The Man Who was Almost Bond: John Gavin

Actor John Gavin

From Cary Grant to Rod Taylor, we have heard of many actors that were considered to play Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

And one came closer than others: John Gavin.

John Gavin, who passed away Feb. 9, 2018, is not an actor as well-known as Grant or Sean Connery, but he was a handsome leading man throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He retired from acting in the 1980s and went on to become the United States Ambassador to Mexico during the Reagan administration. Today, Gavin is best known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Lana Turner’s love interest in “Imitation of Life” (1959).

Gavin was considered for the role of James Bond after George Lazenby refused to continue playing the character after the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).

In an interview at the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, Lazenby said he got bad advice and was told to quit the role, because Bond films were going to lose popularity with changing times.

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Remembering Robert Osborne, a Friend to all Classic Film Fans

It was Thursday, April 25, 2013, and I had just flown into Los Angeles from North Carolina for my first Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.

My first glimpse of Robert Osborne in person in 2013 (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

I was excited, tired and scared. It was my first solo plane trip, and I had unwisely flown into the festival the day it started, rather than the day before. I was momentarily homeless until my friend, Lindsay — who I was staying with — got out of class at UCLA. I stashed my suitcase in the hotel room of another friend, Jill, and went with her to the Roosevelt Hotel to get my film festival pass and for a press announcement.

I’m sitting at a small table, nervously saying hello to friends who I knew only from the internet before the film festival. And then film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne walks out on stage. Everyone else around me is calm and collected but I’m about to burst. I didn’t know if I should cry, laugh or faint. I had only been in Los Angeles for two hours and there was my hero standing 15 feet away from me!

Robert Osborne introducing “Desert Song” in 2013 (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

That Saturday during the festival, I was first in line for a rare screening of The Desert Song (1943), a Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning musical that isn’t often seen because of copyright issues. A volunteer confided that she heard Robert would be introducing the film. I excitedly sat in the front row so I could get a good picture.

Robert discussed the film and said that he had never seen The Desert Song and would be joining the audience to watch. While the Technicolor Warner Bros. film danced on the screen, I could barely focus; knowing Robert was somewhere behind me in the crowd.

After the film ended, I waited outside to see if I could get a picture and fulfil my dream of meeting Mr. Osborne. Another fan held Robert in conversation and it looked like I may not get my chance. When the fan left, I meekly approached him and asked for a photo.

“Yes, but we will have hurry because I have to meet Ann Blyth before Mildred Pierce,” he said.

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“My hope that women will not be afraid”: Classic Actresses who had Breast Cancer


To go along with some monthly health observances, Comet Over Hollywood is recognizing actors who battled diseases and often, kept it a secret from their public and exhibited strength by continuing to practice their craft. Others helped create awareness or spearheaded organizations for research, such as Yul Brynner. For October 2015’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Comet is recognizing actresses who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

PicMonkey Collage

Today, breast cancer survivors are proud and openly share their stories. Some wear pink t-shirts saying they are a survivor, write memoirs or are interviewed by the news to help spread awareness to other women to pay attention to their bodies.

But for actresses of the Golden Era, this wasn’t the case. Many of their obituaries simply note they had endured a “long illness.” Newspapers said Judy Holliday was in the hospital for a bronchial illness and one obituary for Rosalind Russell said she died from stomach cancer. This was largely because of the stigma that surrounded this particular form of cancer.

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“A Colorful Life”: Remembering Joan Leslie


Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

Actress Joan Leslie in the 1940s

With her shining smile, bright eyes and fresh face, actress Joan Leslie had an innocent girl-next-door appeal. But during her career at Warner Brothers during the 1940s, Joan Leslie held her own in top films with major actors such as Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

She was a full-fledged star by age 17. And it all began on the stage when she was nine years old.

Joan Leslie—then Joan Brodel—was part of a sister act, with her sisters Mary and Betty, known as the Three Brodels. The sisters traveled the United States and Canada; singing, dancing, doing impressions and playing instruments, according to a 1999 interview in the book “Movies Were Always Magical” by Leo Verswijver.

Joan played the accordion and did an impression of actress Greta Garbo.

While performing in New York, an MGM scout saw Joan and signed her to play a small role in the Greta Garbo film “Camille” (1936). In film, Joan, 11, played Robert Taylor’s little sister. She had one line, welcoming him home as he arrived at her first communion.

