Love, Lucy – Lucille Ball

Love, Lucy
by Lucille Ball
@1996 Desilu, Too, LLC
printed by Berkley Publishing Group (division of Penquin)
ISBN: 978-0-425-17731-0
Paperback, 253 pages

Amazon 

I loved Lucy.  

After reading this, I quickly became aware of where my love for so many things came from – comedy, cities, black and white photography, classic movies & TV, mid-century style, etc. – they came from watching I Love Lucy reruns every day after school for literally a decade. This was 20-30 years after the show had its run in the 1950s (I’m old), but there’s no doubt that watching it every day led to my attachment to these things today.

As Lucie Arnaz says in the prologue, “Instead of over-dramatizing what happened in her life, she seems to be trying to understand what her life was all about.”

Yes! That is exactly how this book reads and feels. It’s informal and conversational and feels like you’re sitting next to Lucy while she tells you about her life. What a pleasure for a fan like me. 

This is Lucille Ball’s autobiography. It covers the genealogy of her family up until about 1966. Lucy didn’t write this, rather she taped interviews with Betty Hannah Hoffman who later transcribed them into the manuscript for this book. That transcript, according to Lucie Arnaz, wound up in an old file box that Lucy’s attorney, Ed Perlstein, found after her death when he was searching her boxes for any old contracts. Thanks to them, and to Lucie and Desi Jr., we have this book. Lucy’s life, in Lucy’s words. I feel like I know her, Desi and Hollywood a lot better now. 

She doesn’t go into great detail about everything but it gives us just enough for insight into how she felt as life trodded along for her in New York and California. Unlike today’s “tell all” biographies, Lucy keeps the gory details of life out of it. Refreshing, but spoiler alert: not much about the Lucy and Desi troubles some readers are probably looking for. Lucy tells her story here in a kind way. You do notice that she hops over things so as not to hurt anyone. Mainly Desi. It seemed more important to leave the past behind her and go on living. I believe that attitude is a big reason she was so successful.

Lucy probably didn’t realize when she recorded the tapes for this book just how much hearing these things from her would mean to everyone who knew her personally, and to those of us that didn’t. Her words about her need for independence, her need for love and her outlook on life and laughter are a treasure. 

Frankie and Johnny – 1966

First, let me admit that I’ve never seen a complete Elvis Presley movie.  Second, let me admit that, until this past year (thank you Overture Center), I went out of my way to avoid musicals in general. This movie is both. As I was scrolling through the On Demand section of the TCM schedule on Sling yesterday, I came across Frankie and Johnny.  As I write this, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19/coronavirus pandemic and I’m taking advantage of all this stay-at-home time it’s providing us to broaden my movie horizons. I dove head first into this one and in the end, it felt pretty darn good.

Johnny, Frankie and the Redhead.

Frankie and Johnny is a musical set in the 1800s on a Mississippi riverboat. It stars Elvis Presley, Donna Douglas (Beverly Hillbillies) and Harry Morgan (Mash). This is a big, colorful, happy movie that’s chock-full of music. It has worked its magic on me.

Johnny (Presley) and his girlfriend, Frankie (Douglas) are actors and singers performing shows for the guests on the riverboat. Johnny has a gambling problem and he’s in debt. Of course this discourages Frankie from going too far into a relationship with him. She hates gambling. Always looking for a sign of good luck, Johnny’s friend Cully (Morgan) suggests they go see “Zolita” (an uncredited performance from Naomi Stevens) a gypsy fortune teller at one of their riverboat’s stops. When they do, she insists Johnnie will come in contact with a red head that will bring him good luck.

Remarkably, a red head, Nelly Bly (Nancy Kovak), joins the cast of their productions and appears to bring Johnny good luck at the riverboat’s roulette table just like Zolita said she would. Nelly has just broken up with the owner of the riverboat they all work on and Johnny catches her eye. It turns into a nasty little spat between Frankie and Johnny that culminates with her throwing all the gambling winnings he so desperately needed to pay off his debt, out the window.

