Posts Tagged ‘Margo Channing’

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The month of September makes us think about New York City, and New York City makes me think about movies. To be fair, carpet samples make me think about movies, so our autumn leap from the Big Apple to the silver screen is one to be expected. This year I mulled over all of those films whose characters force me to my rooftop where I shout, “I’m moving to New York so I can live just like . . . !” I can bellow my fantasy to the world only for so long before the family of crack heads living across the street asks me to keep it down.

Based on the dollars and cents needed for San Francisco housing these days, shouting from a Manhattan rooftop may be a cheaper option for us nontechies, so until I load up the car and head east, I’ll stick with what I have. I’m moving to New York City so I can live just like . . .

 

Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947):

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A heroic writer sets out to expose anti-Semitism in New York City, looking more handsome than any writer one could possibly hope to meet – I could think of worse role models.

 

The three sailors in On the Town (1949):

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Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin visit New York only for 24 hours, but in that time they destroy a dinosaur exhibit at a museum, get seduced by cab drivers, sing and dance on the Empire State Building, and finish the night by dressing in drag as cooch dancers on Coney Island. Yes, fine, I did most of those things on my last trip to the island, too.

 

Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950):

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Always in the running as one of my all-time favorite films, I would put up with anything Eve had to throw at me, if only I could have Margo Channing’s sunken living room, golden staircase, and Thelma Ritter as my personal assistant.

 

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960):

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Because of Lemmon’s brilliance (culinary and otherwise), I keep a tennis racket in my kitchen as a backup colander. Not to mention the fact that he’s thrilled beyond belief when he almost gets to watch Grand Hotel (1932) from the very beginning. What the heck, Miss MacClaine? I would marry C. C. Baxter in the first ten minutes.

 

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):

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You know that pastry in the opening scene is the most exquisite treat prepared in the early hours of some exquisite New York bakery. Of course Holly Golightly ate carbs; don’t start with me.

 

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968):

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Primarily for the matching leopard coat and hat . . . and the name of her manicurist.

 

Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986):

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Some love him; some hate him, but no one makes New York City look more desirable than Woody Allen does in his films. After disastrous attempts at becoming an actress and a hilarious bout with cocaine, eventually Wiest’s character, Holly, finds her calling as a writer, and Wiest found herself with her first Academy Award.

 

Bette Midler in Big Business (1988):

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Do I really have to explain this one? Two Midlers, two Tomlins, a “usual suite” at the Plaza, and special effects at their absolute finest! For most of my childhood I was convinced that I had an identical twin brother . . . sadly I had no clear route to Manhattan for our tearful and polka-dotted reunion.

Cheers and tipped hats to all of New York’s characters, then and now.

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“You look like you have a cry on deck.”

It was an overcast summer evening after an astonishingly demanding workday, but still I was stunned at this observation’s proximity to hitting the bull’s-eye. Unsettling but curiously comforting are the moments when someone sneaks behind my face and sees the frustrations that I try so desperately to leave at the office. That damn dam behind my eyes has thickened its walls over the years, and few can sense when the water pressure crashing up against it is gathering strength. A cry was on deck. Someone saw it. The mask was slipping. “So many people know me. I wish I did. I wish someone would tell me about me.” It was time for a vacation.

Breathing in the “bad” and exhaling the “good” never really worked for me, so the alternative was finding strength in these emotional walls and dams that sectioned off threats of danger or fear. Cracks in emotional infrastructure are extremely rare, not unheard of, but always surprising. Two pieces of entertainment can get the waterworks flowing for me – one is the final story line in the final season of Six Feet Under (2005). I remember clutching my knees the night I watched this for the first time, positive that my gasping sobs had woken my roommates. The other is when dearly devoted mermaid Daryl Hannah dives off a New York pier at the end of Splash (1984), per the loving “Go!” coming from a heartbroken Tom Hanks. Seriously, pass the Kleenex and the Visine. But this week a new tear slipped through a small crack in the dam; one of happiness, relief, relaxation, and yes, a bit of Chardonnay.

