A day in LIFE: Jan. 19, 1948

20160118_223928Comet Over Hollywood is starting a new LIFE magazine series. At the beginning of each post, I’ll feature the film article and provide a listing of other magazine highlights. Published weekly starting in November 1936 to December 1972, over 1,800 issues of LIFE magazine was printed. I collect the magazines and decided to share the film news and current events in each film, giving a snap shot of world news and pop culture.

LIFE magazine is different from People, US Weekly or other contemporary gossip rags. LIFE was a premiere photo journalism publication with cartoons, paintings and photographs detailing wars, fashion trends, life in the United States (campus dances, award winning dogs, snow storms in Wyoming) and entertainment news.

Our second post in the series details January 19, 1948, with a cover photo of actress Marcia Van Dyke, “Virtuoso Starlet.”

Movie Spotlight in LIFE:

Virtuoso Starlet—“The Prettiest first Violinist Now is a Versatile Hollywood Actress”

Marcia Van Dyke was more than just a pretty face—her talent lay in her skills as a violin player.

Marcia Van Dyke plays the violin for producer Joe Pasternak. LIFE photo by Johnny Florea (Scan by Comet Over Hollywood)

Marcia Van Dyke plays the violin for producer Joe Pasternak. LIFE photo by Johnny Florea (Scan by Comet Over Hollywood)

“The big difference between most movie starlets and Marcia Van Dyke…is that their talent begins and ends with their pretty faces. When called on to sing or swim, they need doubles. And when call on to act, they make most movie audiences wish they were singing or swimming,” says the LIFE article.

Marcia Van Dyke said she wondered why the movies wanted her.

The answer? Not only could 25-year-old Van Dyke could sing, swim and play tennis with expertise—but the icing on the cake was that she was an accomplished violinist.

Van Dyke was first photographed by LIFE in 1947 when she was performing with the San Francisco Symphony, dubbing her “the prettiest first violinist.”

Because of this photo, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Joe Pasternak wrote her a contract. In her first film, “In the Good Ole Summertime” (1948), Van Dyke plays a violinist.

Movie of the Week: The Paradine Case—“A good whodunit introduces some new European faces to the U.S. but is not the great drama it pretends to be,” says LIFE.

LIFE describes Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case,” but does not seem to think very highly of the film.

“Its producer David O. Selznick…has such faith in it (the film) that he has listed his own name a full five times in the screen credits…”

The film introduced British actress Ann Todd, French actor Louis Jourdan, and Italian actress Alida Valli.

“The latter is deemed so great that she will be known officially as just Valli,” LIFE wrote.

LIFE said the film is overly long at 132 minutes, but is a good “whodunit” film, and that Gregory Peck and Ann Todd give “first-class” performances.

“Alfred Hitchcock’s direction and Gregory Peck’s performance all deserve Academy Awards.”

Lauren Bacall—One large photo of Bacall by photographer Eliot Elisofon. A long cutline details her “catlike grace, tawny blond hair, and blue-green eyes.” The photo is for “Life’s gallery of Hollywood beauties.” The eyes in the photo represent her nickname “The Look.” The eyes were from an optometrist. She wears a whistle on her wrist in the photo, to signify her famous  whistling line to Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not.”

Actress Lauren Bacall in a LIFE photo by Eliot Elisofon. (Comet Over Hollywood scan)

Actress Lauren Bacall in a LIFE photo by Eliot Elisofon. (Comet Over Hollywood scan)

What else was in the Jan. 19, 1948, issue of LIFE?

 “Perry Mason” mystery novel mail in coupon for three free books.

 Letters to the Editor on Lana Turner from the previous magazine, noting that her hair and jewels were all wrong at the Duchess of Windsor’s party, they didn’t approve her dating Bob Topping, and one man said “Topping can have her, I don’t want her, she’s too fat for me.” The editor replied with Lana Turner’s dimensions: 5’3”, 103 pounds, 35.5 bust, 24 waist, 36 hips.

Speaking of Pictures—A two page spread of paintings by New York artist Esta Cosgrave who painted her clients in antique dress. Clients include songwriter Garold Rome, art dealer Harry Shaw Newman, poet Mark Van Doren, and Egyptologist John D. Cooney.

Paintings by Esa

Paintings by Esta Cosgrave (LIFE scans by Comet Over Hollywood)

Warfare Spreads in the Holy Land—A seven page article and photo spread details an attack on Palestine by “Arab riflemen” that came from Syria and Lebanon. The Arab military force was driven out by British troops.

“Despite the fact that the U.N. had authorize partition of Palestine and establishment of a Jewish state, it was bitterly clear that the Jewish dream of a peaceful national home was still far from fulfilment.”

"At a secret training center newly recruited members of the Jewish Haganah Army carry illegal rifles as they go into the country for intensive drills. (LIFE/Associated Press, Lt. Dr. N. Gidal

“At a secret training center newly recruited members of the Jewish Haganah Army carry illegal rifles as they go into the country for intensive drills. (LIFE/Associated Press, Lt. Dr. N. Gidal

Taxes and Politics—An article on “what taxes will produce what results”

Picture of the Week of General Claire Chennault, 57—wartime hero of the Flying Tigers, and his bride Anna Chan, a Chinese reporter, kissing after they were married in Shanghai.

