Movies are everywhere, including good books.  In Graham Greene’s The Last Word, a collection of otherwise uncollected stories, he includes a piece called “Work Not in Progress.”  It purports to be a sketch for a never-completed, never-performed musical comedy called My Girl in Gaiters.  The story line concerns the kidnapping of a whole convocation of Anglican cardinals by a gang of London thugs.  The motive is theft.  The cardinals, in their underwear, are locked in a church building basement.  “The twelve thugs are led by a woman who is the brains of the gang (and the only woman in the cast).  When I have had an extra glass of champagne I dream that she is played by Vivien Leigh.”

The sketch even includes lyrics for some songs.

Graham Greene, The Last Word and other stories.  Reinhardt Books, 1990.


Until then,
See you at the movies,


Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER


I’ve seen celebrities in the theater (as playgoers, not thespians).  I’ve seen them at the movies.  And I’ve seen them shopping.  (See Rick’s Flicks for 9/16/16.)  But it was in Westwood Village, hard by UCLA, that I saw them as man and woman on the street (Cornel Wilde in Beverly Hills, more on that later).

The Hollywood star I glimpsed most often was Jack Lemmon.  The first occasion came when my mother was out to California for a visit, and we passed him on the sidewalk.  She liked him especially, and at that time had seen every movie he had made.  Lemmon was the first celebrity she saw on that first visit to California, and she was, literally, thrilled.  “That’s Lemmon!”  He was the only celebrity she always called by only his surname  —  except Garbo.  (My mother was from Charleston; and on the rare occasions when she used the latter’s first name, she called her Greeta Gahbo.)

Together we saw Lemmon again at Disneyland.  He was with a small boy who, I supposed, was getting his first lesson in rights and race:  “He has just as much right to be there as you, son.”

I next saw Jack Lemmon at the Village Theatre.  From across the street I watched him on the sidewalk outside the theater being deferential to a producer-type.  The scene was a preview showing of Boys Night Out.

It was also in Westwood Village that I unobtrusively watched Peter Falk park his red car.  And I saw Rock Hudson standing at the open hatch of a large beige station wagon outside the sporting goods store.  That was one big man.

In that earlier post that I wrote about the happy sight of Esther Williams Christmas shopping in Westwood’s largest bookstore.  I once saw Katy Jurado shopping, too.  She was choosing Christmas tree ornaments in the closest thing to a dime store that existed there at the time.  There was a small all-eyes child at her side.  I cannot remember:  girl or boy?  I was absorbed in the lady’s own luminous and vulnerable eyes and those unique lips.

I was fortunate to run into stars in movie theaters, too.  I spotted lovely  —  as in lovely person  —  Betty Grable at the candy concession in the Bruin Theatre, buying candy for her two boys to take with them into Cowboy with Jack Lemmon (that name again) and Glenn Ford.  It would have been grand to tell her how much her musicals meant to me as a boy about the age of her youngest.  But I do not annoy celebrities.

I did see her once more, years later, as Dolly on the New York stage.  I had a ticket for the third row and was so enthusiastic in response and applause during the show that I detected  —  great professional though she was  —    that she noticed me, though that was never my intention.

I saw Dennis Hopper at the movies, too.   He and a date, with a double date, sat behind me at the Los Feliz Theatre for Pather Panchali.  The four of them were worriesomely convivial until Ray’s film began, then silent as cat feet in fog.

I glimpsed more stars in theaters in Los Angeles and Hollywood than I saw in theaters during all the years I lived in New York.  I can boast only two New York sightings.  At a first night I was surprised by the incomparable dental structure and ferocious smile of Gale Sondergaard.  Who knew that ol’ Gale would carry that smile down the years all the way to the face of Eagle Woman in The Return of a Man Called Horse?*  On another occasion I saw, at intermission, in deep theatrical evaluation with a companion, the Queen of First Nights, Anita Louise.

Staying with theater sightings  —  finding celebrities in the audience at stage plays  —  I recall a stunning Joan Fontaine in a red dress at a Theatre Group performance on the UCLA campus.  She was aware that I saw her.  How often must this happen to all of them?