I’ve been vacationing in Seattle for a few years now, seeking refuge from the San Francisconess of San Francisco. No matter how much I agree with the protest fad of the moment; no matter how excited I am about an upcoming street fair/excuse to drink outside among the vegans wearing leather thongs, sometimes I just need a break. I’m aware that Seattle is certainly no stranger to its own liberal shenanigans, but I find its caffeinated pace leisurely and relaxing. My usual B&B was booked solid for the season, so I found a new one in the same neighborhood. Instinct told me this new B&B and its mermaid logo would provide sanctuary for those of us who understand the complexities of Splash.

For weeks I had worn the San Francisco summer wardrobe of scarves and my fuzzy alpaca hat, so I was delighted to find the Seattle climate positioned somewhere between the 70s and 80s (much like the songs in my “On Vacation” playlist). Along with plenty of shorts, T-shirts, and various Burt’s Bees products, wrapped up safely in my one jacket were three cherished DVDs. Last-minute packing will result in impulse items: The Sting (1973), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), and All About Eve (1950). Walking up the back stairs to my new temporary residence upon arrival, I passed an outdoor deck that was roped off. A dangling gold sign politely read “Private,” but fortunately that word printed in beautiful loopy cursive quickly took on new definition. It turns out that “Private” meant “mine.” After a delicious breakfast of French toast and, oh, a thousand cups of Seattle coffee, I fluttered around the neighborhood in search of the perfect afternoon accessories – bread, cheese, and wine. Clearly I was in a French mood, as the morning’s toast paved the way for an afternoon baguette, along with some aged cheddar and a chilled Chardonnay. The plan was flawless: I would sit on that sunny, private balcony, eat my bread ‘n’ cheese, enjoy my wine with gusto, and continue my life’s goal of setting the world record for the number of times one person has watched All About Eve

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Always the careful traveler, I was prepared for anything. It’s a tragic, thunder-clapping moment of despair when we hold in our hands a bottle of wine but have no tool to open it. Have no fear, the B&B’s kitchen had everything I needed – the cork was popped; the bread and cheese were sliced with no harm done to my fingers; the charger for my laptop ran from inside outlet to outdoor table with length to spare; the flies that were interested in my food didn’t seem to linger (even the flies are nicer in Seattle); and this particularly overused DVD played without error. Decked out in my shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, I settled in to enjoy the perfect afternoon. The birds were chirping, the sky was blue-ing, the sun was shining, and the sun was shining . . . the sun was shining . . . everywhere. The sun was shining absolutely everywhere.

Ever try to use a laptop outdoors on a sunny day with very little shade? I rearranged the furniture on that deck into every position imaginable, but Mother Nature was working the spotlight that day. There was no angle that would allow me to see the black-and-white world of Margo, Eve, Bill, Birdie, Addison, or their theatre, but I was not to be defeated by the well-rested Seattle sun. Mentally projected was the 20th Century Fox logo as soon as I heard the opening musical score, but my computer screen remained a pearly white. Fortunately the instincts of primitive man kicked in immediately, and I treated myself to a 138-minute radio show performance of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s masterpiece. A blessed version of the gift of memory allows me to visualize each scene with little effort, and I venturing through film exclusively with sound. Calm as a man in a hammock, I leaned back – glass in one hand, tiny cheese sandwich in the other – and mouthed a few snippy lines along with Bette Davis and George Sanders, hoping and fearing that the neighbors were watching me. Hey, what did I care? At 32, I can see that parts of my life work perfectly, while others still remain closed for maintenance. But I was 32, and I looked 32. I looked it five years ago, and I’ll look it 20 years from now – I was having a ball!

Wine, bread, cheese, sun, Seattle, Davis. I glanced around at the moment where life had taken me, and that afternoon, there was no contest in either category – I was devouring life’s greatest meal while listening to life’s greatest film, and suddenly I felt a laugh on deck. I laughed at my determination to make All About Eve a part of my vacation. I laughed at the young Marilyn Monroe who must have been terrified of the domineering Bette Davis. I laughed at how Bette Davis must have loved terrifying Marilyn Monroe. I laughed at all the scenes I had the ability to visualize, Eve and others. I laughed at my laughter, for I had enjoyed only two glasses of wine on a stomach filled with carbs and dairy. I couldn’t say with certainly whether the bottle was half empty or half full, but I laughed until I cried . . . it turns out that neither the giggles nor the tears can remain on deck forever.

