M*A*S*H, 1970 – Based on the Book By Richard Hooker

Directed by Robert Altman for 20th Century Fox in 1970.

M*A*S*H was based on the book by Richard Hooker:

Dentist, Captain Walter Kosciuszko Waldowski (John Schuck), a.k.a. “The Painless Pole,” of the 4077th MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Unit) decides he is going to commit suicide. So, his friends in the unit  planned the funeral, got a coffin and prepared a final meal in honor of the event. They even got him the black “poison pill” to do the final deed. At “The Last Supper” Corporal Judson (Tim Brown) sings the song “Suicide is Painless” (the iconic song we hear at the opening of the TV show too) after they give the dentist the pill and have him lay down in the coffin. It was really a sleeping pill. They wanted to scare Painless into reconsidering. Yes, they took it to the extreme, and it worked.

Cruel humor? Yep. But it’s the way the soldiers in the 4077 distract themselves from the horrors of the cruel Korean War.

I’m ashamed to admit that a movie, (book AND TV show too) about a medical unit in a war zone make me laugh. But all three of them do. The movie is chock-full of some terrific actors, which makes it worth it to me. But honestly? It’s the TV show that was the most enjoyable version of these oh-so-valuable stories.

Thanks to the script and comedic timing of the actors in M*A*S*H, the movie, the stories of the 4077th provide much-needed levity to the often horrible (horrific) scenes of war the movie highlights. But the practical jokes and shenanigans don’t make this a movie I want to rave about. It’s funny alright, but I think my problem is that I saw the TV show before the movie.  These stories shine as a weekly TV episode. One story at a time makes more sense then having them thrown together in a collection with no real direction, which is how the movie feels to me. The book and the movie, while funny and interesting don’t have that one anchor connecting them….except for the war zone.  I found myself needing a cohesive where these humans are working for something together within the chaos.

Having said this, there are funny moments provided by skilled actors that make it worth it to watch anyway. The little quips and banter throughout somehow make a movie about war funny.

Frank Burns (Robert Duvall): I don’t drink.
Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland): Jesus Christ, I think he means it.

Just like the TV show, the P.A. Announcer in the movie (David Arkin), was always there to provide smiles when the viewers need them:

P.A. Announcer: Attention. “Due to a possible camp infection, Arlene Chu’s Hollywood Grill is off limits. That is all.”

The character studies are the redeeming value of the movie for me. Hawkeye Pierce  and Trapper John (Elliot Gould) are the smart, funny personalities that keep the insanity of war at bay…..and kept me watching the movie. How in the world they handle these excruciating things is fascinating to watch. The fact that, more often than not, it’s humor that helps them is just more proof that laughter really is the best medicine. Without this look into these characters’ minds I’m sure I would have turned this movie off.I’m not good with blood and gore, and the movie has detailed scenes with both. This could be another reason I prefer the TV show.

While I understand Hollywood’s desire to turn the book into a movie, there’s no doubt about it, MASH, the TV show feels better and gets the point across better than the movie. It offers us all more time to discover what’s happening.

P.A. Announcer: “Attention. Attention. May I have the camps’ attention? This week’s movie will be When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950). Uh… The biggest parade of laughs of World War II. All the love, laughs and escapades of the Willies who came marching home. This film stars Dan Dailey, Corinne Calvet, and Colleen Townsend…”

Overall, M*A*S*H is slow, but I’m still grateful I was able to spend a couple of hours learning and laughing with it.  Just to see all those stars; Sutherland, Gould, Duvall, Tom Skerritt as Duke, Sally Kellerman as Hot Lips, etc., etc., and of course,  Gary Burghoff as Radar was worth it for me.

 

Goldie: a lotus grows in the mud

Goldie: a lotus grows in the mud

by Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden
Berkley, February 2006
464 Pages
ISBN: 0425207889
ISBN13: 9780425207888

Published in 2006, Goldie Hawn’s autobiography, Goldie: a lotus grows in the mud,  is much different than other autobiographies I’ve read. I wish I’d read it sooner. This isn’t the typical chronological, obstacle-filled/obstacle-overcame Hollywood story. Goldie has written of her own life’s events, how she felt about them and what she learned from each one. No matter how mundane or how big of deal they might seem, she respects them all with equal power to the effect they had on her life. This is a wonderful collection of Goldie’s perspective on different areas of life. It made me think. Especially, It made me think differently about some things.

