Looking back on twenty years of looking back

December 24, 2019

In December 1999 the world was looking forward to a new millennium, and I made a screeching 180' turn in the opposite direction, feet planted firmly in the 20th century. As everyone scrambled to prepare for Y2K I confronted the more pressing concern that my local video store wasn't stocking nearly enough Jimmy Stewart movies on VHS. Who needs The Backstreet Boys' Millennium when December 1963 was what a night!

I was in eighth grade and home from school on Christmas vacation when my mom turned on AMC and I became completely and totally enraptured by How to Steal a Million. Peter O'Toole's crystal blue eyes and Audrey Hepburn's aura of chic captured me heart, body, and soul. Nothing in my life had ever hit me like this. It was love, unconditional love. It's not unreasonable to say that movies have been there for me for my entire adult life. They've wrapped me up in their warm embrace, provided comfort whenever I needed it, and whispered to me that I'm not alone. They're a constant, as ever-present as my heartbeat, the thought that always sits on the edge of a reverie-- "now would be a good time to watch a movie."

How to Steal a Million sparked a fanatical interest in Audrey Hepburn. I rented all of her movies that I could get my hands on, pored over her biographies at the library, and immediately signed up to volunteer with UNICEF. Audrey Hepburn turned me into a teenage tornado of compassion and altruism. I became the local volunteer representative for my area and attended the UNICEF annual gala in Washington, DC. I spoke in front of my school board, joined (and became president of) our town's Youth Advisory Committee, and interned at the Mayor's Office. I painted faces for charity, gave talks to elementary school students, and got my school to put Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF boxes in classrooms. I started an annual dance for senior citizens hosted by teenagers, and launched a poster contest for kindergarteners. I owe every single one of those acts to Audrey Hepburn and the ways in which her kindness and good-heartedness inspired me to harness those qualities in myself.

Every school project from December 1999 onwards was about classic movies. I printed out photos of my favorite movie stars and affixed them to my folders and notepads, a different star for each subject. Rudolph Valentino - History. Charles Boyer - French. Robert Montgomery - English. In high school I had to write a big paper for GT and I chose to write about film restoration. To this day, it is one of the highlights of my entire life that I got to interview Robert Osborne for my paper. The kind TCM employee (his first name was Shane, I don't remember his last, but he was to me as much an angel as Clarance is to George Bailey) sent me oodles of TCM paraphernalia including a pen, a watch, a set of magnets, and -- still one of my most cherished possessions -- a signed copy of Robert Osborne's book. I will never forget his kindness in helping to make a nerdy, fledgling classic film fan's dreams come true. It is insane to me now that I have a friend who works at TCM (*waves hello to Diana, who is LIVING THE DREAM!*) and that maybe she'll be able to work her Clarence magic for some other young film fans, too.

Ten years into my classic movie obsession, I started this blog. (If you're counting, that means this blog has been kicking for ten whole years. Three more years and it'll be the same age that I was when I first stared into Peter O'Toole's baby blues!) I don't blog as often as I did that first year, but I'm so glad that I've kept it up. Earlier this year I renamed my blog from "Silents and Talkies" to "The Films in My Life: a personal journal of cinema" and I feel like it's a much more accurate reflection of the content. This is my film diary. I love to write when a movie really moves me, and tack photos to these digital pages in the same way that Robert Montgomery was plastered all over my English notebooks. I wish that the internet had existed in its current form when I was 13, starstruck by old movies, and totally alone. Sometimes I'm seized by an unhealthy jealousy when I see young classic film fans interacting on twitter, recalling the days in the early aughts when my schoolmates bullied me for liking dead actors and my only respite was... more dead actors. Nobody my age "got it" and until I started this blog in 2009 I legitimately believed I was the only person in the world under the age of 80 who knew who Guy Kibbee was.

The classic film community is so much larger than I ever could have dreamed as a teenager, demographically much younger, and so inclusive. But I always feel like I'm on the outside looking in -- I just don't have whatever tools are necessary to build lasting friendships (with a few exceptions) or to ease my way into a conversation without feeling like I'm butting in. I feel like that might be why blogging initially came more easily to me than social media has. This blog was like my own little club house, and when people would leave comments it was like they climbed up the ladder and knocked to come in. Social media is more like a playground game where everyone is tossing the ball to each other and I don't have the nerve to join in. (Does my brain relate everything in my life back to school? Unfortunately, yes.) Anyway, this incoherent paragraph is all to say -- I was so wrong when I thought I was alone in this particular interest. There are so many people around my age (and, now that I'm the ripe old age of 33, much younger than me) consumed by their love of classic film, and even if I have a hard time interacting with those people, my little universe is all the better for their presence in it. One time at the TCM Classic Film Festival a friend and I were discussing our favorite James Gleason movies. I've thought of that moment often, pausing to reflect on it as a gift to my lonely teenage self. I never imagined a world in which another person my age knew who Cary Grant was, let alone James Gleason.