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Academy Awards for All About Eve (1951): Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording (2)

Add All About Eve to your queue.

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Everyone’s a winner at Camp So-and-So. With each passing summer, this phrase plagued any sense of healthy competition or social development, and eventually we campers used it only with the snippiest of snippy mocking tones. The dreaded summer day that was devoted completely to team sports found the entire camp divided into three teams. Although the team that accumulated the most points throughout the blistering day was declared the winner, the two other teams were awarded titles along the lines of “most spirit” or “most creative outfits” or “least amount of whining.” But what can you expect when you’re dealing with a group of children who moan and groan because one day each summer, they’re forced to go on a day-hike? Now, I treasure absolutely nothing in the way that I treasure my camp memories . . . but good gravy; we were a bunch of spoiled brats who got our way every time, winning even when we lost.

Long ago the beginning of the year evolved into so much more than simply “Academy Award” season. Last year was the first time I ever gave voice to the thought, “Even with Billy Crystal and a win for Meryl Streep, this show is boring and predictable.” Those of us who enjoy tracking the ins and outs of the film industry try to keep up with the Oscars, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Golden Globes, the Satellite Awards, the Least Whining During Production . . . you see where I’m going with this.

Perhaps it’s just a side effect of youth, but I used to count down the days until the Academy Awards. In my excitement I would research Oscar winners of the past and try to establish any kind of pattern that would allow me to predict an upcoming outcome. I’m still baffled by how poorly I did on tests in high school, when I could memorize lists of Oscar-winning names and years with very little effort. Today I look back on the winners of many moons ago and wonder who can give me goose bumps like Bogie’s Charlie Allnut, Liza’s Sally Bowles, or . . . c’mon, you know I’d bring her up eventually . . . Hepburn’s Queen Eleanor?

The goose bumps of today may not be quite as bumpy, but still every year we fasten our seat belts in anticipation, hoping for a night of turbulence.

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“Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart;
you can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”

Margo Channing

Tonight
I opened my fortune cookie in the dark
My eyes, grander than most, waited to adjust
To words that never appeared

I act
I act and I perform
And they remember my eyes
That see dark fortunes and futures and victories
Maudlin and full of self-pity
Magnificent, he called me
They witness the destruction of myself
Punishing my body for its age
Aged in Wood

The futures all surrounded me tonight
Snakes at home in the grass of the theatre
As talentless beauty still succeeds
Girls of material and ambition
Blonde and ageless
Evil in their love
Evil…
Eve…

“Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night.”

I still remember…

The flawless line of a playwright
Dead for 300 years
Tonight a situation pregnant with possibilities
And all he could think of is everybody
Go to bed

They’ll rest
That material girls
Try to learn so adamantly
For the sphere of the stage
My stage

And Eve
I creak as I bow yet
She hands me weights
Wrapped in well-wishes
They too read their
Fortunes in the dark

“Lovers, to bed, ’tis almost fairy time”

I still
Remember…

Slow

Curtain

The
End

Academy Awards for All About Eve (1951): Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording (2)

Add All About Eve to your queue.

In the darkness two white lights travel slowly up the three black screens on stage. The sound of a single click-and-flash of the paparazzi is joined by a second, then a third, as together male and female models trickle on to the stage. Each is in a black-and-white outfit that suits his or her body to perfection, regardless of the gender for which the outfit may have been intended. As the two white lights brighten and merge into one before splitting again, a platform emerges above the models, delivering unto us once again a woman with a redesigned but very familiar pointed bust. Once again she demanded to know, “What are you lookin’ at?”

