Behind the Screen at the Museum of the Moving Image

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The film and television industry have shaped the way society behaves from the way they dress to the toys they play with.

The Museum of the Moving Image, located in Astoria, NY, celebrates TV and film of the past and present through exhibits that highlight everything down to film makeup and costuming, equipment used behind the scenes and the editing process of screenplays.

Exhibits also show where and how it all began from optical toys from the 1800s to early color television cameras.

In late July, I visited the Museum of Moving Image and enjoyed exploring their Behind the Screen exhibit which included everything from sketches by Orson Welles to a Margaret O’Brien doll. Below are photos from the visit:

All Made Up: 

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Life masks of actors. The front mask is of Dorothy McGuire in “The Enchanted Cottage” (1945) with Anthony Quinn in “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962) to the left. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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A telegram sent by Orson Welles to Maurice Seiderman in reference to make-up–specifically rubber noses–for the film “Compulsion” (1959). Sent in Sept. 1958. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Sketch made by Orson Welles in August 1958 of how he wanted his makeup to look in "Compulsion" (1959).

Sketch made by Orson Welles in August 1958 of how he wanted his makeup to look in “Compulsion” (1959). (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Photos of Orson Welles exhibiting the makeup process for “Compulsion” (1959).

Wig worn by Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Wig worn by Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The white streaks was designed by makeup artist Jack Pierce to suggest her birth by electricity. The wig was made by the Max Factor Company and was reconstructed for the museum of Josephine Turner in 1991 who was the head of the wig-making department at Max Factor from 1935 to 1965. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Wig worn by Bette Davis in “Jezebel” (1938). (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Wig worn by Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra” (1963). The wig was designed by MGM’s hairstylist Sydney Guilaroff and constructed by Bill Huntley of Wig Creations in London. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Script for the Sidney Lumet directed film, “Network” (1976), written by Sidney Chayefsky. The red crayon is Lumet, who would cross out dialogue after it was filmed. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Replica of Robin Williams’ makeup for “Miss Doubtfire” (1993). (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Costume worn by Hedy Lamarr as Delilah in “Samson & Delilah” (1949), directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The gown was designed by Edith Head. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

For the Fans and Consumers: 

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Various film fan magazines ranging from 1911 to 1980 including: Motion Picture, Photoplay, Picture Play, Motion Picture Classic, Film Fun, Real Screen Fun, Modern Screen, Silver Screen, Screen Romances, Movie Story, Screen and Television Guide, Screenland Plus TV-Land. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Lupe Velez on the cover of a October 1931 issue of Picture Play. (Comet Over Hollywood/ Brandon B.)

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Bette Davis on the cover of Modern Screen, promoting “The Letter.” (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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William S. Hart on the cover of a June issue of Motion Picture.

 

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Shirley Temple and the Dionne Quintuplets on an issue of Modern Screen. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Exhibiting how films affected the toy industry with film themed board games, dolls and paint books. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

 

A Pinnochio doll based off of Walt Disney’s 1940 cartoon. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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Silent film actor Rudolph Valentino on 1935 “beautebox.” (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

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“Our Gang” coloring book. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Doll of child actress Margaret O’Brien (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Lantern slide, which were used during intermission in modern film houses, which were used between 1916 and 1929. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

Lantern slide, which were used during intermission in modern film houses, which were used between 1916 and 1929. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

 

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Film promotion posters and programs. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

Film Cameras: 

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Edison 35mm Projecting Kinetoscope, Model D, 1912.

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Pathe 35mm Projector from 1905. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Edison 35mm Projecting Kinetoscope, 1897. This sold for $100 at the time. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

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Three-strip Technicolor camera, Model EF-2, 1940. (Comet Over Hollywood/Brandon B.)

 

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“It was my father’s success”: An interview with the real “Gidget”

 Comet Over Hollywood has reviewed the three “Gidget” feature films this summer. To wrap up the series, Comet interviewed Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the real Gidget whose summer story inspired her screenwriter father to write a book. The conversation was delightful. Ms. Zuckerman was down-to-Earth and it felt like talking and laughing with an old friend. 

(r) Kathy Kohner in 1957 in the photo that was used on the book cover. (L) Kohner Zuckerman pictured in 2014 at Duke's, where she works.

(r) Kathy Kohner in 1957 in the photo that was used on the book cover. (L) Kohner Zuckerman pictured in 2014 at Duke’s, where she works.

It was a different world for Kathy Kohner as she walked on the film set of “Gidget” in 1959.

“It was hard to understand that they were making a movie about me,” said Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the real “Gidget,” in a phone interview with Comet Over Hollywood on Tuesday, Aug. 25. “They weren’t even filming at Malibu.”

The 1959 “Gidget” film that starred Sandra Dee, James Darren and Cliff Robertson spawned two more feature films, two television shows and several made-for-TV movies. And it all began with a 15-year-old girl telling her father that she wanted to write a story about her summer.

