One Touch of Venus (1948): Awakening the Goddess

Ava Gardner breathing her first breath as Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.

I am always drawn to stories where a character is a fish out of water and must adjust to their new surroundings. This usually leads to many memorable and enlightening moments for both the stranger and those who accompany them. One Touch of Venus is one of those stories.

A department store worker’s world is unexpectedly turned upside down when his kiss brings a statue of Venus to life, setting a series of madcap adventures in motion.

on broadway

Kurt Weill; The Tinted Venus by Guthrie; Cheryl Crawford

The Broadway play One Touch of Venus came to life when costume designer Irene Sharaff presented the novella The Tinted Venus by Thomas Anstey Guthrie to composer Kurt Weill saying that the story would make a great musical.

Kurt Weill, intrigued with the material, brought producer Cheryl Crawford on board and as Crawford wrote in her autobiography, “It could involve the the world as we see it and as the goddess sees it and allow us to compare the two views, which would of course be quite different. I thought it could have social bearing and also be quite amusing.” Cheryl Crawford hired humorist S. J. Perelman and poet Ogden Nash to write the book, with Kurt Weill writing the music and Nash providing the lyrics.

After a share of turn-downs from European stars (including Marlene Dietrich), all-American Mary Martin was chosen to fill the shoes of the goddess Venus. In 1938, Martin made a noticeable splash in a Cole Porter musical singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” but her debut as a leading-lady in Venus forever cemented her status as a Broadway star. Martin would go on to originate iconic roles such as the leads in Peter Pan, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music, and win four Tony awards during her lengthy career.

Kenny Baker, a singer who gained fame during the 1930’s on radio’s The Jack Benny Program then appeared in film musicals, was cast as Rodney Hatch. John Boles, a singer and actor of both stage and screen, was cast as Whitelaw Savory.

It seemed that the production was destined to succeed. With direction by Elia Kazan and choreography by Agnes de Mille, who had turned heads earlier that year with her groundbreaking work on Oklahoma!, Venus was a hit. The play ran for nearly two years beginning in 1943. Time magazine concurred that the show left behind “ready made formulas, but where Oklahoma! took the smooth, pleasant low road of picturesque folklore, Venus takes the high road of sophisticated fantasy.”

“Forty Minutes for Lunch” ballet
“Venus In Ozone Heights” ballet
Rodney Hatch & Venus Jones’s meet cute

On film

In 1945, Mary Pickford bought the rights to the play intending to film in Technicolor starring the original Broadway cast. This was abandoned due to Martin’s pregnancy and the property was sold to Universal in 1947. Director Irving Reis was assigned to the picture but dropped out suddenly and was replaced by William Seiter, a director with a touch for musicals (Roberta) and comedy (Sons of the Desert).

As often happened in Hollywood adaptations for the screen, many of the original songs were dropped and in this case, lyrics were re-written. Ann Ronell, most notable for the Disney hit “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” and “Willow Weep for Me,” wrote new lyrics replacing Nash’s “Foolish Heart” with “Don’t Look Now but My Heart Is Showing.”

On to the casting, and boy is it excellent! For the title role, the lovely Ava Gardner was chosen. Ava made her breakthrough in 1946 playing the femme fatale in Universal’s The Killers and was known for her exquisite beauty, glamour, and appeal. Her home studio, MGM, was not quite confident yet in adding her to their galaxy of top stars and often lent her to other studios. Just like her predecessor, Mary Martin, Venus played a significant role in Ava’s career.

Authors Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski elaborate in Ava: A Life in Movies: “Before Venus, Ava’s glamorous image was mainly derived from the studio publicity machine. Now she was finally being given a role that perfectly suited her emerging public persona.”

On December 31, 1947, Variety reported: One Touch of Venus comes to the screen as a pleasant comedy fantasy. Ava Gardner steps into the top ranks as the goddess, Venus. Hers is a sock impression, bountifully physical and alluring, delivered with a delightfully sly instinct for comedy.

After Venus, Ava replaced Rita Hayworth as the love goddess of the movies, and held that position until Marilyn Monroe’s rise in the mid-50’s.