“That is the idea behind this book. Not to tell my life story, but to speak openly and from the heart about episodes in my life in the hope of explaining how they changed my perception and how they helped me to look at the world more clearly,”–Goldie Hawn

Accomplished.

My early movie-going life was consistently filled with Goldie Hawn. I looked up to her. I wanted to be her. I was comfortable in the theater when she was on screen. Within the pages of this book, I’m just as comfortable. Many of the moments she writes about are written in first person, present tense. This is terrific! It makes the reader feel like a genuine part of the story.

Goldie Hawn’s movie career was at a peak at about the same time I was beginning to discover movies. She instantly became one of my favorites then because of the way she portrayed the characters she played. Like I said, I always looked to these characters as women I felt comfortable, or safe, with. This was not something I enjoyed in my own life – I grew up in an oh-so-strict environment ruled by a narcissistic mother who wouldn’t even let me watch such movies. (I had to lie about where I was going to go to the theater to see one). Not only did I feel comfortable with Goldie and her characters, I learned from them that it was okay to be a free spirit, that it was okay to think and dream….and that laughter plays a big part in all of it.

“I mean, it’s important to be liberated from my fears. I don’t think  burning bras is going to do that. I think laughing out loud is a great liberator.” — Goldie Hawn

As young as I was, I figured this out without even realizing it, if that makes sense, in those first few Goldie Hawn movies I saw. Thank god. As they say, “Laughter truly is the best medicine.” I don’t know who said that first, but I learned it from Goldie Hawn.

poster photo from Limited Runs

Foul Play (1978) was the movie that introduced me to Goldie Hawn. I was a huge Barry Manilow fan at the time, and his song, Ready To Take a Chance Again, led me to it. I SO loved that song and absolutely had to see Foul Play because that song was a part of the movie – though to this day I do NOT understand why. I mean, it was a kind of a disturbing but funny movie about a librarian and a cop (Chevy Chase) solving a crime that involved creepy characters….not really a place for a mushy love song, even though they ultimately fell in love….

But anyway…. I left that movie in complete adoration of Goldie Hawn. From that point forward I made sure I saw as many of her movies as I could. I could always rely on Goldie’s romantic comedies to make me feel good. There was never any doubt that her presence in a movie would be exactly what I needed. I am positive that her movies are why I have always been drawn to the romantic comedies that exist throughout the history of Hollywood.

 Housesitter (1992) with Steve Martin has been my favorite Goldie Hawn movie. Oh how I admired how clever she was in that movie. And that house! I have been known to beg my architect Hubby to design and build me that house. I STILL don’t have the house. But I have the movie and of every movie I own, it’s the one I’ve watched the most. It never gets old. One more time, Goldie plays a free-spirited, clever girl full of kindness that I take a great deal of inspiration from. When I saw Cactus Flower (1969) with Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, (Goldie’s first movie), for the first time last year, that same feeling of comfort washed over me. It’s like that for me with every movie of Goldie’s that I’ve seen.

“It is so important to get a different perspective in life, to see what other people have or don’t have and what they consider to be valuable. Possessions ultimately do not make us happy, nor does the obsession with acquiring more and more material wealth. How much is enough?”

“Children don’t plan. They don’t control. They laugh, they have fun, they go with the flow.” There is a lesson for us all there.” –Goldie Hawn.

It’s a relief just to let myself think that way as I read it! I do love the way she thinks, and this book is filled to the brim with her thoughts and perspectives. They’re enlightening and inspiring. Needless to say, a person could learn a lot here, if they let themselves.

“If we can just let go and trust that things will work out the way they’re supposed to, without trying to control the outcome, then we can begin to enjoy the moment more fully. The joy of the freedom it brings becomes more pleasurable that the experience itself.” –Goldie Hawn

Random notes:

  • Goldie is a dancer at heart. I love knowing that Fred Astaire was her childhood hero. He’s mentioned no less than six times here.
  • Goldie wasn’t altogether impressed with Walter Matthau when they made Cactus Flower together, but she absolutely loved Ingrid Bergman. This does not move me from my current Walter Matthau obsession, however.
  • I have not seen Private Benjamin (1980). Yet. It’s Goldie’s only Oscar (for Best Actress In a Leading Role).