As she continued to get small, uncredited roles in films such as “Nancy Drew—Reporter” (1938), “Susan And God” (1940) and “Foreign Correspondent” (1940), Joan changed her last name from Brodel to Leslie so she wouldn’t be confused with actress Joan Blondell.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

Pictured with her sisters and mother in for a LIFE magazine photo spread.

But her big break came at age 15. Joan got the role of Velma, a young girl with a club foot, in the Howard Hawks directed film “High Sierra” (1940) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. In the film, Bogart is a criminal on the run, and when he meets Velma, he wants to help her get an operation for her foot.

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in

At age 15, Joan Leslie with Humphrey Bogart in “High Sierra”

“That was such a good role,” Leslie said in the Verswijver interview. “And I was only 15! I wish I had more such roles when I was older.”

By age 17, Joan Leslie was on the cover of the Oct. 26, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine. “Joan Leslie: girlish and unassuming, at age 17 she shines brightly as a full-fledged movie star able to sing, dance and act,” the magazine headline said.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

Joan Leslie on the cover of Life, Oct. 1942.

By this time, Leslie had starred with Bogart a second time in “Thieves Fall Out” (1941). Still in her teens, she played the love interest to top stars such as Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York” (1941) and James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942).

“When you talk about working with the best, I’ll always remember Jimmy Cagney. What a creative, dynamic person he was,” she said in the 1999 interview.

Both Cooper and Cagney received Academy Awards for Best Actor for their respective roles.

“I never was nominated but I don’t feel I did anything up to that caliber,” she said.

In most of her roles that followed at Warner Brothers, Joan Leslie exuded a persona that was the young, innocent, sweet girl-next-door.

“I was merely being myself in the 1940s, that’s what it really was,” she said.

However, Joan Leslie always proved to be versatile. She could go from comedies with Eddie Albert, such as “The Great Mr. Nobody” (1940) to the hard hitting drama “The Hard Way” (1942), playing the younger sister Ida Lupino is pushing to make a star. At age 18, Joan was also the youngest of any of Fred Astaire’s dance partners in the 1943 film, “The Sky’s The Limit.”

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in

Publicity photo of Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in “Sky’s the Limit.”

However, because she was so much younger than her peers such as Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda and Bogart, she said she never felt like she was a “chum” to any of these stars, but was also never scared or in awe while working with them.

“People were very nice to me…” she said. “They were getting the quality from me that they wanted: young, innocent and sweet girl next door. It was during the war (World War II) and that’s what they wanted to project on the screen.”

Like many other actresses, Joan Leslie danced at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II with the soldiers. Art imitated life as she starred in the film “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) as herself. In the film a soldier, played by Robert Hutton, wins a date with Joan Leslie and the two end up falling in love.

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film

Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton in the film “The Hollywood Canteen” (1944)

In 1946, Joan Leslie was voted No. 1 in a Future Star poll, but becoming quality roles were scarce for her. This largely was because she sued Warner Brothers for control of her contract, believing after the age 21 she should be able to pick better parts. Warner lowered her billing in some of her films and blackballed her name with other studios.

“I always liked to play a certain kind of part as a certain kind of person and I don’t find that very much anymore. The business has changed so much,” she said in 1999.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

Joan Leslie with her husband William Caldwell, MD.

However, once Joan Leslie married obstetrician William Caldwell, MD, in 1950, her interest in Hollywood started to fade. When the two had twin girls, Patricia and Ellen, Joan stopped making films and concentrated on her role as a mother.

“When I married, that would be the most important thing in my life,” she said. “When you had a colorful life as an actress, it’s not easy to say that and to mean it as well. My husband respects me for what I have accomplished in my career.”

After her career, she was involved with parish work, the Los Angeles Public Library’s after-school reading program, and the advisory board of the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund, according to her obituary.

Dr. Caldwell passed away in 2000 and Miss Leslie passed away at age 90 on Oct. 12, 2015.

“I had a very colorful life, she said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

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Yul Brynner spearheaded cancer awareness, prevention

Yul Brynner (1)Known for his mysterious, intense looks and bald head, actor Yul Brynner is famous for his film roles in “The Magnificent Seven,” “Anastasia,” “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I” as the King of Siam.

But Brynner also played a role in cancer awareness. This week is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (April 12-18, 2015); an event that Brynner’s own illness helped play a role in.

Brynner and oncologist George Sisson, MD, formed the Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation in 1984 in Chicago. Renamed in 2001 as the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and based in Charleston, SC, the organization’s mission continues to be educating people on the side effects of tobacco and its connection to cancers of the head, neck and mouth.