And in downtown Los Angeles when I went to see Vivien Leigh on stage in Duel of Angels, I sat across the aisle from Lucille Ball and a a young escort.   She was chewing gum.  As I was leaving at the end, she and her companion were headed down the theater alley toward the stage door.  She was still chewing.

In Beverly Hills, in addition to my unforgettable vision of Rita Hayworth (Rick’s Flicks 3/11/16), I saw Cornel Wilde, a long ago favorite, coming out of the drugstore and lighting a cigarette from the pack he had just purchased.

*Gale Sondergaard delivered one of my all-time favorite lines.  It contributed to her winning the first supporting actress Academy Award (Anthony Adverse, 1936).  She and husband (Claude Raines) are in a snow-covered, icy mountain pass.  There is trouble with the coach.  They are sitting on a cold rock while the coachman does his best.  But coach and coachman end up sliding off the precipice.  Raines, almost in tears, says the man was the best servant he ever had.  Ol’ Gale:  “The coach was rather handy, too.”


Until then,
See you at the movies,



In Southern California I lived in Westwood by the UCLA campus for several years.  It was a hot spot for celebrity watching.  At the time when I was living there in a dark but large and quiet apartment, Westwood offered two bookstores.  I glimpsed Claire Bloom in one of them, the smaller one  with a good collection of film books  —  next to my dry cleaner.  In the other larger and brighter one , on a sunny and warm December afternoon, I spotted Esther Williams who, I felt sure, was Christmas shopping.  What do you do when you’re more interested in a celebrity’s co-stars than in the celebrity?  Miss Williams, what was it like working with Ricardo Montalban?  I am forever grateful now not to have asked Claire Bloom about Vivien Leigh.  In reality, that would have been too early.  It was two to three years before their play together.

And all this is fantasy.  I would never ask anyone anything.  I never approach celebrities.  I would never spoil the privacy of anyone I admire  —  or anyone I don’t for that matter..  On a Manhattan bus I once watched a couple, standing in a crowded aisle, address Margaret Hamilton, seated and captive.  She graciously received their complimentary remarks, but I was appalled.  How would you like to be asked by perfect strangers if you had your ruby slippers with you?

At a panel discussion I attended in Cleveland, during a question and answer session, I did ask Teresa Wright what it was like working with Richard Carlson in The Little Foxes.  I was intrigued that she did not answer my question.  She talked about what she considered Carlson’s unfortunate role in the film.  She described as silly their scene together in which Carlson ended up running down the street in his underwear.  She felt bad for him.

I may be taking my own question too seriously, but I feel that she deliberately did not answer it.  She replied in a way that could not offend the Carlson fan I had described myself as being, in my question.  There is also the factor  —  possible factor  —  that Richard Carlson once had, perhaps unjustified, a reputation as womanizer.  Was there something about him Miss Wright preferred not to discuss?  —  something about him, that is, not about herself.

More on Westwood and West Los Angeles in blogs to come.


Until then,
See you at the movies,


Rick’s Journal     –  MY FILM CAREER


(This is a revision and expansion of a blog I posted 9/26/14.)

The town where I grew up boasted a Roxy.



In my movie childhood  —  which chimes with all my childhood because my life has been lived at the movies  —  one of our downtown theaters, the Roxy, often showed on Saturdays what their ads called reissues.  Was the rest of the world calling them re-releases?  Or was everyone saying reissues then?

There were eight movie theaters downtown within a five-block area, seven of them on the same street, three of them in a row on the same block, right next to each other.  All of them, on their signs and their marquees and in their ads, used the British spelling theatre.  The later and  eighth house, on a side street, was called the Temple, and it would eventually become my temple because it showed older movies almost exclusively.

Occasionally the management interspersed an Adults Only documentary shot on location featuring barely clad tribes for the titillation (pun intended) of my budding adolescent urges and surges.  But the standard fare was thirties/forties Hollywood.  And I ate it up.

