Tommy Lee Kirk: Film History Series

“Tommy Lee Kirk as Travis Coates”, “Savage Sam”, 1963, Walt Disney Productions, Cinematographer Edward Coleman, Director Norman Tokar

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in December of 1941, Tommy Lee Kirk was an American actor best known for his performances in films produced by Walt Disney Studios. His teen idol status became closely associated with the clean, wholesome product that Disney Studios produced during the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

One of four sons, Tommy Kirk moved at the age of fifteen months with his family to California where they settled in Downey, a city in southeast Los Angeles. In 1954 at the age of thirteen, he  accompanied his older brother Joe to an audition at the Pasadena Playhouse for a role in Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness”. Although Joe was not cast in a role, Tommy Kirk had his stage debut with a role consisting of five lines of dialogue. His small role was seen favorably by a representative from the Gertz Agency of Hollywood who signed him to a contract. 

Kirk made his first television appearance in an episode entitled “The Last of the Old Time Shooting Sheriffs” for the anthology drama series “TV Reader’s Digest”. He appeared in two more Pasadena theater plays and was cast in small roles on other television productions, including  “Gunsmoke” and “The Loretta Young Show”. In August of 1956, Kirk was given a long-term contract by Walt Disney Productions and became a member of the 1955 “The Mickey Mouse Club” television series. He next was cast as Joe Hardy for the Mickey Mouse Club series “The Hardy Boys” and performed in two serials alongside actor Tim Considine who played his older brother Frank Hardy. Broadcasted in that October, the show and Kirk’s performance were well received and led to his long association as a ten idol with the Disney Studio.

Tommy Kirk’s career accelerated with his casting as Travis Coates in the 1957 Disney film “Old Yeller”, an adventure tale of a boy and his heroic dog. Due to the success of his lead role in “Old Yeller”, Kirk became the Disney Studio’s first choice for future American teenager roles. In July of 1958, he was cast in “The Shaggy Dog”, a Disney comedy about a boy inventor who is repeatedly transformed into an Old English Sheepdog. This film, the second highest grossing film of 1959, teamed Kirk with Fred MacMurray, Annette Funicello and Kevin Corcoran, his former co-star from “Old Yeller”. 

With his Disney contract completed, Kirk went to Universal Pictures where he did English dubbing for “The Snow Queen”, a Soviet animated feature. As revenues increased from the screening of “The Shaggy Dog”, Disney Studios resigned Kirk to a long-term studio contract and cast him as the middle son, Ernst Robinson, in its 1960 family adventure film “Swiss Family Robinson”. This family film was followed by a second huge hit, “The Absent-Minded Professor”, a fantasy comedy starring Fred MacMurray as the professor and Kirk as Biff Hawk. Kirk was next cast in several films in which he costarred with actors MacMurray and Jame Wyman in the 1962 “Bon Voyage”, Ed Wynn in the 1961 “Babes in Toyland”, and Annette Funicello in the 1962 “Escapade in Florence”.

In 1963, Tommy Kirk appeared in Disney’s “Son of Flubber”, a sequel to “The Absent-Minded Professor” which became his last film with MacMurray. He next reprised his role as Travis Coates in “Savage Sam”, a sequel to “Old Yeller” which was not as popular as the original film. In 1964, Disney Studios cast Kirk as the student inventor in “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” where he played opposite Funicello. After it became an  unexpected box office sensation, a sequel entitled “The Monkey’s Uncle” was released in July of 1965 which was equally successful.

Kirk knew he was gay from an early age; however, due to the public intolerance at that time towards homosexuality, he felt isolated and believed that the exposure of his sexuality would damage his film career. In 1963 while filming “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones”, Kirk began a relationship with a boy, six years younger, who lived in Burbank. The boy’s mother informed the Disney Studio which fired him from his role in the 1965 John Wayne western “The Sons of Katie Elder”. Out of protection for its interests, the Disney Studios released Kirk from his contract. However due to the financial success of the “Merlin Jones” film, he was allowed to return to make the 1965 sequel “The Monkey’s Uncle”.

The news of Kirk’s termination from Disney Studios was not made public: he joined American International Pictures which needed a leading man to play opposite Annette Funicello in the 1964 “Pajama Party”. From 1964 to 1969, Kirk appeared in several popular teen-oriented films, musical stage productions of “The Music Man” and “West Side Story”, and mediocre sci-fi and beach films. Practically blacklisted by an industry which deemed outed gay actors as box-office poison, Kirk returned to the musical theater in his home state of Kentucky with appearances in such shows as “Hello, Dolly” and “Anything Goes”.

In 1970, Tommy Kirk did two movies that were not Screen Actors Guild productions, “Ride the Hot Wind” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror” which caused him to lose his SAG membership.. While loss of SAG membership does not disqualify someone from acting, most film productions hire only union members, thus limiting the opportunities for an actor to be hired. Depressed and angry, Kirk sought solace in drugs and once nearly died from an overdose. After overcoming his drug addiction, Kirk began a successful carpet-cleaning business in Los Angeles which he ran for twenty years. He continued to act occasionally, appeared in films and documentary interviews for the DVD releases of some of his best known films and TV shows, and occasionally made personal appearances at film festivals and nostalgia convention/memorabilia festivals.

Tommy Kirk came out publicly as gay in a 1973 interview with Marvin Jones that was published in the January 31st edition of Gay Today. He was studying acting at that time with the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute while working in a Los Angeles restaurant. Kirk was inducted as a Disney Legend in October of 2006 alongside his former co-stars Tim Considine and Kevin Corcoran. In 2006, the first of the “Hardy Boys” serials was issued on DVD as part of the Walt Disney Treasures series. Royalties from the sales of the “Hardy Boys” serials provided Kirk an additional income. 

Tommy Lee Kirk died peacefully in his Las Vegas, Nevada, home at the age of seventy-nine on the 28th of September in 2021. His neighbor Beverly Washburn, an “Old Yeller” co-star, notified Kirk’s longtime friend and former Disney actor Paul Peterson, known for his role as the son on “The Donna Reed Show”. Peterson posted notice of Kirk’s death on Facebook mentioning in the message that Kirk’s family had disowned the gay actor.

Top Insert Image: Tommy Kirk, “Old Yeller”, 1957, Film Shot

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine”, 1956, “The Hardy Boys” Series

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk”, Studio Publicity Photo Shoot

Fourth Insert Image: hotographer Unknown, “Tommy Kirk, Pajama Party”, 1964, Film Shoot

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Tommy Kirk and Dorothy Lamour, Pajama Party”, 1964, Studio Photo Shoot

Clifton Webb: Film History Series

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in November of 1889, Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, known professionally as Clifton Webb, was an American actor, dancer and singer. He is known for his roles in films, his Broadway appearances in successful musicals, and for his stage appearances in the plays of English playwright and actor Sir Noël Coward.