Now, Voyager (1942) Based on the Book by Olive Higgins Prouty (1941)


Starring Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid
Directed by Irving Rapper
for Warner Brothers, 1942

Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a frumpy, worthless, irrelevant human being. At least that’s what her vicious bully of a mother, Mrs. Henry Vale (Gladys Cooper) has convinced Charlotte to believe. Hell, this woman has the entire house living in fear, not just her children, but the butlers and servants too. She’s a real piece of work….

Charlotte was doing well living up to what Mrs. Vale told her she was too. Until one day, when her mother asked Dr. Jacquith (Claude Rains), to come and help her daughter get over her “condition,” (which Mrs. Vale has already determined was a nervous breakdown). Dr. Jacquith was quick to see what was happening and knew what he had to do. He used kindness and encouragement…and a stay at a sanitarium…to help relieve Charlotte’s pain so she could start to live.

Charlotte wasn’t used to being treated this well, but with Dr. Jacquith’s help, she begins a transformation that saves the rest of her life.

As it turned out, time away from the old bag was exactly what Charlotte needed….

Now, Voyager
by Olive Higgins Prouty
340 Pages
Houghton Mifflin, 1942
Triangle Books 2004 Paperback edition: ISBN: 1558614761 (ISBN13: 9781558614765)

Both book and movie document Charlotte’s transformation. Both are satisfying, (especially for some of us that have mothers similar to Mrs. Henry Vale) and both reveal the same life lesson. I’m glad I read the book before I ever saw the movie though, because I felt like I knew Charlotte better than the movie let me get to know her. That’s not to say Bette Davis isn’t brilliant as Charlotte, of course she is, but we’re just closer to Charlotte and what she’s feeling in the book. For me, that was a good thing. Even though the movie follows the book closely, there’s more details in the book that took me to another level of closeness to Charlotte and how she dealt with her feelings. There’s no doubt that the book allowed me a greater appreciation for her…and for the movie.

As I write this, I’m tired. I’m worn out from the stresses of the last year and I can’t imagine having the strength and energy Charlotte exudes in this journey of self-discovery she’s on. She desperately wanted to feel better and even though she was afraid at first, she found the energy to overcome the fear and go for it. Davis makes this energy infectious and inspiring in the movie. I’d first seen the movie years ago, but after watching it again recently it sparks an energy in me that I had all but given up on.

On the outside chance you’ve never seen the movie or read the book, I don’t want to give away too many more story details here because this story is worth discovering without me butting in with how it affected me. Just know that it did. In a very good way. I suspect both Now, Voyager the book and the movie might be a story we all relate to in different ways, because the basic issue is insecurity and overcoming the damage it can do.

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.

and

“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.

The Last Hurrah, 1958 – Based on The Book By Edwin O’Connor

 

“Politics is not the most diplomatic thing to discuss.” – Frank Skeffington

I first noticed The Last Hurrah on iMDb when I was looking for Frank McHugh movies I hadn’t seen yet. (Oh how I love Frank) This was one of them. At the time, this movie was tagged as a comedy on iMDb, (with Frank McHugh starring as Fetus Garvey) so I jumped in with both feet. I mean, Spencer Tracy AND my buddy Frank? Of course I’m in! It didn’t take long to realize that this is not a funny movie. It’s a dark, old-fashioned, political drama. Politics was the last thing I was in the mood for, but I gave it a shot anyway…

…I know now that I needed this time with Spencer Tracy. He made the movie for me.

The Last Hurrah was directed by John Ford for Columbia pictures in 1958…

Frank Nugent wrote the screenplay that was based on the book written by Edwin O’Connor in 1955. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and spent 20 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list in 1956. I hate to say it, but I liked it better than the movie. In the book we were allowed to get to know the characters better and the story dug deeper and was more detailed.

The plot of both the book and movie follows Mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy), a devoted, life-long politician as he embarks on what he thinks will be his final campaign to be re-elected mayor (of a city that’s never named). He knows he’s “on his way out” and calls this campaign his Last Hurrah. Frank Skeffington is down-to-earth and genuinely (we think) cares about the individuals in his city. Oh, it’s obvious he’s corrupt around the edges…he is a politician, after all. And he clearly knows his way around a campaign like this one. He’s shrewd but likeable, political but reliable. In the book, Skeffington was the former governor of the state they’re in (it’s never named in either), but there’s no mention of him ever being governor in the movie. There are those that claim the city never named in the movie is based on Boston and that Frank Skeffington is a loose caricature of Boston’s Mayor James Curley.

