Pages to Screen: The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)

“A war is on” and there was “no sale for poetry” were some excuses Alice Duer Miller was given when she tried to book published and was turned down by many publishers.

Miller’s book was a 70-page long form poem about an American woman falling in love with an Englishman right before World War I breaks out called “The White Cliffs.”

The poem follows Susan, who is “a traveler, the guest of a week” in England. The trip turns into a lifetime after she meets and falls in love with John. John is killed in World War I, but she continues to stay in England and raise their son in the traditional, upper class English life. As Susan sees another war on the horizon for England, she understands the inevitable future of her son; following in her husband’s footsteps.

While there was initial reluctance to publish, Miller’s later was made into a feature film and was performed on the radio several times by English actress, Lynn Fontanne.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill also believed that the book played a role in encouraging the United States’ entry into World War II.


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Pages to Screen: Light in the Piazza (1962)

As soon as I started reading the book, I could see the story playing out in my head just as it does in the movie.

When Elizabeth Spencer’s 1960 novella “Light in the Piazza” was adapted for film, the movie is nearly identical to the original printed word. This doesn’t often happen.

In the opening pages, Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara explore a piazza. Clara loses her hat causing her to meet Fabrizio — just like in the film.

From page one, this Italian love story was a much needed respite after finishing Glendon Swarthout’s book “Where the Boys Are.”

The book “Light in the Piazza” was a turning point in the career of Mississippi-born author, Elizabeth Spencer; featuring many firsts for her. It was her first novel not set in her home state of Mississippi, and it was her first book that featured a female protagonist.


“The way I was brought up. It was considered that men did all the interesting things out in the world and women were pretty much reduced to a domestic pattern or minor careers,” Spencer was quoted in her Washington Post obituary. “The whole idea of a woman in the arts must have horrified my family at first.”

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Summer Movie Classics: An interview with John Malahy

Even as summer winds down, I’m still grasping to the last few weeks of summer until the fall season begins at the end of September.

Reading “Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics” by John Malahy is the perfect read to keep the summer feeling. Malahy highlights quintessential summer films, from MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) and GIDGET (1959) to JAWS (1975); each putting you in the sun and sand mood regardless of the weather.


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Pages to Screen: Where the Boys Are (1960)

Often, the book is better than the film.

But in the case of WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), skip Glendon Swarthout’s book and just enjoy the movie.

The film and book both follow Midwest college girls traveling to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for their spring vacation in search of love and suntans. But while the movie is fun and charming, the book is frankly vile.

where the boys are dvd book

Bear with me because I have a lot to unpack.

I first watched WHERE THE BOYS ARE when I was 14 and loved it. I was eager to read the book and didn’t until this summer at age 32, and I’m thankful I read this as an adult and not a young teen.

The book was written by Glendon Swarthout and published in 1960, with the movie releasing in Dec. 1960. Swarthout also wrote “They Came from Cordura” and “The Shootist,” which were adapted into films.

To follow the review easily, here is a breakdown of the characters in both the film and movie. Several characters in the book and movie are similar, though they interact differently in the book:

Character Book Movie
Merrit Main character, narrator Played by Dolores Hart
Tuggle Merrit’s friend and travel companion Played by Paula Prentiss
Ryder A love interest of Merrit’s Played by George Hamilton and love interest of Merrit
TV Thompson A love interest of Merrit’s Played by Jim Hutton and the love interest of Tuggle
Basil Jazz musician, love interest of Merrit’s Played by Frank Gorshin and the love interest of Angie (Connie Francis)
Quentin Jazz musician, love interest of Tuggle Not in the movie
Swimming nightclub performer Ramona Named Lola Fandango, played by Barbara Nichols
Angie Character not in book Played by Connie Francis
Melanie Character not in book, but similar to the minor character, Susy Played by Yvette Mimieux

The book is written in the point of view of 18-year-old college freshman, Merrit. So … 41-year-old Swarthout is writing in the POV of a college girl. Now, this has been done successfully in cases like “Gidget” by Frederick Kohner, but his novel came from stories directly from his daughter. I can’t say Swarthout was successful in effectively doing this (in my opinion), though I guess in a way he was since it spurred a hit movie that made Fort Lauderdale a travel destination.

where the boys are

Both the movie and the book focus on sex, but in different ways. The movie mainly asks the question of should you “play house” before marriage and if you can get a man without falling into bed. The book is more about Merrit’s sexual experiences. While in the movie, the three male characters each date different characters, in the book they all want Merrit.

And exactly 33 pages in was when I decided I hated the book.
Rape is very casually mentioned in Swarthout’s book.

Merrit goes on a date with Herbert “TV” Thompson and he tells how he got the nickname “TV”:
TV went on a date with a sorority queen and when she refused to sleep with him, he raped her. He panicked, worried she would report it to the police, so he bought her an $800 color TV. The story got around, so he was called TV and couldn’t get any dates or make friends. “To clap the climax he later learned that the queen had round heels for everyone else.”

“There were tears in my eyes. It was the most heart-rendering story I had ever heard.”

That’s right. TV Thompson tells a story about raping a girl … and Merrit feels sorry for him. And it was okay because she had “round heels,” I guess?

