The Real James Dean – Book Review & Interview with Ed. Peter L. Winkler

 

The Real James Dean Book Cover   Released earlier this month, The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best is a collection of previously published articles written by Dean’s family, friends, co-workers and professional contemporaries, in other words, by those who really knew the rebel icon. Many of the articles have been unavailable since they were first published, some as far back as more than sixty years ago. They cover his entire short life from his childhood days in Indiana until his untimely death on September 30, 1955 at the age of twenty-four. Edited by Peter. L. Winkler (Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel)  the book reveals an individual of complexity, admired by some and despised by others, but always fascinating. Continue reading

Author Jacqueline T. Lynch Reviews My E-Book “Lessons in the Dark”

Lessons in the Dark Cover-Small-003Jacqueline Lynch, author Ann Blyth: Actress, Singer, Star and many other books, as well an ace blogger at Another Old Movie Blog reviewed my book, Lessons in the Dark. There is also an interview. Check it out at the link below.

http://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2016/06/lessons-in-dark-by-john-greco.html

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Book Review: The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks

King   Except for his best friend, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks was the biggest and best known superstar of silent films. He basically established the swashbuckler sub-genre with films like The Mark of Zorro, The Thief of Bagdad, The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood. Before Errol Flynn, before Tyrone Power ever picked up a sword, Fairbanks and his acrobatic style brought new adventures and thrills to early film audiences. Continue reading

Book Review: Woody Allen: Reel to Real

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Woody Allen: Reel to Real is a new e-book from Take2 Publishing. Written by Alex Sheremet, the author examines, in-depth, the Woodsman’s complete film career, right from its earliest days to the present. He examines, not only  Woody’s directed films, but those he had a role in as an actor. The book is the most far-reaching analysis of Allen’s career so far. Continue reading

Book Review: The Strange Birth, Short Life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl

justicegirl The Hollywood Blacklist was at its height in the mid-50’s. Writers, directors and actors were all scrutinized for any sign of “un-American” activity, real or imagined. It was a dark time when people could not talk freely, express a point of view, living in fear that they could lose their livelihood. Julian David Stone’s new novel, “The Strange Birth, Short life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl” takes us back to those dark days in a wild ride that is both frightening and funny.

The time is 1955, live TV is the order of the day and the center of it all is in New York. TV writer Jonny Dirby is about to be fired by the network because he won’t sign a loyalty oath and is quickly branded a commie. As a final act of revenge against the network he writes a last minute new character into the script that he believes will ruin the show he use to work on. But it backfires and instead ignites an explosion of audience excitement giving birth to  super heroine Justice Girl, a sort of female version of Superman.

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Book Review: My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles

orson1Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall of a brilliant conversationalist, a raconteur, an artist who freely speaks out on just about everyone and everything in his world? That’s just what readers of the new book, My Lunches with Orson: Conversation Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, get to do. Yes, it’s the OrsonWelles, the man who made what many consider the greatest film ever made. Welles, of course, was also a respected actor, though he sold his services in many bad films for the money to make his own. Welles also indulged in pushing second rate products in ads like Paul Masson wine and would pop up on talk shows every other week. He was a man of taste and contradiction.

The book compiles a series of conversations recorded during the last years of Welles fascinating life. The original tapes remained “lost” for years until editor, Peter Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; Down and Dirty Pictures), urged independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom to have them transcribed.  What’s revealed is a fascinating, paradox study of a cinematic genius who knew even in his final years that he was better and brighter than just about anyone else in town. Continue reading

Book Review: The Best Film You’ve Never Seen

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I have always had a thing for reading interviews with artists whether they are writers, painters, photographers, actors or filmmakers. Over the years, there has been a long list of interview books with filmmakers I have indulged in. One of the first was Joseph Gelmis’ “The Film Director as Superstar.” Since then there have been plenty others, “The Directors Event,” The Celluloid Muse,” Andrew Sarris’ “Interview with Film Directors” and Leonard Maltin’s “The Art of the Cinematographer” to name a few.  Add to this Robert K. Elder’s “The Best Film You’ve Never Seen” where the author/interviewer gives 35 film directors the opportunity to rave on about forgotten gems that influenced them as filmmakers. While I may not agree all these films are forgotten (Sweet Charity?), on the whole, the selections are intriguing. Even when the films themselves are not very good, the directors enthusiasm and descriptive explanations make you want to give them another look. A telling example is Jonathan Levine’s choice of “Can’t Stop the Music.” Levine, director of “50/50” and “Warm Bodies,” explains, “it’s like, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ if you replaced the talented musician’s with the Village People and a coherent script with this movie.” Levine’s fondness for the film comes through clearly despite his knowing, and the readers, that this film is not going to give “Vertigo” a run for the top spot on Sight and Sound’s next list of best films of all time. Continue reading

Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel

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    Hal Ashby fought the Hollywood system and throughout the 1970’s he won. At the top of his career with films like “The Last Detail”, “Harold and Maude”, “Bound for Glory”, “Shampoo”, “Coming Home” and the decade ending “Being There.” Ashby was one the most prolific and best directors of the ‘70’s then came the 1980’s and a downward spiral that lasted until his death in December 1988.  What happened? Well, on the surface, Ashby, Hollywood’s hippie director, known to smoke a lot of weed and use cocaine on occasion could easily be classified as another drug burn out. Most people seem to think that is what happened and the studios pretty much encouraged that line of thinking. After reading Nick Dawson’s recent biography “Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel”, you come away with the conclusion that yeah, Ashby used drugs but he was not a cocaine addicted druggie and drugs never got in the way of his work.  He was a consummate professional who lived, breathed, and died for his films. More so than his five ex-wives, and one child who he never could bring himself to know, Hal Ashby’s films were his family. 