Kathy had been spending her summer days in 1957 at Malibu around a group of kids that were different than your average teenager. The boys surfed all day, lived in a shack on the beach, and nicknamed petite Kathy, “Gidget”- meaning “girl midget.”

Screenwriter Frederick Kohner with his daughter Kathy, who served as inspiration for Gidget.

Screenwriter Frederick Kohner with his daughter Kathy, who served as inspiration for Gidget.

“I can close my eyes and remember turning in the passenger seat of the car and telling my dad that I wanted to write a story about my days at the beach. I told him, ‘There is a guy who lives in a shack,’” Zuckerman said. “Dad said, ‘Well you aren’t a writer, but I know you keep diaries, and I’ll write the story. Sounds like fun.’ I told my dad pretty much everything; I had a very good relationship with him. I still have those diary pages.”

Kathy’s father was Hollywood screenwriter Frederick Kohner, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his screen play “Mad About Music” (1938) starring Deanna Durbin, Herbert Marshall and Gail Patrick. Kohner’s Hollywood credits also include Durbin films “It’s a Date” (1940), “Nice Girl?” (1941), “The Men in Her Life” (1941) starring Loretta Young, the Claudette Colbert and Robert Young film “Bride for Sale” (1949) and “Never Wave at a WAC” (1953) starring Rosalind Russell.

Kohner was born in Austria-Hungary, where he was already a writer with film screen credits before coming to the United States. He left Europe when Nazis started removing Jewish screen credits from films. His brother, Hollywood agent Paul Kohner, helped Kohner come to the United States, along with their other brother Walter. Paul Kohner is the grandfather of directors Chris and Paul Weitz and father to actress Susan Kohner, star of “Imitation of Life” (1959).

“My dad was pretty much always at home, but he had an area in back of the house that he called the studio. It was an enclave set apart where he wrote,” she said. “He wrote the screenplay for the film “Never Wave at a WAC,” and I got to meet Rosalind Russell. I was probably 17, and she had a big fancy house with her husband. It was fun and I was amazed by her home.”

Kathy’s summer adventures were weaved into the fictional story titled “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas” about a young girl who felt like she fit in best with the surfers and had a romance with a surfer named, Moondoggie. In the book, the character’s real name is Franzie, which was the name of his wife.

The 1957 cover for "Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas," featuring Kathy. The book is still available on Amazon.

The 1957 cover for “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas,” featuring Kathy. The book is still available on Amazon.

The book is based on some truths, but a good bit was fictional. For example, Kathy had a crush on a surfer but they never dated, as suggested in the film series.

“There was someone who lived in a shack, I did have a big crush on one of the surfers, I did buy a board with a totem pole on it, I did learn how to surf, I did get tonsillitis a lot, I did bring food to the beach for the guys, I did try very hard to be liked,” she said. “But as for the big crush, I don’t know whether it was reciprocated or not. I think sometimes he did like me and other times he thought I was a kid sister. There was no big romance, but I was definitely charged on Bill. That was his name.”

When the book hit the shelves, it was an immediate best-seller, but Kathy does not claim that success.

“It was my dad’s success. There was a definite ‘Wow’ moment because of the response,” Kathy said. “I think I also thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder what the guys are going to think about the book.’ There was some exposé in it, but in retrospect, I’m sure they loved it, and it created the billion dollar surf industry.”

Kathy was in college in Oregon when the film starring Sandra Dee was released, but she had the opportunity to meet the stars. She remembers Dee as being sweet and considers her the best of the Gidget actresses. In comparison, Dee’s Gidget was sweet, demure and kind while Kathy said she was more of a tomboy.

“It’s odd being that person and watching the films about what Gidget does,” she said. “Sandra Dee is Gidget. There’s me, the real person, but she was great as the character. In the Sally Field TV show- that wasn’t my life. She got involved in high school and the band and journalism. As cute as it was, that wasn’t me. I wanted to be one of the gang or one of the guys. I didn’t like high school. I wanted to be in Malibu.”

With the “Gidget” film came beach music, a mass interest in surfing and more beach films, such as the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies.

“Everyone wanted to surf and go to Malibu and fall in love,” she said. “My dad was talented and wrote a really cool book. A studio saw that it would be a good movie and it was. They cast Sandra Dee and Jimmy Daren, who were great, and it cascaded. It was being at the right place at the right time. I was a kid and I was going away to college. I didn’t think of the business end of surfing with the contest and the clothes. There was no surf music yet, we had ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and Elvis Presley. Surf music didn’t come until 1961.”

16-year-old Kathy in the Oct. 28, 1957, issue of LIFE magazine. (LIFE)

16-year-old Kathy in the Oct. 28, 1957, issue of LIFE magazine. (LIFE)

Now, at age 74, Kathy works at a restaurant in Malibu called Duke’s, named for surfer Duke Kahanamoku, where everyone still calls her Gidget, and she is able to promote her book. Kathy still keeps in contact with some of her surfer friends, who she calls “life-long friends.”