Clifton Webb was the only child of Jacob Hollenbeck, a ticket-clerk for the Indianapolis- St. Louis Railroad, and Mabel Parmelee, the daughter of a railroad conductor. In 1891, the couple separated and Mabel took young Webb with her to New York City in 1892. After the divorce was finalized, Mabel married Green B. Raum, Jr., a copper-foundry worker and the son of a former U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue; the new family settled in New York City on West 77th Street. 

Webb, at the age of five, began dancing lessons; two years later, he made his official debut in Carnegie Hall as a member of the Children’s Theater in a performance of Canadian author Palmer Cox’s children series “The Brownies”. This was followed with a vaudeville tour in which Webb appeared in “The Master of Charlton Hall” and performed as Oliver in “Oliver Twist” and as Tom Sawyer in “Huckleberry Finn”. As a young teenager, he studied painting with Realist artist Robert Henri, a pioneer of the Ashcan School, and music with French operatic baritone Victor Maurel. His studies with Maurel led to Webb’s debut in 1906 with Boston’s Aborn Opera Company’s production of Ambroise Thomas’s “Mignon”.

Returning to New York, Clifton Webb teamed with Mae Murray in a ballroom dance act; they toured a chain of vaudeville theaters known as the Keith Circuit and performed in Manhattan restaurants. Webb had his Broadway debut in April of 1913 with the premiere of “The Purple Road” at the Liberty Theater, in which he played the role of Bosco for one hundred-thirty six performances. Between 1913 and 1917, Webb was continually on the Broadway stage and appeared in such vehicles as Sigmund Romberg’s “Dancing Around”, Ned Waybum’s all-star revue “Town Topics” , and Cole Porter’s comic opera “See America First”. 

In 1917, Webb was the sensuous dancing star of “Love O’Mike”, a musical comedy produced by Lee Shubert and Elisabeth Marbury, a theatrical agent who lived in an open relationship with actress and famous interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl. By the middle of the 1920s, Webb was one of Broadway’s highest-paid stars and reached his apex with the 1930 “Three’s a Crowd” and the very successful 1933 “As Thousands Cheered”, which featured the steamy torch song “Moanin’ Low” sung by Webb and actress Libby Holman. 

In 1935, Webb relocated to Hollywood where Metro Goldwyn Mayer, who hoped to make Webb a successful dancing star like RKO’s Fred Astaire, gave him an eighteen-month contract at three-thousand dollars a week. He was to star opposite Joan Crawford in a musical entitled “Elegance”; the picture was abandoned, however, Webb was paid all his money. For the next eighteen months, he was not offered any work but made many high-profile social appearances. He  often appeared wearing white gloves and a top hat, with his mother Mabel on his arm and his poodle Ernest, after Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, trailing behind on a leash.  

In 1938, Clifton Webb returned to New York’s Broadway in “You Never Know”, written by his longtime friend Cole Porter. The stage version of “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, starring the stage and film actor Monty Woolley, premiered in the fall of 1939. Webb was cast as the acidic character Sheridan Whiteside for its touring version, a role in which he remained for eighteen months. In 1941, he played the character Charles Condomine, a successful novelist curious about seances,  in the initial performances of Noël Coward’s comic play “Blithe Spirit”. 

Webb is probably best known today for his many film appearances. In his mid-fifties, he was chosen by director Otto Preminger, despite objections from 20th Century Fox’s Darryl Zanuck who though Webb too effeminate, to play the evil radio columnist Waldo Lydecker in the 1944 film noir “Laura”. Webb’s performance won him wide acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The Fox Studio signed him to a long-term contract, which provided Webb with work for the rest of his career. His first role under contract was as a suave villain in Henry Hathaway’s 1946 film noir “Dark Corner”. This was followed with his role of elitist Elliott Templeton, playing opposite Gene Tieeney, in the 1946 “The Razor’s Edge” for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 

Clifton Webb achieved stardom with his role of Mr. Belvedere, a snide know-it-all babysitter with a mysterious past, in the 1948 comedy film “Sitting Pretty”, based on the 1947 novel “Belvedere” by Gwen Davenport. This role became so popular that it was followed with two sequels: the 1949 box office success “Mr. Belvedere Goes to College” and the 1951 “Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell”.  In 1950, Webb and actress Myrna Loy played the roles of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, the parents of twelve children, in the film “Cheaper by the Dozen” which made Webb one of the biggest stars in the United States. 

In addition to these comedic films, Webb played more serious character roles for 20th Century Fox. He starred in the 1952 Technicolor film biography of bandmaster John Phillip Sousa entitled “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Webb’s most dramatic role was the brave but doomed husband of Barbara Stanwyck’s Julia Sturges in the 1953 “Titanic”, the winner of the 1954 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The following year, he appeared as the novelist John Frederick Shadwell in the romance film “Three Coins in the Fountain”. Webb appeared in the 1956 British war film “The Man Who Never Was”, based on the Allied invasion of Sicily in World War II, and as a sarcastic but self-sacrificing Catholic priest in the 1962 “Satan Never Sleeps”, his final film role. 

Clifton Webb was one of the few gay actors to appear in decidedly heterosexual character roles, most notably the devoted husband who fathered twelve children in “Cheaper by the Dozen”. Obsessively proper, correct and well-mannered, he lived his bachelor life as close to being openly gay as any leading actor in Hollywood could be. Although he lived with his mother until her death in 1960, Webb threw lavish parties and enjoyed the company of young men who gathered poolside at his pink stucco house in Beverly Hills. His friends included many member of the gay circles in the film industry: Noël Coward, Cole Porter, actor Monty Woolley, director George Cukor, stage and costume designer Oliver Messel, film director Irving Rapper, actors William Hanes and Jimmie Shields, among others.

Due to health issues, Webb spent the last five years of his life as a recluse at his home in Beverly Hills. He suffered a fatal heart attack, at the age of seventy-six, at his home on the 13th of October in 1966. He is interred in a crypt in the Abbey of the Psalms at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, alongside his mother. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Webb was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard. An archive of his papers, including typed manuscripts, notes, correspondences, financial records and Webb’s last will and testament, is housed at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

Note: Clifton Webb’s portrayal of the character Mr. Lynn Belvedere was the model for the “Mr. Peabody” character in the animated cartoon series “Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”, which ran from November of 1959 to June of 1964.

Nils Asther: Film History Series

Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, July of 1932, Publicity Shot for Cine-Mundial, A New York-based Spanish Magazine

Born in Copenhagen in January of 1897, Nils Anton Althild Asther was a Swedish gay actor who was active in Hollywood from 1926 until the mid-1950s. He was the son of Anton Andersson Asther and Hildegard Augusta Åkerlund, who had accepted his father’s proposal but was unwed at the time of Nils’s birth. Asther spent his first year as a foster child and rejoined his parents after their marriage on May 29th of 1898 in the city of Malmö. He grew up in a deeply religious Lutheran home, where homosexuality was considered a sin by the church and viewed as a disease by Swedish society.

