Jose Iturbi – Classical Piano Man, Conductor and Actor


“When I don’t know what to do, I play the piano”

That’s how Josè Iturbi (as himself) replied to Stanley Owens’ (Roddy MacDowell) plea for advice on women in the movie, Holiday in Mexico (1946). Yes, it’s a line from the movie, but it’s the perfect description of Josè Iturbi’s entire life. Playing the piano is what he did to get through the good and bad of life. From an early age the piano ushered him through so much, including a successful music career, the suicides of his wife and daughter, his movie career and all the accomplishments and awards he collected along the way.

Iturbi’s musical fate seems to have been sealed even before he was born – On November 28, 1895 his mother, Teresa Báguena Pons, went into labor with him during a performance of an opera in Valencia, Spain that she and her husband Ricardo Iturbi Navarro were attending. They rushed out of the theater half way through the performance and barely made it home before they welcomed their son, Josè Iturbi into the world. He was the third of their four children.

Ricardo worked for a gas company, but had a side business repairing and tuning pianos. Josè was already experimenting with those pianos by the age of three. It wasn’t long before he was helping his father’s business by fixing them too. Recognizing Josè’s affinity for the piano, Ricardo enrolled him in lessons at the age of five where he promptly sailed ahead of everyone else, including the instructor. It became clear to everyone that they had extraordinary talent on their hands and his family did everything they could to encourage his progress. Josè’s first job, at the age of seven, was accompanying silent films in Valencia’s first movie theater. When he was done at the theater he played at cafes into the early morning hours. In those days he’d play as much as 16 hours a day, doing it all to help his struggling family financially, but loving every second of it.

At age 10, Josè began studying at the Conservatory of Valencia. It was the beginning of a formal education and career in classical music. He continued to play in cafes to help the family and also accompanied a local singing academy. It was here that he met the great pianist Emil von Sauer. von Sauer encouraged Josè to give a recital so he could earn enough money to study in Paris. He did, and by 1911, Iturbi was able to take the entrance exam for the Conservatory of Paris. He was awarded one of only two spots available for foreign students. “It was a determining factor in the cultural vision he would hold close for the rest of his life,” says biographer Dagmar Ulythethofken.

The next few years were spent studying hard, working as an accompanist, performing recitals and giving piano lessons. In 1916, Iturbi married one of his piano students, Maria Giner de los Santos. They had a daughter, Maria, in 1917. He gave dozens of recitals and concerts during the next several years, continued his education and began studying orchestras to achieve his dream of being a conductor. He was on a trajectory to be one of the top pianists of his time.  Life was good.

On August 11, 1928, Iturbi was rehearsing a concerto when his wife Maria locked herself into a bathroom and took a large dose of pills. Iturbi rushed to her side when he was told, but it was too late, he found her dying. It wouldn’t be the last of tragedy in his life – His daughter Maria also committed suicide in 1948 just before the filming of Three Daring Daughters.

After his wife’s death, Iturbi threw himself into his work. He travelled the world eventually giving over 200 performances a year. He was often accompanied by his younger sister, Amparo. While she never received the formal education her brother did, Amparo was still popular and successful in her own right as an accomplished pianist.

Everywhere Iturbi went he met adoring fans and received critical acclaim. When he made his debut in the United States in 1929, critics were beside themselves in finding words to describe the “Iturbi magic.” One called him a “feathery pianissimo.” Another said, “his playing is like a column of smoke passing over the keys.” Another from Chicago said, “to hear how his fingers can make the piano sparkle and sing and dance is a marvel to the technicians and a delight to those who want their music served as it should be.”

Next to music, fast cars, motorcycles and airplanes were favorite things for Iturbi. Rumor has it he was reckless with all three. Once he even hitchhiked to a concert because he totaled his car. After several car accidents he decided he’d better learn to fly because it was safer. He promptly took flying lessons, bought himself plane, named it “El Turia” (after the river in Valencia) and began flying to engagements around the world. His escapades and close calls earned him the nicknames “Turbulent Iturbi” and “The Flying Fool.” The more popular he got, the more the paparazzi  followed him. They reported on how much he liked paella and enjoyed apples. Caviar was one of his favorite things, they said. The public learned he was interested in jazz, and that he craved expensive cigars and had a pipe collection that he treasured. He loved boxing. Coco Chanel even designed a personal perfume just for him.

