The other day I was at my doctor’s office and her assistant noticed I had a book in my hand. “Oh, what are you reading?” she asked making conversation. I told her it was a biography about Thelma Todd. She gave me a blank stare that easily said, who? I explained that Todd was an actress back in the 1920’s and 1930’s who worked with the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy. My answer seemed to satisfy her and we went back to my examination business. This seems to sum up what most people remember, if at all, about Thelma Todd. That and the fact her death, more than eighty years ago, remains one of Hollywood’s most interesting unsolved cases. Continue reading
If you have not read part one of my interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of the new biography Lee Marvin: Point Blank, just click right here and you would be directed right to it. The book is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and bookstores everywhere. In part two we discuss “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Killers,” Robert Aldrich, Angie Dickinson, The Inglorious Bastard Sons Lee Marvin and much more.
John: Let’s jump over to John Wayne. They made three films together; two of course were with John Ford. How did they get along?
Dwayne: Oh, they got along very good, they liked each other. In terms of their persona and screen chemistry, Lee Marvin’s first wife told me something great. That if you watch them on screen, “they both do what they do, they have their own thing, but,” she said, “John Wayne was like a big old bear, the way he appeared on screen, and the way he acted. Lee was more like a panther; he was sleek, he could pounce on a moment’s notice with coiled energy and with that in mind they kind of danced around each other and they had that great chemistry.” I like that image of them, one’s a bear and one’s a panther. They got along great. They really liked each other. There’s a story that didn’t make it into the book that I can tell you real quick. This was told to me by Kennan Wynn’s son, Ned Wynn or Tracy Wynn, I don’t remember which one because I interviewed them both. Anyway, Kennan Wynn was Lee Marvin’s best friend. When he was between films and not having a project lined up; he would drink and he and Kennan Wynn were drinking buddies. I believe it was Tracy who told me that that generation of men were pretty tough and he said, “John Wayne was probably the toughest of them all. My father and Lee got drunk and went down to Mexico and partied on John Wayne’s yacht and John Wayne took it to a point and then said, ‘that’s it’ and threw them off the yacht and into the Gulf of Mexico.” He only took crap from them up to a point. Continue reading
According to biographer Dwayne Epstein, Lee Marvin made it possible for future action stars like Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood to blast their way on to the screen. It was Marvin who brought the level of violence to a new and realistic level that had never been seen before. Think Vince Stone in “The Big Heat” when he tosses a hot pot of boiling coffee into Gloria Grahame’s face. Oh sure, there was screen violence before, Paul Muni machine gunning his way to the top of the crime world in “Scarface” and Cagney blasting his way through “The Public Enemy,” famously smashing a grapefruit in Mae Clark’s face. But Lee Marvin made it look real and dangerous, it was never fun.
I recently had the opportunity via telephone to interview Mr. Epstein, author of the new Lee Marvin biography “Lee Marvin: Point Blank.” The interview was conducted on March 5th. As you read you will see Mr. Epstein is admittedly a big fan. That said the book is a well balanced look, both public and private, at the rugged actor and World War II Marine veteran. His filmography reads like a list of essentials. A partial list includes “Bad Day at Black Rock,” The Big Heat,” “The Wild One,” “Attack,” “Violent Saturday,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Killers,” “Cat Ballou,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Professionals,” “Point Blank” and “The Big Red One” among many others. Continue reading
David Koenig’s new book Danny Kaye:King of Jesters is the first full scale backstage look and critical analysis of Danny Kaye’s life and career. A multi talented performer, Koenig devotes individual chapters to each area of Kaye’s career from his early days in the Catskills to his later work on stage, radio, TV and in movies. Koenig gives full detailed accounts, many directly from those who knew and worked with Kaye, along with backstage stories on the making of his greatest roles including “The Court Jester,” “White Christmas” and many others.
Koenig’s also looks at Kaye’s relationship, both private and professional, with his wife Sylvia Fine who wrote many of Kaye’s best known songs (Pavlova, Anatole of Paris) as well his lifelong commitment as an Ambassador for UNICEF.
Those looking for a detailed biography might be disappointed but that was not the author’s intent. Instead Koenig shines a light on the many talents of an almost forgotten Hollywood figure today. Comedian, singer, dramatic actor, dancer, mimic and orchestra leader unique for his rapid fire ability to speak and sing wordy twisted dialogue and lyrics.
David Koenig is the author of such best sellers as “Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland,” “Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks,” and “Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World.” David is also the chief editor for the business journal “The Merchant Magazine.” Continue reading
This interview originally appeared as a contribution to The Lady Eve’s Reel Life marathon, A MONTH OF VERTIGO which for any Hitchcock admirer is a must to check out. Just click right here! The month-long event had a spectacular list of contributors from such writers as Steven DeRosa author of WRITING WITH HITCHCOCK and Dan Auiler author of VERTIGO: THE MAKING OF A HITCHCOCK CLASSIC. In addition there are a whole list of contributions from some very fine bloggers covering just about every aspect of the film.
Biographer Patrick McGilligan, author of Alfred-Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light graciously agreed to answer some questions I posed on this Hitchcock masterpiece. This is my second interview with Patrick. We previously discussed his latest book, Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director. You can read that interview by clicking here.