While the King of Siam is one of the roles Brynner is best known for, it was also one of his favorites. Aside from the 1956 film version, Brynner performed the role on stage 4,625 times up until three months before his death in 1985, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

OHANCAW_logoBrynner began reprising the role of the King in 1977. He first appeared on stage in the role in 1951. His daughter Victoria called his returning to Broadway for “The King and I” a “God send,” in the documentary “The Hollywood Collection: Yul Brynner- The Man Who Was King,” because he hadn’t been in a good place in his career.

“He was getting to play again a role that had been his for years,” Victoria said.

In 1983, while Brynner was still playing the King, he learned he had lung cancer. One source, the Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society by Graham Colditz, said Brynner saw a doctor because his throat felt hoarse and that is how he was connected with Sisson. The 2006 biography “Yul Brynner” by Michelangelo Capua said Brynner found a lump on his neck while putting on his makeup. Brynner was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in September 1983 by three oncologists.

Brynner tried to keep his illness quiet from the public; only telling close friends and family members, according to Capua’s book. Brynner started smoking as a kid and smoked five packs of cigarettes a day, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.

“I recall very clearly the night that he called me. He said, ‘I don’t have very good news and that he had three months to live,’” Victoria said. “From then on it was a battle to defy this disease. He kept on doing the King and I. It gave him structure: something to do every day, something to fight for. It gave him two and a half years that we really hadn’t hoped for.”

Brynner underwent radiation treatment, because the side effects were less severe than chemotherapy, according to Capua’s biography.

“Having been ill has opened my eyes suddenly to the fact that, the gypsies have a wonderful phrase for it: ‘Your future is getting shorter.’ There are things I want to do beyond sharpening and honing this role further,” Brynner said in a 1984 New York Times interview. “At the same time, the illness has changed the King for me. Some lines come as a surprise suddenly: ‘Every day, my Lord in heaven show the way’ and ‘Every day I try to live for one more day.’ This describes completely how I do the show and how I survived the illness.”

Yul Brynner during the 1985 "King and I" revival.

Yul Brynner during the 1985 “King and I” revival.

While still performing, the play was renamed “The King and I: Farewell Tour,” and Brynner would visit cancer patients in hospitals. He spoke with a 10-year-old boy who was bald due to his radiation therapy, and told the child, “See, I’m a star and I’m bald. It’s not so bad being bald,” according to Capua’s biography.

Brynner’s last performance in the “King and I” was June 30, 1985.

Before his death, Brynner was interviewed on Good Morning America (GMA) where he told the reporter that he wanted to film a commercial before his death warning people about the dangers of smoking. Part of this interview was edited into a PSA for the American Cancer Foundation.

“If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn’t be talking about any cancer,” Brynner said on GMA. “I smoked a lot since I was a kid just to appear macho, because I didn’t have brains enough. Something else makes you macho. I really wanted to make a commercial when I realized I was so sick.”

The commercial aired posthumously.

“Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke, whatever you do, just don’t smoke,” Brynner said.

He died on Oct. 10, 1985, at age 65 at New York Hospital- Cornell Medical Center.

“There was an idea that you go to bed not knowing if you have a tomorrow and you must be thankful for every tomorrow and make the most of it,” Brynner told the New York Times in 1984. “I couldn’t see myself going to bed and waiting to see what would happen with my illness. I preferred to play to 2,000 or 3,000 people and standing ovations. The choice is quite simple.”

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Fact or Fiction: The curse James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder

The moody young star took the cinema by storm.

Actor James Dean won over audiences as misunderstood teens in the films “East of Eden” (1955) and “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955).

Actor James Dean in a publicity still for "Rebel Without a Cause."

Actor James Dean in a publicity still for “Rebel Without a Cause.”

But after only a short time in the spotlight, Dean was dead at age 24; killed in a car accident on Sept. 30, 1955, in his brand new 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “The Little Bastard.”

Dean had just finished up filming his third and final film, “Giant,” the epic based on Edna Ferber’s book and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Dean purchased the Spyder on September 21 for $6,900 from Competition Motors in Hollywood and traded in his Speedster 356. The Porsche included an entirely hand-built, air-cooled engine, according to “James Dean” by George Perry.

Several of his friends, including actress Ursula Andress, refused to ride in the car. When Dean drove the Porsche on the Warner Brothers studio lot on September 23, director George Stevens told Dean that he would kill someone if Dean drove the vehicle on the lot again.

“You can never drive this car on the lot again. You’re gonna kill a carpenter or an actor or somebody,” Perry quoted Stevens. It was the last time Stevens saw Dean.

Dean the morning of his fatal crash.