I saw It Happened One Night there.  And Mr. Smith and Mr. DeedsScarfaceThe Public Enemy and Little Caesar (a double bill!).  Jezebel.  And I recall a lone British film, called in America The Invaders (English title The 49th Parallel).  I was trying to see  —  and it wasn’t easy then or there  —  as many Leslie Howard films as I could.  He was special to me because he had been Vivien Leigh’s Ashley.  (The Invaders featured Laurence Olivier and Anton Walbrook, too.)

The Florida Theatre was downtown’s showplace.  Three stories.  Three balconies.  Three lobbies.  Even a Colored Entrance sign over a door on the side street.  The Florida was the site of my first movie.  According to my mother, the witch in Snow White so frightened me that I claimed to be sick and had to be taken to the rest room.  And that reminds me that at the Florida there were also three men’s rooms and in one of them I learned about what the Boy Scout manual used to call self-pollution, learned about it through an incredible exhibitionist demonstration about which one of my tender years in that era neither complained nor sued.

The Florida would later be where I first saw The Yearling and where my teen loins first lusted after Jennifer Jones as Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun.

In the next block from the Florida were those three-in-a-row theaters; a regal block:  the Palace, the Empress and the Imperial.    The Palace was a first-run house, usually for programmers and sometimes for double features.  All these theaters had but a single screen, of course, showing just one film or, at most, two.  The Palace was where I would see and fall for the Andrews Sisters (cf. Rick’s Flicks 3/24/12 and 2/1/13).  And it was where my brother would take me for my first view of The Wizard of Oz.  In those days a theater ran a film continuously  —  no breaks, no bringing up of the lights.  And like most people  —  except for my father who always found out when a movie started and and would never see one except from its beginning  —  we just walked into a movie at any convenient time.  And my brother and I entered the land of Oz as Judy Garland, scouting apples, found the Tinman’s rusted foot.  She was, from my first moment, never only Dorothy.  She was JudyGarlandasDorothy.  Older brother Joe and I were seldom friends.  There would come a time when we were  near sworn enemies.  But he gave me The Wizard of Oz, and I must be ever grateful to him for that.

I have just remembered that the Palace also offered vaudeville  —  vaudeville in its last days and on its last legs.  A double feature AND a stage show.  Magicians.  My first singing Alaskan princess (probably from the Bronx, had I known).   My first strippers.  Stand-up comics with raunchy jokes.  I started out at the Palace in my grade school years, but you can be sure I understood the jokes.  I still remember one of them.

VivienLeigh1948And while the Palace was a first-run house, it showed Gone with the Wind after its initial release at the Florida a block away.  So, it was at the Palace that I first saw a preview of the Wind and felt crushed that the trailer was all drawings and paintings.  No advanced live footage of the Wind in those days.  I had about a year to go before I would fall in love, once and forever, with Vivien Leigh.

The Empress and the Imperial featured second runs, the Empress often opening with what had closed at the Florida the previous day.  It was at the Empress that I first saw Gone with the Wind two days in succession.  I had already seen it in two neighborhood theaters, as they were then called.  Then I saw it on a Saturday and a Sunday at the Empress.  My mother was going to go with me on Sunday, but when my Dad drove us past the theater, we saw a two-block line.  My mother changed her mind; but they dropped me off, and I waited in that line to see my Vivien Leigh.  In those days our city, with its navy base, and our theaters were filled with sailors.  I remember a gob in the men’s room at the end of the movie that Sunday saying to everyone there, “If that movie had lasted five more minutes, I’d have pissed all over myself and all over the theater.”

One of the most exciting aspects of Gone with the Wind was its length  —  unusual then.  (At the time I did not know about Italy’s Cabiria or France’s La Roue or any other Gance or the trials  and tribulations of Greed.)  I was captured by the very idea of the length of Gone with the Wind.  I remember being angry when I had first learned about the length of the 1959 Ben-Hur.  William Wyler or not, who did Ben-Hur think it was?  Soon there would be a slew of lengthy blockbusters as studios  —  they were still trying to exist, then, in the old way  —  sought to make films, often of inflated length, that would consume all of an evening.  When you got home from your movie it was too late , in those days, to settle into television.