Nils Asther, still a young man, moved to Stockholm where he studied acting under the tutelage of Swedish silent-film and stage actress Augusta Lindberg. Through the endorsement of his teacher, he received his first theatrical engagement at Lorensbergsteatern, the art performance theater in the city of Gothenburg. Asther performed in several productions in Stockholm which included two plays in 1923, “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “ The Admirable Crichton”, and the 1924 production of “Othello” at the Royal Dramatic Theater. 

In 1916 at the age of nineteen, Asther was cast by the pioneer Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller for his silent film “Vingarne (The Wings)”. This production was based the novel “Mikaël” by the internationally recognized Danish author Herman Bang. It starred silent-film actors Egil Eide, Lars Hanson, and Lill Bech, with Nils Asther in a supporting role. Besides being an early gay-themed film, it is recognized for it innovative use of a framing story, a main narrative which is divided into a set of shorter stories, and for its use of flashbacks as the primary plot source. Although only thirty minutes of its seventy-minute length survived, a 1987 restoration used still photos and title cards to bridge the missing sections. 

Now residing in Copenhagen, Nils Asther received support from actor Aage Hertel, a member of the Royal Danish Theater and a leading actor at Nordisk Film. Between 1918 and 1926, Asther appeared in a number of film roles in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. After being approached by a representative from United Artists, he traveled to Hollywood  where he was given the role of  George Shelby in director Delmer Lord’s “Topsy and Eva”, a 1927 silent drama produced by Feature Productions. By 1928 Asther’s suave appearance placed him in leading roles; he soon played opposite such stars as Marion Davies and Joan Crawford.  

Asther appeared in director Harry Beaumont’s 1928 “Our Dancing Daughters”, a silent drama depicting the dangers of loose morals among the young. The film cast included John Mack Brown and Joan Crawford; it was this film role of Charleston-dancing, Prohibition-era drinking Diana Medford that launched Joan Crawford’s career. Asther was next given the leading role of handsome Prince de Gace, who played opposite Greta Garbo’s role of Lillie Sterling, in director Sidney Franklin’s 1929 drama “Wild Orchids”. Though often listed as a silent film, it was released as a non-talking film with orchestral score, sound effects, and title cards for dialogue. Asther had previously known Garbo in Sweden and would continue to be close friends; they appeared together in a second film of the same year, the MGM romantic drama “The Single Standard”. 

With the arrival of sound in film, Nils Asther began voice and diction lessons to minimize his Nordic accent. Due to his accent, many of his early roles in sound films were characters of foreign origins. Asther appeared with Robert Montgomery and, once again, with Joan Crawford in Clarence Brown’s 1932 drama “Letty Lynton”, which recounts the historical murder allegedly committed by nineteenth-century Glasgow socialite madeleine Smith, played by Crawford. In 1933, he was given the role of General Yen in Frank Capra’s drama war film “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”, where he  played opposite Barbara Stanwyck and, after its premiere, received good reviews for his portrayal.

After an alleged breach of contract led to a studio-based blacklist, Asther was forced to work in England between the years 1935 and 1940. He made six films in England before his return to Hollywood. Upon his return, Asther made nineteen more films before 1949; however, he was mostly given small supporting roles from which his career never returned to its former height. During the early 1950s, Asther attempted to revive his career with appearances on television which was becoming a rapidly growing phenomenon in the United States. Managing only to secure roles in a small number of minor television series, he decided in 1958 to return to Sweden. Asther had four film roles and an engagement with a local theater before 1963, at which time he retired from acting and devoted himself to painting. 

Nils Asther passed away on the 13th of October in 1981, at the age of eighty-four, at the Farsta Hospital in Stockholm. He is buried in the village of Hotagen, located in Jämtland, Sweden. Asther was inducted in 1960 into the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry; his star is located at 6705 Hollywood Boulevard. 

Asther was a gay man in a time when it was both a personal and professional social stigma. Although the film industry in the 1920s accepted gay actors with little reservation, the actors had to remain discreet about their sexual orientation. In August of 1930, Asther entered into a lavender marriage with Vivian Duncan, one of the his costars from the 1927 “Topsy and Eva”. This turbulent marriage produced one daughter and resulted, after much media discussion, in a divorce in 1932. 

Nils Asther’s memoir, “The Road of the Jester: Not a God’s Tale: A Memoir”, was published posthumously in 1988 in Stockholm. In this volume, he mentions relationships he had in the 1930s with director Mauritz Stiller and Swedish author Hjalmar Bergman. Asther also had a long-term relationship with actor and  stuntman Ken DuMain, whom he met on Hollywood Boulevard in the early 1940s. 

Top Insert Image: George Hurrell, “Nils Asther”, circa 1930s, MGM Publicity Still, 25.4 x 33 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther and Greta Garbo”, 1929, MGM Publicity Shot

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, French Postcard by Europe, No. 909, MGM Studio Publicity Shot, Date Unknown

Fourth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, Date Unknown, Publicity Shot, John Kobal Foundation, Getty Images

Bottom Insert Image: George Hurrell, “Nils Asther and Joan Crawford”, 1932, MGM Publicity Shot

Alejandro Amenábar: Film History Series

Photographers Unknown, A Collection of Thirteen Men

Born in Santiago in March of 1972, Alejandro Fernando Amenábar Cantos is a Spanish-Chilean film director, composer, and screenwriter. In August of 1973, his family relocated to Spain where they settled in Madrid, initially living in a camper-van and later moving to a complex in Madrid’s outer neighborhoods. From the age of fifteen, Amenábar was passionate about cinematic art; he also wrote stories and musical compositions for the guitar and keyboard.

Amenábar began his education at The Immaculate Piarist Fathers, a parochial multi-discipline school in Madrid, and later transferred to the secular Alameda de Osuna Institute, one of Madrid’s prominent private schools. After graduating, Amenábar enrolled at the sciences faculty of Madrid’s historic, public research Complutense University where he studied cinema and directing. There he met people who would lend support to his career in cinema including Argentine journalist Carlos Montero, actor Eduardo Noriega and Mateo Gil Rodriguez,  a filmmaker who would co-write most of Amenábar’s films.

In 1991, Alejandro Amenábar released the first of his short films, “La Cabeza (Head)”. The script, based on an urban legend, was written by Mateo Rodriquez and Amenábar, who also composed the musical score in collaboration with Alfredo Alonso. This film earned Amenábar a prize from the Amateur Independent Film Association. His second short film, the 1992  “Himenóptero”, was shot on location at Alameda de Osuna Institute, his former high school. Amenábar wrote the script and music for the horror suspense film, was director and editor, and performed the only male role. (Note: Hymenoptera is a large order of insects which includes wasps, bees, sawflies and ants.)

At the age of twenty-two, Amenábar released his first full-length film, the 1996 “Tésis (Thesis)”, which secured his reputation as one of Spain’s most promising  cinematographers. This film, which commented on the Spanish film industry, Hollywood’s influence on the industry and the voyeurism of the horror genre, was nominated for eight Goya awards, of which it won seven including Best Film. In 1997, Amenábar released the science-fiction based, psychological thriller, “Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)”, which starred Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega. The rights to this movie were later acquired by actor Tom Cruise who directed and starred in the American remake entitled “Vanilla Sky”, with Penelope Cruz playing the same role of the original film.