Picture of the week of Gen. Chennault and Anna Chan. Photo by Jack Birns. (Comet Over Hollywood LIFE magazine scan)

Picture of the week of Gen. Chennault and Anna Chan. Photo by Jack Birns. (Comet Over Hollywood LIFE magazine scan)

Presidential Year is Off to Noisy Start—Article on the 1948 presidential campaign between Harry S. Truman, Strom Thurmond and Thomas E. Dewey.

Boy in Pain—A doctor and police officers try to free 15-year-old Joseph Gondola’s finger from a fence. On his way to school in Patterson, N.J., Joseph slipped on the ice, grabbed for the fence and his finger went through an iron fence picket. After 45 minutes, the picket was sawed off, Joseph went to the hospital and he was able to use his hand by the en of the week.

Joseph Gondola with his finger stuck on a fence. Photo by John Crivelli from the Patterson Evening News. (Scan by Comet Over Hollywood

Joseph Gondola with his finger stuck on a fence. Photo by John Crivelli from the Patterson Evening News. (Scan by Comet Over Hollywood

PEOPLE: Is Stalin Really Sick?—The week prior, Russia’s Premier Joseph Stalin was reported to have cancer, be paralyzed, tanned and ready for vacation, and dead. Swiss newspapers reported him dead on Jan. 8, but in a photo taken four weeks prior, Stalin looked healthy. Other photos in the people section are of beauty queens in France, campaigning Charles De Gaulle, Charles Lindbergh traveling to Tokyo, and Princess Margaret.

Family Basketball—Thirteen teams of relatives play in a tournament in Wilson, N.C. The Wilson Junior Chamber of Commerce held a four day basketball tournament between Christmas and New Year’s.

Orange Blight—An infection is affecting California citrus crops. A photo shows a pathologist treating one of the diseased trees with penicillin to test the effect of the drug on the virus. In 1947, the infection killed 25,000 orange trees.

LIFE photo by Loomis Dean (Scan by Comet Over Hollywood)

LIFE photo by Loomis Dean (Scan by Comet Over Hollywood)

Half page poster for the Paramount film “A Miracle Can Happen” starring Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour, James Stewart, Fred MacMurray and Burgess Meredith.

Bird Counters—Bird watchers in Washington, D.C. took the annual winter bird census. The five dozen bird counters from the National Audubon Society included anyone from teachers to government economists. In one day, they counted 12,407 birds of 77 species

Bird census counters by Francis Miller

Bird census counters by Francis Miller

“Cass Timberlane” full page poster of the Spencer Tracey and Lana Turner film.

Art of Egypt—An 11 page photo spread showing Egyptian art, tombs and temples in the Nile Valley.

Country Wide Best 10—Photospread of the top 10 best dressed women in the United States selected from their cities. The women are from Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis, Detroit, Boston and Denver.

Top 10 Best Dressed women in the United States. (LIFE scan by Comet Over Hollywood)

Top 10 Best Dressed women in the United States. (LIFE scan by Comet Over Hollywood)

New England Snowstorm—Five page photo spread detailing a New England snow storm, particularly looking at Hancock, N.H.

Photo by Robert W. Kelley

Photo by Robert W. Kelley

The Failure of Maxism—“Both socialism and communism as they actually work out, betray the hope for the better life that they once inspired,” said author John Dos Passos.

Advertisement with actor Henry Hull shaving with Williams Luxury Shaving Cream—saying that an actor’s face is extra-sensitive.

Theater: Talent Market—“The last survivors of vaudeville hawk their wares for club dates.”

After a slow death, vaudeville faced its defeat at the end of 1947, according to the article. The Loew’s State—the last vaudeville house on Broadway—did away with live performers and will only show movies. The actors turn to “club dates” booked by agents.

LIFE Goes to a French Literary Salon—The Duchess of Rochefoucauld in France still holds elegant readings in her salon.

New Air Force “Uniform”—“Ever since the independent U.S. Air Force was created last fall, fliers have been worrying about what their new uniforms would look like. Ground forces made farce like regalia which is photographed in LIFE.

The "new US Air Force" uniform, photographed by Francis Miller

The “new US Air Force” uniform, photographed by Francis Miller

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A day in LIFE: Jan. 8, 1945

LIFE magazine, Jan. 8, 1945 (Photo/Comet Over Hollywood)

LIFE magazine, Jan. 8, 1945 (Photo/Comet Over Hollywood)

Comet Over Hollywood is starting a new LIFE magazine series. At the beginning of each post, I’ll feature the film article and provide a listing of other magazine highlights. Published weekly starting in November 1936 to December 1972, over 1,800 issues of LIFE magazine was printed. I collect the magazines and decided to share the film news and current events in each film, giving a snap shot of world news and pop culture.

LIFE magazine is different from People, US Weekly or other contemporary gossip rags. LIFE was a premiere photo journalism publication with cartoons, paintings and photographs detailing wars, fashion trends, life in the United States (campus dances, award winning dogs, snow storms in Wyoming) and entertainment news.

Continue reading

Christmas on Film: Junior Miss (1945)

junior missThe same year Peggy Ann Garner performed her award winning role in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the 13-year-old actress found herself in a coming of age comedy, “Junior Miss” (1945).