“I do keep in contact with some of the boys who surfed in Malibu. They are scattered all over and some aren’t alive anymore,” she said. “I definitely made life-long friends with them. Recently, one of the Malibu surfers came to see me, and I have known him since he’s 19. I told my husband that aside from my family, I have known him the longest.”

She hasn’t surfed in a few summers, but the spirit still lives on in her daily life.

“I like the fact that this character had tenacity. Whether Gidget surfed because of boys, her parents wouldn’t let her go to the movies, or she had nothing better to do, the story was kind of ballsy,” she said. “I wanted to surf, and I wanted to learn even if it meant dealing with teasing or not always being greeted with open arms. A large element of the Gidget story is having the attitude to pursue what you want.”

You can buy the book “Gidget” by Frederick Kohner on Amazon

Another photo of Kathy from the Oct. 28, 1957, LIFE magazine.

Another photo of Kathy from the Oct. 28, 1957, LIFE magazine.

Read more about the three Gidget feature films: 

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Musical Monday: College Holiday (1936)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is more than 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

college holidayThis week’s musical:
“College Holiday” (1936)– Musical #527

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Frank Tuttle

Starring:
Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Marsha Hunt, Martha Raye, Mary Boland, Leif Erickson, Ben Blue, Johnny Downs, Eleanore Whitney, Olympe Bradna, Mischa Auer (uncredited), Ellen Drew (uncredited), Eddie Foy, Jr. (uncredited), Dorothy Lamour (uncredited), Marjorie Reynolds (uncredited)

Plot:
Dick Winters (Erickson) meets Sylvia Smith (Hunt) at an east coast college dance and falls in love. But before he can learn her name she has to quickly leave to head home and help her father who is having financial problems with their California hotel. Nutty heiress Carola P. Gaye (Boland) owns the mortgage to the hotel and has an interest in eugenics; believing that ancient Greeks were the “super race.” In order for the Smiths to keep the hotel, J. Davis Bowster (Benny) gathers entertainers to perform at the hotel, making Gaye believe that they are there for experiments. The downside is that the male and female students can’t fraternize, because it will anger Gaye and ruin her experiments. This hinders Dick’s goal to better get to know Sylvia.

George Burns, Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Mary Boland

George Burns, Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Mary Boland

Trivia:
-Costumes by Edith Head
-Film features Dorothy Lamour as an uncredited dancer.

Notable Songs:
-The Sweetheart Waltz
-(Enchanted) I Adore You performed by Marsha Hunt & Leif Erickson
-A Rhyme for Love performed by Johnny Downs and Eleanore Whitney
-So What? performed by Martha Raye

My review:
While many college themed films are a bit silly, I usually go out of my way to see them.

“College Holiday” fits of the bill of being goofy but it’s bizarre plot sets it apart from other collegiate films. In fact, this may be the only comedic pre-World War II film that I have ever seen that deals with eugenics and superior races. Mary Boland walks around dressed in ancient Greek garb and discussing the “super race” and tries experiments, such as setting the mood to get mismatched college students to fall in love. Many classic collegiate films deal with football games, dances, and fraternities serenading sororities.

As Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne noted, this type of storyline wouldn’t be used just a few years after this films release due to Adolf Hitler’s views on the superior race.

Gracie Allen and George Burns all provide humorous, though sometimes tiresome, scenes. But he real treat to me was the casting of the lovely Marsha Hunt, who I always love to see in films.

Audiences also have the pleasure of seeing tap dance performances by young actors Johnny Downs and Eleanore Whitney. The downside is that their second number has the two college students in blackface.

Jack Benny also has funny scenes and pulls out his violin a few times. At the end of the movie, Benny breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience while playing the same role and character that he portrayed on the radio.

While “College Holiday” isn’t an amazing film and has a few irritating parts involving Gracie Allen, it’s still a fairly entertaining film.

Marsha Hunt and Leif Erickson

Marsha Hunt and Leif Erickson

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Musical Monday: Beach Party (1963)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Beach Party” (1964)– Musical #288

Beach Party (USA, 1963) - 01

Studio:
American International Pictures (AIP)

Director:
William Asher

Starring:
Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, Vincent Price, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Meredith MacRae, Candy Johnson, Michael Nader, Mickey Dora, Eva Six
Themselves: Dick Dale and the Del Tones

Plot:
Professor Sutwell (Cummings) is an anthropologist observing the teenage surfing subculture with his assistant Marianne (Malone). One couple he observes in the mix of dancing, surfing and kissing teenagers are Frankie (Avalon) and his girlfriend Dolores (Funicello) head to the beach where Frankie hoped to have romantic alone time with Dolores. However, Dolores invited the whole gang of friends because she “doesn’t trust herself” to be alone with Frankie. This causes a rift between the two and each tries to make the other jealous, and Dolores uses Professor Sutwell.

Robert Cummings as the anthropologist observing the surfing subculture

Robert Cummings as the anthropologist observing the surfing subculture

Trivia:
-The first of the American International Pictures surfing films.