Is it the best movie I ever saw? No. Is it the funniest? No. But it did the job for me. It felt good to spend time with it right now. Frankie and Johnny is fun. It gets bonus points for somehow being able to take my mind off of things for 87 minutes. This movie is full of bright colors and happy, 19th century styles. The costumes were beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much yellow….well, ever. Nor have I ever listened to so much Elvis Presley music….ever.  I’m a little ashamed of that, but I can admit now that I thoroughly enjoyed his singing here. I think my favorite song was near the end where he sings “Hard Luck” with the harmonica played by a boy on the street. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Frankie and Johnny was directed by Frederick De Cordova in 1966 for Frankie and Johnny Productions and United Artists. It’s On Demand on TCM right now and available to rent, streaming on Amazon.  Now, I might need to find another Elvis movie to try. Any suggestions? Or should I quit while I’m ahead?

Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew – Book Review

Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew
by John Oller
Limelight Editions
August 1, 2004, 358 pages

Amazon

I first read this book back when it was released and have recently read it again for the third time, because I love Jean Arthur. More The Merrier (1943), The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) have always been some of my favorite classic movies. You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939)  and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) are favorites too. Jean would star in 89 movies  and several theater productions during her career.

Oh, how she loved to act.

“when I’m in front of the camera, I lose my identity, my timidity,” Jean Arthur

Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene on October 17, 1900 in Plattsburgh, New York. She would be the youngest child in a family that already had three boys. The family was Lutheran, of Norwegian and English descent and of modest means. Before Gladys was born, the family had settled and resettled across the country and back again, chasing jobs for Hubert Greene (her father). Gladys was born October 17, 1900. She didn’t have much education until high school, but dropped out of that too so she could help the family financially. It was while she was working as a model in New York that the Fox studio “discovered” her in a commercial. In 1923 Gladys officially changed her name to Jean Arthur, based on the name of her hero, the French Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) and King Arthur and began a decades-long acting career. Jean Arthur made her first film with Fox in a 1923 silent film called Cameo Kirby, directed by John Ford.

There would be 88 more movies plus theater productions to come.

“I guess I became an actress because I didn’t want to be myself,” Jean Arthur.

In 1928 Jean filed her first “sound” movie, Warming Up.  It was billed as Paramount’s first sound (not talkie) film. By all critical accounts, it wasn’t good, but Jean Arthur stood out and was given a three-year-contract at $150 per week.  During the same year, she made her first “talkie,” The Canary Murder Case, with William Powell. In 1929, she did The Green Murder Case, again with William Powell. In 1930, a David Selznick movie, Street of Chance, also with William Powell. People were taking notice.

This book includes a lot of information about Arthur’s genealogy, family as well as her acting history. She was married just twice, once for only a day and had no children. There are interesting stories here from the many movies and theater productions. But it’s the background of her life that intrigues me and is so well-researched here. Her childhood plays a big part in the behavior that so many called “difficult.” Oller takes great care and patience in describing it. It really hit home for me. I didn’t know anything about Jean’s life before I read this book, but it has provided layers of sympathy and empathy for her that weren’t there before I did.  As one that was also raised a Lutheran, and of Norwegian and English descent, I could relate to a lot of the stories about family turmoil here. In a strange way, it did me good to see this might be a pattern among us Protestants? Maybe not, but it sure made me feel less alone.

When I read Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew, so many things fell into place for me. The more I read, the more my neck hurt from shaking my head “yes.” I believe that the insecurity and nervous anxiousness borne of her childhood caused the behavior that brought so many of the “she’s difficult” comments over the years.  Yes, she had outbursts and seemingly unexplained tantrums and disappearances, but anxiety attacks, insecurity and a massive inferiority complex can do this to a person! Jean was afraid. She was lonely. She wanted to be accepted and loved. Period. Thanks to the way she was brought up she was always afraid that by just being herself that that could not happen.