Movie producers were very aware of what was happening with Iturbi. They tried more than once to convince him that he needed to be in movies. Iturbi would have none of it, “Kissing girls on screen is just so much foolishness,” he said. After he turned down several offers it was Joe Pasternak, the musical guru at MGM at the time, who finally convinced him to do a movie. Part of how he convinced Iturbi to do the movie was a bet that Iturbi’s record sales would double. The object of the bet? A Baldwin piano, Iturbi’s favorite instrument at the time. He did the movie. His record sales quadrupled. He got the piano and just like that classical music had a wide audience.

That first movie? Thousands Cheer (1943). Iturbi played himself, (just as he did in every movie thereafter.) Gene Kelly starred with Kathryn Grayson where she played the daughter of an Army Colonel who decided to go along with him and the Army for moral support instead of going on tour with Iturbi. A romance between Kathryn Jones (Grayson) and Private Eddie Marsh (Kelly) developed while Iturbi accompanied the many artists in the movie, including Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. This was also the first pairing of Iturbi and Grayson in a movie. There would be three total. The two would become close friends over the years, but they never dated, “We were never romantically involved, just great friends. We went to dinner sometimes. We saw a lot of concerts together. If that’s dating so be it. We were just friends who went places together,” Grayson said.

The next movie Iturbi appeared in was Two Girls and a Sailor from 1944, starring Van Johnson and June Allyson. In this musical comedy, a sailor (Johnson) helps two sisters start a service canteen. Both sisters wind up falling in love with the sailor. Iturbi had just a small acting part here that involved dialogue with Gracie Allen. Iturbi gets to play the two piano version of “Ritual Fire Dance of DeFalla” in this movie with his sister Amparo.

In 1944, Iturbi appeared in Music for Millions, also starring June Allyson. She plays a pregnant bassist in Iturbi’s orchestra. She hasn’t heard from her husband for a long time  – he’s been in combat with the Army – and she assumes the worst. Other girls in the orchestra try to protect her from any bad news that might hurt the baby by intercepting and hiding a telegram addressed to her from the Army. Jimmy Durante and a young Margaret O’Brien also have parts. Iturbi, as always, plays himself, the respected conductor and pianist.

Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson appear with Iturbi in the 1945 movie, Anchors Aweigh. Two sailors on leave in Hollywood meet “Aunt Susan” (Grayson) who desperately wants an audition with Josè Iturbi. The two sailors Clarence (Sinatra) and Joe (Kelly), one who wants a girl, one who loves THIS girl, try to connive the audition for her. This popular musical was one of the top five profitable movies of the year and was nominated for several Academy Awards. It won an Oscar for Best Original Score.

Jane Powell, Roddy MacDowell and Walter Pidgeon star with Iturbi in 1946’s Holiday in Mexico. Christine (Powell) is the daughter of an Ambassador (Pidgeon) who falls in love with Iturbi, angering both her father and potential boyfriend (MacDowall). In this movie, Iturbi’s real life granddaughters play a small role as his onscreen granddaughters. His sister Amparo appears here too for a boogie-woogie duet with her brother.

Iturbi appeared in was Three Daring Daughters in 1948. Jeanette MacDonald plays a divorced woman with three teenage daughters. Louise (MacDonald) has convinced her girls that their father is a good man, even though he’d actually abandoned them. Things are going along nicely when Louise goes on a cruise without the girls for some much needed rest and relaxation. She meets Iturbi and marries him before the end of the cruise. The daughters aren’t happy about that and plot to get Iturbi out of their lives so their father would come back.

Right before the filming of Three Daring Daughters, Iturbi’s daughter Maria committed suicide.

“It was extraordinary to see him become, for a brief moment, his usual gay, warm, charming self. Off the set, the life had gone out of him. I have never seen anyone suffer so or change so much,” his companion Jean Dalrymple said.

Iturbi’s third and last movie with Kathryn Grayson is That Midnight Kiss from 1949. It’s also the last movie Iturbi appeared in. Mario Lanza also stars. As the conductor of her grandmother’s (Ethel Barrymore) opera house, Prudence (Grayson) gives Iturbi the chance to lead an opera. When she goes looking for a replacement for the tenor she doesn’t feel comfortable with, she notices truckdriver Johnny (Lanza) singing opera and begs Iturbi to give him a chance. Prudence and Johnny fall in love, but there’s a hiccup.