Alejandro Amenábar followed his success with an English language movie in 2001, entitled “The Others”, a psychological, gothic horror film. Written and directed by Amenábar, the supernatural film relied on tension built during disturbing scenes for its horror rather than the use of special effects. “The Others”, with its film score by Amenábar, was a box-office success and won seven Goya Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. It also won three Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Actress for Nicole Kidman, and Best Supporting Actress for Fionnula Flanagan, who played the housekeeper Bertha Mills.

In 2004, Amenábar had another success with his “Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside)”, based on the true life story of Ramón Sampedro. Paralyzed from the neck down, Sampedro fought a thirty-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity.The film won fourteen Goya Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

In 2008, Amenábar released the historical drama “Agora”. Written by Mateo Gil and Amenábar, the biopic told the life story of Hypatia, the fourth-century female mathematician and astronomer who investigated the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system of the solar system and the heliocentric model that challenged it. Winning seven Goya Awards, the film had limited release in the United States but was Spain’s highest grossing film of 2009.

After a seven year hiatus, Alejandro Amenábar released his psychological horror mystery film “Regression” in 2015. The film premiered at the 2015 San Sebastián International Film Festival. In 2019, he released the Spanish-Argentine historical drama “While at War”, the plot of which tracks the plight of writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in 1936 Salamanca, a city controlled during the Spanish Civil War by the Rebel faction. 

In addition to composing the scores of his own films, he laid the sound tracks for Josè Luis Cuerda’s 1999 coming-of-age film“Butterfly’s Tongue” and Mateo Gil’s 1999 mystery film “Nobody Known Anybody”, among others. 

Top Insert Image: Mateo Gil, “Alejandro Amenábar, Himenóptero”, 1992

Third Insert Image: Javier Aguirresarobe, “Alakina Mann, The Others”, 1992, Written and Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, Warner Brothers

Luchino Visconti: Film History Series

Photographers Unknown, Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Fourteen

Born in Milan in November of 1906, Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo, was an Italian screenwriter, stage director and filmmaker. A major figure in Italian art and culture, he was one of the pioneers of cinematic neorealism, a film movement that explored the conditions of the poor and lower working class, which was shot almost exclusively on location and generally filmed with nonprofessional actors and local people.

One of seven children born into a prominent noble family in Milan, Luchino Visconti grew up in the family seat, the Palazzo di Modrone in Via Cerva, as well as in Grazzano Viconsti Castle, the family estate. Exposed in his early years to music, art and theater,Visconti studied cello with the Italian cellist and composer Lorenzo de Paolis and met the poet and playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio, composer Giacomo Puccini, and the conductor Arturo Toscanini. 

During the second World War, Visconti joined the Italian Communist Party, which he saw as the only viable opponent to Mussolini’s Italian Fascism. After Mussolini’s overthrow and Italy’s armistice in September of 1943 with the Allies, he began working with the Italian resistance and provided his villa in Roma as a meeting place for oppositional artists. After the Germans invaded Italy, Visconti went into hiding in the mountains where he hid English and American prisoners of war after their escapes. He also provided shelter to the resistance fighters in Rome. 

Through the intercession of their common friend Coco Chanel, Luchino Visconti began his filmmaking career as a set dresser on directorJean Renoir’s 1936 short feature “Partie de Campagane”. He also worked with Renoir on the 1941 historical drama “Tosca”, until it was interrupted by the war. Along with film director Roberto Rossellini, Visconti joined the salon of Vittorio Mussolini, who was then Italy’s national arbitrator for cinema and the arts. While with this group of artists, he wrote the screenplay for his first film as director, the 1943 “Ossessione (Obsession)”, one of the first neorealist movies to be made. Visconti, in collaboration with a group of writers, adapted the film from a French version of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” given to him byJean Renoir during the time they worked together in France.

In 1948, Visconti wrote and directed “The Earth Trembles”, an exploration of working-class fishermen in a small village, which was based on Giovanni Verga’s novel “The House by the Medlar Tree”. This film received a Special International Award at the 9th Venice International Film Festival. After filming his 1951 drama film “Bellissima”, a satire of the postwar Italian film industry, Visconti diverted from the neorealist movement with his 1954 melodrama “Senso”, a color film which combined romanticism with realism. He returned to neorealism with his 1960 “Rocco and His Brothers”, a story about Southern Italians who migrate to Milan hoping to find financial stability. This film won Silver Ribbons from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists for Best Director and Screenplay. 

Through the 1960s, Luchino Visconti’s films became more personalized. He felt the conflict between the post-war world of difficult economic and moral conditions, including its poverty and injustice, and his origins from an important and wealthy noble family. He considered himself as belonging to a past world, particularly that of the nineteenth-century. Visconti’s 1963 “The Leopard”, based on author Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel of the same name, depicts the decline of the old social order and its aristocracy and the rise of the new modern world. In his research for the film, he searched through world literature for relevant works to show discrepancies between familial generations and their world views. “The Leopard”, the sixth most popular film of the year in France, won the Palme d’Or at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival.

Visconti’s 1969 “The Damned”, tells the story of a German industrialist’s family which begins to disintegrate during the Nazi’s consolidation of power in the 1930s. It is regarded as the first of Visconti’s films described as “The German Trilogy”; this 1969 film is followed by the 1971 “Death in Venice” and the 1973 “Ludwig”, a biographical film about the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The October opening of “The Damned” in Rome met with critical acclaim; however, it faced controversy from the rating board due to its sexual content, including depictions of homosexuality, pedophilia, rape and incest. Upon its entry to the United States, it was given an X rating, which was only lowered to an R rating after twelve minutes of offending footage were cut. The film won the Italian Film Journalists’ 1970  Silver Ribbon Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Luchino Visconti’s next film was the1971 “Death in Venice”, written by Visconti and screenwriter Nicola Badalucco. Based on Thomas Mann’s 1912 novel of the same name, it tells the story of composer Gustav von Aschenbach, a man dying from heart disease, who travels with his wife to Venice for rest, unaware that the city is in the midst of a cholera epidemic. The composer soon develops an obsession with the beauty of an adolescent Polish boy named Tadzio, who is staying with his family in the same hotel. “Death in Venice” was nominated for several awards: BAFTA Awards for Best Direction and Best Film, and the 1971 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Visconti’s film won both the David di Donatello and the Nastro d’Argento for Best Director. 

Baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic church, Luchino Visconti remained a devout Catholic throughout his life. His first three-year relationship, which started in 1936, with photographer Horst P. Horst remained discreet due legal and social conventions of the time. In his later years, Visconti appeared openly with his lovers, among whom were actor Udo Kier and film director Franco Zeffirelli. His last lover was the Austrian actor Helmut Berger, who played  Martin in “The Damned” and later appeared in Visconti’s 1973 “Ludwig” and the 1974 “Conversation Piece”.

