About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

“The next 58 years will be a breeze”: An interview with RiverRun Master of Cinema awardees Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin

The RiverRun International Film Festival has been held since 1998. Originally held in Brevard, NC, the festival now takes place in Winston-Salem. Held this year from April 4 – 14, 2019, the festival is screening 172 films from 47 countries—71 features and 101 shorts.

Each year, a pillar in the film industry is recognized with the Master of Cinema award. This year, that award goes to husband and wife Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin, and film producer and head of Orion pictures Mike Medavoy.

Prentiss and Benjamin have been married for 58 years. Paula Prentiss is best known for her 1960s and 1970s roles including “Where the Boys Are” (1960), “The Honeymoon Machine” (1961) and “What’s New Pussycat” (1965). She co-starred with Jim Hutton in three films. Her film “Man’s Favorite Sport?” (1964) with Rock Hudson will screen at the festival. Richard Benjamin both acts and directs. His directorial debut was the Peter O’Toole film “My Favorite Year” and he also directed “The Money Pit” (1986) and “Mermaids” (1990). His acting roles include “Goodbye, Christopher Columbus” (1969) and “The Sunshine Boys” (1975), which is screening at the festival. The two acted together on the TV show “He and She” as well as “Catch-22” (1970), “Saturday the 14th” (1981), and the Broadway play “The Norman Conquests” (1975).

I had the opportunity to interview actress Paula Prentiss and actor/director Richard Benjamin via phone on Sunday, April 7:

Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin in the 1960s

Comet Over Hollywood: Tell me about how you two met.

Richard Benjamin: We met at Northwestern University. Paula had transferred from Randolph-Macon College. And Paula had transferred from Randolph-Macon. She was a year ahead of me and I came from New York, New York City, and that’s where we met. And the first second I saw her, I thought, that’s it for me, so … I don’t know how long it took her to feel the same way exactly, you can ask her, but I knew that was it.

Paula Prentiss: Well let me see. I was at a women’s college beforehand and the dating that we had was off to other universities. I was at Randolph–Macon Women’s College, I went to the University of Virginia, went to Yale one time. But I thought to myself, I have to find some guy that I really like. These individual dating trips are a little … I don’t know what I thought. But anyway, that’s one of the reasons I transferred from Randolph–Macon Women’s College.

And when I saw Dick … He was very cute. Tall and thin and stuff like that, and I thought, I didn’t know much about acting, but he was supposed to be a director so perhaps this will work. I tried out for a play, even though I was very inexperienced in acting, and he liked me. So then when we had rehearsals, we were left alone in the rehearsal room…

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The Loneliness of a Classic Film Lover: 10 years of blogging at Comet Over Hollywood

Celebrating 10 years of Comet Over Hollywood

“The Loneliness of a Classic Film Watcher.”

That could be a film title for anyone who loved classic films long after the movie’s initial release, but was also before chatting about films online with strangers became mainstream.

You were considered odd and didn’t really have anyone to talk to about your interest; bottling up your obsession inside so that you may bust at any moment.

If you loved classic films at least 20 to 40 years after their initial release, you know the loneliness I mean.

I don’t care if you turned up your nose to “RoboCop” in 1987 to watch “Roman Holiday” (1953), or rolled your eyes when your friends went to see “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) and stayed home to watch “Red Dust” (1932), you know what I’m talking about.

For me, I was starting middle school in 2000. Paris Hilton was frequently in the headlines, frosted lip-gloss and velour jogging suits were in fashion, and O*Town was the hot new boy band.

And there I was, age 12, daydreaming about Davy Jones of the Monkees. I grew up on classic films, but I was 13 when I embraced it as my own interest. I’ll never forget returning to school for the eighth grade after the summer and gushing to my friends about “Pillow Talk” (1959) and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). Most people didn’t know what I was talking about, and as I progressed into high school, I was just the weird, old movie girl who wore headbands to look like she was from the 1960s.

Fast-forward to 2009.

I was a junior at Winthrop University in Larry Timbs, PhD, news writing class. Citizen journalism was all the rage and blogs were the thing to have. Think about how 2019 is with podcasts — that was blogging 10 years ago.

Dr. Timbs urged us to start blogs and went as far as to say that news outlets may not hire us if we didn’t write on a blog. As a college junior, I was anxious about getting a newspaper job after college and trying to get an internship that summer.

So I headed back to my dorm and — feeling like I had to do anything that very moment to be a good job candidate — I created Comet Over Hollywood on April 1, 2009, 10 years ago this month.

And as I typed furiously my first (terrible) piece on the Delmer Daves’ film “Susan Slade” (1961), I had no idea what lay ahead or that I would still be doing this 10 years later.

While the creation of Comet Over Hollywood gave me an outlet to write, it also unexpectedly filled that void of loneliness I, a classic film lover, carried in those days.

Through writing about my favorite films, I met other people close to my age that enjoyed the same films I did and shared my enthusiasm. And over the years, these blog comments turned into dear friendships with several people who still write and that I’ve met in person—including Raquel at Out of the Past, Jill at the RetroSet and Angela at The Hollywood Revue.

Blogging friendships expanded to chatting with other film lovers on Twitter and Facebook. Now, a classic film lover in their teens or twenties can easily connect with like-minded people across the country. Social media gets a bad rap, but for those friendships, it is worth it.

As for 10 years? Comet Over Hollywood has grown and evolved just like I have. A few of my favorite things out of writing it includes:
• Doing silly things like trying wacky classic actress beauty tips.
• Having the opportunity to interview people connected with classic films. I never considered this as an opportunity when I start.
Making friends over the years.