I truly believe after reading this, the inferiority complex and crippling insecurity that caused this “difficult” behavior came from always seeing the world differently than everyone else. I admire her strength for pushing through it anyway, honoring herself and becoming successful despite it all. That’s inspiring. Her determination in fighting it brought her success in one of the ways she could escape it all, acting. Jean also immersed herself in intellectual inspiration. She loved nature and animals. There’s more than one story in the book about her finding peace in these things. She took comfort in her garden and any animal she crossed paths with.

Even on the movie sets she believed:

“animals are the world’s most trustworthy inhabitants. There’s no chips on their shoulders, they’re never mad at you and they never misunderstand you.”—-Jean Arthur.

Amen.

The book is filled with quotes that give the reader real insight to how Jean thought and how she lived.  Again, inspiring.

In 1936, with several movies under her belt, Frank Capra hired her for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.  It was the beginning of international stardom. Capra would hire her again for You Can’t Take it With You” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

“Never have I seen a performer plagued with such a chronic case of state jitters,” Capra wrote in his autobiography. “She was my favorite actress,” he admitted.

Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm was published in 1941 and became important to Arthur. The book won international acclaim and seemed to hit a chord with Jean, who was a noted non-conformist.

“Compulsive conforming,” Fromm wrote,” is when the individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patter….and becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be. That person gives up his individual self and becomes an automation, identical with millions of other automatons around him, he need not feel alone and anxious anymore. But the price he pays is high; it is the loss of his self.”

It’s easy to see how Fromm’s deductions validated the way Jean was leading her life. She ended up studying with him and being the subject of his analysis which she later described as:

“the finest experience I ever had–the most constructive, in fact the only thing that makes sense…The greatest thing he did for me was teach me to laugh at myself,” Jean Arthur.

She was fighting her way through the insecurity and inferiority complex, she was finding ways to cope. Fromm’s writings could not completely help her explain what was wrong with her though. That came from Karen Horney, a colleague of Fromm’s.

“Horney’s essential theses was that all neuroses derive from the ‘basic anxiety’ of childhood, and the child’s attempts to cope with conflicting feelings of helplessness, fear and hostility generated out of uncaring or inadequate parenting. As a means of resolving these conflicts the child adopts various character strategies, or ‘neurotic trends.’ She described these as falling into one of three principal categoies: moving ‘towards,’ ‘against,’ or ‘away from’ people.”

Arthur fit into the third category – she moved away from people.

“Detached individuals avoid conformity for fear of becoming submerged in the amorphous mass of human beings. They crave privacy and prefer the pursuit of impersonal endeavors in the sphere of books, animals, art or nature….If the detached person is thrown into close contact with other, ‘he may readily go to pieces or to use the popular term, have a nervous breakdown.’ ” read Horney’s thesis.

Seems to me we’ve come across the reason for that “behavior” she’s known for.

While Arthur loved comedies and was well-known for “screwball” comedies like The Talk of the Town” she had a longing to be taken more seriously with dramatic roles. Eventually, she admitted that comedy is what she knew and did the best. I agree. Over the years there would be stage roles like her coveted Peter Pan and Joan of Arc roles, that would fill in the spots between movies and her fights with directors and studio heads. There were teaching positions and mentorships. There was even a short-lived TV show, thanks to inspiration from Lucille Ball, called The Jean Arthur Show in 1966She retired from all performing in 1973.

Despite it all, blockbusters were her specialty. She was an A-list actress that had found international acclaim. Though she suffered a great deal from anxiety and insecurity, Arthur turned to her books, nature and animals for solace. She was interested in the connection between mind and body and read a great deal about it an other intellectual subjects that kept her mind working on a level that gave her peace.

Author John Oller spends a great deal of this book describing all the ways Ms. Arthur’s timidity wreaked havoc on various movie and theater productions. I’ve seen many comments about her behavior over the years, but I’ve never seen such great care taken in trying to explain it. To get to know and understand the real Jean Arthur you have to, and Oller introduces us to her. None of her acting roles revealed any of these truths. After reading this book, I feel like I can know at least a little piece of the real Jean Arthur and that’s inspiring.

