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. 

Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew – Book Review

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

Amazon

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

Oh, how she loved to act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even on the movie sets she believed:

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic – Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopscotch – Based on the Book By Brian Garfield

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

TCM | Amazon

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

Amazon

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

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

They did. And it’s wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree.

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

The Thin Man – Based on the Book By Dashiell Hammett

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

A scene from the movie:

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

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

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

Same scene from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and spoiler alert:

Asta is a girl in the book.

I’m still not over that.

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

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

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