Luchino Visconti, who was also a celebrated theater and opera director,  suffered a stroke in 1972. He died in Rome of a second stroke at the age of sixty-nine in March of 1976.  On the island of Ischia where Visconti had his summer residence, there is a museum dedicated to his work.

Note: An interesting article on the film “The Damned”, including information on its technical production, is Wheeler Winston Dixon’s “Grandeur and Decadence: Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969)” located at: https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2021/cteq/grandeur-and-decadence-luchino-viscontis-the-damned-1969/

Top Insert Image: Horst P. Horst, “Luchino Visconti, Paris”, 1937, Gelatin Silver Print

Second Insert Image: Luchino Visconti, “Rocco and His Brothers”, (Alan Delon and Renato Salvatori), 1960, Astor Pictures

Third Insert Image: Luchino Visconti, “The Damned” (Helmut Berger, Dirk Bogarde and Ingrid Thulin), Ital-Noleggio Cinematografico and Warner Brothers-Seven Arts 1969,

Fourth Insert Image: Mario Tursi, “Luchino Visconti with Björn Andrésen on the Set of “Death in Venice”, 1970, Gelatin Silver Print

Bottom Insert Image: Luchino Visconti, “The Leopard” (Burt Lancaster), 1963, Titanus/ Parthé/ 20th Century Fox

James Whale: Film History Series

Photographers Unknown, I Am Rather the Fallen Angel

“Be calm! I entreat you to hear me before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” 

― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, 1818 

Born in Dudley, a town in the county of Worcestershire, in July of 1889, James Whale was an English actor and film and theater director, best remembered by many for his classic horror films. Known for his use of camera movement, he is credited with being the first director to use a 360-degree panning shot in a feature film.

James Whale was the sixth of seven children born to William Whale, a blast-furnace worker, and his wife Sarah, a nurse. He attended public education until his teenage years. Because the cost of his further education was prohibitive and his labor was needed to support his family, Whale took work as a cobbler. He used his early artistic ability to earn extra money by lettering signs for his neighbors; this additional income paid for classes at the Dudley School of Arts and Crafts located in the West Midlands.

In August of 1914, Whale enlisted into the Inns of Court Regiment of the British Army at the outbreak of the first world war; in July of 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment. Taken prisoner of war in August of 1917 at the battle in  Flanders, Whale was held at the Holzminden Officers’ Camp in Germany and later repatriated at the war’s end to England in December of 1918. After an unsuccessful attempt to find work as a cartoonist in Birmingham, he embarked on a professional stage career in 1919. 

James Whale worked as an actor, set designer, stage manager, and director under the tutelage of director and actor Nigel Playfair at the Lyric Theater in Hammersmith. In 1922, he met stage and costume designer Doris Zinkeisen; they were considered a couple for a period of two years despite Whale’s living as an openly gay man. In 1928, Whale was given the opportunity to direct two private performances of writer Robert Cedric Sherriff’s “Journey’s End”, a play that gave a glimpse of British infantry officers’ experiences in the trenches of France during 1918. The two lead roles were given to actors Laurence Olivier and Maurice Evans. 

The initial two performances of “Journey’s End” were well received; and the play opened in January of 1929, with actor Colin Clive now in the lead, at the Savoy Theater in London’s West End. Critically acclaimed, the play after its three-week run was then transferred to the Prince of Wales Theater in Coventry Street, where it ran for the next two years. The rights to a New York production of “Journey’s End” were acquired by Broadway producer Gilbert Miller who chose James Whale, already experienced with the play, for its director. This production of the play premiered at Henry Miller’s Theater at Broadway and West 43rd Street and ran for over a year. 

Brought to the attention of movie producers by the Broadway success of “Journey’s End”, James Whale traveled to Hollywood in 1929 and signed a contract with Paramount Pictures to be the dialogue director for the 1929 film “The Love Doctor”. After the completion of the film, Whale met David Lewis, who became his longtime romantic partner; they lived together until 1952. David Lewis would later become a prominent film producer in the 1940s and 1950s, known for producing such films as the 1939 “Dark Victory” with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart and the 1957  “Raintree County” with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.  

In 1931, James Whale began what is probably the best known part of his career as a producer. He signed a five-year contract with Universal Studios and received his first project, the 1931 drama-war romance film “Waterloo Bridge”, which starred actress Mae Clarke, who is remembered by many for playing Jame Cagney’s girl in “The Public Enemy”. Later in 1931, Carl Laemmie, Jr, the twenty-five year old head of Universal Studios, gave Whale his choice of which studio-owned property he wanted for his next shoot; Whale chose the script for “Frankenstein”. He casted Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Mae Clarke as Elizabeth Frankenstein, Henry’s wife, and chose the little known Boris Karloff for the role of the Monster. Shooting ran from August 24th of 1931 to October 3rd. After premieres on October 29th of 1931, “Frankenstein” had a wide release beginning on November 21st and instantly became a hit with critics and the public.

In 1932, Whale directed two films: the drama “The Impatient Maiden” and a thriller film with Karloff and Charles Laughton entitled “The Old Dark House”, which has been credited with reinventing the “old house” genre of horror films. Whale’s 1933 film, “The Kiss Before the Mirror”, a pre-Code mystery film, received little notice and was a box-office failure. With a script approved by author H. G. Wells, Whale returned to the horror genre and produced the 1933 “The Invisible Man” which the New York Times placed in their list of best films for that year. This adaption of Well’s book, whose special effects were done in utmost secrecy, broke box-office records in cities across America.

James Whale’s next major project was the 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein”, a sequel to the original movie which he was initially reluctant to do for fear of being typecast as a horror director. The film, however, was a critical and commercial success; today it is regarded as the finest of all gothic horror movies and considered Whale’s masterpiece. Whale worked next on a comedy-mystery film entitled “Remember Last Night?” which resulted in divided reviews. After its completion, Whale started immediately on the project that had been in his mind for a long time, a film version of the stage production “Show Boat”. 

For the film version of this long-running romantic musical, Whale gathered as many members of the original show as he could; these included Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Sammy White, Irene Dunne, and conductor Victor Baravalle and orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett. Great care was taken by Whale to ensure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for this film. Faithfully adapted from the original stage production, the 1936 “Show Boat” is considered the definitive film version of the musical by many critics. This film was the last of Whale’s films produced with the Laemmie family.

Jame Whale eventually retired from the film industry in 1941. Encouraged by his partner David Lewis to resume his artwork, he rediscovered his love of painting and built a studio for himself. In 1942, Whale made training films for the United States Army and created, in collaboration with actress Claire DuBrey, the theater group Brentwood Service Players. He returned to Broadway to direct the 1940 thriller “Hand in Glove” and directed his final film, a short subject entitled “Hello Out There”. Whale’s last professional engagement was the comedy play “Pagan in the Parlour”, which was forced to close early due to contract difficulties that happened during its opening tour in Europe.