Similar to “And So They Were Married” (1936), Christmas is merely a backdrop to adolescent antics in “Junior Miss” (1945), but the holidays play larger roles in this coming of age film.  Continue reading

Review: The War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942)

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Comet Over Hollywood is setting aside the usually scheduled Musical Monday for a World War II themed piece.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Stella Hadley celebrated her birthday like she did every other year.

hadley

Lunch is to be served promptly at 1 p.m. with guests: her son Theodore (Richard Ney), daughter Patricia (Jean Rogers), best friend Cecila (Spring Byington), family friend Elliot (Edward Arnold) and her doctor (Miles Mander).

Everyone gathers in the sitting room, waiting for Stella, played by Fay Bainter, to make her grand entrance once the last guest arrives. After lunch, everyone sits down to listen to the Boston Symphony on the radio.

But when they turn on the radio, news of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, Hawaii comes through. Though a national tragedy has occurred, Stella turns a deaf ear to the news.

“Please turn off that gibberish, we want to hear the symphony. I don’t know why they would permit such programs on the Sabbath,” Stella says as the news reports play before the room comprehends what has happened.

Elliot and Ted, who work for the War Department, rush to the office; Pat runs to her room to listen to the radio, and Stella is extremely agitated that the usually scheduled program has been interrupted and demands they shut off the radio.

In the process of the news, the maid tips over a tray of Mrs. Hadley’s best tea service-which was a gift from President Coolidge and begins to sob, saying her brother is at Pearl Harbor. While Stella vaguely comforts the girl, she is more concerned that she will never be able to replace the coffee cup.

As the United States enters the war and daily life changes for Americans, Stella lives in an “ivory tower,” and continues to try to live the she was before the war.

Widow of Nathanial Hadley, owner of the Washington Chronicle newspaper, Stella is one of the most prominent women in DC and, prior to her marriage, was one of the most popular girls in Washington. Since her husband died, Mrs. Hadley doesn’t approve of the way the newspaper is being run and snubs wife of the newspaper owner, Laura Winters (Isobel Elsom).

Throughout the film, several examples of changes of daily life hit Stella Hadley and she has a hard time stomaching them. She faces most of these changes with anger, indigence and a lack of understanding of what’s going on in the world.

Pat (Jean Rogers) meets Mike (Van Johnson) at the canteen on Christmas Eve. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Pat (Jean Rogers) meets Mike (Van Johnson) at the canteen on Christmas Eve. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Stella is especially unhappy when the war upsets her household as they are drafted or take part in the war effort:

  • Her chauffer, Peters, lets her know he is leaving his job, because he was drafted and is reporting for service. She says she wishes he had given her more notice and Cecilia chimes in that Stella shouldn’t give the chauffer a reference for his next job.
  • Pat volunteers at a canteen on Christmas Eve. When Stella asks why she can’t stay home, Pat says, “It’s Christmas Eve for the soldiers too.”
  • Elliot moves Ted, who drinks more than work, to active service. He feels it’s the only way Ted will make anything of himself. Stella thinks she can use her influence to get Ted out of the war but can’t. Ted isn’t happy about going overseas but comes to see that it’s his duty. Angry that Elliot can’t get Ted out of the war, Stella tells him that she never wants to see him again.
  • The butler, Bennett, (Halliwell Hobbes), becomes a local air raid warden and has to leave at a moment’s notice for drills.
hadley4

Mrs. Hadley (Fay Bainter) talks with Elliot (Edward Arnold) at the War Department, trying to get her son out of the war.

Other inconveniences include having to turn out her lights during a black out drill and having to be escorted to Elliot’s office in the War Department, rather than being able to waltz back on her own.

While working at the canteen Pat meets and falls in love with soldier Michael Fitzpatrick (Johnson). The two eventually marry, but Stella, who doesn’t approve of the marriage, doesn’t attend.

Society women even scoff at her saying she doesn’t “have an ounce of patriotism in her.”

Her determination to keep everything how it was before for the war leads to Stella ending up alone.

Pat and Mike on their wedding day.

Pat and Mike on their wedding day.

Pat asked Ted to bring her their mother the wedding bouquet, since she didn't attend the wedding. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Pat asked Ted to bring her their mother the wedding bouquet, since she didn’t attend the wedding. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

It eventually takes news of Ted and Laura Winters’ son from the war department for Stella to come around.

“The War Against Mrs. Hadley” (1942) is a real gem. World War II-era films are my favorite, and I haven’t seen many like this one.  This film is what would be known as a “B-Movie” but somehow; even low budget MGM films sparkle and make you feel good. Since this film begins on Pearl Harbor and depicts the start of World War II in the United States, it seemed appropriate to share a review on the anniversary of the 1941 attacks.

And on an interesting note–December 7 was really actress Fay Bainter’s birthday.

“Mrs. Hadley” was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay written by George Oppenheimer. However, the film lost to “Woman of the Year.”

War posterThe cast is wonderful. Fay Bainter and Edward Arnold are terrific as the main leads. Spring Byington is also hilariously flighty. “Mrs. Hadley” is also Van Johnson’s first credited role after four uncredited  films prior. Johnson said Bainter was kind and helpful to him during the filming. “Thank God for ‘Mrs. Hadley,’” Johnson is quoted in the book “Van Johnson: MGM’s Golden Boy.” “That was the beginning. Then I began to roll.”

This was also Richard Ney’s second film—his first was “Mrs. Miniver” that same year. Sara Algood has a small role as Johnson’s Irish mother, and character actress Connie Gilchrist has some hilarious lines in her five minutes on screen as the cook. One of my favorite characters, however, is the butler played by Halliwell Hobbes.