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted.”
— Margo Channing, All About Eve (1950)

In November of 2008, I saw Madonna perform “Vogue” live for the first time, and for a brief moment, Bette Davis stole her thunder. At that time I had just begun my journey into classic films and was working my way through each of Bette’s 11 Academy Award-nominated roles. As Madonna strutted down her catwalk and away from the audience, reciting all those names that I was beginning to know quite well, I could feel my voice was already beginning to go. Her back was to us all the way through this wonderful roll call, but suddenly she turned around and pointed (right at me, I know it!), as she said “Bette Davis, we love you.” And still, somehow, the night continued to improve.

I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy? I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure, and I damn near died of windburn . . . but the troops were dazzled.”
— Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968)

An early week in October of 2012 brought Madonna back to me, as it did the loss of control I have over the majority of my body when I see her. The Masculine/Feminine portion of the show began with a performance of “Vogue,” and this time for me, it was all about Hepburn. When she got to the name-dropping that starts with Greta Garbo and Monroe (two other loves of mine, not to be sniffed at!), I felt a “hurry up and get to Katharine!” rise up in that old soul of mine. Dash it all, I couldn’t wait to say Katharine Hepburn’s name along with . . . yes WITH . . . Madonna. Right there between Lauren and Lana too was my beloved Katharine, whose name came out of me in one respectful syllable. Up went my hands, with or without the go-ahead from my brain; I watched my arms do their thing as both Hepburn and Madonna took complete control, as they tend to do.

Am I too much sometimes?

Nope, I’m just lucky that something as simple as hearing a first name can fill me with an unbelievable, lose-control-of-myself sense of joy; a joy that most of us don’t feel often enough. May you all have equal luck and know a place where you can get away . . .

During the second season of the television show Soap (1978), Chester Tate, played by Robert Mandan, surprises everyone by waking up after undergoing an experimental brain operation. To test his memory, Chester’s doctor asks him if can remember who he is, aided with a mirror that his wife puts in front of him. “Oh my god — I’m Gunga Din,” he blurts out, examining his turban-like bandaging. When the doctor tells his patient that he is, in fact, not Gunga Din, Chester turns his chin up to the mirror and confirms, “Then I’m Gloria Swanson.” Around the age of five or six years old, this was my first exposure to the madness that is the character of Norma Desmond and the masterpiece that is Sunset Boulevard.

While some films may take a few minutes to get off the runway, the opening of Sunset Boulevard — a title that I, for some reason, refuse to abbreviate with a “Blvd.” — had no trouble hooking me in the first two minutes. It’s in these couple of minutes that we see a dead body floating facedown in the pool of an old Hollywood mansion. But it wasn’t the body that strapped me to my chair; it was the angle of the magnificent shot. I’m guessing it was tricky and clever (a lovely combo) for the 1950s — the camera appears to be filming from the bottom of the pool, causing the audience to look up at the body and the blurred people standing around the pool’s edge. With William Holden’s voiceover to guide us, he takes us back about six months to let us in on how and why that body finally got the pool it always wanted.

If you’re sure that your knowledge of this remarkable film is limited to knowing only that it exists, there’s a good chance you know more than you think. Frequently called upon throughout my life to perform parts of movies for others, I grew increasingly frustrated when people misquoted movie lines. As I’ve aged (maybe not “matured,” but aged), I’ve come to realize that the frustration had more to do with my being asked to perform — let me quote the movie lines when I’m good and ready, would ya please? That said, if this blog does nothing else for the world, I hope it lends a hand with correcting an absolutely delicious line that’s been misquoted for 60 years. If you hear the words “close-up” and “Mr. DeMille,” hopefully some form of Norma Desmond’s famous words spring to mind. Without giving away the plot to those who have not experienced Sunset Boulevard, Miss Gloria Swanson, who plays Norma, ends the film with “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” And good gravy, she wasn’t kidding!

