Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Behind the camera - Fascinating on set photos part 1

Nothing gives a 21st Century girl more of an insight into the real ins-and-outs of Precode Hollywood than behind the scene images. Sometimes just promotional shots put out by studio publicity departments or perhaps something more telling, backstage photos are always amongst my favourite images of Precode actors and actresses. They often provide viewers a special insight into the process behind the making of a film from technology to costume and makeup design to the job of a director. Below are some of the most interesting in my collection. I plan to do a few more posts featuring these images, so keep watching!

1) Barbara Stanwyck deep in thought on the set of 'Ever in My Heart' (1933)

2) Director, Frank Borzage, watches on as Gary Cooper initiates a love scene with Helen Hayes in ‘A Farwell to Arms’ (1932)

3) Henry Wilcoxon and Claudette Colbert chat to director, Cecil B. DeMille, on the set of ‘Cleopatra’ (1934) 

4) Fredric March (aka Mr Hyde) with director Rouben Mamoulian and a cheeky Miriam Hopkins on the set of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1931)

5) Maureen O’Sullivan on the set of ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’ (1932)

6) Jean Harlow posting on the set of ‘Red Dust’ (1932)

7) Greta Garbo and Clark Gable catch a secret moment on the set of ‘Susan Lenox (Her Rise and Fall)’ (1931)

8) Gary Cooper and Shirley Temple between scenes on ‘Now & Forever’ (1934)

9) Clara Bow preparing for a scene on (I think) ‘Hoopla’ (1933)

10) Director Howard Hawks with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore during filming of ‘Twentieth Century’ (1934) 

11) Carole Lombard and Clark Gable take a lunch break on ‘No Man of Her Own’ (1932) 

(This film was released seven years before Lombard and Gable married. Rumour has it they didn’t get on during the making of the film, funny how things change.)

12) Boris Karloff having his makeup and costume ‘removed’ following a scene for ‘The Mummy’ (1932)

13) Norma Shearer applying makeup on the set of ‘The Last of Mrs. Cheyney’ (1929)

14) A makeup artist applies bruises to Jean Harlow for the film ‘Hold Your Man’ (1933)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

She's got legs - Fabulous photos of Joan Blondell's greatest asset

Probably the hardest working actor of the Pre-code era, Joan Blondell, appeared in about 40 films and took thousands of other press photos during that five years. To me she will always be the queen of the 'Cheescake’ photo. In almost every photo I see of Joan she is either in a swimsuit or showing off a fair amount of leg. I think her large and amazing photographic portfolio is one of her legacies and not one to be forgotten. Take a look of a collection of images I compiled on her best 'leggy' shots from the Pre-code era:

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Never Films: Honor of the Family (1931)

                The second in what I hope will be several posts on lost and, now, forgotten films of the Pre-code era. For more information on lost films and film preservation go to the National Film Preservation Foundation
Although he was initially brought to Hollywood in early 1931 to appear in Expensive Women (1931) with Dolores Costello and H.B. Warner, Honor of the Family (1931) will always be recognised as Warren William's first speaking role. In the romantic melodrama based on a play by Balzac, William was cast as the romantic lead Captain Boris Barony, who apparently wowed audiences with his charm, striking good looks and skill when fencing without wearing a shirt. I say 'apparently' because this film is now lost and not available for viewing by modern film audiences. Nevertheless, Honor of the Family provided William's breakout Hollywood performance with many more hits to come, including Under 18 (1931) later that year.

Despite William being undeniably perfect for the role, newspaper articles from the period show that Walter Huston was initially contracted to star in the film. Newspapers, such as, Film Daily reported Huston as appearing in the film from around June 1930 until approximately January, 1931. An example of a press article includes:
"James Ashmore Creelman is writing the adaption and dialogue for 'The Honor of the Family' from the Otis Skinner stage play which First National will use as a vehicle for Walter Huston."
An article in the Evening Independent on December, 15 1930 said Huston would be returning from Europe in January to complete the film. In the resources available, the film's lead is not mentioned from late January until April 24 when William is announced to be leading man:
"Warren William who made his debut on the talking screen by playing opposite Dolores Costello in "Expensive Women" for Warner Bros will play opposite Bebe Daniels in "The Honor of the Family"."
To make things easier, here is a timeline of the making of the film:

Film Timeline:
          - June 17 1930: Walter Huston announced as lead in new film

          - July 18 1930: Lenore Coffee assigned to adaption

          - January 18 1931: James Ashmore Creelman named as writer

          - March 30 1931: Bebe Daniels named as female lead

          - April 3 1931: Lloyd Bacon named as director. Film now discussed as a 'Bebe Daniels vehicle' instead of a 'Walter Huston film'

          - April 24 1931: Warren William announced as lead

          - April 30 1931: "Bebe Daniels leave on the Century today for Hollywood to begin work in "The Honor of the Family" for First National

          - May 7 1931 - Pending the beginning of rehearsals of "The Honor of the Family" the next Bebe Daniels vehicle, Warren William, well-known Broadway actor, is lending a hand at the First National dramatic training school, assisting Ivan Simpson."