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther scoffed at the film, saying it came too late coming after the start of the war and that the character of Stella Hadley is “barely reflective of an average American type.” However, I think this is an interesting time capsule for today’s viewers, showing that not everyone was in favor of the war or willing to change their lifestyles.

In the end, when Stella changes her ways and begins holding committee meetings and hosting soldiers in her home, it is also a message to 1942 audiences that it is not too late for them to get involved in the American war effort.

While “The War Against Mrs. Hadley” is a wonderful little film and one I thoroughly enjoy, it’s unfortunately rather rare. It was never released on VHS or DVD, can’t be found online, but is occasionally aired on Turner Classic Movies.

If you ever have the opportunity to see this MGM jewel, be sure to do so.

Edward Arnold and Fay Bainter in a publicity shot for "The War Against Mrs. Hadley."

Edward Arnold and Fay Bainter in a publicity shot for “The War Against Mrs. Hadley.”

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Review: Bride of Boogedy (1987)

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A year after “Mr. Boogedy” (1986) aired, the Wonderful World of Disney aired its 1987 sequel, “Bride of Boogedy.”

In the sequel, the Davis family is now comfortably settled at their newly renovated in Lucifer Home and happily rid of the ghost Mr. Boogedy for a year.

The children in Mr. Lynch's store, and Mr. Lynch being grumpy.

The children in Mr. Lynch’s store, and Mr. Lynch being grumpy.

The family is involved and well liked in the town now, much to the chagrin of shop owner Tom Lynch (Eugene Levy). Eloise and Carl Davis (Mimi Kennedy and Richard Masur) are preparing to open their Gag City store downtown, and Carl Davis was named mayor of the town’s festival. This is a position usually held by Mr. Lynch, causing Mr. Lynch wanting the Davis family to leave town.

One night while walking home from babysitting, their daughter Jennifer (Tammy Lauren) is spooked in the woods by someone in a hat and cloak telling her to get out of his house. Believing that Mr. Boogedy is back, Jennifer runs home screaming.

Jennifer’s brothers Aurie (Joshua Rudoy) and Corwin (David Faustino) make fun of her and her parents assure her that Mr. Boogedy is gone. However, Aurie and Corwin both have a nightmare the same night of visiting Mr. Boogedy at his grave and him breaking out of his statue.

Possessed Carleton floating down the hall.

Possessed Carleton floating down the hall.

The children visit Mr. Boogedy’s grave and meet gravedigger Lazarus (Vincent Schiavelli). The family also meets a swamie (Karen Kondazian) who tells them that they will see Mr. Boogedy again. During a séance to make the children believe Mr. Boogedy is never coming back, they unknowingly awaken the ghost and he returns. Mr. Boogedy possesses Carl so he can get his magic cloak and come back to life. His family is able to save him but then Mr. Lynch steals the cloak, believing it will make him as popular as Carleton.

Mr. Boogedy and possessed Eloise, dressed as Maid Marion.

Mr. Boogedy and possessed Eloise, dressed as Maid Marion.

Mr. Lynch, possessed by Mr. Boogedy, gives him the cloak and Mr. Boogedy appears at the town festival. Eloise is dressed as Widow Marion, the woman that Mr. Boogedy once loved, and Mr. Boogedy put her under his spell—which makes her hair change into Elsa Lanchester-like Frankenstein hair—and takes her with him.

The family has to get Eloise back and get rid of Mr.Boogedy.

The charm and fun that is the first “Mr. Boogedy” (1986) is not present in this made-for-TV sequel.

Much of the cast is the same, but the actors for children Aurie and Jennifer are different.

Leonard Frey as Mr. Witherspoon with spinach ice cream.

Leonard Frey as Mr. Witherspoon with spinach ice cream.

John Astin who was a highlight in the first film also isn’t in this movie. Instead of Neil Witherspoon we have Walter Witherspoon played by Leonard Frey. Frey’s Witherspoon is rather odd, rather than spookily hilarious. For example, the movie starts with him telling ghost stories about Mr. Boogedy and he makes special ice cream for the festival such as spinach with bacon bits ice cream and chocolate with onion ice cream.

Also, while “Mr. Boogedy” is a brisk 45 minutes, “Bride of Boogedy” is 95 minutes long. It drags with a plot that seems to struggle to find focus. The séance and Mr. Boogedy coming back is more than 30 minutes into this movie.

“Bride of Boogedy” still holds fond childhood memories and I remember thinking parts of it were funny as a child (like moments when Carleton is possessed by Mr. Boogedy), but the length and plot are just not as charming as its predecessor. This proves that sequels and longer lengths don’t make a better movie.

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Halloweek: Mr. Boogedy (1986)

Many of us have movies that we watched repeatedly as children.

For my two older sisters and myself, it was the made-for-TV Disney horror comedy “Mr. Boogedy” (1986). My sisters saw it when it originally aired on Disney channel on a Sunday night in April of 1986. Eventually my parents recorded it off of the television to keep and we’ve had it ever since. I’ve watched it more times than I can count and can still quote along.

Our version of the VHS tape was recorded in the mid-1990s, complete with commercials for the New Mickey Mouse Club, an up and coming singer named Brandy Norwood and promos for movies such as “Angels in the Outfield” and “Batteries Not Included.” I’m re-watching this Pickens family favorite on the old VHS as I type.