-Walt Disney’s request to have his contract player Annette Funicello to not wear a bikini that shows her naval is true, according to her autobiography “A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES: MY STORY.” Funicello was in compliance with Disney, which angered the American International Producers. However, she held her ground to not wearing sexier clothing, also because she said she didn’t feel like a sex symbol.

-Filmed in three weeks for $300,000, according to Annette Funicello’s autobiography

-“Beach Party” is Annette’s favorite of the beach films, she wrote in her autobiography.

-Real life surfers Mickey Dora, Johnny Fain, Mike Nadar, Ed Garner did the surfing scenes.

-AIP producers originally wanted singer Fabian for the lead role, and singer Bobby Vinton’s agent was trying to get him the part, before Frankie Avalon was cast, according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti

Highlights:
-Robert Cummings’ beard
-Goofy scenes like a guy playing a recorder and a girl coming out of the sand like a snake.
-“Hang on to the picture rights, American International will snap it in a minute” -Dorothy Malone referencing the producers of the film while discussing Robert Cummings’ research.
-Robert Cummings comparing the teenage dancing to rituals such as the Simonian Puberty Dance and the mating dance of the whooping crane
-Candy Johnson’s go-go dancing

Notable Songs:
-Beach Party performed by Frankie and Annette
-Don’t Stop Now performed by Frankie Avalon
-Secret Surfin’ Spot performed by Dick Dale
-Swingin’ and a-Surfin’ performed by Dick Dale

My review:
Annette Funicello says this was her favorite of the beach films and it is mine as well.

While “Beach Blanket Bingo” is probably the most memorable and famous of the AIP films, “Beach Party” has the best plot, songs and stars.

All of the beach films are nonsense, but “Beach Party” seems like it made some sort of attempt to have a coherent (though goofy) plot line. I feel like this largely has to do with the roles and casting of Dorothy Malone and Robert Cummings. “Beach Party” has legitimate laugh-out-loud moments, mostly due to Robert Cummings as the “square” anthropologist, where the others don’t, at least for me. I thought it was hilarious when Cummings, using his knowledge of anthropology, is comparing teenage dancing to “the mating dance of the whooping crane” or “the Simonian puberty dance,” and then performs a math problem in order to accurately surf.

In other beach films, Keenan Wynn has an evil gorilla, Deborah Walley skydives or Frankie Avalon plays a dual role as British singer, “Potato Bug.” That’s just dumb. I also personally have never been a big fan of Harvey Lembeck’s beach film role of motorcyclist “Erik Von Zipper,” who thankfully has a minimal part in “Beach Party.” This isn’t the case in other beach films.

Of the adult special guest stars that were featured in these movies–Mickey Rooney (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini), Keenan Wynn (Bikini Beach), Dorothy Lamour (Pajama Party), Don Rickles (Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party), Brian Donlevy (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)–Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone play key roles in the film and seem to not be absolutely insane. I left Buster Keaton off this list, simply because his roles in the beach films are very minor and he seldom speaks.

Another selling point for me is that Annette Funicello gets the most screen time in “Beach Party” than in any of the other beach films. While she is a star in the other five films, those movies mainly revolve around Frankie Avalon and up and coming stars, like Linda Evans in “Beach Blanket Bingo.”

“Beach Party” also has some awesome music, including music from Dick Dale and the theme “Beach Party,” which is my favorite song from all of the beach films.

Aside from colorful sets and attractive teens, “Beach Party” is rather important. While “Gidget” (1959) started the beach film craze and lead to “Beach Party,” this 1963 hit also began what everyone now knows as “Frankie and Annette beach films.”

“Beach Party” is colorful nonsense, but it’s a lot of fun and has laugh-out-loud funny moments. Give it a shot before turning up your nose to all beach films.

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in their first beach film,

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in their first beach film, “Beach Party.”

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Musical Monday: On an Island with You (1948)

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It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
On an Island with You” (1948)– Musical #524

Poster - On an Island With You_02

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Thorpe

Starring:
Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Cyd Charisse, Jimmy Durante, Leon Ames, Kathryn Beaumont, Dick Simmons, Marie Windsor (uncredited)
Themselves: Xavier Cugat, Betty Reilly

Publicity photo for

Publicity photo for “On An Island with You”

Plot:
Actress Rosalind Rennolds (Williams) is making a film in Hawaii with her fiance Ricardo Montez (Montalban). But there are a few love triangles getting in the way of their marriage. Actress and co-star Yvonne (Charisse) is in love with Ricardo, and Lt. Lawrence Y. Kingslee (Lawford), the Navy technical advisor for the film, has a large crush on Rosalind. Lt. Kingslee met Rosalind when she was entertaining troops during World War II when he was picked as a volunteer for skit. Ever since, been in love with her. Lt. Kingslee’s love makes him take some extreme measures in order to be alone with Rosalind.