Robert Walker was cast as Eddie Hatch, the object of Venus’s desire. At the time, Walker’s image (to his chagrin) was that of the shy, small-town boys in the war years. He would give the performance of his tragically short career a few years later in Strangers on A Train (1951).

Providing a foil to Hatch is Tom Conway, accompanied by his long-suffering secretary played by Eve Arden. Arden, as always, steals each scene she is in. Dick Haymes stands in as Hatch’s best friend, and Hatch’s fiance is played by Olga San Juan.

I enjoy this movie very much. I feel that Ava Gardner strikes the perfect chord of innocence and sensuality while Robert Walker has the shy, sweet awkwardness down to a tee. Tom Conway and Eve Arden are delightful additions, and it’s fun seeing the whole cast get into their parts and enjoying themselves.

Through my research for this post, I’ve found that Venus is still being brought to life by repertory companies today. It is my dream to catch one of these performances and be swept away by this charming tale once again…

I’ll leave you with a playlist of highlights performed by the original Broadway cast of One Touch of Venus. I would have loved it if more of these made it into the movie, they are SO lovely. Enjoy!

This post is my contribution to Taking Up Room’s Broadway Bound Blogathon. Thanks for letting me participate, Rebecca! I have enjoyed this immensely. Click here to read the rest of the entries celebrating the Great White Way.

6 Favorites from the 60’s: A National Classic Movie Day Celebration

Happy National Classic Movie Day to all! Today, Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting a blogathon encouraging participants to write about their six favorites from the 60’s in celebration of this momentous occasion! This sounded like too much fun to pass up and I’m excited to share my favorites with you. Let the party begin!

1. THE MUSIC MAN (1962)

Robert Preston shines in his defining role as Prof. Harold Hill, the ultimate smooth-as-silk con man. It’s not until his travels as a salesman take him to a town in Iowa where his whole world begins to unravel from under his feet, forcing Harold to make some important life decisions.

The Music Man is a great time all around, boasting an excellent cast and story, accompanied by a lively score from Meredith Wilson, and beautifully choreographed numbers. But what makes this film even more special to me is knowing it’s been loved throughout the years by my family – three generations to be exact.

Highlights include Hermoine Gingold’s hilarious turn as Mrs. Shinn, Dorothy Jeakins costumes, the “Marian the Librarian” scene, and Susan Luckey, dancer extraordinaire, as the precocious Zaneeta.

2. My fair lady (1964)

A Cinderella story of a Cockney flower girl trained to become fit for royalty. What she didn’t expect was falling for her inhumane teacher along the way, and he in turn, for her.

My Fair Lady is perhaps the wittiest of musicals with not a lagging scene throughout its nearly three hour run-time. George Cukor’s marvelous direction paired with Lerner & Loewe’s brilliant score creates a dreamy confection of sights and sounds. Audrey is wonderfully charming and perfectly convincing in her transformation from a simple flower girl into a regal lady, but it’s Rex Harrison who has the greatest lines and spectacular delivery of them. I love that while he’s busy transforming Audrey externally, his own transformation, unbeknownst to him, is happening internally.

I remember watching My Fair Lady many times as a child and marveling at the scope and beauty of it all. Consequently, this movie was my introduction to Audrey Hepburn – a constant inspiration to me.

Highlights include Audrey Hepburn’s Cockney accent, Wilfrid Hyde-White as the wonderful Col. Pickering, Cecil Beaton’s costumes, Gene Allen’s sets, and a plethora of lovable character actors.

3. west side story (1961)

Leonard Bernstein meets William Shakespeare. Enough said. The combination of the two absolutely sparkles on the screen. A retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950’s New York City with innovative and exciting choreography by Jerome Robbins, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. This film is an artistic tour de force with excellent performances, glorious music, and a timeless message.

The primary reason one comes to West Side Story is for the phenomenal dancing and music. And led by Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn, you know you are in good hands. Bernstein’s iconic score possesses a lush, rapturous intensity and wistfulness effectively conveying the emotional range of the story from the thrill of first love, to the hatred of the opposing gangs, to ultimately, sorrow and tragedy. In other words, it all fits like a glove.

Highlights include Natalie Wood’s performance as Maria, Rita Moreno’s passionate Anita, marvelous usage of color by Art Director Boris Leven & Set Decorator Victor Gangelin, affecting screenplay by Ernest Lehman, and snazzy Saul Bass credits.