Jean Arthur died on June 19, 1991 at her home in Carmel, California.

 

Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic – Book Review

Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic
Published by Skira Rizzoli (2012)
Multiple essays by multiple authors from the world of fashion
176 pages

I get it now and it all makes sense! It’s official, I love Katharine Hepburn. That was my first thought when I read this eight years ago when it first came out. Reading it again recently, I’ve had the exact same feelings of admiration and inspiration I did then. This one’s worth reading more than once.

I have always enjoyed Katharine Hepburn’s movie performances, but there was always something different about her, from any other actress, that I didn’t quite feel comfortable with. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I could never really decide if I liked it or not..until I read this book. Now, I love that difference.

Rebel Chic by Jean Druesedow (with several other contributors) is a slim book from 2012 that’s available in our libraries, used bookstores and also from third party sellers on Amazon. I think it’s worth finding. While Rebel Chic is purely about Katharine Hepburn’s “style” – a fashion term in this case, it reveals so much more about her. Her independence, confidence and the individualism that is a result of both of them are truly an inspiration. She was not the kind of woman that let anyone’s opinion shape her style decision. Or any other decision.

Hepburn had an authentic style that was very much her own. She didn’t care what everyone else was doing or whether or not they approved of her OR her style. Her trademark trousers and “preppy” look were way out of the norm for actresses, and all women, back in the early days of her career. Hepburn wore them anyway. She’s probably one of the reasons why I can sit here today in jeans as I write this, instead of a corset and long, heavy dress. The simplicity of her unique style for the time had a marked individualism about it that revealed her personality -the real Kate – the woman who thrived on independence, comfort, hard work, and hard play. Through this book, I realized more and more the big part Kate played in making certain styles okay for women that came after her.

Overall, this is a style book and the photographs illustrating it are great, but, with every turn of the page, every photograph, I can clearly see the fierce individualism in Kate that I had a hard time identifying before I read this book. It’s inspiring. Boy oh boy, is SHE inspiring. Katharine Hepburn was definitely before her time when it comes to style and Rebel Chic highlights all of the reasons why. It also lets us in on the personality that made it all happen. It’s a wonderful book worth reading…and reading again.

Hopscotch – Based on the Book By Brian Garfield

Hopscotch, 1980, Directed by Ronald Neame, Produced by Edie & Ely Landau Inc.

TCM | Amazon

The screenplay for Hopscotch was written by Brian Garfield, who wrote the book the movie is based on.

Amazon

“Hopscotch never pretended to be anything but a light-hearted comedy,” Ronald Neame, Director. “It’s a comedy-thriller.”

“We wanted to show that you could tell a suspense story like this where no one gets killed,” Brian Garfield, writer.

They did. And it’s wonderful.

Roger Ebert once called Hopscotch, starring Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig and Glenda Jackson as Isobel von Schmidt,  “pleasant.” I call it a pure delight. Laughter and suspense are hand-in-hand throughout the movie, and they carry the plot along with them perfectly. I saw this movie for the first time recently, and have since watched it several times because it is such a pleasure. I’m writing this in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and I can’t tell you how much I just love being lost inside the Hopscotch world right now. This escape factor is a good illustration of why movies like these are so important to me.

Ned Beatty plays Kendig’s nemesis, G.P. Myerson. He’s the new head man at the CIA department Kendig works in and is an arrogant, nincompoop bureaucrat. Beatty is great in making us despise him right from the start. The tension begins with Myerson being upset with Kendig. Seems Kendig had a chance to “dismantle” the Russian network in Germany (and make Myerson look good because of it) but didn’t. Kendig didn’t arrest the top Russian spy Myerson wanted him too because he thought it was a better idea to keep a relationship with him so they could better keep an eye on what he was up to. Myerson uses the incident as a reason to take the aging Kendig out of the field….and out of his way. He sends him to a desk job and Kendig is devastated. After thinking about it for what seemed like a second, and a suggestion from that same Russian friend/counterpart, Kendig decides to write his memoirs instead of take that desk job.