While in Europe, Whale met and became infatuated with the twenty-five year old bartender Pierre Foegel. He made the decision to bring Foegel back to the United States as his chauffeur. In November of 1952 when David Lewis heard this, he ended their twenty-three year relationship, separated but still maintained a friendship. Foegel moved in with Whale in early 1953, returned for several months to France, and then in 1954  moved back permanently with Whale. In the spring of 1956, Whale suffered a small stroke, and was hospitalized several months later after suffering a second and more severe stroke. As his mental faculties were diminishing, he began to suffer from mood swings and depression. 

James Whale committed suicide, at the age of sixty-seven, by drowning himself in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool on the 29th of May in 1957. He left a suicide note to David Lewis, who withheld it from the public until his own death. Whale was cremated per his request and his ashes were interred in the Columbarium of Memory at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. When David Lewis died in 1987, James Curtis, as his executor, had Lewis’s  ashes interred in a niche across from Whale’s internment site. James Curtis would later write the definitive biography of Whale, “James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters”, published in 2003.

Note: James Whale lived as an openly gay man throughout his career in the British theater and in Hollywood, which was virtually unheard of in that era. While he did not go out of his way to publicize his homosexuality, he made no effort to conceal it either.

Insert Images:
A— Photographer Unknown, “James Whale” (Profile), circa 1930, Cream-Toned Vintage Print, 23.7 x 18 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC
B—”Frankenstein”, Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, 1931, Universal Pictures
C—”The Invisible Man”, Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart, 1933, Universal Pictures
D—Photographer Unknown, “James Whale”, Date Unknown
E—”Show Boat”, Paul Robeson, Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, and Helen Morgan, 1936, Universal Pictures
F—Photographer Unknown, “James Whale”, circa 1930, Cream-Toned Vintage Print, 23.7 x 18 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Sergei Eisenstein

Sergei Eisenstein, “The Battleship Potemkin”, The Odessa Steps Scene, December 1925, Starring Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barksy, and Grigori Aleksandrov, Cinematography by Eduard Tisse and Vladimir Popov, Produced by Mosfilm

Born in January of 1898 in Riga, Latvia, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was a film director, scriptwriter, film theorist, and a pioneer in the theory and development of montage. Using his technique of montage film editing, he portrayed the rapid developments of events on the screen, separating each scene into fragments and rearranging them into his preferred order.

Eisenstein studied engineering at the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineering, leaving in 1918 to join the Red Army in the revolution. Still a member of the Red Army after the Bolshevik seizure of power, he took part in many theater productions and was eventually assigned to organizing productions and ensembles. In 1920 Eisenstein returned to Moscow and worked with the Proletkult Theater, becoming co-director and later the most noteworthy theater director in the USSR.

While still a theater director, Eisenstein wrote a manifesto, “Montage of Attractions,” for the literary journal “Lef”, rejecting the idea that dialogue is the dominant element in theater and claiming that all the elements function on equal terms, forming a fusion or montage that made the entire work. Montage in film, as Eisenstein understood it, means that a film should be constructed not in narrative fashion but from brief segments that serve to reinforce and counterpoint one another. The meaning of the film arises from the interplay of these elements, leading the audience into new recognitions.

In the spring of 1924, Eisenstein proposed that Proletkult undertake a series of films portraying the Russian revolutionary movements before 1917. Working with cameraman Eduard Tisse, a Latvian newsreel photographer who would go on to be the cameraman on all his films, he took on the making of “Strike”, the fifth film in the series. In 1925, Eisenstein made his second and probably his greatest film “Battleship Potemkin”, examining the  mutiny carried out by sailors of the Russian warship, Prince Potemkin, stationed in the Black Sea fleet near Odessa. 

Sergei Eisenstein’s film “The General Line”was an experiment in presenting the feeling of ecstasy in film. Directed by both Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov, the film, centering on a rural heroine instead of a group of characters, was a celebration of the collectivization of agriculture, a policy championed by Bolshevik Leon Trotsky.  Eisenstein used his montage method with great success in the filming of the milk coop, its sequence conceived as a enthralling spectacle of raptured faces and the triumphant introduction of new farm machinery. After Trotsky’s fall from grace, the film was quickly re-edited and released in 1929 as “The Old and the New”.

Eisenstein’s vision of Communism brought him into conflict with officials in the ruling regime of Stalin. Frequent attacks on Eisenstein and then subsequent rehabilitation would be a repeated pattern throughout his life. His popularity and influence in his own land thus waxed and waned with the success of his films and the passage of time. In 1930, Eisenstein was approached with offers from Paramount Studios for several films; however, because of his artistic approach and disagreements with scripts, the contract was declared void by mutual agreement. 

Eisenstein came back into prominence with the 1938 “Alexander Nevsky”, in which Eisenstein exchanged his montage style for one that focused and developed the individual characters to a greater extent. This was due to the rise of Socialist Realism in the arts which was becoming the cultural and artistic policy of the state. Well received, the film won Eisenstein the Order of Lenin and the Stalin Prize.  

Eisenstein’s 1944 “Ivan the Terrible, Part One”, a film presenting Ivan IV as a national hero, also won the approval of Stalin and a Stalin Prize. However, the sequel “Ivan the Terrible, Part Two, although finished in 1945, was criticized by the government and not released until 1958. All footage from the unfinished Part Three was confiscated by the state and mostly destroyed, with only a few scenes still existing.

Sergei Eisenstein suffered a heart attack in February of 1946, recovered, but died from a second heart attack in February of 1948, at the age of fifty. His body laid in state in the Hall of the Cinema Workers, was cremated two days later, and his ashes buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Second Insert Image: Sergei Eisenstein, “The Battleship Potemkin”, 1925, The Odessa Steps Sequence

Third Insert Image: Sergei Eisenstein, “Que Viva Mexico!”, 1932, Directed by Eisenstein and Gregory Aleksandrov

Bottom Insert Image: Sergei Eisenstein, “Strike”, 1925, Cinematography by Eduard Tisse, Vladmir Popov, Vasili Khvatov

Sergei Parajanov

Sergei Parajanov, “The Color of Pomegranates”, 1969, Computer Graphics, Film Gifs

The 1969 Soviet art film “The Color of Pomegranates”, written and directed by Sergei Parajanov, is a visual, poetic treatment of the life of the eighteenth-century Armenian musician and poet Sayat-Nova. The film is presented in a series of chapters depicting the poet’s life in active tableaux, presented with little dialogue. Each chapter, framed through Sayat-Nova’s poems, is indicated by a title card: Childhood, Youth, Prince’s Court, The Monastery, The Dream, Old Age, The Angel of Death, and Death. Narration on the film was done by Armenian-born renowned actor Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, known for his role in the 1979 “The Meeting Place Can Not Be Changed”. 