4. yours, mine, and ours (1968)

In this delightful comedy, two middle aged folks try to resist the attraction they feel towards one another because they are both widowed parents with no less than eight children each! When they get married, they undergo a formidable task – attempting to blend the two families into one.

Yours, Mine, and Ours is a cozy, feel good movie with lots of funny scenarios in tow and literally not a dull moment. With Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda at the helm how can you go wrong? Their chemistry is so sweet and real and makes the film work. Van Johnson also co-stars adding to the fun.

This movie is a reminder that love can bloom anytime, anywhere and that home and belonging is not about blood relations, but rather a coming together of hearts.

Highlights include Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll’s “I Love Lucy” style contributions to the story, the excellent screenplay by Mort Lachman and Melville Shavelson, and the screen stealing capabilites of Eric Shea.

5. the sword in the stone (1963)

Disney’s telling of the legend of the boy who is educated by Merlin the wizard and becomes King Arthur of England brims with charm, humor, and fun. It has a very short run time and is overlooked in the Disney canon nowadays, but I can’t help loving it. As a child I often chose this over many princess movies (which if you know me, is a big deal).

What I love most about The Sword and the Stone are the characters themselves. The short-tempered but good natured Merlin and his crusty sidekick, Archimedes the owl, bicker and fuss like an old married couple. The two of them tickle my funny bone to no end. As they argue over what’s best for the young protege, Wart’s educational journey leads to many misadventures and ultimately, the meeting of Merlin’s nemesis, the mad Madam Mim. Wart learns many life lessons along the way, most importantly, the using of one’s brain over brawn.

Highlights include the squirrel scene, the wizard’s duel, the vocal talents of Karl Swenson as Merlin, Junius Matthews as Archimedes, and Martha Wentworth as Madam Mim.

6. the man who shot liberty valance (1962)

My introduction to this film was on The Essentials one night on TCM. It left such an impression on me that I had the desire to revisit it years later, and it did not disappoint. James Stewart gives a tortured performance of a lawyer seeking to bring law and order to the old West despite opposition from a farmer (John Wayne) and the fearsome outlaw, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).

John Ford leads a cast of colorful characters through this poignant drama/western. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a character-driven, thought provoking piece which lingers in the mind long after the film’s end. Wayne and Stewart have surprising chemistry on the screen – their contrasting acting styles and personas aiding the differences between the men. Vera Miles is the girl who captures both of their hearts and for whom sacrifices are made. This film has so much going on underneath the surface of an already great story. The themes – love, honor, hate, and violence – are subtly handled, making this film one that rewards numerous viewings.

Highlights include Lee Marvin’s performance as the villainous Liberty Valance, John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon, and the symbolism scattered throughout the script and imagery.

Honorable Mention: Born free (1966)

And that’s it! I hope this inspires you to come up with your own list of favorites.

Thanks to Rick at Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting this blogathon and for letting me participate! Click HERE to read the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Hans Christian Andersen (1952): A Fairy-Tale Feast for the Eyes, Ears, and Soul

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”

H. C. Andersen

This movie is about a spinner of tales, a dreamer of dreams. In order to appreciate the delightful, colorful, smorgasbord that awaits, one must remember that this movie makes no claim in being an accurate biographical account of Andersen’s life. In fact, the title card says it is a fairy tale about the author himself.

Danny Kaye plays the title character. He is lovable, innocent, and optimistic. He is also sensitive and dreamy-eyed and this is where the plot of the film comes in.

Hans disrupts the town he lives in by distracting the children from their schoolwork with his stories. Kicked out of town, he leaves for the grand city of Copenhagen only to fall for Doro, a beautiful ballerina (Zizi Jeanmaire in her film debut) who is wed to her demanding choreographer (Farley Granger). Where and when will outsider Hans find his place in the world?

I love how this film clearly illustrates the impact Hans’s stories have on those around him. To the children he imparts joy, adding more to life than just schoolwork in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” To some he gives comfort as in “The Ugly Duckling” and “Thumbelina.” When Hans writes “The Little Mermaid” ballet for Doro it becomes a hit for the ballet company and a turning point in their relationship.