I would like to close with some unsolicited blogging advice. I have been asked, “How do you find the time to blog?” If you follow me, I have tried to post at least once-a-week since 2013. There isn’t a magical answer; you just have to do it. My advice is that you can’t make blogging an option or think of it as an extra-curricular activity. You can’t blog three times a year and expect anyone to consistently come to your page, no matter how good your articles are.

It’s work. Think of it as something you have to do, like exercise or homework. You may not feel like doing it, but you will be happy with the result. Heck, I’m writing this at 10:19 p.m. on a Friday night when I want to be in bed but here I am.

I hope that I’m still sharing my love of classic films with you for another 10 years. Thank you for all of your support over the years. I truly appreciate it. You made me feel less alone.

And thank you, Dr. Timbs, for unknowingly working as the driving force behind this page.

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

Actress Beauty Tip No. 40: Greta Garbo Chamomile Tea Hair Rinse

This is the 40th installment of the classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

I have tried several beauty tips over the years – some of the craziest seem to involve hair: Rinsing hair with champagne and beer, or bleaching it blonde.

My most recent hair experiment comes from Greta Garbo and may also be the tamest. I learned this tip from film writer and professor Thomas Doherty on Twitter.

Greta Garbo photographed by Clarence Sinclair Bull in 1932

Greta Garbo was one of Hollywood’s top stars from 1925 to 1941. The Swedish star, however, was known for avoiding reporters.

While in New York City in late 1931, Garbo was traveling under the name Gussie Berger and refused interviews with reporters. So enterprising reporter Dorothy Ducas of the International News Service disguised herself as a hairdresser’s assistant to get a story, according to the Editor’s Note of Ducas’s Jan. 4, 1932, article “Glamorous Garbo Gives Good Interview Out to Girl Reporter in Gotham.”

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Watching 1939: Zenobia (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Zenobia (1939)

Release date:  April 21, 1939

Cast:  Oliver Hardy, Harry Langdon, Billie Burke, James Ellison, Jean Parker, Alice Brady, June Lang, Olin Howland, J. Farrell MacDonald, Hattie McDaniel, Stepin Fetchit, Hobart Cavanaugh, Zenobia the elephant

Studio:  Hal Roach Studios

Director:  Gordon Douglas

Plot:
Set in 1870, Dr. Tibbett (Oliver) is a country doctor who no longer cares for the rich people in town. His daughter Mary (Parker) becomes engaged to Jeff Carter (Ellison), whose mother Mrs. Carter (Brady) is one of the high society people Dr. Tibbett used to care for and Mrs. Carter doesn’t believe Mary is good enough for her son. Mrs. Carter schemes for her son to marry Virginia (Lang). Amidst the engagement news, Dr. Tibbett tries to care for a carnival elephant, Zenobia.

 

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Musical Monday: Because You’re Mine (1952)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Because You’re Mine (1952) – Musical No. 604

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Alexander Hall

Starring:
Mario Lanza, Doretta Morrow, James Whitmore, Bobby Van, Rita Corday (billed as Paula Corday), Dean Miller, Jeff Donnell, Spring Byington, Don Porter, Eduard Franz, Dabs Greer (uncredited)

Plot:
Renaldo Rossano (Lanza) is a famous opera singer who is drafted into the Army. His sergeant, Batterson (Whitmore) turns out to be a big fan of Rossano and gives him preferential treatment. Batterson also introduces Rossano to his sister Bridget (Morrow), hoping that Rossano can give her a break. Rossano helps out, hoping it will get him out of the Army and back on stage, but then he falls in love with Bridget.

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Watching 1939: Idiot’s Delight (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: Idiot’s Delight (1939)

Release date:  Premiered Jan. 27, 1939

Cast:  Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Edward Arnold, Charles Coburn, Joseph Schildkraut, Burgess Meredith, Laura Hope Crews, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, Peter Willes, Pat Paterson, Hobart Cavanaugh (uncredited), Mitchell Lewis (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Les Blondes: Virginia Grey, Virginia Dale, Paula Stone, Bernadene Hayes, Joan Marsh, Lorraine Krueger

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Clarence Brown

Plot:
After World War I, Harry Van (Gable) hopes to break into show business. He travels around the country performing and runs into an acrobat, Irene (Shearer). After a brief acquaintance, the two are separated for more than 20 years. Harry is later traveling through Europe in 1939 with his dance group, Les Blondes en route to Geneva. Their train is stopped and can’t cross the frontier because of the political climate and the impending possibility of war. Harry and his troupe have to stay at an Alpine hotel with other stopped due to the conflict including a scientist (Coburn), honeymooners (Paterson, Willes), a political activist (Meredith), and a munitions tycoon (Arnold) and his mistress, Russian countess, who Van thinks he recognizes as Irene.

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Musical Monday: Swing Fever (1943)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Swing Fever (1943) – Musical No. 391

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Tim Whelan

Starring: Kay Kyser, Marilyn Maxwell, William Gargan, Nat Pendleton, Curt Bois, Andrew Tombes, Maxie Rosenbloom, Morris Ankrum, Pamela Blake, Ava Gardner (uncredited), Karin Booth (uncredited)
Themselves: Lena Horne, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ish Kabibble, Trudy Erwin, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James

Plot:
Lowell Blackford (Kyser) wants to publish music for a symphonietta, but his desire to publish serious music is overshadowed by his hypnotic”evil eye” he can put on people to make them do what he wants. Fight promoter ‘Waltzy’ Malone (Gargan) wants to use Lowell’s skill to help his boxer win the championship. Malone uses attractive singer Ginger Gray (Maxwell) to help get Ginger to help convince Lowell to help them out.

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