There are just so many (too many!) things that I want to cram into this post that I think I have no other recourse but to break up my thoughts into a few different posts. I want to write about all of my classic film obsessions - ALL OF THEM - from the first moment I laid eyes on Frank Sinatra in February of 2000 to the moment that Chad Everett walked onto my projector screen this past April and Zing! went the strings of my heart, and all of the Robert Montgomerys, Alain Delons, and Ronald Colmans along the way. I want to write about my all time favorite go-to ride-or-die movies, the ones that I know by heart. I want to write about which movies recall certain memories or times in my life. About the phase I went through when I started my art "career" in which I named every single painting after the movie I was watching while I painted it. I want to write about TCM schedule memories -- the year that Summer Under the Stars featured Dirk Bogarde and I just about lost my mind over him, or the year that Shelley Winters died and her tribute preempted a day of Robert Montgomery movies and I held it against her for a LONG time. I want to write about actors that I've come around to after disliking them for years (cough, Glenn Ford, cough) and movies that, after two decades of consuming classic movies like they were air or water, I still have not watched yet (cough, The Sound of Music, cough.) And I want to write about the movies that have been the most personal to me, ones that I see myself in, or ones that reflect my own life in a way that makes me feel okay about who I am or where I am (or, more accurately, where I'm not.)

I said once in a blog post that movies are my boyfriend, and I still feel that way. Someone recently asked me why I've never dated and my reply boiled down to "I have Chad Everett and Alain Delon, I'm good!" While some romance films can obviously make a single person feel somewhat lacking, movies have always made me feel whole. Everything you could say about a significant other can be said about my love for movies. They complete me. They're THE ONE. In a world full of thousands and thousands of things to love, we found each other. And we're celebrating our twentieth anniversary this month. I think that's pretty great.

Chad Everett original negatives

December 17, 2019

This year I had the great fortune of a) discovering Chad Everett and b) finding a handful of original negatives with rights that I could scan and share with you here! These are my absolute favorite pictures of him and I'm so thrilled that I was able to snag these so that they could be enjoyed by everyone who googles his name or stumbles on this blog post.

The photos were taken by the photographer Harry Langdon, and although they aren't dated they seem to be from the late 1960s. My favorites are the ones with his dog. I'm guessing it's Gus, his half-Great Dane, half-Boxer who also made a few guest appearances on Medical Center!

You can click on the photos to see or download much larger versions and frame them, make them your phone background, what have you ;)

A 21st Century Bobbysoxer

December 12, 2019

Today marked 20 years that I've been celebrating Frank Sinatra's birthday with my family, listening to his music all day long, dining on pasta with his signature sauce recipe, and partaking in a double feature of his films. The tradition started when I was 14 years old in 2000 and so obsessed with the man that every single thought revolved around him, including most of my school papers and homework. I was digging through some of my old mementos from middle school and high school tonight and I came across two essays that I wrote about Frank Sinatra. They're a little funny to read now ("Though he eventually died, as we all do") it was so fun stumbling on this little time capsule of my teenage obsession. I also found an analysis on the lyrics from "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die" (as sung by Frank Sinatra) and my teacher had added a little notation next to Sinatra's name that said "I should have guessed."

While this probably isn't of particular interest to anyone but me, I wanted to commit these two essays to the blog archive for posterity. I'm sure if 14 year old me had a blog these love notes to Frank Sinatra surely would have made their way on there, so I'm doing past me a favor. Without further ado --

He Knocked The Socks Off The Bobbysoxers

Some call him "The Voice." Some call him "Ol' Blue Eyes." Some call him "Chairman of the Board." But there is one name that is indisputable: The greatest singer ever to grace the world with his voice. His name, of course, is Frank Sinatra.