The last of the theaters to be built downtown, the St. Johns, was a studio theater.  It was Warner owned and showed Warner films only and was open, of course, seven days a week all day.  That’s how many films a studio turned out in those immediate postwar days.  I remember a flitty friend from school days describing the theater as “too severe,”  something he must have heard his mother say.  But the St. Johns  was unusual, to be sure.  Tomato red walls in the lobby.  No decorations on those walls.  I visited this severe place less often than I visited the other theaters I’ve fondly named and remembered.  Was I already reacting unconsciously to what would become a definite adult perception?  —  that Warner Brothers movies were filled with unlikable characters who talked too fast.

Once more unto the Roxy and its reissues.  I can still see a poster outside the Roxy Theatre, Ann Sheridan sprawled across a tabletop in Navy Blues.  I never did get to see the movie.  It became one of those movies that you somehow always miss.  It would have already shown at the other downtown theaters, and the Roxy was its last stop on the way out of downtown.  The Roxy was the place to see things before they got away.  But my mother wouldn’t let me go see Navy Blues that Saturday.  I called home to ask.  It would have been my fourth movie that day.  A single feature at the Florida, followed by a double bill at the Imperial, with Krystal hamburgers in between.  She drew the line at a fourth movie because, without older brother Joe, I would be getting home alone after dark.

I was sometimes, though, allowed two double features, in fact often.  And I  saw everything I wanted to.  I can’t remember ever being advised, as a child, against a movie  —  except that she spoke against Duel in the Sun which I was seeing weekly, following it from theater to theater.  I was in high school then, hormones a-rage.  My father exhibited no interest in what I saw.  When I was smaller my parents  —  I realize, now, always happy to have me out of the house  —  would drop me off at a theater and come back for me afterwards.  Sometimes I would be left at one theater in the afternoon and picked up at another one in the evening.

Before the Temple had reopened and been sanctified, my Roxy periodically had films from the past.  How did a grade school kid get hung up on older films?  I lived for the “Current Week,” a feature of the Saturday evening paper.  All theaters listed their programs for the coming seven days.  My brother never dived for his sports pages with more thrill than I lunged for the “Current Week.”  It contained the programs not just for those eight theaters concentrated in the holy five-block downtown area but for all the neighborhood second-, third- and fourth-run houses as well.

In my earliest discovery of the “Current Week,” I had no idea of the meaning of the word current.  I don’t know how I even knew its pronunciation.  In my life at the time it meant my movie week.  A poet’s heart leaps.  My stomach did when I would reach the Roxy  towards the end of the alphabetical list of theaters in the “Current Week” and find, in parenthesis after the title of next Saturday’s movie, the word reissue.   The Roxy changed its program four times each week.  They offered one movie on Sunday and Monday, a different one on Tuesday and Wednesday, yet another on Thursday and Friday and, finally, one which ran for one day on Saturday.  I deliberately read through the theaters in order, saving the Roxy till last where it naturally stood until the St. Johns was added.  The Roxy’s add for Saturday would read TODAY ONLY.  Saturday was reissue day  in a week when they were showing a reissue.  Oh, and the ad in the paper on Saturday would contain, under the title, in parenthesis, the word reissue.

I am still unable to answer my own rhetorical question.  I don’t know why I was so attracted to what was not new and preferred the Roxy’s Saturday programs and those reissues at the Temple.  Some of it may have been my mother’s telling me about her own moviegoing days as a youngster.  I knew about Rudolph Valentino and Clara Bow and Mary Miles Minter and Ramon Novarro and Doug and Charlie and the man who would become my beloved Buster  —  I knew about them long before I had the opportunity to see them.  But until that chance came, I had my Roxy and my Saturdays there.