Trivia:
-Esther Williams’ character falls in a hole in the jungle in one scene. The director of “On an Island with You” did not cushion the bottom of the hole and Williams sprained her ankle, according to her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography.”
-Cyd Charisse broke her leg during the filming of the “Pagan Dance,” according to an interview on Turner Classic Movies.
-Ricardo Montalban dubbed by Bill Lee

Child star Kathryn Beaumont

Child star Kathryn Beaumont

Highlights:
-Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban dancing
-Cyd Charisse’s “Pagan Dance”
-Kathryn Beaumont’s Jimmy Durante impression

Notable Songs:
-Takin’ Miss Mary to the Ball performed by Jimmy Durante
-I Know Darn Well I Can Do Without Broadway performed by Jimmy Durante
-On an Island with You performed by Ricardo Montalban, dubbed by Bill Lee
-The Dog Song performed by Xavier Cugat and Betty Reilly
-Não Tenho Lágrimas performed by Xavier Cugat

July 1947, Florida, USA --- Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

July 1947, Florida, USA — Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

My review:
I liked this film better than when I saw it for the first time during Summer Under the Stars 2004.

“On an Island with You” is colorful, humorous and has some excellent swimming and dancing numbers.

This has quite the star studded cast too with magnificent music from band leader Xavier Cugat.

Esther Williams’ swimming numbers are lovely, particularly a dream sequence that Peter Lawford has of Williams in a blue and green sequined bathing suit and another featuring surfboards and a gold lame bathing suit.

But for me, even more stunning than the swimming numbers was the dancing in this film. Cyd Charisse’s dances are show stoppers in all of her films, but these are somehow even more exciting. I think this is partially because her numbers have the added bonus of Ricardo Montalban as her partner. The two dance beautifully together; something they also exhibited in the 1947 film “Fiesta.” I feel like Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban could have made a great dancing team in MGM musicals had they been given that opportunity.

Jimmy Durante adds the comic relief in the film and offers some of the most entertaining songs, though Xavier Cugat’s tunes keep your toes tapping.

Another highlight in “On an Island with You” is a brief role played by child actor Kathryn Beaumont. For Disney fans, this is a great treat since Beaumont was the voice of Wendy in “Peter Pan” (1953) and Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” (1951). This was Beaumont’s second film and first credited role.

Esther Williams writes in her autobiography that “On an Island with You” was “another ridiculous plot.” She felt most of the plots to her films were as fluffy as cotton, which isn’t false.

However, the film offers the perfect mix of cool Technicolor entertainment and gorgeous dance numbers for an August afternoon.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Surf Party (1964)

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It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

sp1This week’s musical:
Surf Party” (1964)– Musical #521

Studio:
Associated Producers (API), distributed by 20th Century Fox

Director:
Maury Dexter

Starring:
Bobby Vinton, Patricia Morrow, Jackie DeShannon, Ken Miller, Richard Crane, Lory Patrick, Jerry Summers
As Themselves: The Astronauts, The Routers

Plot:
Three girls drive from Arizona to Malibu, CA, for vacation, learn how to surf and find one of the girl’s brothers who she hasn’t seen in a long while.

Trivia:
-Surfers Mickey Dora and Johnny Fain are extras in the film.
-Rather than setting up actors against a screen for their surfing, actor Kenny Miller stood on the back of a speedboat, pretending to surf, as it rode through the water, according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies by Thomas Lisanti.

Notable Songs:
-“Crack Up” performed by the Routers

My review:
Thank goodness this was only an hour and seven minutes. But maybe it would have been better had this film had a slightly higher budget and could have hired better male leads.
Part of this low budget gives you one of the few black-and-white surf films. The fact that this film is in black-and-white is really the only thing I found notable about “Surf Party.”
Another noteworthy feature is that this was singer Jackie DeShannon’s first films. Unfortunately, she only got one song and it’s pretty silly: a gospel-esque song about surfing, “Glory Wave.”
The rest of the cast is lousy and the story is pretty melodramatic, complete with battling surfers, coerced innocent girls and surfing stars living in the homes of rich older women.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Reviews: Gidget Goes to Rome (1963)

Gidget_Goes_to_Rome_1963_posterGidget Goes to Rome” isn’t the best of the three Gidget feature films, but it isn’t the worst.

While Sandra Dee is the best actress who plays Gidget, Cindy Carol is a distance second.

In this film, we join Gidget and her friends for a third summer. Gidget (Carol) is about to go off to college and is planning a trip to Rome, Italy with her friends—Lucy (Noreen Corcoran) and Libby (Trudi Ames). She’s trying to convince her boyfriend Moondoggie/Jeff (James Darren) and his buddies—Judge (Joby Baker) and Clay (Peter Brooks)—to come along. But before they can head abroad, Gidget’s parents need some convincing. They will only let Gidget go if she has a chaperon. Judge enlists his rich, eccentric Aunt Albertina (Jessie Royce Landis). Without her knowledge, Gidget’s father (Don Porter) writes to an old friend he met in Italy during World War II, Paolo Cellini (Cesare Danova).