Both Iturbi’s sister Amparo and her daughter Amparin have small parts here as well.

Though he didn’t appear in the movie Adventure in Music in 1944, the piano you hear throughout the film is Iturbi. He also played the music, but didn’t appear in A Song to Remember (a biography of Chopin’s life) in 1945 and Song of My Heart (biography of Tchaikvsky’s life).

After That Midnight Kiss, Iturbi received eight more movie offers but refused them all. Was it all the negativity and criticism from “serious” musicians that made him stop? Maybe. There was a lot of it. Many of those musicians wouldn’t have anything to do with him during and after his movie career. Some of them even criticized him while trying to get into the movies themselves. They accused him of “prostituting his art” by doing movies. Kathryn Grayson said, “If he was prostituting his art, then I’m grateful he did it….we gave the world some wonderful films!” Indeed. Despite the negativity and criticism from other musicians, Iturbi’s movie appearances did benefit the classical music genre in general. Because of those appearances, classical music enjoyed a swelling of support during the mid-century. There was a much wider audience for it, record sales were up, and because many more were taking up classical piano, piano sales went up too.

After his movie career, Iturbi returned to performing with gusto. He performed as a pianist and conducted orchestras around the world for several more years. Most of which he flew himself to in his own airplane, El Turia of course. He played dozens of recitals, including a concert at the Brussels World’s Fair. He even made 20 performances on the Bell Telephone Hour radio show (that later became a TV show). Both he and Amparo were very popular and in demand all over the world.

It wasn’t until his beloved sister Amparo died of a brain tumor in April, 1969 that Iturbi started to slow down. He resigned from two orchestras within a few weeks of her passing and never really recovered from the loss. The two had been inseparable throughout their lives. He never left Amparo’s side while she was sick.

After Amparo passed away, there were a few more recitals and performances over the years, including celebrating his 80th birthday by conducting his former orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic at at The Lincoln Center in New York in 1975. He still drew big crowds. There was a concert tour in 1976-77 with plans for another one in 1979, but ailing health was slowly taking him away from the spotlight by then. Josè Iturbi died on June 28, 1980 of a heart attack. His coffin is with his daughter Maria and sister Amparo at the Holy Cross Mausoleum in Culver City, California.

Most artists have heart and emotion when they play their instruments, luckily for us, Iturbi had them as a person too.”

He knew exactly what to do, he played the piano. 

I first published this on October 11, 2015 as a post for the Hispanic Heritage Blogathon. Since it’s no longer online, I wanted to republish it here…

Find A Grave

Myrna Loy – Being and Becoming

Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming
by James Kotsilbas-Davis and Myrna Loy
372 Pages
Alfred Knopf, Publisher, November 1987
ISBN 13-978-0394555935

Do you read a lot of biographies? I don’t. Especially those from the classic movie actors I love and admire so much. I know. It’s just that I’m terrified that they’ll disappoint me and I hate disappointment. I am a chicken when it comes to these things. God forbid these people don’t live up to their characters we’ve grown to love so much, right? Well, Myrna Loy is my all-time favorite actress and this was a problem when I discovered her autobiography years ago. Because I adore her so much, hers was the last autobiography I ever wanted to read. I read it anyway. Four times now since the late 2000s…and counting. As it turns out, it ALWAYS feels good to “be around” Myrna and her thoughts with this book. Her down-to-earth honesty and genuine enthusiasm shine through here, just like it does when she’s on screen. Not only does she live up to Nora Charles and all the other parts she played, she illustrates what a wonderful human she was. Not by bragging about it mind you, but by simply documenting all she’s lived through and experienced. This is one autobiography that’s worth reading again and again. And I do.

Being and Becoming is Myrna Loy’s autobiography. It’s a chronological book with four sections of black and white photographs that come from her early life in Montana to the apex of her acting career in Hollywood to her life in New York City. Her voice in her writing here is what I have always thought of as ‘typical Myrna,’ – thank God – entertaining, intelligent, kind, thoughtful and down-to-earth. This is an inspiring story of a Montana farm girl who conquered Hollywood and ruled it for years as the “perfect wife” and “queen of the movies.” Seriously, moviegoers voted for Myrna in 1936 as “Queen of the Movies,” the same year they proclaimed Clark Gable “King.” That seems right.