Finally, I want to congratulate Lady Eve on a spectacular job with A MONTH OF VERTIGO, an event I was proud to be part of. Continue reading
This is part two of my conversation with author Peter L. Winkler whose new book, “Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel” is now available. The book brings you inside the world of one of cinema’s most beguiling characters. For part one of this interview click here.
John: And that leads to “The Last Movie” which I guess there could have been a good movie there, I have not seen it, but it seems to be just a film where Hopper was just out of control. I know it won an award at the Venice Film Festival but it just got ravaged by every critic at the time.
Peter: Dear reader, I have suffered for you, you need not suffer, I have seen the film three times so you don’t have to!
Peter: Universal actually put out a VHS video tape of “The Last Movie” in 1993, unfortunately, not letterboxed but panned and scanned. You can find used copies at Amazon.com if you’re interested. The movie’s flaws were not the result of Hopper’s alcohol and drug consumption. The script for “The Last Movie” was written in 1965 by Hopper’s friend, Stewart Stern, based on an idea Hopper had. It was going to be Hopper’s first directorial effort before “Easy Rider,” but in 1965 nobody was interested in anything Hopper had to say or offer as a project. As he said, “I was looked on as a maniac and an idiot and a fool and a drunkard,” so it had to wait until after “Easy Rider.” After “Easy Rider,” Hopper had the clout to get the film made. As long as he stayed on schedule and within the budget, Universal Pictures gave Hopper creative carte blanche. He even had control over the final cut. Away from Hollywood, away from any executive supervision, Hopper was able to do what he planned to do on “Easy Rider” but wasn’t allowed to. He went down to Peru and the first thing he did was practically throw away Stern’s script. Hopper improvised the film’s action and dialogue on location. Hopper came to the set every day, the script suggested some ideas, from that he would come up with his own. If something occurred to him on the spot they would shoot it. But I don’t think there was, surprisingly, a lack of discipline, because the movie was shot in about three months, and it was made within budget, which was about $850,000. I don’t think Hopper’s creative decisions were adversely affected by his drug intake. Brooke Hayward said, “Dennis is a demonic artist, like Rimbaud. Nothing matters but his work.” Paul Lewis, who produced “The Last Movie,” said, “We weren’t doing anything that interfered with what we thought was our work. So, like, you know, it was always the work. The work was the most important thing, and the drugs and the alcohol and all those things are secondary to it.” Hopper made exactly the film he wanted to make. Hopper improvised and gave the film a non-linear structure in the editing room, along with cinematic devices like starting the film with a countdown leader and inserting title cards saying “Scene Missing,” which rubbed the viewer’s nose in the fact that it’s a movie, everything’s artificial, nothing in a film is real, you’re watching actors, you’re not watching characters, which of course robs the viewer of any sense of involvement with the characters in the film. This was the one film he directed where he got to do exactly what he wanted to do. If the film is ever released on DVD, it should be of interest to people who are interested in Hopper’s career because here, if you will, is the pure Hopper. Continue reading
Peter L. Winkler’s new biography, “Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel” is just that, a wild, informative, thrilling, readable ride of an iconic life that was constantly evolving. The book is as colorful as its subject. Peter is a film historian who has written for a variety of publications, including Cinefan, Filmfax, Crimemagazine.com, Playboy, and Video Theater. This is Part One of our phone conversation that took place on October 12th.
John: Is this your first book?
Peter: Yes, it is.
John: Would you tell us a little about your professional background?
Peter: I attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1974–1978. I graduated in 1978, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in History with academic honors. Then I entered law school, the last refuge for liberal arts majors who don’t know what to do next. The rheumatoid arthritis that afflicted when I was nine years old became much worse, and I was stricken with secondary Sjogren’s Syndrome, which became disabling. I didn’t practice law. I didn’t do much of anything, so I figured, well, you know, I was always a good academic writer, so I thought maybe I had what it took to be a professional writer. I purchased my first computer in 1985, a laptop; I’ve owned nothing but laptops, because it’s hard for me to sit at desks for long periods. I sold the first article I wrote, which was good beginners luck.
John: So you did all your own research?
Paul: I did my own research. I did everything except crank the printing press and bind the pages. I wrote my own dusk jacket copy, procured the blurbs, I did it all, and here it is!
John: What made you decide on or should I say select Dennis Hopper as a subject?
Peter: You interviewed Patrick McGilligan, who blurbed my book. In 1997 he gave an interview to a website called Beatrice, which has a lot of very good author interviews archived there, and they asked him the same question. What draws you to a certain subject and he said, “The honest answer is always the contract. There’s a dishonest answer: ‘The subject is personally fascinating and has a deep personal subtext for me . . .’ ” After striking out with a book proposal for a biography of actor Nick Adams, I decided next time out, I am going to find a biographical subject where lack of name recognition is certainly not a problem. Dennis Hopper is an iconic or near iconic figure in film and there should be no problem there. He led a very rich and eventful life which was quite colorful. He was quite the character himself. So I figure it was something I could probably sell, it’s marketable, and it turned out that it was, of course. Continue reading