Dean the morning of his fatal crash.

Actor Alec Guiness also supposedly told Dean on September 23 that he would be dead within a week if he continued to drive the Porsche.

Dean only owned the “Little Bastard” for a little over a week before his death.

The Porche 550 was the first purpose-built race car produced by Porsche. Dean bought the 55th of 90 Spyders made from the factory, according to “History’s Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed” by Matt Stone.

Dean decided to race the Spyder in Salinas. Originally the car was going to be towed by a Ford station wagon, but in a last minute decision, Dean decided to drive the Porsche convertible to Salinas, Perry wrote.

The wrecked remains of James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder at the site of the accident. The 24-year-old film star was killed on the evening of September 30th when his car collided with a college student's automobile at an intersection 28 miles east of Paso Robles, California.

The wrecked remains of James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder at the site of the accident. The 24-year-old film star was killed on the evening of September 30th when his car collided with a college student’s automobile at an intersection 28 miles east of Paso Robles, California.

At 5:45 p.m. on September 30, Dean collided with a Ford coupe driven by college student Donald Turnupseed at an intersection 28 miles east of Paso Robles, CA.

The cast of “Giant” was gathered to watch the dailies of their filming when Stevens received the call about Dean’s death. Actress Elizabeth Taylor threw up in her dressing room and was so grief stricken that she had to be hospitalized, Perry wrote.

Dean’s Porsche flipped and he sustained a broken neck along with external and internal injuries, according to the inquest on Oct. 11, 1955.

Police at the scene said speed was not involved and it was impossible for Dean to avoid the crash, according to Perry’s book.

Since September 1955, many rumors have surfaced of the supposed “cursed” wrecked remains of Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder.

Car designer George Barris is said to have purchased the remains of “The Little Bastard” for $2,500. Barris is the source of several of the “curses.”

“Everything that car has touched has turned to tragedy,” Barris is quoted in Stone’s book. “

Some of the curse stories include:

-After the totaled Porche was purchased, Barris said the vehicle slipped off the trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg.

-Barris said he sold parts from the Porsche to Beverly Hills doctor Troy McHenry and Burbank doctor William Eschrid. The two men were racing against one another in separate vehicles that both had parts from the Porsche 550. McHenry lost control of the car, hit a tree and was killed. Eschrid, who was driving with Dean’s engine, was also injured in a wreck during the race.
This story seems to be true based on an Oct. 24, 1956, article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle. After the accident, Eschrid is quoted as saying he is not superstitious about using Dean’s engine and parts.

-Barris had two tires from the 550 and sold them. The tires apparently both blew out simultaneously causing the new tire owner’s car to run off the road.

-Barris kept the Porsche and two people tried to steal parts. Barris said one of the suspect’s arms was torn open trying to steal the steering wheel and the other was injured trying to remove the bloodstained tartan seat.

-In 1959, the “Little Bastard” was put on display by the California Highway Patrol for a safety exhibit. Supposedly, the patrol garage that housed the Porsche caught on fire, according to “The Death of James Dean” by Warren Newton Beath.

-Again, supposedly the Porsche Spyder was being transported when the driver of the truck lost control. The driver apparently fell out of the truck and was crushed by the Porsche when it fell off the back. The car also fell off vehicles during other transports.

Then, in 1960, the 1955 Porsche Spyder “disappeared into thin air” after an exhibit in Miami, according to Barris in his 1974 book “Cars of the Stars.”

While the various curses are interesting, I’m inclined to think that many of them are made up stories. The only one that is true and has credible documentation is the death and injuries of McHenry and Eschrid.

However, the mystery and myths that still revolve around James Dean even today show his effect on pop culture and influence in film history.

What do you think? Do you believe the curse? Comment below.

Actor James Dean gives a thumbs-up sign from his Porsche 550 Spyder, the Little Bastard, while parked on Vine Street in Hollywood. Dean, who had taken up racing the year before, owned the car only nine days when he lost his life in a fatal highway accident while driving the Porsche to a Salinas race.

Actor James Dean gives a thumbs-up sign from his Porsche 550 Spyder, the Little Bastard, while parked on Vine Street in Hollywood. Dean, who had taken up racing the year before, owned the car only nine days when he lost his life in a fatal highway accident while driving the Porsche to a Salinas race.

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Baby Take a Bow: Remembering Shirley Temple

shirleyWhen I was in fourth grade I cut six inches off my long hair.

I was doing a book report on Shirley Temple and wanted short, curly hair like America’s Sweetheart for my presentation.