Being and Becoming feels like an honest account of a life that just happened to occur in the middle of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The story takes the reader on quite a ride filled with names we all recognize and details that are fun to know. From Hollywood History to an account of her activism and charity work during World War II, this is a perfect read not only for a Myrna Loy fan, but a history buff too.

Myrna shares thoughts and anecdotes about a lot of her movies and many of her costars. There’s some especially interesting stories about William Powell, James Stewart, Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and more. There’s quite a few quotes from them about Myrna sprinkled throughout the book too:

“…When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles and microphones. We weren’t acting We were just two people in perfect harmony. Many times I’ve played with an actress who seemed to be separated from me by a plate-glass window; there was no contact at all. But Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best…” – William Powell

I love knowing that’s how William Powell felt about her. He oughta know, he made 14 movies with Myrna, including all six The Thin Man movies. There’s no question that Myrna’s career was built on playing the “perfect wife” to Powell and several others. Though she played wives before them it was the Thin Man series with William Powell that solidified the perfect wife persona:

Nick Charles (Powell): “You don’t scold, you don’t nag and you’re far too pretty in the morning.”

Nora Charles (Loy): “All right, I’ll remember: must scold, must nag, musn’t be too pretty in the morning.”

Myrna says about the perfect wife moniker she carried:

“Some perfect wife I am, I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children and can’t boil an egg.”

Everything in this book is spirited and enjoyable to read. She’s never upset about anything as she tells her story, even though there were tough times. She never gossips, never complains, never shows any vindictiveness. In fact, she points out that she “never had time for such things.” She simply tells it like it was. In Being and Becoming Myrna has given us a front row seat to what was going on during the studio era as the movies we love were being made. It is exactly what I hoped it would be and so much more. When I reread it now, it’s a place for me to be that feels good, just like every one of her movies, and I cherish that.

“One of the great charms of cinema” – from Myrna’s New York Times obituary on December 15, 1993.


“A woman who has the courage to stand up for her convictions.” – said Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio when he read a W magazine interview with Myrna into the Congressional Record.

Her response to the Senator:

“Well, I guess I was raised to do that by pioneers who valued such attributes. I could ask for no greater tribute.” – last paragraph of book.

Standing There Is A Man With Movie Star Eyes

“Standing there is a man with movie star eyes,” is a line from the song Dreamtime from the album Three Hearts In the Happy Ending Machine (1986) by Daryl Hall. I’ve been happy to have it parked in my head for months. As far as I’m concerned, it can stay there forever because it’s a catchy, up-tempo song and that lyric constantly reminds me of these guys:

William Powell
Tony Curtis
Gary Cooper
Frank Sinatra
George Raft
Paul Newman
Tyrone Power
Cary Grant
James Stewart

These are photographs I’ve saved over the years and have no idea where I got them. I wish I had that information now. If you know more about any of them, please let me know!

I have some stunning eyes from our favorite classic actresses too.  (I’m looking your way Bette). I’ll round those up too one of these days…

Who has your favorite movie star eyes?

Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood.

Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood
by Jill Watts
Amistad, 2005
352 Pages
ISBN 10: 0060514906 – ISBN 13: 97800605149074

I was in sixth grade when I was first introduced to racism. I had a black homeroom teacher and as young as I was, I could still see the pain he was in every day simply because of the color of his skin. It did not go unnoticed to me that he could not help or change that. He was the only black person, not just teacher, person, in the entire school district. I watched him deal with hate every day. It was the first time I remember feeling heartbreak. He lasted one year. Watching him, and others, go through the pain and consequences of hate has stayed with me ever since.  As it turns out, his experience is identical to Hattie’s, even though it was two different eras. Hattie and her family suffered from this same hate a hundred years ago. We, as a society, never changed, despite what my other teachers told me. We haven’t changed. We haven’t learned. Not while Hattie’s mother and father were slaves, not when they were emancipated, not in Hattie’s lifetime, not in the 1960s, not in the 1970’s not now. We should be ashamed.

So I write about this fantastic book as a human that is fiercely against racism and who is holding a raging hatred of racists. And I’m doing it in 2020; in the middle of civil rights protests, again. Yep, we’re in a racial uprising, again. I hope we can obliterate it this time.

I wish we could have done it for Hattie’s family. I wish racism had never existed.

Hattie McDaniel with her Oscar for her role as ‘Mammy’ in Gone With The Wind and presenter, Fay Bainter. 1940.