When the group arrives in Italy, Gidget is ready to have a romantic trip with Jeff while they explore the Eternal City. But Jeff abandons her and falls for their pretty tour guide, Daniela (Danielle De Metz). While Gidget is hurt, Paolo enters the picture to stealthily watch after Gidget; saying he wants to write a magazine article about a young American exploring Italy. She develops a crush and leaves her friends to explore the people of Rome with Paolo.

Gidget and Jeff/Moondoggie while they are still in love in Rome.

Gidget and Jeff/Moondoggie while they are still in love in Rome.

If you are looking for a beach film, “Gidget Goes to Rome” isn’t for you. The film starts with an obligatory scene of Gidget on the beach carrying a surf board. That maybe lasts five minutes before launching into an Italian adventure. Shot on location in Rome, the Technicolor scenery is gorgeous, colorful and travelogue-esque.

James Darren is smitten with Daniela the travel guide.

James Darren is smitten with Daniela the travel guide.

Cindy Carol as Gidget is no Sandra Dee, but she is better than most of the actresses that tried their hand at the role. Carol is admittedly syrupy sweet and squealy, but she has more of a Gidget personality than Deborah Walley had in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian.” In the 1959 film, Gidget is painted as a straight-A, intelligent, Tom boy who finally finds her place on the beach. Walley’s Gidget was written as man crazy and impulsive, which wasn’t accurate. But Carol brings back the intelligence of Gidget, as she spouts off facts about Italy and quotes authors.

Gidget even says to her friends, “We are not here for the sole purpose of looking at men,” which seems more along the lines of the 1959 Gidget who wasn’t interested in man-hunts.

The only beach scene in the film.

The only beach scene in the film.

Cindy Carol was cast because Walley was pregnant. The film’s credits say “introducing Cindy Carol” but this was actually one of her last film roles; with her career ending in 1965. Prior to this film she had acted on the “New Loretta Young Show,” “Leave It To Beaver” and a bit part in “Cape Fear (1962).”

James Darren and Joby Baker are the only two actors who appeared in all three of the feature-film. Jessie Royce Landis is my favorite actor in the film whose role had the wittiest lines in the funniest scenes.

When Landis first meets Gidget, she immediately says, “Oh God, you’ll be the sweet one.”

While “Gidget Goes to Rome” ranks second for me in the three Gidget feature films, the plot still bugs me. I hate the kind of plot where a couple goes on a trip together, one of the partners immediately falls in love with new person and then the couple is together again by the end of the film. That irks me to no end.

Gidget and Paolo.

Gidget and Paolo.

Another silly aspect of this film is Gidget’s daydreams. If you remember in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” Gidget has odd daydreams about being a loose woman and then of being a stripper. In “Gidget Goes to Rome,” Gidget imagines that she’s Cleopatra and another daydream as a Christian martyr in the gladiator ring as Daniela, Judge and Jeff watched.

The Sept. 12, 1963, New York Times Bosely Crowther review was brief and neither praised nor criticized “Gidget Goes to Rome.” Crowther noted, Carol played Gidget with “proper pout and correct ingenuousness.”

“As one of Gidget’s friends explains, it’s part of her ‘growing up.’ Gidget falls out of love in time…and all ends happily. Jeff sums up the entire experience in two immortal sentences: ‘I guess everybody falls in love in Rome in the summer time. It’s that old devil Italian moon.’”

“Gidget Goes to Rome” sums the whole experience as “part of growing up.” While the feature film portion of the Gidget series ends with this movie, the television aspect began two year later and continued for 20 years.

To read our reviews of the other two films:

Gidget (1959)

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)

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Musical Monday: Belle of the Yukon (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Belle of the Yukon” (1944)– Musical #471

critique-belle-of-the-yukon-seiter

Studio:
RKO Pictures

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Randolph Scott, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dinah Shore, Charles Winneger, William Marshall, Bob Burns, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Florence Bates

Plot:
Set during the Canadian Gold Rush, John Calhoun (Scott) is a saloon owner but has a past as a con artist. His old girlfriend Belle De Valle (Lee) comes into town to perform at his saloon and hopes that Calhoun plans to stay honest. The saloon manager Pop Candless (Winneger) has a pretty daughter, Lettie (Shore), who is in love with piano player Steve Attenbury (Marshall). But Pop is concerned about Steve’s past.

Trivia:
-Gypsy Rose Lee was pregnant during the filming of this movie with Otto Preminger’s child, Erik Lee Preminger (Kirkland–who she was going through a divorce with at the time), according to Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee By Noralee Frankel. Erik said in the book that Lee had an affair with Preminger for the sole purpose of conceiving a child (him). When she was three months pregnant, she made excuses why she couldn’t take publicity stills and kept her pregnancy quiet so she wouldn’t have bad publicity that would ruin her film career, according to Frankel’s book.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for “Sleigh Ride in July” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture by Arthur Lange.