Frank’s son, Frank Skeffington, Jr. (Arthur Walsh) is, shall we say, worthless. He’s a playboy that could care less about politics, let alone his father’s campaign. Instead, Frank, Sr., bonds with his nephew, Adam Caufield (Jeffrey Hunter) which adds a level of ‘interesting’ for me. Adam writes about sports for the local newspaper. It’s Adam’s publisher, Amos Force (John Carradine), that asks him to cover Skeffington’s Last Hurrah. The story brings uncle and nephew together at a good time in both of their lives. The thing is, Force hates Skeffington. As history would have it, Frank Skeffington’s immigrant mother was fired for stealing left-over food when she was a maid in the home of Amos Force’s father. Oh boy. The tension! (And not all that believable) Force believes Frank, Sr. is the worthless one and he backs his unimpressive rival, Kevin McCluskey (Charles Fitzsimmons). Annnnd this causes more tension between Force and his writer, Adam.

Director John Ford was a Westerns guy, as we all know, and I kind of felt like maybe he didn’t care a lot about the subject of this one? Something wasn’t clicking here for me. Spencer Tracy grabbed me and kept me with the story, but I found myself wishing the director would have made more of an attempt to explain some things. (no spoilers). It was a watchable, even enjoyable, movie most of the time, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Even though it’s chock-full of Ford’s usual troupe like – Donald Crisp, Wallace FordJames Gleason, Ricardo Cortez, Basil Rathbone, Pat O’Brien AND FRANK MCHUGH! They just weren’t around…..enough.

As Frank Skeffington maneuvers his way through opposing view points we get a glimpse into the story of one city’s mid-century American political climate. It’s not pretty, and it sure isn’t funny. Spencer Tracy made it a decent movie for me. Without him, he, not so much.

Sources:

A Tribute to Jeffrey Hunter
Wikipedia – New York Times Fiction Best Sellers, 1956

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.

Sources:

JillWatts.com
The Denver Post – Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood
IMDb.com

Mr. Blanding’s Builds His Dream House, 1948 – Based On the Book By Eric Hodgins

“Oh this was a joy, sheer heaven from beginning to end,” Myrna Loy said about Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House in her autobiography, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming

“Acting is like playing ball. You toss the ball and some people don’t toss it back; some people don’t even catch it. When you get somebody [like Myrna] who catches it and tosses it back, that’s really what acting is all about. Myrna kept that spontaneity in her acting, a supreme naturalness that had the effect of distilled dynamite,” Cary Grant for Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming.

The reason I love this movie SO much is the pairing of Cary Grant (Jim Blandings)and Myrna Loy (Muriel Blandings). They’re magical together. (See Wings in the Dark, 1935 and The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer, 1947) They play off each other so well that I never want a story to end when they’re in it. Their mutual respect shows on screen and its feels good to see that displayed effortlessly and authentically like this. Together, they make us laugh, and laugh some more. Mr. Blandings is my version of a perfect movie-watching experience. I only wish I could have seen it on the big screen.

Both the book and movie follow Mr. and Mrs. Blandings as they pursue their dream of moving to the country to raise their girls in the clean air and peaceful atmosphere. He’s a New York City advertising executive that’s stressed out with his job and the cramped quarters of their city apartment. She does her best to make it comfortable for all of them. A peaceful existence in the rural landscape calls to them both. They find what Mr. Blandings calls their “dream home” in a decrepit “antique” house. They can afford it, if they put some work into it.

They buy it. It immediately becomes a money pit with problems. It’s a chaotic, stressful project that causes more grief than they ever imagined it would when they first saw the house and fantasized about their life in it. And the bills. There’s so many bills!

Grant and Loy play their roles so well that all we have to do now is get lost in the story and smile at the way they handle it all. His funny facial expressions expertly show his passion and frustrations, and, as usual, her presence is comforting, beautiful and strong…to BOTH Mr. Blandings and us viewers.