For me this movie is like a warm hug. I grew up watching it and singing along to the many delightful songs. Its beauty comes from the simplicity in the story line and Hans’s amiable nature wonderfully displayed by Danny Kaye. The gorgeous Technicolor, stunning direction by Charles Vidor, and cinematography by Harry Stradling doesn’t hurt either 😉 The Little Mermaid Ballet is one of my favorite dance sequences in the movies. The staging is unique, creative, and the choreography beautifully suggests a mermaid’s underwater movements.

Frank Loesser’s memorable score brilliantly inhabit Hans’s world adding to the dreamy quality that blurs reality and fantasy. Composer-lyricist Loesser, whose star was ascending in the music world, was Goldwyn’s choice to write the songs for the film. In 1949, he won the Oscar for “Baby, Its Cold Outside” and the following year he had tremendous success with Guys and Dolls on Broadway. When Goldwyn bought the film rights for the show, he also signed Loesser for Hans Christian Andersen.

In a few ways this movie reminds me of The Red Shoes (1948). The tale of “The Red Shoes” was written by Andersen. Both movies were filmed in Technicolor, contain gorgeous ballet sequences, and share similar themes. If you enjoy The Red Shoes (and who doesn’t?) you might enjoy Hans Christian Andersen as well.

Lastly, I would recommend this movie even for those who aren’t fans of Danny Kaye’s comedic style. The way he interacts with children is a joy to behold and the drama in the script allows him to show more range as an actor, giving one a better picture of the man of many talents.

This movie is perfect for a rainy day, and for those inevitable days when you and I feel lower than low. It will perk you right up and give you something to smile about. Who could ask for more than that?

This post is my contribution to The Classic Literature on Film Blogathon hosted by Paul of Silver Screen Classics. My thanks go out to Paul for letting me participate in this event. Click here, here, and here to read the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Rose Marie (1954): Love Amidst the Rockies

Tomboy meets manly man, falls for his charm, and becomes a “lady” for him. Sound familiar?

Rose Marie has shades of two other highly esteemed musicals of the 50’s – MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Warner Brothers’ Calamity Jane (1953), in which a tomboy gets transformed into a lady. Interestingly, these films also share the same leading man, Howard Keel. What makes Rose Marie unique however, is the style of the music, the casting of the heroine, and the ending of the story.

This 1954 adaptation of Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart’s operetta, Rose-Marie, was MGM’s third time bringing this story to the big screen. The first film, now considered to be lost, (1928) was a silent with Joan Crawford playing the lead. The second and best-known version, (1936) starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, gave the team their signature song, “Indian Love Call.” Each time the film has been re-made, the story has changed, but the 1954 version bears close resemblance to the original operetta. While the film only retained three of the songs from the original operetta, it did add five others. The duet “I Have the Love” is exceptionally lovely.

Taking us on this journey into the Canadian wilderness and into the heart of Rose Marie is the lovely Ann Blyth. As the titular character, Ann is sassy and independent, while still retaining her feminine charm. She is the perfect blend of innocence and fire. Unlike Betty Hutton’s Annie Oakley and Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Ann Blyth’s Rose Marie is not larger than life; quite the contrary. Ann plays the part in an understated fashion. She brings out Rose Marie’s naivety, and her plight to find her proper place in the world. I think this is what made her so wonderful in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) – her ability to portray a character who is innocent and naive about certain things, but also very vulnerable and emotionally intelligent at the same time. And to play that character in a likable way that does not come across as fake, contrived, or cloying.

Note: I enjoy Betty’s Annie and Doris’s Jane as well; however, I like to note different acting styles and character interpretations. I love the individual qualities each one possesses and appreciate each of them for what they are. The differences are what makes each special, unique, and exciting to watch. We move on… 🙂

Rounding out the cast is Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Bert Lahr, and Marjorie Main. The most notable for me was Bert Lahr. I believe this is the second film I’ve seen him in. The first, of course, as the incomparable Cowardly Lion in Oz. He does have a number which is fun to see and makes some of his lion grunts and sounds.

Howard Keel and Fernando Lamas add their rich baritone voices to the mix while vying for the hand of Rose Marie. Keel is well cast as the good-hearted Mountie and Lamas as the ambiguous trapper. In my eyes, these two couldn’t be more opposite – all the more fitting for the story.