The most wonderful thing about reading Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood is that it shows a determination in Hattie to rise above it all. Watts reminds us a few times that Hattie’s main goal during her career was to “make people happy.” That made HER happy and that’s what she focused on…despite the situation dealt to her through no fault of her own. Not many of us can say we’ve found true happiness like that. The fact that she accomplished it despite being bombarded with ignorant hate throughout her life? That’s inspiring for me to say the least.

This is an excellent Hattie McDaniel biography. It include’s her family’s slave genealogy. It is a black family’s genealogy. It is a history of that so-called “golden age” of Hollywood. And it’s a record of how race pervaded it all.

I first read this excellent book last week, during the current racial uprising. After reading this book, it’s more clear than ever that we have never learned, we never fixed this problem, we never tried to understand why we hate based on the color of one’s skin. If anything, the problem is worse than ever. When you hate someone bad enough to harm them in anyway, over something like their skin color that can’t be controlled or changed by them, you make no sense. None. The very things that Hattie McDaniel was faced with, are the very same things that we hear about, read about, see with our own eyes this very day. It’s insane. It’s ignorant. And it pisses me off. The amazing thing is that she overcame everything to be happy and successful.

Author, Jill Watts has done extensive research to be able to give us such a clear, detailed history of Hattie’s life. That’s no surprise, considering Watts is a Professor of History at California State University and the author of three other books. She knows what she’s doing. If I have any complaint, it would be that I didn’t feel a closeness to Hattie like I did to, say, Myrna after her autobiography. But then, Hattie led a much different life in an entirely different world, even though they were both actresses in Hollywood during its “golden age”. The experiences of the two actresses were much different. Not because of talent or ambition. Only because of their skin color.

Hattie McDaniel was born to former slaves on June 10, 1893 in Wichita, Kansas. She died October 26, 1952.  This is her story, her family’s story….and a history of how racism affected everything they did. The inspiring thing is how Hattie navigated through the hate and ignorance to still find success on her own terms in a vocation she loved. Several of her siblings did it too. That tells me a lot about the character of the slaves that raised them.

This book is a wake up call to me. Reading Hattie’s story makes me a witness to a human soul that’s been able to endure so much toxicity, but still find a way to rise above it and do what they love. I should be so lucky.

I love you Hattie. Thank you for rising above and giving us a lot to be happy about. You succeeded. Black ambition succeeded.

The Denver Post – Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood

Frank McHugh and I Love You Again, 1940

Frank McHugh

It’s Frank McHugh‘s birthday today! I suppose I could honor him by listing all of his movies, plays and TV shows, but we can get that list here. Instead, I wanted to write about the fun of watching him along side my all-time favorite onscreen pair, William Powell and Myrna Loy, in I Love You Again, 1940. I’m crazy about this movie. Powell and Loy’s, witty chemistry, combined with the genuinely lovable character McHugh brings to ‘Doc’ Ryan, makes this a perfect movie to me.

Birthday boy Francis Curray McHugh was born May 23, 1898 in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His life was devoted to acting from an early age. At 10, he started performing in his parent’s theater troupe with his sister Kitty and brother, Matt. At 17, he left his parent’s company to join the Marguerite Bryant Players. From there, he went on to be the juvenile and stage manager at the Empire Theater in Pittsburgh. He then joined the Keith and Orpheum circuits and in 1925, he debuted on Broadway in The Fall Guy.” In 1929 Frank McHugh married actress Dorothy Spencer. They had three children and remained married until his death on September 11, 1981.

It was in 1930 that Frank was hired as a contract player at Warner Brothers. From this point forward, he almost always played a version of the role he played in I Love You Again – a sweet, funny, likable sidekick to the leading actor’s character. He was pals on and off screen with dozens of actors like Humphrey Bogart, Pat O’Brien and James Cagney  McHugh holds his own with all of them, and generally steals the scenes he’s in with his comedic delivery. He does that here too.

Lobby Card, I Love You Again, 1940

I Love You Again was directed by W.S. Van Dyke II (yes, the same W.S. Van Dyke that directed the first four Thin Man Movies) for MGM in 1940. Three of my all-time favorite actors, together in a W.S. Van Dyke-directed movie is paradise for me!