I remember Too Hot to Handle.  I went to the movie already liking Clark Gable and Myrna Loy because my parents enjoyed them so much.  And Red Dust.  My parents loved Jean Harlow, too, though I confess that at the time she never looked real to me.  I also saw Algiers at the Roxy.  Mom and Dad had Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow, but I discovered Hedy Hedy OneLamarr myself.  There was Tugboat Annie, though as a grade school-er I was incapable of realizing the wonder of Marie Dressler.



But the brightest of those early memories of the Roxy is still The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.  Bright indeed.  The first Hollywood film shot outdoors in color.  The color is rich but never garish; the photography is careful and quietly artful.  In the overall running time, there may be two mattes.  Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda and especially Sylvia Sidney compel us to believe this unbelievable tale of sentimentalized mountain folk from the popular novel by John Fox, Jr. which also became popular as a play.  (See Pine note below.*)

There is just enough of a hard edge to the characters  —  and the playing  —  of MacMurray and Fonda to assist their credibility.  There is a surprising and even harder edge to June, the Sylvia Sidney character, a facet the actress grasps and delivers.  She is a mountain girl who for years has had an understanding, as it used to be called, with Dave, a cousin (Fonda), an understanding that she has never fully accepted and from which she periodically frets and revolts.  To their mountain area comes the railroad, hungry for their land.  June finds herself attracted to the railroad’s business representative Jack Hale (MacMurray) who is attracted to her as well but proves a man of mature responsibility, refusing to take offered advantage.  When June is given a chance to go to the city, she is fierce in her determination to take it, a chance finally “to have my fancies.”  As a small child I somehow knew what she meant.  She wanted pretty clothes and pretty things, which were her dreams.  The background of the story is a Hatfield/McCoy-like feud.  Here they’re the Tollivers and the Falins.

Fuzzy Knight has two memorable songs in the movie, and they actually belong in the story.  And while later, seeing this film as an adult, I had to suffer a supposedly cute Hollywood kid, at least Spanky McFarland as Buddy is not a smart aleck and does not even feel superior to all the adults around him.  I always enjoy glimpsing Clara Blandick before she became Auntie Em, and she has a small role as a landlady.

Sylvia Sidney gave many outstanding performances during a long career.  Well worth watching:  Sabotage (Hitchcock); Fury (Fritz Lang) (both from the same year as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine); Dead End (William Wyler); The Searching Wind (from the play by Lillian Hellman);  Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Academy Award nomination).  She also had stage successes, one of which was the role of the governess in The Innocents, a dramatization of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.

+Pine note:  The novel  was filmed in 1914; in 1916 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille); and in 1923 starring Mary Miles Minter, Antonio Moreno and Ernest Torrence.

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine     Henry Hathaway     1936


Until then,
Let’s go the movies.
See you there,




Today is the anniversary of the birth of Vivien Leigh, one of the cinema’s brightest stars  —  nay!  supernova  —  and one of its outstanding actresses.  Two of her remarkable performances have literally been proven timeless.  From her first screen line, her only line, in Things Are Looking Up to her maturity and elegant beauty in The Roman Spring and Ship of Fools, she was the consummate professional and a gift to motion pictures.  At her death when 53, she was still at work; and she was still the most beautiful woman in the world.

Happy birthday, Vivien Leigh.


Today is also the birthday of Roy Rogers.  Look for a future blog, coming to the screen nearest you, “Roy Rogers, Actor,” an analysis of the lifework of THE KING of the Cowboys.

Happy birthday, King.


Until then,
See you at the movies,


From Lillian Ross’ book PICTURE, about the making of The Red Badge of Courage

–     Producer Gottfried Reinhardt:  “And I thought that John would be able to show what goes on inside the boy.  If we had narration for the picture  —  maybe with that we could show what goes on inside.  But John kept saying, ‘No narration.’  Billy Wilder in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ had the nerve; after the man is dead he has him do the narration.  Joe Mankiewicz uses narration.  Narration is good enough for them but not for John.”

–     “Reinhardt said, ‘John, you have to tell people what the picture is.  We should start the narration at the beginning, before the scene at the river.  That scene is puzzling.  You pay for clever openings.  We must tell them, “Here is a masterpiece.”  You’ve got to tell it to them.'”