Dinah Shore in "Belle of the Yukon"

Dinah Shore in “Belle of the Yukon”

Highlights:
-Gypsy Rose Lee in the film.

Notable Songs:
-“Like Someone in Love” performed by Dinah Shore
-“Sleigh Ride in July” performed by Dinah Shore

My review:
This movie is plain nonsense but a ton of fun.
What’s most appealing to me about “Belle of the Yukon” (1944) is the cast. Have you ever found a more random but delightful group of actors thrown together? Dinah Shore, Gypsy Rose Lee and Randolph Scott couldn’t be more different but they make it work. And you even get to watch the three in Technicolor.
Scott is comfortable in the film, because by this time, he was primarily in westerns. Dinah Shore sings a few ballads and looks cute in the period gowns and her long wig.
But obviously the real sensation is seeing the famed burlesque queen on screen, Gypsy Rose Lee. This is one of 13 film credits she made between 1937 and 1969.
And then there is Charles Winninger, who you never can go wrong with as the bumbling but sweet father.
The plot is goofy, the songs are just okay but you must catch “Belle of the Yukon” for a slice of simple, happy entertainment.

Gypsy Rose Lee and Randolph Scott in "Belle of the Yukon"

Gypsy Rose Lee and Randolph Scott in “Belle of the Yukon”

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Musical Monday: Pagan Love Song (1950)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

874241_1_lThis week’s musical:
Pagan Love Song” (1950) – Musical #75

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Alton

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Minna Gombell, Rita Moreno, Charles Mauu

Plot:
Half-American, half-Tahitian Mimi (Williams) dreams of getting off the island-where she lives with her rich aunt (Gombell)- and going to the United States. Ohio school teacher Hazard Endicott (Keel) moves to the island to run a small plantation his uncle left him and is happy to relax and be lazy on the island. Will Hazard convince Mimi to change her plans?

Trivia:
-Esther Williams was pregnant while filming Pagan Love song, which made her especially concerned about filming a scene in an outrigger, according to Williams’ autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid.
-Howard Keel broke had a broken arm during part of the film, and his cast is covered with a towel during a bike riding scene, according to Keel’s autobiography “Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business.”
-Originally was supposed to star Cyd Charisse and Van Johnson, but Charisse got pregnant, according to Esther Williams autobiography.
-Originally supposed to be directed by Stanley Donen, but after having a difficult time with Donen in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Williams requested otherwise, according to her autobiography.
-Esther Williams sings two of her own songs but is dubbed by Betty want in “The Sea of the Moon”
-Produced by Arthur Freed
-Based on the book “Tahiti Landfall”

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Howard Keel and Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song

Notable Songs:
None. They were all lousy.

My review:
From the adorable, colorful poster you think “Oh this film has so much potential!”….But this isn’t one of Esther Williams better films. I’m not sure if it’s as bad as “Jupiter’s Darling,” but it’s up there. And the fact that Williams is made up in tan makeup as a part Tahitian isn’t even the worst of it.
Everyone in the film laughs non stop and smiles like an idiot for most of the movie–I guess to show that everyone-even the Ohia school teacher- loves Tahiti. But non-stop laughing in a 72 minute movie can get pretty annoying.
If you read the plot above, you can see there is absolutely nothing to this plot. As I was watching it, I even found myself thinking, “So…what’s the point of this story?” (And that’s coming from someone who has watched and enjoys silly fluff films).
The filming of this movie was about as unhappy as the viewing experience, according to both Williams’ and Keel’s autobiographies.
The director had never shot on location, Keel and Arthur Freed had a falling out, Keel was unhappy with the score and songs, Williams was nervous about sailing in an outrigger over jagged reef while pregnant, Keel had a broken arm, and it rained a large portion of the filming, according to their autobiographies.
For a film set at the beach, starring Esther Williams who is wearing a sarong 40 percent of the film, you would think there would be swimming galore. In reality there are only two swimming scenes:
-Esther Williams singing a tune while a group (her swimming class) swim in a diamond behind her.
-Williams and Keel swim in a lavish dream sequence in the last 10 minutes of the film.
For me, the most notable feature in this film is that you get to hear Esther Williams’ own singing voice in a couple of songs, while she was usually dubbed. For the more serious ballad, Betty Wand dubbed Williams but from what little we hear, Williams sounds decent.
Films that came out of the “Freed Unit” (produced by Arthur Freed), are generally glittery, fantastic forms of entertainment. Which is why I find it so shocking that “Pagan Love Song” is a real stinker.

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Life of groundbreaking Hollywood composer explored in new film

Ever wanted to get involved with a documentary or see your name in the credits of a film? Learn more about how you can get “Lives of Bernard Herrmann” closer to completion through their crowdfunding campaign.

What would the shower scene of “Psycho” be like without his piercing, staccato strings? Would the theme from “Vertigo” be as dizzying without those swirling woodwinds?