Larry Wilson (Powell) is a teetotaling, stuffed-shirt, do-gooder who gets on everyone’s nerves with his cheapskate ways. We meet him as he’s sailing home on the S.S. Falkness from a business trip. He’s insufferable and we’re already sick of him a few minutes into the movie when an extremely drunk Doc Ryan (McHugh) rescues us. Ryan, clearly a troublemaker, antagonizes Wilson in the ship’s bar. Ryan is really drunk and desperate to prove to Wilson that he isn’t. To do this, he decides to walk the “tightrope” atop the railing of the ship “blindfolded.” Oh boy. Wilson tries to stop him, reminding him that he’s “inebriated” but Ryan is determined to prove he’s fine and ends up falling overboard anyway.

Larry Wilson jumps in to save Ryan’s life. When rescuers come to bring them both back aboard the ship, one of them slams an oar onto Wilson’s head. That conk on the head turns Wilson back into George Carey – the man he really is AND was before he took another blow to the head in a fight nine years earlier. Once George Carey is back, he doesn’t remember one second of his life as Larry Wilson. Meanwhile, Doc Ryan is with him and so grateful to Wilson for saving his life that he’s decided to “go straight” and commit himself to Wilson for life. Wilson, now Carey, has no idea what Ryan is talking about. Thankfully, they figure it out together for all of us…

“I’ve had amnesia. A blow to the head can make you forget your entire past. You can live on for years, maybe the rest of your life as somebody else, unless a shock or another blow brings you back to your right self.” – George Carey (William Powell)

….and once they do, they realize how much they had in common nine years ago, before that first bump on the head. As it turns out they have a grifter’s life in common and they love it. With this new common ground, they come up with a plan to milk everything they can out of Larry Wilson’s life. All those bank accounts they discovered in Larry Wilson’s wallet provoked them to get moving on to Wilson’s beloved Habersville where they planned to get away with Wilson’s fortune.

Until Kay meets them at the dock when the ship gets home. Kay is Larry Wilson’s wife. She had heard about the rescue, and even though she plans to divorce Larry and marry Herbert (Donald Douglas), she meets him to bring him home anyway. She doesn’t realize Larry doesn’t exist anymore. And George Carey doesn’t realize she’s his wife. He is stunned to learn he’s really married to her at all. Doc Ryan’s and Carey’s plan hits a wall before it ever gets started.

They rethink everything, all while Carey is trying to convince Kay to stay married to him.

Herbert (Donald Douglas), Kay (Myrna Loy), Kay’s Mother (Nella Walker), Larry/George (William Powell), Doc Ryan (Frank McHugh), Mayor Carver (Harlan Briggs)

I Love You Again is a screwball comedy. Powell and Loy are as good together as ever. Frank McHugh is fantastic. The way he smoothly delivers his lines along side the engaging chemistry of Bill and Myrna makes this movie pure joy.

I really don’t want to give away any more of the story. I Love You Again is a fun movie to discover, especially the first time. I find it so satisfying. It makes me feel good and laugh out loud and Frank McHugh is a big reason why.

I can’t love it enough!


Frank McHugh’s New York Times Obituary
TV Guide
New York Public Library

Frank McHugh, born on this day, 122 years ago,  in 1898



Starring Doris Day and Jack Carson

Every classic film blogger has written a Doris Day and Jack Carson post. It’s understandable. The three movies they made together are simply enjoyable. Have you seen them? Romance on the High Seas, from 1948, was Doris Day’s first major film role. It’s a Great Feeling and My Dream is Yours came in 1949, All three are musical romantic comedies for Warner Brothers and they’re simply fun and easy to spend time with. They’re all shot in Technicolor and are full of bright, colorful scenes with great styles in fashion and decor. Most of all,  I love seeing the chemistry between Jack and Doris. I never get tired of these movies because of it.

Romance on the High Seas, 1948

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) for Warner Brothers in 1948, Romance on the High Seas is my favorite of the three movies Jack Carson and Doris Day starred in together. It’s truly a romantic comedy with some great Doris Day singing.