He immediately flies to Austria to meet with Isobel, a former love, to ask for her help. Kendig meeting Isobel at a restaurant, and the detailed conversation they have about wine, reveals the plot, and chemistry between the two that makes the movie doubly satisfying. You can’t help but root for them from the very beginning.  Isobel was not a character in the book and was created just for the movie. Thanks to her,  he’s able to implement his plan to perfection. It’s a little more complicated than that in the book when he tries to do it without her.

It took some convincing, Isobel wasn’t supportive at first, but Myles pouted until she gave in (who wouldn’t?) and got him a typewriter.

With Mozart records playing in the background, Kendig began to write about his detailed CIA missions. He sent the CIA, and other spy agencies in the world, one chapter at a time as he completed them. It drove Myerson crazy. Kendig realized, as he wrote, that he’d never go back. This realization amped up his game. He led them on a chase across the U.S. and Europe, always one step ahead of them and everything they assumed he’d do.

“Writing this makes me realize I’ll never go back.” Watch this portrait of Myerson through the scenes in the house. It goes from this smile to frowns as Kendig makes things worse for him.

At that first meeting in Myerson’s office, Kendig overheard him talking to his wife about their vacant house in Savannah, Georgia. Of course that house became an entry on Kendig’s agenda of mayhem! He rented it, used it as a place to write a couple more chapters…..and to provoke Myerson, who had to call in in the FBI for help. That had to hurt. And then it got worse for Myerson. Together, the FBI and CIA gassed and shot up the house, destroying it, while assuming Kendig was inside. They proved they were out to kill him. He wasn’t wasn’t inside. Another clever ploy.

Kendig keeps writing and sending out chapters one by one while hopping back and forth over two continents. Meanwhile, the CIA becomes more and more desperate to stop him.

“What are you trying to prove?” – CIA Agent Cutter (Sam Waterston)

“I’m just trying to have some fun,” Kendig.

Boy is it fun to watch him accomplish this. Every single thing that happens is specifically planned for a result that takes them to the next thing that makes the CIA look foolish. Everything is carefully laid out to create the most mayhem. He is successful on all accounts. It’s suspenseful, yes, but it’s hilarious too…..and extremely satisfying to watch.

Brian Garfield also wrote Death Wish in 1972. It was turned into a movie starring Charles Bronson in 1974 with Wendell Mayes writing the screenplay. In an interview for Hopscotch, Garfield implied he hadn’t been too happy with “other books that had gone to movies” so he took a bigger role in this one. It worked. He helped give us a terrific movie.  “The motivation for the main character is that he wants to have fun instead of a desk job,” he said. “This movie was a delight all the way around.”

I agree.

P.S. The Criterion Collection DVD is terrific and includes interviews with Ronald Deame, Brian Garfield and Walter Matthau.

The Hats of Nora Charles

Speaking of The Thin Man….we were, right?

I’ve always been attracted to Nora Charles’s hats. As near as I can tell, she had 15 different hats throughout the entire Thin Man series, with a few extra thrown in for promotional items like lobby cards and movie posters. They were all fabulous, um, in there own way. Nora (Myrna Loy) had a new hat or two for every one of the six movies. And some, like Shadow of the Thin Man, had five.

They were all a lesson in 20th century hat style:

The Thin Man, 1934

Nora (Myrna Loy), Nick (William Powell) and Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan)

Nora was so stylish in this plaid beret. It had a matching scarf AND skirt.

I’m not so crazy about what they did with the color of it for the lobby card however.

After Thin Man, 1936

Arriving home to San Francisco after that exhausting caper in The Thin Man!

For some reason, this one always reminded me of one of those terra cotta planters. But, she wears it well. Of course!

Another The Thin Man, 1939

Ready for a relaxing weekend in the country with a fantastic hat!

Left to right: Patric Knowles, Virginia Grey, C. Aubrey Smith, Tom Neal, Myrna Loy and William Powell.