          - May 7 1931 - Margaret Fielding announced as appearing in a "prominent role". She however was not in the final cast.
          - May 10 1931 - Dita Parlo has been assigned to First National "The Honor of the Family". It will be her first English speaking role.

          - May 14 1931 - "Production has begun at First National studios on "The Honor of the Family", the next Bebe Daniels starring vehicle.

          - May 25 1931 - "Blanche Friderici and C. Henry Gordon are late additions to the case of "The Honor of the Family" now in production at the First National studios.

          - June 7 1931 - "Honor of the Family" completed.

          - July 4 1931 - "The First National production of "Honor of the Family" recently completed at the West Coast studios with Bebe Daniels in the leading role, will be previewed at a theatre near Los Angeles next week. The cutters have finished with the film and it will soon be nationally released. Miss Daniels and her husband, Ben Lyon, are still vacationing in Hawaii. In "Honor of the Family", Warren William, a recent importation from the Broadway stage, will be seen opposite the stage in a role adapted from that which Otis Skinner played for several seasons in the stage version of this play."
          - October 17 1931 - Film released.

According to film critics, the film bore little resemblance to the original play. The final cut was seen as a romantic melodrama with a hint of comedy. As Laura, Daniels plays the typical Pre-code role of a 'bad girl' treated sympathetically. She is the mistress/ nurse of a wealthy Hungarian man, Paul Barony (Fredrick Kerr), who is intent on marrying her. His nephew Captain Boris Barony (Williams) sweeps in before plans can be made and pressures Laura into running away. Obeying his uncle’s request, Boris Barony follows her and finds Laura with her lover Tony Revere (Alan Mowbray). Boris Barony tricks her into returning to the castle and gives her an ultimatum. To do as he says or he will destroy his uncle's will in which she is sole beneficiary. Despite their hatred, Laura and Boris Barony start falling for each other. In order to remove Tony, Boris Barony goads him into a duel and kills him. When Boris Barony sends Laura away, Barony begs him to bring her back which he agrees to if Barony gives him money. Paul signs a blank check. Boris Barony stops Laura, who has been driving outside the house in her car. He joins her in the car and they ride away together. 
At a little over an hour, the film was jammed packed with action. Although it was not considered a 'serious' film, many critics praised it's entertainment value as well as performances from the two leads. One said, ""don't overlook this naughtiest picture of the month".

Others said:

"There is a touch of the swashbuckling days of Doug Fairbanks and a bit of the romantic glamour of the handsome Chevalier in Warren William, who plays with gusto the hero role…He is an ardent lover - one of the 'treat 'em rough' variety. And he is mannish enough to satisfy the male customers. He does his fighting with swords and pistols…Bebe Daniels is the incentive in the love scenes to which may be credited some of William's success in that direction, for Miss Daniels is at her best."

"It presents some startlingly interesting characters and succeeds in being melodrama, comedy and romance at the same time."

"Masterpiece of the stage becomes the masterpiece of the screen…Full of action and vim, guaranteed entertainment, too charming to be naughty and too naughty to be missed."

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Shirley Temple and Baby LeRoy get a taste of the Nightlife

There was nothing more studio publicity machines liked more than match-making for a bit of public attention. Even Paramount’s youngest star, Baby LeRoy, had the chance to find love with the equally famous pint-sized Shirley Temple. Photoplay magazine in 1934 took the opportunity of documenting the first date between the two-years-old LeRoy and six-years-old Shirley. A candid cameraman (disguised as Cupid), secured this fascinating record of that memorable evening between the two youngsters as they experienced the best of Hollywood’s night life:

The Drive: 
“Oh boy, nothing can compare with a spin down Hollywood Boulevard in the moonlight with a beautiful girl like you.”

The Drinks:
“That ride in my open roadster made me thirsty, didn’t it you? Besides, there’s nothing better than a drink of good old milk to help people to get better acquainted.”

The Movie:
“Two of the best seats in the house, Mister. There’s nothing too good for my girl. And after the show we’re going dancing at the Coconut Grove.”

The Dinner:
“Well, here we are at the Grove at a chummy table all by ourselves. Isn’t it swell to think we can relax and forget movie cares and have a good time just like grown-ups do.”

The Dancing:
“Dancing is fun all right, Shirley, and I’m glad you’re having a good time, but boy, oh, boy 
my feet hurt.”