Add Melvyn Douglas to the mix and, boom, MORE smart comedic timing. The script for the film was written by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. The dialogue and banter is an improvement from that in the book. I’m glad I read the book after I saw the movie. Placing the faces of Cary Grant and Myrna Loy into the characters of the book, I think, made it an easier read.

The Blandings with their architect, Simms (Reginald Denny).

Bottom line: The movie script, the actor’s abilities  and the setting of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is nothing short of brilliant. It’s funny and uplifting despite the turmoil that comes with building a new house.

There are some differences in the characters from book to movie. Notably, Bill Cole (Douglas), who is a smaller character in the book. narrates and plays a bigger part in the movie. You could say he anchors the whole thing with his narrative observations. Gussie (Louise Beavers), the housekeeper, is an entirely new, and enjoyable character in the movie. Spoiler alert:

Gussie (Louise Beavers) with Betsy (Connie Marshall) and Joan (Sharyn Moffett) Blandings.

She ends up saving the day.

Eric Hodgins published the book in 1946 after he wrote a short story about the home-building process for Fortune Magazine in 1946. Hodgins had a career in magazine publishing starting with the Atlantic in 1926. He was an Associate Editor at Redbook, a Vice President at Time and the publisher at Fortune. This is the only novel he ever wrote.

Each chapter of the book coincides with the chronological steps of the process of buying and rebuilding a dream house. It starts with Mr. and Mrs. Blanding discovering their dream property in Lansdale County, Connecticut (the movie starts in their New York City apartment) and takes us all the way to life in the house after it’s done.  The chaos in between is what both the movie and book are all about. In the book, that chaotic process is trying and full of details. It reads more like a diary than a story. In fact, Hodgins uses Mrs. Blanding’s diary entries to tell a chunk of the story.

The movie treats the chaos with humor and it’s perfect.

Additional Source:

Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming by Myrna Loy

The Hustler, 1961 – Based on the Book By Walter S. Tevis

This is not a story about pool or billiards. It’s a tremendous story about character. Fast Eddie Felson, just happens to be a pool-hustler…

The Hustler, 1961

Walter S. Tevis wrote The Hustler in 1959. The movie, one of Paul Newman‘s first big roles, came in 1961. Both expertly tell Fast Eddie Felson’s  story: He’s a pool-hustler who’s convinced himself that he needs to prove to everyone (and himself) that he’s the best pool player in the country so he can gain the respect and riches he so desperately craves. Eddie tells himself he can beat anyone, Including Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), who is the actual best pool player in the country. We recognize early that maybe Eddie could do it, if he just had the character he doesn’t know he needs to accomplish it. Talent isn’t everything like Eddie thinks it is. He believes beating Minnesota Fats would prove everything. Like the poster says, it’s a hunger that lies within him, and it drives every decision he makes.

“You just want the money. Sure. And the aristocratic pleasure of seeing him fall apart.” – Bert Gordon, calling Eddie out on his lack of character it takes to win.

I don’t like Eddie in the book or the movie.  I’m not supposed to. He has little integrity and no character.  He’s a mouthy, arrogant,  obnoxious brat – one that Paul Newman brings to life brilliantly. The “aw shucks” smiles he invokes to show the emotions Eddie struggles with, and tries to cover up, are perfect. I DO admire, respect and like his adversary, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). It’s evident in HIS manner, language…even the clothes he wears…that this is where the man with real character is. And success.  He’s the one that deserves the respect Eddie can’t seem to achieve. The same thing happens In The Cincinnati Kid, 1965, a remake of The Hustler (in a poker environment instead of a pool hall one), I don’t like the The Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen) either, for the same reasons I don’t like Eddie. But I DO admire, respect and like HIS adversary, Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) for the same reasons I like and respect Minnesota Fats in this movie. In The Color of Money, the Martin Scorcese-directed 1986 sequel (not remake) to The Hustler, I don’t like Vincent (Tom Cruise) at all either for, you guessed it, the same reasons. But, I finally DO get a chance to admire, respect and like Eddie Felson (Paul Newman revisits this role) for a little while.

By the way, there was no real Minnesota Fats at that time. The nickname came about after the 1961 movie when a plump pool shark named Rudolf Walter Wanderone, Jr. adapted the nickname for himself from the Jackie Gleason character in the movie.