The Davis's new home, a

The Davis’s new home, a “definite fixer upper”

The 45 minute movie follows the Davis family who moves to small town Lucifer Falls, New England to live in a in their very first house. The parents- Eloise (Mimi Kennedy) and Carleton Davis (Richard Masur)- apparently didn’t see the house in person before purchasing and just went by what the realtor said.

The family plans to open a franchise gag store, Gag City. Carleton is full of practical jokes and frequently quips “just kidding.”

When they pull up to the decrepit old house with wind blowing and lightening striking, Carleton excitedly exclaims, “Just what the realtor said, a definite fixer upper.” The rest of the family isn’t too sure- which includes two sons Corwin (David Faustino) and Aurie (Benji Gregory) and daughter Jennifer (Kristy Swanson).

family

Carleton puts down their concern that the house is haunted. When they enter, the local historian and head of the Lucifer Falls Chamber of Commerce Neil Witherspoon (John Astin) is waiting for them and warning them to leave the evil house so Mr. Boogedy doesn’t get them.

But since jokes are Careleton’s business, he assumes Witherspoon is just pulling his leg. Their first night in the house, Jennifer hears strange sneezing. She later sees a strange green light coming from a closed door and is the first person in the house to see Mr. Boogedy. She says his face looked like a “grilled cheese sandwich.” The family finds Jennifer passed out in the hall “tapping her heels together and saying ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Since their parents still don’t believe them that the house is haunted, Corwin, Aurie and Jennifer, pay a visit to Mr. Witherspoon to find out the story of their home:

William Hanover selling his soul to the Devil for a magic cloak.

William Hanover selling his soul to the Devil for a magic cloak.

During the Puritan days, disgruntled pilgrim William Hanover/Mr. Boogedy falls in love with the Widow Marion, who turns him down. In order to get his way, William Hanover sells his soul to the Devil for a magic cloak so he can win the Widow Marion. While Marion is taking her son Jonathan to the doctor for a cold, Hanover kidnaps Jonathan-this explains the strange sneezing in their house. To prove how powerful he is, Mr. Boogedy casts his first spell with the cloak but ends up blowing up his house instead. Now any house that is built on this property is haunted by My. Boogedy who is trapped there with Jonathan and Marion can not get to her son, who still has a cold. The Davis house is on this property.

Moved by the story, the Davis children decide they need to help Jonathan and Widow Marion, who they end up meeting and the ghosts warn them to get away from evil Mr. Boogedy.

It takes Mr. Boogedy making a stuffed dummy dance and playing their organ to convince Eloise and Carleton that the house is haunted. Eloise meets Marion, hears her story and Eloise moves the family to fight Mr. Boogedy.

Wielding a can of hairspray, a plastic baseball bat, a fly swatter, a vacuum and a toy plastic Thor hammer, the Davis family defeats Mr. Boogedy, steals his cloak and reunites Marion and Jonathan.

The plotline of “Mr. Boogedy” is simple and silly. However, just writing about this movie and spelling out the plot doesn’t truly convey just how much fun this charming little TV movie is. There are small lines in the film that make me laugh every time that typed out, wouldn’t be remotely funny.

“Eat the eggs!”

For example, there is a moment when the mom says “We need to call the realtor” after being spooked or when Aurie wears gag glasses, making his eyes huge, and urges his sister to “Eat the eggs!” as they play a joke on her. These are lines that have been quoted in my household for years because of this movie.

By far, the highlight of this movie is John Astin as Neil Witherspoon. He is creepy, yet also bumbling in a hilarious and quirky way. He’s easily my favorite character, though he is in the movie for less than 15 minutes.

The two sons in this movie, went on to star in successful 1980s sitcoms-David Faustino in “Married with Children” and Benji Gregory in “Alf.” According to a 2011 interview with “Mr. Boogedy” director Oz Scott, Joaquin Phoenix auditioned for the role of one of the sons and was turned down.

John Astin as Mr. Witherspoon

John Astin as Mr. Witherspoon

While “Mr. Boogedy” is by no means scary, it has the atmospheric, ghostly music, voices coming from nowhere and suspenseful moments of peering into shadows. But the frights are evened out well with goofiness and humor to make it not scary for children. Audiences don’t even see Mr. Boogedy until the last 10 minutes of the movie.

There is something just so pure and 1980s American about this movie. A family moves to the New England suburbs without researching the home, the daughter complains there won’t be cute boys or Bruce Springsteen listeners, the mom makes sandwiches with Kraft singles and it’s all just so refreshing. The jokes are goofy, but humorous to any ages. The writers didn’t have to resort to bodily function noises or falls like they would today in comedies geared towards children.

A year later, Disney released a second, longer made-for-TV movie sequel, “The Bride of Boogedy,” which Comet is reviewing this week.

If you have never seen “Mr. Boogedy” or need to revisit it, I urge you to do so. It is 45 minutes well spent. Turner Classic Movies is airing this rare gem as part of their Treasures from the Disney Vaults which starts at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 28. “Mr. Boogedy” airs at 2 a.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 29, so set your DVRs.