Born Francis Albert Sinatra to Dolly and Marty Sinatra of Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 12, 1915, Sinatra knew he wanted to sing even at age seventeen. After attending a Bing Crosby concert with his girlfriend, Nancy Barbato (later, in 1939, she would become his first wife), Sinatra remarked, "Someday, that's gonna be me up there." And within a couple of years, he was the one up there. It wasn't long before, in 1935, Sinatra joined The Hoboken Four in the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, gaining the most amount of the votes to that date. Following Major Bowes came a contract with the Harry James Orchestra, which eventually lead to a more prestigious job: singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

It was mostly during his time with Dorsey that Sinatra gained fame and renown. Not too long after singing with Dorsey, Sinatra and his agent, George Evans, decided that it was time Sinatra went out on his own. Despite the fact that Dorsey wasn't thrilled with the idea, Sinatra left and went on to become one of the world's most famous celebrities.

When he first opened at The Paramount in New York City, one of his first concerts as a solo artist, hundreds of policemen were called in to hold back the crazed fans who, in anger of not getting tickets, were breaking store windows and creating havoc on Times Square. The bobby-sox clad girls fainted while listening to his music, screamed when he looked towards them, and rushed out of school early to buy his new records, which usually came out each month. During World War II, Sinatra was at the top of his career. Sinatra was classified 4-F because of a punctured left eardrum, therefore could not head to the battlefield. He often attributed his rise to fame to the fact that he was the only one around, "I was the boy in every corner drugstore who had gone off to war."

Sinatra's celebrity status came to somewhat of a half in 1951 when his world seemed to crumble to pieces. Over the course of a year, Sinatra divorced his wife, lost his money, lost his voice, and lost his fans. Sinatra's reputation as a womanizer seemed to haunt his home life, and despite the birth of his third child, Christina, Sinatra and his wife separated. In 1951, while on stage, Frank Sinatra's throat hemorrhaged. Never again would he have the soft flowing voice that he did in the forties. For forty days, Sinatra was not allowed to speak. He often spoke of those days, saying that it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.

In 1953, Frank Sinatra picked up a role that would gain him his first Academy Award. The film was From Here to Eternity and the role was Angelo Maggio. Once Sinatra starred in this role, he never again encountered anything to the likes of what he went through in 1951. From Here to Eternity was followed by a number of dramatic and comedic roles. Among his best was The Man With the Golden Arm, for which he was nominated for yet another Academy Award.

Sinatra's singing continued to grow as the years went by. A sense of loss crept into his sad songs, and life into his swinging ones. Sinatra had the ability to make any song worth listening to, and any movie worth watching. It is no secret that on May 14, 1998, when Frank Sinatra died at the age of 82, the world lost one of the most talented people of the twentieth century.

Why Frank Sinatra is my hero.

Class. Style. Swagger. Life. All of these words seem to define the best entertainer of our century, Frank Sinatra. I love him for many, many reaons, most of which have to do with his extraordinary talent. But the reason he is my hero is his outlook on life. Never before have I run across anyone more caught up in the art of living than Frank Sinatra. I can cite hundreds of quotes that prove how much Ol' Blue Eyes loved living (and to prove how pathetic I am, I must say I know them all by heart.) ... "You gotta love livin, baby, cause dyin' is a pain in the ass" ... "do you know what a loner is? A loser." ... "Let's start the action!" ... "Live each day like it may be the final day." ... just to name a few.

Sinatra was the ultimate life-liver. If anyone lived life to the ultimate fullest, it was Sinatra. Though he eventually died, as we all do, he was the only one who made it seem like maybe there really was a secret to being immortal. As he grew older, he extended the age-old toast "may you live to be a hundred..." to "may you live to be five thousand, and may the last voice you hear be mine." After reading countless books on Frank Sinatra, I've become accustomed with his lifestyle. The man hardly ever slept, staying up to the wee small hours with his buddies from The Rat Pack, and getting up to make movies and records every day. But yet he stayed on top of the world. I think his song "I've Got the World on a String" is the best song to put Sinatra's life into words, and it is that life that I have come to admire so much. I wake up each day wishing I could live like him - play off sad feelings with a joke or a song, hang out until 2am with my best pals, take a drink (vanilla creme soda in my case, as opposed to Jack Daniels) and live it up each night. To make each minute count, that was Frank's philosophy.