The Aftermath:
    “Gosh, Shirley, I’m sorry, but I guess I simply can’t take it. After all, bed is the best place for a little fellow like me at this time of night.”
    “Think nothing of it, LeRoy, I had a lovely time – and if your mother has a spare crib I think Ill sleep here too. This night life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think LeRoy and Shirley had a second date, but they did make a cute couple.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Lilyan Tashman's top 5 famous feuds

Despite being mostly forgotten today, actress Lilyan Tashman was a powerful figure in Precode era America. Her popular film and stage performances were eclipsed only by her fabulous lifestyle and reputation as the "best dressed woman in Hollywood". 
She was the reigning Queen of Glamour in the late 20s and early 30s taking over from the silent mega-star Gloria Swanson. Her marriage to actor, Edmund Lowe which lasted until her death was dubbed 'perfect' by fan magazines with their house Lilowe reaching an equal level of design perfection with opulent furnishings and architecture. 
Edmund and Lilyan during a 'private' moment
Tashman's wardrobe received even more public interest and press attention with her glamourous and stylish outfits and accessories creating envy from women all over the world. Like so many other stars on the top, Tashman's life was cut short when in 1934 aged only 37, she died of cancer. (For more information about Tashman's life and career see this great article from Shadows and Satin blog.)
However, another side of Tashman's private and public life shows the woman was not a person to start a fight with. Feuds between the actress and other Hollywood figures became fodder for fan magazines and newspapers. In these incidents, Tashman rarely came out second best. She always fought hard for her reputation and her integrity and didn't pull any punches. For five of her best feuds see below:

5) Eleanor Boardman
Like most of Tashman's public feuds, her little tiff with silent actress Eleanor Boardman was about fashion. According to reports, there had been a "coolness" between the actresses who at the time were both employed by Paramount. 
Eleanor Boardman
The magazine reported that a comment of Tashman's about Boardman's dress sense started the argument. This was continued when Tashman believed Boardman had copied the interior design of her red and white themed house by using green and white as base colours. Although, it turned out costume designer, Adrian, was responsible for the decorating, the similarity between both didn't help the tension between the women. The magazine continued that this "coolness" was resolved after a chance meeting and:
          "Lilyan dashed right up to Eleanor and said graciously,
          "Your house is lovely!"
          Eleanor smiled. "I hope you like it better than my dresses-"
          Lilyan laughed gaily. "Now, Eleanor-"
          And being two intelligent women all was forgotten and they're as chummy as before."

4) Lupe Velez
Nothing represented the public's view of the unrestrained, egotistical Hollywood elite of the late 20s and early 30s more than the feud and reported cat-fight between Tashman and passionate, voluptuous actress, Lupe Velez. 
Lupe Velez
The extent of the conflict and the events leading up to their supposed 'tussle' is unclear; however, author of Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood's Mexican Spitfire, Michelle Vogel, believes the tension had been mounting for some time before it became public knowledge. She explained the rivalry in her book:
"One time, while Lupe was dining at the Embassy club, she spotted Lilyan Tashman from across the room. Lilyan was wearing long white gloves, so Lupe proceeded to wrap napkins around her arms and make fun of her for all to see. People snickered at Lupe's impromptu show but Lilyan wasn't laughing. On that occasion, both ladies were retrained before a physical altercation could happen. But sarcastic, bitchy remarks flew back and forth between Lupe and Lilyan for ages. Then came the culmination of years of pent-up frustration and the feisty pair came to blows on the power room floor in the Montemarte Cafe in Hollywood. They clawed, punched and kicked each other and by all accounts, Lupe won a clear decision."

3) Hedda Hopper
The public fight between Hedda Hopper and Lilyan Tashman proved that some leading figures of Precode Hollywood just didn't care bad publicity.
Hedda Hopper