In the book, Walter S. Tevis gives us vivid descriptions of dark, gritty, urban (and not-so-urban) pool halls that give it a distinct noir feeling. The opening scene of the book takes place at Bennington’s Pool Hall in Chicago and I swear, I could smell the smoke in the air just reading Tevis’s words. Excellent writing like this continues throughout the book and, thankfully, the visuals in the movie live up to every word Tevis writes in the book. Every character is properly placed in the exact atmosphere they should be in both the book and movie. The reader…and viewer…are too. We never feel ourselves cringing at any misplaced dialogue or setting in either one. I always felt like I was there. Listening, watching and very interested in a man that comes full circle in his quest for respect.

The Hustler was directed by Robert Rossen for 20th Century Fox and in addition to Paul Newman, it also starred Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie and George C. Scott. Newman, Rossen, Gleason and Laurie were all nominated for Academy Awards for their roles. The movie was nominated for 11 Oscars total and won two; one for Best Cinematography and another for Best Art Direction. Director Robert Rossen communicated Tevis’s atmosphere perfectly. The movie follows the book closely, up until the billiards game between Eddie and James Findley (Murray Hamilton) with a few minor exceptions.  It’s then that the book and movie diverge. Bert Gordon’s (George C. Scott) entrance into the story changes things for Eddie. In one way for the book, in another for the movie. The endings are completely different but the same overall message is the same: Character matters.

Sources:

Encylopaedia Britannica – Minnesota Fats
iMDB

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) – Based on the Book By Jean Kerr (1953)

Directed by Charles Waters for MGM in 1960

I watch this movie about once a year, usually when it’s on TCM, because I adore Doris Day.

Because of Doris, it’s hard to admit that the book by Jean Kerr is so much better, but it is.

The movie has potential in the beginning; Kate MacKay (Doris Day) is knocking heads with all of her, um, energetic (?) sons so she can meet her husband, Larry (David Niven), for dinner. It’s a funny scene with promising energy for the rest of the movie.

It doesn’t work out that way.

In the movie, Kate and Larry MacKay struggle with a hectic life inside a New York City apartment. They have four young boys, a housekeeper and a dog and they all survive in this cramped, crowded space. They’re coping and honestly, don’t seem phased by it. Until they get kicked out of their apartment. Seems in all the chaos, they forgot to renew their lease and now they have 30 days to get out.

In the middle of this, Larry leaves his career as a professor, to one as a drama critic for, presumably, The New York Times. 

The MacKays pile everyone into that oh-so-cool woody wagon and go tour a house in the country. It’s always been their plan to move to the country and they were excited. They drive up to a creepy, debilitated house that’s big enough and cheap enough. Kate loves it. Larry doesn’t. The house’s condition, along with the new commute to New York, depresses him. Of course, Kate sees a project and looks forward to making a home for them. They buy it. Kate can’t wait to start fixing up the house, getting involved in the community and raising their kids in the country.

From here, the movie explores a lot – jealousy, ego, temptation, creativity, raising kids, small town culture and a love of home. The problem is there’s no chemistry between Day and Niven. Kate’s mother, Suzie (Spring Byington), the kids and the dog provide laughs, thank goodness. I enjoy watching those scenes, but there is a cohesiveness missing between Kate and Larry and I didn’t feel myself rooting for them like I wanted to because of it.

In one seen, Larry thought Kate ought to be home doing “housewife” chores, but she was nowhere to be found. When he did find her…

“Where have you been?,” Larry snapped.

“I was on a rendeveaux with Rock Hudson,” A ticked off Kate replied.

I wished she was!

Jean Kerr

THE BOOK, Please Don’t Eat The Daisies, by Jean Kerr, however, is hilarious. The characters are similar to the movie, but there isn’t a storyline like that.  Instead, the book is a collection of essays that cover several subjects. The funniest are the essays about raising four young boys that are close in age. There are also essays that comment on the theater, cooking, decorating and day-to-day life of creative professionals. Every one of them has an element of humor to it, some funnier than others. The book holds up well. Jean Kerr is a great writer, and her sense of humor connects with mine perfectly. This is a laugh-out-loud book for me, I loved it.

Doris with Hobo

The best thing about the movie is Doris Day’s comedic lines. That and her singing attract me enough to Please Don’t Eat The Daisies to watch it every time TCM runs it.  Did I mention that I adore her?

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.