The hat STILL plays well, even among all these movie stars.

Shadow of the Thin Man, 1941

The hat doesn’t help him get out of the speeding ticket, but it still looks good.

And, my all-time favorite Nora Charles hat: The Screwy Hat.

It’s the only time in The Thin Man series that a hat has it’s own part.

Three characters in this movie have a comment for this hat as Mrs. Charles wears it through the night. All of them used the word “screwy” to describe it and it’s hilarious.

Nora’s final straw with the “screwy hat”:

Security Guard at the arena at the end of a long night at the fights: “That’s quite a hat isn’t it Mrs. Charles? Where did you get a hat like that?” he says, laughing.

Nora: “Do you like it?”

Security Guard, still laughing: “You bet, screwy isn’t it?”

Nora: “You can have it,” she says as she throws it at him.”

I love the lobby card that shows it in blue!

Yep, Shadow of The Thin Man has the most….

…and best, hats.

 

Well, it’s more of a headband with a ribbon than a hat but I’m counting it. Only Nora could make this work. Obviously.

The Thin Man Goes Home, 1944

I know I said the “screwy hat” of Shadow of the Thin Man was my favorite, but this derby is a close second. There was at least one more hat Nora  wore in The Thin Man Goes Home, but I couldn’t find a good picture of it. If you have one, I’d love a copy for my collection!

Song of The Thin Man, 1947

Perfect

Nora had quite the style didn’t she?

What’s your favorite?

The Thin Man – Based on the Book By Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man – 1934, MGM – Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring Myrna Loy  & WIlliam Powell

A scene from the movie:

Nick: “I’m a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.”

Nora: “I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.”

Nick: “It’s not true. He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”

Same scene from the book:

“We had the afternoon papers sent up. Morelli, it seemed, had shot me — twice for one of the papers and three times for another–when I tried to arrest him for Julia Wolf’s murder, and I was too near death to see anybody or be moved to a hospital.”

And that perfectly illustrates the difference between the book and the movie.

I saw The Thin Man movie a gazillion times before I read the book.  It was one of the first classic movies I ever saw when my Grandmother had it on on her tiny black and white TV one day and made me watch it because she was a huge Myrna Loy fan. It wasn’t the first classic film I ever saw, His Girl Friday gets that honor (also with Grandma), but it is my favorite one. I immediately fell in love with Nick Charles and his wife, Nora……(and WIlliam Powell and Myrna Loy)….and still watch this movie again and again after all these years. My love for all six of these films continually grows, but the first one has its own special place in the corner of my heart and I’ll never get enough of it.

The 1943 paperback my Grandfather gave me. Oh how I treasure this! (The original story was published in 1933 in Redbook)

I’m not so sure I would have seen the movie if I’d read the book first. It’s good, it’s just nothing at all like the movie and would appeal to a different audience. The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett and its movie both have the same plot: a retired detective is roped into a murder investigation while he’s on vacation. The movie’s funny, the book isn’t. The writers Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich  turned the book into a movie filled with a lot of laughs and feel-good moments that the book just doesn’t have. The movie is a cosmopolitan 1930’s murder-mystery, with light-hearted moments that can make your heart melt and muscles relax. Yeah, it’s that good.

Depending on what you’re in the mood for, the movie or the book has you covered. Though there are some smiles in the book, it’s more of a hard-boiled crime story that suspense novel fans would be attracted to. In the book laughs are few and far between, and most of them feel forced to me, unlike the movie where I still find myself giggling at the banter between the characters even after all these years of watching it. The organization of the book is completely different than the movie, scenes are in a different order and there are quite a few scenes we don’t even see in the movie. The Jorgensen family is so much more annoying in the book, (probably because they play a bigger role) especially Dorothy. Ugh! Other characters like Morelli and Studsy have a bigger presence too. Nick’s drinking is front and center in the book, just like the movie…

…and spoiler alert:

Asta is a girl in the book.

I’m still not over that.