Four actors took the role of Sayat-Nova at different stages in his life, with Soviet Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli, notably playing six roles in the film, both female and male. The film was shot at numerous historical sites in northern Armenia, many being medieval churches in the Lori Provence, including the Sarahin Monastery and the St. John church at Ardvi. Filming was also done at the Old City of Baku, Azerbaijani, and in the countryside near the David Gareja Monastary in Eastern Georgia. 

Objections were made by the Communist Party and the Soviet censors  to Parajanov’s poetic, stylized treatment of the poet’s life, citing that it failed to educate the public. As a result, the original title “Sayat-Nova” was changed to “The Color of Pomegranates” and any references to Sayat-Nova’s name was removed from the credits. The Soviet officials also objected to the amount of religious imagery in the film and removed a substantial portion of it. Although the State Committee for Cinematography initially refused to allow the film to be shown outside Armenia, it did allow the film, now with a seventy-seven minute running time, to premiere inside Armenia in October of 1969.

Filmmaker Sergei Yutkevich,  the 1962 People’s Artist of the USSR and a script-reader on the State Committee, recut the film by a few minutes to appease the authorities and created Russian-language chapter titles for easier understanding by the public at large. He also changed the order of some of the sequences in the film. This seventy-three minute version ultimately received only limited distribution in the rest of the Soviet Union. 

The digital restoration of “The Color of Pomegranates” was completed in 2014 by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation with the help of Cineteca di Bologna. It was re-edited as close as possible to the Sergei Parajanov’s original version, with its premier held at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. Parajanov’s film premiered in the US at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in September of 2014 and the 52nd New York Film Festival in October of 2014.

Marlene Dietrich: Film History Series

Marlene Dietrich, “Lili Marleen”, 1945, Decca Records

Marlene Dietrich was born on December 27th of 1901 in Berlin, Germany, with the given name Maria Magdalene Dietrich. Growing up, she studied French, English, and the violin at a private school, with the aspiration of becoming a professional violinist. Later in her teen years, Dietrich decided to explore acting, enrolling in Austrian-born theater director Max Reinhardt’s drama school, eventually acting in small parts on stage and in films. Because of her family’s disapproval of theater as a profession, she changed her name to Marlene Dietrich.

Dietrich married Rudolf Sieber in 1923 and, with his help, was able to get the small role of ‘Lucy’ in director Joe May’s 1923 “Tragedy of Love”. After the birth of their only child Maria in 1924, the marriage began to fail, leading to a separation but not a divorce. During this time, Paramount Studios signed to a contract director and filmmaker Josef von Sternberg, who already had produced a number of notable films. In 1929, Sternberg was sent to UFA, Paramount’s studio in Berlin, to direct the sound production of “The Blue Angel” based on Heinrich Mann’s book “Professor Unrat”.

Sternberg cast the little-known Marlene Dietrich in the female lead role of Lola Lola, the cabaret singer and dancer whose allure would attract and lead to the decline of Professor Unrat. With her sophisticated manner and sultry looks, Dietrich naturally fit into the role and became a star. The 1930 “Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel)”, the first talking picture in Germany, became a big hit, eventually making Dietrich an international star with its English language version in the United States.

In April of 1930, Marlene Dietrich moved to America. Working once again with Sternberg, she starred in the 1930 romantic-drama “Morocco” with actor Gary Cooper. The film received four Academy Award nominations; Dietrich was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, her one and only Academy Award nomination.She continued in her next films to play the femme-fatale roles, creating new more-masculine fashion trends for women and challenging accepted views of the female image.

Dietrich made several more films working with director Sternberg: the 1931 successful spy film “Dishonored”, “Shanghai Express” in 1932, “The Scarlet Empress” in 1934, and her personal favorite film “The Devil is a Woman”, a 1935 romance film set in Spain in which she played a cold-hearted temptress. A strong opponent of the Nazi government in Germany, she disassociated herself from the German film companies and became a US citizen in 1939, resulting in the banning of her films in Germany. During the war, Dietrich traveled extensively, entertaining the troops, selling war bonds, and recording anti-Nazi messages to broadcast in Germany. 

Following the war, Marlene Dietrich worked with director Billy Wilder on his 1948 film “A Foreign Affair” and the 1957 film “Witness for the Prosecution” with actor Tyrone Power, based on the book by Agatha Christie. She also played strong supporting roles in director Orson Welles’ famous 1958 film-noir “Touch of Evil” and in Stanley Kramer’s 1941 courtroom drama “Judgement at Nuremberg”. As her acting career faded, Dietrich began a successful singing career in the mid-1950s performing from Las Vegas to Paris, and finally singing in Germany in 1960, her first visit since the war.

Marlene Dietrich gave up performing in the middle of the 1970s, moving to Paris and living in near-seclusion. She did agree to provide some audio commentary for the documentary “Marlene”, filmed by Maximillian Schell in 1984; however, she would not appear on camera for the film. Marlene Dietrich, one of the most glamorous leading ladies of the 1930s and 1940s, died in her Paris home on May 6th of 1992 and was buried next to her mother in Berlin.

The song “LiLi Marleen” is a German love song that became popular during WWII throughout Europe and the Mediterranean among both Axis and Allied troops. Written in 1915 as a poem of three verses by Hans Leip, a school theacher, it was set to music by Norbert Schultze in 1938 and recorded for the first time by Lale Andersen in 1939.  In 1944 the Morale Operations Branch of the US Office of Strategic Services initiated the Muzak Project. Marlene Dietrich recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including “Lili Marleen”, which became a massive success. This version of the song with Dietrich singing eventually became recorded as a single by Decca Records in 1944 and released in 1945.

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Marlene Dietrich”, 1948, Gelatin Silver Print, Encyclopedia Britannica

Second Insert Image: Eugene Robert Richee, “Marlene Dietrich”, Publicity Photo for 1931 “Disnonored”, Gelatin Siver Print, Paramount Pictures

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Marlene Dietrich in Uniform for USO Camp Shows, London”, September 25, 1944, Gelatin Silver Print, Associated Press

Bottom Insert Image: Clarence Sinclair Bull, “Marlene Dietrich”, 1944, Publicity Shoot for “Kismet”, Gelatin Silver Print, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Busby Berkeley: Film History Series

Artist Unknown, Busby Berkeley,’s “By A Waterfall” Scene, Computer Graphics, “Footlight Parade” Film Gifs

Lyricist Irving Kahal and composer Sammy Fair had a sixteen year collaboration which started in 1926 and lasted until Kahal’s death in 1942. Among their many notable songs was the 1933 “By a Waterfall”, written for Warner Brothers Picture’s “Footlight Parade”, the third film in the 1933 Gold Diggers Trilogy. The vocal performances were done by actor-singer Dick Powell and actress-singer Ruby Keeler. 

Directed by Lloyd Bacon and presenting great cinematography by George Barnes, “Footlight Parade” contained opulent musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley whose routines contributed to the film’s success. Berkeley’s extravagant arrangement features his trademark human waterfall with its synchroniised water ballet of diving and swimming chorus girls, who produce elaborate, geometric patterns in the water.

