leave me a comment if you’d like to join!