MGM pulled out the stops by filming Rose Marie in the Canadian Rockies, and it is simply breathtaking. The gorgeous scenery filmed in eye-popping color enhances the realism of the story and the plight of the Mounties. In addition, the cinematography by Paul Vogel (High Society, 1956) is beautiful and engaging. The film is also the first movie musical to be released in the new widescreen format at that time, CinemaScope.

I had to watch this film twice to fully appreciate it because it took me be surprise. All in all, Rose Marie (1954) is very enjoyable, featuring one of the most beautiful duets, talented singers, nature’s beauty, and produced by the most prestigious studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If any of those mentioned above make your heart skip a beat, this film is calling you…

This post is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Head over here to read the rest of the posts honoring this vast and beautiful country.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Portrait of Jennie (1948): The Transformative Power of Art

Weary artist Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is struggling to make ends meet. When a chance meeting with a curious young girl, Jennie Appleton (Jennifer Jones), stirs Eben’s creative juices, he begins again on a successful path. Encouraged by a friend and dealer, Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore), Eben continues to see Jennie and notices that each time they meet she is years older. He also notices how she talks about things that happened in the past. As their meetings continue, Jennie grows older, and the two fall in love. They realize their lives are intertwined although time and space conspire to keep them apart.

A fantasy picture was a strange choice for Selznick International Pictures to produce, but nonetheless they secured the costs at a low price and went to work at adapting Robert Nathan’s novella for the big screen. Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were considered for the leading roles before Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten were chosen.

I have yet to be let down by a performance by Joseph Cotten. As Eben Adams, Cotten is sensitive, vulnerable and believable as the man who fell in love with a woman from the past and will do anything in his power to be with her. Cotten plays his scenes with utmost sincerity, especially the scene with Mother Mary (Lillan Gish) at the convent.

Jennifer Jones delivers as the girl who is mysteriously tied to the past while still being firmly rooted in the present. Jones has the girlish quality that is well suited for Jennie, and as the film says has “big, sad eyes, and something about her that seemed to come from far away.” It must not have been easy acting as a little girl when she was almost 30 but Jones accomplishes it well; however, when she transitions to womanhood, this is where Jones really shines. The delivery of her lines about life, love, and the future are mesmerizing.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin had the inspired idea of using themes from Claude Debussy for the film’s score. Debussy’s music captures the desperation of a struggling artist, the joyful vitality of childish Jennie, the mysterious, enigmatic quality she possesses, and the longing the lovers have for each other. The song Jennie sings when she meets Eben: “Where I came from, nobody knows, and where I am going everyone goes” was written by Bernard Herrmann, the original choice for composing the film.

Always intent on high quality, Selznick’s decision to shoot in New York City added a realness to the film (a wise choice, as New York has a distinct atmospheric flavor) as well as considerable production costs. The Oscar winning special effects used in the ending of the film are striking, unexpected, and ultimately drove the film way over its budget. According to Selznick biographer David Thomson, Portrait of Jennie was the last film Selznick produced in Hollywood. Although it was not well received on its release, the film has gained appreciation over the years, and is one of Jennifer Jones’ most memorable roles.

Portrait of Jennie is equally about love and the transformative power of art. Eben’s love for Jennie gives him new eyes to see the beauty in the world, transforming his work as an artist and more importantly, as a human being.

There has never been and probably will never be another movie quite like Portrait of Jennie. In a manner similar to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), this film seamlessly blends the supernatural with reality, the dream world with the real world, and the past with the present. So tastefully done in its execution, the end result is far from saccharine, nor is it excessive. And what has the makings of a sad story is anything but when one looks carefully at the themes contained within. Reflective and romantic, Portrait of Jennie hits all the right notes and is a gem among many in the classic film treasury.

That just barely skims the surface of this beautiful, haunting film. Time and space (see what I did there?) 😉 prevents me from covering all the wonderful character actors involved and going deeper in analysis. I intend to cover that in a future post.

What do you think of Portrait of Jennie?