“I am big — it’s the pictures that got small.” So tells Norma Desmond to Joe Gillis (played by Mr. William Holden) when they first meet at the beginning of the film. Miss Gloria Swanson’s portrayal of Norma, a silent film star whose career has all but faded away, is absolutely one of my all-time favorite performances. Determined to work again, Norma employs Joe to help her develop a script she has written, a script her delusional mind believes Cecil B. DeMille will jump at to direct. The first time I was old enough to understand the film (not just quote it), I remember spiraling into that universe of make-believe right along with Norma; one she creates for herself during a 30-year span of not knowing what to do with the remaining years. Escaping into a world in which Norma defines for herself what “classic film” should mean is an escape I can certainly understand! During a viewing of her own silent films, Norma rants about how the industry has changed with the addition of sound. “We didn’t need dialogue; we had faces,” she tells Joe before jumping up and swearing that she’ll be on that screen once again; that screen she was more than happy to criticize moments earlier.

Although Sunset Boulevard is told from Joe’s point of view, I never really find myself tagging along with him through the movie. I like Mr. William Holden, and I enjoy a number of his other films, but he was never really one of my favorite actors. My first exposure to him was on the episode of I Love Lucy (1955) when he gets a face full of pie moments after Lucy, Fred, and Ethel arrive at the Brown Derby (by the way, the Brown Derby restaurant chain was started by one of Gloria Swanson’s husbands — I love when my world comes full circle like that!). Rather than identify with Joe, I’m much more fascinated by the voice, mind, eyebrows, and wardrobe of Norma Desmond, who, in the capable hands of Miss Swanson, steals the entire movie. I always enjoy a little game of “what if” when it comes to film, so I find it amusing to hear that Mae West and Mary Pickford were considered for the role of Norma . . . wise choice, Paramount! The casting of Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s devoted butler is also an interesting part of the film’s history — 20 years before Sunset Boulevard, Mr. von Stroheim directed the film Queen Kelly (1929) which stared a then 30-year-old Miss Gloria Swanson. There’s that full circle again!

The wonderful problem I run into when writing about Sunset Boulevard is that there’s just too much to say. With all the cameos (Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, and Buster Keaton, to name a few), a bitter view of Hollywood (Louis B. Mayer supposedly asked Billy Wilder “How could you do this?”), and Edith Head’s costume design, I could go on for pages, just as many have! Schwab’s drug store makes a few appearances, with its wonderful old sign advertising “Breakfast, Luncheon, and Dinner” that never fails to tickle me. The always hardworking cigarette finds itself a new costume in the form of a holder that looks like a bent paperclip. Wound tightly around Miss Swanson’s finger, it’s one of the many accessories that positively made for Norma Desmond. As I venture deeper into the world of classic films, the names on the opening credits become more and more familiar. Aside from the credits themselves (my favorite is “Gowns by” so-and-so), the one name I really started to notice was Edith Head, who seemed to contribute to the costumes of every movie I watch. A woman I know little about (but will soon learn more), I always consider seeing Miss Head’s name to be a good sign, if my eye happens to catch it.

And then we come to the Academy Awards. If I were casting an Oscar ballot in 1951, I think I would have had a panic attack . . . and aside from the horrifying times I’m inside an IKEA, I don’t get panic attacks. A year that put the sensational Sunset Boulevard against the phenomenal All About Eve is a part of film history that makes my head explode. Norma Desmond and Miss Bette Davis’s aging theatre star Margo Channing are tied for second place on my list of all-time greatest performances by an actress. Just to keep you on your toes and hopefully faithful to my beloved blog, I’ll soon reveal who reigns supreme in the number-one spot. In addition to Best Actress in a Leading Role (which was awarded to Miss Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, a wonderful performance), the films competed in a number of categories, including Best Picture. As much as I love Sunset Boulevard, I’m happy that the Academy handed the Best Picture Oscar to All About Eve. Apples, oranges . . . it’s all wonderfully delicious dried fruit!

 

Academy Awards for Sunset Boulevard (1951): Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

 

My Oscar Time Machine: I would have called Best Actress in a Leading Role a tie between Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis for All About Eve. Miss Judy Holliday is hilarious in Born Yesterday, and any other year, I would have been thrilled to see her take home the gold. But in 1951, my apologies to the talented Miss Holliday, I’m going to need that Oscar back.

Add it to your queue.