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

The Rumba King and South American Influence in Film

Original caption: Picture shows Xavier Cugat, he became known as the "Rhumba King," and he and his famous band were greatly responsible for the popularity of the "Rhumba," "Samba" and the "Conga." Undated photo circa 1940s-50s. --- Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

Xavier Cugat

One of my favorite CDs to listen to while my hour long commute is “Maracas, Marimbas & Mambos: Latin Classics At M-G-M.” Along with ballads performed by Colombian singer Carlos Ramierz and toe tapping, show stoppers by Carmen Miranda, one of my favorite 1940s bandleaders multiple times on this album: Xavier Cugat.  From the fun and humorous “Take it Easy” from “Two Girls and A Sailor” (1944) to the bouncing “Walter Winchell Rumba,” Cugat’s songs are jaunty and full of spirit.

What do you think of when you hear “1940s culture”?  Big band music performed by the likes of Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey with teens swing dancing and Frank Sinatra crooning? Though big band and swing seem to characterize the popular perception of World War II era United States, one of the biggest fads in the United States in the 1940’s was Latin and Spanish culture.

Throughout the mid-1930s through the early-1950s, Hispanic themed music was popular and Xavier Cugat was the Rumba King.

Cugat, nicknamed Cugie, was arguably was the top Hispanic bandleader during this time, popularizing the rumba in the United States. Cugat’s popularity landed him into 17 Hollywood films, including “Luxury Liner” and “Holiday in Mexico” with Jane Powell, and “Thrill of Romance,” “Bathing Beauty” and “On an Island with You” with Esther Williams.

In most of his film appearances, Cugat was accompanied by his female singer, Lina Romay.

Cugat’s trademark was directing his musicians with his violin in one hand while holding a chihuahua in the other. Other times he may sketch a quick drawing while directing.

Xavier Cugat in “Holiday in Mexico” (1948) performing the song “Yo Te Amo Mucho-And That’s That”

Along with Cugat, other hispanic performers would be featured, but each had their own musical style and none overlapped. Carmen Miranda’s numbers were colorful and often comical, characterized by her detailed and elaborate costumes.

Pianist José Iturbi would be featured playing classical pieces, sometimes accompanied by his sister Amparo.

But the Latin fueled music didn’t stop with Cugat, Iturbi and Miranda. In “Easy to Wed” (1946), Esther Williams and Van Johnson sing in Portuguese–coached by Carmen Miranda–“Bonecu de Pixe,” accompanied by “Hit Parade” organist Hazel Smith. Williams said they were trained by Carmen Miranda and she felt ridiculous singing in Portuguese since she was butchering the language, according to her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”

To a lesser degree, in most 1940s films, if the stars are in a nightclub, you bet they will be doing a rumba at one point. In “A Date with Judy” (1948)  Carmen Miranda teaches Wallace Beery how to rumba so he can dance with his wife, Selena Royal, for their anniversary. Even Charles Laughton was doing the rumba with Deanna Durbin in “It Started with Eve” (1941).

But this Hispanic influence didn’t stop at the music during this time period: It translated into clothing, film themes and dances.

Fashion

Donna Reed on a June 1946 cover of LIFE in peasant clothes

The Spanish and Latin influence was not just limited to night club entertainment but also rubbed off on fashion.

Popular 1940s summer fashions were influenced by Latin culture with peasant blouses, colorful fiesta skirts and espadrille shoes.

Jane Powell can be seen wearing this style in wore a  in “Luxury Liner” (1948). The July 17, 1944, LIFE magazine cover features a model wearing what was known as the “Peasant Clothes.” She is wearing a lose, capped sleeve blouse, a flared striped skirt and wedged hemp shoes.

 

Fly Rio, Rio by the sea-o

Movies reflected the Spanish influence interest with fashions, music, location and even film title. Some films in the 1940s were:

Down Argentine Way (1940)
Week-End in Havana (1941)
Holiday In Mexico (1946)
•Thrill in Brazil (1946)

Other movies like “Gilda” (1946) or “Romance on the High Seas” (1948) are located in South America and take part in Carnival.

Why was this Hispanic influence huge in United States pop culture? 

The Good Neighbor Policy.

To state it as simply as possible-During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency starting in 1933, the policy was created with the principle for the United States not to interfere with domestic affairs in Latin America, and the United States acting like “a good neighbor.”

Specifically with stars like Brazilian Carmen Miranda, her job was to star in patriotic films such as “The Gang’s All Here” to bridge the gap between the Americas.

However, the policy declined in 1945 after World War II ended and the Cold War began.

Cugat remained popular throughout the 1950s, but much like big band performers like Harry James or Tommy Dorsey, his popularity faded as the rumbas and dance music were less relevant and rock n’ roll started to emerge. He retired in 1971 after suffering a stroke.

This is part of the Hollywood Hispanic Heritage Blogathon with Aurora’s Gin Joint.

hollywoods-hispanic-heritage-blogathon-1

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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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Review: “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961)

gidget-goes-hawaiian-movie-poster-1961-1010681749I almost stopped this movie after watching for 20 minutes.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961) is the worst of the Gidget series. Even the 1969 made-for-TV film, “Gidget Grows Up” starring Karen Valentine, is better.

The success of the 1959 “Gidget” film was followed by two feature films, three made-for-TV movies and two television shows.

As previously mentioned, I adore the film “Gidget” (1959) that spawned a beach culture craze. However, the film that followed two years later is abysmal.