This post is my contribution to The Leap Year Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room. Thank you for letting me participate in this event! Click here to read the other timely contributions!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Love & War: Marriage in Gone With the Wind (1939)

Image: amc.com

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s epic of the Old South, is one of the best selling books of all time. When made into a film in 1939, it became an international phenomenon that has intrigued the public like no other. To this day, Gone With the Wind is still the most succesful movie ever made.

Ripe with complex characters, wonderful performances, and non-stop action, the film thrills in every way possible. In the midst of this sprawling epic are three couples with varying dynamics in their marital relationships. I would like to focus on these in particular: Gerald and Ellen O’Hara, Scarlett’s parents; Ashley and Melanie Wilkes; and of course, Rhett and Scarlett.

Gerald & Ellen O’Hara

Image: Pinterest

Gerald (Thomas Mitchell) and Ellen O’Hara (Barbara O’Neill) are the owners of the Tara plantation. Their pride and joy is wrapped up in every fiber of the land.

Image: gonewiththewindfandom.com

Ellen devotes herself to being the mistress of Tara and is a very capable one. A responsive mother to the emotional needs of her daughters, and a midwife to the women in town, she is highly respected in their community.

The relationship between Gerald and Ellen is platonic and respectful. Coming from the book, theirs was an arranged marriage and while Gerald was wild about Ellen, she did not feel the same about him. Ellen was in love with another man whom she could not marry due to her family’s disapproval. Gerald was always of the opinion that his wife was as happy as he was in their marriage, and I’m sure it would have broken his heart if he knew the truth.

When Ellen passes on, Gerald cannot function without her and sadly, loses his mind. His strength seemed to come from Ellen even before she passed, but it was most definitely buried with her when she died.

Ashley & Melanie Wilkes

Image: lanternhollow.wordpress.com

Our next couple, Ashley (Leslie Howard) and Melanie Wilkes (Olivia de Havilland), are second cousins. In the film Ashley says, “She [Melanie] is part of my blood and we understand each other.” That pretty much summarizes their relationship – it is built upon understanding and familiarity. In the book, Ashley and Melanie share the same interests: reading, culture, and the arts. While this is not spoken of in the film, it is clear that they are cut from the same cloth. They both are peace loving people with not an aggressive bone in their bodies.

Image: directexpose.com

Although Ashley strings Scarlett along with hopes of romance, his heart belongs to Melanie. While he is drawn to Scarlett’s fire and passionate nature, he knows that a relationship between them would not be a successful one. Melanie is much better suited to him. She understands his nature and idolizes him, while he leans on and admires her quiet, gentle strength.

When Melanie passes, Ashley takes on a similar behavior that Gerald exhibited at Ellen’s passing. He then confesses to Scarlett that he cannot live without Melanie. “She’s the only dream I’ve had that didn’t die in the face of reality.” Like Gerald, Ashley’s strength comes from his wife, and it is at that moment Scarlett realizes how her affections have been misplaced for so long.

Rhett & Scarlett

Image: abcnews.go.com

It is love at first sight when Rhett (Clark Gable) first lays eyes on Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh). He’s drawn to her beauty, her strength, and to the fact that she is just like him. Rhett admits to Scarlett that they are alike and meant to be together.”Bad lots – both of us. We are able to look things in the eye and call them by their real names.”

Scarlett has a disrespect for Rhett in the sense that he is not a genteel Southern gentleman whom she was raised to admire. He is a self made man who takes advantage of the war by making his own fortune off of it. He has no nostalgia for the Old South nor respects its ways. Rhett is a man of action, ready for whatever life throws at him. He is not the type of man Scarlett has been dreaming of marrying since she was a little girl. That place belongs to someone like Ashley.

Rhett proves himself a capable and trustworthy man despite his scandalous reputation. Although Scarlett doesn’t admit to loving him until the end of the movie, she does come to lean on him in times of need. That’s not something she could say for many of the other men in her life.

Image: Pinterest

You could say Scarlett uses marriage as a tool – sometimes as a weapon, other times as a shield. When she marries her first husband, it is out of spite to hurt Ashley. Not only that, she strategically marries into Ashley’s family, forever being tied to him. When she marries her second husband, it is to save Tara from being taken away from her. When she marries Rhett, it is for the security of never being poor. Unlike most women, Scarlett does not marry for love.

