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.

Is virtue an asset in the big town?

August 01, 2019

A few weeks ago I waited with baited breath while the the last few seconds went by on an ebay auction ... tick, tick, tick ... I was the highest bidder on a December 1963 issue of Movies Illustrated magazine, and contained within its pages was an illustrated summary of Sunday in New York.

As you can guess from the photos below, I won that auction (champagne! confetti! hooray!) and I finally scanned the pages to share with you here today. I love all the different euphemisms the article employs to describe a movie that is, in essence, about sex and virginity, without ever using any words that even come close. My favorite is that Cliff Robertson's character Adam would "never compromise a girl." Judging by how desperately Mona wants alone time with Adam, I don't think she'd consider it a compromise, lol!

So here it is, the "picture story" of Sunday in New York:











Dear Heart and the destruction of Penn Station

July 30, 2019



"Through Pennsylvania Station one entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat." - Vincent Scully

If you've entered New York City in the last 50 years you've likely scuttled in like a rat through Penn Station. There are little remnants of the structure that once stood there -- the granite eagles between 31st and 33rd street, and some brass and iron railings in stairwells -- but it's difficult to fully imagine the grandeur and majesty of the original Pennsylvania Station. Which is why it's such an absolute delight to see it in all its glory in the beginning and ending scenes of the 1964 film Dear Heart.



Production for Dear Heart began on October 2, 1963, just four weeks before demolition started on the building. You can see the light pouring into the terminal, and catch a glimpse of the almost-10 feet tall statue of Pennsylvania Railroad President Alexander Johnston Cassatt, looming over Glenn Ford's shoulder. There's the Coca Cola digital clock, the incoming baggage check, and the souvenir shop. Giant arched windows and beautiful stonework. You can see it all in these scenes.



According to Lorraine B. Diehl, the author of The Late Great Pennsylvania Station, you can spot some broken and covered windowpanes in the ending scenes. Although The Daily News reported in November 1963 that the Penn Station scenes were running behind schedule, Dear Heart ended their on-location filming on October 3rd. And one thing is for certain -- Dear Heart was the last movie to ever be filmed in the original Penn Station. By the time the movie was released in December 1964, the grand and glorious Penn Station was no more.



In Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before, Steve Taravella writes that "Penn Station was razed immediately after filming and replaced with today's soulless station of the same name." After this, most movies would have to film in Grand Central Station if they wanted to capture a New York station with cinematic appeal. In fact, it was the destruction of Pennsylvania Station that saved Grand Central. Less than two years after the demolition, spurred by the loss of such a beautiful historical landmark, New York City enacted the Landmarks Preservation Law.



Movies are like time capsules. When the crew of Dear Heart rolled into Penn Station in October of 1963 they might not have realized that they were preserving a small piece of American architectural and rail history. They may not have realized that their movie would bookend an era of rail travel, a vivid and faithful relic of a way of life that is long gone. But by creating this piece of art, they also preserved a piece of history for us to look back on years later.

We should be thankful for movies like this, filmed on location in locations that no longer exist. We may now scurry in like rat, but by watching Dear Heart we can imagine what the world must have been like when you once entered the city like a God.



This post was written in partnership with Trainiac Productions, as part of a series on train history in film. Please check out their facebook page for more train posts!

You can rent Dear Heart on Amazon Prime right here, or purchase the DVD through Warner Archive here.

Made in Paris {The Apartment}

July 11, 2019



In the 1966 film Made in Paris, Louis Jourdan plays a Parisian fashion designer, Marc Fontaine. When Ann-Margret takes Edie Adams' place as his American buyer, catastrophic misunderstandings and flirtatious escapades ensue. This film is notable to me because it's the first time that I took notice of --and fell down a deep rabbit hole of full-blown obsession with-- Chad Everett, who plays Ann-Margret's boyfriend.

The only thing in this film that might be more aesthetically pleasing than Chad Everett's megawatt smile is Marc Fontaine's flamingo pink studio, designed by set decorators Keogh Gleason and Henry Grace. Situated right above the runway of the fashion house, this colorful abode is a feast for the eyes!



To the left is Fontaine's office desk, facing away from a bay window that -- I can only assume -- is probably overlooking the Champs-Élysées. To the right is a sitting area, complete with two chairs and a matching settee. But the piece de resistance is that spiral staircase hiding in the back left corner. Be still my heart! And the addition of a plush pink carpet only heightens the style that hovers somewhere between decadent and kitschy. My favorite spot to be!



On the right side of the room, Fontaine keeps his latest sketches on display, hanging over a table that appears to house a collection of fashion magazines. I love the balance here of opulence and strict attention to design, but with little messes here and there that reflect the reality of a working fashion designer. My own studio is much less lavish, but I think I strike a similar balance between lived-in creative workspace and pleasing to look at.



In the other corner of the room is Fontaine's easel, complete with a table for paints and palette, a roll of paper lying underneath, and a model form for reference that is bedecked in fabric, ribbons, and flowers. The spiral staircase is my favorite feature of the room but this model is my favorite detail that the set designers added -- it's kind of kooky!



Here is a close up of the staircase, which has a grey railing with golden spokes. And over Ann-Margret's shoulder you can see a peek of the Picasso painting hanging up on the wall. I also love how the walls have intricate wooden carvings in the beveled moulding and they almost seem to be washed in a rose hued stain.



Remember how I  mentioned that this room is situated right above the runway? It's the perfect spot for Fontaine to retreat during a show and keep an eye on the reception his pieces receive during a show. All he has to do is press a button and - Presto! - the bookcase disappears into the wall to reveal a window overlooking the runway. How fantastic is that?!

This is part of an ongoing series of posts dedicated to bachelor apartments in movies. You can view the rest of the series right here.