There’s some merit to each version, but in this case I think the movie is more entertaining. That script is hilarious!  I will always, always, always love the movie and it’s five sequels. They are my go-to classic movies whenever I need to laugh and feel good. Bill and Myrna never let me down. The movie is a more concise, organized version of the story in the book, which leaves lots of room for on-screen mystery, martinis and quips that make the movie so darn entertaining. The book is wonderful if you’re in need of a good crime-drama. I read a lot of those too, but in this case I find the movie to be exactly what I need every time I see it.

I can’t honestly say that if you loved the book you’ll love the movie, or vice versa. But, I’m sure glad I’ve done both. Have you read it? What do you think?

Next on my reading list is The Maltese Falcon by Hammett.  I’m looking forward to reading the book that another one of my favorite movies is based on. Have you read the book or seen the movie? What do you think?

 

Nat Pendleton

Nathanial Greene Pendleton
August 9, 1895, Davenport, Iowa – October 12, 1967, San Diego, California

In my favorite, The Thin Man,  as Lieutenant John Guild…

…with Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles:

Nat Pendleton made over 100 movies in his career from the 1920s to the 1940s. Some I knew (Manhattan Melodrama), some I didn’t (Swing Your Lady) but I’ve recently re-watched everything I could find of his on Amazon and YouTube, along with some DVDs I had in my collection. It’s turned out to be a valuable, enjoyable lesson in the history of Hollywood films from the Golden Era and beyond. From pre-code to post-war, from silents to musicals, from the Marx Brothers to Dr. Kildare, Nat Pendleton’s career in the studio system took him through every major studio and many different genres.

I suppose I once took it for granted that Mr. Pendleton always played a version of the same character in every movie, a like-able, but not too bright policeman, gangster, assistant, etc. – he certainly played a lot of those. But, there were other roles too:

As the Mighty Goliath in At The Circus with the Marx Brothers. in 1939
As Sandow, with William Powell, in The Great Ziegfeld in 1936.

I point these two roles out because they’re a tiny nod, if only in costume, to Mr. Pendleton’s life before film…

…you see, he was a wrestler in Iowa.  A championship wrestler who won the silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Deception was a significant movie for Pendleton because his wrestling experience helped him write it for Columbia Pictures. He also starred in it as wrestler Bucky O’Neill.  The 1932 film, also known as Cauliflower Alley, tells the story of an ex-football player turned wrestler. I’d love to find this one.

It was when he returned from Belgium that his Uncle Arthur (Johnson), a silent film actor, influenced him to become an actor in silent films too. His film career started with the 1924 silent, Hoosier Schoolmaster (if anyone has any idea where I can find this one, please let me know!) and went all the way to 1947 with his his last film, Scared to Death with Bela Lugosi. (I can verify that it was, indeed, scary).

I love spending time with Pendleton in these movies…

…like 1934’s The Defense Rests with Jean Arthur.  (It’s free to watch on YouTube!)…

…or 1940’s The Ghost Comes Home….

….or 1940’s Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case.

 

Hell-Fire Austin, also from 1932, was one of the films where Mr. Pendleton played a more significant role. Of all the films I’ve watched of his, this is the one in which he had the most screen time. I’m generally not a Western film lover, but I’ll watch this one again, just to see Nat Pendleton play Bouncer. It’s a perfect part for him. It’s less than an hour long, and it’s the oldest “buddy movie” I’ve ever seen. I loved it.

Rocky…Bouncer…Bucky…his character names are so fitting aren’t they?

So yes, it’s fair to say that Nat Pendleton played many rolls like Lt. Guild in the Thin Man, but it’s been more than worth it to explore the roles he played in his other films.  I’ve learned a lot about classic movies thanks to Mr. Pendleton: I saw my first Marx Brothers movie, I actually enjoyed a Western for the first time and I was introduced to a new-to-me series in Dr. Kildare.

I’m looking forward to some of the 80+ movies of his I haven’t watched yet!

Sources:
Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame
American Film Institute – AFI
Wikipedia
Amazon