Rehearsal of The Free Company radio drama with conductor Bernard Herrmann. Image dated April 6, 1941. Copyright © 1941 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File X4467_2

Rehearsal of The Free Company radio drama with conductor Bernard Herrmann. Image dated April 6, 1941. Copyright © 1941 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File X4467_2

Forty years after his death, composer Bernard Herrmann’s still hasn’t stopped playing. His themes constantly appear in pop culture; whether it’s looped into mainstream music, used in a commercial or reworked into another composer’s score. Examples of these include Quentin Tarantino’s use of the whistling “Twisted Nerve” theme in “Kill Bill,” or the Lady Gaga using a portion of “Vertigo” in her “Born this Way” music video.

But Herrmann’s influence doesn’t stop at pop culture. You can hear traces of his impact in the scores of 20th and 21st century composers such as John Williams, Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino

To highlight his work and continuing relevance, New York-based director Brandon Brown is directing a new full-length documentary, “Lives of Bernard Herrmann,” on the composer who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Ray Harryhausen and Martin Scorsese. In February, Brown interviewed actor and former co-host of TCM’s “The Essentials” Alec Baldwin, who called Herrmann an equal to all of those artists.

Comet Over Hollywood spoke with Brown about what inspired the project and when his love for the composer began:

“Lives of Bernard Herrmann” director, Brandon Brown

COH: What made you decide to make the documentary? What is your goal?

BB: The documentary is my dream project; I want to make a film that I would like to watch on Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was not only an amazing composer but he was also an interesting person. I think his music and story deserve to be more closely examined in a longer film with new interviews. My goal is to introduce people to Herrmann’s music and also sympathize with him not only as a composer, but as a character in the documentary.

COH: What inspired the title?

BB:  In an interview from 1970*, Herrmann said, “There’s no one performance of a piece [of music] that can ever reveal the whole piece… It’s not finished. It goes on and on and on. Each performance reveals something new about it again.”

When I decided on a title for this film, I had that quote in mind and applied it to Herrmann’s life. To me, a documentary on Bernard Herrmann’s life would in fact need to be a documentary on many lives. It’d be a documentary examining Herrmann’s life before music, his life of composing music, his life as a husband and father, and, finally, how his music has lived on long after his passing.

This interview is available through the Film Music Society.

COH: When did your love for Bernard Herrmann begin? What started it?

BB: It started when I was 12 or 13 after I heard the score from “Vertigo.” Up until that point, I had a general love of soundtracks that started with my love of movies and it evolved from there. John Williams was my favorite composer before Bernard Herrmann. As I got more interested in Herrmann, I learned that Williams was influenced by Herrmann and that he knew him personally. It was interesting to connect my two favorite composers.

COH: Do you remember the first time you were introduced to Bernard Herrmann? What was the score and when was it?

BB: The first score I ever heard was “The Trouble with Harry,” which was also my first Alfred Hitchcock film. I was six or seven years old.  The score that later made me aware of Herrmann was “Vertigo.” I saw how Hitchcock’s direction, the visuals of Robert Burks, the acting of Stewart and Novak and Herrmann’s music all paralleled each other.

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.

BB: What is your favorite Herrmann score? What makes it memorable?

COH: “Obsession” (1976). It’s a genuinely haunting score through his use of organ and strings and how his themes reflect the characters. “Obsession” is really the same story as “Vertigo,” which has more of a romantic score. The score for “Obsession is much more haunting and eerie than “Vertigo,” and Herrmann’s finale makes the film.

COH: Though you are still in the early stages, when do you hope for the documentary to be complete?

BB: Summer 2016.

COH: What do your viewers have to look forward to? (Interviews, new information)

BB: The documentary will include interviews with Herrmann’s family, people he worked with and people who know his music well. Most of these are interviews that haven’t been conducted before on film. We’ll be revealing more information as the interviews are filmed.

COH: Why is it important that we remember Bernard Herrmann and his work today?

BB: First and foremost, Herrmann wrote some of the greatest music of the 20th century, ranking with any celebrated classical composers. Writing music wasn’t just a job for Herrmann, it was his life. He saw it as an art form and was dedicated to preserving that art form.  He demonstrated this by conducting the music of Ives, Ruggles and other great but generally unknown composers.

Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann

Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann

COH: How has Herrmann influenced pop culture, contemporary composers and scores?

BB: You hear his music everywhere, whether it is being reused or parodied, people are constantly finding new uses for his music. Try to think of any slasher movie that doesn’t pull inspiration from the shower scene in “Psycho,” or an outer space film that doesn’t use musical techniques from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Herrmann’s music was a foundation for horror, thriller and sci-fi film music. You always hear it. Every time you hear the theme from “Jaws,” you will hear traces of Herrmann.

COH: What interested you in film making and documentaries?

BB: There are plenty of stories to tell about people who made a significant impact in the world. I want to help tell these stories of people who are no longer around or left their mark on history.