Rhett and Scarlett’s marriage is volatile, tempestuous, and passionate. The times we see them happy together are few, and the tension between them mounts as the film goes on.

Rhett seethes with jealousy as he observes Scarlett in her constant pursuit of Ashley and is deeply hurt by Scarlett’s rejection of him, while Scarlett believes that Rhett is in love with Belle, not with her at all.

Image: Pinterest

Their marriage is characterized by misunderstanding fostered by miscommunication. Neither of them can admit their true feelings to each other. The few times one of them comes close to having a transparent conversation, the other throws a jab and then they’re back to square one – arguing and bickering without coming to a resolution.

Rhett and Scarlett were both strong willed individuals and meant for each other, but Scarlett failed to see the cold, hard facts until it was too late.

Rhett and Scarlett rank right up there with literature and lore’s most famous lovers: Antony and Cleopatra; and Lancelot and Guinevere. However, unlike the aforementioned couples, Rhett and Scarlett did make it to the marriage altar – for better or worse.

This post is my contribution to The Wedding Bells Blogathon hosted by Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood. Click here to read the rest of the blissful entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956): How One Woman’s Convictions Changed a Country

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.”

Yul Brynner

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.

Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr’s handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

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!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Christmas with the Stars: Fred Astaire in The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979)

Welcome to the last week in our series, Christmas with the Stars! Over the course of this month we have explored some of the most enjoyable holiday gems that television has offered, but sadly, our time has come to a close. I can think of no better way to end the series than with the man who defines the sophistication and elegance of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Fred Astaire.

In The Man in the Santa Claus Suit, Fred is a costume shop owner (or is he…?) who rents three different men Santa Claus suits, thereby changing their lives. These three men are all at a similar place in their life’s journey. They are unaware of their own worth. Throughout the movie, Fred helps them realize their value and what they need to do in order to reach their full potential.

The Man in the Santa Claus Suit provides a living portrait of New York City in the 1970’s. The first shot is of the skyline with the Twin Towers standing proudly, followed by overhead shots of the bustling city. Over the credits, Fred sings the tune “That Once a Year Christmas Day/Once a Year Night” composed by three time Emmy Award winner Peter Matz. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard this song before. Fred’s rendition is quite lovely, and I believe “Once a Year Night” deserves to be added to the anthology of Christmas songs.

Included in the cast are Gary Burghoff (MASH), John Byner, Bert Convy, Nanette Fabray, who co-starred with Fred in The Band Wagon (1953), and Harold Gould. Regrettably, Nanette and Fred don’t have any scenes together (insert a few tears), but I still think it’s neat that they worked on the same project together twenty-six years after The Band Wagon.

Eighty years old and still young, Fred charms in his second to last movie and last television performance (insert more tears). Truth be told, the most fun aspect of The Man in the Santa Claus Suit is waiting to see where the mysterious Fred is going to pop up next! He is credited with nine roles, and while viewing it becomes like a game of Where’s Waldo.

While Fred’s role adds a great deal of whimsy to this holiday drama, the movie is not without its drawbacks. Running at an hour and thirty four minutes, The Man in the Santa Claus Suit could have been edited considerably. The musical numbers by Fabray and Gould feel out of place, and it can be tiresome going back and forth between the three story lines.

So, what makes The Man in the Santa Claus Suit worth the watch?

The message of Christmas rings clearly in the resolution of this feel good holiday confection, plus you have the incomparable Fred Astaire infusing his special charm into the project.

When Fred isn’t on screen the movie suffers a bit, but when he does appear it is pure magic.

Watch The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979) here:

Perfect Pairing: The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

You are viewing Part 4 of my series, Christmas with the Stars: Holiday Specials on YouTube You Won’t Want to Miss. Thank you for joining me all month long for this special celebration of television work done by some of Hollywood’s greatest stars!

To view the introductory post click here.

To view Part 1 of the series click here.

To view Part 2 of the series click here.

To view Part 3 of the series click here.

This post is my contribution to The Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Thank you, ladies, for letting me participate in this end of the year celebration of the great Fred and Ginger!