–     “Suddenly, late in the spring of 1951, the big word around the studio was ‘narration.’  ‘We are using the words of Stephen Crane himself to tell the audience what is happening,’ Reinhardt said to his wife one night, ‘and the picture will start with an introduction that tells the audience that they are going to see a great classic.’  Only Mayer didn’t think that narration (‘Jabber, jabber, jabber.  Who wants to listen?’) or anything else would help.”

–     The review of The Red Badge of Courage in the New York Herald Tribune mentioned “a redundant narration that clutters up the sound track from time to time explaining facts already clear in the images…”

I could not be more tired of the American documentary.  I have been watching The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of the American Cinema, and I am tired of what passes for film while being in fact an illustrated lecture; the persistent, droning voice-over accompanied by often meaningless pictures.  Here the narrator tells us that Thanhouser was born in Baltimore, then shows us an old map of Baltimore.  Who the hell cares about an old map of Baltimore?  Who can see anything on it unless you’re mightily familiar with the city and know just where to look for what.  This is padding.  This is illustration supposedly enlivening text.  This is the American documentary style and, increasingly, international style as well.  There is so much talk; there is such overload of information or the tautology of telling you what you are already seeing  —  or making up for the fact that there’s nothing to see.  One longs for a moment’s silence; time to see; time to reflect.

Ned Thanhouser, who narrates his own film, has a good voice.  He is enthusiastic and is justifiably proud of his grandparents’ contribution to early film; but…It never stops.  The voice never stops, even during film clips.

The Thanhouser documentary offers a good introduction to the young star Marie Eline, the Thanhouser Kid, and to the early career of James Cruze.  There are fine stills of Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser, Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, also Alice Guy and Herbert Blaché.

Now Val Lewton, the Man in the Shadows, also has lots of narration.  But the effect is different.   Presented by Martin Scorseseand and a product of TCM, it is finely paced and subtly, expressively edited  —  including the narration.  In fact, occasionally when offering a fact or observation, the narration approaches the laughably corny as the voice tries too hard to match a dark mood or suspenseful moment.  But that’s quibbling.  This is a good job.

The Man in the Shadows is comprised of not just stills and posters and voice-overs.  There are film clips  —  not Academy style or Golden Globes style but real clips, allowing you time to look and grasp and appreciate.  In its determination to be complete, it gets a bit long; but this is an excellent piece of work and sends you back to the films.  Look for it on TCM,

Val Lewton, the Man in the Shadows     Kent Jones (writer & director)     2007

The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of the Cinema     Ned Thanhouser     2014

I recently viewed Harlan County U.S.A. on Turner Classic Movies.  It is still as gripping as any fictional film imaginable.  There are occasional titles  —  to identify an individual, to give a date.  But the filmmaker lets us learn for ourselves through gut-wrenching images and moving, pertinent music and the brave, candid testimony of participants.  Harlan County U.S.A. is an hour and forty-five minutes long, and THERE  IS  NO  NARRATION.

Harlan County U.S.A.     Barbara Kopple     1977

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

I have just been watching Woody Allen’s Zelig.  The sound track so perfectly reincarnates, mocks and satirizes the American documentary voice-over, especially the newsreel voices of the 40s (marvelously performed here by Patrick Horgan), that I am amazed  the form is still afloat.  Zelig should have sunk it.  But it spreads, and foreign films are catching it.  Flaherty and Lorenz and Grierson and Franju spin in their graves.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Lillian Ross’ Picture was originally published in The New Yorker.  It is currently published by Da Capo Press.


Until then,
See you at the movies,



As part of Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars,”  Vivien Leigh is star of the day tomorrow, August 18.  Beginning at 6:00 AM (Eastern) with The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and concluding with A Streetcar Named Desire (starting 3:45 AM), TCM will present eleven of the great actress’ films.  As he looked at her films as he sought to make his decision about the casting of Scarlett, David Selznick was apparently especially taken with her performance in A Yank at Oxford (1:30 PM).