Later, a character named Susy tries to commit suicide after three “Yalies” get her drunk and try to rape her. I would compare this to the character of Melanie in the film, which is treated with more drama and gravity. In the book, the suicide and rape of Susy are treated almost flippantly, calling her a “Suicidal Mermaid,” because she tried to drown herself in the pool.

Before the book got offensive, its crime was that it was boring and confusing.
The book is written in a meandering, scattered stream of consciousness where stories overlap in confusing manners. I guess this is meant to give the impression of how a college girl thinks … in Swarthout’s opinion. The book gets convoluted as Swarthout cuts into the main narrative so Merrit can tell a story to explain something unrelated for several pages. While reading, I would forget why we were discussing this second story and what we were doing prior.

Some examples:
• Merrit first meets Basil while he and his jazz band are playing. Basil comes over to ask her for a date. After agreeing, Merrit describes something she learned in a Core Living class for three pages all in one long paragraph.
• While Merrit and Ryder are kissing, the story halts as she turns to “Incidentally, this is why I had decided in high school to become a teacher.” And for five and a half pages, Merrit describes her teaching experiences before we get back to current time.

Swarthout also uses some storytelling methods that I guess you could call clever, but were frankly annoying.

For example, the girls are having an argument with older tourists. To illustrate the yelling and talking over each other, Swarthout wrote a full page of text with no punctuation. I thought “I’m not reading that” and just skimmed.

Other times, he tried to write words phonetically so the reader would get the idea of an accent. However, he did this with a southern police officer, and as a southerner, I had no idea what words I was supposed to be reading.

where the boys are 2

Film similarities and differences
While the book and movie are fairly different, several tidbits from the book are in the film. But they are simply told in a more charming manner.

The film begins with Merrit in a courtship class taught by elderly Dr. Raunch. Merrit gets in trouble for her discussion on dating and sex. In the book, this is one of the previously mentioned flashbacks that cuts into the story.

In both, TV tells a story about angrily writing a rich lady who complains about her life who sends him money in response. In the book, however, the woman is Barbara Hutton.

Frankly, George Hamilton and Jim Hutton were perfectly cast in the film as Ryder and TV. Paula Prentiss is more how Merrit is described in the book.

In the movie, Merrit is more reserved while she isn’t in the book.

The book is also frankly wild. There is a whole thing about trying to get college kids to go fight in the Cuban revolution — which isn’t in the film.

What was the goal?
The inspiration of the book came when Glendon Swarthout, PhD, then a Michigan State University (MSU) associate English teacher, accepted an invitation to go to Fort Lauderdale with his students. TV Thompson was based on the student who invited him.

“It occurred to me as the week progressed that this would make a very fine novel,” Swarthout told Larry King in a 1985 interview. “I could at the same time write a kind of profile of that particular generation-their aspirations, their hopes, their fears and so on.”

In a 2011 Michigan State article, several MSU professors praise the book for being witty and forward thinking.

For 1960, I will admit that it is forward thinking, especially the depiction of Merrit being sexually active. But at the same time, the female characters face certain consequences for being sexually active, while the boys don’t.

So what was the goal? Was it to slut shame? That sex comes with consequences? Or was it an attempt of saying sex outside of marriage was okay? I’m really not sure.

While the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film was criticized as commercial, I’ll soak in those artificial Cinemascope, Joe Pasternak-produced rays any day over reading this book again.

This article is part of the 2021 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the Past.

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Book Review: “My Way of Life” by Joan Crawford

A disclaimer before I begin my review of “My Way of Life” by Joan Crawford: this is a book review. I’m not here to discuss Christina Crawford and whether or not her “Mommie Dearest” accusations are true. I’m also not discussing the “Feud” TV show. Furthermore, I do like Joan Crawford and have watched almost all of her films, minus a handful of her silents (I would say my favorites are A Woman’s Face, Possessed (1947), Mildred Pierce and Love on the Run). Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll continue.

Actress Joan Crawford by photographed George Hurrell, 1935. The blouse was designed by Adrian.

Actress Joan Crawford endured a career that spanned 47 years. When her career began at age 19 in 1925, she was every bit the flapper — the personification of youth. Even author F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs.”

As her career continued into the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and on, Joan Crawford assumed the sophisticated lady persona that was popular of the time. Well-dressed, well-mannered and well-bred, this was an image that Crawford maintained for the rest of her life. And this is what “My Way of Life” focuses on.

My Way of Life” is really a Hollywood self-help book. The book begins with Joan telling her readers what she is doing today, in 1971 when the book was published. Joan lives alone in an apartment in Manhattan, always busy at her desk. She tells us a bit about her background, the school she dropped out of (Stephen College in Missouri), her early days in Hollywood, and a bit about each of her husbands (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; Franchot Tone; Phillip Terry and Alfred Steele).

Joan dictated the book on a tape machine, which was then put together by Audrey Davenport, who Joan thanks at the start of the book.

“It’s my philosophies rather than an actual biography. My life story has been told over and over. My thoughts about life are newer,” Joan Crawford said in a July 6, 1971, newspaper article.

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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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