Many people see a hero as someone who has saved a life, or done something for the betterment of all humanity. I see it as someone who has made an impact on the way you live your life; the way you get up, eat, sleep and live. I see a hero as someone who has changed your life for the better and made you realize how valuable your life is, not theirs. A hero shouldn't be someone to build a shrine to, it should be someone whose own actions have helped you improve yourself and your outlook on how you can live your own life. Frank Sinatra has made such an impact on my life; if only he could be around to find out how much of an impact. Listening to his words of wisdom, and his music as much as I do, there is no doubt in my mind that if I live to be 100 or 5,000, the last voice I hear will be Frank Sinatra's.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge - Fay Wray and Robert Riskin - A Hollywood Memoir

August 24, 2019

There are only a few weeks left in Raquel's Summer Reading Challenge so I think this is sadly going to be one more year that I fail to tackle 6 books. I think I might cheat a little next year and do all of my reading in the winter, when I always have more free time, and then post my reviews the following summer. It'll just be our secret :)

I've only finished one book so far, but boy was it a good one. I read "Fay Wray and Robert Riskin - A Hollywood Memoir" by their daughter, Victoria Riskin. For a while when I was a teenager I used to say that Frank Capra was my favorite director, believing that he was the driving force behind movies like Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, and You Can't Take it With You. But several years ago I started to realize that the movies he made apart from Robert Riskin didn't have the same appeal to me. Yet movies that Riskin made without Capra (particularly Magic Town and The Whole Town's Talking) still had what people refer to as "The Capra Touch." That was when it dawned on me that I wasn't actually a big Capra fan all these years -- I was a Riskin fan!

Going into this book I was an admirer of Riskin's screenwriting, and I loved Fay Wray in '30s horror movies like Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum, but I didn't know anything at all about them personally. I didn't know that they were both beautiful, poetic souls, madly and deeply in love with one another. I didn't know that they were passionate progressives who were active in politics. Fay Wray's letter to Robert Riskin detailing her anxiety-riddled election night listening to returns coming in on the radio was a snapshot of my own election night experiences watching MSNBC. Her hope and relief when FDR won was so relatable that I immediately felt emotional flashbacks to November 2008. Victoria Riskin imbues this book with the spirit of her parents -- you can sense how much she loved them, how much they loved her, and how witty and smart and sweet they were. Little details like Fay Wray packing peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, or Robert Riskin keeping notes on words that amused him so he could work them into scripts (pixelated!) not only represent a daughter's loving remembrance but they help bring these Hollywood icons to life again and create a clear and wonderful picture of who they were.

In addition to the insights into their personal and private lives, the book also delves into behind-the-scenes cinema history involving casting decisions, writing credits, studio disagreements, and box office success. My favorite (or perhaps least favorite -- it breaks my heart now thinking of what could have been!) casting anecdote was that Robert Montgomery was originally the first choice to play Peter Warne in It Happened One Night. Gable is fine in the role and I love that movie, but my Robert Montgomery-loving heart aches for a version with him and Claudette Colbert instead. And be sure to have a box of tissues nearby when you read about the destruction of *hours* of footage that Harry Cohn cut from Lost Horizon. Even the stories that could be considered somewhat "juicy" are laid out with complete and utter loveliness -- like the time that Cary Grant told Riskin that he had been madly in love with Fay Wray but she was better off without him. In another book this might have felt very "TMZ" but Victoria Riskin tells the story with a sweetness that makes you forget you're reading about an affair between two of Hollywood's biggest legends that was never meant to be. It's just a warm and wistful remark from a man who once loved her mother.

I can only think of one other biography I've read (Truffaut: A Biography) where I was sad to have to say goodbye. I've grown to really love Fay Wray and Robert Riskin and as the story progressed, when signs of Riskin's failing health became apparent or when Wray was getting older, I winced knowing that things were about to end. But thank goodness that they left us so many movies to remember them by. Like Victoria Riskin said in the book, she hears her father in the words of John Doe or Longfellow Deeds. And Fay Wray's delicate beauty is forever preserved in movies like The Wedding March and King Kong. I may be finished reading, but I can still revisit their films and live with them a little longer.

Sunday in New York program

August 15, 2019

I recently added this official Sunday in New York program to my collection! I love the production notes especially -- "Jane Fonda playing the girl who wonders if all her answers are out of the question." You can click on the photos to view them larger.

A decade of discovering Dirk Bogarde

August 10, 2019

Today is the tenth anniversary of TCM's Summer Under the Stars salute to Dirk Bogarde, the day that I watched So Long at the Fair for the first time and my life was never the same. Ten years since I exclaimed on this blog, "Whoa! Hold the phone!! THIS is Dirk Bogarde?!?!"