In 2000, before Internet shopping was common place, my parents searched all over to get me a Shirley Temple doll for Christmas. They eventually found one from a store in Connecticut.

Later as a high school senior I even dressed up as Shirley Temple for Halloween.

While my classic film love escalated to obsession in 2004, Temple was my first favorite movie star.

The first movie I saw with Shirley Temple was “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’ (1938). It was a Christmas gift from my Grandmother. I was hooked as Temple sang about wearing an old straw hat, a pair of overalls and a worn out pair of shoes.

Years after she brought happiness to Americans during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the curly headed child star was still influencing and bringing happiness to a young girl in South Carolina.

The dimple faced, curly topped child star was the top box office draw of the 1930s.
The story told is that Temple was discovered in her dance class at age 3, hiding under a piano.

Shirley Temple dressed as Marlene Dietrich in the Baby Burlesk short "Kid N Hollywood."

Shirley Temple dressed as Marlene Dietrich in the Baby Burlesk short “Kid N Hollywood.”

From 1932 until 1933, many of her films were shorts. Some were called Baby Burlesks, involving child actors like Temple dressing up like popular stars such as Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.

With her 56 pin-curls and song-and-dance films, President Franklin Roosevelt once said the United States couldn’t have made it through the Depression without her.

She also saved 20th Century Fox studio from bankruptcy, according to her obituary in the Los Angles Times.

She made 40 movies before she turned 12, and eight of those were in 1934.

Temple was the first child star to carry a full weight picture on her own; not as a secondary actor, according to Dickie Moore’s book “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (and don’t have sex or take the car). Her co-stars included top Hollywood names such as Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, Alice Faye, Adolphe Monjou, Victor McLaglen and Lionel Barrymore.

She loved dancing with her friend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and was didn’t understand why he was treated differently because he was black.

Shirley with J. Edgar Hoover in 1938.

Shirley with J. Edgar Hoover in 1938.

She met important figures such as President Franklin Roosevelt, head of FBI J. Edgar Hoover and Amelia Earhart.

Temple knew her lines and everyone else’s, frequently correcting the adult actors to their chagrin.

“She was a nice kid, with a really wonderful mother and father. We all liked her,” said actress Alice Faye who starred in “Poor Little Rich Girl” (1936) with Temple. “But she was brilliant. She knew everyone’s dialogue and, if you forgot a line, she gave it to you. We all hated her for that.”

Because of Temple, other parents hoped to get their children in films, so their children would be the breadwinners while the parents couldn’t find work during the Depression.

Temple was treated like a princess. She had a bowling alley and a life sized play house in her backyard.

Shirley with top stars Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in "Now and Forever" (1934)

Shirley with top stars Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in “Now and Forever” (1934)

However, even Hollywood’s greatest star faced difficulties.

Temple’s father had a hard time finding work, because employers assumed he had enough money because of Shirley’s films, according Moore’s book.

Temple was isolated from the other children. Many parents of child stars did this, because they didn’t want their children fraternizing with a child who may be competing for the same role.

However, publicity departments made it look like Temple had lots of friends. Each year she would have three birthday parties: one with other child actors, one on set with the crew and one with her family.

Shirley Temple cutting the cake at her birthday party in 1935.

Shirley Temple cutting the cake at her birthday party in 1935.

“The parties were endless…Fox would have one for a large number of people I didn’t know, a lot of children I’d never seen in my life and would never see again,” Temple told Moore. “And I was the hostess. It was kind of strange. I figured it was part of my job.”

Moore said Temple was sweet; the real problem was her stage mother Gertrude Temple. Gertrude was responsible for making sure Temple had the maximum amount of screen time. This included demanding a touching scene with child star Sybil Jason being cut from “Blue Bird” (1940).

Temple also faced the same fate as child star Jackie Coogan: her parents spent all of her money.

After marrying Charles Black, the couple looked at her finances that much of her money had been spent to support her family-what was left belonged to her parents. There should have been $356,000 in her account, but her father, George, disobeyed court orders and kept the money, according to BBC.

Shirley Temple with Monty Wooley and Soda the dog in my favorite movie, "Since You Went Away"

Shirley Temple with Monty Wooley and Soda the dog in my favorite movie, “Since You Went Away”

The transition from child star to teenager was difficult for Temple as it is with other stars.
However, Temple starred in several charming films as a teenager such as “Kathleen” (1941), “That Hagen Girl” (1947) and my all-time favorite film “Since You Went Away” (1944).

Though I was sad when I heard the news of Shirley Temple’s death at age 85 on February 10, I remembered she had a long life.