Over here we have Georgia Garrett (Day). She’s a single, working girl who’s always planning exotic trips but never takes them. Then, over here we have Mrs. Elvira Kent (Janis Paige), a well-known society woman, married to business executive, Michael Kent (Don DeFour). Elvira is excited about the big cruise to South America that she’s been planning for her and her husband. Michael, however, insists he has to forgo the cruise to stay home and attain to business. He’s just too busy. After Elvira meets Michael’s beautiful, new secretary, Miss Medwick (Leslie Brooks), she’s convinced he’s actually staying home to have an affair with her. To catch him in the act of cheating on her, Elvira comes up with a plan. To do it, she has to pretend she’ll go on the cruise without Michael. This way she can stay home, follow him without him knowing she’s in town, and catch him in this affair. To accomplish this, Elvira needs to feign her presence on the cruise ship in case Michael tries to contact her there. She comes across Georgia, planning yet another trip, at the travel agency. At this point, it dawns on Elvira how she can pull this all off – After a complicated explanation to a skeptical Georgia, Elvira hires her to take her place on the cruise. Georgia can’t believe her luck and decides it’s okay to accept. It’s one of her dream trips, after all. What does she have to lose? Elvira gives Georgia her passport and a long list of to-dos and to-don’t’s, (all intended to live up to the Elvira Kent name), and sends her aboard the ship. Meanwhile, Michael is disturbed with Elvira’s insistence that she go without him on the cruise so he hires Peter Virgil (Carson), a private detective, to follow HER and make sure she’s not cheating on HIM. Oh boy. Carson and Day take over from here and it’s so much fun. Not surprisingly, Peter ends up following Georgia, thinking she’s really Elvira. They stumble with this charade all over the cruise ship and end up falling in love. This plot is so unique and interesting. Every scene is meaningful to the story and Doris and Jack deliver comedic lines so effortlessly. Doris Day sings some incredible songs here too. I love “It’s Magic.” The chemistry between Day and Carson is exactly that.

It’s a Great Feeling, 1949

It’s a Great Feeling is the only movie of these three that wasn’t directed by Michael Curtiz. It’s more comedy than romance, and was directed by David Butler for Warner Brothers in 1949. Everyone in the movie plays themselves, except for Doris Day. She plays Judy Adams,  a small-town girl from Goerke’s Corners, Wisconsin. (Shout out to Goerke’s Corners! It was a real place at one time (but gone now) in Waukesha County). Goerke’s Corners is mentioned several times in the movie to illustrate how important small-town life is to Judy. But, this small town girl has a dream to make it big in Hollywood.

We meet Judy while she’s working in the commissary at Warner Brothers hoping for a chance to get her big break. She accosts Jack Carson (plays himself) when she delivers food to his dressing room and forces him to listen to her audition for him. He’s not impressed right away, but suddenly sees an opportunity here to con Dennis Morgan (plays himself) into playing a role in his new production. Jack is looking for a way to make money and knows Dennis’s presence in the production will bring it in.  He hires Judy to “play a part” to get him onboard. Carson and Morgan ultimately work together to do what they can to put Judy’s talents to work for them in other productions. I got a kick out of the parade of Warner Brothers’ stars that appear throughout this movie. They just kept showing up! All playing themselves, of course.  Jane Wyman, Joan Crawford, Eleanor Parker and Ronald Reagan all make cameos. Gary Cooper, and Edward G. Robinson do too. And several more! It feels like every actor from the studio made an appearance in this. What a fun movie. Psssst…there’s a surprise ending!

My Dream is Yours, 1949

In 1949, Michael Curtiz directed My Dream is Yours for Warner Brothers. This one’s a little more romance than comedy, and has some serious drama too. Doug Blake (Carson) is a talent agent that represents the popular, but mean, slimy putz, Gary Mitchell (Lee Bowman). When Mitchell refuses to sign another contract to do the Enchanted Hour radio program, Doug’s boss, Thomas Hutchins (Adolphe Menjou) insists he find a replacement. On his quest to find a new act to replace Mitchell, he discovers Martha Gibson (Day) at one of the studios he visits, working as a turntable operator. She’s a war widow with a young son. And, she’s willing to follow Doug through anything if it means she can make a living doing what she loves to support her son. It’s a rocky journey. One that’s saved more than once by Hutchin’s feisty but caring secretary, Vivian Martin (Eve Arden). This movie was released at Eastertime in April of 1949 and has a strange, Easter-themed animated sequence in the middle of it that includes Bugs Bunny, another Warner Brother’s star. Bugs, along with Carson and Day who are dressed in rabbit costumes, give us a few moments of a child-like Easter celebration. Strange. Rumor has it that Jack Carson and Doris Day were an item during the filming of My Dream is Yours. Somehow, knowing that adds to the enjoyment of this onscreen romance.

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


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. 

Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew – Book Review

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


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.


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.

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!

Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame
American Film Institute – AFI