I like to fantasize that this might have become a fairly popular and well-kept film blog if my manic fixation on Dirk Bogarde hadn't taken over the wheel and steered entirely in the direction of Bogarde movies, paraphernalia, photo scans, and desperate pleas for someone, anyone, to join me in my fanaticism. But if I'm being completely honest, I'd trade that fantasy of a successful movie blog for ten years filled with overconsumption of Dirk Bogarde. So many of his films became all-time favorites. And as a perpetually single gal who likes to fill the boyfriend-shaped hole in her heart with overblown obsessions with dead movie stars, the ten years that I've spent head over heels in love with Dirk Bogarde have been like a warm embrace, and fond company in what could otherwise have been a bit of a lonely life.

To celebrate a full decade of Dirk, here is a list of ten things (one for each year, obviously!) Favorite movies, blog posts, photos, random anecdotes, just ten things that have made this last decade all the more pleasant because he was a part of it:

1. Darling (1965) - As a Julie Christie fan it's very likely that I would have watched this eventually even if I wasn't on a quest to devour every Dirk Bogarde movie ever made - but I watched it in 2009 and it quickly became one of my top 5 favorite movies, and it has remained there all these years. Every time that I revisit it, I find something else to love about it. I'm so grateful to Dirk Bogarde's face for luring me into this film.

2. In 2010 I went to New York to view two of Dirk Bogarde's Hallmark movies at the Paley Center. It was the first time in all of my years as a classic film fan that I really felt like I was doing real research. I called ahead of time to make sure I could schedule enough time (the movies I wanted to see exceeded the normal allotted viewing time) and it was well worth the planning and the money to go into the city. I wrote about my experience and the films here.

3. Hot Enough for June (1964) - I don't know that I ever would have even heard of this movie were it not for Dirk Bogarde, and it ended up becoming one of my go-to movies for whenever I need a pick-me-up. It's a funny, smart, and so so fun spy spoof about a writer who gets assigned to take over for a deceased 007 when he shows up at the unemployment office. I wrote about it in 2009, here.

4. My devotion to Dirk Bogarde resulted in a pretty hefty amount of tribute videos. Back in 2010 and 2011 I had a little more time on my hands and I knocked out 10 Dirk Bogarde videos. You can view them all on my youtube channel here, but this one that features clips from all of his movies (that I could find) in chronological order, and this one that was my very first tribute video ever, are my favorites.

5. Dirk Bogarde's life story in comic book form! This was my absolute favorite find in all of my years of scouring ebay for Dirk memorabilia. It's a 22 page long comic book from the 1950's that retells his (slightly fictionalized and exaggerated) biography.

6. I'm going to cheat a little bit here and include ANOTHER top ten list in this top ten list. I wanted to choose my all time favorite Dirk Bogarde picture to include in here, but I couldn't narrow it down. I just couldn't!! So instead here is a link to my top ten favorite photos.

7. Modesty Blaise (1966) - This wild movie makes absolutely no sense and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Honestly this might be the number one thing I am most grateful to Dirk Bogarde for. The music, the lobster indecision, the over the top-ness, the camp, Dirk's white wig (and his dramatic removal of said wig), the spinning umbrellas, the random outfit changes, Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp's short burst of song and ice cream and colored dust. It makes my heart swell just thinking about this movie.

8. The Mind Benders (1963) - Recently somebody asked me what movie has haunted me the most, and I think this would have to be it. It's a compelling, deeply disturbing movie about loss of sensation and what really happens to you when you're forced to be alone with your thoughts. The post I wrote about this movie back in 2009 is still one of my favorite things I've written.

9. This gif. It might be my favorite piece of film footage of all time. So handsome. So debonair. So beautiful. Sigh.

10. Discovering Dirk Bogarde never ends. When I first started this journey, I consumed way too many films in a very short period of time, and realized that I wasn't going to be leaving many new-to-me Dirk Bogarde films for my future self. So I slowed down and now, a decade later, I still have plenty left to watch. Some people like to approach fandom by binging everything as quickly as possible (I've been there!) but my preferred method is to stretch things out so that I still get to treat myself to "new" films even though the performer or director is long gone. And so I'm glad that ten years into consuming his filmography, I am still discovering Dirk Bogarde, and I hope I always am.