After leaving her film career behind at age 22, Temple went into politics.

In 1968, she was a delegate to the United Nations and in 1974 was an ambassador to Ghana, according to Temple’s USA Today obituary.

After divorcing John Agar, her husband of five years, Temple was married to Charles Black for 55 years until his death in 2005.

Actress Shirley Temple and her husband, Charles G. Black at the Stork Club in 1953.

Actress Shirley Temple and her husband, Charles G. Black at the Stork Club in 1953.

She said in her autobiography that in her adult life, the child actress seems more like a dream or a younger sister to her.

Though she is gone, Temple will continue to bring happiness to film fans as she has continued to do for the last 80 years.

Added bonus: Me in high school as Shirley with "Juliet"

Added bonus: Me in high school as Shirley with “Juliet”

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Classics in the Carolinas: Remembering Alicia Rhett, India Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind”

COH Alicia Rhett2

Leslie Howard with his on-screen sister Alicia Rhett.
(Scanned from “The Filming of Gone with the Wind”)

She was a true Southern lady.

Alicia Rhett was discovered on George Cukor’s Southern search for Scarlett O’Hara for the epic film “Gone with the Wind” (1939).

Rhett was cast as Ashley Wilkes’ sister, India Wilkes, in one of the biggest films of all time.

But Rhett’s art was more important to her than stardom.

“I enjoyed it (filming) immensely. I had the time of my life there (California). But when the film ended, I was happy to come home (to Charleston),” Rhett said in an interview in “The Rise of Charleston” by W. Thomas McQueene. “I liked to paint. It was what made me most happy. I really wasn’t interested in making more movies. I was interested in my art.”

Rhett was born in 1915 in Savannah, GA.   After her father was killed in World War I, her family moved to Charleston, SC, according to McQueene’s book.

Casting the role of Scarlett O’Hara for the 1939 movie wasn’t an easy. Hundreds of actresses were considered. Director George Cukor made a trip through Southern states, believing an unknown actress may be the answer to their problem.

Director George Cukor with interviews actresses to play the role of "Scarlet O'Hara": Louisa Robert, Atlanta; Susan Fallingant, Atlanta; Alicia Rhett, Charleston. (Scanned from "The Pictorial History of Gone with the Wind")

Director George Cukor with interviews actresses to play the role of “Scarlet O’Hara”: Louisa Robert, Atlanta; Susan Fallingant, Atlanta; Alicia Rhett, Charleston.
(Scanned from “The Pictorial History of Gone with the Wind”)

Hundreds of Southern women auditioned for the role of Scarlett, Melanie and Mammy, but only six women were considered for follow up auditions, according to “The Art of Gone with the Wind: The Making of a Legend,” by Judy Cameron and Paul J. Christman.

The auditions took place in 1937 in New York and the only Southerners who won roles were Alicia Rhett from Charleston, Mary Anderson who was cast as Maybelle Merriwether from Birmingham, AL and Marcella Martin of Shreveport, LA who was cast as Cathleen Calvert. Martin’s lines were dubbed because her accent wasn’t considered Southern enough, according to the Cameron and Christmas book.

“Alicia Rhett was an amateur actress. This young woman was so good,” Ann Rutherford is quoted by Cameron and Christman. Rutherford played the role of Careen, Scarlett’s younger sister. “She wasn’t Scarlett but Selznick cast her as India Wilkes. And she was excellent.”

During the filming of "Gone with the Wind," Alicia Rhett made sketches between takes. Here with Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford. (Scanned from "The Filming of Gone with the Wind" by Herb Bridges)

During the filming of “Gone with the Wind,” Alicia Rhett made sketches between takes. Here with Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford.
(Scanned from “The Filming of Gone with the Wind” by Herb Bridges)

The character of India Wilkes is the sister of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and sister-in-law of Melanie Wilkes (Olivia De Havilland). In the film, India hates Scarlett O’Hara, because Scarlett marries the man India is in love with, Charles Hamilton. India never marries and Scarlett refers to her as an “old maid.”

Rhett was acting when Cukor found her in Charleston.

She was performing in the Oscar Wilde play “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Dock Street Theater. Her performance in the Wilde play had “style and élan,” said “Pictorial History of Gone with the Wind” by Gerald Gardner and Harriet Modell Gardner.

COH alicia rhett

Alicia Rhett visits with Mrs. John Woodbury from Louiseville, KY. Woodbury was the past-president-general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Daughters dropped by to visit the filming of the Civil War film.
(Scanned from The Filming of Gone with the Wind by Herb Bridges)

“Gone with the Wind” novel author Margaret Mitchell liked Rhett for her name, according to the Gardner book.