 175957.1010.A   Ashby’s early life was marked by the suicide of his father, which he could never confront and would haunt him for the rest of his life. He would become the father that was not there and he buried himself in his work. Dawson details his years of apprenticeship as an assistant film editor working which such greats as William Wyler and George Stevens both who he came to admire and wanted to emulate. His big break came when he began working with Norman Jewison who became his mentor and good friend. It was Jewison who gave Hal his first break as a director with “The Landlord”, a film that would give him his film identify, as a purveyor of protagonists who were outsiders. It was 1970 and it was his decade. The cult classic “Harold and Maude” followed and then came “The Last Detail” with Jack Nicholson and more uses of the “F” word than anyone had heard before on screen. Ironically, of all the films he made in the 1970’s, his biggest hit, “Shampoo” was the one film of the decade that did not reflect his personality. It was the first time Ashby felt like a hired gun. The film was the brainchild of Warren Beatty and screenwriter/director Robert Towne, two strong personalities who would force their way into getting the film made with their vision. They were the big Hollywood guns and had the power. For Ashby, it was an artistic set back; still he had plenty of glory ahead with his next few films.panel-6

     Ashby did not trust the moneymen, the suits but for the next few years, he would work well with the ones he met like Jerome Hellman who produced “Coming Home.”  After making the film version of “Being There” in 1979, this would all change. Ashby’s work in the 1980’s took a spiraling fall downward, a combination of bad decisions and bad bosses.  Films like “Lookin’ to Get Out”, which he did as a favor to Jon Voight  and “Second-Hand Hearts” were plagued by  bad scripts and Ashby’s relenting drive to continuously edit and re-editing the films trying to find a way to make it work. Overrun budgets, unfriendly executives, bad mouthing, and multiple projects put into turnaround all contributed to his decline.  Ashby found himself with less and less control. The suits were running the insane asylum. With the “The Slugger’s Wife” one of Neil Simon’s worst scripts producer Ray Stark enforced Simon’s contract that his script could not be changed, unless Simon rewrote which he continuously did during the production. Ashby, who liked to have his actors improvise, found this stifling, unfortunately, he had no recourse; after all, this was Neil Simon. It seemed like an unlikely, pairing Ashby and Broadway Neil Simon, and best said this is one film to avoid.  His films were book ended by Bridges, Beau and Jeff.  Beau starred in his first directorial effort and brother Jeff worked on his last feature “8 Million Ways to Die.”

    To the end of his life, Hal Ashby reciprocated what Norman Jewison did for him by becoming a mentor to young new talent, and lived a life where his films were everything. To the very end, his philosophy was “never sell out.”

Spellbound by Beauty

   spellbound-by                                                                                                               Donald Spoto’s new biography of Alfred Hitchcock, “Spellbound by Beauty” is his third and final book on the subject of the director. Spoto’s first book “The Art of Alfred Hitchcock” published in 1976 focused on Hitchcock’s films. In 1983, after his death Spoto came out with a more in-depth biography, “The Dark Side of Genius” that focused on not only his work but his odd personal life as well. This time around, Spoto zooms in on Hitchcock and his strange working relationships and obsessions with the actresses in his films.

    The dark side of Alfred Hitchcock gets a lot darker here, as Spoto reveals a man who is consumed with self-dislikes that translated into strange, sexually repressed love-hate relationships with his leading ladies. Spoto shows us a man with a proclivity for telling dirty and embarrassing stories to his leading ladies, sometimes even attempting to force himself, sexually, though unsuccessfully on them.  He also, depending on his attraction or lack of attraction to them, could be bored and totally ignore them especially if they were pushed upon him by a producer, such as Anne Baxter was in “I Confess” by Jack Warner.

.  Toward the end of his career, he seems to have become even more unhinged and obsessed. While many of the stories are unsettling, the most painful is Hitchcock’s obsession, and there is no other word for it, with Tippi Hedren who he signed to a seven-year contract and literarily tortured during the filming of “The Birds.” Hedren spent a week being pecked on by hundreds of real birds until she just could not take it anymore. Additionally, she was subject to constant sexual harassment from Sir Alfred. One of Hitchcock’s close associates Peggy Robertson told Hedren after his death that he never got over his crush on her.         