In the film, Moondoggie/Jeff Matthews (James Darren) returns from college. He and Gidget spend a carefree summer together, and Moondoggie gives Gidget his fraternity pin. All is bliss until Gidget’s parents (Jeff Donnell, Carl Reiner) surprise her with a trip to Hawaii. Rather than being overjoyed, Gidget is outraged, because she will have to leave Moondoggie, who only has two weeks of summer vacation left. In a tizzy, she runs to tell him the bad news. Rather than being angry with her, Moondoggie is happy that she has the opportunity to go on this trip. Naturally Gidget assumes that this means he doesn’t love her, so she flies off the handle, gives him back his fraternity pin and decides she wants to go to Hawaii.

On the flight to Hawaii, Gidget meets Abby Stewart (Vicki Trickett) who is spoiled and boy crazy. Also on their flight is popular TV dancer Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), who Abby immediately sets her sights on, but Eddie is more interested in Gidget. Once in Hawaii, Gidget mopes around and misses Moondoggie. To cheer her up, Dad invites Moondoggie to Hawaii so the two can patch up their relationship. But when Moondoggie arrives, he finds Gidget with Eddie. Filled with anger, Moondoggie sets out to have a good time with Abby and the two work to make the other jealous. Abby is also jealous of all the male attention Gidget is receiving and starts a rumor that she is a loose woman and sleeps around.

Moondoggie (Darren) catches Eddie (Callan) and Gidget (Walley) together.

Moondoggie (Darren) catches Eddie (Callan) and Gidget (Walley) together.

The whole purpose of the original story of “Gidget” is the fact that she is a petite girl who surfed. There are two surfing scenes in the movie, but surfing is not the focus here. While the 1959 film is a splash of Malibu color, the cinematographer and director did not take advantage of the lush Hawaiian scenery while shooting on location.

The issue with “Gidget Goes Hawiian” boils down to this is the casting of Gidget.

Deborah Walley simply is no Gidget. She is whiney, shrill, squealy and honestly isn’t cute. Of the actresses that played Gidget (Sandra Dee, Cindy Carol, Sally Field, Karen Valentine, Monie Ellis, Kathy Gori, Caryn Richman), Walley is probably the worst.

Walley has a jazzy moment on the dance floor with Michael Callan—the original Riff in the Broadway version of “West Side Story—and later does a solo hula, which comes across as awkward. She later has a bizarre dream sequence where she imagines herself as a streetwalker and fan dancer.

Gidget (Walley) imagines herself as a street walker?

Gidget (Walley) imagines herself as a street walker?

“Frankly, we’ll take Miss Dee’s direct sweetness to Miss Walley’s squealing, calliope innocence any day,” Howard Thompson wrote in his Aug. 10, 1961, New York Times review.

Even the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner, agreed Sandra Dee was the best fit for the character. Gidget went from a cute, tomboy to being just like her boy crazy friends in this film.

Columbia wanted Sandra Dee to reprise her role, but she was under contract at Universal Pictures who would not release her for the film.

Moondoggie (Darren) tries to make Gidget jealous with Abby (Trickett)

Moondoggie (Darren) tries to make Gidget jealous with Abby (Trickett)

Walley apparently didn’t want to be cast in the film, because she considered herself a serious actor who was acting in New York. More than 150 other actresses were considered, according to “Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave” by Thomas Lisanti.

James Darren reprised his role as Moondoggie and is the best reason to watch the film. Jeff Donnell and Carl Reiner are fine as Gidget’s parents, though it is odd to see THE Carl Reiner in a “Gidget” film. The cast is rounded off by Peggy Cass and Eddie Foy, Jr.—another odd casting choice—as Abby’s parents.

This film does something which most sequels are guilty of, which is assuming the audience is stupid. “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” begins with Moondoggie giving Gidget his pin…but Gidget already agreed to wear his pin at the end of the 1959 film.

“James Darren is the steady lad who lands Gidget (as before, if we recall),” the New York Times also notes that we already knew they were going steady.

However, this film doesn’t ignore the fact that the 1959 film exists. As Gidget recounts her romance with Moondoggie to Abby, there are three painful reenactments of the 1959 version with Deborah Walley acting as Sandra Dee’s character, down to her wearing the same red, white and blue striped bathing suit.

L to R: 1959 Gidget in red bathing suit, 1961 Gidget reenactment of the original film, the scene Walley is reenacting.

L to R: 1959 Gidget in red bathing suit, 1961 Gidget reenactment of the original film, the scene Walley is reenacting.

The film also assumes the audience is stupid with Joby Baker’s role of Judge Hamilton, a college student Gidget meets on the plane to Hawaii and one of the many males flanking. In the 1959 film, Baker played one of the surf bums Stinky who sells Gidget her surf board.

Gidget’s moping about Moondoogie is pretty ridiculous as she says things such as, “I can’t swim in Hawaii, it’s the same ocean Jeff and I used to swim in.”

The film gets even more painful to watch once Moondoggie arrives in Hawaii and he and Gidget work to make each other jealous. Gidget hangs all over the guys and also does crazy stunts—such as a dangerous water ski jump—to give a thrill seeking vibe and show Moondogie she no longer cares for him, though this is false. These types of plots are frustrating to me anyways. I’m watching the film for their romance; not their petty arguement.

Though Sandra Dee is a spunkier fit for “Gidget,” I’m not even sure if she could have saved this film with its ridiculous script.

“Gidget Goes Hawaiian” is just one of many films proving that the original will generally be better than the sequel.