One entire sound stage was filled with a twelve by twenty-four meter swimming pool with walls and floor made of glass. Two weeks were required for the one hundred chorus girls to practice their routines in it before shooting began. The six days of actual filming required that twenty thousand gallons of water per minute be pumped across the set to produce the required effects.

Besides the placement and movement of the dancers, the cameras also had to be positioned to film the entire scope of the choreography. Berkeley set his cameras in motion on monorails and custom-built booms to get the correct angle of shot. Since Berkeley was not hampered by the need to shoot multiple images at once for continuity, he was able to expand his creative potential by fluid camera motion and the use of intricate editing, creating fantasy out of the movement.. 

Murders in the Zoo

Advertising Poster for “Murders in the Zoo”, 1933, Directed by A. Edward Sutherland, Paramount Pictures

“Roars, shrieks, and cackling of the wild animals on the screen at the Paramount yesterday were echoed to an amazing degree by the audience, at times driven to a mild state of hysteria by scenes in ‘Murders in the Zoo’.”         – John Scott, “’Murders in Zoo’ Opens on Screen”, Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1933

Riz Ahmed, “Encounter”: Film History Series

Riz Ahmed as Malik Khan in “Encounter”, Directed by Michael Pearce, 2021

“Encounter” is a 2021 drama-thriller film directed by Michael Pearce from a screenplay written by Pearce and British screenwriter Joe Barton. It is a story of a recently paroled man, suffering from a mental disturbance, who abducts his two sons and flees on a road trip. The film stars Riz Ahmed as Malik Khan as the parolee, Janina Gavankar as  his wife Piya, and Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada as the two sons, Jay and Bobby Khan. Misha Collins plays Dylan, the mother’s new partner, and Octavia Spencer plays Hattie Hayes, the federal law enforcer attempting to retrieve the children.

In October of 2018, Film4 Productions and Raw, both British film production companies, agreed to produce the film. The principal photography began in October of 2020; by November of that year, all the cast members had joined the production. Amazon Studios became the distributor. “Encounter had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and an international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It was later screened at film festivals in London, Chicago, and Philadelphia. “Encounter” appeared on Amazon Prime Video on the 10th of December in 2021.

Born in December of 1982, Riz Ahmed is a British actor and rapper. He has won multiple awards for his acting, including a London Film Critics’ Circle Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two British Independent Film Awards. He was also nominated for two Golden Globes, an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Ahmed appeared in the 2016 action film “Jason Bourne”, the Star Wars anthology film “Rogue One” as the character Bodhi Rock, the 2018 film “Venom” as Carlton Drake, and Ruben Stone in the 2020 “Sound of Metal”, which earned him his second Golden Globe nomination and his first Academy Award nomination.

Ray Harryhausen, “Twenty Million Miles to Earth”: Film History Series

“Twenty Million Miles to Earth”, 1957

Ray Harryhausen’s original design for the monster was a giant cyclops, similar to the one he later used in the 1958 “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”. He discarded the idea after making a clay model of it, and eventually settled on the reptilian Ymir. The Ymir roars in the film are variations of elephant roars sped up and modulated in pitches at different rates.

Since he planned to use a real elephant for some of the footage in the zoo, Ray Harryhausen asked for one that was 15 feet tall, but the film studio was only able to procure an eight-foot-tall one for him. In order to make the elephant look much bigger, a 4’6″ actor was cast to play the zookeeper.

Reblogged with thanks to http://ensalada-de-lengua-de-pajaritos.tumblr.com

Ishirō Honda, “Mothra” ; Film History Series

Promotional Poster for Ishirō Honda’s “Mothra”, Columbia Pictures, 1962

A kaiju is a Japanese film genre that features giant monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. It is a subgenre of tokusatsu entertainment, which deals with science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

Tokusatsu has its origins in early Japanes theater, specifically in kabuki with its action and fight scenes, and in bunraku, which utilized some of the earliest forms of special effects, specifically puppetry. Modern tokusatsu, however, did not begin to take shape until the early 1950s with the conceptual and creative birth of Godzilla, one of the most famous kaiju monsters of all time.

Mothra is a kaiju that first appeared in Toho Company’s 1961 film “Mothra”, developing into a recurring character in the Godzilla franchise. She is typically portrayed as a colossal sentient caterpillar or imago moth, accompanied by two miniature humanoids speaking on her behalf.

Unlike other Toho monsters, Mothra is a largely heroic character, having been variously portrayed as a protector of her own island culture, Japan, and the Earth. She became one of Toho’s most poputlar monsters, second only to Godzilla in its total number of film appearances.

Calendar

A Year: Day to Day Men: 1st of June, Solar Year 2018

Jumping Rope

June 1, 1890  was the birthdate of the American character actor, Frank Morgan.

Frank Morgan was an American character actor whose career spanned four decades, most of it under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He was born in New York City, the youngest of eleven children. His family earned its wealth h distributing Angostura bitters, allowing him to attend Cornell University. Both Frank and his brother Ralph Morgan went into show business, first on the Broadway stage and later into motion pictures.

After Morgan’s film debut in the 1916 “The Suspect”, he provided support to his friend John Barrymore in the 1917 “Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman”, an independent film produced in and about New York City. Morgan’s career expanded when talkies began, his most stereotypical role being that of a befuddled but good hearted middle-aged man. By the mid-1930s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, impressed by his performances, signed him to a lifetime contract.

Morgan’s best remembered film performances, playing six roles, are in the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz”: as the carnival huckster “Professor Marvel”, the gatekeeper at the Emerald City, the coachman of the carriage drawn by “The Horse of a Different Color”, the guard who initially refuses to let Dorothy and her friends in to see the Wizard, the Wizard’s scary face projection, and the Wizard himself. Morgan was cast in the role on September 22, 1938, after the studio tired of negotiating the salary of W.C. Field for his possible participation in the role.

An actor with a wide range, Morgan was equally effective playing comical, befuddled men such as Jesse Kiffmeyer in the 1937 “Saratoga” and Mr. Ferris in 1944’s “Casanova Brown”, as he was with more serious, troubled characters like Hugo Matuschek in “The Shop Around the Corner” and Professor Roth in “The Mortal Storm” released in 1940. A musical-comedy film centering on Frank Morgan was released by MGM in 1946 entitled “The Great Morgan”. The film is a compilation of unrelated short subjects and musical numbers built around the premise of Morgan trying to produce a movie.

Morgan died of a heart attack on September 18, 1949, while filming “Annie Get Your Gun”. He was replaced in the film by Louis Calhern. His death came before the 1956 premiere televised broadcast on CBS of “The Wizard of Oz”, which would make him the only major cast member from the film who would not live to see the film’s revived popularity and its becoming an annual American television institution.

Frank Morgan was nominated twice for Academy Awards: Best Actor for his role in the 1934 “The Affairs of Cellini” and Best Supporting Actor fo “Tortilla Flat” released in 1942. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; one for his work in radio and one for motion pictures. Both were dedicated in 1960.