Put on your dancin’ shoes, and head over HERE and HERE to read the other entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Christmas with the Stars: Julie Andrews in The Sound of Christmas (1987)

It is always fun discovering new Christmas films to add to your line up of holiday viewing, but there’s always something special about coming back to the movies that you’ve been watching every year since you were a youngster. Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas is one of those for me. It was videotaped by my parents and became one that we watched as a family until the tape was lost or had broken…I can’t remember which! Thanks to YouTube, I was able to rediscover this television special all over again and restore it to it’s rightful place as one of my holiday traditions. I’m so glad to be sharing it with you today.

One of the most exciting aspects of The Sound of Christmas is that the production team returned to the gorgeous Swiss Alps and the city of Salzburg richly steeped in musical history, capturing Julie once again singing with the glorious hills all around her. You guessed it…this is where 20th Century Fox filmed The Sound of Music (1965).

The comical acapella group, The King’s Singers, country singer John Denver, and the operatic tenor Placido Domingo join Julie in this musical extravaganza giving the special a wide-ranging menu and appeal. The score is peppered with the carols that we all know and love, but there are also songs by musical theater greats including the Gershwins, Lerner and Loewe, and Rodgers & Hammerstein.

From an enchanting Christmas ball, to a skiing John Denver, to a grand concert in a cathedral, this special has something for everyone. My favorite scene is the Christmas ball when Domingo and Denver are suitors vying for Julie’s hand. (At the moment, Domingo is winning.)

I hope that you can tell from the pictures (despite the fuzziness) how beautifully filmed this special is. The cinematography is so well done and fully takes advantage of the frosty Austrian landscape and surroundings, becoming a part of the action that takes place, just as in The Sound of Music.

The special climaxes with a grand concert inside of St. Michael’s Church in Mondsee where Julie as Maria married Captain von Trapp. From the looks of it, this is a bonafide concert with what appear to be locals filling the seats. The three stars take center stage supported by The King’s Singers and a full choir, providing the ultimate Christmas concert and finale to the program.

In 1988, Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas garnered five Emmy awards and Dwight Hemion, the director, also won a Director’s Guild of America award. Not bad for a Christmas special!

The hills are alive with the sound of Christmas, and so will your heart be this season as you watch Julie in her element spreading her special brand of holiday cheer.

Watch Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas here:

Perfect Pairing: The Sound of Music (1965)

You are viewing Part 1 of my series, Christmas with the Stars: Holiday Specials on YouTube You Won’t Want to Miss. Join me as I uncover holiday gems featuring classic stars each week during the month of December!

To view the introductory post click here.

To view Part 2 of the series click here.

To view Part 3 of the series click here.

To view Part 4 of the series click here.

This post is my contribution to The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. PEPS, thank you for letting me take part in this festive event! You can read the other entries celebrating the joy of the season here.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Margaret Hamilton and the Oz Legacy

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.

Images: Pinterest

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.

Image: https://oz.fandom.com/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton?file=25421fd9-a4da-4919-a423-43f0ee91fdb9.jpg

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).

Images: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Another_Language

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.

Hamilton Meserve and Margaret Hamilton

Image: https://www.boothbayregister.com/article/my-mom-actress-and-maine-talk-southport-historical-society/119052

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

Image: https://lookingtogod.org/2014/10/29/the-wicked-witch-of-the-west/

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.

Image: https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/2vspl6/margaret_hamilton_the_wicked_witch_of_the_west/

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.

Image: https://lostmediaarchive.fandom.com/wiki/Sesame_Street_Episode_847_aka_The_Wicked_Witch_of_the_West_Episode_(1976)

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.

Images: YouTube (left); IMDB (center); Pinterest (right)

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).

Universal Pictures: The Invisible Woman (1940)
Columbia Pictures: City Without Men (1943)
20th Century Fox: Bungalow 13 (1948)
Columbia Pictures: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Images: Imdb

Jean Tafler as Margaret Hamilton

Image: https://www.bykennethjones.com/jean-tafler-and-john-ahlin-conjure-character-actress-margaret-hamilton-in-new-play-my-witch/

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 Hamilton Stories. 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.”

Read a fascinating interview about the play here.

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.

Image: Pinterest

fun facts & Trivia

  • Margaret Hamilton had a sister named Dorothy.
  • 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!