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Gidget: Bringing the Surf Culture to Mainstream

When I first started getting interested in classic films, my mom would get excited about movies she wanted to introduce to me. “Gidget” (1959) was one that she could hardly wait to show me.

Views of Sandra Dee in some of my favorite swimsuits and dresses from "Gidget."

Views of Sandra Dee in some of my favorite swimsuits and dresses from “Gidget.”

Sitting there on a Sunday night at age 14, I fell in love with this film. It’s an explosion of color on the gorgeous backdrop of Malibu beach. It features awesome surfing shots and has excellent cast filled with one-liners that are real gems. It’s the perfect fun-in-the-sun Southern California travelogue. To date, it also has one of my favorite film wardrobes.

The movie was pivotal in my film love and got me further entrenched in 1960s pop culture. I read up on famous surfers, researched surfer lingo, listened to the Beach Boys, plastered 1960s surf images around my room and hunted for bathing suits that gave off a 1960s vibe. Of course, I wanted to learn how to surf, which has still never happened since I live four hours away from the beach on the east coast.

“Gidget” is the story of a teenage tomboy, Francie Lawrence (Sandra Dee), who isn’t interested on going on “man-hunts” with her shapely female friends. Up until this summer, her extracurricular activities involved playing the cello and making straight A’s in school. Her dismay with her one-track-minded friends leads to joining a group of male surfers, much to their chagrin. Once they realize she’s interested in surfing and can hold her own in their group, Francie becomes their mascot and is nicknamed “Gidget”- the girl midget. Most of the boys live for surfing and some are “surf bums,” living on the beach all summer with the Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson) as their leader. Of course, Gidget’s summer doesn’t come without romance, as she is smitten with Moondoggie (James Darren).

"Gidget" film poster featuring Cliff Robertson, Sandra Dee, James Darren.

“Gidget” film poster featuring Cliff Robertson, Sandra Dee, James Darren.

On the surface, this is a teen beach romance. However, the film is also exploring if should Gidget follow the mainstream and chase boys with her friends or if she should do what she loves as one of the few females surfing in Malibu. Gidget’s loving but concerned parents (Arthur O’Connell, Mary LaRoche) support their daughter in her new outdoor activity but are still concerned about the type of people she is hanging around.

While “Gidget” may seem like a piece of fluff, this film was not only influential in the life of an impressionable 14 year old, but also in American culture. The first film started a popular franchise of “Gidget” sequels and television shows. But outside of the sequels, it also spawned a film subgenre of beach party films. These mainly low budget teenage beach films featured attractive teens in bathing suits, surfing, slapstick comedy and performances from popular 1960s musicians.

Every surfing film from “Beach Blanket Bingo” to “The Endless Summer” was a result of “Gidget,” though “Gidget” remains to be one of the better beach films. But it didn’t stop at movies; the popularity of beach music such as Dick Dale, The Ventures or the Beach Boys was also a direct correlation.

However, “Gidget” wasn’t just a story that started a popular franchise and culture. It was all based off a southern California teenager who wanted to write a story about her summer.

Cover of the 1956 by Frederick Kohner- featuring Kathy Kohner- about his daughter's surf adventures.

Cover of the 1956 by Frederick Kohner- featuring Kathy Kohner- about his daughter’s surf adventures.

The film is based off the 1956 book “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas” by Hollywood screenwriter Frederick Kohner. Kohner’s 15-year-old daughter, Kathy, started surfing one summer and would share her beach stories with her father. When Kathy wanted to write a story about her adventures as the mascot “Gidget,” Kohner offered to write it for her. It took Kohner six weeks to write the book which involved reading excerpts from her diary, listening in on phone calls (both with her permission) and conversations with his daughter. Kathy shared the nicknames of the surfers and the surfer slang, from “kuks” to “bitchin’” to “shootin’ the curl.” The book became a bestseller and spawned the film.

The real Gidget was fairly amused by the film, writing in her dairy, “Saw Gidget today, it was funny.” Kathy said in “Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave” by Thomas Lisant that she had never heard of Sandra Dee, but when they met she was very sweet. The sweet, innocent Sandra Dee character was a far cry from her experiences at the beach. In the book, Gidget talks about wearing a particular sweater to make her breasts look perky, smoked cigarettes or frequently uses the word “bitchin’” to describe the waves.

Sandra Dee as Gidget with the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner in 1959.

Sandra Dee as Gidget with the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner in 1959.

“It was quite funny seeing Sandra Dee and these other people acting in a movie that some of us lived,” Kathy said in Lisant’s book. “I think Miss Dee did an outstanding, memorable job and captured a moment in time…I am a real person. I’m shorter than Dee and have dark hair. I was a bit tenacious and bit fearless…Certainly I had a different personality but of all the actress that played Gidget, Sandra Dee came the closest in capturing my experiences from surfing to wishing my breasts would grow bigger to my relationship with my parents.”

As the surfing subculture reached mainstream, the once calm Malibu were overcrowded. The number of surfboards in the water seemed dangers to Kathy, according to Lisant. Once the film was released, Kathy was in college at Oregon State, but the real Gidget stopped surfing in 1960. The beaches were over populated with the craze that she unintentionally began.

Photos below from an Oct. 28, 1957, LIFE photo spread on Kathy Kohner and her father: 

Kathy2 Kathy and surfers Kathy and Fredrick Kathy 1957 life Kathy 1956 16 year old kathy

 

What is your favorite beach film? Which Gidget is your favorite? 

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