These two press staples didn't hold back when a feud started over who was a better authority on the current fashion. It all began when Hopper wrote a piece on Tashman's wardrobe commenting that she "wears the theatre on her back" and that her over-the-top outfits were both excessive and gaudy. These statements didn't go down well with Tashman who fired back at Hopper's clothing and even making remarks about the columnist and former actresses age. It was followed by a heavily reported incident when both Lilyan and Hopper were invited to judge an Easter fashion show at the Agua Caliente Casino. Both refused taking the opportunity to continue to attack each other's fashion knowledge in a very passive and hilarious way. But don't just take it from me, it's best to read conflict in the words of both ladies:
Lilyan said:
“If she were an authority on clothes, I would pay some attention to her criticism. But, of course, it’s really too absurd. One is either smart – or one simply isn’t smart. One is chic – or one is not chic. Unfortunately, Miss Hopper is not noted for her chic. I am very fond of Hedda and I think she looks quite nice in her things. One would place her as a very respectable aunt from the Middle West. But chic? No. She simply does not have an affinity for clothes. And, of course, I would be foolish to pay the slightest attention to her remarks on a subject which she is so ignorant.”
Hedda said:
“Understand, any remarks that I make about Lilyan’s clothes are not a reflection on her personally. I like Lil. I adore her. .  .  . She wears very beautiful clothes. She dresses in the latest style – often far ahead of it, in fact! I wish I could afford clothes like hers. I wish I could have as many clothes as she has – but if I did, I certainly would not try to wear them all at the same time!
"Lil has a flair for the spectacular. She pays simply appalling prices for very simple little tailored suits that are the last word in chic - and then spoils the effect with jewellery. I wish, my dear, that you could have seen Lil as she arrived from one of her New York trips. She wore a tailored suit and four diamond clips on the lapel of her jacket. Four clips, mind you. Imagine that, if you can! I have always been taught that it is - well - not the best taste.”
Lilyan said:
"At least, my diamond clips are set with real diamonds!"
Hedda said:
"I'm really astonished that Lil should be hurt or angry at what I've said. In criticising her dress, I certainly would not have her think I am criticising her personally. She is very witty and so amusing! The fact that she overdresses is really not of terrific importance. What if she does wear such charming little suits and then drapes her neck with six or seven strands of pearls…?"
Lilyan said:
"I really do not care to discuss Miss Hopper. I consider that I have been very kind and given her all the publicity that even she could want. Knowing how badly she needs publicity. I have been very tolerant but of course there is a limit."
Like all Tashman's feuds, the fire cooled but both women never returned to a cordial relationship before the actress’s early death.
2) Constance Bennett
Although, I suspect most of what is written in the public forum is at the least exaggerated, it is not difficult to see where this feud between Constance Bennett and Tashman started. 
Constance Bennett
In the early 30's both women were in the running for the coveted title of 'best dressed woman in Hollywood'. A 1931 Photoplay identified this as the key to the contempt between the women with Tashman fearing the arrival of the glamorous Bennett in Hollywood would take over her position:
"And then Connie Bennett slithered upon the scene of action. Connie with her fine European ways, her fascinating background, her last-word clothes, threw everybody into a dither. Connie got talked about. Connie got quoted. And Lilyan didn't like that. Lilyan didn't like that and a lot of other things that we can't go into here."
The article continues with a 'passive argument' between the pair at the Embassy Club where, when seeing Tashman enter, Bennett and her friends blatantly left, one-by-one in disgust. A February 1933 Picture Play article supported the claims, saying:
"Constance Bennett does not like Lilyan Tashman and Lil holds for Constance about the same affection. They almost came to blows a year or so ago, according to the grapevine telegraph from Malibu. They will not appear together in a picture."
Even more shocking and - what I consider to be - a completely fabricated, over-the-top account is one from biographer Darwin Porter in his book 'The Secret Life of Humphrey Bogart'. He describes a scene at a party hosted by Basil Rathbone and his wife Ouida Bergere in (I believe) August 1929. As it was a dress-up affair Tashman was dressed as Lady Diana Mayo from The Shiek and Bennett as Maid Marian from Robin Hood. The book argues that Bergère deliberately instigated a conflict by placing both simultaneously in front of press cameras.

Despite wild rumours and strange, outlandish accounts from some authors, it is clear Tashman and Bennett did not get on. Whether they actually came to blows will never truly be known.

1) Alona Marlowe
The only one of Tashman's conflicts to reach the courts was her notorious alleged 'cat fight' between herself and Alona Marlowe (sister of actress, June Marlowe). 
Alona Marlowe
Marlowe brought forward battery charges on May 9, 1931 after an incident which supposedly occurred at the studio offices of Tashman's husband, Edmund Lowe. She alleges that she called in to Lowe's office and that, "Miss Tashman found her there and struck and scratched her. Lowe was not present." Lowe and Tashman both denied ever knowing Marlowe. Lowe was even reported as commenting that, "it is a most fantastic tale". Two days later newspapers announced the case had been dropped but the affair still remained in the minds of film-lovers and the pages of fan magazines.

Marlowe later said that the case was dropped - not because it lacked truth - but because the parties had made an out-of-court settlement. Her attorney said the agreement was made before the court date and that Marlowe, "had received a fair amount of damages for injuries she suffered". The opposing attorney came out against this remark saying, "only a nominal amount was paid. Such a trifling amount as to be insignificant". The settlement signalled the end of the conflict. Despite this the story has continued through history with the usual factual problems and exaggerations. One major problem that even made its way into reputable newspapers was that it was June not Alona who was involved in the incident.