    To his credit, Spoto spends a good portion of the book not only on Hitchcock but also on telling us the leading ladies stories as well. He includes the most famous of Hitchcock heroines such as Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman as well as the almost forgotten like Nova Pilbeam.  Many of the women have since told of their experiences working with Sir Alfred and from what is said, he seemed to enjoy forcing these schoolboy inflictions of dirty jokes and embarrassing stories on many of them including Grace Kelly who responded to him that she heard worst at boarding school. Madeline Carroll in “The 39 Steps” endured being left handcuffed to Robert Donat long after the cameras stopped rolling as a taste of Hitchcock’s sadistic humor. 

    normal_a12072753902On the other hand, he had a friendship that lasted long after the film ended with Ingrid Bergman who, like Kelly, appeared in three of his works. While he seemed to have a schoolboy crush on Bergman he also respected her and avoided his usual  pranks or crude behavior that he reserved for some of the less powerful actresses who did not have the strength or influence to fight back. Anne Baxter says that the director made her feel unattractive and forced her to dye her hair to a more acceptable blonde color more fitting the Hitchcock heroine.

    The book also enlightens those of us not already aware of Hitchcock’s cinematic obsessions that continually play out in his films, like sex, strangulation, voyeurism, murder, and bondage.  The victims or the ones in jeopardy are usually the women. He appeared to enjoy “torturing” actresses more than the actors, though in general Hitchcock seemed to see all actors as an annoyance, always being more concerned with the camera than the actors.  Hitchcock comes across as egotistical, sexually repressed, crude, unhappy, uncaring and childlike in behavior. Spoto does not justify or condone the filmmaker in anyway.  

    One must also remember this was time before the term sexual harassment was ever heard, or could be considered a legal offense. Actresses like Tippi Hedren, whose career Hitchcock threaten to ruin if she did not have sex with him had no legal recourse. No one would have listened. At most, she would have been told, “that’s the way it is, deal with it.” By the way, she did not sleep with him and he did forestall her career rarely letting her work while under contract.

    For a fan of Hitchcock, as I am, this read was unsettling.  I admire Alfred Hitchcock for his movies and his talent yet realizing the man was a strange troubled figure with, as they say today, many issues.

I’ll Have What She’s Having

                                                                    I have to admit I am a sucker for romantic comedies, so when I saw Daniel M. Kimmel’s new book “I’ll Have What She’s Having” on the self at my local Barnes and Nobles I scooped it up. I am happy to say that Kimmel’s book is an entertaining, breezy and an informative read of fifteen of the best romantic comedies ever made. While you may agree or disagree with all his choices (What no “The Lady Eve”?) , the films he selected all have entertaining back-stories and are all deservedly among the best. Included are “Trouble in Paradise”, “The Shop Around The Corner”, “Adam’s Rib”, “Annie Hall”, “Some Like it Hot”, “There’s Something About Mary” and of course “When Harry Met Sally”, the movie from which the title of the book comes from. Kimmel is a former president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and contributes reviews to the Worcester Telegraph and Gazette. In the book, he gives you an inside look on what inspired the filmmakers as well as relationships, such as Carole Lombard and William Powell during the making of “My Man Godfrey”, how MGM lent Clark Gable to Columbia as punishment when he made “It Happened One Night.” One of my favorite stories is at the funeral of Director Ernest Lubitch where Directors Billy Wilder and William Wyler are leaving the services and Wilder remarks “No more Lubitch” and Wyler replies, “Worst yet, no more Lubitch movies.” 

    The making of “Sabrina” is a good example of how people can hate each other and still make a terrific film. Apparently, Humphrey Bogart disliked his co-stars, William Holden and Audrey Hepburn and he had problems with director Billy Wilder during the making of the film.  In case you were wondering Holden and Hepburn mutually disliked Bogart too. Some stories are not new and have been told before. It is pretty well know of the many problems that existed on the set of “Some Like it Hot.” Marilyn Monroe’s lateness and forgetfulness forcing Billy Wilder to favor takes of Monroe to the detriment of Jack Lemmon and especially Tony Curtis. Wilder was forced to film in black and white so that Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis would look more realistic as woman. However, there are plenty of newer stories that I, for one, were not familiar with. I found especially, enjoyable the backstories on “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally…..”  Especially, interesting is the story concerning the fake orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally….” which is worth the price of the book. All in all this is an enjoyable, informative and entertaining read.

   

    Thought I list my favorite romantic comedies (a baker’s dozen) in no particular order. There are plenty of runner-ups that I could mention, and of course, there are films I have yet to see like “The Philadelphia Story” for one, so the list, as most lists should be is not permanent and is always subject to change.

 

Some Like it Hot

The Lady Eve

Annie Hall

Manhattan

Adam’s Rib

When Harry Met Sally

The Thin Man (I know this is not really a romantic comedy but the chemistry between Powell and Loy is amazing and there is a lot of humor.)

As Good as Gets

There’s Something About Mary

The Apartment (Probably not thought of as a romantic comedy however, the relationship between Lemmon and MacLaine is so well done. A smartly written, dark and bittersweet film.)

The Goodbye Girl

It Happened One Night

My Man Godfrey