As Rhett performed in the epic Technicolor film about the Civil War and the Reconstruction of the South, Rhett had her own family Civil War history.

Her great-grandfather was Robert Barnwell Rhett, a secessionist politician from South Carolina, according to “A Short History of Charleston” by Robert S. Rosen.

Robert Rhett became a member of the South Carolina legislature in 1826 and resigned from the United States Senate in 1852 when South Carolina seceded from the Union.

Though she was an unknown actress, Rhett enjoyed the company of her A-list co-stars.

She said Leslie Howard, who played her on-screen brother Ashley Wilkes, was “delightful” and Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler was “charming,” she said in an interview with McQueene.

Rhett (bottom right) in a scene with Marjorie Reynolds, Evelyn Keyes and Olivia De Havilland.

Rhett (bottom right) in a scene with Marjorie Reynolds, Evelyn Keyes and Olivia De Havilland.

Rhett kept in touch with her on-screen sister-in-law Olivia De Havilland, who played Melanie Wilkes, for many years after filming. And she said Vivien Leigh was “just as pretty in person as she was on-screen,” McQueen quoted her.

But she returned to South Carolina after filming to embrace her first love: art.

Alicia Rhett who played India Wilkes, sister of Ashley Wilkes, in "Gone with the Wind" (1939)

Alicia Rhett who played India Wilkes, sister of Ashley Wilkes, in “Gone with the Wind” (1939)

Rhett went on to be one of the most important artists in Charleston, specializing in children’s portraits and also having her work hung in the president’s office at The Citadel.

Rhett passed away on January 4, 2014 at the age of 98. She was the oldest surviving member of “Gone with the Wind.”

Still living from the cast includes Olivia De Havilland, Mickey Kuhn who played Beau Wilkes and Mary Anderson.

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Woman of a Thousand Faces: Remembering Eleanor Parker

Eleanor Parker as the Baroness in "Sound of Music" (1965).

Eleanor Parker as the Baroness in “Sound of Music” (1965).

Today’s audiences know her as the Baroness; the mean blond who was Julie Andrews’ romantic rival in “The Sound of Music” (1965).

Though her role in the 1965 musical is memorable, the talents of Eleanor Parker are so much more than that.

Parker started out at Warner Brothers studios in the early 1940s. She was fresh faced, pretty and red-headed.

Born in Ohio, Parker moved to Hollywood in 1942 and was discovered while sitting in the audience at the Pasadena Community Playhouse by a Warner Brothers talent scout, according to Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen.

Parker’s first role was in 1941, a deleted scene in the Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland film “They Died With Their Boots On.” This role was followed by short films, bit parts and B-movies. One of these early jobs included a voice on a record to a soldier husband in the Cary Grant war film, “Destination Tokyo” (1943).

Eleanor Parker in the 1940s

Eleanor Parker in the 1940s

But her first major role with Warner Brothers was alongside John Garfield, Sydney Greenstreet and Paul Henried in “Between Two Worlds” (1944). The all-star cast is on a boat in the afterlife; waiting to see if they will go to heaven or hell.

Her next major role came in the romantic World War II drama, “The Very Thought Of You” (1944) with Dennis Morgan as her romantic co-star. Beulah Bondi and Henry Travers as Parker’s parents, who vehemently disapprove of her romance and eventual marriage to a soldier.

Parker showed her versatility as an actress from films like “Pride of the Marines” (1945), a drama about disabled war veterans co-starring John Garfield, to “Never Say Goodbye” (1946), a comedic romp set around Christmas with Errol Flynn.

She displays her acting abilities best in one of her top, and possibly most disturbing, roles in the prison drama “Caged!” (1950). Parker goes into jail as a naïve and innocent young woman and leaves hardened and cold. One horrifying scene includes Parker’s head getting shaved as a punishment. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Caged” but lost to Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday.”

A year later she was getting drunk on tequila and flirting with Fred MacMurray in the comedy “Millionaire For Christy” (1951).

It’s no wonder that Eleanor Parker has been dubbed “Woman of a Thousand Faces.”

John Garfield, Clark Gable, Stewart Granger, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart are just a few of the top leading men she acted with.

“You didn’t go to her films to see Miss Parker being Miss Parker in a different dress and locale,” wrote Doug McClelland in his book “Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces.” “You went to see what person she had created on film.”

Parker helps husband John Garfield adjust to living life without sight in "Pride of the Marines" (1945). (LIFE)

Parker helps husband John Garfield adjust to living life without sight in “Pride of the Marines” (1945). (LIFE)

Parker was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress two other times:

-“Detective Story” (1951) –Parker plays the wife of Kirk Douglas who was involved with and got pregnant from a racketeer before their marriage.

-“Interrupted Melody” (1956) –the biographical film about Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence who becomes paralyzed due to polio.

She also played a woman with multiple personality disorder in “Lizzie” (1957), the same year Joanne Woodward played a similar role in “The Three Faces Of Eve.” It was Woodward who won the Oscar that year.

In a 1988 interview, she said she was a character actress. That her roles were too diverse that her own personality never “emerged on screen,” according to an article from USA Today.

In her private life, she was shy and collected classical records, according to an April 30, 1945, LIFE article, “Eleanor Parker: Actress plays ‘Of Human Bondage,’ role that made Bette Davis famous.”

McClelland’s book suggests one reason Parker is forgotten today is because of her quiet, private life.

“I’ve prided myself on not dreaming up tales to see my name in print,” McClelland quotes her as saying in an interview.

Some of my personal favorite films of Parker’s include: “The Voice of the Turtle” (1947), “Woman in White” (1948), “Never Say Goodbye” (1946), “The Very Thought of You” (1945), “Pride of the Marines” (1945) and “Valley of the Kings” (1954).

Parker plays a fiesty female in "Scaramouche" (1952)

Parker plays a fiesty female in “Scaramouche” (1952)

Eleanor Parker is one of those actresses that lights up the screen and makes the movie. The only films I remember not enjoying of Parker’s were the Rudolph Valentino biopic “Valentino” (1951) and “The Oscar” (1966). Neither of the films were bad because of Parker, but bad script writing.

Parker passed away today at the age of 91 due to complications from pneumonia, according to the Associated Press.

“Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known,” said “Sound of Music” co-star Christopher Plummer in Parker’s USA Today obituary. “Both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever.”

Goodbye to one of Warner Brothers’ brightest and most talented stars. “The Very Thought of You” will always make your fans smile.

Turner Classic Movies will be honoring Eleanor Parker on Tuesday, Dec. 17 (ET):
6 a.m. – The Very Thought of You (1944)
7:45 a.m. – Of Human Bondage (1946)
9:45 a.m – The Woman in White (1948)
11:45 p.m. – Caged (1950)
1:30 p.m. – Scaramouche (1952)
3:30 p.m. – Interrupted Melody (1955)
5:15 p.m. – Home from the Hill (1960)

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The All-American Aphrodite: Remembering Esther Williams

My cinema relationship with Esther Williams helped shape my film interests.

I didn’t full watch any of her films until 2003 when my film appetite craved musicals.

A swimming scene from "This Time for Keeps"

A swimming scene from “This Time for Keeps”

As I gorged on her candy-colored, aqua musical extravaganzas, I couldn’t wait until I could see another film. Each of her musicals brings back memories of spending weekends endlessly watching her movies.

When I was 15 I read her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid.” It’s my favorite film autobiography that I’ve read so far.

When I was 17, I bought one of her Esther Williams bathing suits.

Williams inspired me to practice swimming strokes and try to learn how to swim (I failed swimming lessons when I was five years old. How embarrassing).

I remember in 2004 when she was highlighted during TCM’s August Summer under the Stars series. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to school in August but my excitement of Esther Williams’ day out-weighed my dread.

Esther Williams and frequent co-star Van Johnson in "Easy to Wed"

Esther Williams and frequent co-star Van Johnson in “Easy to Wed” dressed for the number “Bonecu de Pixe.” Carmen Miranda helped them with the Portuguese lyrics.

But it’s not just how she affected my every day actions, but my film knowledge that makes her important to me.

To date, I have seen all but two of Esther Williams’ films: “A Raw Wind in Eden” and “The Big Show.”

Esther Williams’s films are a textbook example of the mid-1940s to early 1950s MGM musicals: brightly colored, beautiful clothing and lavish musical numbers that may include Williams swimming, Xavier Cugat and his band shaking maracas or opera singer Lauritz Melchior belting a tune.

Her films also introduced me to my biggest film crush- Van Johnson.

Something I have always found appealing about Williams is that she is very attainable.

Her beauty is natural and girl-next-door like and her figure is athletic, rather than actress anorexic. In her 1996 Private Screenings Interview with Robert Osborne, she said becoming a star was all an accident.

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